HC Deb 20 February 1967 vol 741 cc1252-88
Mr. Carlisle

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 6, line 19, after 'disqualification' to insert: 'unless in the case of a first offence under this Act the court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, that there are grounds for mitigating the normal consequences of the conviction and thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I suggest that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 19, in page 6, line 24, at the end to insert: (c) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section a court may on a first offence and where disqualification involves severe hardship to the individual reduce the period of such disqualification to not less than six months.

Mr. Carlisle

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am only sorry that there are not more Members present, particularly on the benches opposite, since this Amendment is as important as the one dealing with random tests about which hon. Members opposite were extremely concerned earlier. I notice that Amendment No. 19, in the names of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner), who is here, and his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), has an intention very similar to the intention of the Amendment which I have moved.

The purpose of this Amendment is to restore to the courts some measure of discretion on the question of disqualification which must be imposed following upon conviction. As the Bill stands, anyone who commits the new offence which we are here creating will automatically be disqualified for a minimum of 12 months. Whatever I say in support of the Amendment must not be taken as indicating that I am in any way urging that driving with too much alcohol in the bloodstream is not a serious offence. But the House should realise that we are now moving away from the era when the offence was driving with impaired ability and we are creating the new offence of driving merely with a specific quantity of alcohol in the body.

When one is moving to a new offence of this kind, which is likely to vary greatly in degree, it is important to see that we give the courts adequate width of choice in the type of penalty which they wish to impose. The Amendment is concerned merely with first offenders. It provides that, when a person appears before the court for a first offence under the Bill, the court shall have a certain amount of discretion and not be bound automatically to disqualify for at least twelve months. We have taken the words in Section 5 of the 1962 Act, inserting, after the reference to disqualification, unless in the case of a first offence under this Act the court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, that there are grounds for mitigating the normal consequences of the conviction"— that is, automatic disqualification for 12 months— and thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified. Those who were on the Standing Committee will recall that we had a long debate in the issue of discretion in all cases, and we then had a narrow debate on discretion for first offenders. It was in order to meet the Minister's objection in that debate that this Amendment was drawn evenly more narrowly still, leaving it that a first offender would be disqualified for 12 months unless, in all the circumstances, the court decides in its discretion that there are circumstances to mitigate the normal effect of the conviction.

It was with concern that I heard the Minister suggest earlier today that she was not prepared to listen to this Amendment and would not, as she put it, be frightened off the view which she had taken. As the matter was fully debated in Committee I shall not set out at length again all the arguments in favour of giving some discretion to the court. In view of the time I summarise them under three heads.

My first ground of objection to the Bill as it stands is that I believe it to be wrong when the House is bringing in a new offence of an automatic nature, to lay down at the same time automatic minimum penalties which must apply in all cases.

One other point which all hon. Members may not have realised is that under the Criminal Justice Bill, which is at present going through the House, powers are being taken to prevent the courts ever refusing to disqualify a person charged with an offence of this nature by giving an absolute discharge, whereupon no disqualification follows. That was the "get-out" that the courts always had in a difficult, tragic case. If the Government's proposals go through, it will be withdrawn from them, because in the future even if they gave an absolute discharge to a person appearing before them they would be bound to disqualify for a period of 12 months under the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill.

We are therefore laying down rigidly for every single case a minimum disqualification of 12 months. I believe that when we are bringing in a new, wholly different offence, an offence of an automatic nature, it is wrong to bring in such automatic penalties. As I said in Committee—and was chided by the Minister for saying it—I am, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), opposed in principle to automatic minimum penalties. I believe that the question of the right penalty for any offence is always a matter for the court before whom the person appears, and that that court should always have discretion to decide the right penalty. That is the duty of the court, and Parliament's duty is not to impose minimum penalties but to ensure that adequate penalties are available for the court to use.

My second ground of objection to the Bill as it stands is that we are laying down an offence when it is quite impossible for any of us in the House to tell anybody outside when he will be committing that offence. We are laying down that it will be an offence to drive with over 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood in one's bloodstream, yet we all know that if anybody asks us tonight what that is in terms of drinks we are incapable of answering.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that the amount of alcohol that gives that reading depends on the person's age, size, sex, the type of drink, whether he or she had eaten food, and the length of time over which the drink had been taken. One can summarise it by saying that the limit of 80 milligrammes may be reached with anything from possibly one large whisky to the six large whiskies to which the Minister referred on Second Reading of the previous Bill.

At the other extreme, the B.M.A. said in the conversion table in a pamphlet upon which they no longer rely that 80 milligrammes equalled a minimum content of about two pints of beer or two large whiskies for an 11-stone man. Therefore, let us not run away with the idea that we are setting such a high limit that it would immediately be apparent to anybody that the alcohol he had consumed had taken him over the limit. That is undoubtedly not the case, and believe that under the Bill many people will commit offences when driving their motor vehicles who do not at present realise that they are in danger of doing so.

My third point comes out clearly from the Minister's White Paper. It is that the limit we have laid down does not have a direct relationship with whether or not a person's driving ability is impaired. It is said time and time again in the White Paper that with a reading of over 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood the driving ability of the vast majority of people is impaired. That I will accept. But it logically follows that there are some people whose ability to drive is not impaired when they have over 80 milligrammes of alcohol in their bloodstream. People may not know what amount of alcohol leads to that level. Having taken alcohol, a man's ability to drive may not be impaired. Nevertheless, on his first appearance before the court, the minimum punishment which the court can impose is disqualification for twelve months.

8.45 p.m.

Thirdly, there is a vast difference in the degrees of hardship which disqualification causes to different people. To many people the loss of their motor car for twelve months is a social annoyance which prevents their living the type of social life which they lived before. To others, it is undoubtedly their job—for example, the lorry driver and the commercial traveller. It is their job for many people employed on the sales side of firms.

Do not let us forget that twelve months is a long time. A firm may say to a person employed as a lorry driver who is convicted of this offence, "We can carry you for three months or six months without your licence, but we cannot possibly carry you for twelve months". The proposals in the Bill will cause hardship to a great many people.

There are two other points which I wish to raise. In Committee my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) referred to a book by Dr. Willett, who has carried out research into the effects of disqualification. In that book he said that it had been found that the optimum period of disqualification was six months and that people disqualified for a period longer than six months tend to start to drive while disqualified, to which, regrettably, the House should not close its eyes.

Those who read the article in The Times last Thursday will have seen with horror that last year 8,000 people were convicted of driving whilst disqualified. It is esimated that 20,000 people are driving on the roads whilst disqualified; and anyone driving whilst disqualified is also driving whilst uninsured. Although the Motor Insurers' Bureau may meet a claim for personal injuries they may cause, nevertheless they can cause havoc to many innocent people and great loss to those people if an accident occurs. The examination made of this problem shows that excessive periods of disqualification tempt and lead people into committing the offence of driving whilst disqualified. That is another reason why some discretion should be given to the courts in deciding the period of disqualification.

Having set out the ground of my objection to the Bill, may I say to the Minister that the Amendment does not provide that courts shall not disqualify. Throughout the Committee stage she tended to suggest that the purpose of the Amendments was to weaken the law in this respect and that they implied that first offenders should not be convicted. That is not so. We accept the offence and, by the wording of the Amendment, we accept the high degree of probability that people will be disqualified for twelve months. All that we are saying is that if in cases in which the court thinks the hardship would be undue as against the offence committed by a first offender who may have had a clean driving record for many years, it may, if it believes that there are mitigating circumstances, reduce the disqualification from twelve months to nine, six or three months, if it may not disqualify at all.

The grounds which the court would consider in deciding whether there were circumstances to mitigate the effects of a normal conviction would be the degree of gravity of the offence, whether there had been a reading of 150 or 85 and, for example, the amount of alcohol which is likely to have been consumed. In the same context, it would consider whether there was evidence to suggest that the person was clinically impaired and his driving ability affected. The court would then consider the general character of the accused and then, most important, the effect of the disqualification on the accused.

As I have explained, we have specifically taken the words added to the 1962 Act during its passage through Parliament. At that time many hon. Members objected to the automatic nature of the disqualification for three offences within three years. If one looks at the way in which that Act has worked one sees that for the professional driver—for the man whose livelihood is at stake and whose offence is of a minor nature—disqualification has not been imposed, although in other cases disqualification has been imposed. I believe that the same would happen in this case. In other words, where an infringement—though I accept that one cannot refer to it as a minor offence because, by the nature of the offence we are discussing, it is a serious one—was only slightly over the limit set down and where the man's livelihood was dependent on his licence, the court might decide, in its wisdom, to reduce the period of disqualification, while in the remainder of cases the penalty would be as set out.

I appeal to the Minister to accept the spirit in which the Amendment is moved. It is not moved in an attempt to weaken the Bill or demand that first offenders should not be disqualified. It is an attempt to see that when the Bill works—remembering the tremendous impact it will have on the social habits of the nation—it does not wreak hardship on a great many people.

Mr. Gardner

Like the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), I was sorry—and I hope that I misheard my right hon. Friend—to understand the Minister to say earlier that she was not able to accept either the Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman or the one standing in my name, Amendment No. 19. As the hon. Member for Runcorn said, there was a great deal of unanimity in Committee on this issue. Hon. Members realised that we were discussing a very tough Measure. Like him, I wish to make it clear that I have no wish to weaken the Bill. In earlier debates my hon. Friends and I made this clear. We accept that if the Bill is to be an effective deterrent to drunken driving, its penalties must be very tough indeed.

At the same time, we must consider the person whose livelihood may be in jeopardy, although I part company with the hon. Member for Runcorn when he referred to minimum penalties. Had we been discussing another type of minimum penalty—for example, were we discussing a minimum term of imprisonment—one might take some comfort from the thought that we are all equal in goal. However, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we are not all equal in the matter of disqualification from driving. We must consider the plight of the lorry driver who may have been caught while perhaps not driving his lorry but when out with friends at the weekend. There is also the question of the man who was caught while driving his private motor car but who normally drives his own mobile greengrocery van. He would be prevented effectively from earning his living for a period of one year if the Bill goes through as it is drafted.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who was kind enough to write to me on this point. However, he appears to have misunderstood our intention. Certainly it was not my intention, as he puts it, to allow the drunken driver to get away with it, whereas the amateur driver suffers the full rigour of the penalty. That is why we seek in this Amendment to give the courts a discretion not to do away with disqualification altogether but to vary the penalty.

This House, quite rightly, is concerned to see that the law of the land treats equals equally. When we have this kind of punishment, it is almost impossible to do that. Clearly, there is a difference in hardship, not in terms of the nature of the offence but in terms of the effects of the punishment.

One could argue strongly that disqualification for a period of, say, six months would be a much harsher punishment on a professional lorry driver than disqualification for two or even five years would be on an hon. Member of the House, who, after all, has the privilege of first-class rail travel to his constituency, whereas, even under our Amendment, the lorry driver would lose his livelihood for six months.

It is my opinion that we ought to move away from the present method of dealing with drunken drivers. I am very attracted to the Scandinavian idea of a short sharp lesson by taking convicted persons away for a period and putting them to some useful work on behalf of the community. Unfortunately, we cannot discuss alternative penalties at this stage.

In Committee, my right hon. Friend gave the impression that the point was a valid one and that, although there were many difficulties about making allowance for some variation in the penalty, she was cognisant of the fact that there is a problem and that we need to have penalties which have similar effects on different individuals.

I am not suggesting that the form of words in either Amendment is ideal. The official Opposition Amendment is too wide, because there may be some dispute about the circumstances which led up to the conviction. My hon. Friend and I accept that the offence requires the severest punishment, but we believe that a court should be given the opportunity to vary the punishment according to the effect of the punishment on the individual and not according to the nature of the offence.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this again. If the form of words in neither Amendment is acceptable, perhaps she will return to it at a later stage.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) has put forward a very strong case in moderate and reasonable terms, and I hope that the Minister will pay heed to what he has said.

I have no strong opinions as to whether the Amendment which the hon. Member favours is to be preferred to that moved so impressively by my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). On balance, I prefer my hon. Friend's Amendment, because it gives a slightly broader discretion to the courts. Severe hardship is somewhat restricting and sometimes difficult to define. There is such a wide variety of circumstances which the court might have to bear in mind that it is better to leave the discretion somewhat open.

Be that as it may, I am opposed to compulsory disqualification for a first offence of any kind, because it is wrong in principle. In the context of the new offence, I am afraid that, if we have compulsory disqualification for a first offence, it will defeat the purpose of Part I of the Bill. I say that because it will generate a reluctance to convict of having a specified quantity of alcohol in the blood, just as, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary pointed out in Committee, there has been a reluctance to convict of the new offence created under the 1962 Act. The reason why there were not more convictions under the 1962 Act than we had previously for driving under the influence as it was called was that we introduced compulsory disqualification for the long period of 12 months, even for a first offence.

9.0 p.m.

The Government are trying in this Bill, quite rightly in my opinion, to deal more effectively with motorists who drive with alcohol in their blood. We want these prosecutions to succeed, but I think that the Minister was being a little optimistic on an earlier Amendment, when she put forward the view that convictions would follow as a matter of course. The fact is that under the Bill the prosecution will have to cross a number of technical hurdles, and if benches think that the results of conviction for a first offence are too drastic they may be as reluctant to convict in future as they have been in the past, and the prosecution will find these hurdles difficult to cross. I think that the Government should profit by our experience and not repeat a previous mistake, for which I accept my share of responsibility.

I propose to move on now to the question why, in my opinion, compulsory disqualification is wrong in principle for a first offence. In the first place, it is contrary to the whole spirit of the Probation of Offenders Act. It cannot be denied that disqualification is a penalty or punishment, and the right hon. Lady said in Committee—and I agreed with her—that it was playing with words to make a distinction between its use as a deterrent and its use as a punishment. She said, however—and I must put this in fairness—that she wanted it as a deterrent, and not as a punishment. I do not see how she will get that. It obviously is a punishment as well as a deterrent.

We must not lose sight of the well-established fact, which was brought to light by Sir George Benson, who was Chairman of a Home Office Committee dealing with the matter some years ago, that 70 per cent. of first offenders never appear in court again. To that extent it should not be necessary to have such a drastic deterrent or punishment.

But there is another matter which one must mention in connection with the principle which is involved, and it is that by interfering with the discretion of justices in relation to the first offender we would really be putting the clock back in the treatment of offenders, because, as Mr. Chuter Ede pointed out in 1948, the punishment should always fit not only the crime, but the offender, and if we in Parliament impose an automatic penalty, a minimum sentence of compulsory disqualification, that will make it impossible for the courts to ensure that the punishment fits the offender as well as the crime. This is especially true in the case of first offenders, and I therefore consider that the Amendment is essential. both to make the Bill effective, and to ensure that justice is done.

The only point that I would add is to repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn said about the most extraordinary situation that we are reaching, with 20,000 disqualified drivers, many of them driving on the roads, with all the disadvantages that this entails. It came to light recently that some officers of police are very worried about this.

It is time that we took stock of the whole position arising over compulsory disqualification of offenders—and, indeed, of disqualification generally. The time has probably come when representatives of the Home Office, the Ministry of Transport, Queen's Bench judges and magistrates should seriously confer, get hold of the facts, and see exactly where we are going.

It is appropriate to mention that on this Amendment, because we are discussing a further departure in the direction of compulsory disqualification and it would be wrong for us to make that departure unless we could be sure that the Government realised that a difficult situation was arising. I hope that we will hear something tonight—it should come from the representative of the Home Office, with respect—to indicate that the Government are alive to this difficult situation and prepared to do something about it.

Meanwhile, we must act in the context of the Bill. The wise thing would be to accept either my hon. Friend's Amendment or that of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Mapp

My speech may be inconsistent with what I said in Committee— that, after some years of sitting in a magistrates' court and accepting the limitations of many such courts and indeed of quarter sessions, I still think that a magistrate diligently searching for the truth should have some area of discretion in certain very limited circumstances.

Without any inbuilt prejudices, I must say that the words of Amendment No. 18 remind me that, so often in the past, clever people for the defence can persuade courts of all the special circumstances and can get away without an order for disqualification or words to that effect. I have heard this in the courts so often with very flimsy evidence that I would be loth to accept any words of this kind to give a broad indication to magistrates of the special case which can arise under the Bill.

Therefore, I had some part framing the words of Amendment No. 19. Dealing with a first offence, it relates in particular to severe hardship to the individual. The Home Office might say, "Why should a court take into account the individual's problems when he has committed an offence?" But courts are always doing that. We expect magistrates to take this into account. If the facts in one case point to a level of 80 milligrammes in the blood and the facts in another point in another direction, the magistrates' views should be recorded.

Magistrates might be faced with Mr. or Mrs. Brown, who may be 50, with an impeccable driving record and a licence held for many years. The court would know—magistrates know their areas—that this person, in an accepted position and a person of character, because of one foolish interlude—perhaps going to a celebration of a silver wedding anniversary—has done something unpardonable. Nevertheless, I suppose that there are aberrations in nearly all lives. The defendant finds himself on the one odd occasion at a rating of 85 or 90 milligrammes. I assume that that is a long way from being drunk. But perhaps it is a situation in which one is adventurous.

These are the facts which come to the magistrates. They may question the police in an assessment of the defendant. They will listen carefully to the evidence. But, in the end, they will be faced with the fact that they will have to carry out the law under this Bill. They will have no choice. The penalty will be very harsh in that case—really, it will be over harsh. The defendant may be the doctor or the professional man or the longdistance driver who has offended in his own car during the weekend. With all the good will in the world—indeed, I believe, with all the good will of this House—the magistrates will be bound to impose the full hardship of the law, 12 months' disqualification.

The penalty will certainly hurt. It would hurt me, and I am away from home four days out of seven. It would seriously inconvenience me. But what about the professional man or the man who drives professionally? My right hon. Friend said in Committee, on 8th December, that the Committee could not expect her, just before Christmas, to make a commendatory move towards a similar Amendment because it would be out of harmony with the need to let people realise, as we moved towards Christmas, of the need for the utmost care, and we accepted her view. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) and I spent some time drafting the Amendment to try to cover the real hardship cases. I hope that my right hon. Friend, even at this late stage, will reconsider.

Perhaps even our solution of a minimum of six months' disqualification is too severe. In some circumstances, I could argue that this would be very harsh in the case of, for example, a doctor who has only once transgressed and has speeded, although the evidence does not say that he was drunk or was driving a car in a foolish manner. But because he has gone beyond 80 milligrammes he must be treated as severely as a person who, having taken drink, drives in the knowledge that he is impaired. In the unique circumstances I am trying to describe, I ask my right hon. Friend at least to make sympathetic noises and say she will reconsider this.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Awdry

I like both Amendments, but on balance I prefer No. 18, which has been so well and persuasively moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). I shall not try to frighten the Minister—she has no need to be fearful—but I would like to convince her about the merit of the Amendment.

Whenever we discuss penalties, we come up against a dilemma. As soon as we argue that disqualification of a first offender is harsh, we are told that we are weakening the Bill. That was what we were told steadily throughout Standing Committee. We are not trying to weaken the Bill in any way.

I have read the speech on this subject by the Minister in Standing Committee when she rejected our Amendments. The right hon. Lady stated: But let us pause for a moment and think what is the purpose of the Bill. Surely, the main purpose is to bring clarity and precision where discretion operated before. The right hon. Member for Ashford said that the Bill is altering the whole concept of the law. That is exactly what we are saying. The past discretionary approach lacked subjective definitions as to what was impairment and attempted to establish, by imprecise criteria, what it was that we were trying to stop. That failed to deal with the problem which we are all agreed we want to deal with."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 8th December, 1966; c. 262.] I entirely agree with those words. We are making the offence more precise, and quite rightly, because far too often as the law stands guilty people have been getting away with it. Because, however, we are making the offence more precise is no argument in logic to say that we should remove all discretion from the punishment. If the right hon. Lady reflects on this, she will see that there is no logic in her argument which I have just quoted.

The House must realise that in future practically all prosecutions which are brought will be brought under the Bill and not under the existing law. This is because the new Act will make it an easier procedure for prosecutions. Thus, as I said in Standing Committee, three categories of person will appear before the courts. The worst category are those who even today are convicted. All those will be rightly convicted and disqualified. Secondly, there will be the cases in which the amount of alcohol in the blood is between, say, 150 and 200 milligrammes and in which category today so many defendants are acquitted. I think that half of those with 150 milligrammes or more in the blood and who go for trial are acquitted. In future, all those will be convicted and automatically disqualified. The third category will be the people who are brought before the courts and against whom no prosecution would have taken place before the Bill becomes law. All those will be automatically convicted. As the Bill stands, they will all be automatically disqualified for a year.

All that the Amendment does is to say that among that third category there may be some, perhaps not many, who only just go over the margin and for whom automatic disqualification would be too harsh. We therefore say that in the case of first offenders in that category, discretion should be given to the magistrates. I believe that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), who is a magistrate and speaks with great knowledge of the courts, supports this view. It would not weaken the Bill but would make it much fairer and more acceptable.

In an earlier debate today, the Minister said to her hon. Friends that she was not being frightened into making an concession. She has heard persuasive speeches from both sides of the House and she is now about to hear another from this side. I hope, therefore, that she will be prepared to reconsider the matter.

Mr. Lubbock

Unfortunately, this persuasive speech will not be in harmony with the last one. I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), but I must correct him on one point before I deal with the other arguments to which I have listened.

The hon. Member spoke about the people who only just go over the margin. If the hon. Member looks back to the sitting of the Standing Committee before the one from which he has just quoted, he will remember that the Minister quite rightly said that the margin was not 80 milligrammes, but 50 milligrammes, and that if we compare the legislation which is now before the House with the Swedish provisions we find that the Swedes have a different set of penalties for persons with between 50 and 80 milligrammes from those who have 80 milligrammes and more. In Sweden, I understand from the Minister's speech, disqualification is automatic if a person has more than 80 milligrammes of alcohol in the blood but below that level, between 50 and 80 milligrammes, disqualification is discretionary. He will find this in the Minister's speech—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member will, I hope, address himself to the Amendment.

Mr. Lubbock

I will just finish the sentence—of 6th December, 1966, in c. 238.

Mr. Awdry

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that some countries set the limit lower and some others set it a good deal higher?

Mr. Lubbock

Yes, and I am arguing against the hon. Gentleman who said that we must discriminate between those who just went over the margin and those with the much higher level of 150 or 200 milligrammes, half of whom he says now get away with it. I disagreed with him, and said that the limit, if one is to exercise discretion, would not be 80 milligrammes but 50.

I agree with the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) that the number of people driving who have been disqualified is very worrying. If there were 8,000 people driving last year while disqualified we must address ourselves very seriously to the problem and try to find a solution to it, but I am not sure that this present debate is the right occasion on which to have a comprehensive discussion of the machinery for catching people who are driving whilst they are disqualified. We must find a general solution to that problem, but not let our minds be influenced too much in considering these Amendments by the number of cases of that kind that occur at present.

It seems to me that the point about these two Amendments is that, as the right hon. Lady the Minister said in Committee, disqualification is a real hardship, and to the extent that one waters down this hardship that we know will be imposed on people guilty of an offence under the Clause we lessen the deterrent effect. I accept that Amendment No. 19 is at least to be preferred to that moved from this side of the House, and I hope that if the right hon. Lady is prepared to move in this direction at all she will feel disposed to accept Amendment No. 19 rather than Amendment No. 18 which, in my view, goes far too widely.

As has been said from the other side of the House, it would be reasonable for a person guilty of a first offence, and in a case in which there are strong mitigating circumstances, not to be disqualified for a full year but perhaps for a period of six months, as Amendment No. 19 provides. That would be quite reasonable. Even so, six months disqualification would be a very serious hardship to, say, a lorry driver or a commercial traveller, but I put it to the House that it is the responsibility of such a person who is using the roads constantly to be even more careful than the ordinary citizen about the quantity of alcohol he takes before driving.

The lorry driver, the commercial traveller, the bus driver—people like that—should not touch a drop of alcohol before going on the road. I am sure that organisations such as the United Kingdom Commercial Travellers' Association would agree with me absolutely there, and would try to influence their members to think in terms of never touching one drop of alcohol before taking to the roads. These people will therefore have to address their minds extremely carefully to this legislation. The hardship that such disqualification would cause them should be a matter for them to take into account throughout the whole of their working lives, and even when taking their own private cars on the roads at the weekends they must get into the habit of not drinking any alcohol at all if the whole of their life's work entails driving.

The spirit in which these Amendments are moved is very humane. I agree that one should at all times try to make the punishment fit the offender as well as fit the crime, but we have here the difficulty that in the past the courts have been extremely lenient—too lenient—to people who have taken alcohol and then driven on the roads.

My fear is that if Amendment No. 18 were accepted a number of people would be convicted of this offence and would be let off by the magistrates who felt that it was not as serious an offence as this House views it to be. I am sure the hon. Member for Oldham, East will confirm that we would have a situation in which courts in different parts of the country would take different attitudes to the offence. In one part of the country a magistrate would say that a lorry driver would suffer such terrible hardship if he were convicted that he should exercise his discretion and not disqualify him, while the magistrate in a different part of the country may be less sympathetic towards lorry drivers and say that the man must be disqualified for the full period of a year.

For the avoidance of any doubt and in order to create a real deterrent, the penalty must stand or be modified only to the extent suggested by Amendment No. 19. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) informed me that in many states of the United States there is automatic disqualification for speeding. The greatest deterrent against exceeding the speed limit in those states is a huge notice on the throughways saying, "Speeders lose licences". If we can get it into the head of every motorist that by taking alcohol he stands in danger of losing his licence for a year, we shall get rid of a great deal of drunken motoring.

Mrs. Castle

I have given very careful thought to the points covered by these Amendments as I promised in Committee that I would. My reference earlier this evening should not lead anyone to believe that I have not given a very great deal of time and thought to the arguments which have been advanced, but I am sure all hon. Members will agree that we canvassed all the aspects of these two Amendments in Committee and there have not been any new arguments deployed in this debate. Therefore, it is on the basis of the arguments in Committee that I have been giving the reconsideration which I was asked to give.

I think the House will agree when hon. Members hear what I have to say that I have tried to meet the points which have been raised in the way which I think is the only way effectively to meet them. Two point arise on these Amendments. First there is the plea for the first offender in general on the ground that 12 months' disqualification may prove too harsh for someone who, as it were, is just feeling his way in coming to terms with the new offence and who more by accident than design finds himself just over the level. That is one of the rather heart-rending pictures which have been painted.

Secondly, there is the plea for the man whose livelihood may depend on driving and who, it is argued, may be just over the level with a first offence. The Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) goes very much further than the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) in making the disqualification in these cases discretionary. I must make clear at the outset—

It being half-past Nine o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on Government Business may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's sitting at any hour, though opposed—[Mrs. Castle.]

Question again proposed.

Mrs. Castle

I must make it clear at the outset that I cannot make disqualification discretionary for this offence, even in the case of the first offender, and even if the Amendment suggested there would have to be mitigating circumstances. The reason for this I gave in Committee, and I still think it is valid, is that the object of the new law is to deter people from driving when they have too much alcohol in their blood.

We have just got to grasp what is the nature of the new offence and how we have got to have a quite different concept of what is a serious matter in drinking and driving. The more I listen to discussions of the kind we had just now, the more clear I am that even hon. Members of this House, who considered the Bill in Committee, and who are supporting the concept of the new offence, and have certainly given the impression that they understand its implications—even among us the assumption slips out in speeches that really the commission of this new offence is not serious in the sense that we have learned to regard the drink and driving offences under the old law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) practically spelled it out in terms, as some hon. Members opposite did in Committee. He gave the case of someone who, he said, was not drunk, only just over the level, and so he was not impaired. But that shows we have not grasped what the new offence is.

I did not dream up the level of 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. It is not something which one just draws out of a hat. This level of definition in this new offence is based on medical advice, and I must repeat to the House that already the level of 80 is, if anything, over-generous, because the B.M.A. has pointed out to us quite clearly, as the hon. Gentleman reminded us just now, that an appreciable proportion of drivers will begin to be impaired at much below that level—at 50 milligrammes. That is another fact we have to get home to people, and really it is mistaken to discuss this offence, as has been suggested, by saying, "If you are at 80, well, that is nothing very considerable; you have a bit in hand".

There would be nothing very serious, it was said in Committee, if we were just 10 milligrammes or so above the level. I told the Committee at the time when we discussed this then, that if we had a starting point of 50 milligrammes I thought it would be reasonable to say, "Well, let us make it discretionary up to 80, because we are on the right side of the danger." This, of course, as the hon. Member pointed out, is what the Swedes do. They do have discretionary disqualification for their offence, but it is discretionary up to 80 milligrammes—because those people have already drunk more than they ought to do if they are at the wheel of a car, for it is just not true they will not be impaired.

We have got to say to people, "You are impaired at 80. You are, therefore, potentially a danger at the wheel." This really is the problem we have to face when we start to talk about mitigating circumstances and how harsh disqualification is, because it does not begin until the level of 80 milligrammes is reached. This is the point. We must take very seriously the question of deterring people from reaching that level.

We all know—it was revealed again in the National Opinion Poll published a few days ago—that the real deterrent is disqualification. It was very interesting to see the figures resulting from the poll in reply to the question" Which do you think is the best way to prevent people from driving under the influence of drink—fining them or disqualifying them?" Eighty-three per cent. said "disqualify" and only 12 per cent. "fine".

Sir D. Renton

How does the right hon. Lady account for the fact, if it is such a great deterrent—I am speaking generally now, not only in regard to drink—that the number of accidents does not fall as the number of people disqualified rises?

Mrs. Castle

I should not like to pronounce on a remark of a general kind like that, of whose validity I would remain to be convinced, and which certainly could not be commented upon without a great deal more knowledge of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was trying to say.

As I said, disqualification is the great deterrent. We all know as a matter of experience, with all deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East, that magistrates are only too likely to let off from disqualification a high proportion of those convicted if mitigating circumstances can be pleaded.

Mr. Mapp

In her consideration of this important principle, will my right hon. Friend take into account that the police authorities, having got the whole of the information, and knowing the character of the unusual person now involved and about whom we are speaking, may start issuing warnings rather than go through the processes of the court knowing that the end product will be too harsh for the immediate circumstances? I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the problem for the police superintendent who has to decide whether or not a prosecution should take place. It is a difficult position that I should like the House to safeguard.

Mrs. Castle

I should have thought that that argument could be applied to any offences for which disqualification was automatic. I know that there are certain hon. Members who object to automatic disqualification or automatic penalties. However, as I have pointed out to them, we have a whole list of driving offences under the 1962 Act for which disqualification is automatic. Therefore, I am very concerned to ensure that this new offence gets its proper classification as an offence which is equivalent in seriousness to those for which automatic disqualification is provided.

Mr. Carlisle

The right hon. Lady has just said that magistrates tend to be lenient in these matters. Since these are the words of the 1962 Act, can she tell me in what proportion of cases under that Act magistrates have used their discretion not to disqualify owing to mitigating circumstances? I think that she will find that the proportion is very low.

Mrs. Castle

I can give the hon. Gentleman the figure; it rather reinforces my argument. I was about to give it to the House anyway. Under the 1962 Act, magistrates courts have let off entirely 26 per cent. of persons on those grounds in totting-up cases; that is, one in four.

We are trying to convince people that we are very serious about this new offence and that we really are in earnest about the danger of drinking and driving. I have been bludgeoned and harried on both sides of the House about not being tough enough and for modifying the form of the original random test. Everybody has been calling for tough action and saying that there should be no compromise with this evil. The Government could not accept Amendment No. 18, which could result in one in four offenders perhaps being let off because of mitigating circumstances, or could result in their being liable to a less severe penalty than they otherwise would be liable to.

Amendment No. 19 is much more reasonable in its scope, because its effect would be to reduce the period of disqualification to six months in the case of a first offence where disqualification would involve severe hardship to the individual. In Committee I promised to consider whether it would be possible to reduce the period of disqualification for the first offender. I always made it clear that I was not prepared to make it discretionary.

I have been interested to re-read what I said in Committee. It now sounds positively prophetic. I said this: I must say that just before Christmas is not exactly the time when I would want to make a speech which implied that everyone is entitled to a first go … I feel that the more people who grasp this Christmas, as a result of this debate, the fact that there will be no first go for anybody without disqualification the better.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E; 8th December, 1966, c. 281.] The fact that we had been debating this Bill, with all its new provisions; the publicity which was given to it; the care with which we chose our words before Christmas—all that had no effect.

It is clear that only pretty ruthless action will have any effect. I do not say that for any love of it. I only wish that it were possible to persuade rather than penalise, but we have not succeeded in persuasion. All the arguments which are used in mitigation of our attitude to drink and driving have only left us with the tragedy we had last Christmas. I believe that public opinion is ready for us to be much tougher than we have been.

I want to refer to two recent public opinion polls. It is interesting to notice how much they coincide in their findings. One is the National Opinion Poll, which I have already quoted, which asked this question: Do you think that our laws against driving under the influence of drink are too tough or not tough enough or about right? Seventy-seven per cent. said "Not tough enough."

At about the same time a Gallup Poll was reported—I think it was last weekend or the weekend before—in the Sunday Telegraph. The answer it found to a very similar question was that 71 per cent. said "Not strict enough". The figure was the same for all who answered and for just motorists alone.

I believe that people are waiting for us to give a lead on this. I hope that the House will agree to stand firm on these points tonight. I cannot accept the arguments that one offender should be let off more lightly than another simply because he happens to earn his living by driving. Surely he is the last person to be considered for mitigating circumstances. It is his profession. We expect him to know how to drive. As it is his profession, we expect him to pass a driving test—and a stiffer one than other people could pass. Should not we expect him to pass an even stiffer drinking test, not a milder one? Such a person deserves, not mitigation, but, if anything, greater severity—certainly equivalent severity. Surely this is how we should view the matter when a man who earns his living by driving falls into this inexcusable offence?

There is one other not unimportant point. The automatic disqualification for impairment is 12 months. If we give the courts discretion here to reduce the disqualification to six months in certain cases, we ought logically to give them same discretion for impairment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Hon. Members have not got their psychology right on this yet. The penny has not dropped. We should be saying in those cases that a man's driving is not impaired. This is the point which must be grasped.

9.45 p.m.

The British Medical Associaton has told us that at the level of 50 mg. an appreciable proportion of drivers begin to have their ability impaired. At the 80 mg. level. the overwhelming majority are impaired. This is why we have the new offence. We have all the paraphernalia of Part I because people's driving ability is impaired. To have different penalties for impairment and for this offence would at once put it in the category of less serious offences. We shall never get the point across unless we all start off in unison saying from the outset that this is an extremely serious offence for which there can be no mitigation. That is what I hope the House will do.

I have given a lot of thought to the argument—the hon. Member for Runcorn put it again today—which asks how we can lay down this new offence and attach great seriousness to it if we do not tell people what it means. People may want to obey this new law, the argument goes, but they are given no guidance because I refused on Second Reading and I have refused since to give conversion tables. I agree that there is something in the argument that people may be in genuine doubt about how much they can drink. But the way out of that is not to say, "You can have a first go and, if it is not very much over the odds, we will treat you lightly". The way out is to have an educational campaign.

I have been thinking very hard about this. It is not an easy matter. As I have said, my whole instinct is against conversion tables of any kind, and the reasons for my opposition to them remain valid. The amount of alcohol needed to produce a concentration of 80 mg. per 100 ml. of blood varies over a fairly wide range, as we all know, according to several factors, the constitution of the individual, whether he drinks on a full or empty stomach, the period over which he drinks, and so on. The way in which these factors interact is so complex that it is not possible to produce a conversion table which allows for it.

It would not, therefore, be possible to produce a conversion table of drinks which would be valid for all people and for all times. The most one could do would be to give the lower end of the range and say that at and above that point there is a risk of exceeding the limit. But even if one were to give the lower end of the range in a conversion table, one would still run into difficulty because most people begin to have their ability impaired by drink before they have reached the level permitted in the Bill. This is one of the problems we are up against. We should not lay down conversion tables which might keep people within the law but still leave a number of them with their ability impaired. Our aim is to prevent people from driving when their ability is impaired.

I have therefore taken a great deal of medical and scientific advice. The B.M.A. has withdrawn the conversion tables and is not willing to give them. I asked it if there was any kind of guidance we could give people that would enable one to say that the overwhelming majority of us would not be impaired. The fact is that most of us would be impaired at levels possibly below the limit. While the B.M.A. is prepared to say that 1½ pints of beer or three single tots of spirit is the reasonable limit for most of us there are difficulties because that does not apply to everybody. Some people could be seriously impaired with less than 50 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood in certain circumstances.

The B.M.A. has advised me that there is no amount of alcohol that it would be safe for everyone, without exception, to drink in any circumstances before driving. We must therefore have three qualifications to get over those exceptional cases. They would be: never drive after drinking on an empty stomach; never drive after drinking if you are unused to drinking; never drive if you feel that you are at all affected by the drink.

We must therefore prepare, as I am preparing, a very extensive educational campaign about the provisions of the Bill, its scope and the changes in our social habits that will be necessary. I hope to be able to use advertising media of all kinds to reach as many people as possible. Such a campaign needs very careful preparation, and I cannot now give the House details of what it would involve.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Lady is going a little wide of the Amendment.

Mrs. Castle

I apologise if you think that that is so, Mr. Speaker, but I am trying to answer the point of the hon. Member for Runcorn who says that it is wrong to lay down a minimum penalty for an offence when one will not say what the offence means. I am trying to answer the point which was made by hon. Members in Committee and again tonight. We shall be launching an educational campaign to make clear what is involved in the nature of the new offence. I suggest that that is the right way to deal with the matter and not to mitigate the penalty when having ignored our advice drivers commit even a first offence.

A point was made about the number of evasions of disqualification. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) said that it was time that I, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and others involved took stock of the situation. I agree that it is extremely disturbing when we find that so many people can evade disqualification. But the answer is not to say that we shall not disqualify, because by so doing we would throw away our most effective deterent. The right way is to improve and tighten up our enforcement, to prevent people going through the net. The Home Secretary and I are currently discussing that, and we are examining the measures that will be necessary to enable us to check evasions of disqualification.

I again suggest that that is the right way to deal with the matter and not to take steps by mitigation of penalties which might hinder the people of this country from the appreciation they must have of the seriousness of the offence.

Mr. Galbraith

The Minister said that she had carried out a public opinion poll which showed that the law was not tough enough. I do not think that anybody would disagree; we know that the law is not tough enough. What I am afraid is that if she were to carry out a public opinion poll on the Bill as it is people would say that it was not fair enough. That is what is wrong with it.

We are not arguing about whether there should be an offence. We do not wish to be soft to dangerous drinkers. This suspicion has, unfortunately, bedevilled people all the time. We agree that we want to be tough and that there should be a twelve months' disqualification as a general rule. But just as in some cases the courts will have discretion to increase the penalty because 12 months is not enough, so we believe that they should have power to reduce the penalty when they think that 12 months' disqualification is too much.

People would think it a very strange law if a £100 fine were laid down without discretion. To a rich man. £100 might be nothing, whereas a £10 fine to a poor man might be a very great fine indeed. We do not determine the size of the fine in the House. We leave it to the court's discretion to decide how much is necessary to make the penalty fit the crime. If this applies to other branches of the law, why should it not apply to disqualification, which the right hon. Lady admits is the real penalty? She has never answered this.

I wish to take a somewhat similar case to that referred to by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner)—a lorry driver who is found to have just over 80 milligrammes of alcohol in his blood. The right hon. Lady assumed that this lorry driver had over 80 milligrammes in his blood when driving his lorry. She said that when people are driving lorries they should be particularly careful; and I agree 100 per cent. with her. But in my case the man was not driving his lorry. It was not any action which aroused the constable's suspicions, but purely in the course of a routine check—perhaps a licence check or something of that sort—during the driver's off time there is a smell of alcohol, the constable applies the test, and the man is found to have just over 80 milligrammes of alcohol in his bloodstream. The effect on him will be utterly catastrophic. He will lose not only his licence but his livelihood. The cause of the disaster will not be negligence in his work, as the Minister seemed to suggest, but a chance encounter during his off time. It is impossible to imagine anything less fair.

The Minister simply cannot have thought the matter out. I know very well that she has not been doing any thinking on this matter since 2nd January when she stated what her policy would be. She has re-enunciated the same thing today. [Laughter.] The right hon. Lady may laugh, but she is not a driver, nor a poor person. She does not know what it is like. [Laughter.] I am surprised that hon. Members opposite laugh. Obviously they have not been listening to what their hon. Friends have been saying. I am making very much the same speech as they made.

Mr. John Morris

Is the hon. Gentleman's objection that my right hon. Friend has not been thinking at all or that she has not been thinking since 2nd January?

Mr. Galbraith

No. I presume that the right hon. Lady must have been thinking, but I should have preferred her to be thinking between 2nd January, when, naturally, with Christmas, she was under extreme pressure, and this date. I should have liked her to be doing some thinking since 2nd January, but, whether she has been doing any thinking or not, she has come to the same conclusion.

May I return to the case which I have been trying to quote from the Glasgow Herald. It illustrates the terrible repercussions which can occur when there is no discretion. I should like to quote what this man's agent said: Until disqualification the accused had been a lorry driver earning a big wage. Now he is working as a labourer for very much less and living has become one long worry for him because of financial difficulties. The agent added: This has tended to turn him to drink. The penalty was so severe that the man lost heart. Instead of acting as a deterrent, the penalty has driven him into doing the very thing it was intended to stop. For all I know the penalty in that case might have been just the same if the court had had the discretion which the Amendment would give it. However, I have instanced a case where a man was driving in a private and not a business capacity, and there can be no justification for the sort of harshness that is bound to arise under the Bill because the courts are not given discretion in this matter.

10.0 p.m.

I do not want to say anything else to offend the right hon. Lady, if I have already offended her. However, she and her party have claimed to have the interests of the working man at heart. If that is so, she must take steps to see that the automatic penalty of disqualification does not hit the working driver far harder than it will hit the occasional weekend motorist.

All hon. Members are concerned about the present state of affairs and we wish to hit the dangerous drinker as hard as we can. We want to make sure that when we hit, the penalty is not only adjusted to the degree of guilt but that its severity is adjusted to individual circumstances. We want to ensure that its impact is felt with the same force by different offenders, which is something which we in this House cannot do. We are members of a legislative body and not adjudicators. We cannot know the circumstances of every case. We cannot know when 12 months' disqualification would be a comparatively light sentence and when 12 weeks' disqualification would involve dire hardship. Neither we nor the right hon. Lady can know these things. We must leave these matters to the court or we will not get justice, which is what we are seeking by the Amendment.

The last thing I wish to do on a matter which should be a non-party issue is to divide the House. I do so in the knowledge that it will place some hon. Gentlemen opposite in a difficult position. They have voiced their concern tonight and in the event of there being a vote they may have difficulty with their consciences. However, I do not see how, in fairness to the public, I can avoid asking the House to divide on this issue—that is, unless the right hon. Lady instructs her Parliamentary Secretary to help us; and I urge her, even at this late stage, to think again about this important matter.

We do not want to encourage softness to drinkers. We merely want to give discretion to the courts so that the punishment is adjusted to the circumstances of the offender and so that there is the same severity of punishment in each case. That will not happen under the Bill as drafted, and that is why I urge my hon. Friends to press the Amendment.

Sir H. Harrison

I agreed with very much of what the Minister said, although she did not address her remarks to the Amendment. We are particularly concerned about the punishment for first offenders. In Committee there was a great deal of agreement among the majority of hon. Members that the punishment was too severe for a first offence. The difference between the Committee was that my hon. Friends and I said that we would like to leave discretion to the magistrates while hon. Gentlemen opposite preferred a statutory punishment of one year because they did not trust magistrates. I say that with respect to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp). Having given this matter a great deal of thought, I find myself sympathising with the remarks of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner).

We keep on talking about men drinking. The Bill will apply to both ladies and men and I am worried about those first offenders who are lady drivers. The right hon. Lady the Minister does not drive—I do not blame her—and she has made great publicity over the fact that she has got her husband to cut down the amount of gin he takes with tonic water at all the parties they attend.

Hon. Members

He does not drink at all now.

Sir H. Harrison

I think that she did not stop him altogether, but if I read the report aright, she said that he now drinks very little.

What will happen in the majority of cases, however, is that men going to parties and not wanting to restrict their drinking will say to their wives, many of whom will have the sort of slim figure which the right hon. Lady has—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman began his speech on

the Amendment. He has got right away from it now.

Sir H. Harrison

All that I wanted to point out was that such ladies who seldom drink may have one or two gins and be just over the 80 level. If such a woman drives and is caught, any period of disqualification will be serious. One can think of many married women who have young children, and a number of them motor their children to school. A disqualification would be a great hardship. In the case of a first offence, disqualification for six months would be quite enough. I hope that the Minister will have second thoughts about this.

Question put, That the proposed words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 104, Noes 174.

Division No. 272.] AYES [10.8 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Onslow, Cranley
Awdry, Daniel Hawkins, Paul Osborn, John (Hallam)
Batsford, Brian Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Page, Graham (Crosby)
Biffen, John Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Black, Sir Cyril Heseltine, Michael Peel, John
Blaker, Peter Hirst, Geoffrey Pink, R. Bonner
Bossom, Sir Clive Holland, Philip Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Hordern, Peter Prior, J. M. L.
Braine, Bernard Hornby, Richard Pym, Francis
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.Sir Walter Hunt, John Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Iremonger, T. L. Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Bullus, Sir Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Carlisle, Mark Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Channon, H. P. G. Kaberry, Sir Donald Roots, William
Chichester-Clark, R. Kirk, Peter Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Clegg, Walter Knight, Mrs. Jill Russell, Sir Ronald
Cooke, Robert Lancaster, Col. C. G. Scott, Nicholas
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Langford-Holt, Sir John Sharples, Richard
Corfield, F. V. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stainton, Keith
Costain, A. P. Longden, Gilbert Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Loveys, W. H. Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Cunningham, Sir Knox McMaster, Stanley Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Maude, Angus van Straubenzee, W. R.
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Mawby, Ray Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wall, Patrick
Doughty, Charles Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Ward, Dame Irene
Errington, Sir Eric Mills, Peter (Torrington) Weatherill, Bernard
Eyre, Reginald Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Webster, David
Fortescue, Tim Monro, Hector Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Goodhew, Victor Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gower, Raymond Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Grant, Anthony Neave, Airey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant-Ferris, R. Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Mr. More and Mr. David Mitchell.
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eve) Nott, John
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Blackburn, F. Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)
Alldritt, Walter Boardman, H. Crawshaw, Richard
Allen, Scholefield Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Cronin, John
Armstrong, Ernest Bray, Dr. Jeremy Dalyell, Tam
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Brooks, Edwin Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Davidson,Jamee(Aberdeenshire,W.)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Brown,Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Bence, Cyril Carter-Jones, Lewis Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Dempsey, James
Bessell, Peter Coe, Denis Diamond, Rt. Hn. John
Bishop, E. S. Coleman, Donald Dickens, James
Dobson, Ray Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Doig, Peter Loughlin, Charles Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Driberg, Tom Luard, Evan Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & G'b's) Lubbock, Eric Price, William (Rugby)
Eadie, Alex Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Randall, Harry
Edelman, Maurice McBride, Neil Redhead, Edward
Ellis, John McCann, John Rhodes, Geoffrey
English, Michael MacColl, James Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Ensor, David MacDermot, Niall Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Macdonald, A. H. Robertson, John (Paisley)
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm. Yardley) McGuire, Michael Robinson, W.O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Fernyhough, E. Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Roebuck, Roy
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mackintosh, John P. Rose, Paul
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maclennan, Robert Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich) McNamara, J. Kevin Ryan, John
Ford, Ben MacPherson, Malcolm Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Fowler, Gerry Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Manuel, Archie Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Freeson, Reginald Mapp, Charles Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Galpern, Sir Myer Marquand, David Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Gardner, Tony Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Spriggs, Leslie
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Mason, Roy Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Gregory, Arnold Mellish, Robert Steele,Thomas (Dumbartonshire,W.)
Grey, Charles (Durham) Mendelson, J. J. Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Millan, Bruce Swingler, Stephen
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanetly) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Taverne, Dick
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Thornton, Ernest
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Molloy, William Tinn, James
Hamling, William Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Urwin, T. W.
Harper, Joseph Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Varley, Eric G.
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Charles R. (Openehaw) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Haseldine, Norman Morris, John (Aberavon) Wainwright, Richard (Caine Valley)
Hazell, Bert Moyle, Roland Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Hooley, Frank Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Murray, Albert Wallace, George
Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Newens, Stan Watkins, David (Consett)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Hunter, Adam Ogden, Eric Whitaker, Ben
Hynd, John O'Malley, Brian Wilkins, W. A.
Jackson, Colln(B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Orme, Stanley Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Oswald, Thomas Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Winterbottom, R. E.
Judd, Frank Owen, Will (Morpeth) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Kenyon, Clifford Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Woof, Robert
Kerr, Russell (Feitham) Palmer, Arthur Yates, Victor
Lawson, George Pardoe, John
Leadbitter, Ted Pavitt, Laurence TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lestor, Miss Joan Pentland, Norman Mr. Gourlay and Mr. Whitlock.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 6, line 24, at the end to insert: (3) Disqualification for a period exceeding the appropriate minimum period prescribed by statute may be for a period of time terminating upon the issue of a certificate by a medical practitioner, following upon treatment of the disqualified period for addiction to alcohol or drugs, that there is good cause to believe that such person has been substantially cured of that addiction. This Amendment would add a subsection to Clause 4, which deals with the consequences of conviction of certain offences of driving or being in charge. Subsection (2) of Clause 4 deals with disqualification. The new subsection also deals with disqualification and would use the disqualification period for a useful purpose in certain cases—to try to cure addicts of alcohol or drugs and to prevent disqualified addicts from returning to the wheel while still addicts of alcohol or drugs.

I appreciate that Part 1 does not set out to deal with the heavy drinker or the confirmed drug taker. They may be dealt with in the law as it stands. The intention of Part 1 is to deal with the ordinary drinker when driving. But that is no bar to our trying to use the Bill as a vehicle for road safety and to deal with the heavy drinker and the confirmed drug taker.

I would remind the House that the disqualification Clause was originally in the Road Traffic Act of 1960, in Section 104, which was repealed and replaced by Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act, 1962. The first two subsections of that Section 5 deal with the periods for which disqualification can be imposed. Subsection (1) says that, for those convicted of offences in Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of that Act, … the court shall order him to be disqualified for such period not less than 12 months …". It then deals with the offenders under Part 2 of the Fifth Schedule and says that the court may order a defendant to be disqualified for such period as the court thinks fit.

In each case, the idea is expressed by the word "period" and it has been decided by the courts that, in the face of that, magistrates or quarter sessions cannot disqualify for an indefinite period. They may disqualify for life or for a fixed period but not for an indefinite period. Therefore, to disqualify, for example, a chronic alcoholic or a drug addict for a fixed period—say, 12 months—might be purposeless. He might come back to driving worse than ever. The court should have power to force a man to undergo treatment if he wants to get his licence back and if the court feels that he is addicted to alcohol or drugs. It is true that the Amendment would not affect a very great number of people, but it would affect a sufficient number who cause a sufficient number of deaths and injuries on the roads to justify legislation of this sort.

It is rather terrifying to think that, when it is discovered in the course of a prosecution that a driver is an addict either of drink or drugs, the court can merely disqualify him for a fixed period. It is possible, I suppose, that the court might use a probation order, but that is hardly appropriate when finding a man guilty of such an offence as driving when his skill is impaired by drink or drugs. I do not think that the court should use a probation order for disqualification from driving.

If the court can only impose a fixed period of disqualification, that man may be back on the road again, still an addict, in a comparatively short time. In the debate on the last Amendment, it was said again and again that disqualification is a deterrent. Undoubtedly it is. Perhaps it is a more effective deterrent certainly than a fine, perhaps even than a short term of imprisonment. We may perhaps say that disqualification is the most effective deterrent and leave it at that, but cannot we make use of the disqualification period to greater effect? Cannot we make it something more than merely a negative penalty—make it perhaps a positive and constructive device in road safety?

Mr. John Morris

I am sympathetic to the object of the Amendment, but I make the point immediately that, as drafted, it is ambiguous in that it is not clear when the certificate would be issued. It would appear that it could be issued at any time or, indeed, only after the man had served the statutory minimum. I would not have thought that the hon. Gentleman intended the certificate to be issued at any time. However, that is only a technical point of drafting. As I say, I am sympathetic to the object of the Amendment in that the addict is a person likely to succumb to temptation to drive whilst impaired and probably is a person who should not be holding a licence at all until cured.

Technically, this matter is at present dealt with by Section 100 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, because, there, the licensing authority has the power to revoke the licence or refuse to grant it if it appears to it that the person …is suffering from a disease or physical disability likely to cause … his driving to be a source of danger to the public, and the courts, of course, are required to inform the authority if, in the course of proceedings for a traffic offence, it appears to the court that the accused is suffering from a disease or disability of this kind. It would be for the medical officer of health of the authority concerned to decide, in the light of medical evidence, whether the person concerned was an alcoholic or drug addict and whether this was likely to make his driving dangerous.

There are, however, practical difficulties, as the hon. Member will be aware. For example, how are the courts or the licensing authorities to be informed? There is difficulty concerning the ethical code of the medical profession, which would forbid breach of confidence concerning the exact state of a patient. Another difficulty is that there is no accepted legal definition of alcoholism or dependence upon alcohol. I need not at this hour weary the House concerning the most widely accepted definition, that used by the World Health Organisation. There is this additional difficulty.

Having regard to my sympathy for the objects that the hon. Member has in mind, it is, however, possible to explore these practical difficulties of obtaining the necessary information to enable the licensing authorities to decide upon the issue of licences. This could be done after negotiation with the British Medical Association. In spite of the severe practical difficulties which I have mentioned, I am willing to examine the object under- lying the Amendment of ensuring that there is suitable treatment for addicts.

Mr. Graham Page

On that assurance, for which I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.