HC Deb 20 February 1967 vol 741 cc1155-9

Any person required to provide a specimen for a laboratory test under section 3(1) of this Act may thereafter be detained at the police station until he provides a specimen of breath for a breath test and it appears to a constable that the device by means of which the test is carried out indicates that the proportion of alcohol in that person's blood does not exceed the prescribed limit.—[Mr. Taverne.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.48 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State, Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The reason for the new Clause lies in a point made in Committee by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). He asked: Can we be absolutely sure that, in all circumstances, a man who is unfit to drive, or even on the brink of being unfit to drive, will not be allowed to drive away?"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 6th December, 1966; c. 219.] There has been in the past at least one case which occasioned considerable public anxiety because of a failure to detain someone at a police station who proved unfit to drive away.

The new Clause is introduced to provide a specific power in the Bill to enable the police to detain drivers at the police station who would otherwise drive away when it might be unsafe for them to do so. The only provision in the Bill as it stands touching on this point is paragraph 1 of the First Schedule, which will become redundant and will be deleted by the consequential Amendment connected with the new Clause. That paragraph adapts Section 38(2) of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, to the case of a person arrested under Clause 2(4), and enables the police to release that person on bail pending completion of the inquiry into the case. In practice, this power enables the police to detain a person only while arrangements are being made for his release: it does not permit them to detain him as long as he is unfit to drive.

A further limitation is that the power applies only to a person arrested under Clause 2(4), not to a person arrested under Clause 2(5) for failing to do a breath test. That was a point which the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) made in Committee. This is because in the former case evidence is provided by a positive breath test of the likelihood of an offence under Clause 1 having been committed, and therefore the case can be dealt with under the procedure of Section 38(2) of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952. However, cases of arrest under Clause 2(5) cannot be dealt within that way: at that time there is not yet evidence of an offence.

Obviously this is an important point. Obviously it is desirable that there should be no doubt whatsoever whether the police have power to stop someone from driving who is not yet fit to drive. In view of the concern which was rightly felt, in view of the very good point made by the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the limitations on the present power, and also as the persons concerned will not yet be charged with an offence while their specimen is being analysed, we have decided to take an express discretionary power as provided for in the Clause.

In practice the police may not need to use this power very often, because frequently in these cases someone else will be able to drive the person home or arrangements can be made for the person to be driven home. There is no intention whatsoever of disturbing such arrangements, and that is why the power to detain is discretionary. But if such arrangements cannot be made the police will not be able to detain a person until a breath test indicates that his blood-alcohol level is below the prescribed limit. This may well mean that in such a case a person will have to take more than one breath test before he is fit to be released. However, the police must have some way of knowing that they will be safe to allow him to drive home again.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I want immediately to express my appreciation of the way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government have responded to the suggestion we made in Committee that some such provision should be included in the Bill.

The first point which occurs to me—I am sure that the Under-Secretary would not under-rate this—is the very heavy responsibilities which will now be imposed on the police. I am sure that this is right. It is inevitable. What appears to be a very satisfactory way of meeting the point in the Bill takes no account of what will happen when an individual has been detained, when the police deem him unfit to return home in his own car, and find it necessary, under the provisions of the Clause, to detain him.

I should like to know what the Home Office has in mind as to how this provision will be implemented. For example, is it envisaged that the individual may on occasion have to be detained in a cell? Where in a police station will he be called upon to wait? Is it envisaged that the surgeon, or whoever has been called to make the original test, must remain to make a second test after the appropriate time has elapsed? Finally, if the individual concerned sends, as he may well do, for a legal adviser or for his own doctor, is it envisaged how the situation may then develop where it will be the police discretion under the powers in the Bill versus the individual who may consider that he is being wrongfully detained?

I dwell on these administrative details because, although this power is essential, I think that on the occasion when it has to be used the police will find themselves in difficulty. I want to know whether the Home Office has thought this through and whether it will be offering the police some guidance as to precisely how these powers will be implemented. Apart from that, I have nothing but congratulation for the Government on the inclusion of this provision, which I am sure will be found necessary.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

Like the Under-Secretary, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for raising this matter in particular. The House will he especially grateful that the Under-Secretary has had second thoughts and has not stuck to the words he used in Committee—that he hoped to satisfy hon. Members that this matter was adequately covered by the Bill as it then stood.

Clearly, there was a fundamental gap, in that the Bill as it stood gave, as I could see and as my hon. Friends could see, no possible powers for the police to detain in the police station people whom they had taken in on suspicion of having committed an offence under the Bill. The whole House would agree that it would be disastrous if people were to be taken to a police station under suspicion of having committed an offence under the Bill, for a blood test then to be taken, and their then being allowed to walk out of the police station again and perhaps drive away and, as has happened, be involved in further accidents on the way back. The whole power of arrest that there was under the 1962 Act disappears, since now the charge will not be made at the time, as I understand it, but will be dependent upon the outcome of the blood test and any eventual proceedings will be taken by summons.

In Committee the Under-Secretary said that if a driver was willing to hand over the keys of his car, he would, he assumed, be allowed to go home. The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say … in most cases one would expect the motorist to co-operate, and, being offered a lift home in a police car, to accept it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E; 6th December, 1966; c. 225.] May we take it that the proposal that the Under-Secretary was there making, that the police will, where possible, make arrangements for those who have been charged with this offence to be allowed to leave the police station and go home, provided that it is known that they will not be driving their own cars, will still apply and that a person will be detained under the powers granted in the Clause only if he is not prepared to give the necessary assurance and make the necessary arrangements to ensure that he can get home other than by driving his own car?

I believe that in practice, if the use of the Clause to detain people in police stations is used by the police unnecessarily and if they do not try to arrange with a co-operative suspect that he adopts other means of getting home, it could lead to a deterioration of relationships between the police and the public. Subject to that, I think that the Clause is wholly admirable. I believe that it closes a gap which clearly existed in the Bill. I am delighted that the Government have decided to bring in the Clause.

Mr. Taverne

Of course the position will be that, if the person concerned gives an assurance that his wife will be driving and satisfies the police on that score, or if he accepts a lift in a police car, he will not be detained in the police station. The police do not wish to detain people there if they can possibly avoid it. In most cases they will be able to avoid it.

I cannot dogmatise as to the place where a person would be kept if detained. It would depend very much on the driver's condition. If someone were obstreperous, he would have to be detained in a cell. In other cases—for example, if a police car was not available to take him home at that stage, or if he had no one with him who could drive his car instead of his driving it—it might be that he would be asked to stay at the police station.

I do not see any reason why the surgeon should be kept. After all, the simple question will be this. Either the police will make alternative arrangements or they will keep the person there until they are satisfied from the breath test that his blood-alcohol is below the prescribed level. I do not see any reason for the surgeon to be there at all. Nor, for that matter, do I see any reason why the legal adviser should stay. Some of the difficulties that the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) foresaw are not perhaps as great as he imagined.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.