HC Deb 20 February 1967 vol 741 cc1326-48
Mr. Swingler

I beg to move Amendment No.36, in page 24, line 6, leave out paragraph 1.

This is consequential on new Clause l which was accepted earlier.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Swingler

I beg to move Amendment No.58, in page 34, line 23 at end insert: 7. In section 195(1) after the word 'thereon' there shall be inserted the words 'or the ordering or disqualification under section 18(3) of the Road Safety Act 1967'. This is a drafting Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified]

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Galbraith

I am surprised that the right hon. Lady is not to move the Third Reading of her Bill.

Mrs. Castle

There has been some confusion: I did not understand what the Chair wanted me to indicate in connection with the Queen's Consent.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

There is no need at this time of the night to go over the ground covered so exhaustively and efficiently by hon. Members in Committee and in the House. Our discussions have been very harmonious, and the debate this evening even culminated in the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) having one of his Amendments accepted—a symbol of the open-mindedness with which we have listened to each other and our willingness to be convinced or examine arguments. It is a sign that the House has determined that this important Bill shall take its place on the Statute Book and be implemented as effectively as possible. It is an important Bill, and I want to congratulate all those who have contributed to its consideration and improvement.

12.17 a.m.

Mr. Galbraith

I am glad that the right hon. Lady has moved the Third Reading, because I think that this is an important Bill. I propose to make a speech and not just a few remarks, as the Minister did.

Although the Bill is the first to be called a Road Safety Bill, it deals with only two aspects of road safety—the danger of over-drinking and that of overloaded and badly maintained lorries. We made several suggestions on Second Reading about how the Minister could improve road safety still further by extending the Bill's scope, but she did not, unfortunately, follow our advice—which leaves us with a Bill somewhat less ample than its Title might suggest.

This does not mean that it is a bad Bill, even if its scope is a little disappointing. We have approached the Bill constructively and have tried to improve it. Some of our Amendments have been accepted and most of them—even those which the right hon. Lady did not accept—have been accepted by hon. Members opposite.

Part I deals with drink. Although this emotional subject gives rise to strong feelings, the proportion of accidents caused by drink is very small. So, however successful the Bill may be, it will make a relatively small impression. It is important to say that, although the Bill deals with drink, it will not end the accident problem. Many people think that it will, that if drink is excluded the accident problem is almost solved—but of course we know that that is not so. However, although the proportion of accidents caused by drink is small, the number affected is considerable, so we agree with the right hon. Lady that it is well worth Parliament's attention and legislation.

We congratulate her on her non-legalistic, commonsense approach to the thorny problem of "in charge" cases. She was right to encourage people who feel that they have had too much to drink to stop driving and pull into the side of the road without having to fear the present ridiculous consequences. We also support the objective tests. We have said this time and again and it is unfortunate that, whenever we have moved Amendments, this has been interpreted as being sympathetic to the drinker. Once and for all, we are wholly opposed to people who drink too much and then drive and we consider that an objective standard to decide when they have drunk too much is absolutely essential.

Having said that, I am afraid that I must now begin to part company with the right hon. Lady, although I hope that we may come together again before the end of my speech. First of all, I would say that we believe she made two major errors in the first part of the Bill. She has insisted upon the police having power to carry out a test without suspicion of an offence having been committed, although she said during the Second Reading that there could be no question of the police setting up traps or "waiting to pounce". She has done absolutely nothing during the passage of the Bill—and has, indeed, resisted Amendments—to turn her words into legislative force. The right hon. Lady knows that what she says here is utterly worthless; it is what is in the Bill that counts. This gives the police far too much power, and will greatly inconvenience innocent members of the public. She has given no convincing reason why it is necessary for the powers of the police to be so wide that they can test people, without suspicion, and especially when we know that the existence of the "objective" standard will secure, in practice, everything that is wanted and everything that has been lacking until now.

We are very sorry to see that the right hon. Lady is a very hard woman over all this. We would tell her that hardness must not be confused with justice, and the existence of mandatory disqualification for a minimum period of 12 months is the second serious error she has made in the Bill. The essence of justice is that the punishment should be made to fit the crime, but we in Parliament cannot possibly know, in the circumstances of any particular crime, what is the right punishment.

The House may have noticed how curious it is that she is so severe on the individual driver, that there is no sign of that Socialist doctrine of "from each according to his ability"—no discretion allowed to the court, but everyone irrespective of the circumstances forced to suffer at least 12 months disqualification—when she is so different in her attitude when we come to Part 11 of the Bill. There we are dealing, not with people, not with individuals but, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) pointed out, with lorries. If they are overloaded, or badly maintained, or in such a condition that they are capable of inflicting tremendous damage—probably much more than the drunken driver—the stern demeanour which characterised the Minister's thinking on Part 1, vanishes. Instead, we find her cooing like a gentle dove with penalties that are utterly ineffective and quite unsuitable to act as effective sanctions against irresponsible lorry owners.

I would hasten to say that this is not just my opinion; it is the opinion of the Geddes Committee, and I am very much afraid that with these inadequate penalties which do nothing towards achieving the only thing worth doing—removing the licence of the offending vehicle—towards getting higher safety standards. We may well find that the higher standards laid down for safety in the Bill will, in fact, not be observed. I hope very much that I am wrong, but I do not think that I am.

In other respects, Part 11 of the Bill is satisfactory in general terms, but that is not surprising since the framework was largely devised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). At least I have now got the right hon. Lady's attention—

Mrs. Castle

Not for long.

Mr. Galbraith

There is to be "plating" in order to prevent overloading, and there are to be annual tests to ensure good maintenance, and special licences to guarantee that drivers are familiar with their vehicles. All this is very satisfactory in a general sort of way, but the trouble is that, since so much depends on the actual details of the regulations, we do not really know precisely what will be involved. I hope that so far as alterations are concerned, this will not give rise to a vast burden of paper work. I hope that operators will not be called upon to do that, and I hope that the Minister will content herself with standards of performance, and not concern herself with the means by which these standards are achieved. If she does, that will not only cause unnecessary work, but will stultify new developments.

So far as annual testing is concerned, I hope that the Minister will make full use of the existing garages that are properly equipped, and, among other things, save public money. We want to do the job of maintaining and checking properly but not to have any unnecessary empire building. That is something which all Ministers, especially Ministers of Transport, must be on their guard against.

In spite of the vicissitudes that have affected the Bill—and there have been plenty—getting it on to the Statute Book will be the easiest part of the right hon. Lady's task as far as Part I is concerned. If Part I is to be a success, there must be co-operation from the public. Here her harshness over mandatory disqualification, coupled with her insistence on the wide, almost random power to test unconnected with suspicion may, I am afraid, alienate public support, for the Bill turns into criminals people who do not think that they are criminals and a very great deal of publicity will be necessary if the Bill is not to strike down with extreme severity people who simply are not aware that they have broken the law and will have a sense of grievance and of righteous indignation as a result of what has happened today, which will make it hard on her to get the changed outlook from the public that we want.

The extent of this ignorance was brought home to me only the other night when, on the radio, I heard a discussion programme in which the talk soon turned to drink and driving. I shall not bore the House with details but what struck me was that, although Sweden was mentioned, there was no reference, even from an hon. Member who was on the panel, to this Bill or to the great changes in social habits that the Bill will demand.

I think that this ignorance, even amongst reasonably well informed people, talking on a current affairs programme, should be very worrying to the right hon. Lady and it is a measure of the task of education and enlightenment that still confronts her. She has probably made the task more difficult than it need be by not accepting our advice that the right philsophy for change is "gently, gently, catchee monkey". On the other hand, she has insisted on the big stick method. She has put her faith in authority, as her party always does, rather than in people, in seeking to encourage their co-operation and understanding.

I hope that the right hon. Lady does not find that the unnecessarily draconian features of the Bill will antagonise the public and make it harder to achieve the increase in road safety that we all want—because we do all want it and, as I said earlier, we shall come together at the end of the day, for we are all united about the ends, whatever our reservations may be about the means. We on this side join with her in supporting her Motion that the Bill be read the Third time.

12.24 a.m.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

I deplore the narrowness with which the Minister has pursued her objectives. To call this a Road Safety Bill and solely to deal with drunken driving and with lorries and to leave such a vast area un- touched that is so necessary for Government action is a major demerit of this legislation. Nothing can alter the fact that, in dealing with drunken driving of cars, the Bill will perhaps be almost more successful than we expect. But that will deal with only 6 per cent. of the causes of accidents. There was a great opportunity in this Bill to deal with the other 94 per cent. of the causes of accidents. She could have done a great deal about many of them.

What about the rebuilt wrecks which get on the roads? What about the codification of the causes of accidents, which could then have more severe penalties? What about the breaches of road rules and safety regulations which cause accidents?

What about the missed opportunity of doing something about the compulsory wearing of crash helmets, as recommended by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents; restrictions on parking near road junctions, a very important matter, recommended by the National Public Safety Committee; or the compulsory installation of tell-tale lights on dashboards?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Mitchell

I am making the point, Mr. Speaker, that we are asked to give a Third Reading to a Bill which has severe demerits and that one of the major causes of accidents—

Mr. Speaker

Order. On Third Reading, the hon. Member can talk only about what is in the Bill, not about the demerits which he would like to see remedied in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchell

Yes, Mr. Speaker, those demerits which are not in the Bill are the defects which worry me, but I will not pursue that matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. They may worry the hon. Member, but he cannot talk about them now if they are not in the Bill. His opportunity for that has gone.

Mr. Mitchell

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker.

The Bill, to which we are asked to give a Third Reading, will bring a dramatic change in people's habits. I do not think it is widely enough realised just how dramatic it will be. After the Bill becomes law, it will no longer be "one over the eight", but "one over the 80", which is the offence. I hope that the Minister will draw public attention to the major nature of the change which she is bringing about.

The right hon. Lady mentioned tonight that three small whiskies—three nips—would provide the limit at which some people would be liable to commit an offence. That means that anybody who goes to a civic function, a rugger club dinner, a working men's dinner or an N.F.U. meeting and conducts normal social habits will find himself committing this offence. There must be much more widespread knowledge of just how dramatic is the change which the right hon. Lady is bringing about.

A person who goes to a civic dinner at his town hall would probably be offered a couple of cocktails before dinner, probably a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and perhaps a port or a brandy after. If he goes through a perfectly normal meal at a civic function and afterwards drives home, he will in all probability be committing an offence under the terms of the Bill. A great deal more publicity must be given to how big a change the Minister is introducing.

We all know of the assing about which goes on at parties. I have seen somebody pour a whisky into somebody's beer. If that person then drinks his beer without knowing what has been done, he may go out into the road, commit an offence and have his licence taken away for 12 months without being aware that he is committing an offence. If we fix a severe penalty—and suspension of a licence for 12 months is a very severe penalty—it is vital that we ensure that we do not cause injustice.

In deciding whether to support the Bill on Third Reading, I have been anxious to reassure myself that every driver who commits the offence of having a blood reading of more than 80 mg. will be a danger on the road. I have no hesitation in supporting the Bill and I am most desirous of seeing drunken drivers driven off the roads by this legislation, provided that we can be sure that injustice is not being done, possibly to a larger number of people than is generally recognised.

During earlier stages of the Bill, I listened carefully to what was said about this problem. The Minister had this point in mind, I think, on Second Reading of the original Bill, when she said that it is better, when we are making a great step forward in our legislation and introducing an entirely new type of offence, to start with a level which rules out any possible injustice. That is important. The right hon. Lady also said: At this level of 80 mg., these two medical authorities agree that the ability to drive of the great majority of drivers would be impaired, even if the drivers were not aware of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1966; Vol.724, c.658, 659.] I ask myself—what is the great majority of drivers? What about the minority of drivers who apparently on that phraseology would not be impaired?

I find it interesting that the Minister used these words on the Second Reading of the original Bill on 10th February, 1966, and when we come to the Second Reading of the current Bill she used words remarkably similar, and therefore I should think, had probably taken care and advice in her phraseology.

She then said …with a concentration of alcohol in the blood beyond this level, the ability to drive of the great majority of people is impaired."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1966; Vol.735, c.982.] Again I ask—what is the minority? If the great majority are impaired, what about the minority who are not impaired? There are, after all, 12.3 million cars on the roads so that if we were talking of 95 per cent. as the great majority and 5 per cent. as the minority, we should be talking of 600,000 people who would be at risk as the minority. If we were talking of 99 per cent. as the great majority and only 1 per cent. as the minority, no less than 120,000 of our citizens are at risk under this Bill if the Minister has not been fair and accurate in setting her figure at 80 milligrammes.

We had some discussion on this during the Committee stage, and earlier this evening there was a vote during the Report stage after the Minister had announced that three nips might well be the limit for somebody to risk being over the 80 when they drive. I went round one or two of the bars in this House afterwards with a glass of lemon squash and I observed a good many of those who had voted—some dozens of them—who had streamed out of the Chamber after the vote and were having the usual sort of light refreshment. I wondered how many of them were thinking that if they were to go out of this place and drive home they would be committing an offence.

During the Committee stage I made the point that it was a very serious matter if one was suggesting that when somebody was consuming the normal amount at a civic banquet it might be impairing their judgment. I asked the Committee to consider an hon. Member speaking at a meeting in his constituency, or the Prime Minister speaking at the Lord Mayor's Banquet and reviewing the nation's affairs, and asked if it were suggested that he was impaired because he had taken the same amount as anyone else.

It was very revealing that the Parliamentary Secretary rose to his feet in the Committee and said that I must realise that this Bill has nothing to do with being drunk in charge or with one's ability being impaired. We are creating a new offence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 24th November, 1966; c.81.] This gives me some worry—

Mr. John Morris

I did point out to the hon. Gentleman subsequently, as he knows full well because it is recorded in HANSARD, that what I was referring to there in my short intervention was that we were now creating a new substantive offence which was not the same as the existing offences dealing with impairment. The hon. Gentleman accepted my explanation, and I wonder why he is wasting the time of the House in pursuing it now.

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention because I have looked up very carefully what he said. I will quote what he said at column 32 of the sitting on 22nd November, 1966 Having isolated all the wheat from the chaff, that is the crux of his argument. That is, my argument, and the hon. Gentleman continued It is true that some drivers may not be significantly impaired—I use the word 'significantly' advisedly—at 80, but the B.M.A. in recommending that limit said that there would be very few."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 22nd November, 1966, c.32.] Again, we have not had a definition of "very few". I am profoundly worried by this. If "very few" are only 1 per cent., some 120,000 of our citizens may be at risk of being convicted falsely. In considering whether I should or should not vote for the Third Reading of the Bill I have in mind a very startling change in the phraseology of the Minister. In Committee she said that there is no sound basis on which the driver"— any driver: I draw attention to this sudden change from "very few" to "any" driver— can claim to be an exception to the general rules that driving ability is significantly impaired at levels above 80 milligrammes…."[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 8th December, 1966; c.266.] On Report, she said, "It is just not true that they will not be impaired."

Well, I am puzzled, I am concerned, and I am worried. We have this risk that a large number of our citizens might be quite falsely put in a position of losing their licences for 12 months. I am going to accept the assurance which the Minister has given, the changed assurance which she has given, but certainly I think this House should—and I for my constituency will—recognise, in passing this law, that if any injustice is done because the Minister has played with words, it will be an injustice which must be on her conscience. I accept her guidance, and it is on that that I will support the Bill.

12.41 a.m.

Sir H. Harrison

I think that when we had the Second Reading of the Bill most of us hoped that by this time it would be on the Statute Book. Nevertheless, we have had a lot of useful discussion of it, both in Committee and here today, and we have got, particularly from Ministers, speeches it is well worth while having on the record.

I was particularly grateful to the Minister when she acknowledged a remark of mine in Committee—how important it is to sell the Bill to the public, and that that will require a vast amount of publicity by her and her Department. I was glad to hear her again today say how important is public education in the Bill. It is important that the ordinary drivers—I do not mean the extreme ones who ordinarily get into trouble, but the normal, law-abiding ones, who are the vast majority of our drivers— should understand exactly where they are under the Bill. It is not a Bill to punish drunken drivers, though we may by the Bill catch a few of them, but it is a Bill to punish those whose ability to drive is impaired by consumption of alcohol. That is not yet fully realised by the public generally. I hope we shall not be like the Member of Parliament referred to just now, but that we all—I certainly give the Minister my word that I shall—will do our utmost as Members of Parliament to try to bring the main points of the Bill before the public. Because what we want is not to catch people out, but to stop them drinking when driving, so that less loss of lives and less loss of limbs will result.

During our debates on Report the Minister made what I thought was a slight slip. She was being pressed by some of her hon. Friends at the time, and it was about that very important part of the Bill by which, when a man has been involved in an accident, the police can take a breathalyser test. Somebody said, "Oh, it is too late then." The Minister said, "Yes." I suggest that she did not really mean it was too late, because I believe that we shall be able to catch quite a lot of people who otherwise would only be caught for careless driving, or causing an accident; for now, if they are impaired by having 80 milligrammes of alcohol in their blood, they will have their licences suspended. I would regard this as a very important part of the Bill, and I believe it will show that alcohol is responsible for rather more than the 6 per cent. of accidents of which we have been told.

I was also glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that he hopes to publish a guide for the use of lorry owners and also the associations. Here again, we are after a smaller section and not a large number, and it is important that we should try to get the willing co-operation of lorry owners and drivers and that those who offend—some of them offend very badly—should be prosecuted.

From inquiries that I have made, I think that, through lack of numbers or for certain other reasons, the police have perhaps not been prosecuting the people who have been disregarding even the present law over lorries until one has been involved in an accident. We want the co-operation of the police forces. Now that they are being amalgamated, possibly it will be rather easier for them. We want the police able to ensure that the law that we enact here is obeyed. I wish the Bill great success in preventing accidents when it becomes an Act.

12.46 a.m.

Mr. Deedes

I warmly support the intentions of the Bill. I want to see it succeed. I only have slight doubts whether it will succeed quite as well as we all hope. One can support all its intentions while still having reservations about some of the methods that we shall employ.

I must say where by doubts principally arise. This is a unique Bill. We are relying largely upon a new and hitherto unproved—in this country at least—instrument combined with automatic penalties to achieve what we want. That makes a singular Act of Parliament. I do not recall anything in the past on quite those lines. That is what gives me certain reservations about where the human element—I am thinking of enforcement—will come in.

I think that this represents an earnest of the right hon. Lady's intentions. She wants to make people realise that it is a serious offence—which it is—and bring home to them that if they commit the offence they will be automatically punished. I hope she is right.

Incidentally, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary when the instrument in question will be ready. Are we sure that the instrument that we are going to use—the breathalyser—is proved and is available for almost immediate use, or are there going to be any delays between the enactment of the Bill and the implementation of it?

Mr. Taverne

Perhaps I might deal with that point straight away. The only question is how fast these particular breath-test devices can be produced. They are already being tested, and within a matter of weeks the testing will be complete. Orders will then be placed with manufacturers the moment the Bill becomes law. But we must, of course, have a sufficient quantity of them. We shall have to have a very large quantity of them before this part of the Bill can become operative.

Mr. Deedes

I shall mention in a moment why I think that the timing is very important.

There seem to be two main areas of argument over the Bill. One is the random check and the other is the automatic disqualification. On the random check, I have sympathy with the confusion in mind which some hon. Members opposite experienced earlier in the course of our debates this evening. The right hon. Lady, if I may coin a phrase, has not walked a straight line over this. Her gait has been unsteady in respect of the random check, no doubt with the best of intentions. If we look back at the White Paper, we see that we have moved unsteadily from one line to the next.

Now we have a compromise. The only point that I want to make about that is that it is leaving a very considerable degree of discretion and responsibility on the police. I hope that the House will not part with the Bill without realising the effect of the random check, or semi-random check, that we are imposing on our policemen. One has to face the fact that they will encounter difficulties that we in this House have not foreseen.

I will mention one which struck me this afternoon when we were discussing Clause 2(1,a). An anonymous, or even a signed, letter might be sent to the police informing them that x or y is notoriously leaving the same place every night, under the influence, and driving a car and should be watched. Are the police to take cognisance of anonymous communications? Does such information give them reason to believe that x or y may be driving whilst his ability is impaired? What is to be their reaction? I do not ask for an answer. It is an example of the way in which the police will have—I will not say great difficulties, but a very responsible discretion to exercise. We must not suppose that any of this will improve relations between the public and the police. This will be the price, and it is a price that must be paid. Do not let anybody go away believing that this will promote co-operation between the public and the police, because it will not. We should be fooling ourselves if we were to pretend otherwise.

Secondly, I am much more concerned about the disqualification proposals. I am concerned about their effect. Unlike most of those who spoke earlier in support of the Amendment, I do not want a soft option. I do not put the housemaid's case that there will only be a little one and in those cases there should be no disqualification. I do not accept that proposition. I accept most of the Minister's arguments on this.

What I am concerned about is how effective will disqualification be. My hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) quoted earlier the evidence which I quoted in Committee provided by Dr. Willett on the effectiveness or otherwise of disqualification over a certain period. What is the effective period of disqualification? Has any research been conducted into this problem in the light of the Bill? This is a scientific subject. This, I understand, is a science-based Government. It is not sufficient for the right hon. Lady to quote to us the results of public opinion polls. They are absolutely irrelevant in terms of the operation of the Bill when enacted. We want to know far more about any scientific appraisal there may have been of the effectiveness of disqualification. Is Dr. Willett right in saying that over 5½ months many people are tempted to break the disqualification and go on to the roads with their motor cars?

If that is so—I do not want to exaggerate it—we are liable to replace a large number of people whose driving is impaired by drink with a large number of people who are driving whilst disqualified. That is not part of a Road Safety Bill. We may gain one thing, but we lose the other. Therefore, I reproach the right hon. Lady for what I think has been a superficial attitude towards the purpose and effect of disqualification. I do not think it can be glossed over.

My last point is on the education campaign. This was why I raised the point about the date on which this apparatus will be available. It is terribly important that the public should know when the Act is coming into force and when the breathalysers will be ready. We must be told this date as soon as possible. People should be informed of what is at stake.

I give the right hon. Lady the benefit of the doubt. I think that she has hesitated to say very much about the Bill because it has not yet received the assent of Parliament. This is a perfectly proper approach to make about a piece of legislation. She must not spend money advertising its effect before Parliament has given its assent to the Bill. I take it that that is the reason. However, I hope that somewhere in the background plans have been laid and that a campaign of education to deal with the points which have been raised is ready to be launched. It is not good enough to hang a few to encourage the others. We must not have a flush of people in the courts in the first few weeks just to discourage others from drinking. That is not the way to implement the law. Let us have a proper education campaign. Let it be prepared now. If we get that, there will still be some of the defects I have mentioned but at least the public will understand what it is about.

12.55 a.m.

Mr. Bessell

At this hour of the night it would be wrong for me to make a speech, and I have no intention of doing so. Hon. Gentleman may say "Hear, hear", but I hope that that does not imply any lack of appreciation of the importance of the Measure, because it has a long history and the main reason why I do not propose to speak at length is that we have had other opportunities of making the important points earlier in our debate yesterday and this morning or on other occasions.

Some of the doubts I expressed on Second Reading of the original Bill on 10th February last year have been put right by the Amendments which have been accepted by the Government or have been inserted by the Minister of Transport. I wish the Bill well, as do my right hon. and hon. Friends, but we hope that too much will not be expected from it. It is true that drink is a very serious cause of accidents, perhaps more serious than we know at present, and the Bill will help to show just how much it is a contributory cause of many accidents. But there are other causes, and I look forward to future legislation to deal with some of those more serious aspects of accidents. I sense, Mr. Speaker, that you are about to call me to order, and I shall in any case leave that point immediately.

I congratulate the right hon. Lady and the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries on all the work they have done in bringing before Parliament a Bill which I believe is significant and important. It is a first step towards greater road safety, which I hope will be followed by other similar legislation. We on this bench wish it well and will do anything in our power to help it in its passage.

12.58 a.m.

Sir Clive Bossom

I support the Bill, and I shall not get out of order by saying that right from the beginning I held that we should enlarge it. I am a great admirer of the Road Research Laboratory, and I do not feel that the Minister has done enough research on the causes of road accidents. From now on we must build up more facts and statistics about their causes. I feel that motorists are slammed for everything and yet pedestrians and cyclists are often to blame. No mention has been made of death due to natural causes while driving, or even suicides which have taken place.

Mr. Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but what he is saying is right outside the Third Reading debate.

Sir Clive Bossom

I shall not continue with that, Mr. Speaker. I think that we are nailing the motorists too much and that the pedestrians and cyclists have not come out of the Bill very well. I hope that the Minister will keep that problem under review, because at present they are not blamed for things while the motorist is blamed for everything.

12.59 a.m.

Sir R. Russell

What are the Minister's intentions about bringing the Bill into operation? Clause 29 talks about making different appointed days. I hope that Clause 22 will be brought into operation as soon as possible. That Clause increases the maximum fine from £50 to £200 for offences concerning dangerous goods vehicles and breaches of construction and use requirements. That is very important. I also hope that the further legislation which the Parliamentary Secretary forecast will be introduced as soon as possible, and that the attention of the courts will be drawn to the increased penalties.

1.0 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I want first to thank the Minister of Transport not only for selecting for the Title of her Bill the Title of three Private Member's Bills of mine in my efforts over the years to bring in road safety legislation of this sort, but also for including almost word for word the Amendment in Part I of her Bill which I tabled to the 1956 Bill. That was 11 years ago, and it is gratifying to me to see it now passing its Third Reading despite that length of time.

We have always recognised that a law of this sort will cause very great change in social habits, but it will be a worthwhile change because it will save life and limb on the road. It is not going to be easy for the police. We are imposing an extremely heavy task on the police force in Part I of the Bill. We are creating a new offence which is only partially recognised at present as even a criminal offence, let alone a moral offence. It is this that we now have to impress on the public.

One wonders whether the Government have realised the importance of this Bill. When the Leader of the House thought he was going to get the remaining stages of the Bill through after 10 o'clock at night, he did not show much appreciation of the importance of the Bill. We have now, in a businesslike way, spent nine hours examining the Bill and seeing that it is in proper form.

I hope that the Government, in bringing the Bill into operation, will not be as casual as that, particularly in impressing the contents of the Bill on the public. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary who will reply to the debate can tell the House whether it is intended to engage any experts in public relations to put over the contents of the Bill to the public. We do not want pamphlets like the Inland Revenue send out on Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax, but something to touch the public and make them realise the great change in social habits that is brought about.

The feature of Part II of the Bill is that so much depends on Regulations. The Minister has taken power to do a great deal by regulation: tests of the fitness of heavy vehicles; checking weights, checking brakes, and regulations about dangerous goods. I hope we may see regulations coming forward very rapidly under these powers.

The House may know that, with regard to road safety, I have over many years tried to stand in the shoes of the pedestrian, rather than to sit in the seat of the driver. I have tried to look at road safety from the pedestrian's point of view. It is because the pedestrian has suffered so tragically from heavy goods vehicle accidents that I have concentrated on Amendments to Part II of the Bill.

Some of the deaths have been caused by lorries mounting pavements, running down hills and mounting pavements, overturning on to pavements, and spilling loads on to pedestrians. Pedestrians have suffered heavily from these accidents and I beg the Government to move rapidly in producing safety regulations under Part II. By that means, Parts I and II will be a special contribution to road safety and will prevent loss of life and injury on the road in future.

1.5 a.m.

Mr. Carlisle

Now that we have come practically to the end of our consideration of this Bill in this House, it is pleasant to see that some hon. Members on both sides have lasted the pace. While I am not criticising the Minister for not being here at this time, because I know she has been here throughout practically the whole of the Report stage, I hope she will have the opportunity to read some of the things said on Third Reading, especially the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes).

The Bill was hailed by the Government at the outset as one of major importance, and it is accepted that it will cause great social changes in the country. In that connection, I want to support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) said when he urged upon the Parliamentary Secretary the real need for full publicity for the Bill. Many people in the country have not yet realised the effect which it will have.

It is all very well talking in terms of 80 milligrammes, but the right hon. Lady has reminded us today how little that may be. It will affect many people. It is not just a question of the cocktail party, which was referred to from time to time in Committee, but people attending an ordinary dinner party, a civic function or merely going to a public house on an evening or at midday on a weekend. We have a duty to point out to people that the limit which we have set can be reached easily in certain circumstances.

The most important aspect of the Bill and the most important gain that it will bring, which is the reason why I have always supported the quantitative test, is that it will ensure in future that bad cases which in the past have been acquitted will duly and rightly be convicted. However, if we are not careful, we may drag into the net some people who unwittingly find themselves committing offences.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford made a point about the date of coming into force of the Act. If we are still in the process of testing the machine on which the whole Bill is based, even if we are coming towards the end of the testing period, it then has to be put out to tender and manufacture, and it will be several months before the Bill can become operative. I wonder if it is not slightly further away than the Government are anxious to tell us at the present time.

I wish to limit my remarks on the Bill to the two points which have given rise to the greatest controversy. They are the penalties, and the testing of the screening device. As regards the penalties, I can only repeat my regret that the Minister has not at any stage given way on the matter of compulsory disqualification for a minimum period of 12 months. During the Second Reading debate, I said that I believed that, if the Minister would accept a change on this, she would see that the Bill achieved its twin objects of creating the proposed offence without, at the same time, creating injustice or hardship. By refusing to give way on the matter of discretion, unwittingly she will find that she is creating cases of hardship which could have been avoided if the Amendments which we proposed had been accepted.

It was apparent from the debate which we had earlier that confusion ranged on the benches opposite as to exactly what the present power is as regards testing. The right hon. Lady said that the purpose of her speech was to undeceive members of the public if she had deceived them. However, much of the confusion and deception of the public which has occurred has come from the mouth of the Minister herself. It is she who, on several occasions, has apparently given interpretations of the powers of the police which appear to have no relationship to the powers as stated in the Bill. Perhaps I might quote one example. During the Second Reading debate the right hon. Lady said—and these words have been quoted before— 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1966; Vol.735, c.987.] It seems to me that that leaves two comments to be made: First, why should it be stressed that the police should not have the power to stop motorists solely in order to see whether they merit a breath test? If the police believe that people are committing an offence under this Bill, surely they should have the power to stop them to see whether they merit a breath test, and quite clearly they have that power under the words that are used.

When the Minister says that there can be no question of setting up traps just round the corner from a public house and waiting to pounce, that may be her wish, but it is clear from the words used by the right hon. Lady that she has specifically permitted the police to do that, because all that they have to say is that they have reason to believe that a person has alcohol in his system, and it seems to me inevitable that any police officer could stop anybody coming off any public house car park at any time and say, with perfect justification, that he had reason to believe that the person had been drinking.

The failure, with respect, is the failure of the Minister in blowing hot and cold at different times on the amount of randomness which she was leaving in her powers under the Bill. During the Second Reading debate the right hon. Lady was anxious to pretend that there were no random powers left. During her speech in January, and again today, she was anxious to show that the powers were as random as they had been in the previous Bill.

That leads me to my final comment, which is that the wideness—I believe the over-wideness—of the powers left to the police to carry out breath tests shows how right were the words of my right hon. Friend when he referred to the discretion and the responsibility which are to be landed on the police in carrying out this Bill. I believe that the success or failure of the Bill—and certainly we on this side of the House wish it to succeed—will to a large extent depend on the way in which the police carry out their powers under this Measure. It will depend on the sense of responsibility which they show in implementing the wide powers which they are given to ensure that they receive public co-operation, rather than lead to a lowering of the standard of support between the public and the police, since, if the Bill is to succeed, it is undoubted that it should do so based on the support of the public for it.

1.13 a.m.

Mr. John Morris

May I, too, thank everyone who has taken part in our proceedings both here and upstairs. There has been a general acceptance of the basis of the Bill, and if we have had difficulties on the way they have been with regard to parts of the Bill. We all wish to ensure that the provisions which we are enacting tonight will play a great part in ensuring that there is a social change in many of our habits with regard to drinking and driving.

I want, briefly, to answer two points. First, we want to make certain that there will be a proper education campaign to ensure that there is an effective public awareness of this great change. This is of great importance, and we are considering it.

Secondly, with regard to the operation of the Bill, I think that the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) was criticising us in that we were not far enough advanced in our testing. We had to wait while the House was making up its mind about the 80 figure. Had we gone far in the way of anticipating the will of the House, we might have been open to criticism in that we had taken a course in advance of Parliament expressing its will. This is always a difficulty.

We hope that Part I of the Bill will he in operation as soon as there are sufficient devices available which come within the tests which have taken place. We hope that this will be in a matter of months and we hope that Part II will come into effect in the course of 1968.

With those brief words I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.