HC Deb 05 November 1980 vol 991 cc1275-7
15. Mr. Dubs

asked the Minister of Transport what representations he has received about the introduction of random breathalyser tests.

27. Mr. lain Mills

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on timing of legislation affecting drinking and driving.

Mr. Fowler

I have received many representations both for and against random testing. Although I believe that reform of drink drive laws is necessary, I do not believe that it is necessary to give police unrestricted powers to test. Random testing does not therefore form part of my proposals. However, there are changes in the law which are important and I shall be introducing the necessary legislation as soon as possible.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Minister agree that alcohol is a contributory factor in an increasing number of road accidents? What positive proposals will he bring forward to reduce the tendency of motorists to ignore the present laws on drinking and driving?

Mr. Fowler

I could not agree more with the central point that the hon. Gentleman is putting. At the moment, one in three of the drivers killed is over the limit, and that is the kind of problem that we have to tackle. We shall put forward legislation as soon as possible. Part of those proposals will be the introduction of evidential breath testing—breath machines in police stations. We shall improve the legislation, so that people are not acquitted on technicalities. We shall put together a package of pro- posals that will, I hope, have support on each side of the House.

Mr. lain Mills

Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the legislation that he proposes will be effective in closing any technical loopholes that may exist, particularly with reference to those drivers who have consumed an inordinate amount of alcohol?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. At the moment, over half of those who are convicted are not just a little over the limit; they have consumed almost twice the limit, or more than that. That is the kind of problem with which we are dealing. That is why we want to eliminate the technical defences and to do certain other things. For example, I hope that we shall put forward proposals that will increase the penalties for hit and run, which is connected in many cases with drinking and driving.

Mr. Sheerman

If the Minister believes that road safety is not a matter of party politics, will he ensure that, in Government time, there will be an opportunity to have a free vote on random testing, as I believe that he is to allow the House—ifThe Guardian can be believed—a free vote on seat belts in Government time?

Mr. Fowler

I am not sure of the source from which The Guardian received that story. It is certainly not the intention, although it may well be that there will be a Private Member's Bill in this House, or in another place, on the subject of seat belts. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to wait until he has seen the proposals. If we are successful in finding a place in the legislative programme the Bill will be taken in Committee, and doubtless there will be an opportunity to debate the matter. I am sure that if we debate drinking and driving that kind of issue can and should be properly debated, but my advice to the House is that this is not a power that is necessary, and my fear is that it could endanger the good relations that exist between the police and the public. That is something that we should also have in mind.

Mr. Penhaligon

Is not the biggest technical loophole in the drinking and driving legislation the confidence that most drivers have that they can get drunk and drive, and get away with it? Will the Minister give us one idea that he has that might reduce the current horrifying figures—which indicate that 4 out of 10 drivers killed are drunk—by even 2 per cent?

Mr. Fowler

I agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. With the breath test machines that we shall be introducing the whole process of testing and checking will be quicker for the police—and, incidentally, for the driver—and will enable the police to check more efficiently than they are able to do at the moment. I ask the hon. Gentleman, before he dismisses those arguments, to await the legislation and the details of it, because I assure him that there is nothing between us on the intent.