HC Deb 20 July 1987 vol 120 cc3-4
2. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the representions he has received on the current campaign against drinking and driving.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

The effective advertising has been warmly welcomed.

I thank the media for their support. I hope they will continue to raise awareness. As my right hon. Friend has just said, we need everyone in society to highlight the dangers and stop themselves and others, wrecking people's lives.

There are suggestions of tougher police, court and legislative action. These are possibilities. The first requirement is to change public attitudes to the unacceptable crime of drinking and driving.

Mr. Hannam

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts to curb drink-driving. What will be the main feature of the next campaign and will he pay particular attention to the need to educate the organisers of parties and functions to ensure that plenty of non-alcoholic drinks are available? That would prevent much unwitting over-indulgence.

Mr. Bottomley

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We are working on further new major initiatives with the Brewers Society. Drivers need to see and notice low-alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks in pubs, clubs, restaurants and at functions on private premises. However, I should prefer people to choose not to drink before driving. They should make the choice rather than have the Government or the law make the choice for them.

Mr. Beith

Would it not be the height of irresponsibility to make fundamental changes in the licensing law without first being certain that it would not further contribute to the problem of drinking and driving? Is the Minister taking part in serious consultations on this aspect, or is there no overall Government policy on alcohol?

Mr. Bottomley

There is overall Government policy on alcohol, and it is likely to be further refined. I shall send the hon. Gentleman the excellent article by Godfrey Smith in The Sunday Times two weeks ago, rightly approving of the remarks which I made in public that drinking alcohol for two hours in a pub before driving is wrong and that extending drinking time to four hours or having flexible licensing hours does not make much difference to the basic decision that drivers should not drink alcohol.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is my hon. Friend concerned that the proposal to extend drinking in public houses throughout the afternoon may bring people who have drunk too much on to the road at peak travel time, particularly when many children are coming home from school?

Mr. Bottomley

My right hon. Friend, like the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), raises a serious issue. The key issue is whether drinking alcohol before driving continues to be socially acceptable. I believe that it is not. The precise points raised by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman are matters for the Home Office.

Mr. Boyes

I welcome the Minister's remarks about drinking and driving. Will he consider introducing random breath tests? Has he had an opportunity to study the effects of random breath testing in other countries? I understand that there has been a good effect in reducing the number of deaths on the road and the number of convictions for drinking and driving. Will the hon. Gentleman consider preparing a report on that matter?

Mr. Bottomley

It is worth the House remembering that some countries which brought in random breath tests and imposed stricter limits than those that we have by law found that they did not have much effect until the public attitude changed. I ask every hon. Member to concentrate on changing the public attitude to the unacceptable crime of drinking and driving rather than to use a change of law as a talisman and substitute for each of us moderating and, if necessary, changing our behaviour.