§ Order for Second Reading read.12.34 pm
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am a little puzzled that the Home Office Minister whom I understood to be responsible for the Bill is not with us, although I am grateful to the Minister for Roads and Traffic for coming to the House to respond on behalf of the Government. We all know of his deep interest in this subject. I fondly recall the previous occasion on which I moved a private Member's Bill—now the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986. One of the prominent supporters of that Bill was none other than the hon. Member for Surrey, South West (Mrs. Bottomley), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I sincerely hope that this Minister will do me a similar favour.
The Bill has two straightforward provisions. The first is to clarify existing legislation to remove the popular misconception that drivers may not be stopped arid breathalysed unless they are committing another traffic offence.
Clause 1 would establish a clear and specific link between sections 6 and 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It represents no real change in the substance of the law, but clarifies the statutory basis of measures that are already being practised by several police forces throughout the land. I should like such action to be better co-ordinated among police forces in various parts of the country to achieve more effective deterrence of the menace of drinking and driving.
Clause 2 would create new powers under which the police could conduct spot checks at the roadside and randomly breathalyse motorists, subject to clear safeguards to prevent any possible abuse of police power. The detailed powers and code of practice on implementation would be established by regulations made by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The objective of that provision is to deter the reckless minority of motorists who are still drinking and driving, regardless of the risk to themselves and others, and regardless of the now overwhelming public disapproval of that vicious conduct.
I emphasise that I have absolutely no objection to responsible social drinking. I very much enjoy occasional invigorating refreshment myself, both in the restaurants and bars in this House and in the excellent pubs and clubs in various parts of my constituency. I strongly recommend to all hon. Members the excellent products of Glenkinchie distillery and Belhaven brewery in my constituency of East Lothian—
§ Mr. Home Robertson
However, having taken a few drinks, we should travel in cars only as passengers. There are now no excuses for doing otherwise because any social pressure to drink and drive is long gone and an excellent selection of low-alcohol drinks is now available in virtually all bars. Therefore, there is now no excuse for failing to be self-disciplined.
I suspect that the Minister will tell us that all is comparatively well and that the situation is far better in Britain than it is in some other countries—
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I am glad that the Minister is shaking his head because I was a little worried—
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that important and relevant point. It is not good enough to say that we are better than various other countries because, as I shall illustrate, the situation is still alarming.
Complacency would be cruelly inappropriate because there are still 950 deaths and 25,000 injuries each year in this country from alcohol-related road accidents. That represents an continuing disaster of truly tragic proportions. That figure of 950 deaths a year is 73 per cent. more than the number of lives lost in the recent disasters at Piper Alpha, King's Cross, Clapham junction, the M1 and Lockerbie put together. Britain's drink-driving death toll is equivalent to more than three Lockerbie jets and three Clapham train disasters put together. Clearly, there is no room for complacency and I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that.
I am convinced that the nation and the House are now ready for further action to deal with the continuing menace of drinking and driving. Up to a point, the legislative framework already exists. Drinking and driving is a criminal offence which is already subject to appropriate penalties. However, the trouble is that there is still a hard core of reckless morons who do not care about the risk of butchering themselves and others and who do not believe that there is any risk of being caught. That is the problem that the Bill aims to address.
Seasonal campaigns by the Department of Transport and the police do quite a lot of good. People can be routinely breathalysed following an accident or the commission of some driving offence. However, an offence cannot be deterred if it has already taken place so surely it would be better to deter drinking drivers before they take to the road in the first place.
In many cases these offenders can be deterred. For the most part, we are dealing with normal, law-abiding citizens. Half the culprits are upper middle-class businessmen between the ages of 40 and 50. The term "dumbo" has been used to describe these drunken, upper and middle-class business men over 40. By definition, these people are difficult for the police to target under the existing legislation, so they just drive on until the almost inevitable disaster, sooner or later.
If the Minister wants to target groups of drivers who pose a particular threat, clause 1 and the existing legislation make it possible for the police to do so. The second clause is designed to introduce a random aspect into the legislation so as to deter those drivers who are difficult to target. Poll evidence suggests that 77 per cent. of drivers who drink support random testing. If that is not a cry for help, I do not know what is, and it ought to receive a positive response from the House and the Government.
Human nature is very strange. Many of us cheerfully ran for years the risk of terrible injuries by not wearing seat belts, but when Parliament created the prospect of being ticked off by a policeman for not doing so, all of us buckled 1320 up pretty damn quick, and we have been doing so ever since. Legislation of this kind can therefore work, and in so doing can save lives.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many of those who responded to the question about random testing do not appreciate that they can already be stopped in a way that many of them would regard as random? If a police officer has any reason to believe that a person may have been drinking, which should be fairly easy to ascertain, that person can be tested. A fairly large proportion of the drinking and driving public do not understand what the law is at present. If we need a campaign, it should be to ensure that people appreciate that the risks of drinking and driving are already grave, because they can be stopped at random now.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Some chief constables apply the legislation, but the difficulty is that they have to do so under two separate provisions. The first is a general power that enables a police constable to stop a driver. If he suspects that the driver may have been drinking, he can then go ahead and breathalyse that person. The problem is that the drivers I have been talking about do not know that they risk being caught, otherwise they would not drink and drive. The two provisions are designed to overcome that problem and I have sought to demonstrate that legislation of this kind can work and can save lives.
Evidence from New South Wales suggests that spot checks that increase the perceived risk of detection have a dramatic impact on the behaviour of drivers. There was a 37 per cent. fall in alcohol-related accidents in New South Wales over four years, following the implementation of legislation such as this. If we in Britain could achieve such a fall in alcohol-related accidents, we should save 300 lives and thousands of injuries every year. If the Bill became law, we could prevent the equivalent of a Lockerbie air disaster death toll in the coming year and in every year thereafter. That is a goal worth pursuing.
Public opinion is ready for the legislation and is demanding it. There is support for the key principle in the Bill from the widest imaginable spectrum of opinion, with a few eccentric exceptions, such as Mr. Max Hastings, who earlier this week suggested in The Daily Telegraph that legislation of this kind is unnecessary and that to cramp the style of drinking drivers was a monstrous imposition on civil liberties. I suspect that that journalist must have used up a great deal of printing ink in protesting about the death toll at Clapham and elsewhere. Why is he not prepared to do something about this infinitely worse death toll?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
For the avoidance of doubt by those who have not read the article on the feature page of The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 21 February, Max Hastings—who must have been writing in jest—said that for those of his guests who were driving he was only offering small glasses of orange juice. If he had come across some of the other attractive drinks for drivers, his guests may have stayed longer and enjoyed themselves more.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I cannot imagine that they would have enjoyed themselves much in that eccentric company. I think that Mr. Max Hastings is on his own when it comes to that particular argument.
1321 To turn to a few examples of those who are clamouring for a change in the law, the police want to be given increased powers because the existing legislation is unsatisfactory. That covers the point raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller). The National Council for Civil Liberties has withdrawn its earlier objections to random breath testing on the reasonable grounds that freedom to travel without running the gauntlet of drinking drivers must be more important than the liberty to drink and drive without fear of detection. The Casualty Surgeons Association, representing those who have to stitch up the pieces after the road accidents, supports the Bill wholeheartedly. A total of 9,200 women's institutes throughout the country strongly supports the Bill. The Royal Automobile Club and the Guild of Experienced Motorists support the principles of the Bill. The British Medical Association actively helped me with the detailed drafting of the Bill and the parliamentary advisory council on transport safety—PACTS—is closely involved with the initiative. I am grateful to Jeanne Breen, the co-ordinator of PACTS, for her great help in dealing with the Bill.
No doubt the most powerful advocates of the legislation must be the campaign against drinking and driving and the Scottish campaign against irresponsible drivers. They represent those who have lost relatives as a consequence of this murderous conduct. They want action and are entitled to demand it from the House.
The public opinion survey commissioned by Haig scotch whisky in December 1988 produced results which are anything but vague—93 per cent. of respondents thought that random breath tests were "a good idea". No fewer than 127 hon. Members from all parties and every part of the country signed early-day motion 382 supporting the Bill. Perhaps even more significantly, no hon. Member has yet voiced opposition for the measure although I am filled with trepidation at the sight of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in his place. We look forward to hearing from him—perhaps.
Even the Minister acknowledged that this isone of the few occasions during the past three years when an hon. Member has introduced a Bill that is designed to improve adult safety."—[Official Report, 23 January 1989; Vol. 145, c. 848.]We know that the Leader of the House is chairing an important ministerial committee to address the range of problems caused by alcohol abuse and we now have the White Paper, published last month entitled "The Road User and the Law" which arises from the North report. All that is positive and I welcome it as far as it goes. Nevertheless, I am sure the Minister would acknowledge that the Bill would save more lives than all the proposals in the White Paper put together.
I recognise that progress on the Bill is likely to be complicated by the fact that the Home Secretary produced a consultation document on the same subject six weeks after the introduction of my Bill. That is rather like being gazumped in reverse. However, if my initiative has helped to goad the Home Office into some action at last, I am happy about that.
I welcome the fact that the Home Office has taken an initiative on the vital issue of deterring drinking drivers by police action. However, the alternatives put forward by the Home Secretary do not include one of the most attractive options—that outlined in my Bill. The Home Secretary offers just three possibilities in his consultation document. The first is to do nothing. The second is to clarify the 1322 existing law on the same basis as clause 1 of my Bill is intended to do and the third is simply totally unfettered discretion for any policeman to stop and breathalyse any motorist, anywhere, as often as he likes.
I fear that such blanket powers could give rise to serious abuses. They would certainly damage the relationship between the police and the public and, as such, would probably do more harm than good. They would certainly run into strong opposition from both sides of the House. I would have the greatest difficulty in supporting legislation on that basis. There is a potential consensus around the principle of random breath tests covered by proper safeguards as outlined in my Bill. It deserves positive consideration by the House. The Home Secretary has omitted that acceptable and effective alternative of properly regulated spot checks to deter and detect drinking drivers as proposed in clause 2 of my Bill.
I sincerely hope that the Minister will not reject the Bill out of hand. It would certainly save lives and I have introduced it with all-party support in a spirit of co-operation. If necessary, I would be willing to defer further consideration of the Bill until the Home Office consultation process has been completed at the end of April. I would be willing to accept constructive amendments and would even agree to running the spot check element of the Bill on an experimental basis if that is what the House and the Government prefer. Having presented the Bill in that spirit, I sincerely hope that the House and the Minister will allow the measure to make progress.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
Forty-three weeks ago today, an hon. Member said:Our debate takes place on the 87th birthday of the Emperor of Japan."—[Official Report, 29 April 1988; Vol. 132, c. 629.]It is a strange irony that our proceedings today take place not on the birthday but on date of the funeral of the late Emperor of Japan.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) on having secured his place in the ballot and on his excellent speech commending the Bill to the House. I entirely agree with what he said at the start of his speech about the appalling casualties and the great human suffering and misery caused on our roads because of drink driving.
It so happens that I am a member of the Select Committee on Public Accounts, which recently considered a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General that was presented to Parliament on 14 June last year. The findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General were in exact conformity with what the hon. Gentleman said. The report stated:Drinking and driving is a major cause of road accidents costing at least £360 million and involving some 20 per cent. of road deaths in Great Britain each year.I would have put it the other way round and said that drinking and driving cost about 1,000 lives a year, just in England, Scotland and Wales. I would have put the cost after the human tragedy.
The Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee on Public Accounts also note that an extraordinary and deeply regrettable feature of our criminal law is how widely it is believed—we cannot be certain about it—that the law is flouted. As statistics clearly show, the prospect of a driver who is over the limit 1323 actually being caught is very remote. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct to lay stress on the human tragedy. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred also to the enormous cost in monetary terms, though that is less important.
It is also relevant to point out that in other countries so-called random breath testing is increasingly becoming the norm. As the years go by, I should expect that practice, which is growing in other countries, to accelerate here.
If I have a doubt about the hon. Gentleman's Bill, it is not about purpose, because we share a common purpose, which is to diminish this appalling suffering. I am afraid that I shall not be able to stay to hear my hon. Friend the Minister but I shall be interested to read his comments. I believe that the law is already clear on this subject. Under section 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, the police have the power to stop any vehicle at random. Under section 7 of the same Act the police may require a motorist, once stopped, to provide a sample of breath if the policeman has reasonable grounds for believing that the motorist has alcohol in his body. Or even if the policeman does not suspect that, he can, if he thinks that a traffic offence has been committed while the vehicle has been moving, ask for a breath test. The courts have held that the police may use the power under section 159 to stop vehicles at random in order to decide whether there are grounds for administering a breath test.
If, therefore, there is in effect already in existence under the present law power to stop any motor vehicle—that includes, of course, a motor bicycle—at random and if, having suspected that an offence has been committed while the vehicle has been moving or that the driver has alcohol in his body, that gives a police officer the opportunity to administer a breath test, I ask the House, my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for East Lothian whether his Bill is really necessary.
In a sense, this is a matter for the lawyers, but the view of the police is also relevant. As I understand it—my hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the police are not asking for the law to be changed.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Perhaps the Minister could give us chapter and verse on this matter, but my understanding from my meetings with the Association of Chief Police Officers' traffic representatives in this House about the Bill is that it now believes that the existing legislative framework is not satisfactory and requires clarification to help the police to enforce the law.
§ Mr. Bottomley
That is probably because my wife has had plenty of opportunity to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).
The position is rather more than that stated by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). First, ACPO Scotland suggested to the Scottish Office that the 1324 removal of some restrictions might be useful. I believe that ACPO was suggesting that it would not want mass random testing. The ACPO General, which takes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, had a discussion in May on this matter at its conference in Eastbourne. I regret it if it did not ask my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne to attend.
§ Mr. Bottomley
At its May conference, it was evenly balanced between whether there was a need for reinstatement of the law, restatement of the law or the removal of some of the restrictions on police powers. Subsequently, it came to a majority decision that it would welcome unfettered discretion, but it was not talking about mass random testing.
The issue is rather in the air and is there to be grabbed by any hon. Member who is interested in taking hold of it.
§ Mr. Gow
I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Lothian and, of course, to my hon. Friend the Minister for those helpful interventions.
In the Public Accounts Committee—under the distinguished chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who is also a distinguished former Treasury Minister—close attention was paid to the evidence presented by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
The Department of Transport—in which the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) used to serve—explained that in May 1988—which by common consent is only nine months ago—that English law gave the police powers to stop vehicles at random. Having stopped the vehicle, police could then administer a roadside breath test.
The Association of Chief Police Officers, to which the hon. Member for East Lothian referred, considered that the powers that I have just described were adequate to allow police forces to deploy resources effectively and efficiently to deal with those who seem likely to be driving while over the limit.
It is clear that the present law about the limit of alcohol that we are allowed to have in our blood, is being widely flouted. My hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for East Lothian would agree with that. Unfortunately, there is no representative from the Social Democratic or the Liberal parties here today.
§ Mr. Gow
As it is a Friday and the day on which the funeral of the Emperor of Japan is taking place, I think that I am allowed to call the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) my hon. Friend. He has asked a relevant question to which we both know the answer. We are discussing a matter of the highest importance, but representatives of the so-called centre parties are absent.
§ Mr. Boateng
That is very kind of the hon. Gentleman. He will recall when he and I were members of the Housing Bill Committee that time and again hon. Members on both sides of the Committee felt compelled to draw attention to the absence of members of what I believe at the time were still called the Liberal and the Social Democratic parties. That was before the great sea change. However, it was 1325 necessary for us to point out to the public that those right hon. and hon. Members are absent. Where are they now? It really is not good enough, is it?
§ Mr. Gow
I believe that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South who with characteristic eloquence described the Liberal party as being composed of a band of visionary missionaries with neither vision nor mission. I do not want to quarrel with those sentiments which, if my memory serves me correct, he expressed. We continue this debate as best we can without the assistance of any representatives from the Social Democratic party and the Liberal party.
I have already apologised to the hon. Member for East Lothian and to my hon. Friend the Minister, but it is a matter of deep regret to me that I must make a journey, mercifully in a railway train, to Eastbourne. I would like to take my hon. Friend the Minister with me, but I apologise to him and to the House for the fact that I will not be able to stay and hear my hon. Friend the Minister's reply. However, I will study the Official Report with great care on Monday. I repeat my congratulations to the hon. Member for East Lothian. He knows that we share a common purpose. My only question is whether this legislation is necessary now. Perhaps in future we may decide that it is important to clarify the law. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can answer my point and I assure him that no discourtesy is intended for the journey that I must make to Eastbourne.
§ 1.8 pm
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I will detain the House only briefly because I had not intended to speak in this debate. However, perhaps there are one or two observations that I can make. I shall not speak for too long because I have an uneasy suspicion that other hon. Members may want to talk out this business and I should not like to spoil their opportunity to prove their prowess in such an ignoble exercise.
I shall make brief reference to my own experience. Until the middle of 1988, I was opposed to such proposals. Then I started to think more deeply and carefully about the issue and realised that I had probably been afraid of offending those of my colleagues who choose to combine drinking and driving. Indeed, I had done it myself. I confess to the House, not in any spirit of frivolity, nor with any wish to flaunt my past record, that on two occasions in the past I have been done for drinking and driving. On the first occasion, I was seeking to retrieve documents from the back seat of my car which was parked in my drive at 3.40 on a Saturday morning. I was apprehended by a police officer who requested me to undergo a breath test and did me for being in charge of a vehicle. I was guilty under the letter of the law. On the second occasion I had no such defence, so I have been convicted twice for that offence.
Perhaps that created a vestige of resentment to any intervention by the police in what I considered to be a fairly impeccable standard of driving. However, on 10 November 1985, for reasons totally unconnected with my medical condition or my driving ability, I decided to forsake the booze and the baccy on the same day.
§ Mr. Cook
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it was some years before that. I recall vividly that it was 10 1326 November 1985, which was Remembrance Sunday. I was drunk at the time when I made the decision, and I argued with myself for two and a half hours before I convinced myself that the move was necessary. However, the hon. Gentleman has diverted me. I must get back to the thread that I was hanging on to before he intervened.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
The House will be awed by the hon. Gentleman talking about his past. He has made sure that we realise that the problem is an "us" problem rather than a "them" problem and involves people such as politicians, journalists, police officers, doctors, nurses, social workers, parents and drink-driving campaigners. We are looking for a combination of effective enforcement, deterrence and, above all, greater public understanding and the change of attitude which underlies the successful conversion. The hon. Gentleman will agree that we need more recent converts, although I do not know why he gave up tobacco and drinking on the same day.
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful to the Minister for his declaration of understanding, which is not uncharacteristic, though it is not frequently directed at me.
To reinforce what the Minister said, on my second conviction my solicitor pointed out that if justice had been done on each and every occasion when the law had been transgressed he would probably have suffered 400 prosecutions in one year—that was his opinion, not a legal judgment.
In the middle of last year, I thought a great deal more clearly about the matter. I know that alcohol addles the brain temporarily, and if it is taken too consistently in too great a quantity it addles the brain permanently. Perhaps it took from 10 November 1985 until the middle of 1988 to clear from my brain completely. Certainly I had consumed sufficient alcohol in previous years to create such problems.
So much crime and law breaking is drink related. I refer not just to driving but to violence, theft, drug abuse, wife beating and child abuse. Probably 95 per cent. of crime is drink related. It was recognition of that influence that drove me to think more carefully, and to draw the conclusion that is clear to me now—I only wonder how it took 52 years for me to realise it. If we allow ourselves to be in control of a weapon as deadly as a vehicle which can move at speeds in excess of 25 mph—I say 25 rather than 125 advisedly—we must place upon ourselves the responsibility for being in full control of our faculties.
Alcohol consumption is designed to blunt our faculties and to obscure their acuity. That is an element in drinking about which people boast the morning after, when they talk of having had a good "bender" or, as they say in the north-east, "I had a black 'un". My realisation of responsibility drove me to adopt my present point of view and to support unreservedly the case put by my hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill. I am not a sponsor of the Bill, but I am a fervent supporter of the move. I shall not detain the House longer, because I wish to see from which direction the filibustering prowess will come which will deny the passage of the Bill at 2.30 pm.
§ Sir. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in congratulating the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) on presenting his Bill today. I believe 1327 that my hon. Friend and I are the only two people in the Chamber today who were present when breathalysing was first enacted in 1967. The argument that then ranged right across the House concerned interference in the individual's rights and freedom—whether, in the absence of evidence that an offence had been committed, it was right for a policeman to stop and detain a member of the public and obtain such evidence thereafter.
If my memory serves me right, that question was resolved by the then Minister of Transport Mrs. Barbara Castle, who said that the right to breathalyse could be operated only when the police suspected that a road traffic offence had been committed. It was said that shooting traffic lights, not having lights, indicating that one was turning in the wrong direction, and other actions that might attract a police officer's attention provided sufficient justification to breathalyse the driver. Although the law is by no means clear and has been interpreted differently by different police forces, the general trend has been to follow that practice. However, in recent months there has been something of a departure and some rethinking by the police as to whether or not the law should be more strictly interpreted and enforced.
The great merit of the Bill is not that it seeks to impose a blanket right on the part of the police to stop and breathalyse, but that it seeks to clarify the law and indicate circumstances in which breathalysing is permissible, as well as introducing the deterrent of organised spot checks. Although I generally support any argument in favour of the rights and freedom of the individual, there are times when, and circumstances in which, in the general interests of the community, a measure of restraint or delimitation must be imposed.
What brought that matter to mind is the unhappy case of one of my constituents, a woman who still writes to me today, whose 17-year-old son was killed in a road accident some years ago. He was a passenger in a motor car. He was an outgoing young man of attractive personality and was well beloved, not only by his mother but by all who had contact with him. What a tragic waste of life. For reasons that I have not yet comprehended, the police decided not to prosecute, and the mother had to bring a private prosecution. The driver was found guilty, and the judge expressed his concern that she had been put to the expense of bringing the prosecution and that the public authorities had failed her to that extent.
That story, which comes back to me at regular intervals, has left me with two thoughts. First, until a tragedy occurs—please God that it does not happen—we do not realise the extent of a bereaved parent's grief. One can say, "If something happens to my child, I shall feel terrible about it," but one does not realise the depth of that grief and how long it lasts. It is easy to utter platitudes such as "Time will be a great healer" or "One must learn to forgive". It is almost impossible to eradicate deep bitterness. One would rather not have to contemplate the pain that is seen to be suffered.
Young, hopeful lives are suddenly wasted on our roads every day because of some carelessness or foolishness on the part of a driver who has drunk too much—certainly more than entitles him to be in control of the lethal weapon that a motor car can be.
1328 The other thought was that perhaps we are too lax on drinking and driving and that we should take steps to increase the deterrence within our legal system. Some young people do not need it—they are sensible. When they go to parties, my young but adult children and their group of friends always ensure that one of them has only soft drinks. They take it in turns to have soft drinks. That is a sensible practice, but not every group behaves in that way. Hon. Members should devise ways and means of encouraging young people to adopt that practice. They can enjoy themselves and have a good evening without consistently rendering themselves silly through the consumption of alcohol.
Because of the experience of that one constituent, I hope that the hon. Gentleman's Bill is successful. No doubt, the Minister will rely upon the fact that, through Home Office consultation, the Government are considering the matter and will say that the Bill is premature. But the hon. Gentleman has made a good offer. He is prepared to defer consideration of the Bill until consultations with the Home Office are complete. He is prepared to consider any reasonable amendments that the police authorities consider necessary for practical reason. One does not often hear a fairer offer, and on that ground alone the Bill is entitled to be given a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
Hon. Members will have listened with care to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) and with sadness to the case that he mentioned.
We are all aware of cases in which innocent people have had their lives destroyed through injury and paralysis because of the actions of a driver who should not have been driving because he or she was intoxicated. Relatives of those who have lost their lives have told us that the law should be strengthened to deter drivers from drinking and taking to the roads. We are all sympathetic to that objective, because far too high a proportion of the 4,000 or 5,000 deaths and the even greater number of serious injuries that occur on our roads each year could have been avoided.
We welcome the steps that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic has taken to prevent drinking and driving. He is right to say that there has been a sea change in people's attitudes to this unsociable and unacceptable activity. Much of that success is undoubtedly due to the discussions that he has had with brewers and others to encourage those who frequent pubs and other establishments to drink something else. Many people feel that it is a sign of lack of virility or strange social behaviour if they do not enter into the spirit of things and take alcoholic drink. However, people are increasingly appreciating that one can have a soft or low-alcohol drink without anyone thinking the worse of them. There has been much success in the development of low-alcohol drinks and my hon. Friend should take credit for the encouragement that he has given to speed up that development. We should like it to extend further.
Hon. Members wre impressed by the sincerity and honesty with which the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) spoke. Few hon. Members would be prepared to speak as he did about their culpability and to say to others, "do not act in the way that I did in the past, which I now regret." We admire him for making those remarks.
1329 Now is not the time to introduce legislation, however, because at the beginning of the month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department published a consultation document and it would be precipitate to introduce legislation when people are being asked to give their views. If the law is to be changed, the way to gain public acceptability is not by pressing ahead at the very moment when there are consultations and apparently taking little notice of the responses to those consultations.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
That is a point with which I tried to deal earlier. I welcome the fact that the Home Office has begun to move on the subject, albeit six weeks after the Bill was introduced. I made it clear that I would be prepared to defer further consideration of the Bill until after the end of the consultation process that the Home Secretary has started. I should be happy if the House could give the Bill a Second Reading at the beginning of May and for it to go into Committee after that. That would enable us to make progress with the benefit of the information gleaned by the Home Office in the course of the consultations. There is a prospect of partnership on that basis.
§ Mr. Waller
I welcome an approach that involves partnership, as the hon. Gentleman said. Nevertheless, I believe that the changes needed—if there are to be changes—are not so simple as he may believe. I would argue that there need to be safeguards which must be thought about carefully. I hope and believe that before long my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will introduce legislation to improve the road traffic law. That would be a more suitable opportunity to consider any legislation which may be desirable on this aspect, in the context of other legislation which may be introduced and may be of some relevance, following the Government's response to the North report.
§ Mr. Waller
It is correct to say that it did not fall within the ambit of the work of Dr. North to consider the law as it relates to drink driving, but clearly there is a relationship between this and much other traffic law. It is not right to consider drink driving in isolation without taking account of other aspects of road traffic law and also of police powers.
I want to discuss police powers because there is considerable misunderstanding about what they are. At present, the police powers to stop vehicles and to require roadside breath tests are contained in two separate provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1972. Under section 159, a police officer may stop any vehicle at any time. It is not understood that the police have those powers and it is important that the public should appreciate that those powers exist. Of course, the powers are used in different ways by different chief constables and police forces.
Under section 7 of the same Act, breath tests may be required:where there is reasonable cause to suspect that the driver has alcohol in his body.A police officer may be able to assess that simply by moving close to the driver to detect any smell of alcohol that there may be on the driver.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
The hon. Gentleman seems to be acknowledging the case for the principle of random breath tests and suggesting that they are possible under present 1330 legislation. Can he not see that the procedure whereby a motorist must be stopped under the general power in section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and then the constable has to go through the charade of deciding whether he suspects that the motorist has been drinking, and subsequently administering the breath test under section 6, is tailor made to create confrontation and misunderstanding? Has the hon. Gentleman not already acknowledged that the situation is widely misunderstood and that people do not recognise that they are at risk of being caught? There is a great need at least to clarify the existing law and, I hope, to go beyond targeted breath tests to the general principle of random breath tests.
§ Mr. Waller
I have already said that there is a misunderstanding, and I, for one, would not be averse to a change in the law to avoid that misunderstanding in future.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I have been trying to avoid intervening, although I am fascinated by everything that has been said. As some hon. Members may not be present for the whole debate, I should make it clear that many motorists do not regard it as a charade if they are stopped and checked. For example, when the chief constable of Warwickshire made safety checks, he found more fault with the cars than with the drivers. People leaving Twickenham and Henley were stopped by the police, who found that of perhaps 700 people they needed to test about 70 and to arrest only five or seven at Henley and none at Twickenham. Such checks are not a charade, nor are they offensive to many motorists. The evidence does not support that claim.
§ Mr. Waller
What my hon. Friend says is right. I do not believe that there is enormous public dissatisfaction or outrage at the present law, although many people feel that it could work better. We do not receive daily or even weekly or monthly letters from our constituents saying that the mechanics and operation of the present law are unsatisfactory. Many people would prefer there to be a better deterrent, and many do not appreciate what the present law is.
I was explaining the circumstances in which a police officer may require a breath test. He may require a test if he has reasonable cause to suspect that a driver has alcohol in his body. That is a very wide power indeed, He may also require a breath test where he has reasonable cause to suspect that a driver has committed a moving traffic offence. That, too, is a very wide power. It means that if one of the lights on a car is not working or if a person is driving somewhat abrubtly, a police officer has reasonable cause to administer a breath test.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I know that the hon. Gentleman is making a serious point, but does he not acknowledge that it would be infinitely better if we could deter people effectively before they get behind the wheel of a car? It is too late to catch people when they are driving erratically or, as happens in many tragic cases, when they have already killed someone else or injured themselves. One way or another the House should get it across to people that. there is a risk of being caught. We should pass the. legislation required to deter people from engaging in this vicious, murderous conduct in the first place. We are catching people far too late if we catch them only when they have committed a moving traffic offence.
§ Mr. Waller
We are all interested in deterrence. This debate is essentially about deterrence, and we are interested in deterring not only the small minority of people who may be detected committing a moving traffic offence, but a much greater number of people than that. However, if more people appreciated what the present law is, they might be deterred. They might also be deterred if they appreciated the wide powers that police officers already have. Of course we are interested in deterrence, but it is a question of assessing how the deterrent effect can be applied most effectively. Many people believe—in my view mistakenly—in the abstract that a random power would be the most effective way of deterring people. As I develop my speech, I hope to show that there are different views as to the most sensible way of deterring people from drinking and driving.
A police officer may also require a breath test if there is reasonable cause to believe that the driver has been involved in an accident. The courts have held that it is lawful for the two powers contained in sections 7 and 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 to be used together. The question that we must ask is whether there would be benefits in clarifying the position and in bringing together the two powers in one section. That is one of the options that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has laid before the public. I maintain that consolidating the existing powers would be a sensible move forward. By bringing together in one section the separate powers of sections 7 and 159 of the 1972 Act, and by seeking to express parliamentary endorsement of their use in combination, there would be better public understanding of the powers that enable the police to stop and test within clearly stated legislative provisions.
It would not be sensible, however, to introduce unrestricted powers to require a breath test or to give police officers untramelled powers to set up road blocks and to stop every fifth or tenth car and ask the driver to give a breath test. That would not be a sensible use of police resources which, after all, are one of the main problems in achieving better deterrence. The police have many other demands on their time.
At Christmas 1987, when the police tested 37,050 drivers and found that 10 per cent. were over the limit, that was the average of the country as a whole but there were enormous differences from one police force to another. At one extreme, in Norfolk 1,800 people were tested and only 30 were found positive—in other words, 2 per cent. of those tested produced a positive test. In Northumbria, far fewer motorists were tested but out of the 290 who were tested 100 were found positive—that is, 34 per cent. of the total.
§ Mr. Waller
I think I know what the hon. Gentleman is going to say. I suspect that he will say that in Norfolk more people were deterred from drinking and driving.
§ Mr. Waller
I do not think that the evidence shows that. We can assess the effectiveness of deterrence only by reference to accident, injury and fatality rates. I submit that there is no evidence to show that counties with a much more rigorous approach to this matter—counties which already, in effect, impose random tests—have, for that reason, a much better record of preventing accidents in 1332 which people are killed or injured. However, if the evidence were available, it would strengthen the hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way yet again. He disposed of his earlier point exactly as I would have done, and I am grateful to him for rubbishing his own point.
Does he accept that there is ample evidence from abroad, especially from New South Wales, that as much as a 30 per cent. reduction in fatal and injury accidents can be achieved as a result of applying such a policy? Will he also accept that in New South Wales and Finland the implementation of this type of legislation did not lead to any increase in the requirement for police manpower? It is an efficient power which can work to save lives.
§ Mr. Waller
Before my hon. Friend intervenes, I should like to point out that there is always a temptation to say that because a change of one kind or another has been made, any change in the casualty rate must be the result of that change. Arguments of that kind were used in both directions in our debates on the seat belt legislation. New South Wales and the other Australian states are high on the list of comparisons, but I am suspicious about using statistics in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests, although I shall be happy to examine any that he may care to provide.
§ Mr. Bottomley
From 1982 onwards there has been a dramatic reduction in drink driving in New South Wales, but the amount of drink driving in Britain in 1982 was lower than in New South Wales, and it is lower in Britain now than it is in New South Wales. By selecting a particular year, one can prove all sorts of different things, but the key point is that one should not place too many hopes on any comparison. If a person doing research came to Britain from New South Wales, or from Victoria or New Zealand, and asked how Britain compared with what was happening in those places, he would be told that Britain was doing better. The issue that has been raised by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) is addressing is whether Britain can do better than it is doing now. I do not believe that we learn much from comparisons with other places.
§ Mr. Waller
That was a helpful intervention. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that those who promote road traffic causes tend to use examples from experience abroad which can sometimes be misleading. One has to examine carefully the circumstances in different countries. In many respects, the position in Britain is different from that in other countries. We must therefore exercise great care when drawing comparisons.
I said earlier that a much higher proportion—34 per cent.—of the tests in Northumbria proved to be positive. Had the police in Norfolk, as happened in Northumbria, limited themselves to stopping people who appeared to be drunk, they would have caught far more people. Road blocks are an ineffective means of catching drunk drivers. While the police are stopping thousands of innocent people at one location, they are not available to patrol 1333 areas where they are far more likely to come across people breaking the law. The police need to target their efforts much more carefully.
Some chief constables interpret the present law in a way that can only be described as allowing random testing ahead of any changes to the law that we might consider. It has been reported that in one area 6,000 tests were administered in the pre-Christmas period, only nine of which were found to be positive. Nationally, the percentage found to be positive has fallen from 43 per cent. in 1976 to 28 per cent. in 1986. That may be because people are drinking less when they drive, which is to be welcomed, but, it may also suggest that chief constables—certainly the chief constable of Norfolk—are operating a random policy. The wholesale stopping of innocent motorists to catch the guilty can be counterproductive and alienate the vast majority of innocent drivers.
It is true that a large number of those who were questioned said that they would not be against the introduction of a random system, even though many of them did not understand the present position. However, among the large minority of people who are against such a change there are many who would be antagonised by the random stopping of motorists. In this country we are fortunate that the overwhelming majority of people have great confidence in the way in which the police carry out their duties. I do not want to see a change in the law, introduced precipitatly, in a way which could damage the relationship between the police and the public. A minority of people would be antagonised by a change which conflicts with the general principles applying to the way in which the police carry out their duties. We have got rid of the sus law and other legislation in which the police could operate their powers arbitrarily. For instance, in public order legislation and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 we have been careful to ensure that the police cannot stop people at random simply because their face is black, they look scruffy or for some other reason. We do not want to return to circumstances in which the police stop people ar random without having cause to do so. That is why we have to be careful before proceeding in the way suggested by the hon. Member for East Lothian.
There is a good case for improving the law so that there is no doubt about what it means. There is also a good case for consolidating the two separate provisions of the existing road traffic law so that people understand it and so that we have the best possible deterrent powers. Ultimately, we all share the same interest in making the person who is thinking of going out to drive after taking a drink have second thoughts and stay at home or find somebody else to drive. That is the objective of all of us. It is merely a question of how we go about it in an effective way which ensures that the current harmonious relationship between the police and the public continues in the future.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
It gives me great pleasure to follow the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller). He is my squash partner—
§ Mr. Favell
Perhaps I win a little more often than he does, but I can say that because I am speaking after him.
1334 I am sorry to say that I once again find myself in conflict with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. I hit him on the nose last week and he bears a scar to this day. His mother is convinced that I am trying to disfigure her son. On this occasion I do not propose to take my squash racquet to him but hope to win by force of argument.
My hon. Friend said, rightly, that he does not wish to bring the police into conflict with the public and that he fears—it is a fear that he is right to express—that random breath tests could introduce such a conflict. Many people have come to see me in my prosessional capacity as a solicitor and, since becoming a Member of Parliament, to talk about contretemps with the police. I have never heard anybody complain about passing a breath test. Indeed, they have never complained about being given a breath test that they failed. Almost every member of the public understands the reason for breath tests. They are concerned about their safety and the safety of their family. We all know from statistics the effect that drink has on drivers. Therefore, I am confident that the public support the police.
It gives me particular pleasure to support the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). He probably remembers that I was a sponsor of his previous private Member's Bill and that I served on the Standing Committee. It was a sensible Bill also concerned with safety—the safety of children—and it was enacted. This is an equally sensible Bill, concerned with the safety of us all.
I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic says. He has done an enormous amount to bring to the notice of the public the dangers of drink driving, and he has done so without fear. Indeed, he has often been criticised in the press and also, occasionally, in the Tea Room for his strong views on what should be done to curb drink driving. I endorse and support all that he does. More strength to his elbow—if that is not an unfortunate phrase—in promoting the cause for which he fights so well.
I support the Bill for three reasons. First, the law as it stands is an obstacle to convicting someone who has been driving while under the influence of drink. When breath tests were first introduced they were a veritable obstacle course. It almost seemed that Parliament had made it virtually impossible for anyone to be convicted. The police had to go through the most extraordinary ritual before they could demand a breath test, and a further ritual had to take place at the police station before a blood test could be administered. If one wrong step was taken in complying with the regulations made under the Road Traffic Act 1972 the defendant in court would, almost undoubtedly, be found not guilty. As a solicitor I have, on many occasions, made use of the regulations to ensure that my clients were found not guilty.
§ Mr. Favell
It is a shame, but we get paid for it and, as my hon. Friend knows, lawyers are under threat and have to try to eke out a living somehow.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I thought that my hon. Friend said that he was a solicitor. I thought that it was barristers who felt under threat, not solicitors.
§ Mr. Favell
We feel that we may be next in line, so we have to be rather careful.
1335 I have a personal friend from Loughborough called Henry Charles, whose main claim to fame was that he discovered that the breathalyser kit laid down in the original Act had not been approved by the Home Secretary. On those grounds, not only was one of his clients found not guilty but several other people received pardons. Those are the sort of obstacles that existed under the original regulations, and one remaining obstacle, remains.
As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley a policeman now has the right to stop the driver of a car or motor cycle on the road. If he suspects that the driver is under the influence of drink, he can demand that the driver takes a breath test, but he must show that he has reasonable cause. Regardless of whether the driver has been drinking, if the policeman fails to show reasonable cause, the driver may be found not guilty. That seems nonsense.
My first reason for supporting the Bill is that the present regulations are the final obstacle to bringing a drunken driver before the courts. My second reason is that it is still widely believed by the public that random tests—even to stop and breathalyse a driver if he is believed to have been drinking—are not right unless the driver has committed a moving traffic offence. There can be no better reason for supporting the Bill than to make it absolutely clear to the public that people can be stopped—regardless of whether they have committed an offence or whether they were weaving their way along the road—and then, if they have been drinking, given a breath test.
Let us have clarification. Let the people know the position. A recent MORI poll showed that 2 million people still drink and drive regularly. That is far too many. There should be none. Too many people are still drinking and driving because they believe that, if they drive carefully, they will get home without being stopped. Indeed, reference has been made to the Christmas blitzes. In those areas where it is most likely that a driver will be stopped over Christmas, people are not drink-driving. I have heard people say in the pubs and clubs, "You should not go anywhere near Derbyshire. They will be absolutely red hot on drink-driving during Christmas week". Therefore, people avoid drinking and driving in that area during Christmas week. However, the minute the new year begins back they go on to the roads, because the police do not have the right, or are perceived not to have the right, to stop motorists randomly. That is another good reason for clarification.
My third reason for supporting the Bill is that I believe that it will deter and that it will save lives. I cannot conceive of any reason why the public should object to the police having those powers when many believe that they have them already.
A recent newspaper report stated that a coach full of schoolchildren travelling from Dover had been stopped because the police believed that it was overweight because of beer bought in Calais. The coach was delayed for four or five hours while it was weighed. If the police have power to do that and to delay schoolchildren for four or five hours on their way home, how much better is the reason for the police to have a right to stop someone on the offchance that he may have been drinking.
1336 I support the hon. Gentleman's Bill and I hope that it has a Second Reading.
§ 2.3 pm
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
The Opposition have not taken an official position on the measures in the Bill, but I shall speak briefly about some of the concerns that we share with its presenter. The magnitude of the crime involved is, of course, not doubted by any hon. Members. There are 950 drink-drive deaths per annum and 25,000 casualities in alcohol-related injury accidents. In that enormous number of people who have suffered because of the effects of drink-driving, one half were people who themselves were not drunken drivers when they had their accidents.
Drink driving is a more serious source of death, accident and injury than any other serious crime, such as homicide. It follows from that, therefore, that the police should be expected to make this a priority. It is an area of criminal activity in which the police must properly give much time and attention.
The need for deterrence is clear. As other hon. Members have said, the risk of detection varies enormously throughout the country. It can be as low as one in 4,000 and at its highest it is probably only one in 250. As a consequence, public attitudes are important. In that respect I want to cite a poll which has been published this month that shows that of those who ever drink any alcohol away from home, 77 per cent. of drivers believe that the police should have the power to carry out spot breath tests on any driver. That shows that since 1976 support for such a statement among men has increased from 54 per cent. to 73 per cent., and to no less than 83 per cent. among young men between the ages of 18 and 24. It is that latter group which is of most concern to the police, and which is involved in the highest proportion of the offences.
For all those reasons, we believe that the House should have the opportunity to study in Committee this important Private Member's Bill. I believe that the manner of presentation of the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) shows that he is more than willing to negotiate and to postpone his measure until there has been full consultation. Those are the reasons why I wanted to come to the Dispatch Box to support the opportunity for the Bill to receive its Second Reading today.
§ 2.4 pm
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
I think that the advice which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) gave to her hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) about flexibility may lead to both of them being successful in getting private Member's Bills through. Obviously the time available for this debate is rather shorter than that available for the previous one. The hon. Member for East Lothian and I would want to acknowledge that the hon. Member for Deptford in moving her Bill and my hon. Friend the Minister who responded to her were very kind in not taking up all the time available so that this important subject could be debated, at least in part.
The House will also welcome the way in which the hon. Member for East Lothian said that he would be willing to 1337 put off the conclusion on Second Reading until the Home Office had had time to consider the responses to consultation. That shows that there is a great deal of common interest in this House in seeing how far public opinion has changed since the present powers were laid down in statute.
The hon. Member for East Lothian will want to welcome all the speeches today. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) perhaps made the most useful speech. He provided a reminder that there are many of us, especially men, who in the past did drink and drive. We know many still do. The MORI survey for LEX showed a figure of about 1.5 million people who thought that they drove above the legal limit. I suspect that that figure is exaggerated. People gave what they thought were honest answers, but many of them thought that the legal limit was higher than it is. I try not to concentrate on the legal limit because I want no one to try to drink up to it. The only sensible advice from the Department of Transport, from the House, from the medical profession and the brewers is that drinking and driving do not mix. Do not combine the bottle and the throttle. People must make sure that they decide in advance whether they are going to drive or drink.
The House would unite in the belief that there are three messages that we want to convey to people under the umbrella of "Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives". First, the host has responsibility to provide an attractive range of alcohol-free or very low-alcohol drinks for drivers. That applies to clubs, pubs, hotels, restaurants, office parties and family parties.
The second message was reinforced by the hon. Member for Deptford, who reminded us that nearly half of those who die in drink-related crashes are drivers. Of those who are not drivers, perhaps one in four or five of them are what I call consenting adults. In other words, they are passengers who knew in advance that the driver was going to drink, got into the car knowing that the driver had been drinking and then ended up as half innocent victims. We must also feel the greatest concern for people who might be called the uninvolved fatalities. In other words, I am referring to the driver coming in the opposite direction or the pedestrian on the pavement. Our hearts go out to them, and those are the people for whom we must fight hardest.
I suggest that the campaign against drinking and driving and the Scottish campaign against irresponsible driving, to which I give credit for raising public awareness about this problem, should open their memberships more obviously to the families of the drinking drivers who have died. To try to prevent deaths they should also open their memberships to the families of drinking drivers who are still alive. The deterrent approach matters most.
I am glad that hon. Members have not spent time trying to be heavy-handed. The arguments for clarifying the law and for altering police powers—the two sections of the Bill—are directed at ensuring that fewer people combine alcohol with driving.
I have spoken about the host's responsibility and the passenger's responsibility, but thirdly, and above all, we must consider the driver's responsibility. If I, as a driver, go to a party where most of the drink on offer is alcoholic, and if no alcohol-free drink is available, or if I feel a fool by asking for it, my responsibility is not to go along with the tide and drink alcohol, but to hold back because I am driving. If I am in a pub or a restaurant where the 1338 alcohol-free drink is being sold at the same price, a not-sufficiently-reduced price or even a higher price than alcoholic drink, how could I face myself the next morning if I had saved 10p or even £1 but I had ended someone else's life? My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) recounted quite graphically the effect upon the family of a person who has died. It is a life sentence for parents if one of their children is killed by a drunken driver, or even if the young person is the drunken driver who has been killed.
No excuses remain for drinking and driving. One of the main reasons for that is the way in which the media have helped to put the subject on the public agenda. I am grateful to Members of Parliament who have helped put the matter on the political agenda. All the old excuses have gone and people now realise that it is not possible to say truthfully that there is no alternative to alcoholic drink.
I pay tribute to the brewers who have developed low-alcohol and alcohol-free lagers and beers, £20 million of which of which were sold in 1986 and about £120 million in 1988—the fastest growing part of the beer market. Low-alcohol beer tastes much better, but I recommend that people keep it in the refrigerator as it does not taste so good warm.
The publicans and the people who work in the not-for-profit clubs, the working men's clubs, the Labour clubs, the Tory clubs and the Liberal clubs—such as the one in Colne Valley, which has a Tory Member of Parliament—and the whole range of working men's institutes have joined publicans in promoting alcohol-free drink and I pay tribute to them. The one group which has made the biggest difference is the people behind the counters who decide what they stock. Derek Dormer for the union representing the working men's clubs has done a great deal and the institute's magazine quotes a great many clubs where a quarter of the beer sold is alcohol-free or very low-alcohol beer. Thai: is tremendous.
When occasionally I am attacked by the media—not that people in the media are terribly interested in this debate, which is taking place at lunch time—I remember that I received a standing ovation once in my 14 years or public service, and that was at the annual dinner of the National Licensed Victuallers Association. If the publicans of this country get to their feet and applaud—or at least get to their feet—things are not that bad. It may have been because I spoke for so long or because I proposed the toast to Her Majesty the Queen, but at least it shows that the publicans are working with Parliament and are concerned.
Some have expressed the fear that I may suffer as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir. G. Young) did when he stopped being a Minister at the Department of Health allegedly because the tobacco interests got cross with him. I may end my ministerial service quite soon, but it will not be because the brewers have got cross. The brewers are contributing to cutting death on the roads and are doing it very well. They spent £15 million last year on promoting drinks that drivers can take and that is tremendous.
I must say to the hon. Member for Stockton, North that if every other person in the community—whether or not they hold a position of responsibility or community representation—were as open as he has been, drink driving would be virtually ended within the next year. If people are 1339 willing to stand up and be counted and admit, "I have been an imperfect driver", or that they had combined drinking and driving, more people would be aware of the dangers.
Yesterday evening in Huddersfield I said that I had never been to a British Medical Association dinner where, on the menu beside the list of the fine food on one side and the fine wine on the other it said, "Members and guests are reminded that alcohol-free drink is on every table for drivers." One of the reasons why I have not seen such a thing at a BMA dinner is because I have never been invited to one. I did see it done once at a dinner of the County Surveyors' Society, and I hope that that practice will spread to magistrates and others involved in trying to save lives and enforce the law. Perhaps it should be adopted at more parliamentary dinners.
I wish to re-emphasise my comments on stocking alcohol-free drinks. We should consider the kinds of people who may not want to drink alcohol on any given occasion. About 10 per cent. of people are teetotal, and they represent a significant group. Another 10 per cent.—some estimate 20 per cent.—are reforming alcoholics, who ought to be off the booze. They would be helped if the rest of us taking alcohol chose an alcohol-free drink before moving on to alcohol. In that way, the reforming alcoholic or person who acknowledges that they have a drink problem—and many people do not acknowledge that—will see that everyone else is ordering non-alcoholic drinks, and it will be easier for that individual to remain alcohol-free and not feel under any social pressure to take alcohol.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
While I have enjoyed the 10 minutes of the Minister's speech so far, I have heard a certain amount of it before. One knows of his strong feelings, and one agrees with much of what he says about individual responsibility. However, I eagerly await the Minister's comments about the Bill, which would deter more effectively the evil to which he refers.
I realise that the hon. Gentleman has been left to hold the fort by the Home Office, and that he may have an embarrassing Home Office brief before him. Nevertheless, it will be helpful if before 2.30 pm, the Minister will give an indication of whether he intends to allow the Bill to make progress, or whether he is doing the Home Office's dirty work in talking it out.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I have an appalling suspicion that the hon. Gentleman must be coming up for reselection. He began his earlier speech cogently and effectively, acknowledging the realities of life and that it will probably be better to conclude the Second Reading debate—or at least make a decison about it—at the end of the consultation period.
The hon. Gentleman may have been momentarily distracted at the beginning of my remarks, but I thought that he had been sensible in agreeing on the best way forward. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I acknowledged how grateful we all are to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), and to the hon. Member for Deptford for making it possible to debate this subject. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that my remarks make no contribution to the avoidance and deterrence of drink driving, and thereby to the avoidance and deterrence of the casualties 1340 associated with it, but merely compensate for the quality of my brief. The relationship between my Department and the Home Office is probably better in this field than in any other—not that I suggest that there is difficulty anywhere else in the seamless robe of Government.
I regret that the hon. Gentleman distracted me, because I wished to make further serious points that might help to continue the dramatic reduction in drink driving over the past three years. During the past three years, we have managed to change the attitude of the prime target group—the 18 to 24-year-olds, who previously were described in the General Accident survey as the YOBS, or young, over-the-limit, beer drinkers. Drink driving offences in that group have been cut faster than that of the Dumbos—dangerous, upper middle class business men over the limit, who have been drink-driving for decades. That shows what can be achieved without changing the law, police powers, or sentencing. However much one may believe either in the second part of the Bill, the suggestion that there should be full or mass random breath testing, or that there should be unfettered discretion, is misguided.
Every time that this issue is raised, there are opportunities to persuade another 100,000 people to give up drinking and driving. It is important to continue sending positive messages. The people who will be reading tomorrow's newspaper reports of this debate will not learn only that the hon. Member for East Lothian, is enjoying further success by steering another Bill through Parliament, albeit that the Second Reading decision will probably come after the consultation period. I hope that they will read also in Saturday's and Sunday's papers that drink driving deaths in Britain have been brought down below 1,000 a year for the first time since records began. I am not sure when the figures started to rise or to be calculated.
Drink driving in Britain is at a lower level than in most other countries. It has been coming down persistently over the past 22 years or so. When Barbara Castle introduced the breathalyser laws, she was laughed at, and most men tried to evade their consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) made a lawyer's confession—he helped people to use technicalities to get off charges. We forgive lawyers many things, but, if they are changing in support of the general idea that 95 per cent. of us regard ourselves as potential victims of drinking drivers and few of us regard ourselves as potential victims of the police, we have made great progress.
The hon. Gentleman's offers, first, to consolidate the law—that is the middle option in the Home Office consultation paper—and, secondly, to provide that, within circumscribed procedures, the police may opt for random breath testing. It has been made plain that the present police powers are not understood by everyone. In legal terms, they are clear. They have been tested in the courts and have not been found wanting. It is possible for any one of us to be stopped and checked by the police without having original cause.
It is possible for the police to require a breath test in one of three circumstances: first, if someone has been involved in an accident; secondly, if someone has committed a moving traffic offence, or has given reasonable grounds to suspect that; or, thirdly, if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that someone has been drinking. Although he did not mention the accident point, my hon. Friend for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) clearly made those points.
1341 Should those sections of the law be put together? I suspect that the results of the consultation are that they should be and it is possible that that could be put into the road traffic law or an amending Bill. I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Lothian for indicating that he would be prepared to be flexible about the Bill.
The next matter is far broader, and, I suspect, needs more than a two-hour debate. Should, by statute, the powers and operational procedures of the police be directly controlled? Some say yes. Certainly, over 100 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion appear to support that view. Many others say that the police powers should not be circumscribed at all. If the hon. Gentleman had phrased his Bill in another way to state that there should be no restrictions on the power of the police to require an alcohol test of a driver, perhaps 100 or so people would have agreed to that also. The hon. Gentleman may not have put his name at the top of the early-day motion, but that shows how opinions may vary. We should not prejudge hon. Member's reactions.
It is difficult for the House to lay down detailed requirements on how the police carry out the law. I am glad that police officers have discretion in many motoring offences. The point of the Government's approach and response to the North committee and its recommendations is that the trivial mistakes that all of us as motorists make some of the time should not necessarily lead us into court. Serious offences need to be dealt with most effectively, and drink driving is one of them.
I remind the House of the evidence of the pilot random alcohol surveys that the Department carried out last year. At one stage, they appeared to be controversial, but they have generally been accepted as worthwhile. The good news is that, after 10 o'clock on drinking nights—Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays—four out of five of the cars driving towards us are driven by someone who has not taken alcohol. The bad news is that one in five has. The good news is that 49 out of 50 are not above the legal limit when they have been two to five times more likely to be involved in a crash or a collision. The bad news is that one in 50 is above the legal limit. One in 500 is at twice the legal limit or above.
As the debate has turned mainly on deterrence and perceptions of risk, I remind all drivers that the police catch 1,000 drivers a week at twice the legal limit or above—people up to 20 times more likely to be involved in a crash or collision. That could not happen with random testing, it must come from targeted testing. Many people support what the police are doing. Another 1,000 people are between the legal limit and twice the legal limit. Many of them are caught by random stops, not random testing. I should not want to exaggerate. If anyone wants to see a mild exaggeration, they should look at the Evening Standard of 30 June 1988. The article did not make the second edition because the future of Elstree studio was more important than 1,000 people a year dying on the roads.
The police can test anyone, except those who have not been drinking, those who have not had a scrape or those who have not committed a moving traffic offence. In New South Wales last weekend, four out of five people were caught as a result of targeted rather than random testing. To catch 120,000 people a year in this country by random testing would require 23 million breath tests instead of the present total of 400,000, which is rising.
1342 I shall not become involved in the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about different statistics from different police services. The police should analyse the comparisons and learn from them rather than my pointing out any obvious or less obvious messages. More and more police services are taking the issue more seriously. The chief constable of Fife said that he was fed up—he did not say that, but it looked as though he were—with accidents involving drinking and driving. He required his officers to take more tests when it was lawful to do so. The number of tests increased, but the number of people over the limit and accidents decreased.
I have read in reports of an appalling publican in Ditchling who said that over Christmas he lost trade because West Sussex police were stopping people and testing them if there were lawful grounds to do so. Any publican relying on the drink-drive trade should switch to running a coffie bar. Some nine out of 10 publicans realise that a change has occurred. The hon. Member for East Lothian reminded me that anyone who continues to drink and drive should carry a kidney donor card because others may find more use for their organs.
The speech made my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green reminded us that we are not only discussing individuals. There is much pressure for less laxity. There is more pressure for effective enforcement, more effective deterrents and a culture change so that drinking and driving becomes as unlikely as smoking in a church, chapel, mosque or temple.
The biggest changes have come from public understanding. I ask the media to give more coverage not only to arguments for or against random testing, unfettered discretion or considering the existing system, which many have found unsatisfactory, but to why four men still go into a pub, the first buys a pint of beer all round and the other three feel that they must do the same. All four leave the pub over the legal limit. The media might say, especially the local press, why four out of five restaurants—whether they be Indian, Chinese, English or French—do not stock alcohol-free beer. Any restaurant that stocks beer should stock alcohol-free beer, because a third of their customers will be driving shortly afterwards.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I acknowledge everything that the Minister is saying. Clearly we shall run out of time and the Chair is not in a position to accept a closure motion. Will the Minister say whether the Government will be prepared to consider making progress on the Bill, following the conclusion of the Home Office's consultation, on 5 May?
§ Mr. Bottomley
There have already been 2,000 responses to the consultation, and I am sure that the Home Office would welcome more. If it is possible to come to conclusions that might fit in with the Bill, there may be informal discussions to see what can be done. If there were an agreed way forward, the sooner that could be done the better, but whether it would be feasible is too early to judge. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and his ministerial alcohol group have a keen interest in seeing how we progress.
The hon. Member for East Lothian is riding with the. tide. Many hon. Members have reflected the changing attitude that drinking and driving wrecks lives.
Many of us have misbehaved in the past. I put out a call to everyone concerned with the subject not just to give 1343 their views on the law, but to make their own contribution. They should provide alcohol-free drinks for drivers and expect them to take them. They should ask, "Are you sure?" if they see a driver drinking. Passengers should plan in advance to have an alcohol-free driver and drivers should remember that they have the prime responsibility to keep death off the roads.
There may be more deaths from sober drivers, but to have 1,000 deaths a year from drink driving means that 20 times a week a police officer knocks on a stranger's door and says that he is very sorry, but a son, a daughter, a husband or wife will not be coming home that night because somebody has been drink-driving. Those are the acts that we are trying to prevent. I ask everyone not to wait for a change in the law, if it comes, but to pack in the drinking and driving now. That is the real way of cutting our casualty rate dramatically.
§ It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday 5 May.