§ 3. Mr. Colvin
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to introduce the breathalyser into Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
We propose to consult on the introduction of the hand-held breathalyser for use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The major drop in drink-driving is coming from the allied efforts of the drinks trade to encourage all hosts to provide an attractive range of alcohol-free drinks and non and low-alcohol lager and beer for drivers; to support passengers in choosing in advance a driver who does not take alcohol, and to prompt potential drivers to decide whether to drive or to drink alcohol.
These approaches, with the necessary and welcome enforcement work by police, will help to reduce the number of times a police officer has to knock on a stranger's door to announce that a mother or father, or a son or daughter will never return because of a drink-driver crash.
§ Mr. Colvin
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend's reply. What consultations did he have before reaching his decision? I accept that there has been a downward trend in drink-driving offences since the introduction of low-alcohol drinks and the campaigns run by the on-licence trade, but what is the trend in drink-related accidents? If that is also downward, is it really necessary to introduce the breathalyser in the Province?
§ Mr. Bottomley
I pay tribute to those in the drinks trade —the on-trade, vintners, off-licences and brewers—for coming together to help to support the efforts to cut casualties. In the United Kingdom as a whole, and in Northern Ireland, the trend in drink-related deaths is clearly a downwards trend, and pedestrians are benefiting just as much as drivers and their passengers. The reason for introducing the hand-held breathalyser is that it provides a screening device and only those who fail the screening test need to be taken to the roadside evidential machine. That means that the RUC will be able to process more people more quickly and so get off the road faster, which in Northern Ireland is sometimes important.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker
Is the Minister aware of the number of breathalysed drivers driving written-off vehicles imported from the mainland, repaired by cowboy garages and unleashed on the Northern Ireland community?
§ Mr. Bottomley
That is something which we shall want to keep under control, but with the vehicle-testing system in place, vehicle defects contribute to less than 10 per cent. of crashes, whereas road conditions contribute to about one third and driver error to 95 per cent. of crashes. I should welcome the hon. Gentleman's support in dealing with the driver error problem, which is by far the largest.