HL Deb 13 April 1961 vol 230 cc339-421

3.30 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to consider this Bill and to give it a Second Reading, and before I come on to its contents, I think it may be convenient if I say something of its necessity, its scope and what we hope to achieve by it. I think probably I can best do this by outlining how we see the whole road safety situation and the general background against which the Bill's proposals are put forward.

Last year saw 6,970 people dead on the roads; it saw around 90,000 people seriously injured; it saw a further 240,000 injured to some lesser extent; and, if that is not enough to ram home to us not only the crushing, needless, wasteful financial burden of the matter but also the crushing, needless, wasteful cost in terms of human suffering and human misery, then we should look to the future. On the same basis, the 'sixties may well see 1 million people dead or seriously injured, 3 million less seriously injured, and perhaps 20 million accidents as well where no one is injured, though with the inherent risk of it.

It is true that the number of deaths has not risen as fast as the total road casualties, although that may be as much due to improved medical and ambulance services as to anything else. It is true, too, that the rate of increase of accidents is not as high as the rate of growth of traffic; and from these two facts we can possibly extract some crumb of comfort if we can take only a very qualified amount of credit. But, during the next ten years or so, the number of vehicles on the roads may well double, the number of road users of all kinds including pedestrians may well enormously increase, and I say to your Lordships that I do not, and cannot, believe that we can for a moment contemplate accepting the possibility of a rise in accidents of anything like even this reduced proportion.

Against this possible increase in traffic, and so an increase in accidents, it is clearly necessary that the Government should take a lead in promoting further road safety measures of all kinds throughout the country. How much can be done without an unacceptable interference with the liberty of the individual is something that is not easy to assess. We have heard a good deal of Patrick Henry recently, and of his famous saying. I cannot help feeling that if Patrick Henry had lived to-day and had advanced into the road accident situation crying, "Give me liberty or give me death", he would very quickly have achieved both.

No one more than I, with the deep interest in motoring and in road problems that I have always had, is more unwilling to see restrictions and frustration placed upon road users, whether they be drivers, cyclists, pedestrians or anyone else. But there comes a time—and we have to recognise it when it comes—when liberty cannot be allowed to become licence. The use of the roads to the danger of his fellow citizens cannot be accepted as the right of any class of road user, and we have to move to the view that it is instead the privilege of all to use them in safety. I beg all who conceive it their duty to guard and preserve seoterian road users' rights, or indeed anyone else's rights, to take these points into their consciences, even if they find it difficult to take them into their hearts. It is the personal responsibility of all to assume that moral obligation for not causing accidents, and indeed for not tolerating accidents, that they owe to society. As I have said to your Lordships before, we shall get no worthwhile reduction in accidents until this individual responsibility is fairly and properly assumed by everybody.

It is for this reason that this year's road safety propaganda campaign is being launched next Monday on this particular theme. The watchword of the, campaign of this year is: "Be Alive!" Be alive to the shortcomings of others. Be alive to situations developing, and developing fast. Be alive to the difficulties of the very old and the very young. In short, be alive yourself and stay alive; be alive to others and let them stay alive, too.

Being alive to others, I think, is nearer the core of personal responsibility than anything else I can say. It does not mean only not overtaking on corners, not heedlessly rushing across the road without looking, not driving across traffic signals at the "red", of which I personally see about eight cases every week in London. It means common, everyday care in road behaviour, the use of the rear-view mirror, signals giving warning of what you are going to do and not of what you are doing, giving drivers time to stop before you cross, and that sort of thing. It means making allowances for what the other chap has got to do, and even making allowances for his doing it badly. It means patience, it means give and take and, above all, it means anticipation.

This can give us big results; but although we make much of it, there is still not any one single way in which accidents can be really substantially reduced. There is no kind of panacea that can be applied. The drive against road accidents must be a many-pronged one, and the legislative proposals in the Bill are one of the prongs. I hope that by the time we have finished your Lordships will agree with me that it is a well-forged prong likely to prove effective in its use. I want to make it quite clear that neither my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport nor I is under any illusion that this Bill is anything more than that; and we fully realise that we must make full use of existing road safety activities such as are carried on by the Government, by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and by local road safety committees. The 'Ministry has its contribution to make as well, through things like the vehicle testing scheme and, above all, by the large expansion of the mileage of the new roads we are building and of the existing roads we are improving, both of which must have a large and worthwhile effect.

I referred publicly some months ago to the work done by the County Surveyor of Dorset in analysing the reductions in accidents which can result from comparatively small expenditures of money on improving highway black spots. There have been some quite spectacular results. As instances, improved alignment of roads on bends, the staggering of crossroads, the introduction of roundabouts or the resurfacing of slippery roads can contribute reductions of anything from one-third to four-fifths of the number of accidents at those places. Local highway authorities and the Ministry's divisional road engineers are continually making improvements of this sort and are looking for scope for others. I believe that more can be done than is being done, and my rght honourable friend at the moment is examining what is the best way of tackling this particular aspect on an increasing scale.

The work of the police is of the greatest importance. They have a large part to play, not only by the enforcement of the traffic law, but also just by being there. Because—and there are no two ways about it—the mere sight of a uniformed policeman, or a police car or motor cycle on patrol, has a salutary and deterrent effect on the kind of people who act with thoughtlessness and lack of consideration for others on the road.

All these things are making their contribution, so they must therefore continue vigorously and they must be expanded. But all these things, we know as well, will not be enough. At the same time, we have to be ready to make use of any new opportunities that offer themselves in the shape of fresh fields of knowledge, or initiative, that have not hitherto been fully exploited. We must watch developments most carefully in this country, and we must, as we can and do, keep in close touch with what is being done in other countries. All these things and the vast extension of existing measures may be able to make contributions, but one of our present difficulties is that in so many cases we do not know what the contribution may be in the cases of new techniques. We need more information, my Lords, and I should like to mention one or two particular matters in which my right honourable friend proposes to act.

A great deal of effort is put into attempts to educate different classes of road user in road safety matters, and with young people who are used to being instructed there are good grounds for believing that such educational measures have some effect. In particular, I would mention as being of evident value the road safety drill which is taught in schools, the school training schemes organised also through schools, and the R.A.C./A.C.U. training schemes for motor cyclists which the Government are now aiding with a grant. I am happy to say that the number of children killed in road accidents has fallen from 1,600 in 1930 to 747 in 1960, and this has been at a time when there has not only been quite an increase in the number of children but a very much greater one in the amount of traffic.

But with adults it is different. We are a good deal less certain as to the effect of propaganda on them. Occasionally we can measure the result, as in the case of the intensive campaign to get motor cyclists and scooter riders to wear crash helmets. It has so far resulted in two out of three riders now wearing them, and they undoubtedly reduce the risk of head injuries. Safety belts, too, seem to be on the increase, but in many cases we cannot measure the results and so we cannot know whether our methods of trying to influence people are the best. We are therefore proposing in future to make increasing use of the services of professional experts in presenting our road safety advice to all road users, and not least through the very generous amount of time given by the B.B.C. and independent television companies.

My right honourable friend has referred several times to the need for far greater segregation between pedestrians and mechanically-propelled vehicles. This is practicable, of course, when you are planning a new town or the complete reconstruction of part of an existing one, but for many years a lot of our cities where traffic of all kinds is heavy will have to go on as they are. We have to find out what contribution to safety can be achieved by adapting such busy places to give a much greater degree of segregation. My right honourable friend announced last October that he had intended experiments on this subject to take place, and work is going on in preparation for them. As we are proposing to discuss them with the local authorities concerned before long, I would rather not say any more at the moment except that they could be very important, because the results might well lead to measures of segregation that could be widely and beneficially applied in crowded areas where vehicular and pedestrian traffic are both very heavy. My Lords, all these things, and many others as well, are being carefully looked at, and we shall energetically follow up those which seem likely to contribute to road safety. Some can be done by existing legislation, others—perhaps dimly realised as yet—may require more in due course. But they all form part of the background against which, and in proportion to which, we bring forward the present proposals.

It does not matter how good are our methods of education, how extensive our road building programme or how effective various other safety measures may be, there will always remain some users of the road who, through ignorance, lack of responsibility or wilfulness, by temperament or from the desire to show off, because of sheer carelessness or selfish obstinacy, fail to show any consideration for the safety and rights of others on the road. For such people the penalties of the law are the most appropriate, and it is because of them that we feel it is necessary to make changes in the penalties which can be applied for their failure.

It is against this background that we put forward this Bill. It contains a good number of matters. Some of them are procedural and some, although points of substance, are less important than the four main proposals for changes in the penalties for motoring offences, changes in the law about speed limits, powers to set up a register of driving instructors and changes in relation to drink and driving.

The drink and driving proposals are, of course, in Clauses 1 and 2, and if I am not much mistaken they will give rise to a good deal of discussion in the course of this debate. It seems to me that the important point is that we have no simple and comprehensive set of data establishing the exact relationship between drink and road accidents in this country. My Lords, work has been done by many individuals and bodies and each has had their different contribution to make on the subject. What The Medical Research Council and the British Medical Association found is particularly outstanding, but as the Medical Research Council has pointed out, none of the work establishes an unassailable case. What does emerge, and I am sure we can reasonably accept it, is that even small doses of alcohol (and by small doses I mean quantities far less than are necessary to produce signs which would commonly be regarded as being drunk) affect driving skill and judgment, and affect it in a way which would make a driver more likely to have an accident. It is perhaps of the greatest importance In the case of drivers who are in charge of a potentially dangerous machine, but I must say in passing that we cannot ignore the effects of alcohol on other road users, even if that does not really come within the scope of the Bill.

The other fact which emerges, and which I also think we are safe in accepting, is that alcohol almost certainly contributes to a much greater proportion of accidents in this country than the official statistics indicate. We know these show only the number of accidents where drink was so obviously involved as to warrant police proceedings, and that is one half of one per cent.; but surely common sense tells us that it must be a factor of some degree in many more.

A sample examination of police records carried out by the Road Research Laboratory relating to nearly 400 deaths in road accidents in three police districts revealed that in 17 per cent. of them there was evidence that someone involved had been drinking. For those that took place after 10 p.m. the proportion rose to 62 per cent. Your Lordships will also remember the special survey that was made at the request of my right honourable friend by the Road Research Laboratory into the deaths in road accidents over the Christmas holidays of 1959, when they reported that in at least 56 per cent. of the cases one or more people involved had been drinking. Of course, I am not suggesting that these proportions represent the cases in which the accident was caused by alcohol; no such detailed assessment has been made, or probably can be made, because, as your Lordships appreciate, it is often extremely difficult and often impossible to say precisely what was the real cause of an accident. But what we do have reason to think is that alcohol contributes to accidents in a far larger number of cases than the official figure of 0.57 per cent. would indicate.

These were the facts that Her Majesty's Government had in mind when considering what could and should be done about the present law in relation to drink and driving. Under Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, it is an offence to drive a motor vehicle on a road when under the influence of drink … to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of a motor vehicle. Magistrates convicted in 93 per cent. of the prosecutions brought under this section during 1958. The corresponding proportion of convictions secured from juries was 55 per cent. It may well be that the words: incapable of having proper control bring to many people's minds the idea of "drunk and incapable", which goes much further than is necessary for someone's ability to drive properly to be adversely affected. It seems to be one of the shortcomings of the present position that this definition laid down in Section 6 is not effective, and therefore we have tried to make it more effective. The new Clause 1 refers to ability to drive properly being "for the time being impaired" due to alcohol. This is likely to bite on someone in cases where the interpretation which is often at present given to the law would not bite on them. That, my Lords, is exactly what we intend.

Clause 2 provides for the first time statutory recognition of chemical tests as a means of establishing the quantity of alcohol in someone's system. The use of a chemical test is not a new departure, and the results of tests of this kind are frequently used in evidence at the present time. The Bill lays down no particular methods. Equally, it bars none, although the prosecution will have to establish, as they have to establish now, that the evidence does not go further than is scientifically warranted by the facts; and it will be perfectly open to a defendant, under the Bill as it is drafted, to argue that a particular test is unfair, and to produce expert evidence to support his arguments. We hope, however, that the combined effect of Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill will be to make it easier than it is at present to secure convictions in cases where conviction is justified by the facts.

Clauses 3 to 6 deal with the new provisions on penalties. We are convinced that the right way to secure more respect for road traffic legislation is to make much greater use of disqualification for those who offend; and we believe that it has much more weight than monetary penalties. The courts already have considerable powers to impose disqualification but they still use them comparatively rarely. Let me quote a little from the latest full statistics we have, those for the year 1959. Careless driving is an offence for which disqualification can be ordered. In the year 1959 the courts found defendants guilty in over 55,000 cases but there were fewer than 3,000 disqualifications. That is a little over 5 per cent. There were 7,177 convictions for dangerous driving and 3,414 disqualifications—just under half. The total of all offences for which disqualification could have been ordered in that year was about 200,000. In fact, 33,570 disqualifications were ordered, which affected 29,016 people; but of those, 17,628 related to offences connected with failing to insure against third party risks. Therefore, just over 15,000 disqualifications were ordered for driving offences, out of 200,000. That is something like 7 or 8 per cent.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say how many of the people who were disqualified got their licence back before their disqualification period had ended?


My Lords, I cannot give your Lordships the direct figures, but I know something about it; and as an indication (and I am not speaking of anything specific here) it seems to me that, of those disqualified for a year, about 50 per cent. of those who apply get their licence back after six months. That is the only figure I can quote offhand. What I have been saying about the number of disqualifications is in spite of all the appeals that have been made, including the appeal made in this House by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor during the debates on the 1956 Road Traffic Bill, when magistrates were asked to impose severer penalties on drivers guilty of offences connected with road safety. The new provisions are therefore intended to provide for greater use of disqualification. At the same time we have adopted a common policy and approach to penalties by rationalising those for motoring offences generally, so far as possible. They now bear some relation to one another, taking account of the differing seriousness of different offences.

Your Lordships will have seen that motoring offences are now broadly divided into three categories, as set out in Parts I, II and III of the First Schedule to the Bill. The seven offences in Part I are all those which are particularly serious from a road safety point of view, and they all carry obligatory disqualification for not less than twelve months, subject only to "special reasons". The courts can, of course, order a longer period of disqualification than twelve months if they choose to do so. There are sixteen further offences in Part II for which there is no obligation on the court to order disqualification, though again they can do so if they choose. These offences are those which, while not so serious as offences in Part I, nevertheless contain a considerable element of danger for other road users. Mostly they are what might be called driving offences, although one or two of them (such as leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position), represent a form of dangerous behaviour on the roads without actually being moving offences, even though they are undoubtedly, I think, equally dangerous. Other road offences which do not include so large an element of danger but where there is some change in the penalty are in Part III. I will not deal at this stage with any of the individual penalties which are included in any of these three sections because no doubt we shall discuss them fully in Committee.

Convictions for offences dealt with in Parts I or II of the Schedule will result in automatic endorsement of the driver's licence. Now endorsement is not a penalty in itself and is not to be regarded as such. It is merely a convenient way of recording a conviction. If a driver—and this is a most important point—commits an offence under Part I or Part II of the Schedule, and already has on his licence two endorsements for offences within the previous three years, then, apart from any penalty which may be imposed for that third offence, the court are obliged to disqualify him from obtaining or holding a Licence for six months.

Your Lordships will see that we intend that disqualification should now be applied in two kinds of cases: for the driver who commits a very serious motoring offence, and also for the driver who shows by his record of convictions that he repeatedly disregards road traffic legislation.

The Government hope very much that these new provisions will be helpful towards reducing accidents, but by that I do not mean that we hope a large number of drivers will be disqualified, In fact, the contrary is the case, and the object of the use of disqualification, particularly in connection with the six months' disqualification that follows from three offences in three years, is not to take people off the roads but to secure a better regard by them for legislation or regulations which have an important bearing on safety. We want the fear of losing his licence to cause a driver, long before he would be actually disqualified, to take a good deal more care. It is a big stick, my Lords, if you like; but it is a big stick, we think, with life-saving properties.

There is another aspect of penalties which I think I should point out. The Bill provides that in any case where a court is empowered to disqualify a driver the court may order him to be disqualified until he has taken the test. We thought about that a lot before we put it in. We feel sure that there are a lot of drivers who make common driving mistakes through lack of realisation of what it is that is required of them in present-day traffic conditions. I should like to give an example of why we think this. In a recent year the Ministry tested 4,000 drivers who were candidates for the post of driving examiner for the Ministry. The advertisement for the post had made it perfectly clear that they should be good and experienced drivers. I think it would be fair to assume that while they were being tested for these appointments the candidates would have been driving on their best behaviour. Yet 30 per cent., some 1,200 people, would not have passed the Ministry's "L" test if they had taken it. The main faults were failure to appreciate in various ways the possibility of accident situations developing, and going over cross-roads without due care was a typical one. At present the power of the courts to order an offender to take a test is usually applied only to elderly drivers, but we want to see much greater use made of the court's powers to require a test for ordinary drivers whose driving has become careless or slipshod. I am sure that all this will do a lot to raise the standard of driving.

I come to Clauses 7 to 10 and speed limits. The first three of these clauses are procedural and do something to tidy up the present hotchpotch of provisions about imposing, modifying or removing speed limits and the provision of signs that go with them. Several anomalies will be removed by the new and straightforward procedure set out in these clauses. Clause 10 deals with temporary or experimental speed limits. We need to know more before any definite conclusions can be reached. Your Lordships will recall the 50 miles per hour speed limits applied by my right honourable friend during busy weeks last summer to various lengths of trunk roads. The results were at least encouraging. Although there is not any positive statistical certainty about them, a reduction in accidents of between 15 and 20 per cent. took place on the roads concerned, and the experience abroad gives a similar indication. The Minister's powers to apply temporary speed limits are at present limited to trunk roads, but traffic and safety considerations may well lead him to want to apply such speed limits—which, incidentally, may be either maximum or minimum—on some classified roads as well, and to apply them quickly. Clause 10 gives him this power, but it includes the limitation that a speed limit may not be imposed for a total period of more than four months without Parliamentary control.

Clauses 11 to 14 are about various aspects of construction, use and equipment of vehicles. The important point here is that many accidents are caused after dark by motorists driving on their side lights in circumstances where street lighting is not good enough to justify it. The present law does not require vehicles even to be fitted with headlamps and, therefore, there cannot be any rules about their use. Clauses 12 and 13 give the Minister power to require headlamps to be fitted and power to make regulations prescribing when they must be used.

Clause 15 deals with the registration of driving instructors. As a safety measure it is probably rather more longterm, but we are convinced here that, over and above anything that we can measure within the limits of the driving test, good driving instruction can con-tribute to making a safe driver. We have a good deal of reason for thinking—and, so far as I remember, some of your Lordships have in the past pointed it out—that some of the present-day instruction given by driving instructors is not of a very high standard. The essence of the scheme is that the Minister will open a register of instructors. Those who wish may apply to go on it. Before anyone is put on it the Minister will need to be satisfied as to his character, his driving ability, his teaching ability, his knowledge of the Highway Code and possibly his knowledge of simple mechanical aspects of a car. Anyone who succeeds in getting his name on the register will be quite free to use the fact to help his commercial interests, but there will be no compulsion behind the scheme. Someone who wishes to take no notice of it, or who applies to go on the register but fails the test, will still be perfectly free to carry on as a driving instructor.

However, although there will not be any compulsion about it, we hope that most instructors will in due course attempt to reach the necessary standard; and, what is more important, we believe that in fact the public will welcome this measure and that learner drivers will make it their business to seek out registered instructors. Although it is voluntary, all this I think will have enough effect to raise the general level of driving instruction considerably. There will not, of course, be any interference with the right of the individual to be taught to drive by his relatives or friends. The only part where compulsion comes in is that we think it is essential that some sanction should be available against an unscrupulous instructor or driving school who may try to take advantage of the scheme in some way when not entitled to. Therefore, the new clause contains provisions for making certain abuses an offence.

Clause 16 enables the Minister to bring the minimum age for driving articulated vehicles into line with that for rigid lorries. Due to an anomaly in the present law, a driver under 21 may drive an articulated lorry of twice the weight of a rigid lorry. This clause also provides for a reduction to 16 in the minimum age for driving an agricultural tractor on the roads, and we feel satisfied that this can be done without prejudice to road safety. To make sure of that, the Minister will have power to make regulations specifying the circumstances in which this concession shall apply so as to ensure that there is no risk to road safety.

Clause 17 refers to driving test fees. At present anyone who books a test and fails to turn up, for whatever reason, automatically gets his fee back. We think that many reasons given are very slight and trivial, and a great deal of driving examiners' time is wasted. In some areas it has reached 15 per cent., and I think that is very bad luck on other applicants and a very inefficient state of affairs. In future people will have to give a prescribed length of notice if they want to get their fee back.

Clauses 18 to 22 deal with various procedural matters or make small changes in the Minister's powers in respect of the highways; and nearly all the other clauses of the Bill are minor or consequential matters. I think that perhaps I ought to reassure your Lordships about Clause 25, in case it is thought that we have gone mad. There are, in fact, such things as cycles having four or more wheels. They are usually two-seater affairs, and are used on the roads in the vicinity of holiday camps. At present, they are quite outside road safety legislation in such matters as brakes, bells and the way they are used on the roads; and this clause brings them within it.

My Lords, I suppose that in saying that have almost got on to a note of serio-comedy, but I assure your Lordships that we see nothing whatever of comedy in the situation that we are facing. We regard this Bill as a deadly serious measure to help meet an exceedingly grave situation, and I hope that I have said enough to persuade your Lordships of that. I hope, too, that I have made it clear that there is nothing in our proposals to be feared by the normal, decent. careful road-user of whatever kind he may be. If I have had to touch very lightly on some subjects important enough to warrant a whole speech to themselves, your Lordships will understand the reason for that: and if there have been any shortcomings in the clarity of my explanation, then I am sure my noble friend Lord Dundee will remedy them when he comes to wind up.

I am sure of something else too, my Lords. I am sure that your Lordships will find this Bill controversial, although not in any Party political sense; and I am sure that there will be many shades of opinion on many aspects of its contents. I can only say that we shall listen to, and consider most carefully, everything your Lordships have to say, now and at later stages of the Bill, because our one desire is to produce as effective a measure as possible to save lives and injury. I well know that your Lordships want the same thing, and I hope that I have persuaded you to make up your minds that the Bill ought to be read a second time. I beg to move that this Bill he read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Chesham.)

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House will wish to congratulate the noble Lord on the clarity of his explanation of the Bill, and on the way in which he has presented it to us. He said that this was a deadly serious Bill, and I agree with him. Nevertheless, it is a rather limited Bill. We recognise, however, that it is an attempt to deal with a very grave problem, and I can assure the noble Lord that we on this side of the House will deal with it in an entirely non-Party spirit, and will endeavour to collaborate and to cooperate with any noble Lord in any part of the House to make it a better Bill than it is to-day. The noble Lord quoted the figures showing the casualties on the roads, and I need say only that these figures, I agree with him, are serious and are increasing, although not necessarily at the rate at which traffic is increasing. In numbers they are increasing, and I think every year has given us more deaths and more serious injuries than the previous year.

In considering what measures to take to provide for further road safety, I suggest that it is not a bad idea—indeed, it is essential—to know what are the main causes of accidents on the road. Unfortunately, we suffer from a lack of adequate statistics or information on this subject. There is a document, the annual return, which is produced by the Ministry of Transport—this rather highly-coloured document called Road Accidents—which purports to give the reasons for accidents; and it gives some information, but not enough to afford a satisfactory guide as to what action to take. There are a number of tables—. I think 21 or more—but I am bound to say that the information is badly collated and not very helpful. Moreover, the latest information we have is for the year 1959. The intoxication figures are relatively small, though I agree with the noble Lord that such figures are only those where the person who comes under notice is clearly incapable of being in charge of a car. There are considerably more accidents caused by people opening doors negligently, by failing to signal, by disobeying traffic signs, and certainly by excessive speed, than by intoxicated drivers. There are more accidents, also, under the heading, "Ill, fatigued or physically defective". Of course, there is no record of the number of drivers whose capacity to drive has been impaired by drink or drugs but who could not be described as intoxicated; and I agree with the noble Lord that the number of people whose driving is impaired as a result of some drink must be very much larger than the number of people who are intoxicated.

It is significant that on weekdays most of the accidents occur between five and six o'clock—at the end of a day's work, when people are tired; and also, of course, when traffic is at its greatest. But there are many other causes of accidents of which we are all aware from our own experience and which are not included in the Ministry of Transport return, and some of which are not dealt with in the Bill. In my view, the largest single cause of accidents is the condition of our roads. Many of our roads—I will not say the majority, but certainly a very large number—are quite unsuitable for carrying the enormously increased, and increasing, volume of present-day traffic. The result of that is that frustration arises. The noble Lord referred to frustration, and anyone who has been in a car and has looked several miles ahead and found one solid line of vehicles must realise that there is bound to be a good deal of frustration, irritability and impatience caused by delays; attempts at overtaking which very often end in disaster; inattention, and so on. There is one other cause which I put here but which is not directly related to the condition of the roads. We talk of drunkenness, of excessive or of some drink, but we do not talk of over-eating. In my view, however, people who drive after a big lunch, even without drink, are in great danger of becoming somnolent on the road and of causing mischief to themselves and to others.

Coming back to the roads, in my view we are not doing enough to modernise our road system; nor are we doing it fast enough. This year the Minister of Transport prides himself on estimating that he will spend the record figure of £88.7 million. I suggest that even this figure is quite inadequate, especially when one compares it with the figure of £550 million (I think it is) which is directly contributed by motorists by way of taxation. We are spending considerably less on our roads than most of the comparable industrial countries in Europe, yet our roads are in greater need of modernisation than are roads in some other countries. We have no longterm policy for our roads; we go from year to year in fits and starts. If there happens to be a balance-of-payments crisis, or some other financial difficulty, then we cut down on our road programme. There is virtually no road programme, say, over the next seven years; yet some countries have a ten-year or even fifteen-year road programme. I think that is one of the great difficulties from which we are suffering.

Where, in my view, modernisation is most urgently needed is on roads that have three lanes of traffic and where there is no dual-carriageway. There you may well find drivers coming from opposite directions in the same middle lane of traffic. I think something ought urgently to be done about that condition. Even if it is not immediately possible to get rid of these three lanes, we should have some kind of restriction about overtaking.

Then the noble Lord referred to driving tests, and I am glad that he did. I am glad that he is looking into the question of the milk float, but I think he ought to look into the whole question of tests. At the present time, most tests are carried out in restricted areas, and in daytime. Most driving, however, is not necessarily in the restricted areas. People are tested on their ability to drive at 30 miles an hour; but, as my noble friend Baroness Wootton of Abinger said when asking her supplementary question, a person can immediately go out after a test and drive at any speed he likes. Drivers are tested in daylight, and driving at night is a very different proposition. Furthermore, once the test has been passed it is valid for all time, unless the driver happens to commit some offence or cause an accident. There is no provision for periodic tests. A person who may have passed a test at the age of 25 can go on driving at the age of 85 without interference, unless he causes an accident. I would ask the noble Earl who is to reply to consider whether there would not be some advantage in having periodic tests, particularly for people of advanced years or who are infirm. I would suggest also that the test itself might be rather more stringent, so as to ensure that the driver is capable of driving in towns and in the country at varying speeds, both by day and by night.

Then I think that the question of the type of some cars manufactured to-day requires consideration. I believe that we are getting to a point when the engine power of some cars is far beyond their capacity to carry. Cars are too light. There seems to be almost no limit to the potentiality of these cars for speed, but the car itself is much too light to carry this potential, especially in wet. weather or when a sudden stop is required. It has been suggested—I do not myself feel competent to suggest it—that there should be some limit imposed on the engine power of cars in relation to their weight. Certainly it seems to me absurd to find, as I found only the other day, a car advertised as capable of doing 150 miles an hour, which, in my view, is certainly not fit, by reason of its weight and general character, to do anything like that speed. These are some of the matters which I think ought to be considered, as matters of great importance in relation to road safety, in addition to those contained in the Bill.

Now I come to the Bill itself. The noble Lord rightly said that Clauses 1 and 2 will probably arouse a good deal of controversy. Although I said in my opening remarks that I doubted whether drink was the biggest single factor in causing accidents, I nevertheless welcome the attempt in this Bill to deal with the problem of drivers whose power and ability to drive are impaired as the result of drink. I find. Clause 1 of the Bill much too vague. After all, we are providing for a new offence; and the noble Lord explained that this is virtually an additional offence.

Under Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act it is an offence if one is unfit to drive through drink or drugs, or if one is driving in such a manner as to be incapable of having proper control of a motor vehicle. But under the definition in Clause 1, simple impairment is an offence. The impairment may be minute. A person may have half a glass of whisky, and I presume that in itself would impair a driver's efficiency. Thereby he is committing an offence. I do not object vary much to that, but is it the intention—I should like to have this quite clear—that people should not drink at all before driving? Because that is what Clause 1, on my reading of it, virtually means. Even the least amount of drink must bring some impairment; and although I imagine that magistrates would not be so stupid as to penalise people for having a minute quantity of drink, nevertheless if a person had had a very small drink (say a small sherry), and some kind of accident happened, and the driver's breath smelt of drink, that would be regarded as evidence that his driving powers had been impaired, and he would be held to have committed an offence.

I wonder whether the Government feel that this new definition is really necessary. After all, the definition in Section 6 has been in existence for a long time, and it is a re-enactment of earlier legislation. Have they found it to be satisfactory? I do not wish to be dogmatic about it, but legal difficulties are always created if there is a long-standing definition of an offence and then we try to introduce an entirely new definition. I should be grateful if the noble Earl who is going to reply could tell us in due course what is the experience in regard to these offences and whether the courts have found themselves unduly inhibited in dealing with the offence 'we are anxious to reduce.

Clause 2 is probably the clause which will arouse the greatest controversy of all. I do not know how reliable are the analyses for alcohol which it is proposed to provide in the Bill—the blood test, the urine test and the breath test. I assume that these are alternatives, that a person who is charged will be invited to say which of these tests he would prefer, though it is not very clear from the Bill. I have tried to read the Report of the Medical Research Council, Effect of Small Doses of Alcohol on a Skill Resembling Driving—the Drew Report. It is, of course, highly technical and I do not pretend to understand every word of it—and I should like to meet the person who does. In their summary, they say that in 95 per cent. of cases tested by the blood test and breathalyser there is a margin of error, plus or minus, of 25 mg. per cent. Whatever that may mean, it looks to me like a substantial percentage of marginal error. For the urine test, the margin of error, plus or minus, is 16 mg. per cent. In the case of the blood test and breathalyser, this may mean a variation of up to 50 per cent. and in the case of the urine test, of up to 32 per cent. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could explain to us whether these figures are significant or not.

I should have thought that this is not a very reliable test on which to convict people or on which to assume that there is the possibility of their being convicted because they refuse to accept this somewhat vague and uncertain test without some good reason for not having it. Moreover, that a person charged with an offence should have the onus put on him of proving his innocence, unless he accepts certain tests of his own accord, is a departure from the legal principle. Having said all this, I should be very willing to be satisfied about the reliability of these tests, because I believe that this is an honest attempt to do something to deter people from having "one for the road", from drinking when they are about to drive. But I would suggest to the Government that they might be well advised to lay down by regulation the minimum percentage of alcohol required to be found in the blood to give a presumption that a person's faculties have been impaired. To leave the matter completely vague, together with the unreliability of the tests at present, as indicated by the Drew Report, is really unsatisfactory.

I should like to raise one other point, at the suggestion of my noble Leader, a point which has been made by the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It relates to the facilities for drinking at restaurants near to main motor roads. Obviously, if drink can be obtained when people are having lunch say, on the M.1, it is a direct encouragement for them to take a drink and then immediately proceed on their journey. The matter was raised on the Licensing Bill, and it was then stated on behalf of the Government that the proper place for any provision regarding licensing of restaurants near motorways was in a Bill for Road Safety. Well, we have the Bill for Road Safety, but there is no reference in it to this point.

I want to go on to the question of speed. The noble Lord mentioned speed as an important factor in accidents and I am glad that attention has been given to this point in the Bill and that it will be possible to regulate speed limits more quickly under the Bill. I wonder whether the noble Lord would consider the question of imposing definite speed limits, certainly at weekends, as is done in France, where there is a maximum limit on all roads of 63 m.p.h., and in the United States of America, where there is a maximum speed limit on trunk roads of 70 m.p.h. In both these countries it has resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of accidents. In view of what I have said about the quality of most of our cars which are quite incapable of carrying a speed in excess of, say, 70 m.p.h., I think that this would be well worth considering.

There is one final point I want to make, which again the noble Lord has touched on, although in a rather different context. He gave us figures of the number of convictions for intoxication by magistrates and by juries. I do not know whether he intended us to draw any inference from the fact that in cases which came before magistrates 93 per cent. were convicted, but people who came before juries were convicted in only 57 per cent. of the cases. The difference is startling. Most drivers who are charged with a serious offence would naturally prefer to go before a jury where the chances of getting off are nearly 50 per cent. greater than if they go before a magistrate. I think that this must be wrong. The offence is the same, the criteria are the same and the evidence is the same.

It must be wrong that an offender should have a far greater chance of getting off before one tribunal rather than another. I can only think that juries take the view that, "Here, but for the grace of God, go I. I myself might be in this position to-morrow, so let us give the fellow a chance." But that is not the way justice should be done. Not only should a person who drives a car under the influence of drink be convicted, whether he comes before one tribunal or another, but there should be a far greater certainty of conviction. I have said that, in my view, in the case of many other crimes, one of the reasons for the increase in crime is the hope by people that they will not be caught or will not be convicted. I feel that if there were greater certainty of conviction in proper cases, that itself would result in a reduction in the number of offences.

I do not want to do anything to interfere with the jury system, which is a very valuable institution in our law. Nevertheless, I think this is a matter which needs to be examined, and possibly altered by reducing the circumstances in which a person can, as a matter of right, ask to be tried before a jury.

There will be many other detailed, but nevertheless important, matters with which we shall be dealing in Committee on which I have not touched this afternoon. This is a Bill which comes to this House first and, therefore, there is a great obligation on this House to give the Bill the closest attention. We want to be certain that when it leaves this House it is as good a measure as we can possibly make it. I would therefore say two things. The first is that I hope there will be the maximum amount of time given to this Bill and that our deliberations will not be rushed, although I recognise that we have to give the other place, equally, a reasonable amount of time. The other thing I hope—and when I have in mind the two noble Lords opposite who are dealing with this measure I ant sure that I am not hoping in vain—is that any reasonable proposition put up from any quarter of the House will receive careful and sympathetic consideration. We are all concerned to make this Bill as good a Bill as we possibly can. With the reservations that I have already made, I give this Bill a cordial welcome. It is, I am satisfied, a genuine and sincere, if somewhat 'belated, attempt to deal with a pressing problem, and I hope that it will meet with a great measure of success.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, in view of the number of noble Lords desirous of taking part in this debate, I will keep my observations as short as I can. I forbear to generalise about the Bill, and turn straight away to discussing one or two specific points which seem to me to be extremely vital and deserving of consideration at the earliest possible stage. I should like to begin by asking the Government a question, which I believe to be an important one, on Clauses 1 and 2. Under Clause 1 we have a new standard of unfitness to drive through drink; and Clause 2 gives statutory recognition to analytical tests of the alcohol content of the human body. The question that I should like to address to the noble Lord is this. I think that in the past it has always been a prerequisite of convictions for offences of this nature, driving when unfit through drink, that the person charged has shown unmistakable outward signs of intoxication. Will that continue to obtain if this Bill is passed as it stands? Or do the Government envisage a situation arising whereby under Clause 2 a person having been tested for the alcohol content of his system may be convicted upon that evidence alone, irrespective of whether he has displayed any outward unmistakable visible signs of intoxication?

That, I feel, is an important question, and I hesitate to give an answer to it. To answer in the affirmative, that upon the test alone an accused person may be convicted, may seem, at first sight, harsh. On the other hand, one can, I think, envisage cases where it might be fair and just so to convict. There is, for instance, the case of the motorist driving while intoxicated who is involved in a collision and by the shock of the collision is jerked into a state of apparent sobriety, but who, if he were subjected to an analytical test, might well be shown unmistakably to have been driving just before the accident in an intoxicated state. Let me take perhaps a less dramatic example, that of the driver who normally drives very slowly, who takes a few drinks, and then drives rather faster. While he may drive no faster than would be perfectly safe for Mr. Stirling Moss to drive while sober, this inexpert driver, driving at that speed after having taken drink, is a danger on the roads. No one could say by looking at him that he was in a drunken state, but it might well be that an analytical test of his system would show that he had been driving after consuming an amount of alcohol which undoubtedly impaired his driving ability within the meaning of Clause 1 of the Bill.

If the answer to the question that I have posed is to be "Yes", that the analytical test alone may lead to a conviction, then it seems to me that Clause 2 needs careful consideration and amendment where one comes to the matter of the precise circumstances in which a driver must undergo a test. All the clause says at the moment (I am perhaps going into what might be regarded as a Committee stage point, but I feel that it is a vital matter and worthy of consideration now) is that a driver must consent to provide a specimen for analysis when so requested. Requested by whom? Requested by another driver involved in an accident with him, another driver most anxious to absolve himself from all blame, who sees no signs of drunkenness about his (shall I call him?) opponent, but who, nevertheless, requests that a test be taken, on the off-chance that a positive result will be shown? Admittedly, the clause allows for a refusal with reasonable cause to provide a specimen; and, presumably, the unreasonableness of the request gives reasonable cause for refusal. Even so, my Lords, it seems to me that the sober driver, in these circumstances, is in a most unenviable position, in that he has to agree to suffer the great indignity of submitting to a test; or, if he refuses to undergo the test on the ground that the request is unreasonable and frivolous, he must face the prospect of having in the future to prove to the satisfaction of a court of law, and in the face of evidence to the contrary, that the request for his analytical test was indeed frivolous and unnecessary. For these reasons, I feel that Clause 2 will have to be very carefully studied if the answer to my question is in the affirmative.

Clause 3 emphasises disqualification as an appropriate punishment. I feel quite sure that all noble Lords will agree that prison is not an appropriate punishment for motoring offences, except possibly in the gravest and most flagrant cases. Undoubtedly fines are not always effective, particularly when they are not even paid by the drivers upon whom they are imposed. Disqualification is, of course, a real punishment. It keeps the dangerous driver off the road and is to be encouraged as the appropriate punishment for offences of this kind. But Clause 4, the removal of disqualifications, gives me some concern.

The disqualified driver seems to me to be in a peculiarly privileged position. The driver who is fined cannot go back to the court after six months and say, "My behaviour since I was fined has peen so exemplary that part of my fine ougnt to be refunded to me". It is quite true that the motorist who goes to prison, just like anyone else who goes there, may earn remission for good conduct. But, of course, there are two very special reasons for that. One is the value of remissions in maintaining prison discipline, and the second is that the prison authorities are wonderfully well placed to judge whether or not the prisoner concerned has earned his remission. Even the court which has disqualified the driver is surely in a much less well placed position to decide after six months, or whatever it may be, whether that driver should have his licence restored to him.

This becomes, one tends to think, the province of the skilled advocate, and the chances of success in these applications for the removal of disqualifications tend to favour those best placed to command the services of skilled advocates. It is bad enough, in my submission, if it is the court which imposed the disqualification which hears the application for its removal. But under Clause 4 of this Bill it will, in many cases, be a different court, because that clause provides that, where a disqualification is imposed by magistrates' courts, it is quarter sessions, who have not heard the case in the first instance, to whom the application must be made for the removal of the disqualification. I must confess that I should like to see removal of disqualification abolished altogether. I should like to see disqualifications imposed by courts in the knowledge that they will stand, and that there will be no question of their remission or removal. I think that would be a much fairer system than that which obtains whereby, as we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon, approximately 50 per cent. of the people who are disqualified for a year and who apply have their licences restored to them at the end of six months.

I have only one other matter upon which I wish to touch, and that is in regard to Clause 17, which empowers the Minister to increase the driving test fee and provides no limit to the amount of the fee. I hope that one may have an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that driving test fees are to continue to be applied solely to the cost of the administration of driving tests, and that this is not going to become yet another means of taxing the motoring public. The present fee of £1 is a substantial one, particularly bearing in mind that it is by no means uncommon for applicants for driving tests to have to undergo the test more than once before they succeed in passing, from which it follows that any increase in the driving fee would be multiplied by the number of times the applicant has to undergo the test. There would, I think, be widespread resentment at the thought that public funds were to gain every time somebody failed a driving test. Those are the only points I wish to mention at this stage.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I must say in the first place that I am not very impressed with this Bill, but I am sure it is a necessary attempt to reduce our appalling road accidents. For that reason alone, I certainly welcome the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has raised many interesting points on analytical tests, and I am sure your Lordships will be interested to hear the reply of Her Majesty's Government on those points. I agree with most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I should like to emphasise some of them, and raise some others. But I do not agree with the noble Lord's view about speed limits, certainly not on the new trunk roads like the M.1, although possibly there may be some justification for a speed limit on some other ordinary trunk roads.

In Clause 1 it is laid down that … a person shall be taken to be unfit to drive if his ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired. As a layman, I would say that the lawyers would have a wonderful time with that definition. The old definition of the drunken motorist was that he was "incapable of having proper control of a car". Surely this new definition, with the word "impaired", is less precise and, I should say, open to all sorts of arguments. Surely the old definition was far the best. Of course, I am quite willing to be convinced otherwise.

In Clause 2 it is also indicated that there is to be a test of the proportion of alcohol in the blood, but it does not say what the percentage is to be. This, of course, is to be used as evidence for a charge of unfitness to drive. Surely, the percentage should be mentioned in the Bill. I thought that perhaps it was going to be done by regulation, and I looked through the Bill to see whether any provision was there, but I found none. The Minister has said to-day that there is to be no particular method. Surely this is rather vague. It is true that different people may react in different degrees to the same amount of alcohol. Will this fact be taken into account? Perhaps this is what the Minister has in mind and therefore why no percentage of alcohol is mentioned. It appears that if a driver refuses a blood test it will be taken as an admission of guilt against him. I suggest to your Lordships that the important point to notice is that the onus of proof would then be removed from the police, and it would be for the accused to prove his innocence, which is surely contrary to all British justice.

I am sure the Minister of Transport must be aware of the British Medical Association Council's report in which they expressed their fear that the Bill would give the police too much power, not only to make tests without doctors, but to persuade suspects into giving evidence that would incriminate them. The British Medical Association consider also that blood tests are unnecessary, and that urine tests would be far better and more accurate. In addition the B.M.A. have stated that clinical examination by a doctor, in addition to chemical blood tests, is vital, and they also made clear that a doctor should decide whether a suspect at the police station was in fact in good enough condition to give his consent for a sample of blood to be taken. I think this is very important, and I hope that the Minister who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government will look at the whole matter again before the Committee stage.

It also appears under Clause 2 that some form of breathalyser may be used as evidence of drunkenness. I wonder how many of your Lordships have heard the story of the Ministry of Transport official who went to another country in order to examine how this breathalyser worked. He inquired of the chief of police exactly what happened, and the chief of police replied that about 30 per cent. who were examined passed the test and 60 per cent. were convicted. The official from the Transport Ministry said: "What about the other 10 per cent.?" And the reply was, "Those chaps were so bad they could not breathe at all." The breathalyser may be a very efficient instrument, but we know little about it, and I hope that the Minister to-day will tell us something more about it. I hope we are not going to be stampeded into all sorts of tests and regulations, because, of course, apart from drink, ability to drive may be impaired by innumerable causes; the causes may be such as illness, anger, annoyance, indigestion, worry, haste and many others. I would say that some of those conditions are far more likely to cause accidents than a moderate quantity of drink.

I would take this opportunity of raising another point in connection with the charge of being drunk in charge of a car. I suggest that it is quite unjustified to prefer a charge against a motorist who feels that he is unfit to drive a car, gets out of his car and hands the keys over to a responsible person. In spite of the fact that the motorist has taken every precaution, he is still liable for conviction for drunkenness in charge of a car, and many have been so convicted. I shall certainly move an Amendment at the Committee stage to cover this matter, in which I hope I shall have the support of many of your Lordships.

I Should like to turn for a few moments to the question of suspension of driving licence. At present magistrates have the power to suspend a driving licence upon a third or subsequent conviction for exceeding a speed limit. But under the new Bill they would not only have the power to suspend on even a first offence for any period they think fit, but would be obliged to suspend for not less than six months upon a third offence within three years. I suggest that the Bill as drawn would bear harshly on the professional public service vehicle driver. Unlike the private motorist, he is subject to an archaic speed limit of 30 miles per hour, even outside built-up areas, and incidentally this public service vehicle driver has to pass a specially rigorous driving test in addition to the ordinary driving test. In the case of the average private motorist, if he has his licence suspended, he does not dose his job, but the bus driver loses his job in every case. I suggest that the penalty for a public service driver is too severe and his job should not be at risk for driving a bus at 35 miles per hour. In fact, at that speed in the un-built-up areas he may be the cause of frustration and danger to other traffic. I think that an Amendment to Clause 7 may be necessary to cover the speed of public service vehicles. I also feel that Clauses 1, 2 and 3 will require drastic revision before they in fact become law.

We must certainly, of course, do all we possibly can to reduce the appalling number of accidents on the roads. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said that the largest cause of accidents is the condition of our roads. I must say I am inclined to agree with him, and I doubt very much whether the proposed great increase in penalties will have any really marked effect. But I am sure that if motor-cycle police patrols were increased we should see a very different picture altogether. We have only to witness the immediate improvement in driving when a police patrol is actively engaged on a section of the highway. I should have liked to see some mention of this in the Bill.

There is one other important factor which governs accidents, and that is the quick or slow reactions of different types of drivers. There is no doubt that there is quite a large minority of drivers whose natural reaction is far too slow for the speed at which they drive. A few years ago, fast cars were expensive to buy, but now small cars can be bought fairly cheaply that will do 80 and more miles per hour. I should like to see some form of reaction test applied to all those who take driving tests in the future, before they are issued with a licence. A few years ago the Police College at Hendon had an excellent system for reaction tests, and I feel that something of this nature could be done. I am certainly not very happy about this Bill as a whole. Of course, it is far better to try to do something than to do nothing at all; but do let us make sure we are doing it in the right way.

5.6 p.m


My Lords, it is perhaps permissible for me to make the comment that I have more than the ordinary sympathetic fellow feeling with the Minister who has the unenviable task of moving the Second Reading of this Bill. Will he permit me to congratulate him? Seldom have I heard a Minister from that Despatch Box making such a good case with such thin material—because I am very disappointed with this Bill. We have been led to believe for quite some time that the Government were really going to tackle this terrible social evil of road casualties. They produce a Bill which tries only to establish two principles—and in the end they run away from both—and does not attempt to tackle the great problem of the lives of pedestrians sacrificed by their own folly.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, gave some startling figures as to what the accident rate is to-day and what it is likely to be. I understand that at the present moment, if the figures that are available are accurate, 50 per cent. of the fatalities are caused to pedestrians. However jaundiced or biased one is, not all these accidents are the fault of the vehicle driver; yet we perpetuate and do nothing about one of the greatest contributory factors to accidents: we allow our main arteries of traffic to be cluttered up all day with parked vehicles which do not give the pedestrian a ghost of a chance of a view when he or she wants to cross the road. Thirty per cent. of the deaths of pedestrians are caused through having a blinded vision when they attempt to cross a road.

I was hoping that when we had a Road Safety Bill some effort would be made to tackle this problem of the proper control of pedestrians, for their own sake. But there is nothing. I was hoping that we might have done something with the last Bill we had, now the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will remember the conspiracy that took place between himself and myself to get inserted in that Bill a clause which would free the local authorities from any inhibitions so that they could handle the loading and unloading problem to their hearts' content. What has been done? Precisely nothing. You never will do anything while you allow these vital things to be handled by local authorities—because the majority of local authorities have a vested interest in this form of congestion and obstruction. Before this debate is at an end, I expect the Minister of Transport to be criticised for taking unto himself, in some cases, almost dictatorial powers. I welcome them, and I encourage him in so doing. To handle some of these traffic problems, dictatorship is a necessity. When one has finished consulting all the vested interests in regard to this kind of thing, in the end one does nothing. So I am most disappointed that this Bill does nothing in that direction.

I said that it tries to establish two principles: first, that drink is a major factor in road behaviour; and secondly, that disqualification is the real deterrent. I agree with both. But the Government run away from both—I suspect for one prime reason, although I do not suppose that the Government Front Bench, at least, will agree with me on this; namely, that in all our road traffic problems, in all our road problems, and when we want to do anything to control this great accident problem, there is always a bitter fight between the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office, with the Ministry of Transport always coming up a very bad second. It was so When I was in the Ministry; it has been so ever since, and it will always remain so, until we have a Government with a little more enlightenment on this problem, or until the whole question of road safety and road accidents, their causes and their cure, are referred for investigation to a body which will command the confidence and support not only of the British public but of the British Government. This matter is not to be treated as a shuttlecock in relation to departmental niceties.

My Lords, let me deal with Clauses 1 and 2. If the Government have as good a case as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, made out they had—I believe that they have almost as good a case as he made out—why have they not the courage to make these tests compulsory? The Bill as printed to-day is useless; it will do no more than is being done to-day. If, after applying proper scientific standards, the tests are made compulsory, the consequences have to be faced. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said something to the effect that there is a content of alcohol in about 90 per cent. of the drivers of vehicles, but not sufficient to cause them to have an accident. I agree with him. The only people who can be caught for having had too much to drink are those who have accidents. The only people who will be caught under this Bill are those who have accidents. You will not catch the others unless you barricade the streets, as they do in some countries, and have an army of traffic wardens with breathalysers and a law which says that if one's breath registers a certain content of alcohol one is guilty. We have not come to that.

Nor, I suggest, have we come to the weak-kneed paragraph in Clause 2, whereby a driver is asked to give evidence against himself. The phrase is that refusal to undergo a test will be taken as evidence of guilt. I feel sure that your Lordships are not going to have that. If Clauses 1 and 2 are put into this Bill only for their psychological effect, to frighten people against drinking, I think it is psychology badly misplaced; because the greatest deterrent to the man you want to catch is that he will not be allowed again to drive—disqualification.

That brings me to Clause 3. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that he did not think drink was the prime cause of accidents. I would say that the prime causes of accidents to-day are bad manners, intolerance and hoggishness. The majority of drivers of motor vehicles on the road to-day are ill-mannered when it comes to considering others on the road. The principle that I have argued in your Lordships' House ever since I have been here is that unless a driver of a vehicle can behave and comport himself with consideration to others he should not be allowed to be on the roads at all. Therefore, I am all in favour of disqualification. But the Government have run away from their own faith, because in this Bill they have taken out of the Eleventh Schedule to the 1960 Act, sixteen offences for which the magistrates had power to suspend a licence. Why? Some of them are of great importance. I do not intend to bore your Lordships by reading through the whole sixteen, but let me just give your Lordships one or two examples.

For taking away a vehicle without authority a person could, on conviction, be disqualified. That is paragraph 38 in Part III. I understand that that is of great value, and I should think it would be. But why do we take away the power of the magistrates when we admit the principle that disqualification is the prime deterrent? There is another one—paragraph 41, which dealt with failure to stop on being so required by a police constable in uniform. The noble Lord who introduced this Bill said that financial penalties were no longer a matter of great deterrence. In this Bill the magistrates' power to disqualify is taken away, and the fine which can be imposed is altered from £5 to £50. I should have thought that that was a contradiction of their own faith, and I hope that one day the Government will be able to produce to me a magistrate who will fine a man £50 for ignoring the signal of a constable or for failure to comply with the conditions of a provisional licence.

What I might call the retrospective multiplication table is wrong. It will defeat itself and will produce anomalies. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, gave one. According to this Bill, a person can now be convicted of careless driving and it is at the magistrates' discretion whether he has his licence suspended. In twelve months' time his tail-lamp may go out, and that is a Part II offence. In another twelve months' time his side lamp may go out; and if he is convicted—and it is a question of fact—he is bound to have his licence suspended for six months. That does not seem to me to add up to sense. Do the Government really mean to do that? I do not think they do. This Bill is full of anomalies, and I would beg the noble Lord to have a good look at this before the Committee stage starts.

I want to get back to this question of disqualification. I would make disqualification automatic upon conviction and would have a little sliding scale, without any of this jumping backwards and forwards and picking out isolated things such as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and I have mentioned, of which there are many more if one takes the trouble to read the Bill. I will just give your Lordships an example of what might be done. I would have a scale for all the major offences: exceeding the speed limit, careless driving, dangerous driving, driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. My scale would be something like this. For exceeding the speed limit, first offence, no disqualification; second offence, disqualification for one month; third offence, disqualification for six months. For careless driving, second offence, disqualification for three months, third offence, twelve months. For dangerous driving, first offence, disqualification for six months; second offence, twelve months; third offence, two years. For driving under the influence of drink, first offence, disqualification for twelve months; second offence, disqualification for two years; and third offence, disqualification for life. And there would be no remission on any of these periods. That would act as a deterrent, and in my view it is the only way that we shall control the behaviour of motorists on the road.

These penalties, my Lords, would be a minimum. The magistrates can have any further powers the Government choose to give them. But the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, uttered from that Despatch Box this afternoon the greatest indictment against the magistrates' benches of this country that I have ever heard a Minister make. I have done it from the Opposition Despatch Box; I have done it in front of dozens of meetings of magistrates' associations. What did the noble Lord say on this question of disqualification? He said that in 1958 only 3¾ per cent. of those convicted of careless driving had their licence suspended, and only 37 per cent. of those convicted of dangerous driving had their licences suspended. And the noble Lord admitted that 50 per cent. of these got their licence back within a very short space of time. In 1959, only 6 per cent. of the careless drivers, and 50 per cent. of the dangerous drivers, had their licences suspended.

Something has got to be done to restrict the magistrates' discretion. I know that I am on dangerous ground and I expect to be criticised. But do we or do we not want to stop accidents? Are Her Majesty's Government honest and earnest in their desire to take the inconsiderate driver off the road? If they are, this is the only way to do it; because—and again I repeat what the noble Lord said—this is the real deterrent. Fines are not a deterrent, yet in this Bill the Government propose to put up monetary fines 100 per cent. I say that that is just nonsense. Why did they do that if they have faith that it has no effect?—and it has no effect.

The Answer given to a Question by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, this afternoon was that in 1957 the average fine for careless driving was 9¼ per cent. of the permitted maximum. In the case of dangerous driving it was 14 per cent. of the permitted maximum; and for being drunk in charge of a car it was 22½ per cent. of the permitted maximum. And these are only cases that were dealt with by fines. In the 1956 Act the Government, in their wisdom or unwisdom, increased the penalties 100 per cent., and this is the effect: in 1958 the average went down a fraction. In 1959 it picked up, from 9¼ per cent. to 11 per cent. for careless driving; from 14 per cent. to 15 per cent. for dangerous driving, and from 22½ per cent to 28 per cent. for being drunk in charge of a car.


That is the increase.


Yes; and these, again, were only where offenders were dealt with by fines. We are going to put some of those up 100 per cent.—to double them. What effect will that have? Not much. I have come to this conclusion: that until we can get into our heads that the bad driver has got to be removed from the road if he will not turn himself into a good driver, and until we have a progressive disqualification, we shall never do what the Government want. I do not believe there is a lot of bad technical driving. I believe that the driving schools of the country have done a good job. They turn out good technical drivers, but they do not teach good manners and they do not teach road sense; and some people have not road sense and will never acquire it.

My Lords, that is all I have to say upon this particular Bill, because the rest of my points are really all Committee points. Of the two major principles, one is drink and its effect upon driving. I would beg the Government to realise that they will only bring the law and the police force into disrepute by letting this measure go through unamended. I would ask them to look very carefully at this hotchpotch for taking away the power which magistrates have to-day to suspend licences in a lot of these cases, and really to get a simplified system of disqualification and one without so many anomalies as this has. Then I expect in twelve months' time your Lordships' House will be faced with another Road Traffic Bill, and we shall go on because there are so many things that require legislation.

I have mentioned pedestrians, and there are many other aspects. There is off-street parking. I understand that the present system of tickets is breaking down because of the weight of work that it has put upon the police in tracing ownership. I understand the police now have more work to do tracing the owners of cars that have had stickers put on their windscreens than they ever had before in reporting and issuing summonses. We do not want a second Bill that is going to turn out as badly as that. So, my Lords, I hope that the Government and your Lordships' House will take advantage of the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and, irrespective of Party, see whether we cannot do something to stiffen the spine and the backbone of the Government, so that they will take their courage in both hands and tackle this job as they should do.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, the first time I had the honour of speaking in your Lordships' House was on the subject of road safety, on a Motion which was then introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who has kept this subject before your Lordships' House at intervals during the past six years. I am glad to see him here to-day and to know that he is to speak on this Bill. I hope that he will find in it at least some things that will satisfy him in his great concern for road safety, which he has propagated so strongly and so persuasively. I shall confine what I have to say largely to Clause 2, "Chemical tests", because, so far as I can understand this Bill, that is one of the chief points for discussion.

When I looked at the proposal to introduce these tests the first question that came to my mind was: are these tests reliable? Can we be sure that they can be trusted? In seeking for information on the subject I found this booklet, Relation of Alcohol to Road Accidents, which has been published by the British Medical Association. If there are any of your Lordships who wish to get what I should regard as up-to-date and scientific knowledge on this point, then I would advise you to turn to pages 30 to 33 of this booklet. I look at these tests in the light of the fact that, as this Report says, … it must be agreed that the presence of a predetermined concentration of alcohol in the body fluids impairs driving ability in a substantial proportion of persons and increases the risk of accident. It is not without significance that the worst two-hour period in the whole week for road accidents is between ten and twelve o'clock on a Saturday night. The graph put out in the Road Accidents Statistics, 1959, by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, makes that abundantly clear. Anybody who travels the roads on Saturday evening is well aware that outside most hotels and most public houses there are large numbers of motor cars, and we must expect that there will be a proportion of those people going out on the roads whose driving efficiency is impaired to some extent.

My work takes me out many evenings, and on a Saturday evening I nearly always have to say to my audience, "I hope you will excuse me if I leave a little earlier, as I want to get home before closing time". I have to admit that while most accept that I am concerned with road safety, and there are some who look a little suspicious. But it is a fact that an increasing number of motorists refuse to go out during those hours, if they can possibly avoid it, because they know, and I know, that the dangers during those hours are far greater than at any other time. I have seen enough of bad driving to persuade me to get home before that hour. It is in the light of that kind of evidence that we are trying to deal, in Clause 2, with this question of the effect of alcohol on the driver. We must in any legislation be sure that the means which are prescribed for testing are worthy and accurate, and I have convinced myself, from what is stated in this booklet, that the three methods of blood, urine and breath are all sufficiently reliable to justify their use to estimate the quantity of alcohol in the blood stream.

I should like to read just one or two paragraphs from this booklet. One states: Secondly a reliable and acceptable procedure for determining the concentration of alcohol in the body fluids must be available. These methods already exist in the case of blood and urine. In the case of breath, Drew and his colleagues have recently compared three types of breath-testing apparatus and obtained satisfactory results with one of them, which they found to be highly reliable and to give results which corresponded closely to those from blood and urine measurements. Another paragraph declares: The consensus of medical opinion is that the level should be in the region of 50 mg./100 ml. For example, the Expert Committee on Alcohol of the World Health Organisation reported … that: 'Taking into consideration (1) the investigations performed in recent years on the effect of alcohol on different functions in laboratory experiments, (2) the results of statistically designed practical tests on drivers, air pilots, etc., and (3) the statistical evidence from the few adequate studies existing on alcohol and road accidents, the inference cannot be avoided that at a blood alcohol concentration of about 50 mg./100 ml. a statistically significant impairment of performance is observed in more than half of the cases examined'. I need not quote further from this booklet, for in a conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, at lunch time I learned that die is to make this the chief subject of his speech, and I am quite sure that he can present the arguments with greater clarity and greater authority than I can. Therefore I will not labour the point, except just to say that if there is any doubt about the reliability of these chemical tests, I should much prefer to have one of them than to rely upon a human opinion formed on clinical examination. I should know, at any rate, that the chemical test was objective, and that, so far as possible, lit gave a scientific and reliable result. I therefore want to support the proposal for the introduction of these chemical tests.

However, before I could say that, I had to ask myself whether they were not only reliable, but also fair. And after researching for a long time, I have come firmly to the conclusion that they ate fair, and that anybody who is not guilty of taking more alcohol than is safe for him when he is driving has nothing to fear from a chemical test. However, I should like to make one suggestion. If any offender (shall I say?) submits to a chemical test, he ought to have the right to ask that sufficient fluid should be preserved for inspection by his own doctor, so that his own doctor can check upon the official test. I regard this as very important. It may not be necessary to embody it in the Bill, but I should prefer to see it there. There is in the Bill a suggestion of the presumption of guilt in anyone who refuses a test. With the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilwarth, I do not like that part of the clause. I do not like the idea of anyone being presumed guilty; but I believe that it would be mitigated to a great extent if there were in the Bill a clear right for the subject to have a test by his own doctor which could be set beside the official test.

The other thing that I should like to see in the Bill is a figure indicating the blood alcohol concentration at which significant impairment of performance may be expected. The Committee to whose report I have referred say in their conclusions: Clinical examination in the absence of biochemical tests is neither sufficiently sensible nor reliable enough to detect deterioration in driving performance of this degree. The Committee considers that a concentration of 50 mg. of alcohol in 100 ml. of blood while driving a motor vehicle is the highest that can be accepted as entirely consistent with the safety of other road users…. If that is a conclusion which is put forward by a body with the reputation of the British Medical Association, then I think it would be a good thing for the general public to be made aware that that is the figure. And that figure should be translated into language which ordinary people can understand—namely, so many beers or whiskies, or whatever the spirit might be. When I was discussing this point recently with a very enlightened manager of a public-house, he said that he would welcome that. He said that he would welcome it in the Bill, and that he would welcome it if he had it as a notice in his house, so that when some of his more enthusiastic clients were becoming too thirsty he would have something authoritative to put before them so as to persuade them from overstepping the mark.


My Lords, may I ask the right reverend Prelate if it was one of his Carlisle houses?


I do not confine my attentions entirely to Carlisle.

At any rate, my Lords I would plead that in some way this figure, which has so much authority behind it, should be made known, not only to the motoring public but to people in general. It would then act as a cautionary line, at any rate, to people who might be tempted to go too far. I should like to emphasise that, in supporting the chemical tests, I am satisfied that they will be regarded as only one factor in a prosecution, and I should not like to see them made so rigid that, automatically, they would prove a person guilty. However, I believe that they would be of tremendous value as evidence, and would be of great value to any justice in deciding how far an offender was really guilty, and how far his offence was due to drink.

I believe that in this Bill the Government are feeling their way, and are trying to discover how far public opinion is behind them in introducing tests. I should like to see the tests made compulsory. I believe that there is nothing unfair about them, and that if they are optional it will mean only that most people who know that they have been drinking too much will refuse the test. That would be the common-sense sort of thing to do. Any person who knows that he has had too much will know that he had better refuse the test and hope to make the best of his case. But if it were compulsory, then we should all be on the same level, and I can see nothing unfair about that. I know that some people say that a given amount of alcohol has such-and-such an effect on one person and a very different effect on another; but I also know that there are people who could drive in a built-up area at 35 miles an hour more safely than other drivers can at 25 miles an hour. We are part of a community, and we have to strike an average; and if the average is rightly struck, as it could be, then every citizen would have to accept that and realise that it was part of the community. I can see nothing at all of a hardship in that. I believe that if the tests were compulsory, and if the figure were mentioned, that would go a very long way to solving the problem of the person who drives under the influence of drink.

Now, with regard to the support of public opinion, I want to finish with a quotation or two. Fairly recently, the Minister said in another place [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 622, col. 637]: I agree with my honourable Friend the Member for Guildford … that, in the minds of many people, the case "— this is, for chemical tests— is not wholly made out, and I take it as my job either wholly to make it out or to prove that it is not possible ". The introduction to this Bill indicates to me that the Minister is satisfied that it is wholly made out. If it is wholly made out, then it should be compulsory. But he may be a little afraid of public opinion. I should like to quote from the leader of The Times of June 7 last, which was soon after the Minister had said those words. The Times said: Nor is there any doubt as to the efficacy of blood alcohol tests as a measure of fitness to drive. Whereas the rough, if ready, clinical examinations at present employed are notoriously unreliable, that cannot be said of biochemical tests. There is nothing novel about them. In Norway, conviction has been dependent on the level of alcohol in the blood since 1926". The Daily Mail, in January, 1960, said this: It's the drinking driver who is the biggest menace. It is time the truth was told about the slaughter on the roads.… The day is nearing when the British motorist—and that, in the prosperous present, means most of the community—will have to face the truth about the lethal link between drinking and driving. My Lords, we have to face this problem in the light of the figures given about road casualties. I am the last to want to impair the social amenities of our people. But when social habits become a great social danger (and no one can doubt that, when he realises that 6,000 people are killed every year, 60,000 are seriously injured, and nearly another quarter of a million are injured), then, as members of the community, we need to look at this whole subject with fresh care, and with a readiness to accept curtailment of our invidual freedom in the interests of the wellbeing of the community.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, anyone who has had anything to do with cases of driving under the influence of drink must realise that the law requires to be strengthened. Although this Bill is to be welcomed as an attempt by the Government to strengthen the law, I fear that Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill, as they stand, will be largely ineffective. They are merely the restatement in different words, in effect, of the present law. When I have addressed juries on the present test as to whether a man is under the influence of drink to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of his vehicle, I have told them that that does not mean that he has to be drunk. It does not mean that he has to be incapable. He has simply to be under the influence of drink so as not to be able to have proper control of his car. If I, or any other judge, is in future to tell them the test under Clause 1, I shall have to tell them that the accused man must be taken to be unfit to drive if his ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired.

My Lords, judges and lawyers will at once ask: "What does 'impaired' mean? Does 'impaired' mean to any little extent, to a substantial extent, or to a large extent?" I should imagine, without any authority to guide me, that it would mean "impaired to a substantial extent". If I looked at the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, I should find that "impair" means "lessen injuriously". Therefore, if I were to address a jury and say that the accused had to be so impaired that his ability to drive properly was lessened injuriously, I would ask myself, what is the difference between that and the form of words I have been using—not able to have proper control of his car? If Clause 1 is to do what is intended—to strengthen the law—we should know what it means.

I would suggest it should be "impaired to an appreciable extent". But even that might not be definite enough. In cases which are tried at quarter sessions, one has to reckon with the "imponderable" of the jury. Figures have been mentioned to-day of the large number of cases in which juries acquit, whereas the magistrates convict. Let me tell your Lordships what I think is one of the reasons. It is because in some of our Acts of Parliament the punishment for driving under the influence of drink is imprisonment, plus disqualification. When juries have before them the case of a man who has been driving under the influence of drink, perhaps for the first time—so far as the jury know—where there has been no accident and no one injured, they do not think that the man ought to go to prison, and they will not run the risk of that.

Let me give your Lordships an illustration. I tried a case where the police in a car had followed a man who had been wandering across both sides of a country lane, going right over to the wrong side to the corner. Eventually he pulled up at a public house. When he got out he could hardly walk round the car but had to cling to the bonnet. So the policemen took him to the station and would not let him drive any further. There he was put through all the tests, to which of course he agreed (they always agree to the tests). They tested his urine and everything. Of course, counsel had the B.M.A. document—they always have that—and it seemed to be clearly proved that the man was under the influence of drink and not able properly to control his car. But one question which he asked, through his counsel, was: "Didn't I jump up three steps on the way to the police station without faltering?" And he did. Whether it was that or not, I do not know, but the jury acquitted, as I thought in the face of the evidence; but I firmly believe that it is because juries dislike a punishment of imprisonment for this offence.

Since then I have told juries that it does not necessarily mean imprisonment. I do not know whether they always trust me, but the results have been rather better since then. I should like to come to that point a little later. I would suggest that if we are to make the law stronger, it should be dealt with by the magistrates. Let us not make the remedy imprisonment, but make it disqualification for the first offence, when no one is injured. I suggest that that might make a great deal of difference in the enforcement of the law.

Let me now come to the second clause concerning the tests. It is everyday practice to take tests—urine tests, nose tests—and to go through them with the man's consent. If it is a question of tests, as the right reverend Prelate said, the police always, when they take a urine test, give a sample to the accused, and everything is done fairly. The only thing new about Clause 2 would be the blood test—pricking the man, I suppose. A lot of people might take objection to that, but that would be a new method. Or they might use the machine called the breathalyser. I have never known a case of a man refusing to give urine. I have never known a case of a man refusing these tests. If he does, the doctor will say that he was unco-operative, and the jury would, of course, take that into account.

I would suggest that if you are going to strengthen the Bill, you should make these tests compulsory. What about taking fingerprints? Under the Common Law of Scotland, that is compulsory. It may have been under our Common Law, but by Statute now a magistrate can order a man to have his fingerprints taken. Is it not right that, if he is an innocent man, he has nothing to fear? If he is a guilty man, then the evidence ought to be before the court. I would suggest that in a case of this kind there would be no objection whatsoever. I would not go so far as to say that that should apply to the blood test, the pricking with the needle; but in the ordinary case where you take a urine test, or use a breathalyser, and so on, which involves no personal interference with the man, I would suggest that there is no reason whatsoever why tests should not be compulsory.

Furthermore, why would it not be valuable to have some stated percentage in the Bill? I have illustrated to your Lordships how counsel will produce this document of the British Medical Association and cross-examine the analyst. Counsel will say to him, "You can never be sure about these figures; the motorist may be suffering from shock", and cast doubt on the doctor's evidence, enough to leave the jury in doubt. It seems to me a much more effective system, either by regulation or in the Statute, to give a reasonable criterion to show with reasonable certainty that a motorist is under the influence of drink.

If the Bill were strengthened in the way I have suggested, by making compulsory tests, by laying down percentages and by making impairment to an appreciable extent an offence; if a first offence where there is no injury were dealt with by a magistrate without imprisonment and by disqualification, and perhaps with a test to be taken, then for a second offence it could be imprisonment, if need be; and if the case goes before a jury, let the jury be told of the previous conviction. There are precedents for this in the books, for cases of receiving and habitual drunkenness, whereby previous convictions can be given in evidence. In this case I suggest that this might be a good step. All I am suggesting for the moment is that the Bill as at present drafted needs considerable strengthening, if it is to be effective for this purpose.

There are other smaller points which I could mention. As I happen to be a Chairman of Quarter Sessions, I would rather that the rule about removing disqualifications by the magistrates' courts be kept as it is, because they know more about the case. But I should like to see no relaxation of this penalty at all. If a motorist is disqualified, let that be so, and do not let him came back time after time to apply for removal of the disqualification. And why on earth, in the case of taking away without the consent of the owner, you should remove the power to disqualify which the courts have been able to use up to now, I cannot think. It seems to me that the Bill should be welcomed but very considerably strengthened.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, this is obviously a Bill with good intentions and we must cherish the hope that these good intentions will not prove to lead in the direction to which they often pave the road. There is, I think, one general principle we ought to get clear when we ask ourselves what legislation can do in the promotion of road safety. That principle is to distinguish more clearly than we yet have done between the case in which it is possible to get hard and reliable evidence of offences, and that in which, by the nature of the case, such evidence is extremely difficult to obtain.

Often in discussions of the actions of the courts in connection with motoring offences, people seem to imagine that magistrates and juries spend their time sitting by the roadside observing cases of dangerous or reckless driving. Alas! they do no such thing. They hear very contentious, sometimes genuinely confused and sometimes perhaps intentionally confused, accounts of events which no one expected to happen and which very few people remember with precision. For that reason, I feel bound to say, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, that we cannot rely too much in certain classes of case—and some of these are the more serious—on legislative action or upon the action of the courts in carrying out what Parliament has decided upon. I think that this principle perhaps governs our attitude to some of the clauses of this Bill, notably the drink clause.

I am not going to cover the whole ground as to the contribution which drinking makes to road accidents. I think that, if we are fair, we would admit that this is very difficult to assess. It is clear that in a great many accidents, particularly in those that happen late at night, the persons involved, sometimes a pedestrian, often a motorist, can be shown to have taken liquor. But, as has been pointed out elsewhere, it might well be established, in an equally great proportion of cases, that these persons have eaten bacon and eggs for breakfast. To argue from the presence of alcohol to the accident might be a fallacious course.

I would ask your Lordships to pay particular attention to one piece of evidence which, I think, does get past this argument; that is, the evidence which your Lordships will find reported in the Drew Report of the studies which have been made in Evanston and Toronto, where comparisons have been made between the concentration of alcohol in the blood of persons involved in accidents and in the blood of other persons driving at the same places at the same time of day. It has there been found that the percentage of accident drivers with a fairly high concentration can be as much as 30 times as high as the percentage of non-accident drivers with a similar concentration. This seems to me to meet what we might call the bacon and egg argument.

The great argument in favour of having the chemical test is that it does away with uncertainty. It resolves the problem which I have stated, the problem of getting reliable evidence. Evidence of performance is extremely difficult to get. Clinical evidence after the event is notoriously unreliable. But if we had a blood test and it was a compulsory test with a prescribed concentration, then the offence would cease to have anything to do with driving—that is to say, with the quality or standard of driving. The offence would be simply to be driving at all, well or badly, with more than the prescribed concentration of alcohol in the blood; and that is a perfectly precise thing on which the courts can pro- nounce with confidence. This is unlike having to decide whether a man who cannot walk round a car without holding on, is not drunk because he can leap up three steps at the police station.

I know that those who can carry their liquor might suffer hardship from this, but, after all, this is a principle that we have to accept. It has always been a principle of civilisation that those who are more fortunate should suffer some disability for the sake of their weaker brethren. If we accept a reasonable standard, something of the order of 50 or even as much as 100 mg. per 100 ml. of blood, we should then be laying down a standard with which we could all conform. And if it was an inconvenience, we could tell ourselves self-righteously that we were doing it for the sake of our weaker brethren.

I am sure that we should very soon get used to this. Indeed, I am already thinking of how the good hostess of the future will install a breathalyser in the hall, so that, before leaving, her guests can test their own condition and those of them who find that it is prudent to do so can call for a taxi and collect their car next day. Such adjustments of our social life come easily and often, and I am sure that this one will not trouble us more than many we have already made. But I cannot help noticing, in passing, the remarkable contrast between the enthusiasm with which your Lordships' House accepted the idea of blood tests in order to excuse yourselves from disputed cases of paternity and your deep reluctance to accept blood tests in order to expose yourselves to the risk: of an accusation of drunken driving.

I pass now to the question of penalties. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has pointed out, we cannot really gain very much by putting up maximum penalties. I would refer your Lordships again to the figures that were given earlier to-day in this House in reply to a Question. In the case of reckless or dangerous driving the maximum penalty that may now be imposed is £100. But this penalty was imposed in 1959 in only 0.06 of all the convictions for that offence. In the case of careless driving, where the maximum is £40 for the first offence and £80 for a subsequent offence, the maximum penalty was imposed in approximately 0.001 of the total number of convictions. In these circumstances, I think we have to recognise that putting up the maximum is, quite honestly, eyewash. The average fine for reckless driving was £15; the maximum is £100. The average fine for careless driving was £7; the maximum, as I have said, is £40, and £80 for a subsequent offence.

Nevertheless, I think we might try to impress upon those responsible for imposing these penalties that there are some cases where they can do this with perfectly clear evidence before them. In the cases of reckless, dangerous and careless driving I do not think these figures are wholly the indictment of the courts which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, suggested in his speech. They are partly due to the extreme difficulty of good evidence and the extreme difficulty of assessing the degree of guilt. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, if the courts were to apply honestly and conscientiously the standard of proof they are supposed to apply in all criminal cases—that the case is proved beyond reasonable doubt—the figures of aquittals would be even larger than they are. I think the law is often stretched merely because it is so difficult to get reliable evidence. But there are offences, and serious offences, in respect of which this is not true. Failure to stop after an accident is something that can be definitely proved in a large proportion of cases. For failing to stop after an accident the average fine was a mere £3 in 1959. Equally, parking a vehicle in a dangerous position is something which can be definitely proved, and this is an offence which is not uncommon. It is no longer separately distinguished in the statistics, so I cannot say the exact number, or the fine imposed.


My Lords, would not the noble Lady agree with me that the figures that were given were those of convictions, and the average fine was worked out after the magistrates had decided to convict?


My Lords, I would indeed agree. But when the magistrates come to impose their penalty they have not only to convict but also to assess the degree of seriousness of the offence, and that is something which is just as diffi- cult in these cases as arriving at the conviction itself.

I should like to say a word or two about disqualification. I think that what has gone wrong with disqualification is that it is referred to as a punishment—and I have even heard it referred to as a savage punishment. If we could go back to the early days of motoring, I am sure we should think that a licence to drive a car is a licence to perform a highly skilled operation in circumstances which may involve considerable danger to oneself and to other people. It is something which not everybody can hope to do and which perhaps people can do only when they are on top of their form or are in the prime of life. We must not regard this as a civic right, like the right to vote, but as a privilege which a certain number of capable, qualified persons can obtain. We have got into the way of thinking that a driving licence is a thing that one ought to have as a sort of civic right, and that it is a humiliation, a disgrace or a punishment if it is taken away.

For these reasons, it seems to me that disqualification should be used much more freely, even in cases where the degree of guilt is difficult to assess. If a person does in fact cause injury; if a person is very accident-prone—it may not be his fault; he may not be guilty, in the sense that the law likes to use the term, although technically may have committed one of the offences prescribed, but he may be a person who ought not to manipulate these dangerous and complicated instruments—I think we are quite entitled to say that, even if he has not done anything which makes us feel he ought to be punished, he has not the qualifications necessary for using these instruments and should be disqualified.

Now I should like to say something about the changes in disqualification. I am sure that many of us welcome some of the cases in which disqualification has been added. Failure to stop after an accident was not previously a disqualifiable offence, and this was the cause of great concern to magistrates. Now I see, with pleasure, that it is to be. I see, also with pleasure, that we have not now to wait until people have visibly exceeded the speed limit three times before we can take away their right to do it a fourth time. I am not entirely clear (and I hope when the noble Earl comes to reply he will clear up this point) what is the position about causing death by dangerous driving and about actual manslaughter with the use of a motor vehicle. These are listed in the First Schedule to the Bill as being offences carrying compulsory disqualification. But it is also stated in the Bill that there is no amendment of the principal Act. I was under the impression—and the Eleventh Schedule (I think it is) of the principal Act confirms this—that these were not previously offences carrying a compulsory disqualification. As I say, I hope that this point will be cleared up at a later stage.

But some very curious offences have been taken out from the list that carry even optional disqualification. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that there were altogether sixteen, and I should like to comment on two of them. The first is the removal of disqualification for taking and driving somebody else's car. This seems to me to be an extraordinary change. I am told that one reason for it may be that people who take and drive other people's cars illegally will be caught by the compulsory disqualification for having no valid insurance. But I find this rather difficult to believe. I have been looking at my own insurance certificate, and it says that the policy holder is entitled to drive any motor car or motor cycle not belonging to the policy holder and not held by the policy holder under hire purchase agreement. I read this to mean that, if this Bill becomes law, when I leave this House I can go outside and take a car belonging to one of your Lordships and drive it away at my own convenience to my home and not be subject to disqualification.


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lady for one moment. I am interested in what she says, because the words she has read out happen also to be on my own insurance policy. I have puzzled over this question, but I came to the conclusion that they would not apply, because the noble Lady's insurance policy would not be the insurance policy for the car which she or somebody had taken. It is, of course, the car that is insured, not the driver.


I think we might argue this out with our respective insurance companies, but as I read this it says quite clearly that I can drive any motor vehicle.


My Lords, the noble Lady appears to be quite right; and a decision of a London magistrate within the last fortnight or thereabouts confirms everything that she is saying.


The second offence to which I should like to call attention is that of violating the terms of a provisional licence. This seems to me extraordinary. The provisional licence is often a licence taken out by a young person when he first starts to use a motor vehicle. In the courts that I know best we have a great many cases of this kind. A young man gets a motor bicycle and he wants to give his girl friend a ride home, so he takes off the "L" plates—that is his first offence—and he carries the girl friend, who is an unauthorised passenger, which is the second offence. In our courts we almost always impose some disqualification, sometimes only for a month and sometimes for three months, for offences of this kind. We put it to the defendants in some such terms as these, "You are now using a dangerous instrument. There are a great many rules about its use. You had better learn at once that if you do not keep the rules you do not have the bike. No "L" plates, no bike"; and he is disqualified. It seems to me deplorable that we should encourage people when they hold their first licence to believe that they can disregard its terms and still continue to drive, even if they have to pay a monetary penalty.

I now come to the final point. It takes me perhaps a little outside the scope of this Bill, but I hope your Lordships will allow me to raise this issue now. In a great many very serious crimes, which are not primarily road crimes, a car plays an important part. But as I understand it, there is no power under the Act to disqualify a person from holding a licence if he has used a car in the commission of any offence other than these offences which are covered by the Road Traffic Acts—with one or two exceptions.

I think it is the case that manslaughter—and I do not mean causing death by dangerous driving, but manslaughter—with the use of a motor vehicle is an offence for which a person can be disqualified from holding a licence; and that, after all, is not primarily a traffic offence. I think it is also true that causing bodily harm by furious driving can be charged under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and for that a disqualification can also be imposed. So there are precedents. Indeed, there are precedents for disqualification in much milder offences which are more remote from road traffic matters. In Scotland, under the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries (Protection) Act, 1951, a person committing an offence is liable to the forfeiture of any instrument or article by which the offence is committed. To go even further, under the Deer (Scotland) Act, 1959, a person committing an offence under that Act is liable to forfeit not only any firearms in his possession, but also any vehicle or boat used to assist him in the commission of the offence.

When one thinks of the offences of violence, robbery, rape and assault that we have seen lately, in which the use of a car has played an important part, I hope your Lordships will allow me, at least under the rather wide umbrella of this Bill, to raise the possibility that disqualification might be extended to other offences of this nature in which the car plays an important part. It may be that salmon and deer in Scotland are of more value than persons in the rest of the British Isles, but I hardly think that that is a view which will commend itself to your Lordships.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, of course at this hour I shall not say what I had intended to say, but I should like to make a few comments on the Bill and on what has been said about it. After listening to the debate thus far, curiously enough I find myself still with a clear impression of the very first news that I had about this Bill. When the first advance paragraphs about a forthcoming measure from the Ministry of Transport appeared in the Press, it was described, as your Lordships may remember, as a Road Safety Bill. As one who for more than 25 years now in your Lordships' House and in the Press, and on occasion on public platforms, has been agitating for more effective measures to reduce our horrific annual casualties, I found myself beginning to wonder whether I should soon find myself calling for three loud cheers for a Minister of Transport, for the first time since the late Mr. Hore-Belisha, as he then was, introduced the speed limit which subsequent Ministers have allowed to fall into virtual abeyance.

It may be, I suppose, that those early news paragraphs were officially, or, at any rate semi-officially, or perhaps semi-demi-officially, inspired, and the Minister may have been sending up a trial balloon to test public reactions. Of course, nobody can possibly object to a Road Traffic Bill. We all want better traffic; we all want smoother flowing traffic and better roads, whereas news of a Road Safety Bill might well be likely to put many powerful interests suspiciously on the alert. I ask myself now, after listening to about three hours of debate, whether this really is a Road Traffic Bill or a Road Safety Bill. I am inclined to feel that it is very much in the balance; but that unless, as speaker after speaker has suggested, more teeth can be put into the first two clauses, we shall have to think of it as a Road Traffic Bill rather than a Road Safety Bill—grateful though I am to the Government for introducing any measure at all, and welcome though some of its features undoubtedly are. But those first two clauses really must be strengthened. In fact, they must be transformed or rewritten.

Clause 1 has been criticised—perhaps unjustifiably—in the Press, and also, I think, by my noble friend Lord Teynham, and possibly by other speakers, on the ground that it is not altogether clear what it means. So far as the meaning goes, it seems to me pellucidly clear. I do not see how it could have been clearer. It seems to me to say what it means, and what ought to be said, simply and intelligibly—which is an extremely rare phenomenon in legal terminology. It says: … unfit to drive if his ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired. I do not see how it can be put more simply than that. But it has been pointed out (I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, did so) that there is doubt, on the ground that different persons have their ability to drive properly impaired after different amounts of alcohol consumption. That difficulty, it seems to me, can be easily disposed of by an addition to Clause 2, to which I will come in one moment. It is with Clause 2, of course, that we come to the nettle which many powerful interests would prefer to see the Government not grasping and which the Government, in my view, are being too cautious to grasp firmly, so that we still cannot say that out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety". Let us remember for a moment the astonishing licence still permitted to the drunken driver in this country, and all over the world. I think the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that the latest figures of the Road Research Laboratory's examination of holiday deaths showed only 56 per cent, as due to drunken drivers, but I believe I am right in saying that if you look at the holiday deaths after ten p.m. you will find that the percentage due to drunken drivers or drunken pedestrians is no less than 80. Except in Scandinavia—where, incidentally, the drink trade is a Government monopoly, so that there may not be so many powerful private interests voting to oppose control of drink—in most parts of the world the law still exhibits a scandalous indifference to the dangers of drunken driving.

I do not know whether your Lordships will believe this, but I actually read last week in one of the leading American papers that a citizen of Houston, Texas, was arrested the other day; he was a blind man and he was arrested for driving when intoxicated. Do not misunderstand me; he was not blind drunk; he was blind, a man who was deprived of his sight, and he was driving when intoxicated; and, incredible as it seems, that was the seventh time he had been charged with that offence. That could not happen in England. But there are in England plenty of drivers with previous convictions for dangerous driving still at large on the roads, many of whom will sooner or later be responsible for the death or injury of some innocent user of the Queen's highway.

Over the last five years convictions for drunken driving in this country have risen by 80 per cent. It is a welcome innovation, as several speakers have said, at any rate to have this principle of the chemical test recognised, but I can see no justification in law or logic or morals for the failure to make it compulsory. We can all, of course, have our amateur, inexpert and often highly prejudiced opinions on this subject. I have not actually seen it, but I am told that there is a pamphlet going the rounds, the main thesis of which is that it is very wicked and dangerous to drink spirits before driving on the road, but that it is perfectly legitimate, and in fact rather desirable, to drink a great deal of wine. That is all very well, until you notice somewhere in small print that the author of this pamphlet is a prominent official of the wine trade.

The fact remains that every expert and qualified and impartial body—that is to say, the Committee on the Relation of Alcohol to Road Accidents of the British Medical Association, the staff of the Road Research Laboratory, and Professor Drew and his Committee—are agreed both as to the reliability of the chemical test, and also all equally agreed that intoxication, even moderate intoxication, contributes to accidents. In Norway they have had more than thirty years' experience of the successful working of chemical tests. In Glasgow, they have had nearly twenty years' successful experience; and in a number of states in the U.S.A. they have had nearly as long. As The Times said, in a leader from which the right reverend Prelate has already quoted (though he did not quote this sentence): It is hardly possible for Mr. Marples to suggest that all these scientific data amount to no more than a hunch". And then the leader went on, in a sentence which the right reverend Prelate did quote, but which I should like to quote again because it is my belief that it is the literal truth: Nor is there any doubt as to the efficacy of blood alcohol tests as a measure of fitness to drive". Reams of technical data could be produced, but that sentence seems to me the essence of the matter: there is no doubt of the efficacy of blood tests.

No doubt the B.M.A. is right to suggest, as I see it has during the last few days, that as a safeguard the tests should be carried out by expert analysts, and it is probably also right to suggest, as I see it has been suggested, that a clinical examination should remain part of the investigation. But it seems to me there can be no justification, in view of all these known facts, this known consensus of opinion among all the persons best qualified to judge, for the failure to incorporate the compulsory test in the Bill. If it is not so incorporated, as the right reverend Prelate insisted, it will be constantly dodged, and where it is not dodged it will command all the less respect because it has not been treated as sufficiently well established to be made compulsory.

And, of course, the second and perhaps even more crucial omission in this clause is the omission of any specific definition of the level of alcohol in the system which should be regarded as dangerous. As the Bill stands, the jury could determine the standard for itself in a matter in which it must be profoundly ignorant.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask the noble Lord one question for the sake of clarification. Is he advocating compulsory tests in cases where the motorist has done something dangerous or careless or giving rise to suspicion that he is under the influence of drink, or is he advocating compulsory tests as they have them in some Scandinavian countries, where you just round up a whole lot of motorists who pass through a certain point, whether they are doing anything dangerous or not, and compel them to take tests to see whether they have drunk anything or not? I think that is an important point.


Certainly I am advocating only the former in respect of this Bill.


The noble Lord means there must be some other evidence beside the test?


Certainly. I am glad the noble Earl raised that point about Norway, because it reminds me that at some later stage, long after I am dead, I hope your Lordships' House will pass on to do what they do in Norway. The noble Baroness drew what some of your Lordships may have thought was an imaginary picture of the hostess with the breathalyser in the hall offering this social service to her guests and suggesting to some of them that they should come back and fetch their cars next day. But that is in fact what happens in Norway: you sit next to somebody at dinner who says, "I am sorry I cannot drink; my wife is doing the drinking to-night and I am driving home. At the next dinner my wife will be doing the driving and I will be drinking." If they slip up, as often happens, you ring them up one day and are told they have gone on an unexpected fortnight's holiday, because the penalty for this offence is automatic imprisonment for a fortnight if you are found above a certain alcohol content level.

I am sorry to have led your Lordships astray. I want to make it clear that I am talking in relation to the Bill about the test arising out of some misconduct on the roads. The point is that the view of the B.M.A. Committee is that (I beg your Lordships to notice these words): We cannot conceive of any circumstances in which it could be considered safe for a person to drive a motor vehicle on the public roads with an amount of alcohol in the blood greater than 1.5 per cent.". There, it seems to me, we come back to the trouble about Clause 1. Your Lordships will remember that the criticism about Clause 1 was that it is all very well to talk about a person's ability to drive properly being temporarily impaired, but different persons are impaired at a different alcohol content level. Here the B.M.A. is saying, "We cannot conceive of any circumstances in which it would be safe to drive with an alcohol content of 1/"—in other words, when you reach 1.5 you are bound to be dangerous. It is not a question of some being impaired earlier. That does not arise, because if you insert in this clause the actual specification of 1.5 which the B.M.A. says is bound to be dangerous in anyone, then you are catching only the man who deserves to be caught. Between the 1.5 and the 0.5 which they give as their lowest level there may be many stages of partial impairment. But you are not dealing with this if, as I hope very much to see, you insert in Clause 2 at a later stage the specification of alcohol content of 1.5. Surely that is the inevitable corollary of the universal consensus of expert and impartial opinion on this point.

The only other point that I want briefly to mention relates to the Schedules at the end of the Bill. In Motions which I had the honour of introducing into your Lordships' House last year and the year before, I quoted a number of instances, and my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and other noble Lords quoted many, to show what a derisory fraction of the penalties authorised by law magistrates were in fact imposing. So that, as I think Lord Lucas of Chilworth has already suggested, one approaches these schedules of fines with a certain scepticism. Will the magistrates in fact impose them, or any reasonable fraction of them? Since then, of course, the magistrates have been at the receiving end of a number of exhortations and addresses from a number of most distinguished persons, such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, the former Lord Chief Justice; and one can only hope that they will make better use of these penalties than they have in the past.

In 1956 the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack appeared to suspend something like a sword of Damocles over the heads of magistrates when he said, as your Lordships may remember, that if this effort fails, not only the magistrates but we ourselves will have to think again. That sword, if it was a sword, has over the last five years appeared to have been suspended on a pretty thick cord; but it may be that in these increased fines and, what is much more important, the disqualifications in the First Schedule the sword has at last fallen. Indeed, it is high time that it did. Terrible stories were quoted in this Chamber concerning the neglect of magistrates to impose disqualification, for disqualification, as several noble Lords have already insisted, is not only the most sovereign and effective deterrent but it also fulfills the purpose of keeping the delinquent driver off the roads and leaving them safer for the careful and competent.

I am afraid that nowadays any measure designed to make roads safer for the careful and law-abiding and competent driver, by penalising the lawless and incompetent, is likely to be hotly resisted by the motoring organisations, without consulting their members, as they resisted the introduction of the speed limit. I see that already in propaganda in the Press they have drawn a highly imaginative picture of the courts of this country being flooded by 100,000 cases—I am not sure whether it was not upwards of that figure—a year arising out of this Bill. But surely they are completely misunderstanding the nature of a deterrent. The nature of a deterrent is that if the potential culprit feels certain that, if caught, he will suffer the penalty, in seven cases out of ten maybe he avoids committing the offence; in other words, the deterrent reduces the amount of dangerous and incompetent driving by much more than the actual number of convictions and disqualifications which result from it.

Last November, at the Central Criminal Court, a man was convicted of causing the death of a mother and two young children by dangerous driving. He was not disqualified. It was said that his earning capacity would be interfered with if he were disqualified, and he was not disqualified. If and when drivers know that if they drive in that sort of way and cause that sort of result they will not receive that sort of leniency, then there will be fewer numbers of that sort of driver. I hope that we shall not have in the public Press too much opposition to this Bill from the motoring organisations, whose first business surely should be to concern themselves with the safety of the roads.

I will not detain your Lordships longer. After listening to myself speaking for about ten minutes I feel that, on balance, this Bill might perhaps be accounted a Road Safety Bill. It certainly can become a Road Safety Bill if, in Committee, Her Majesty's Government will accept the changes which I can see that many noble Lords want to make, and which will transform this into the kind of Bill on which we may really rely to save hundreds from death and tens of thousands from injury every year.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of this modest, but, I think, most useful measure which my noble friend Lord Chesham has moved to-day. I feel that I have a certain qualification to do so. I was Parliamentary Secretary to three Ministers of Transport and had a great deal to do with the drafting of the 1956 Act, of which I was reminded by the customary censures passed upon this Bill, as upon the earlier one, by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I have great sympathy with my noble friend who is responsible for this Bill, because I am familiar with all the difficulties that this problem presents. I am sorry that a longstanding engagement will prevent my being here on Monday, but I should like to say that that is not out of any lack of respect for your Lordships' House, or from any desire not to hear noble Lords who will then be speaking on this subject.

There are, I think, four main points in this Bill. Obviously, the first and most important is the new definition of driving under the influence of drink. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said that he feared that it would not have the effect of tightening up the provisions of the law. In that case, I hope that the Government will pay close attention to what the noble and learned Lord has said on that subject, because I believe it to be their intention to strengthen those provisions. As I understand it, in the old wording, to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of a motor vehicle the word "incapable" suggested to some minds a person being drunk and incapable. Of course, it clearly should be, and I think is, the law that a person can be guilty of an offence in driving a vehicle when in fact his judgment is impaired, even though no one would say that he was in the ordinary sense of the word, drunk. It is for that reason that I hope that the Government will be chary of giving an affirmative answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, when he spoke about the outward signs of intoxication.

My Lords, I do not know that I have been made aware of it since I came here from another place, but there is the distinction in common parlance between being "as drunk as a Lord" and "carrying your liquor like a gentleman". In the case of motorists, many of those who are carrying their liquor like a gentleman are, in fact, not in a fit condition to drive a motor car. I hope and believe that the effect of this alteration in the wording, especially if it is amended on the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Denning, will have the effect of bringing within the scope of the offence a larger number of drivers who are responsible for accidents.

Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to the unwillingness of magistrates to convict in many cases where most of us would think they should convict. But one of the great difficulties that arises out of the statistics given by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon, is that, bad as the magistrates may be, juries are still worse. There was the comparison of 93 per cent. of convictions before the magistrates and only 55 per cent. by juries.

My Lords, this involves us as legislators in a very difficult problem. While it is clearly the duty and the right of the Legislature to indicate its view of the gravity of offences—and offences which result in the slaughter and mutilation of so many people on the roads every year, must be regarded as extremely grave—it is the right and duty of the courts to decide what is the appropriate penalty to impose. We must all recognise that that is an essential feature of the liberty of the individual. We had it in mind in the Act of 1956 that by increasing the level of the penalties we should be giving a clear indication to the courts of the opinion of Parliament that these were serious offences, and that more heavy penalties should be imposed. I think that the provisions of Clause 3 and of the First Schedule are an ingenious way of dealing with this problem. For there is a dilemma: if we impose minimum penalties which appear to the courts, to the magistrates and to juries, to go further than is fair in the particular case before them, then in that case they will refuse to convict. I think that what we must do in legislating is to give as clear an indication as we can and to lay down, as is done in the case of the offences in Part I of the First Schedule, compulsory disqualifications and in Part II to leave it to the discretion of the courts in the less serious offences.

I welcome the movement towards chemical tests. I think it is going to help in dealing with these marginal cases of drink to which I have been referring. We do not want to confine convictions to those who are in the state of being drunk and disorderly. Your Lordships may remember the case of the man who had been feeling very unwell for a long time and went to see his doctor and a blood test was taken. He asked the doctor what was wrong with him, and he said: "You have too little blood in your alcohol circulation". That is not the sort of case where these tests are going to be of especial value. It is rather the case where a person is capable of walking and behaving normally on his feet, but his judgment, when driving a fast car has been somewhat impaired. I think it was Lord Bowen who said the state of a man's mind is as much a matter of fact as the state of his digestion, and there is no doubt that the state of his blood is a fact which can be ascertained and should be a very relevant fact in considering his case.

My Lords, I welcome most of what is proposed in this Bill with regard to disqualification. I have already said that I hope it will be possible to persuade the courts to impose far more sentences of disqualification. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, said, that one of the great difficulties is that when a man is accused of one of these offences and he seems to be a perfectly decent, normal member of society, it is very difficult to persuade either magistrates or a jury to find him guilty of something which may result in his going to gaol. Disqualification, as the noble Lady said, should not be regarded as a penalty but as the removal of a privilege which a person has shown himself to be either permanently or temporarily unfit to enjoy. I confess I had not myself noticed it, but I am sorry to hear that in a number of cases where under the existing law the courts have the power to impose disqualification, this Bill takes it away. I would ask the Government to think again on that matter. Surely, what is required is to insist upon disqualification in really bad cases and to allow it to be imposed at the discretion of the count in a very wide category of cases 'where it is the appropriate treatment to apply.

The third important provision of this Bill appears to me to be the wider discretion which it gives to the Minister in the matter of speed limits. The general tendency is always for motorists to desire to be free from speed limits and for the local inhabitants always to be pressing for more and stricter and lower speed limits to be imposed. I tried vainly on many occasions to convince the local residents that if you impose a speed limit which is unreasonable and is seen by motorists to be unreason- able, then it will not be observed and it is quite impossible for the police to enforce it because general opinion is against it. Therefore the Minister is the best person to hold the balance evenly between the motorist and the local inhabitants. I think this is a wise and valuable provision in the Bill.

I also welcome the provision that all convictions must necessarily be endorsed upon a licence. It seems to me that that is only an accurate and authoritative record of what is a very relevant fact that ought to be taken into account. I am much more doubtful, however, about the provisions for the registration of driving instructors. I am doubtful about every extension of the administrative responsibilities of the Government. It results in increased problems and expenditure, and I am doubtful whether it is likely to be effective. There is a great deal to be said for the old principle of caveat emptor. I do not think Her Majesty's Government should accept responsibility to ensure that those who seek instruction should go to entirely reliable and satisfactory instructors. People must learn to find the right kind of people from whom to obtain their instruction. If it is necessary to do something to discourage untrained drivers from taking the test too soon, then I think there are simpler ways of doing it than by setting up this register.

I believe this Bill is well intentioned and sensible. There is nothing very surprising, very original or very new in it, but it is none the worse on that account. Public opinion is moving slowly in this direction and I am glad that Her Majesty's Government have introduced this Bill. I think the whole tone of the debate to-day has shown that noble Lords here welcome this move by the Government. They want to encourage them to do a little more than is contained in this Bill at the present time, and I hope, therefore, that the Bill will have a reasonably easy passage but that it will be improved and strengthened as it passes through your Lordships' House.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to deal entirely with Clause 2 and with the technical sides of the problems presented therein. I must apologise at once to your Lordships for the fact that I am going to speak a little technically, but I will try to be as untechnical as possible. My only excuse for speaking technically is that serious personal decisions affecting a great many people depend on these technical matters. I would, however, venture one general observation; that is, that in medico-legal work the more severe the penalty the greater is the need for scientific accuracy.

These tests show not whether a person is drunk but that he has been drinking. They show the amount that he has drunk, and from this amount it can be deduced with fair certainty whether his capacity to drive safely has been impaired. I wrote the words "has been impaired" before I had read Clause 1, and, of course, that is exactly what that clause says and what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, took exception to. It is simply an impairment of capacity which can be fairly safely assumed as a result of the demonstration of certain levels of blood or urine alcohol. Therefore, I personally hope for that reason that Clause 1 will not be modified. I believe that it is the safest, most sensible and a simple definition; and I think it is entirely right.

The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, in his very interesting speech, asked, I think reasonably, that the results of these tests should be translated into ordinary everyday terms of pints, half-pints, and so on. This can easily be done, and I will try to do it, while asking your Lordships to bear in mind that these are rough-and-ready guides only. The actual position varies with the size of the body consuming the alcohol but, broadly speaking, if a person takes a pint of beer his blood alcohol will remain below 50 milligrammes per 100 milli-litres, and his judgment as a motorist will not be impaired. If he takes two pints of beer his blood alcohol will be raised above 50 milligrammes per 100 milli-litres and his judgment will be very slightly impaired. If he takes two single whiskies or one double whisky, his judgment will not be impaired. If he takes two double whiskies his judgment will be slightly impaired. That is a rough-and-ready guide for these people who want to know what they ought to avoid doing before driving a motor car.

If I am asked what the word "before" means there, I should say within three hours of driving a car, assuming that no meal is being taken—because meals delay the absorption of alcohol into the blood. For this reason, the only safe thing to do, I am afraid, if one is going to drive a car, is not to drink more than one pint of beer or one double whisky within a period of three hours before doing so, unless one is going to eat as well. Then one should not take too much. That is what these tests will show—whether a person has drunk that amount or twice or three times as much, as the case may be.

There are three types of test: of the blood, of the breath and of the urine. The results of measurements of alcohol in the blood, either directly or indirectly, should all be expressed in one way—that is, not in percentages but in milligrams of alcohol per 100 milli-litres of blood. I am sorry I have to impose this technical phraseology upon your Lordships, but already you will have noticed that there are different terms used by different Members of your Lordships' House to describe this very thing, and it will be very confusing for magistrates' courts, and all who have to deal with this problem, unless there is a standard method of definition of the amount of alcohol in the blood.

There are two reasons why this is the proper way of expressing this figure. First, what the tests actually measure is milligrammes of alcohol per 100 milli-litres of blood. Secondly, if we try to express the proportion in percentages of alcohol in the blood, decimal points at once come in, and there are figure noughts both before and after the decimal points. That, again, has happened in your Lordships' debates. It is easy to become confused, and therefore we should stick to the simple figure of 50 milligrammes per 100 milli-litres, which is the figure above which there may be slight impairment, while 150 milligrams per 100 milli-litres is the figure at which there is gross impairment. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, does not want us to limit convictions to people who have 150 milligrammes, for they will all be manifestly drunk anyway, and if that figure were prescribed, the test would have very little value. I hope, therefore, that there will be provision in this clause for the Minister to make regulations about how results are expressed.

So far as I can see, there is no provision at all for the making of regulations in connection with these tests, and this is important in connection with the tests themselves. There are three theoretical objections to tests based on the breath. One is a little unpleasant, but it must be mentioned. The first is that if the subject who is being tested belches while breathing out, he brings up air from his stomach; and this air is much more rich in alcohol after he has been consuming alcohol than the air in his lungs, which gives a false indication. Anybody who is doing the test will simply have to repeat the test if he observes this happen, unless he is a dishonest man or a dishonest policeman. It is sometimes said that in the United States the policemen give the chaps a "biff" on the back in order to get a high reading. I am sure that that would never happen here, and I do not suppose that it really happens there. But it does mean that the person who works the machine has to know what he is doing, must know of this possibility, and must watch out for it and do the job properly.

The second one, a theoretical objection, is that there may be alcohol retained under dental plates in the mouth. This is of no importance at all in practice. The third one leads on to a point made by the right reverend Prelate, and that is that this machine reads off on a dial. The best of these machines is the breathalyser, there is no doubt about that—at least, I think there is no doubt about that; one is always open to scientific correction. This machine reads on a dial the percentage of alcohol in the breath. The patient has to breathe into the machine; a sample of lung air is collected in the machine; this immediately affects a chemical and produces a colour change, and this works a photocell which, in turn, works a dial—and, believe it or not, it is a highly accurate machine. However, it does not in its present form collect a spare sample, or two spare samples.

Under the Food and Drugs Acts—and Clause 2, of course, is operated under the Food and Drugs Acts—the normal procedure is for each specimen to be divided into three parts. One part is retained by the police, one is handed to the public analyst and one is offered to the defendant for him to have it analysed if he wants so to do. Now this happens where these tests are done at present, and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, pointed out, they are fairly frequently done. At present, the specimen, usually of the urine, is offered to the defendant, but he never bothers to get it analysed because, apparently, courts do not pay a great deal of attention to the tests anyway. So at the moment he does not bother. But when the penalties are much heavier, then defendants may well desire to exercise this right, and it is proper that they should. But I understand that the breathalyser can be adapted so as to yield two spare samples of air, one for the police to retain and one to be offered to the defendant for him to get analysed—it might be by the A.A. or the R.A.C. maintaining a laboratory, or something of that sort—in order to be able to check on the official analysis.

The machine itself is really very good, but the subject must co-operate. He has to breathe into the machine, and if he does not blow out properly the reading may be rather low, simply because the air will not come from the depths of his lungs but only front higher up, where the equilibrium with the blood is not complete. However, this error favours the defendant, and therefore I do not think we need worry about it so much. In so far as the machine reads wrongly because the person is not co-operating, it simply means that we get a lower reading and it helps only him; it does not help to get him convicted.


May I ask the noble Lord one question? He knows much more about this subject than I do. Is it not a fact that in Scandinavia the use of the breathalyser has been given up?


No; I do not think so. Indeed, I think that in Denmark a simplified breathalyser is used as a routine screening method. What happens is this. The defendant has to breathe into this machine, and if the figure is under 50 milligrammes he is all right. If it is over 50 milligrammes he is offered a month's suspension of licence or, alternatively, if he prefers it, he can have a blood test. If he has a blood test and the result is over 150 milligrammes, then he goes to prison for two to three months. Needless to say, almost everybody accepts the breathalyser result and has a suspension of licence for a month. So not only is it used, but it is used extensively and as a routine screening machine—and that is a more primitive and earlier model than the present ones that are available.

The machine has also been extensively used in Toronto and in Basle, and in both cases with great success. My noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger was referring to results in Toronto based on these machines. These machines are very accurate, provided that three conditions are observed. The first is that the machine is properly standardised. The British Standards Institution could easily lay down standards for this machine. Secondly, it must be properly used by a trained technician; and by that I mean a person who has been technically trained to use it. Thirdly, it must be properly serviced and tested from time to time, as the reagent in it wears out after a little while. It would be most unwise merely to issue this machine to police stations with a book of instructions, and to tell the police to get on with it. The scheme must be organised extremely carefully and properly. Therefore, I again feel that there should be provision for regulations, bearing in mind that this instrument will have to be operated by a great many different police forces thoughout the country and that we want to make sure that it is done really properly, in the interests of the defendant, in the interests of justice and also in the interests of science in relation to the law.

Now, secondly, there are the tests on blood. These are open to only one theoretical objection; that is, that very often when doctors are going to take blood from a person they clean the skin with a little alcohol. They rub the arm with alcohol and throw away the swab, and they could, in theory, leave some alcohol on the skin and collect it on the needle as it goes in and as the blood comes out. In practice, this is not very important, and it can be completely avoided provided that there is a standardised kit for the collection of blood whenever that is to be done. That means that these kits must be issued from one or more places. For example, the forensic science laboratories already issue the containers for urine, and they do it perfectly adequately and properly. But, again, we have to be sure that a doctor is not just called into a cell in some rather gloomy police station at 3 a.m. on a Bank Holiday morning and asked to collect the blood with an ordinary syringe, and trust to luck. That is not good enough: we must have a standardised procedure for the collection of blood.

Next, there is the analysis itself—the analysis of the alcohol in the blood. There are 200 different ways of estimating ethyl-alcohol (and ethyl-alcohol is ordinary alcohol) each of which has its own, individual slight error. In the Bill, your Lordships will see that this is to be done by the public analysts. They are public officials, scattered up and down the country, who do the routine analysis of food and drugs. In my view, the proper people to do it are the forensic science laboratories, of which there are already a few, and perhaps a few public analysts. The forensic science people have already standardised two methods: one for using a very small quantity of blood and one where a large quantity is available. But there is no guarantee that the public analyst would use one of these well-standardised methods. He might use, and would be perfectly entitled to use, any of the 200 methods, each, again, with its own individual source of error. Therefore, again we want regulations, or machinery to make regulations, to control the techniques used, according to the best standard method, so that everyone does it in the same way.

Further, there is what is known as the analyst's error. There is an error inherent in all scientific work, and analysts make slight errors and their results vary. But the interesting thing is that this decreases with experience. Therefore, no analyst should be asked to do such tests just occasionally. He should not be asked once in a while to come in and do a blood alcohol test when he has been doing a lot of routine food work, and then not do another blood alcohol test for six months. That would be most undesirable. If we are to have reliable results, the tests must be done by people not only trained but experienced, and continually experienced. Again, it emphasises how important it is to concentrate this work at relatively few centres, whether at centres run by the public analysts—and the excellent centre at Glasgow is run by the public analyst—or by forensic science laboratories. I hope the Minister will look very carefully at this to see how we can best do these tests in order to guarantee that the analyses are really well done. I hope regulations will prescribe not a generality of centres but specific centres at which these tests will be carried out.


My Lords, might I interrupt the noble Lord? It has been stated that in certain conditions of health the taking of blood can be dangerous to the person from whom it is being taken. Can the noble Lord give me his view on that? I say it has been stated; I am not expressing that view myself.


My Lords, I have never heard of it, apart perhaps from one possible case: the haemaphiliac; the person who is a continual bleeder. They are immensely rare, and assuming they are in a position to give consent, would always say, "I am a haemaphiliac". That kind of person has to be very careful whenever he has a tooth out. That would be the only conceivable case I can think of where there would be danger resulting from the taking of blood.

Now I come to the test based on the urine. The theoretical objection to this is that the urine may have been in the body for a long time before the specimen was passed at the police station. Supposing the patient has not voided urine for four or five hours; it may represent, in theory, something which had happened three to four hours previously in terms of blood alcohol. That is the theoretical objection. In fact, this objection is not true. I thought it was a valid objection until yesterday, but I have since checked up on this matter and I found that what in fact happens is that alcohol in the urine very quickly equilibrates with the alcohol in the blood through the blood vessels in the walls of the bladder. That is a most extraordinary thing, but it is so. Agreement between the specimen passed at the police station and the blood is very high indeed. Indeed, so good is it, and so easy is it to obtain a specimen of urine, that where this work is being done regularly it is very seldom necessary to take a blood specimen, and reliance is very largely placed on the urine specimen. I am sure this is quite satisfactory provided the points I have already mentioned about the analysts are rigidly enforced, and provided there are special containers supplied both for the specimen for the laboratory and far the specimen for the accused, if required.

I am not going to comment on the question of the subject's consent or on the possibility of obtaining a specimen without explaining why it is wanted, because these are matters for common sense and not for anybody speaking technically. But I must say that I myself agree with noble Lords who want to see these tests made compulsory. I cannot see much objection to it. I do know that great difficulties arise when a doctor is asked to take blood from a person who is dead drunk and is supposed to obtain that person's consent before he does so. It is really an impossible position and it would, I think, be best if these tests were compulsory; though I should add it will be very seldom that blood is required.

For some reason, the Bill describes urine as water. This is not only Grundyesque but technically dangerous. In the United States, saliva, which might be described as a form of body water, is used in tests for alcohol, and I am advised that it is not accurate. Therefore, it is desirable that the Bill should be precise and honest in this respect and should describe urine as "urine".

Now I come to the question of the clinical examination. I think it is necessary and desirable, in the public interest, to retain clinical medical examinations, recognising their very grave limitations and hopeless imprecision when it comes to precise definitions of drunkenness. Their value is only to exclude other conditions which may cause confusion, and it is frequently the case that these other conditions are pleaded, as a defence against drunkenness, without justification. The person may have a head injury and may look as though he is drunk. He may be suffering from hypoglycæmia as a result of an overdose of insulin, or having missed his sugar. He may even just have influenza and appear drunk. It is often said by the defence that the defendant has been given drugs by his doctor.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord's most interesting speech? Would he tell us whether or no drugs, tranquillisers, and what I think the Americans call "pep pills" are shown in any of these tests?


They are not shown in any of these tests, but they may cause impairment of driving. It would be necessary to devise quite special tests to detect the taking of tranquillisers, but they may cause definite impairment in driving if they are taken in large doses. The Americans take very much more notice of them than we do, and they are beginning to find definite effects from these tranquillisers in terms of reduced efficiency in driving.

The police do not like these medical examinations, nor do the doctors, for three reasons. First, they are imprecise. Secondly, they often occur at two or three o'clock in the morning, especially at holiday times, and it is no fun for a doctor to be called out on a Bank Holiday and be asked to examine a drunk. Thirdly, doctors inexperienced in court work often get a tough time from the defending counsel. When they go to court, having reluctantly got out of bed to tell the police whether a man is or is not drunk, very often defending counsel says: "Did you ever apply Herxheimer's test?", and the doctor confesses that he has never heard of it—nor, indeed, have 99.9 per cent. of the doctors heard of it—and the doctor is made to look a fool in public. The result is that the police often have to ring ten or more doctors before they can find one to come and look at an alleged drunk.

The simple answer is for the police in every area to pay a proper retaining fee to one doctor, who is the police surgeon and who does this unpleasant work regularly. Some police forces do this; some try, but cannot get a doctor. Some, I am afraid, are too parsimonious to do it, and try to rely casually on getting a doctor on the telephone. Before the National Health Service was introduced, police surgeons were a universal phenomenon for all police forces, because they looked after the health of police officers. But now the police officers are entitled to care under the National Health Service they do not need the police surgeon in the same way; they need him only for the medico-legal work. I think it is desirable, in the interests of justice, that we should get a public system of examining these people clinically, just to make sure that non-alcoholic conditions are not being confused with drunkenness.

Before I conclude, I would pay tribute to the work of Professor Drew and his colleagues on the Medical Research Council for their excellent report, to Professor Wayne and his colleagues on the British Medical Association Committee, which has done a first-class job, to Dr. Havard, of the British Medical Association, to Dr. Grant, of Guy's Hospital, and all the others who have helped me, at any rate, to collect some useful information on this subject.

If I may sum up, the tests are well worth doing, in the interests of both justice and road safety, provided that they are properly done. Everything turns on this. The tests and equipment must be standardised. Those who do the tests must be trained. The results must be expressed in a standard way. If these precautions are taken, the courts will find the tests of very great value, public confidence in the validity of the tests will soon be established, and few will dare to drive a car if they have taken more than two halves of beer or two small whiskies.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I shall not detain your Lordships for long. Most of what I was going to say on this Bill has already been most ably said by many noble Lords. However, I make no apology for once more referring to our old friend, Clause 2, which is probably the most controversial in the Bill. I am in agreement with the taking of these tests. I think that they should prove of great value to the courts in reaching their decisions; but I hope, as my noble friend Lord Teynham suggested to the noble Earl who is winding up the debate, that the Minister will give, if possible, a figure for guidance to the courts rather than the loose term in the Bill at present. I would not advocate an arbitrary figure, above which a person was deemed unfit to drive and below which a person was deemed fit to drive, but rather a figure based on the borderline case, which would give the court an indication of the value to be placed upon the reading of a figure, whether a percentage or the number of milligrams per millilitre.

I am in doubt in my mind about whether these tests should be compulsory. I am rather driven to think that they should be, because that would then remove what to me is an aspect of this clause which gives rise to much anxiety. Where a person refuses to take a test, unless reasonable cause thereof is shown the court may treat this refusal as supporting any evidence given on behalf of the prosecution, and, even worse, as refuting any evidence given on behalf of the defence with respect to his condition at the time. To my lay mind, that seems to strike at the root of justice as we know it in this country.

There are other aspects of this Bill on which I should like to comment, but I feel that the Committee stage is the right and proper time for that, as those points are more detailed and can be discussed as we go through the Bill clause by clause. I should like to go to Clause 15, subsection (1), dealing with driving instructors. Subsection (1) shows that the Minister intends to make arrangements for compiling and maintaining a register of persons approved by him as qualified to give instruction in the driving of motor vehicles", and also provides for money to defray the expenses of initiating and carrying on this register. I think that this whole idea as a means to better driving and road safety falls down by not being compulsory. I feel that any person who sets up as a driving instructor should pass a test to obtain his qualification.

I think I am right in saying that, at the present time, a person can take his driving test tomorrow morning, and, provided he passes and can find a client, he can go out in the afternoon of that very day as a driving instructor. Surely that is not the intention of the Minister or, indeed, of Parliament. I feel that anyone who has what I might call the presumption to try to teach others to drive should himself be proved to be a better driver than the rather elementary test which we all now have to undergo proves him to be. It may be said that the administrative difficulties and financial cost of this would be large, possibly insuperable. But for many years the Royal Automobile Club has run a comparable scheme. A number of instructors and driving schools carry the plate, "R.A.C. Approved Instructor". I feel sure that this body does not issue such approval without a pretty thorough test, and I am equally certain that they would not have initiated this scheme and continued to run it if they had found great administrative difficulties or a great financial burden. Therefore, I should like to see Clause 15 provide that registration should be compulsory for everyone setting up as a driving instructor.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I hesitate to say a word, especially as I shall not be here on Monday, but with the permission of my noble friend Lord Derwent I should like to give one impression which I feel that your Lordships would like me to mention. Without in any way suggesting that the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2 are not of vital importance to the country and to the traffic problem, we should not conceal from ourselves the fact that we are dealing here with a small number of the accidents which are recorded in the figures contained in this booklet.

I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when he said that we must remember that it is the design of our roads that is primarily responsible for the appalling losses which we suffer due to serious accidents. While on this subject, I feel that it is proper to mention speed limits, because one point which has not been mentioned in the debate to-day is the speed limits which exist on the throughways in the United States and which are varied at certain times of the day. This is a point which I believe is well worth considering.

But the final and most important matter, which I do not think has been mentioned to-day, is the problem of parking or halting of vehicles on highways. This Bill, as I see it, would be greatly improved if more teeth could be put in the existing powers which the police have to interfere with the careless parking or halting of vehicles on the highways. I would refer to the debate which took place in November, 1959, in which I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 219, col. 359]: I believe that the problem of vehicles parked on narrow roads, or on any road for that matter—what Americans call 'on the pavement'….—calls for special measures, measures as fierce as the attacks which are now being made on the drunken driver. I said that two years ago, and I still say it to-day. I believe that the really dreadful accidents which occur are preventable—and that is my point. We have all seen the complications which arise in testing for alcohol in the drunken driver, and so on. But I believe that a more intensive campaign, bringing home to drivers the dangers which arise from vehicles parked at corners and on bumps, and in bad weather with dirty reflectors and dirty tail lamps, is something which would lower the heavy loss caused by serious accidents.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, for the first time in twelve years in your Lordships' House I start with the phrase "at this late hour", not because I think it is a late hour, but because the Chief Whip has told your Lordships that there is no dinner for you here until I finish speaking.


Or after.


I gather that there is no dinner here after I finish speaking. May I start by referring to one or two things that have already been said and, first of all, to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin? He must have heard me purring on these back Benches when he said that one of the main causes of accidents was the inadequate roads. But he went on to complain that it is difficult to get statistics that are worth having about accidents. There are, on the other hand, certain statistics which are available, either from the Ministry or, in some cases, from local police forces, to show the extraordinary reduction in the number of accidents brought about by the improvement of roads or the building of new ones. Those figures are available and they are quite startling. So far, it is the only method that has been found which makes a serious contribution to this road accident business. Less easy to prove, but I think probably almost as important, is the improvement in the design of motor vehicles. As the designs improve, so accidents are reduced.

I should like to say a word or two about the attacks that have been made from all parts of the House on magistrates' courts. I feel that my noble friend Lord Chesham, although I am sure not deliberately, somewhat confused the issue. When one is talking about prosecutions and convictions for dangerous driving, there is some support for his argument. But to introduce prosecutions and convictions for careless driving, and then to refer to the very small percentage in which licences were suspended, means nothing at all, because careless driving varies from something that is almost a technical offence to something that is almost dangerous driving. It is for that reason that magistrates would be quite wrong, in my view, if they took away the licence in a great number of cases. Therefore, to quote an average number of cases in which licences are removed in the case of careless driving means nothing at all and is really no help to your Lordships in making up your minds on the subject.

To the relief of your Lordships, I may say that I am not going to talk about Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. That should, I feel, be left to other noble Lords who will speak on Monday and to those who have medical or legal experience. I should have had certain questions to ask, but I must say that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, answered all the questions that I wanted to put, and therefore I can save your Lordships a considerable amount of time. I am glad that the noble Lord brought up the question of "water". When I saw that water was to be given at these tests I wondered if it was from the brain. It means nothing at all. How genteel can we get! I suppose there is a precedent for this use of the word "water" instead of "urine", but this Bill may become an Act of Parliament; and if we mean urine, we should say urine. If we do not say urine, and if I am "run in" and asked to have a urine test, I shall refuse, on the ground that it is not in the Act. I hope that the Government will see their way to put down this Amendment to save the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and myself from putting it down.

My real objection to the Bill is Clause 3, which, as your Lordships know, must be read in conjunction with the First Schedule. I agree with much that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said here. As drafted, this clause and Schedule are going to lead to great unfairness, and in certain cases to extreme and unnecessary hardship. In the First Schedule, Part II, there are a whole lot of paragraphs dealing with offences that either are or can be purely technical. In their aggravated form it is quite likely that the prosecution would be brought not under those paragraphs but under paragraphs 8 and 9, for dangerous or careless driving. These are the offences that can be technical; and in some cases they are technical, and no more. The first is paragraph 10, speeding. I was rather loth to put that in my list, but the law on speed limits is in such a mess than I think I can include it. Take the case of a clearway, a road on which no stopping is allowed and on which the Minister wishes to speed up the flow of traffic. If a motor coach driver, so as not to speed up the flow of traffic, performs the criminal act of driving at 35 m.p.h., that can be one of his three offences in three years. But in that particular case it is really nothing more than technical.

The next one is paragraph 12, failure to comply with traffic directions. I went among the new roundabouts and works in Hyde Park in a taxi one very wet night a week ago. My taxi took the wrong turning. We went round and round, and found ourselves going the wrong way. There was every excuse: I sympathised with the taxi driver. He was very red in the face about it, but he did not obey the instructions to go in a particular direction. I do not know that one could blame him. But, again, that might have been his second offence under this Bill. Then there is paragraph 13, which deals with leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position. That can be an extremely serious offence; or it can be largely a technical offence and a matter of opinion. Paragraph 14 deals with failure to comply with a requirement to proceed or not proceed in a specified direction or along a specified part of the carriageway. That need not be very serious. In Birmingham at the moment, where they are reorganising the whole of their streets and rebuilding, it is impossible to find out in advance which way the one-way streets are operating this week, say, without going to the City Hall, because there is only one map of the works. If you make a mistake in Birmingham at the moment (I know there are signs, but it is heavy traffic), there is every excuse. All the local inhabitants make mistakes; and I am told that not long ago a police car was seen going the wrong way down a one-way street because the day before it had been one-way in the other direction. That might be a third or fourth offence under this clause. The next one is in paragraph 15, which refers to the London Traffic Area and to the same offence, failure to comply with the direction in which you are supposed to go, and so on. That means Hyde Park Corner and the rest.

Then paragraph 16 says: … contravention of regulations made for purpose of experimental traffic scheme in London … by a failure to comply with a requirement to proceed or not to proceed in a specified direction. … You know your London well, but perhaps the authorities have an experiment and it is the first day. You make a mistake, and that is another offence, although still largely technical. If you are driving carefully, there is no reason why there should be any danger. Paragraph 18 refers to contravention of pedestrian crossing regulations. … That, again, may be serious, or it may be merely parking a foot too close to the pedestrian crossing. It may not be in a dangerous position, and it is therefore technical. Paragraph 19 deals with … failure to obey sign exhibited by school crossing patrol. … Sometimes that is also rather difficult in foggy weather. The offence may be technical, or it may be serious. No. 20 says: … contravention of order prohibiting or restricting use of street playground by vehicles. … That is a "tricky" one in some areas. Finally, there is No. 23, which speaks of: … contravention of Act or regulations made thereunder) committed in respect of a motor vehicle otherwise than by permitting the vehicle, in contravention of the Act or regulations made thereunder, to stand on a road which is provided with a system of street lighting furnished by means of lamps placed not more than two hundred yards apart. My Lords, I have read this new paragraph over and over again, and since I still cannot make out what it means, it is no good trying to explain it to your Lordships. But again, it is probably quite a technical offence.

Some of your Lordships may drive, as I do, up to 10,000 miles a year. Some of your Lordships may drive 3,000 miles a year. I doubt if some week-end motorists drive 2,000 miles in the year, whereas professional drivers, such as coach and lorry drivers, may drive 30,000 or 40,000 miles a year. The more mileage you do, the more likelihood there is of your committing a technical offence. Drivers, particularly these coach and lorry drivers, go from city to city, some of which are extremely confusing, and some of which are not well signposted. One of the offences may be simply that a tail light has suddenly failed.

It is no good saying that if a driver who commits three of these offences (which, as I say, may be technical offences) in three years, has his licence taken away for six months it is no punishment. That is not true in the case of a professional driver: it is a punishment. No authority is given to the magistrates to use their discretion in this matter, because Clause 3 says that the court must take away a licence for six months unless, for special reasons, it thinks fit to order otherwise. How can the court "think fit to order otherwise" when it is already laid down that three offences in three years means automatic loss of licence? I think those last words have been put in simply as a sop to Lord Chancellors, including the present noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack. Whenever there has been an attempt by any Back Bencher to introduce an Amendment for a minimum penalty for an offence, every Lord Chancellor has risen in his wrath and said, "You cannot have such a thing in the English courts." Yet that is exactly what you are having here. It is no good saying that it is not a punishment—it is.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that part of Clause 3 and the whole of Part II of the First Schedule ought to be re-written, so that while for dangerous driving the penalty should be loss of licence automatically, for the technical offences loss of licence should still be at the discretion of the courts. I think we really have to look at Part II of the First Schedule again on the Committee stage.

May I briefly refer your Lordships to Clause 4? This is the clause which says that, when there has been a suspension of a licence application for its restoration must be made to quarter sessions. If there has already been an appeal, and the appeal has been heard by quarter sessions, then I would agree. But if the magistrates have taken away the licence and the driver is to be allowed a right to apply for its restoration, I think application should be to the court that heard the original case. If it has to go to quarter sessions, it increases the costs to the driver, and the quarter sessions know nothing about the case. They do not know the reasons why the licence was taken away. I feel that the present system, whereby a man goes back to the same court, is the right one.

May I refer to Clause 10 (1) (b), which is the clause allowing the Minister to put minimum speed limits on roads? In principle, I am not against giving the Minister those powers, but I think in this country we ought to be told a little more of what is in his mind. It does not apply to motorways, because special roads are excluded from this provision, and the slow traffic has already been excluded from the road, but I cannot visualise, in this small country, where there is not very much room for additional roads, quite when this power can be used. It was suggested to me that it was the intention of the Minister to use it on clearways, which are roads on which you cannot stop. I do not think it could be used on any of the existing clearways, because they all pass through farmland and, unlike motorways, they do not have underpasses when they go through a farm. You would therefore have to allow a tractor on the road going from one part of a farm to another. If you are going to have a minimum speed limit you cannot have the tractor on the road. You cannot even have a bicycle, and if there is no cycle track it may be impossible to go from point A to point B by bicycle. I think we are entitled, before giving the Minister this power, to know what his thinking is. I say no more than that.

In the same clause I think the maximum penalty of £50 for this particular offence is rather high. That is a matter of opinion, but I cannot visualise somebody deliberately going slowly on a road on which there was a minimum speed limit. If he did do so deliberately, then he ought to be prosecuted for dangerous driving. But I think a fine of £50 for this offence in error, shall we say, is rather high. I think all the other things I want to say about the Bill can better be said on the Committee stage. I hope that when my noble friend comes to reply to this debate he will have something to say about the re-writing of Part II of the First Schedule, otherwise he is going to have to spend a very long time on the Committee stage with the hundreds of Amendments I will put down. He may be able to satisfy me, and I hope he will. I am told that this debate was to finish at 8 o'clock—it was said publicly from the Front Bench. In that case, I have done my duty.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Shepherd, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Lucan.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.


My Lords, thanks to the co-operation of my noble friend Lord Dement, we were able to stick strictly to schedule.