HL Deb 11 April 1967 vol 281 cc1171-271

3.4 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee acordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 2:

Breath tests

2.—(1) A constable in uniform may require any person driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test there or nearby, if the constable has reasonable cause—

  1. (a) to suspect him of having alcohol in his body; or
  2. (b) to suspect him of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion.

(2) If an accident occurs owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, a constable in uniform may require any person who he has reasonable cause to believe was driving or attempting to drive the vehicle at the time of the accident to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test—

  1. (a) except while that person is at a hospital as a patient, either at or near the place where the requirement is made or, if the constable thinks fit, at a police station specified by the constable;
  2. (b) in the said excepted case, at the hospital;
but a person shall not be required to provide such a specimen while at a hospital as a patient if the medical practitioner in immediate charge of his case is not first notified of the proposal to make the requirement or objects to the provision of a specimen on the ground that its provision or the requirement to provide it would be prejudicial to the proper care or treatment of the patient.

(4) If it appears to a constable on a breath test carried out by him on any person under subsection (1) or (2) of this section that the device by means of which the test is carried out indicates that the proportion of alcohol in that person's blood exceeds the prescribed limit he may arrest that person without warrant except while he is at a hospital as a patient.


moved, in subsection (1), to leave out all words after "nearby" to the end of subsection. The noble Baroness said: In the absence of my noble friend Lord Royle, who is unavoidably engaged elsewhere, I beg leave to move this Amendment. I think the Committee will be well aware of what the effect of this Amendment would be. It would enable a policeman to stop a motor vehicle on the road and apply a breath test to the driver even in circumstances in which he had no previous suspicion that the driver had, as the Bill says, "alcohol in his body". In other words, it reintroduces what was in the original Bill, a system of random tests; or, at any rate, it gives power for random tests.

It is now commonplace that the real deterrent to any offence is not so much the severity of the punishment as the certainty of detection, and it therefore behoves us, when we create a new offence, to consider how certain we are that those who commit this offence will be detected. Unless there is power to impose random tests, we shall be in the absurd position of creating a new offence and at the same time making sure that a large number of the people who commit this offence will go undetected. It may be said that if a driver is driving in a perfectly satisfactory way there is no reason why he should be stopped and given a breath test. In that case, the logical thing to do is not to create this offence at all. If we are going to judge simply on the question of whether a driver's driving is impaired, then there is no point of adding this new provision that it is an offence to drive with more than the prescribed limit of alcohol in the body. If we are to make this new offence, we ought to make sure that we have the means of ensuring that it will be detected.

All this was realised by the Government in the earlier Bill and in the White Paper which preceded it. What the Government said then was—and I quote from paragraph 32 of the White Paper: The Government have given very full consideration to these problems and have come to the conclusion that roadside screening tests are desirable if the new law concerning driving with more than a prescribed level of alcohol in the blood is to be properly enforced … Later on, they said, in paragraph 34: These proposals are drastic. … The proposals for dealing with the minority who refuse the test may seem severe but without them the law will not work. That was the view expressed little more than a year ago, and I ask myself why the Government have changed their minds, and in particular why my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has changed her mind.

I think that if we study what the Minister said, when introducing this Bill in another place, it will become apparent that she has not changed her mind, but has changed her policy, which is another matter. What she said was this: I myself do not accept that there is anything unfair about an entirely random test. I do not believe that the mere fact of being required to take such a test would count, as has been widely alleged, as a social stigma. But we must be realistic about this.…it did convince me that enough people thought we would in some sense unjustly persecute completely innocent motorists to make me think again. It is on the basis of this analysis of public opinion … that the Bill has been changed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 7/11/66, col. 985.] The Bill was therefore changed because of the powerful opposition which came both from motoring organisations and, as the Minister said, from the public at large as well, but not because the Government no longer believe that random tests are necessary in order to ensure detection of this offence.

What reason have we, other than public opinion, for changing? My right honourable friend in another place suggested that she was going to give some additional reasons, but after reading her speech carefully I find that her whole change of mind apparently rested on the question of public opinion. Public opinion says that this is a persecution of innocent motorists. And we build up this image of people being stopped and required to blow into a bag—something which, somehow, is regarded as humiliating, as inconsistent with our dignity as citizens, and as an invasion of our personal liberty.

There are two things to be said about that. The first is that the invasion of our personal liberty is enormously exaggerated. This cry is raised every time a citizen is required to perform some new function or to complete some new form. All experience goes to show that we quickly get used to any new requirement of this kind, particularly if it does not pick out one special section of the community which will thereby perhaps acquire a stigma. The second thing to be said is that it is not necessary that these random tests should be widely ap plied; indeed, it might not be necessary for them to be applied at all. The Amendment lays no obligation on the police to make random tests: it merely gives them the power to do so. Just as it is found in relation to speed limits that a notice saying, "Police cars are patrolling this district", has as beneficial an effect as the actual sight of a police car, so the fact that a person can be stopped and asked to check the amount of alcohol he has consumed will have a highly deterrent effect, merely because there is the possibility of his being stopped.

I want to move this Amendment mainly on the ground that it is still the opinion of those who are responsible for this Bill that it will eventually make for more efficient working if the power to take random tests is preserved. We ought not, merely in deference to a loud public out-cry—the same sort of outcry that we had when parking meters were first introduced, though now we are all used to them, and do not mind—



Well, they are very widely used. The mere fact that there is a strong public outcry is not adequate reason, when introducing a new offence, for making no provision for the bulk of the people who have committed the offence to be detected. It may be said that if they are driving quite properly there is no reason why they should be stopped. But the answer to that is that a person may be driving perfectly well in easy circumstances, and the whole point of introducing this new offence is that when a person has more than a certain amount of alcohol in his body he is unable to cope with emergencies as quickly and effectively as he ought. The object of this new offence is to pick up a person whose driving does not show the influence of alcohol at the moment but who, if he is faced with a sudden emergency, will not be able to cope with it. Therefore, if we are going to create the offence—and I hope I have persuaded your Lordships that it is an important addition to our protective laws about drunken driving that we should have it—we ought also to introduce a power to make detection effective when the offence has been committed. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 30, leave out from ("nearby") to end of line 33.—(Baroness Wootton of Abinger.)

3.14 p.m.


I very much hope that the Government will feel able to accept this Amendment. Before I speak to it, I suppose I should declare an interest, a non-financial one. I belong to a Church which is officially teetotal. I understand that there are some factual aberrations, but strictly speaking I belong to a teetotal Church. It is not upon that basis that I am arguing for this Amendment; it is because I sincerely believe that unless it is found acceptable in your Lordships' eyes and becomes part of the Bill, then the Bill will be disabled in one of its essential characteristics.

I have taken the opportunity of discussing this matter with various official bodies in the Churches, one of which I can in some respects represent, and I am confident that there is a widespread feeling on the part of the Churches that the Bill should be taken much more seriously than the Bill without the Amendment would give the appearance of, being serious in a matter where there is a grave and increasing toll of life. Without being solemn or sanctimonious about it, I do not think any Members of your Lordships' House who have anything to do with travelling on the roads will not have seen fairly recently a serious accident. I travelled along one of the main highways at about 70 m.p.h. I did not exceed 70 m.p.h.; I had, so to speak, a salutary reminder, in that I was driving to conduct a funeral. But I was passed repeatedly in the fast lane by cars travelling at what must have been between 80 and 90 m.p.h. This was not an occasional thing; it was repeated. On the way back, towards closing time, I passed a great many public houses and hostelries, outside which were large car parks almost entirely full with cars.

I believe that among those who take even a moderate amount of alcohol—and this is implied in all the provisions of the Bill in this respect—there is a high degree of probability that, among those who are travelling beyond 70 m.p.h., and those who will be driving home after their time in public houses, there must be many who are taking the risk because they believe that they will not be caught.

There is one limpid and completely clear declaration in the Highway Code: "If you drive do not drink; if you drink do not drive". In all the various circumlocutions and complexities of statements issued on behalf of Governments, this is one of the clearest and simplest. I believe it is because it is so simple that there are many who believe they will be deprived of alcohol intake, and for that reason pressures have been brought to bear—I cannot vouch for this, but it is my strong opinion—in order to exclude the random test from this Bill. I hope it will be reintroduced; and, what is more, I believe that most people would have little sympathy with any complaint about a deprivation of liberty such as would be involved in a random test. Furthermore—and this seems to me to be one of the most important clauses in the Bill—if it is true that 49 per cent. or a larger percentage of accidents have at least some ancillary if not major causation in drinking, then it is our responsibility to see that in this Bill this particular evil is dealt with, even if it means a temporary reduction of the individual freedom of those who wish the amenities of the world in which they live without accepting the responsibilities.

I connot see why the policy should have been changed. There has been no evidence given by the honourable lady who was responsible for the passage of the Bill in another place, nor by those who would seek this particular exception from the original draft. I would end by making the comment, which seems to me entirely relevant, that if a test is possible only when there is a supposition that the crime has been committed, or is about to be committed, it seems to me that it will put an intolerable strain upon the constabulary who are responsible for trying to interpret what is now completely imprecise and is, therefore, unacceptable. I very much hope that this Amendment will be accepted.


I hope that this Amendment will not be accepted by the Government. I listened with interest to the arguments advanced by the noble Baronesss and the noble Lord. Quite what the noble Lord's reference to vehicles passing him travelling at 70 miles an hour has to do with this particular subsection I am at a loss to see. I came down the motorway this morning, and very few cars indeed travelled beyond the legal speed limit. I do not think this has any relationship at all to the question whether or not someone is driving when affected by drink. I am sure that most noble Lords are agreed that that should be stopped, if stopped it can be. The penalties for driving when affected by drink are very heavy indeed, and should be a great deterrent. I believe that it is a deterrent which is operating more widely throughout the country now than perhaps it has in years gone by.

But I am not quite sure from what the noble Lady said whether she really wants the police to occupy their time in taking random tests and thinks that that will be effective, or whether she wants them introduced because she thinks the possibility will be such a deterrent that it will still lead to a diminution of the offences. Bearing in mind the heavy penalties involved, I do not think that if there was a possibility of police contables making random tests that would add appreciably to the deterrent. Also, I am against random tests by the police. In these days there are many people who want to stop you when you are travelling along the road; and there have been cases known of people wearing police uniform when they should not. I think we want to be fairly careful about giving statutory rights to people to stop vehicles travelling along the road.

Having said that, I would add that I am not at all happy about the wording of this particular subsection. I rise to ask the noble Lord to look at it with a little more care, and particularly at the words in paragraph (b). It is made an offence in Clause 1(2) for a person to be in charge of a vehicle "having consumed alcohol as aforesaid". But when one looks at subsection (2) one sees that the police constable is not given power to make a breath test of a person in charge of a vehicle. I do not understand why that should be so. He is deliberately not permitted to do that.

Supposing he comes across a car which is stopped in a parking place and keeps it under observation (I think that is the correct phrase) for some time and sees the people all enjoying a lunch, perhaps on their way hack from Aintree if they have any winnings to celebrate, and after that he goes to the car. It is not moving and no one is attempting to drive it, but there is someone in charge of it and he would like that person, and would think it right for; him, to have a breath test. Even if he has reasonable grounds for suspecting him of having alcohol in his body, this subsection does not give power for a breath test to be applied; nor, so far as I see it, does the rest of the clause.

Then, what about the words in Clause 2(1)(b)? He can apply a breath test to a person driving, or attempting to drive, a vehicle if he has reasonable cause to suspect him of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion. What about the case of a car which stops on a clearway? The actual stopping on a clearway is, I believe, an offence. Would it be said that that offence was committed while the vehicle was in motion? The offence was committed by the vehicle's stopping, not by its being in motion. Then the constable goes up to the driver; and presumably, as the man is neither driving nor attempting to drive, because the vehicle is stationary, he cannot take a breath test. Surely the wording here needs to be looked at again. I should like it to be considered, even at this late stage, although I should certainly like paragraph (a) to remain in—if a police constable has reason to suspect a man of "having alcohol in his body", as for instance if he sees a man come out of a public house at closing time. Then I certainly think he ought to be entitled to have a breath test applied.

I would just say to the noble Lord that in these days a lot of people patronise public houses not just for the purpose of getting liquid refreshment but also in order to get food as well. I myself should like paragraph (b) to be reworded and to be extended. I think that the words while the vehicle was in motion are completely unnecessary; and it should suffice to say to suspect him of having committed a traffic offence". Then, thirdly, I should like to see this subsection extended so that it applies to persons in charge of a vehicle where they have been driving or attempting to drive.

3.25 p.m.


May I intervene for a few moments, in view of the fact that both my noble friends who have spoken in support of this Amendment wish to know in a little more detail the reasons for the Government's change of mind in regard to this clause of the Bill, and the relation of this Bill to that previously introduced? I think we are dealing with, and should regard this Bill as tackling, a moral and social problem. I could not help but remember, when the noble Lord, Lord Soper, was speaking and he referred to himself as what is called a teetotaller, that my father was beenone of his band very many years ago. He became a teetotaller because he had seen the savage effects of alcohol among the working population of the North. It was a very serious matter. It was not so many years ago—some 150 years—that a woman was flogged through the streets of Inverness for taking alcohol in excess. It was with the First World War that we saw the State public houses established in Carlisle to deal with a grave problem that was having its effect on our war effort. But alcohol to-day as a social problem has pretty well disappeared. If we see a drunk to-day our attitude generally is one of disgust, and in some cases pity.

We are now dealing with the effect of alcohol as a form of drug on the ability of the driver, and we are seeking ways in which we can reduce accidents. Therefore I would suggest that it is essential that our legislation should broadly be acceptable to the public. This does not mean that we appear to run away from our views. The Government still believe—and I hold this belief myself very strongly—that the most logical and all-embracing deterrent clearly lies in random tests. If I may say so, I do not agree with the views expressed (not in your Lordships' House) that a random test is an intrusion into civil liberty, because as motorists we accept a number of regulations, and we accept them because they are good for safety.

However, if we have random tests, I think we should recognise that we have a limited police force. In fact the figure I have is that for this type of testing, the breath test, we shall have throughout the country some 9,000 policemen. These are the policemen who are in motor cars or on motor cycles and therefore are carrying their equipment. We shall have this force to deal with a very large traffic community, and it might well appear that random tests would become more a form of lottery in the sense of whether one is picked up by the police. I think there is a fear—I would not put it too high, but there is a fear—that if the public accepted this form of random test as a lottery, one of the consequences would be that people would have a feeling of sympathy for the person who had been detected and prosecuted; whereas we believe—and I am sure the Committee would accept this—that there should be a social stigma on a person who is found guilty of this offence of driving, having consumed alcohol in excess of the statutory limit, in the same way as there is a social stigma on someone who is prosecuted and found guilty under the existing legislation.

The Government changed their minds in view of a number of factors, one of which I have mentioned. We should be reluctant to see this new measure accepted by the public as a form of lottery, and perhaps sympathy then being extended to the person who had been arrested and convicted. The police, as we know, are under considerable pressure. As I have said, some 9,000 police sure will be involved, and although this Amendment would give the police a permissive power I think we should expect the police to undertake random tests efficiently. I believe this would place a great burden upon the force and it might well mean that they would not he able to perform their existing duties as efficiently as they now do.

I would say to my noble friend that the police, in their normal duties to-day, stop some 2 million vehicles in the course of a year, and, as the noble Lord will be aware, under the provisions contained in this Bill if the police were to stop a vehicle for any purpose and were to suspect the driver of having alcohol in his body, then a breath test could be taken. Therefore I think the noble Lord would accept that, taking into account the figure of 2 million, there is a considerable random element in the Bill as it is now drafted.

I think we should take the view that we want to see enforcement and detection, because this is one of the biggest deterrents, but to find a way in which the greatest and most effective result will arise. After careful reflection we believe that, in view of the size of our force, the duties that are already placed upon it and the size of this particular problem, there should be a concentration upon the moving offence, of which there are some one million in the course of the year. So we are now getting somewhere near the figure of 2½ million or perhaps 3 million ocasions on which the police are in contact with a driver in connection with a moving offence, and some one million are normally stopped for questioning. We are in contact with a large percentage of our drivers in this country, and I suggest that the person who is guilty of a traffic offence is more likely to he a person affected by drink than otherwise. Therefore there is a degree of selectivity in this, and, I believe, a greater equity.

As I think noble Lords know, the police have power, under Section 223 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, to stop any vehicle in any circumstances, but the Government have made it know that we do not believe that the police should stop vehicles—at least at this stage—merely to see whether the driver has been drinking. We believe that by selectivity we can have a greater impact. It it not only detection that is important in forming a deterrent, but also the penalties that are involved, and these we shall be discussing later on. We believe that we have struck the right balance. We freely admit that we have changed our minds, but we believe that in some respects with our limited forces we shall get a far higher result. However, I say this to my noble friends. When this Bill becomes an Act we shall be watching it with the greatest care, and if it should be necessary to make changes we will make them; but we feel that we should see how it progresses and what effect it has on the major problem.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, raised one or two points which I will certainly consider. If I remember rightly, he referred to the clause dealing with the person who is in charge of the vehicle. I think it was subsection (2) of Clause 1. This was a matter we discussed last week. If the noble and learned Viscount will refer to subsection (3), he will see that we are making a special effort to encourage the driver who believes that he has more alcohol in his body than he should have to pull on to the wayside and then to seek means of relieving himself of the responsibility of the vehicle. We believe this is a sensible move, be cause, clearly, if we can persuade people to stop driving when they believe that they have had too much to drink, it is far better than that they should continue.


May I interrupt the noble Lord, because I should like him to consider this point? It is true that subsection (3) deals with the defence that can be put forward. I was dealing with proof of the commission of the offence defined in subsection (2), and I thought one would require to have power to take a breath test where there was reasonable cause for suspecting that offence to have been committed.


I was coming to that. It is perfectly true that under subsection (1) of that clause we do not make use of the breath test. As I understand it, the police officer would have power under the Road Traffic Act 1960 to take the individual into custody if, in his opinion, the person was under the influence of alcohol; and, of course, this particular Bill, when it became an Act, would apply so far as the maximum concentration of alcohol is concerned. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, then raised the question of the vehicle that stopped on a clearway. Of course that is an offence, and I can see that it can hardly be described as a moving offence. As the noble and learned Viscount will appreciate, paragraph (b) was put in to limit the occasions on which the police would seek to make a breath test.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Apropos of that, a car could hardly stop in the middle of a clearway unless it had been in motion, so I think that argument could hardly apply.


Yes; but if the policeman finds a vehicle that has stopped in the clearway I think the offence would be that it had stopped there, and therefore it would not be a moving offence. But I will certainly look at this point and also at the noble Viscount's suggestion that the words "was in motion" should be taken out of the subsection. I will see whether it would be right to make an Amendment.

I hope my noble friends will feel that the element—and there is a considerable element—of random tests in this Bill is right in this particular instance, and that by selectivity we can be more effective in the detection of these particular offences. Therefore, accepting the view that random tests might in the end be the right decision, in the present circumstances, with a new piece of legislation and with the police forces that are available, hope that noble Lords will agree to withdraw the Amendment, on the undertaking that the Government will give the most careful consideration to the manner in which this legislation works. Certainly it would always be open to noble Lords who are interested in this matter to ask questions on future occasions in this House as to the working of the Bill.

3.41 p.m.


May I ask my noble friend a question about the interpretation of subsection (2)(a)? That allows a constable to make a test if he has reasonable cause to suspect a potential driver of having alcohol in his body. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred to the possible results on roads where large numbers of cars are parked outside roadhouses. In my part of London there is a very popular public house which has large numbers of cars parked outside every night; it is a common sight. Would it be possible for the police, under paragraph (a), to make a spot check on people emerging after conviviality? If you spend an evening in the public house with your friends surely you are likely to have alcohol in your body. You may have eaten cheese sandwiches and drunk lemonade, but that is the exception. If it were possible, under subsection (2)(a), to do that spot check outside roadhouses and such places, we should have gone some way towards the kind of spot check that many of us want. People carousing in these places would be at risk at closing time.

Not long ago my daughter passed our "local", which is very popular, and a mini-car full of young men pulled out in front and went off, zigzagging at speed, with the young man next to the driver being sick out of the window. That sort of thing happens. I do not want, in this free country, to preclude my fellow citizens from spending an evening in a public house drinking with their friends, but I should like to provide them with a very strong incentive to do it at the local pub to which they can proceed on foot.


May I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether it is really proper for us to be discussing the wording of a subsection when the Amendment is that the subsection should not stand part of the Bill?


I am not the Leader of the House. We have an Amendment in front of us, and there have been occasions when one does tend to go wide of the Amendment; but it is really entirely up to the Committee how they conduct this particular Amendment.


The Amendment is not an Amendment as to whether the subsection should stand part.


I wonder whether my noble friend would deal with one other point. What is the position of the driver who is stopped when apparently driving perfectly well and is asked to take a breath test and refuses, and says to the constable, "You have no right to stop me because you have no possible suspicion, or reasonable cause for suspicion, that I have alcohol in my body". Would not that be a good defence?


The answer is no, because the policeman has a power under the Road Traffic Act, Section 223, to stop any vehicle at any time for any reason. This is when paragraph (a) comes in. Following that stopping, if the policeman suspects that the person stopped has alcohol in his body—shall we say from the smell—then he can require the individual, the driver, to undergo a breath test.


My point about the interpretation of paragraph (a) has not been answered. If it would allow the kind of spot check that I have suggested at closing time outside a popular pub, we might feel rather differently about the Amendment.


I think at the discretion of the police officer clearly that could be done.


May I ask the noble Lord, in considering, or reconsidering, the words to which my noble and learned friend has drawn attention, "vehicle in motion", to bear in mind the fact, which I believe to be the case, that those words were particularly inserted in order to avoid the test being able to be applied for mere parking offences? I think it would be a very retrograde and unfortunate step if that particular provision could be brought back into the Bill. Subject to that, I should like to support the Government in inviting the Committee to reject this Amendment.

I listened with great care and attention to the speech of the noble Baroness in moving the Amendment, and the view I was forced to form was that it was a retrograde action on her part. She was virtually proposing the reintroduction of the effect of the Bill as it was originally introduced. It was as a result of the second thoughts the Government had concerning the provision in the Bill that they came to the conclusion that this alternative form was preferable. The noble Baroness herself indicated that the change of mind of the Government was directly due to public opinion, and she seemed to think that that was a bad thing to follow. But I would commend it to the noble Baroness as something which is not at all a bad thing to follow, and if public opinion is with the Government in this, the Government are probably well advised to stick to their guns.

The particular reason why I support the Government in this matter is purely practical. There are something like 11 million vehicles on the roads—up to that number at any one time—and it is going to be utterly and totally impossible for the police forces of this country to man sufficient road blocks to create any effective deterrent by means of random tests. It just is not a possibility, and it will bring the whole concept of this particular provision, which we all support, into disregard and disrepute, because people will know that the chances of their being caught on a random test are so remote that they are utterly disregardable. It is a fact that a law which is bound, in its operation, to miss the target more often than hit it is bad law and brings disrepute on itself and on those administering it.

Another aspect of the matter is that in the Automobile Association recently we did a bit of market research among our own members as to the number who drink when or before driving. We carried out an experiment with 2,000 people all over the country. It will be of interest, I think, to your Lordships to know that, out of those 2,000 people, 50 per cent. for one reason or another did not drink when they were driving. A large proportion of them, I should imagine, were in fact, like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and also like my own father, teetotal. But in addition to those there were a substantial proportion who quite deliberately declined drink if they were going to drive. On top of that, of course, there is the very substantial proportion, amounting to a majority of the balance of the driving population, whose alcohol consumption when they are driving is minimal and produces far less than 80 mg. of alcohol in 100 ml. of blood. This emphasises the fact that, even if these random tests were found to be possible, the number of people who would he caught in such random tests who would be committing this offence of having an excessive amount of alcohol in the bloodstream would be very small indeed. And, as I say, it could not be sufficient to amount to a deterrent of any sort.

On the other hand, I would confirm the figures that the noble Lord has given with regard to the number of occasions upon which the police have converse with motorists, for one reason or another, during the course of the year. Those are the moments and the occasions when the police should be armed with this power to issue a challenge by means of a breath test. I say that because the normal effect of alcohol upon the human being is to give him a sense of excessive confidence or exhilaration, and if a person in charge of a motor car is, for one reason or another, caused to have an excessive degree of self-confidence or exhilaration the probability is that he will then commit a driving offence—he will either jump the lights or will take a chance in crossing the white line, or he will drive carelessly or recklessly. It is upon those occasions, whether they have led to an accident or not, when the police can properly stop him and challenge him, that the police should have an opportunity of applying the breath test and when they are most likely to achieve results.

It is for those reasons that we would submit that the provisions in this Bill are far more likely to achieve the result we all want, which is to stop people from driving when they have an excess of alcohol in thier bloodstream. It is for those reasons that we would commend the measure as it stands before Parliament at present, and ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.

3.53 p.m.


This question of random tests is, I believe, far the most difficult question we have yet had to consider. I have a good deal more sympathy with the point of view of the noble Baroness who moved this Amendment than have the other noble Lords who have opposed it. Nevertheless, on balance, I believe that the Government are right in this Bill in limiting the power of the police in some such way as is here suggested, though I have one comment in addition to those that have hitherto been made.

I found myself in absolute agreement with the noble Baroness in being one of those who are not in the least morally shocked by the idea of random tests of this kind. I think I am at least as keen on individual liberty as most Members of your Lordships' House, but I do not find the idea of individual liberty outraged by these proposals, even if the Amendment were accepted. Nevertheless, I think the Amendment should not be accepted. I notice that in the Second Reading debate somebody suggested that nobody objected to having his fingerprints taken; but that, as we know, is quite untrue. The idea that everybody should give his fingerprints, while it might be extremely useful to the police, and while it is a measure to which I should not have the least objection, does excite tremendous public opposition; and I believe that, however logical the noble Baroness and those who agree with her are in saying that there should be such a power of random tests, public opinion will not accept that until they have a good deal more information on the working of this reform than we have at present.

I have no doubt that the Government, in coming to their change of mind and doing away with the random tests as originally proposed, consulted the police and other people whose opinion is entitled to carry weight, and that the present proposals are based on their considered conclusion. I think that the noble Baroness was amply justified in moving this Amendment, by the most emphatic arguments that were put forward in the White Paper. The Government admit that they have had second thoughts, and they have, I think, given good reasons for them. Other noble Lords have pointed out that a great many people may still come within the ambit of the words that the Amendment proposes to leave out, under one or other of paragraphs (a) and (b). I think that is right and desirable. Some criticisms of the wording have already been made by my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne and should, on that ground, be carefully considered.

There is one other possible criticism of the words to which I think nobody has yet drawn attention, and I hope it will be considered. The words are: if the constable has reasonable cause… (b) to suspect him of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion. Everybody has assumed, in discussing this, that it refers to a recent traffic offence; but of course under the words as they stand, it need not be recent at all. It could be an offence of exceeding the speed limit three years previously. It seems to me that that would come within paragraph (b) as at present drafted.

I hesitate to suggest anything for the defence of motorists that has not yet occurred either to the R.A.C. or the A.A. Nevertheless, it seems to me that this is a point of some substance, and I hope, therefore, that when the Minister in charge is looking into this wording more carefully he will consider whether some time limit regarding the traffic offence referred to in paragraph (b) is not required. Subject to that, I greatly hope that the noble Baroness may find it possible to withdraw the Amendment. If she does not, I shall, without much hesitation, vote with the Government in opposing it.


Some of your Lordships may remember that I had originally added my name to this Amendment, but on consultation with the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and on thinking it over, I have withdrawn it; and although I have a little sympathy for it, on the whole I think I shall now oppose it. My chief reasons are merely that, first of all, we want to get the Bill through quickly without any opposition from the public; and, secondly, the last thing we want to do is to create bad relationship between the police and the public. I think there is a possibility that the result of this Amendment might do just that. I agree that it would be entirely unreasonable, and that the police are always very good at using their discretion, but there are a number of people who invariably think that when the police interfere with them on any grounds whatsoever they are being extremely annoying. Therefore, on the whole it would not be a good thing if we were to pass this Amendment. By all means let the police stand outside the car park of a public house and examine each car as it comes out. That is all right under the Bill, for they would then have reasonable cause to suspect the driver of having taken alcohol, and I do not think anybody could object. However, I consider that random tests on the road are a mistake.

I should like to say something in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, who during the Second Reading debate on this Bill accused those of us who were opposed to alcohol of having a rather puritanical approach to the subject. That is not our approach at all. Certainly I would be as good a drinker as anybody if it were not for an extremely misguided doctor who forbids me to be so, and I certainly would enjoy a drink just as much as the noble Lord does. But I would not drink before driving. It is merely on the grounds of safety that we are opposing it.

4.2 p.m.


As one of those to whom the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, referred—namely, as one who would feel outraged if asked to give a random test—I feel it is fair that I should say that I oppose the Amendment for that reason. With due respect to the noble Baroness, I do not agree with her argument about its not being offensive that the police should be given the option of selecting individuals to test at random. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, has indicated how great is the random power under the Bill as it stands, in his reference to misdemeanours which would cause an individual to be stopped. He did not mention the offence of exceeding the 30 miles an hour limit, which is probably the first thing that somebody who comes out of a public house car park would do if he has had too much to drink.

I oppose the Amendment first of all for the reason, which I believe to be important, that this would be an unreasonable interference with the liberty of the individual. If indeed some sort of random test were to be applied, would not the right way to do it be to close the entire traffic at random and test everybody in the traffic so stopped—drivers, pedestrians and cyclists? Although that is a perfectly logical way of taking random tests, I do not suggest that it is feasible—in fact it would be quite impossible to implement.

While on the subject of pedestrians and cyclists, I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred to a figure of 49.6 per cent. of accidents in which alcohol was a contributory factor. I wonder whether the noble Lord would check on that figure. Speaking from memory, I believe that that was the figure for Christmas, 1961, or whenever that research took place, and that that figure—it is a horrible one—includes drunken cyclists and pedestrians. However, when the figure is spread over accidents throughout the year as a whole, it is very much less—I think the percentage is a single figure. It must be remembered that during the Easter week-end the number of fatal accidents on the roads was less than the figure for any similar period throughout the year. I am not for a moment suggesting that the taking of alcohol is not a contributory factor in some accidents, and I am as opposed to it as anybody. Indeed, I would ask noble Lords not to allow themselves to drift into the position of arrogating to themselves the belief that those who oppose this Amendment are not as revolted by drunken driving as they are.

Another point, which the Lord Chancellor made long ago and which was emphasised during the Second Reading debate, was that whereas the provisions of Clauses 2 and 3 as they stand lay down certain specific scientific tests, it is proper that some actual fixed limit of alcohol content in the blood should be laid down as that at which juries and magistrates should convict. It is therefore proper that this provision should be in the Bill. But I do not think it is proper that this random testing should be applied, for reasons which many noble Lords have already stated and which I will not repeat, such as the pressure on the police and the danger of thuggery, which is too common, with people dressing up as police and misleading the public for nefarious purposes. Another factor which has not been mentioned is whether sufficient doctors would be available if the police were enabled to pull in thousands more suspects. That is very doubtful, in view of the figures which were given by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, showing that only a small percentage of ordinary motorists would be caught. Certainly if there were any increase it would place a severe strain on the medical profession.

Reference has been made to relations between police and public, relations which have already been seriously strained through traffic offences, although the strain has to some extent been reduced by the work of traffic wardens who have taken traffic duties from the police. That position would again be upset by this random system, which many people like myself would regard as unreasonable interference with the liberty of the subject. Furthermore, the relationship between police and publicans is already somewhat tricky in many places, and we do not want to do anything which will further increase this strain. So long as the publicans have a clear understanding of the situation, then the police will be able to rely upon their support. This would reduce the risk of drunken driving, for which this Amendment seeks to introduce the random test. For these reasons I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her Amendment, but if she does not I shall be one of those who will vote with the Government, who I believe have done the sensible thing.


It is not often that I find myself more in close association with ideas expounded by the other side than with those which are put forward by my noble friends on this side of the House; but on this occasion I certainly oppose this Amendment. I believe that I was the only member on this side who on Second Reading spoke against the idea of random tests which this Amendment now seeks to introduce. As was mentioned by one of the right reverend Prelates during the Second Reading debate, many people have developed the social habit of going to "the local" to have a few drinks and to spend a convivial evening there. Statistics tell us of the very high death rate on our roads to-day and of the steep increase in accidents during the time when the public houses are about to turn out. I think that there is a lot to be said for going to "the local" for an occasional drink, although I suppose that I am one of the most moderate drinkers in the House.

The B.M.A., the Medical Research Council, and all the advice which it is possible to obtain, indicate that if a person has only the prescribed degree of alcohol in his blood—80 mg. in 100 ml.—he is quite safe. If that be so, why should we accept the idea put forward by the movers of the Amendment, that a policeman should have the right to pull up any motorist travelling quite normally along a road in order to ask for a random blood test? Surely it is right that if the police have reason to feel that there is more than the prescribed degree of alcohol in the bloodstream of a motorist, giving rise to a danger that the reflexes of that individual will not be normal if there is an emergency, they should be able to stop a driver as prescribed in the Bill, rather than that the police should stop a driver who is travelling quite normally along a road, without giving any ground for suspicion that he is under the influence of drink.

If we accept this Amendment we are suggesting that the social habits of our people are completely wrong, and that the best way to deal with the whole matter is to stop the production of whisky, gin, beer and so on. That might be a more honest way of dealing with the matter. But it is absolutely impossible to advance an argument of that description, and therefore it is much more reasonable to adopt the phraseology which is in the Bill. I do not find so much objection to paragraph (b) of subsection (1) as was advanced by the noble and learned Viscount. Lord Dilhorne, when he was arguing about the question of a car in motion. I do not think paragraph (b) can be divorced from paragraph (a). Paragraph (a) gives a policeman power to require a test if he suspects a motorist of having alcohol in his body, and paragraph (b) gives him power to require a test if he suspects a motorist of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion. There is something to be said for those words, because as magistrates we have all had to face up to the difficulty of a prosecution being brought when a person, who has probably had the key of the car in his pocket, has been deemed to be in charge of it. I think that paragraph (a) gives a policeman sufficient power to deal with any person whom he suspects of having too much alcohol in his blood, and paragraph (b) covers a traffic offence while the vehicle is in motion.

I should like to recount an accident which I had some little time ago. I was travelling along a road at one o'clock in the morning, after a constituency engagement, when four youths, having come out of a club at the end of a dual carriageway, and obviously being under the influence of drink, came right across to my side, and there was practically a head-on collision. It is a miracle that no-one was killed. Those youths had undoubtedly had quite a large quantity of drink, but the police had no power to take them to hospital for a blood test. As a matter of fact, an ambulance came along, with a view to persuading them to get into it but they refused. First, they got in, then they got out; but ultimately they refused to go. In that case the police were absolutely powerless, although there was an offence. Paragraph (b) gives the police absolute power to insist that a test should take place. If someone refuses to have a breath test the police can take him to a hospital, or to any place designated in the Bill, to have the other test. Therefore I do not think there is much need to give further consideration to any weakening of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of Clause 2.

Having said that, I should like to point out that we should not like to go down as a Party of absolute killjoys. If we leave the Bill as it is it will be a greater incentive to the driver of a car to regulate his consumption of liquor when with his friends than if we were to say to him, "If you do so-and-so you are liable to a random check the whole of the time." As the clause is now worded, that a constable must have reasonable cause to suspect, it is sufficient to meet the needs. As I have indicated, when people are having a night out it will be for the driver to say, "Now I can have a certain amount so that I am not just a white elephant at the feast. I can take some active part in the proceedings, moderating myself accordingly." That is the common-sense way of getting the large body of motorists to treat this Bill with respect, with a view to getting a better measure of safety on the roads than there is now. If we try to be too dogmatic, we must remember that experience has proved that there is a natural reaction against any repressive Act which we try to enforce. But the Bill as now worded is calculated much more to keep the good will of the people as a whole, and I hope that my noble friends will not press this Amendment to a vote.

4.17 p.m.


In rising to support this Amendment, I want to make only one small point. There is a great deal of loose talk about the limitation of liberty. But we have a great deal of limitation of liberty in some matters. Every time we come back from the Continent we are quite prepared to have our baggage opened. Nobody cries out about it and says, "How monstrous it is that we should be exposed to our baggage being opened! What a terrible, detrimental limitation of liberty!" We have accepted it as a fact. Constantly, as one goes down the road one is asked to stop for a census of the number of cars passing by. But we do not have a dislike of Customs officials or people who stand at the roadside for sensible reasons. We have come to accept that, as any reasonable Englishman will accept a sensible limitation of liberty. There is a vital question at stake here. We are now dealing with mass murder on the roads, and anything which can help to prevent this is surely worth a certain amount of limitation of liberty. Therefore, in view of the seriousness of the situation, I feel that we ought to be prepared to accept that and I support this Amendment.


Having slept off my after-lunch brandy, I now want to attack my noble friend Lord Popplewell. I like both liquor and driving, but I do not think they mix, and the only way I know of stopping myself from mixing them is to frighten myself sufficiently. I think that this applies to most of us, and the random check is no more than a very good way of frightening us and making us behave in a sensible and human way. I have not been able to take part in any of the earlier debates, but we used to debate this from the other side and we never thought that we should get as far as this in five years. I am delighted that we have nearly got there. We have now got the breath tests going, or very nearly, and they are accepted by almost everyone. I have no doubt that spot checks will be necessary within two or three years and will be accepted, if they are not accepted now. They are entirely sensible, entirely reasonable and, I fear, entirely necessary. If the Government do not give way now it will not make all that difference, because I think they will have to give way in a year or so. But I would rather they gave way now.

4.20 p.m.


I hope your Lordships will allow me to rise to support this Amendment. I will try not to detain your Lordships long, because I spoke at length on Second Reading; but your Lordships are tolerant, I think, of repetition of views which are strongly held. Personally, I very much regret that the Government have come to the decision to substitute their present proposals for the original proposal that there should be random tests.

What are we really contrasting? We are contrasting with the Government's present proposals a system of random tests which I should have thought would operate roughly in the following way. Of course, it would be for each chief constable or chief officer of police, according to the requirements and the characteristics of his own area, to decide how he would use the power reposed in him, if it were reposed in him, to institute random tests. Speaking for myself, I envisage that the way in which most chief constables would go about it would be something like this. He would choose in his area roads well frequented by traffic; he would, at different times and in different places, put a small detachment of mobile police, and would require them, for a period of, say, two hours or three hours to stop passing vehicles purely at random—perhaps every hundredth or every two-hundredth vehicle, according to the density of traffic—with no sort of system and in circumstances in which it would be perfectly obvious and plain to every onlooker that there was not the least imputation made against the motorist who was stopped that he had given any reason to suggest he had con sumed too much liquor. It would obviously be, as its description is, a random test. The motorist would be waved down; he would be asked to take the test (and, as I ventured to say before, I have done it myself; it takes under half a minute), and if the result was satisfactory he would be waved on.

I ask myself: can anybody violently resent treatment of that sort? The noble Lord opposite who spoke against this Amendment said (I think I quote him correctly) that he would be outraged if he were subjected to a test like that. Of course I accept unreservedly what he says, but I ask him to reflect as to whether that is a reason which is wholly rational. Drivers of commercial vehicles have to undergo random tests. Why is it so outrageous to require a private motorist to undergo a random test, yet not outrageous to require a lorry driver to do so? Anger on his part I think we should all regard as somewhat unreasonable. I am bound to say that I can only regard as utterly unreasonable such a reaction of a private motorist who is asked by a police officer, acting courteously and for a very obvious reason—namely, to try to make some impact on this mass murder that is done on the roads—to stop for under half a minute and is then, if the result of the test is satisfactory, waved on.

There would be no amusement on the part of the bystanders. Everybody would know that it was something purely routine, and that no sort or kind of imputation was involved. If that is objectionable, I should have thought that traffic lights were objectionable; I should have thought we ought to repeal Section 233 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, which enables a police officer to stop a car for any reason he thinks appropriate. There are all sorts of interferences with our liberty which by parity reasoning we should regard as totally intolerable. We live together, 52 million people in a crowded island. One of the greatest evils with which we have to contend is the slaughter on the roads. It really is no use saying that it is a terrible thing, wringing our hands and then stopping short of taking what I personally feel would be the effective measure to deal with it.

Would it be effective? I would envisage—perhaps I am wrong—that within a fairly short period of time the expression "random tests" would pass into the vernacular. Everybody would know perfectly well what is meant by a random test, and every motorist who went on the road would know that he might—probably would not, but might—be asked to undergo this test; and over a period of years we should gradually acquire the habit of erring on the side of caution. I believe that would be very effective. If a motorist goes upon the road thinking that he will be asked to be subjected to a test only if for some reason he has (to use the words used in another place) attracted the attention of the police to himself by becoming involved in an accident or committing an offence, he will always, optimistically, as we all do, think, "I can get by with it; I know how much I can take; I will not get into trouble myself." If he knows that if he has drunk more than the permitted amount, however perfectly he is driving, and he runs into one of these check points he will be asked to take this test, I think it would very greatly influence his conduct and the conduct of all motorists throughout the years—I do not say in three months or six months, but over a considerable period of time.

I therefore start with the proposition that that is a very effective way of seeking the objective we have in mind. It is said, "Ah!, but that persecutes" (I think that was the phrase of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne)" the innocent motorist", or it penalises him. That is another phrase I have heard used in the course of these debates. If to ask one of a stream of motorists to stop for half a minute for a very obvious and necessary purpose is to penalise him or to persecute him, then in my opinion, at any rate, language has lost all meaning. I can only describe it as pure hyperbole.


I think the noble Lord is erring on the side of hyperbole when he repeats the phrase, "to be stopped for half a minute". My understanding of it is that no reflection of the alcohol in the blood can in fact be taken for a quarter of an hour, and that the period that the motorist is stopped is considerably more than half a minute. But I am perfectly prepared to stand correction on this point.


I can only say to the noble Lord that I took the test. My recollection may be wrong. If he says that I am mistaken, of course I accept it. I certainly went away with the impression that the reflection began to appear in a very short space of time indeed. I cannot measure it in time, but if I am misleading your Lordships' Committee I can only apologise. I do not think I am, but if I am mistaken then, of course, it would mean that the motorist would have to stay a little longer.

The expression "road blocks" was used. There would be no road block. There would be three or four mobile police officers in uniform—no snooping, no jumping out of dark corners on innocent and unsuspecting motorists—plain for everybody to see. The figure of 11 million motor vehicles on the road was mentioned. What the relevance of that figure is I cannot think. Nobody is going to suggest that you should subject the drivers of 11 million motor cars to these random tests. It is said that this will impose a great burden on the police. If motorists in the course of time become much more cautious about the amount of alcohol that they consume, that will very greatly lessen the burden on the police. If all that is required is two or three random checks at various times—perhaps once a week, perhaps twice a week, perhaps once a month, depending on the circumstances—I really cannot believe that that will impose such an additional extra burden on the police. At any rate, I feel certain that it would be nothing like the burden imposed on the police at the moment by having to contend with the effects of alcohol on drivers.

On balance, I feel myself that we should be greatly lessening the burden on the police. That is one system which I ask your Lordships to envisage. With what do we have to contrast it? We have to contrast it with the Government proposals that a police officer should be entitled to require a driver to undergo a test, first, if he suspects that the driver has alcohol in his body. I do not know what that means. I suppose it would include anybody who had had a glass of sherry or a glass of beer within the last 24 hours, and I suppose that would possibly comprehend one-fifth of the motoring public. This is as vague a phrase as I can conceive. I cannot think of a phrase better designed to be likely to give rise to friction between the public and the police.

That is one set of circumstances. The second set of circumstances is if the police officer reasonably suspects that the driver has commited an offence in a moving vehicle, has exceeded the speed limit, driven in a manner which is dangerous or without due care or attention or with an out-dated road fund licence. All those offences give rise to the powers. The third case is if the police officer reasonably suspects that the driver has been involved in an accident with a moving vehicle.

I would ask the Committee—for one can only really test it in this way—to envisage the kind of circumstances in which a police officer might be called upon or might think it his duty to use those powers. Just think for a moment how it is likely to work out. I hope your Lordships will not think that I am drawing too much on my imagination. In years gone by, I suppose I defended hundreds and hundreds of motorists, often briefed by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, sometimes appearing against the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. So if I try to describe the sort of situations that I can remember arising, I am not really building wholly on fancy. Let us take a typical situation—a wide crossroads. Two motorists approach it slowly from different angles. There is excellent visibility in all directions, if they take the trouble to look. They collide in the middle. It is a case of a couple of crunched mudguards and a lot of outraged feelings. There are the usual witnesses, a mother with a pram, the retired pensioner sitting on a seat, the manager of the local "co-op". They look on, and they wonder how it is that two motorists could have made contact on that wide crossing secretly rather envious of their marksmanship.

On the Continent on occasions such as that I believe motorists are apt to relieve their feelings by roundly denouncing each other as "assassins", "Voyou!" or "Salaud!". It is different in this country. A police officer comes up; he finds each motorist standing by his motor car so indignant with the other that he literally cannot speak, gazing defiance at him without moving a feature. The policeman takes out his notebook and takes particulars. Says motorist No. 1 of motorist No. 2: "He came from nowhere." Says motorist No. 2 of motorist No. 1: "He was going like an express train." Both remarks are nonsense. The policeman solemnly writes it down, and each motorist gives his account. Is it suggested that when tempers are tense, as in situations of that sort, when each motorist thinks he is the most wronged citizen in the whole kingdom, that that is an appropriate time for an unfortunate police officer, doing his level best to do his duty, to bring out this bag and ask them to blow into it? If he does he will give the bystanders a thoroughly good laugh and he will turn the indignation of both motorists, up to that point directed against each other, against himself.

In the name of all that is incredible, to my mind at any rate, this proposal of the Government is put forward with the desire to avoid friction between the public and the police. I simply cannot conceive the police being called upon to undertake a more difficult, burdensome and troublesome duty. Government spokesmen have said (almost apologetically, so far as I can make out, as a reason for abandoning their first proposals to have random tests) that there is a considerable random element in the proposal they now put forward. I absolutely agree. I would describe it as the blind chance of some unfortunate police officer trying to do his duty avoiding running into a hurricane.

Let us consider the situation a little further—I hope that I am not taking up too much time. Take the serious class of accident. Many, unhappily, are the coroners' courts in which I have appeared. I know the frame of mind of a motorist who, perhaps a few days before, has been involved in a fatal accident—a perfectly decent person, perfectly sober, who perhaps has never yet in his life been in the presence of death; or, more likely still, if he has been, never in the presence of violent death. Suddenly an old lady steps from the kerb. He knocks her down with his nearside front mudguard. She is killed. He could not avoid it. He is in despair, as any decent person would be. A police officer comes on the scene. The body is lying on the pavement covered with a rug. Or perhaps somebody, not dead but seriously injured, is there in pain. Is it seriously suggested that this is an opportune time for a police officer to use his random powers to ask a perfectly sober person in that situation to take the test?


Would not the noble Lord agree that that circumstance would arise if the Amendment which the noble Lord is supporting were accepted? Clearly, in that case the police would ask that unfortunate motorist to undergo a breath test. If the noble Lady's Amendment were accepted, clearly the police would still be required to ask the unfortunate drivers involved in the accident to take the breath test.


He will never be required to ask anybody to take a breath test. There is no requirement.


It is a permissive power under Clause 2. The officer must choose his case. But if the powers are vested in him he cannot ignore them. He is not doing his duty if he pretends that the powers are not there. He must conscientiously try to choose a case out of the cases where an accident or an offence is involved in which he is going to use his powers. Sooner or later he is going to get into serious trouble, through no fault of his own, if he tries it on.

I should have thought that the really important power here is the one to ask a motorist to take the test when the police officer reasonably suspects that he has alcohol in his body. One can envisage that sort of situation. I cannot myself conceive an occasion when an officer is likely to find an opportunity to apply that test except when there is an accident or an offence. I cannot imagine that an officer, if he sees a motorist sitting in a motor vehicle stationary at the side of the road, is supposed to poke his head in at the offside driver's window and say: "May I take a whiff of your breath". So I think it will boil down to the fact that the officer will be tempted to use the powers only where there has been an accident or an offence.

Take the kind of person he would have to deal with—and one can test this only by reference to possible concrete situations. A motorist is driving slowly along. He has had something to drink; he is perhaps singing quietly to himself. Then, for a reason for which he cannot account himself, he sails gently into a stationary car that he has never seen. That is the sort of situation. The riproaring drunk does not present any problem; the man who gets out of his motor car and sits down heavily on his posterior on the stone pavement, and perhaps offers to fight everybody in sight—including Jack Dempsey, if he happens to be in the vicinity. An officer arrives, or perhaps two officers arrive, in a police car, and with the minimum of assistance place the man gently in their car and take him off. He has been arrested under existing powers. In such a case I cannot conceive of an officer asking such a person to blow into a bag. It really would be a useless exercise.

But suppose—and I dare say that this is the sort of case the Government have in mind—you have the kind of driver who is not paralytic drunk but who has drunk up to the permitted margin, and possibly over it. When the motorist collides with the stationary vehicle he receives a hard punch in his midriff from the steering column or the rim of the steering wheel. He is feeling rather sick and has sobered up. The officer comes up, and the man gets out of his motor vehicle. He can stand perfectly well. The officer says, "Will you breathe into this breathalyser?" Now and again the officer will find a submissive motorist who will do it. Everybody will have gathered round and will be very amused at watching the motorist do it. He will feel particularly humiliated when he does it, and probably he felt extremely silly beforehand, sitting at the wheel of his car.

More often, of course, the unfortunate police officer will find himself face to face with someone very different from that. He may encounter a bright young business executive who has just come from a successful business lunch and has had one cocktail, only one, because more than one would have been bad for his duodenal; or a self-important, top-heavy person who is quite convinced that he knows far better than anybody else what is good for him, and who has been advised by his doctor to take a glass of stout with his dinner because he tends to be on the anæmic side and suffers from cold hands and cold feet. An officer of three or four years' service asks a man like that to breath into the breathalyser. Everybody is standing round, there is a whole gathering of spectators. They are wondering what is going to take place. I should think that the motorist's answer would be likely to be terse, monosyllabic and possibly with distinct Freudian undertones.

It may be that the driver is a woman. She is not looking her best. Her hat is over her right temple; her lipstick has become unaccountably smudged over her left cheek, and she is crying. Everybody is standing round, and it is supposed that the officer is going to bring out the breathalyser and ask her to breathe into it. I suppose that some joker in the crowd may try to start a book on "whether the old girl makes it". Most people, I should have thought, would feel physically nauseated at seeing a woman subjected to a public indignity of that sort. If she deserves to be punished, let her be punished in court by condign and appropriate punishment. It is not right that she should also be subjected, quite unnecessarily, to a public humiliation.

People who err by taking more than they ought to have taken are not necessarily vicious people—they are probably not. They are probably perfectly decent, ordinary people, who have ordinary human reasons for doing stupid things which afterwards they regret. If the driver is a woman, she may have had a row with her husband; or she may be suffering from toothache or something like that, and she has drunk too much. These proposals of the Government would require an officer to subject that woman in the presence of a crowd "there or nearby"—which I suppose means within a radius of about 20 yards or thereabouts—to the indignity of a breath test in public. I cannot conceive of a procedure more likely to aggravate relations between the police and the public. The crowd would be indignant. They would not be sympathetic with the police. The unfortunate police would be blamed for the mistake which we in Parliament had made by vesting in them powers which it would be utterly unreasonable to expect them to exercise.

Suppose such people do refuse to take the test, as they probably would. Can we really conceive of a young officer of three or four years service trying to arrest, say, the top-heavy, important man because he refuses to blow into a bag? I should have thought it quite unthinkable. Yet this is what the Government are going to put upon police officers. One can perhaps picture a fatherly chief constable giving advice to an officer who has just entered the force. The chief constable might well say: "Look at these powers—well, some of them in Westminster are saying that, after all, if a motorist has attracted the attention of the police to himself he cannot complain if he is asked to breathe into a breathalyser." The chief constable might go on to say, as I think is likely, "Well, you have had nearly a year's service by now, and you will not fall for that. I advise you to go easy with that bag, or sooner or later you will run into an explosion. If you see a man who is drunk at the wheel of a car, and you are sure that he is drunk, bring him in as you would bring him in now." Under Clause 3(7) of the Bill there is a perfectly valid power to require a man to take a breathalyser test at the police station.

I apologise for addressing your Lordships again at length, but I feel very strongly that here the Government have made a bad mistake. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, say that the Government will carefully watch the progress of their proposals and consider in due course (as I understood him at a fairly early date) whether amending legislation ought not to be brought in.


May I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, whether the driver who got the steering wheel in his midriff was wearing a safety-belt?


I was envisaging that he was not or had not been, and that as the car stopped he was thrown violently forward and sustained a bruise, an elongated bruise, across his chest.

4.47 p.m.


Possibly, in his alcoholic stupor, the driver in question had forgotten to do up the safety belt. I want to try to dispel one possible misunderstanding. I thought that when the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was saying that he did not attach great importance to the aspect of this matter which bears on the unreasonable interference with the liberty of the cizen, or whatever term you like to use (on Second Reading I used the term "insult"), he looked at me. This may have been, and apparently was, entirely coincidental, but if this had happened it would possibly have been because on Second Reading I advanced this argument rather more fully than any other. Therein may lie the misunderstanding. I certainly regard it as an argument in the matter, but not as the main argument. I regard it as a valid factor, but I think it can be overdone, and from one or two things which I have heard said this afternoon, I think that perhaps a little too much weight is attached to that argument.

What puts me among those who oppose this Amendment is much more the argument about the waste of police time and the waste of public time. Let no one think that this is a half-minute job. It may take only half-a-minute to blow into the bag but it would take a good deal longer than that to go through the whole paraphenalia connected with such a test. I also think that a good relationship between the police and the public is extremely valuable. But the most compelling reason for opposing the Amendment is that I do not believe that the system of random tests which has been advocated—mostly from speakers on the opposite side of the Committee—would be effective for what we all want to achieve. I say that deliberately because I think that there are very few of us who oppose this Bill or the principle that is involved.

So far as my motoring organisation is concerned, our legal representation service is not available to those charged with driving offences involving drink, and has not been for a very long time. I think that makes my attitude quite plain. But if I thought—and I did think quite strongly—that a system of random tests would be ineffective for the purpose we all wish to achieve, and if I wanted an argument to support that, I got it from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, in what he has just said. For two or three policemen to spend an afternoon picking one car out of a hundred or two hundred and keeping their drivers there for twenty minutes for a test, and then saying there is nothing wrong with them, is no way to eliminate that proportion of accidents caused by alcohol—a proportion that we all want to see eliminated. The policemen are needed where bad driving and dangerous driving takes place, where motorists cross the white lines and jump the red lights, because this is where alcohol is, and not going along the road in the bodies of every one-hundredth motorist.

I suppose that at the argument—to my mind a hollow one—which the noble Lord put forward, tears should have poured from my eyes at the thought of these poor misguided motorists who had been in accidents being bullied by the brutal police. I should have thought that if people are going to accept the risk of being pulled up for a random check, there are going to be many more of the upset ladies and angry gentlemen about whom the noble Lord talked. If there is a deterrent of conscience in this, that should make motorists much more careful. I believe that this test would not be effective. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, for drawing from his expertise and fertile imagination a case which supports my argument. I remain unconvinced, among the opponents of the Amendment.


The noble Lord said that these tests take twenty minutes. If I am wrong, it behoves me at once to offer my apologies to the House. If I am wrong, clearly what I said must be said subject to that correction.


It takes only a few seconds, possibly less than half a minute, to do the physical act of blowing into the tube attached to the breathalyser, and that is no doubt what the noble Lord did when he tried it. But he did not try it in operational conditions on the spot. I think he will find that in the conditions in which I understand these breathalysers are to operate, it is likely that a motorist who is stopped will take anything up to twenty minutes.


That reinforces the argument that I have used of the difficult position in which the police officer is, if he has to impose these tests in the circumstances of strain which I have described, if a motorist has to be kept waiting for a quarter of an hour on the scene of an accident to see the result of the test.


I should like to say a few words in support of this Amendment, for I am an old campaigner in this cause. It is more than thirty years since I first took it up in your Lordships' House and there was even a time when I moved a Motion every year in your Lordships' House on the subject of road accidents. I should like to congratulate the noble Lady on her Amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, it is something to have got this far, to a breath test. I have listened carefully to the whole debate and I have not been convinced by anything said, mainly on the other side of the House, against the effectiveness of the random breath test. I know perfectly well that when I drive into a town in which I have been told that there are unseen police traps, or radar, or plain clothes police patrols, I am much more observant of the speed limit than I should be if I had not had that warning. It need not have made any additional demands on police manpower; they may not have set a police trap for three months. But I am more careful. The same applies to the random breath test. If the noble Lady is going to divide the House, I shall vote with her.

I am not at all impressed by the preponderance, in the Government's defence of their change of mind, of the question of public opinion. I wonder how much it was public opinion and how much it was the motoring lobby. We all know that motoring organisations are opposing the random test; but then motoring organisations opposed the introduction of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit and have opposed most of the major efforts by legislation for increased road safety ever since.


That is not quite true. The motoring organisations have been firmly in support of any method which will improve safety on the roads.


I am not going to argue with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, but when he makes a statement like that, will he please have regard to the facts?


Unless I am very much mistaken, the motoring organisations opposed the introduction of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas and the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on main roads. If they did not, certainly I apologise. But I am a member and I follow their doings. In fact, I once resigned because they had opposed the speed limit.


I understood the noble Lord to say that the motoring organisations have opposed every attempt to bring in measures to prevent road accidents, and it is in connection with that that I suggest the noble Lord should look at the facts.


I certainly did not say that. I said that they opposed almost every major effort to effect legislation. If the noble Lord looks at Hansard tomorrow he will see what I said. That is certainly what I meant to say.


I would remind the noble Lord that the motoring organisations are supporting this Bill.


But they are opposing the randomness of the test. I was proceeding to say that the right honourable lady the Minister yielded to the growls and blandishments of these organisations. I cannot help feeling that it must have been embarrassing for some of the noble Lords sitting on the Government Benches to see a Socialist Minister yielding so readily to organised interests. Surely a Minister should have permanently before his eyes the mental image of the typical motorist. The typical motorist is not the mad-dog driver. He is the cautious, respectable citizen, possibly with his wife and two small children beside him, and the last thing he wants is leniency for the mad-dog motorist, who may suddenly despatch him and his carload to the operating theatre or to the cemetery. I cannot help feeling that the present Minister has been much too attentive to the lobby and in general much too apt to consider popularity.

A moment ago I had in my hand a cutting, which I am afraid I shall have to quote from memory to your Lordships. It was from an interview with the right honourable lady in, I think, the Daily Mail. It said that Mrs. Castle, "in a matching two-piece suit, swung her neat feet into the open second drawer of her desk, and said: 'I am like everyone else. I want to be loved.'" I would assure the right honourable lady that, in the long run, she will be much more loved by many more people if she takes her courage in both hands, has third thoughts, disregards the motoring lobby and reintroduces the random test.


I do not wish to delay the Committee, but I will not be discontented if this Amendment is now withdrawn. I believe the debate has been valuable. I still hold to the propositions that I advanced, and I have not been much impressed by some of the arguments to the contrary. However, I have been impressed by two arguments, and I will briefly repeat them. One is the argument of my noble friend that, as things are at the moment, the administrative difficulties are large and will tend to be cumbrous. I think that is a sound argument, and I accept it.

I am even more impressed by the argument that, under the Bill as it stands, unamended, random tests will be possible in the following circumstances: that any member of the public emerging from a public house and about to enter his car will be subject to a random test, because it will be reasonable to suspect him of having alcohol in his body. This, I think, is a large measure of progress along the road which I should like to see further advanced. In that regard, though I hold to the convictions that I have expressed and am not impressed by the arguments to the contrary, I feel that the contribution of the debate has been to clarify the issue. I hope for better things in the future, and would not wish the Amendment to be pressed now.


We have now been on this Amendment, quite rightly, for some two hours. In view of the large number of Amendments that are on the Marshalled List, I was wondering whether it would be the wish of the Committee that we should conclude our discussion. As to that, I am entirely in the hands of the Committee. I should like to say just this, first of all, to the noble Viscount. I well recognise that the reasons for the word "moving" in relation to offences is to exclude the normal parking offences. I said I would look at this, in the light of what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said on the question of a car that was parked on a clearway. Clearly this needs to be looked at.

As to the time taken for a breath test, I understand that the taking of the breath test, and breathing into the tube, takes something of the order of one minute. But, in practice, in the interests of the person—particularly if, as my noble friend Baroness Stocks suggested, it was someone who had just come out of an hotel or public house—it may well be necessary, in order to get a proper reading, to wait for some twenty minutes so that the amount of alcohol could disappear. It was for this very reason that in another place, on the representations of the Party opposite, we provided for a second breath test in the police station.

I only want to say this to my noble friend who moved this Amendment. There is nothing that divides us, nor, I believe, anyone in this Committee, upon seeing that the provisions of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, are fully implemented. I do not know how many noble Lords are now in the Chamber, but I would say this to the noble Baroness: with regard to random tests, so far as this House is concerned, if we were all motorists, there is not one of us who might not be affected by the Bill as it now stands. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, a confirmed teetotaller, perhaps among one or two, might be entirely free from being required to take a test.


The noble Lord would be—


Let me finish. But if the noble Lord, Lord Soper, was involved in an accident, then he might well have to take a test. So I would ask my noble friends to accept that the Bill, as it is now before the Committee, provides for a considerable amount of random testing. But if you have random testing by itself, it means imposing a duty upon the police which could well have a serious effect upon their other duties. We believe that we should concentrate on those areas where alcohol is most likely to be found; and we believe that that power is to be found within the provisions of this clause. With those few remarks, I hope that, on the assurance I have given that we shall be watching how this Act works, my noble friend will withdraw this Amendment.


I am not going to weary the Committee if the noble Baroness is going to withdraw the Amendment, but I reserve the right to speak if she is not going to withdraw it.


I started off by thinking that these words were restrictive of the powers of the police, in that a policeman could stop a motorist and ask for a breath test only in circumstances in which he had reason to suspect that there was alcohol in the motorist's body. My noble friend Lord Shepherd has almost convinced me that these words are not restrictive, but they are completely meaningless and otiose, and that would be another reason to delete them. My noble friend Lord Shepherd answered the case I put to him—that is, suppose a motorist refuses the test, saying, "You cannot possibly have any reasonable cause to suspect that I have taken alcohol and, therefore, I will not take the test"—by saying that a policeman can stop a car for any reason, and the policeman then quickly says: "As a matter of fact, I did not think your number plate was very clear; I could not read it properly, and I stopped you for that. Now would you please take a breath test?". In that case, these words are simply unnecessary. The power to stop any motorist exists already, and these words should be removed, because they impose a restriction which is not going to be operative.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, was in doubt whether I wanted to impose the random test or whether I merely wanted the power to impose it to be present. It is perfectly clear that if there is a power to stop any motorist and make him take a breath test, this in itself has a considerable deterrent effect. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out, it has a similar effect when there is a notice that police patrols are operating in a speed restricted area. But if nobody is ever stopped, then the thing becomes laughable, and it would be necessary to stop a certain proportion. But I do not think this proportion would necessarily be nearly large enough to create the tremendous burden on the police which has been suggested. I think that that is a gross exaggeration. I have seen many policemen at night walking along who might perfectly well look at the odd car, just as they try the doors of shops and houses to make sure that they are properly fastened.

The type of person whom we particularly want to catch is a very common type of person; namely, the person who drinks and says: "I am very experienced, both as a motorist and as a drinker". And both facts would be true of myself; I have a long history of both. That is the kind of person who says: "I know what I can take. I shall drive perfectly well, and I am going to have so much, and no more." "So much" may very well be more than the prescribed limit, but so long as he has confidence in his own driving he is likely to get away with it, unless some emergency happens when he is caught out and has an accident. This type of person is the type we want to frighten, and I am quite sure that if he knew he could be stopped, even though apparently driving quite well, this would certainly frighten him very much more than he is frightened in present circumstances, or very much more than he would be frightened if there were no power to stop him unless his driving was apparently impaired.

My noble friend Lord Shepherd also said that if it was a lottery, then instead of despising or thinking there was a stigma upon the person convicted, we might be inclined to sympathise with him. That, I think, gives the whole game away, because if we are inclined to sympathise over something the implication is that we might be in like case. No one is inclined to sympathise with the criminal who commits a crime which he has no intention of committing himself.

I am reluctant to withdraw this Amendment, for two reasons. The first is that, after all, the inconvenience and irritation of being stopped and having to take the test is a very small thing and one which we should very soon get used to. The issue is one of life and death. The best inquiry into the part that alcohol contributes to road accidents was the inquiry undertaken in Grand Rapids in America, and it is referred to in the White Paper, of which I gave some details when speaking on Second Reading. On that estimate, if nobody drank anything at all the saving of life by reducing road accidents might be of the order of between 6 per cent. and 10 per cent. If it was only 6 per cent. of fatal accidents, that would be 480 lives, roughly, a year; something approaching 500 lives a year. That is a very large thing to set against the irritations of being stopped on the road and having to blow into a bag.

The second reason for my reluctance to withdraw the Amendment is this. It is perfectly clear from everything that has been said in another place and in this House that it is the opinion, whether the opinion of motoring organisations or of a wider public, that this caused the Government to change their minds. In these circumstances, I think it would be very desirable to have an expression of opinion from this House, as a body, we hope, of persons whose opinion counts for something. However, I will withdraw the Amendment, but only for this reason. I realise that a number of my noble friends on these Benches would not support the Amendment, even though they think it is right, out of loyalty to the Government. I should like my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport to know what this House thinks, but she will not do so if Members of the House do not vote in accordance with their estimation of the importance of the Amendment, if Members abstain or vote against it out of loyalty to the Government. I should like it to be perfectly clear that that is the reason, and the only reason, why I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.14 p.m.

LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (2), to leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and to insert: at or near the place where the requirement is made, or at a police station, or at a hospital where the person is a patient,".

The noble Lord said: I hope that this Amendment will not be debated for two and a half hours. This is an Amendment to the subsection which says that if an accident occurs a constable may require any person to provide a specimen of breath at one of three possible places: on the spot, at a police station, or at a hospital where the person is a patient. I think your Lordships will observe that only the police station has the qualification "if the constable thinks fit" attached to it. I do not understand the point. Is it suggested that a constable would have a breath specimen taken at a police station if he did not think fit? Does it mean that if he takes the specimen on the spot or at a hospital he is likely to do so although he does not think fit? I cannot understand this particular qualification relating to the police station.

In other respects, I should have thought that the subsection as worded was a little difficult to understand. It is rather lengthy. Before I leave the question of the police station, your Lordships will see that there is another qualification: it has to be "a police station that is specified by the constable". One can think of two fairly obvious circumstances. In one case, a very drunk person indeed is bundled into a police car and taken to the police station. Is he to be allowed afterwards to say to the police, "Did you remember under the Road Safety Act to specify the police station to which you were taking me"? The second possibility is, I suppose, that of some sober person who is engaged by the police to drive the suspected person to a police station, probably in his own car. Is any constable going to be so gormless as not to specify the police station to which the suspected person is to be driven? Is it really necessary, therefore, to have the words "a police station specified by the constable" inserted into the Bill? I should have thought not; and, with great respect to Her Majesty's Government, I venture to suggest that to insert, in place of lines 40 to 44, the three lines of this proposed Amendment would make the position as clear as the subsection already does, but in many fewer words. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, leave out lines 40 to 44 and insert the said words.—(Lord Airedale.)


I support Lord Airedale on this Amendment. I hope that my noble friend Lord Stonham, having refused Amendment No. 7 because it was longer than the words already in the Bill, will accept this Amendment, which is much shorter and contains, I think, everything which the clause at present means.


I should be all in favour of shortening the Bill if the intention was only a shortening, a reduction in words, which did not involve any important change in policy. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, was not merely concerned with leaving out a certain number of words, but was in fact concerned, very properly, with altering the circumstances. I do not think, however, that he has given sufficient consideration to the effect his Amendment would have. I would ask him, therefore, to read subsection (2) with me again, substituting his words for those at present in the Bill. It would read like this: If an accident occurs owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, a constable in uniform may require any person who he has reasonable cause to believe was driving or attempting to drive the vehicle at the time of the accident to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test at or near the place where the requirement is made, or at a police station, or at a hospital where the person is a patient. The noble Lord apparently has not realised that what he proposes would actually enable the police to require a patient who is in a hospital to undergo a breath test at a police station; whereas, as the Bill is now drafted, in the words he proposes to leave out, paragraph (a) starts off with the words: except while that person is at a hospital", and then paragraph (b) says: in the said excepted case, at the hospital". In other words, while the patient is at the hospital the test can only take place there and, as the noble Lord is aware, with the consent of the doctor. The noble Lord took exception to the words "police station specified by the constable" and "if the constable thinks fit", and he did not think any constable would be so gormless as not to specify a police station. The person who was thought to have committed an offence might not be gormless, but he might be extremely awkward, and therefore it would be no use if he turned up at any police station for a test; he would have to go to the police station specified by the constable who in fact thought that he might have committed an offence.

I hope I have convinced the noble Lord not only that the words as drafted are right but that if the Committee accepted his substitution it would permit something which I am sure he does not wish; namely, that a constable would then be able to require a person in a hospital to take his breath test at a police station. I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw the Amendment.


I am obliged to the Minister for his explanation. He has not dealt with the usefulness of the expression "if the constable thinks fit" so I will withdraw this Amendment now, and on Report stage I will put down a simple Amendment to omit the words "if the constable thinks fit", and then perhaps we shall get the explanation of them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed this Amendment with Amendment No. 24, as the points are similar. This is the part of the subsection which requires that the police must make known to the doctor in charge of the case that it is proposed to make the patient take a breath test, to give the doctor a chance to object if it would be bad for the patient for the breath test to take place. The Bill says that the doctor must be "first notified of the proposal to make the requirement" for the breath test. I can understand a proposal to take a specimen of breath, or a requirement to take a specimen of breath, but a proposal to make a requirement to take a specimen of breath seems to me to be rather pompous nonsense. I think we might well get rid of the words "the proposal to make". I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 3, leave out ("the proposal to make").—(Lord Airedale.)


I agree that at first sight these words may appear to be somewhat unnecessary, but I hope that when the noble Lord has heard the explanation he will find that they are indeed required. As he would amend this particular subsection, starting at the top of page 3, it would read: … but a person shall not be required to provide such a specimen while at a hospital as a patient if the medical practitioner in immediate charge of his case is not first notified of the requirement or objects to the provision … As the Bill is drafted, it requires the doctor in charge of a patient in a hospital to be notified before the patient is required to provide a specimen for a breath test or a laboratory test. And since there can be no requirement until the doctor has consented to such a test being made, the Bill refers, and indeed must refer, to his being informed of the proposal to make a requirement. If the Amendment was accepted, we should then be referring to the doctor being informed of the requirement. The Amendment would be incorrect, because there can be no requirement until the doctor, having been informed of the constable's proposal, gives his consent, and the words which the Amendment proposes should be left out, however they may appear to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, are essential and must therefore be retained.


I am much obliged to the Minister, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "its provision or". The noble Lord said: Perhaps we might discuss this Amendment together with Amendment No. 26, which is on the same point. We now come to the ground upon which the doctor may refuse to allow a specimen to be taken, and the Bill words it: on the ground that its provision"— that is to say, the provision of the specimen— or the requirement to provide it would be prejudicial to the proper care or treatment of the patient. I think one can envisage here two possible circumstances. In the one case the patient is so desperately ill physically that to clap the machine over his face will imperil his life. In the second case, he has been badly concussed, but is perfectly able to breathe normally, and in fact it would not do him any physical harm to have the breathalyser put over his face. But in this case he must not on any account be disturbed or worried, and the doctor therefore says, "I refuse to allow a breath test to be undertaken in this case". Both those cases, in my submission, are covered by the words: the requirement to provide it would be prejudicial to proper care or treatment of the patient". The words "its provision or" thus become superfluous, and I should have thought they could well be omitted. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 5, leave out ("its provisions or").—(Lord Airedale.)


I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that Amendment 26 is on the same point, and I am glad to consider that at the same time. In the case of both these Amendments the words which the noble Lord proposes to omit concern the right of a doctor in charge of a patient in a hospital to object to the person's being required to provide a specimen for a breath test or a laboratory test if "its provision" would be prejudicial to the proper care or treatment of the patient. The noble Lord thought that if the words "its provision or", were taken out the fact that the requirement was still in the clause would protect the position of the patient. In our view that is not the case. The effect of the Amendment, if we accepted it and deleted these words would be to enable the police to insist on the patient's providing a specimen of breath, blood or urine, even though the doctor in charge insisted that this would jeopardise the patient's recovery or hamper his treatment of the patient. Thus a patient might be so injured that his effort to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test would endanger his life. Therefore we say that the doctor must have the right to object to police intervention in such circumstances.

I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Airedale, will not this time say that the police constable would not be so daft. I do not think he would, but we are making law here, and it is right that the eventualities should be covered. If we accepted the Amendment and relied only on the requirement to provide a specimen, that would not be a sufficient safeguard, because the requirement safeguard is concerned only with the dangerously ill patient where the mere recital of what might be called the police "incantation" would be prejudicial to his proper care or treatment. It would not be enough to protect the patient who is fit to stand the shock of the recital of the requirement but who is not, in the opinion of the doctor, fit to stand the shock of the test. That is why the words "its provision or" and in the other Amendment "its provision" are really necessary, in the interests of the patient.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I am entirely in agreement with the provision, but not about the best way to express it in an Act of Parliament. However I will not press the matter any further. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "on" where that word first appears and insert "conducting". The noble Lord said: Perhaps it would be convenient to discuss this Amendment and Nos. 18 and 21 together. They are identical.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? Would he not agree that No. 13 is also on the same point?


No, I will move 13 separately, if I have any luck with this one. This expression in subsection (4) is "a constable on a breath test". As I said on Second Reading, one is familiar with the constable on the beat, although I do not think he has appeared on the Statute Book; likewise, a soldier on cook-house fatigue. These expressions are not, in my submission, fit for the Statute Book, although they are very good colloquial language. I imagine in dignified language "a constable on a breath test" means a constable conducting a breath test, and that is what the Amendment proposes. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 12, leave out ("on") and insert ("conducting").—(Lord Airedale.)


I am most grateful for the fact that the noble Lord raised this point on Second Reading, because it has given me a foretaste of what he had in mind, and on that occasion he foreshadowed the fact that we should have to do a bit of redrafting on Committee stage. If we amended subsection (4) of Clause 2 as the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, suggests, it would then read: If it appears to a constable conducting a breath test carried out by him on any person under subsection (1) or (2) of this section that the test indicates that the proportion of alcohol in that person's blood exceeds the prescribed limit, he may arrest that person without warrant except while he is at a hospital as a patient. And Amendments 18 and 21 are on the same point. As drafted, this subsection (4) of Clause 2 permits a constable to arrest a driver if the breath test is positive, and "on a breath test" means on the occasion of a breath test. Since the arrest can only take place after the breath test, it is not appropriate to suggest, as the noble Lord's Amendment does, that the arrest is contemporaneous with the breath test, because it is not. For this reason, on the advice of Parliamentary Counsel, we thing we are right in saying "on a breath test", and therefore I cannot accept the Amendment as satisfactory. We must make it quite clear that the two things take place at different times, one, the breath test and, two, providing the breath test goes above a certain mark, the arrest; but they do not take place together.


The noble Lord has not made it very much clearer. Does he mean that if he substituted the words "in respect of a breath test" instead of "on a breath test" that would convey the meaning he wishes to convey? As it is, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that it does not read very felicitously.


I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that it does not read very felicitously. I will certainly look at alternative words—indeed, at his suggestion—between now and Report stage. If we can find a better running form of words to have the same effect, namely, two different operations, provided that is clear we will certainly be prepared to look at the point again.


I am much obliged and encouraged by that last answer. Another possibility, to prevent the chance of people thinking that Parliament was becoming rather illiterate, might be to insert a comma. I know we are not supposed to discuss punctuation marks in discussing Bills, but a comma after "constable" and another after "section" would cordon it off, and it would not read so prima facie illiterately as it does now. That is not a very felicitous expression. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.36 p.m.


This is really a probing Amendment to discover whether, when the Government use the expression "device by means of which the test is carried out", what they really mean is the test. The constable surely is investigating to see whether the test indicates a certain proportion of alcohol in the blood. Surely a long and cumbersome phrase, "the device by means of which the test is carried out" is somewhat superfluous. It can easily be replaced by the single word "test". I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 14, leave out ("device by means of which the test is carried out") and insert ("test").—(Lord Airedale.)


This is another very highly commendable attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, to improve the Bill, for which I am very grateful. But here again the words "device by means of which the test is carried out" are necessary, and we do not think that the single word "test" would be enough. The noble Lord will be aware that the breath test is defined in subsection (1) of Clause 7 as meaning: a test for the purpose of obtaining an indication of the proportion of alcohol in a person's blood carried out, by means of a device of a type approved for the purpose of such a test by the Secretary of State, on a specimen of breath provided by that person". The wording here deliberately follows the wording in the definition, so that the proportion of alcohol in a person's blood is shown by the device. To omit any reference to the device and refer to the test itself would be unsatisfactory, because the definition of "breath test" makes it clear that it does not include the result of a test. That is the important thing; that it does not include the result of a test; it is merely a means of obtaining a result. In other words, it goes above a certain mark, a Plimsoll Line, and that is sufficient evidence for the constable to start the further process of going to the station and having tests. It is only those tests which could be used in evidence, not the breath test. The Bill, as drafted, therefore provides a missing link which would be omitted if the noble Lord's Amendment were adopted. These words really are necessary.


I did not quite understand the noble Lord. Does he mean that "the device" does not refer to the device which is used for breath testing?


I am sorry if I was not clear. What I said was that we deliberately refer in subsection (4) of Clause 2 to "device", and use exactly the same words as in our definition in Clause 7. In subsection (4) we deliberately refer to the device and not to the breath test itself. That is because the breath test carried out by the constable at or near the place of challenge, if I may call it that, does not include the result of the test. That is not evidence. The evidence can only come afterwards, if the test is positive—showing over 80 mg. per 100 ml. Therefore, we must insist on the word "device" and not simply on "test", because it is not a test in that meaning.


I am much obliged. I have put this matter to the test, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.40 p.m.


Perhaps it might be convenient to discuss with this Amendment Amendments Nos. 20 and 23, which deal with the same point. In line 15 we come to the expression: the proportion of alcohol in that person's blood. Surely, the accepted expression is, "the proportion of alcohol in the blood"? I do not think there can be any doubt who is the person referred to, and I beg leave to move this drafting Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 15, leave out ("that person's") and insert ("the").—(Lord Airedale.)


I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that these three Amendments are on the same point, but I am in a position of some difficulty, in that I have a different reaction to the first Amendment than to the two later ones. But I hope that if I give an indication now of my feelings about all three Amendments, when we come later to Amendments Nos. 20 and 23 it will avoid the necessity for a separate discussion. On the first point, where the noble Lord proposes to leave out, "that person's" and insert, "the", as the Bill is drafted the provision which the noble Lord proposes to amend refers to the proportion of alcohol in the blood of the person tested in a breath test. As he made clear, the Amendments would substitute a reference to "the blood". The blood, doubtless, is intended to be that of the person tested, but in our view the Amendments would not make this intention as clear as does the Bill. The advantage of the noble Lord's Amendments, or the disadvantage of the words at present in the Bill, in this case are not apparent to me.

May I discuss the other two Amendments. First, Amendment No. 20. I think there is a good argument for saying that the wording of page 3, line 43, "his blood", is unsatisfactory on the ground that "his" could refer to the constable and not to the person tested. But it would be preferable, in my opinion, to put this right by substituting a reference to "that person's blood" as in Clause 2(4). Exactly the same argument applies, in my view, to Amendment No. 23; that is to say, the substitution of "that person's blood" for "his". If the noble Lord would like to table that Amendment on the next stage it would be acceptable. Unless he has any more powerful arguments in relation to it, that does not apply to Amendment No. 15.


Is it conceivably possible that any learned Judge would consider that it might refer to the constable's blood, and not that of the driver?


As the Cross Benches are somewhat sparsely occupied at the moment, I would have said, Yes.


In order that I may be quite clear, is the Minister hoping that I shall withdraw this Amendment and also Amendments Nos. 20 and 23, when we come to them? Then I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.46 p.m.

LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "he" and to insert "the constable". The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I think it would be convenient to discuss this Amendment and the next Amendment together. These two Amendments both use a pronoun in preference to the noun, and I respectfully suggest that in an Act of Parliament one should be most cautious about the use of pronouns so as to avoid ambiguity. I should have thought that it was an extremely unwise example, in this line and the next, to use the word "he". It would be all right if there were only one character being dealt with by the subsection, but, unfortunately, there are two: there is the constable in line 1, and there is another person called "any person" in line 2.

When you come to line 16, with which this Amendment deals, "he" refers to the constable in line 1 of the subsection; but the "he" in the following line, in the line referred to in the next Amendment, refers to the other person. I should have thought that there was every reason for substituting "the constable" for "he" in this Amendment, and likewise accepting "that person" for "he" in the next Amendment, so as to place the matter, as the late Lord Birkett used often to say, "beyond a peradventure". I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 16, leave out ("he") and insert ("the constable").—(Lord Airedale.)


I should have thought that there was little risk of the word "he" being misinterpreted, but the noble Lord has put his argument with such force that I would recommend your Lordships to accept this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 8, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Airedale.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3:

Laboratory Tests


(6) A person shall not be treated for the purposes of section 2(1) of the 1962 Act or subsection (3) of this section as failing to provide a specimen unless—


This is an Amendment to page 4, line 20, where we have the definite article "the" which is in contrast to the indefinite article "a" which appears in an exactly similar passage in subsection (2) of Clause 2. I do not mind whether we accept the definite article here, or whether subsequently we amend Clause 2(2) the other way. But since these are presumably intended to be similar passages, this seems to be an occasion upon which Homer has nodded ever so slightly, and perhaps this is a matter which should be corrected. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 20, leave out first ("the") and insert ("a").—(Lord Airedale.)


As the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, mentioned, the subsection as drafted in the Bill enables a doctor to object to the provision of "the specimen", and the noble Lord proposes to substitute a reference to "a specimen". In our view, "a specimen" would be more correct, as the doctor will have to decide on medical grounds whether the patient is in a fit state to provide any specimen for laboratory tests. If he considers he is fit it will be for the constable to request the patient to provide a specimen of blood or urine in accordance with the provision of the clause. For that reason I would ask the Committee to accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.51 p.m.

LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (6), after "failing to provide a specimen unless", to insert as a new paragraph (a): ( ) a medical practitioner is made available by the police for taking a specimen of blood, and". The noble Lord said: This again is a probing Amendment. I ask this question genuinely, not knowing quite what the answer is going to be. This subsection deals with the taking of specimens of blood, and, as we know from a later clause, this has to be done by a doctor. The question posed by this Amendment is whether the police in every case have to provide the doctor. I can imagine a case in which the police might consider that it was not their duty to provide the doctor.

Suppose that some quite prosperous citizen in a small town is taken to the police station, where it is proposed that he shall give a specimen of blood, and that his own doctor lives 50 yards along the street. Suppose the police say, "We want to take a specimen of the blood; we want a doctor to do it, and we propose to go along to get your own doctor to come and take it." I can well imagine the suspected person, if I may so call him, saying: "No; I want my doctor kept out of this. This is a police affair. It is you who want a specimen of my blood. I do not want it taken. Therefore you, the police, can provide the doctor for this purpose. I do not want my doctor brought into this at all." The police might reply to that, "There is nothing in the Road Safety Act which specifically says that we, the police, have to provide the doctor." Therefore, this would seem to be a point which must be cleared up.

I would mention that where in the Amendment I use the expression "a present in the police station. If he were medical practitioner is made available", I do not mean that he has actually to be on call and could come straight away, I imagine that that would be covered. I intend it to be covered by the words, "made available". What I principally seek to discover is whether Her Majesty's Government intend that in all these cases it shall be the bounden duty of the police, and nobody else, to provide the doctor for the taking of the blood specimen. If that is the Government's intention, I suggest that it ought to be included in the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 8, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Airedale.)


I was not quite sure what purpose the noble Lord had in mind with regard to this Amendment. He said that he would not want the doctor to be at the police station all the time, and that it would be enough if he were on call. But in our view the major defect of the Amendment would be that the police would first have to have the doctor at the station before they could do anything. Let me explain the position. As the noble Lord knows, the subsection provides that a person fails to provide a specimen if he first refuses to provide a specimen of blood, then if he fails to provide two specimens of urine within an hour; and, lastly, he fails if he again refuses to provide a specimen of blood. If, as a precursor to these matters, we inserted the condition that the doctor must be there, the effect would be that we should first have to make a doctor available to take a specimen of blood before any of the other conditions could begin to operate. I know that the noble Lord does not want that but that would be the effect of his Amendment. It would mean that the police would have to call a doctor to the police station for the purpose of taking a specimen of blood, which might be unnecessary because the doctor would not be required to take a specimen of blood at all in the case of a person who provides urine instead of blood, and would not be required to take a specimen of a person who finally refuses all three requests. In these circumstances, the doctor would be kept at the police station for a long time, for at least an hour or more, sometimes quite unnecessarily. The noble Lord does not want that; nor, I am sure, does anybody else.

The other major point of his question was that only a doctor can take a blood test. It could be the police surgeon; it could be a doctor on call; or, indeed, it could be any doctor. There would be nothing to prevent a person in a police station insisting, as the noble Lord said, on his doctor 50 yards up the road to come and take the test rather than another doctor. This is so much the easier because in these circumstances all the doctor has to do is to take a minute drop of blood under proper conditions—a pricking of the finger or of the lobe of the ear—and the whole of the rest of the case depends upon laboratory tests. There is no question of walking a chalk line, or of any of the things which we have to bother about now, where the difference between one doctor and another might be held to make some difference. On that score I do not think the noble Lord has any reason to fear at all. On the other point, I hope he realises that it would be quite undesirable to impose this requirement before the police could start on anything at all. If the noble Lord still thinks that there is any dubiety about the position in this respect, I suggest he might look again at what I have said and perhaps might wish to come back to the point, in a somewhat different way, on Report.


Perhaps it was my fault, but the Minister has not made himself as crystal clear on this as he usually does. I am still not quite clear on the situation. Do Her Majesty's Government intend that it should be the duty of the police in all cases to provide the doctor who is to take the specimen of blood? I feel that there would be a legitimate grievance in some cases if a man were to be put into the position of thinking that his own doctor, willy-nilly, was going to be brought into the matter. If the intention of the Government is that it is to be the duty of the police to provide the doctor, then I feel that this should be made clear in the Bill. If it is not to the Government's intention that the police shall always provide the doctor then I would accept that the Amendment is unnecessary. But I should like a clear answer.


I am sorry if I did not make the position quite clear. I did say that only a doctor can take a blood test. Therefore, the police must produce a doctor. If they are going to obtain evidence which relies upon a sample, they do not need a doctor if the alternative evidence of urine can be provided; but if the person at the police station likely to be accused says, "Yes, I will have a test", then it is the duty of the police to provide a doctor. But, on the other point, the police can call any doctor who is willing. So there are these two points: that the police have responsibility for calling the doctor, but they can call any doctor who is willing to come.


I am much obliged. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


had given Notice of several Amendments to subsection (10) of Clause 3, the first being to leave out "shall on". The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee-5, I should like to deal with Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 31 together (apart from Amendment 30, which is a purely drafting Amendment), because they all hang together and are difficult to deal with except together. With respect, subsection (10) is not too happily worded. It starts by being mandatory upon a constable in every case to warn a person that failure to provide a specimen may make him liable to punishment. But because of the absurdity of this being done in every case—that is to say, when the person is quite amenable to giving a specimen—when one gets to the end of subsection (10) one finds that it is only permissive on the court. The subsection says, "the court … may direct an acquittal".

It would, of course, be monstrous if the court could not direct an acquittal, just because a policeman had failed to give a warning in a case where the person was being fully co-operative. Surely it would be better to do as these three Amendments together do; that is to say, make it mandatory upon the policeman to give a warning only in the cases in which it matters—which is where the person refuses to give a specimen—and then make it mandatory upon the court, in cases where the policeman should have given a warning but had failed in his duty and had omitted to do so, to direct an acquittal. Only in that way would one be quite sure that the police would take the greatest care to perform their statutory duty under this subsection. I hope that that is commendable to the Committee and I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 42, leave out ("shall on").—(Lord Airedale.)


I am perfectly happy to discuss Amendments 28 and 29 with Amendment 31, but in my view Nos. 28 and 29 are on a single point while No. 31 raises other considerations. So that I should like to talk about them separately, dealing with Nos. 28 and 29 quite shortly and with No. 31 at somewhat greater length. The noble Lord wants to amend subsection (10) so that a constable must warn a person of the consequences of failure to provide a specimen for a laboratory test only after he has refused to provide a specimen, instead of, as in the Bill, "on requiring" him to provide a specimen; that is, at the same time. We think that it is very desirable that the person should be warned of the consequences of failure before a constable requests him to provide a specimen in accordance with the requirements of subsection (6), paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), rather than after he has refused to supply a specimen of blood under paragraph (a). This is the case, even though, of course, it is arguable that the person's rights would not be adversely affected by the Amendment, as it would still be open to him at the end of an hour or so to provide a specimen of blood under paragraph (c).

The drafting we have at present is designed to import, as it were, the decision in the case of Regina v.Mitten on the parallel provision of subsection (5) of Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1962, that the warning must be given simultaneously with the requirement or at a time anterior to the requirement, but so proximate, so close together, that the person would have it in mind when the requirement was made. That is the case for the subsection, as it stands at present in the Bill, over the noble Lord's Amendments 28 and 29.


May I just say that, if it shortens the proceedings, I think I shall now have to withdraw Amendment 28 and not move Amend ment 29. Also, I shall not now move Amendment 31, because it would not have anything on which to hang. But, of course, I do not want to prevent the Minister from now discussing Amendment No. 31 if he wishes to do so.


I can only say, "For this relief much thanks."


I am much obliged, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.7 p.m.


This Amendment is pure drafting. The Bill uses the expression: the court before which that person is brought for an offence". I should have thought that the usual and appropriate expression was the court before which that person is charged with an offence". However, I will not spend time on this. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 1, leave out ("brought for") and insert ("charged with").—(Lord Airedale.)


I will not spend much time on it either, because although I do not agree that it is wholly a drafting point, it has some substance in it. The noble Lord's suggestion is a very sensible one, because he would substitute the court before which that person is charged with for the court before which that person is brought". The Amendment is therefore preferable, because the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 and other Acts distinguish between a person appearing and a person brought before the court to answer a charge. Therefore, I would recommend to your Lordships that the Amendment should be accepted.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5:

Consequences of conviction of certain offences of driving or being in charge


(2) For the purposes of sections 5 and 7 of the 1962 Act (disqualification for holding a licence and endorsement of licences)— (a) an offence under section 1(1) of this Act or an offence under section 3(3) of this Act which is punishable by virtue of paragraph (a) of the said subsection (3) shall be treated as if it were an offence under section 6(1) of the principal Act and accordingly as if it were an offence specified in Part I of Schedule 1 to the 1962 Act (offences involving obligatory disqualification); and


This is an Amendment to line 17 on page 6, which begins: purposes of determining his liability to punishment". In my submission, determining liability to punishment is one single purpose. Therefore, I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 17, leave out ("purposes") and insert ("purpose").—(Lord Airedale.)


It is a very difficult point as to whether the word should be singular or plural. The noble Lord argues that the determination of liability to punishment is an isolated question, and that therefore the word should be in the singular. On the other hand, the effect of previous convictions on the length of disqualification for driving is governed by more than one enactment—for example, the Road Traffic Act 1962—and on this basis "purposes" might be thought to be more appropriate than "purpose". The noble Lord could argue—I do not think he did—that either "purpose" or "purposes", either the singular or plural, would be right. I should like to ask Parliamentary counsel to look at it again, if the noble Lord would agree, and we can then finally decide whether it should be "purpose" or "purposes". I do not think the effect would be very different either way.


Both may be equally right, and I am quite happy to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.11 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, in subsection (2)(a), after "disqualification", to insert: unless in the case of a first offence under this Act the court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, that there are grounds for mitigating the normal consequences of the conviction and thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 34, which stands in the name of my noble friends and myself. The purpose of this Amendment is to give courts a discretion, when dealing with a first offender convicted of the new offence of driving with 80 milligrammes of blood alcohol, with regard to the period of disqualification from driving. The Bill as drafted makes the 12 months' disqualification automatic on conviction, and courts have discretion only with regard to the amount of fine or imprisonment. Certainly so far as fining is concerned, the disqualification, I am sure all noble Lords would agree, is by far the most serious deterrent. First let me say that this is no attempt to weaken the Bill. I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, and I believe it to be right. I want to see it work; but I am a little anxious, as I propose to say when we discuss whether Clause 7 should stand part, that the 80 milligrammes level may have been set rather tightly and I therefore think it all the more necessary to allow courts some discretion when dealing with offenders whom they have convicted.

The first argument I have to meet is that the 1962 Act (which, of course, is the predecessor in this field) makes a 12 months' disqualification automatic on conviction. I suggest that the working of the 1962 Act really is not a sound precedent; it is substantially different. It is different because the level of blood alcohol which constitutes an offence is not defined in that Act, and courts have complete discretion in practice as to whether they convict or at what level they convict. Indeed, we know that they rarely convict if the blood alcohol is less than 150 milligrammes, and they sometimes do not convict even where it is over 200. On the whole, my own view is that they have shown much too much discretion. In this Bill the offence has been precisely defined at 80 milligrammes of blood alcohol, and therefore the courts have no discretion in deciding what is an offence once it has been satisfactorily established on the evidence that there was 80 milligrammes of blood alcohol. Therefore, if the Bill goes on the Statute Book as it is before us now, we will be depriving courts of all discretion. We will have defined precisely the offence and precisely the sentence in this respect.

I believe that this is a retrograde step; that this is not the way that legislation is tending to go to-day. I believe that the reverse is the trend in legislation to-day in the administration of justice; that the general trend is to give courts more rather than less discretion in action. The first point I should like to make to support my argument, which I believe to be a very important one, is that conditions will vary widely from one case to another. The simplest and perhaps the widest variation is the difference between the private motorist and the professional—that is, the man who drives a commercial vehicle or the commercial traveller driving not a commercial vehicle but a private vehicle, both of whom drive for a living. Almost certainly, a 12 months' disqualification for a man who gets his living by driving would amount to the loss of his job as well, so the penalty suffered by such a man, if convicted, would be enormously increased compared with that suffered by a private motorist.

In the case of a second offender, he has asked for it; but in the case of a first offender I should have thought that a court would wish to have some discretion in regard to this very severe punishment. Again in the case of a first offender, I should think that a court would usually wish to have some discretion as to whether the driver was marginally over the 80 milligramme level—showing no ill effects, but found after a blood test to be over it—or was, let us say, over 200 milligrammes and obviously drunk. On this point, although I would not make too much of it, it is a matter of fact that some people—a small minority—even with 80 milligrammes of blood alcohol, will not have their driving ability impaired. This is a fact that the B.M.A. have established. I do not want to make too much of it, but it is a fact to which I should have thought courts might perhaps want to pay some regard.

Finally, there is what I regard as one of the biggest points, that is, the very difficult question of the degree of obedience that there would be to very large numbers of new court orders for disqualification from driving. As I am sure your Lordships will be aware, there are indications of a seriously rising trend of offences of driving while disqualified. I have the figures for 1964 and 1965, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, may have them for 1966. The figures for 1964 show 6,665 convictions for this offence, and those for 1965 show 7,884 convictions. I suspect that those for 1966 will show even more.


Nine thousand.


The noble Lord kindly prompts me—9,000. But we have, in addition—and I expect noble Lords will have read it—the very interesting study that Dr. Willet has made on this subject, on which he delivered a paper to the Cambridge Institute of Criminology last year, which indicated that disqualified drivers are already driving more than is generally thought. They are doing this both for reasons of work and for reasons of social activity. I do not need to remind your Lordships that we live in the age of the universal motor car. For nearly half the community it really is part of their way of life. The temptation for a man or a woman, especially a young man or a young woman, to use a car when they are disqualified is very great. There stands the car alongside their house waiting to be used, all their friends are driving about in cars, and they are naturally tempted to use it. Indeed, taking it to a little older age, it might be the young mother with children to take to school who uses the car without being licensed to drive. Some are caught, as these figures show, and are disqualified again: others escape detection and continue to drive. My point is that all of them are a very serious danger because, apart from breaking a court order, which is very serious, they are driving whilst uninsured, and therefore if they have an accident and somebody is injured the consequences are infinitely more serious.

In passing, it may be interesting to add that Dr. Willet's opinion, after giving considerable study to this, was that a six months disqualification seemed to be about the most effective maximum period; that thereafter the temptation to drive seemed to become increasingly strong and there was a greater tendency to succumb. No doubt Dr. Willet will continue to study this and it will be interesting to get further reports from him. But I would suggest to the Committee that the information available indicates that there is a limit to effective disqualification. It also reminds us that we are here making a new law with the intention of changing established habits of human behaviour. In a free country laws can be made broadly only by the consent of the people; in practice, they must broadly win the co-operation of the average person.

I suggest that this glimpse into the human reaction to disqualification shows that this legislation is operating on the very margin of consent. It is not for that reason wrong; I think it is right; but it is, I believe, right to take note of the fact that we are operating on the very margin of consent. The police cannot possibly prosecute all offenders against motoring laws; they can pick up only some and make what is called in practice—and noble Lords opposite will correct me if I am wrong—"token prosecutions", in the belief that that will be sufficient to deter other potential offenders. But all the signs are that a very large increase in the numbers of twelve months' disqualifications would result in a very large increase in driving while disqualified. It would really run the risk that the machinery of law would break down, and I would say that on balance this would have done more harm than good.

I believe this makes a cogent case for accepting this Amendment to give the courts discretion with first offenders. We all know that there is a massive job of education to teach the public just what 80 milligrammes of blood alcohol means; but I believe myself that making the Bill a little less rigid in this respect would make it more workable. I do not believe that it would weaken it. First offenders are still put in peril of a full twelve months' disqualification if the court thinks fit, but the court will have flexibility. I hope, on what I believe to be very sound arguments, that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will accept my Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 29, after "disqualification" insert the said words.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

6.23 p.m.


I think it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to intervene at this early stage to put a different point of view. The noble Lord has moved this Amendment with great reasonableness. If I may say so, this is a dangerous situation because I think he overlooked the increasing danger to the community from accidents as drivers exceed 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, the statutory limit in the Bill. The subsection we are discussing makes an offence under Clause 1 and Clause 3(3) one for which a person can be disqualified under Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 1962 from holding or obtaining a licence to drive a vehicle, or can have his driving licence endorsed under Section 7 of the same Act.

The effect of paragraph (a), in so far as it relates to disqualification, is that a person convicted of an offence under Clause 1(1) or Clause 3(3)(a) shall be disqualified for at least twelve months unless the court has special reasons for thinking fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period, or not to order him to be disqualified at all. In other words the provisions, the penalties, are the same as in the existing road traffic legislation. It has been established by legal precedent, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, will endorse, that a special reason must be special to the offence and not to the offender; whereas the mitigating circumstances which the noble Lord has recommended in his Amendment would change this situation so far as this Bill and the existing road traffic legislation are concerned. The noble Lord I thought suggested—and I hope I misunderstood—that an offence under this Bill will carry less stigma; that it should be treated more lightly, than an offence under the existing road traffic legislation. I would suggest to the Committee that if that is the case this is a view that should be discounted and disagreed to.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, wished to discuss the reasons why the Government have recommended a statutory limit of 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. I sought to persuade the noble Lord that perhaps we could discuss it on Clause 7; but I think I ought to speak as to the reasons why we came to that limit in support of the reasons why the Government feel that the penalty of disqualification should apply to any offence against that statutory limit. Naturally, we are all anxious that the prescribed limit should be set at a right level. Although Clause 7(1) of the Bill provides for the Minister of Transport to alter the prescribed limit by regulations made by Statutory Instrument, it also lays down a limit of 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood in the first place. Her Majesty's Government, before introducing this legislation, gave most careful consideration to the blood level which should be prescribed.

The figure in the Bill is the same as that proposed in the Government White Paper which was published in 1965. Inevitably, since we must fix a single definite point in a continuous scale, there is room for argument that it should be higher than 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, and also that it should be lower. In the Second Reading debate on the Bill in this House, the noble Lords, Lord Royle and Lord Somers, both argued that this limit was set too high. No noble Lord, so far as I can recollect, has suggested that we should put it at a higher level. While the Government may find it to some extent reassuring that its figure is bracketed by some of its critics, I must make it plain that we have not chosen this figure arbitrarily, nor as a simple compromise between extreme views. What we prescribe will be applicable to every driver in the country. If the limit is pitched too low, then large numbers of people will be committing a criminal offence if they drive with a concentration of alcohol which does not impair their driving. But we do not want to make a criminal of a man who is only doing what the majority of people can do safely and responsibly. On the other hand, if the limit is set so high that no one, not even the least susceptible, commits an offence until he is distinctly impaired by drink, then we shall be permitting to use the road very many drivers who are not just distinctly impaired by drink, but so grossly impaired as to constitute a real and serious danger to themselves, and to anyone else who may cross their paths.

A given amount of alcohol affects different people in different degrees, according to their age and size, their drinking habits and a number of other factors. A given amount of alcohol will affect the same man in different degrees according to the amount of food he has consumed, the period over which he has taken his drink and the form in which he has taken it. As a result, whatever limit we may lay down (and this the Government freely recognise) to apply to all drivers in all circumstances, is bound to result in a number of hard cases. There are people whose driving performance is impaired but little, yet who would be breaking the law. However, we cannot frame the law in such a way as to cater for a small minority. The scientific evidence, which comes principally from a study carried out by the Indiana University in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, shows that up to a level of about 50 mg. the average increase in accidents is slight. It also shows that above 100 mg. per 100 ml. the increase is considerable. All drivers with this concentration of alcohol in their blood are more than twice as likely to be involved in an accident as when they have taken no alcohol at all.

As a first approximation, therefore, the appropriate level for the new offence lies within the range of 50 to 100 mg. per 100 ml. Within that range we have chosen a concentration of 80 mg. per 100 ml. because research indicates—I hope the Committee will bear this very much in mind—that 90 per cent. of avoidable drink accidents are caused by drivers with a blood level concentration higher than this. Only 10 per cent. are caused by drivers with concentrations between 40 and 80 mg. Therefore, if we set the prescribed limit below 80 mg. there would be a rapidly diminishing return by way of accident prevention and a rapidly increasing inconvenience to people who would be only very slightly impaired, or in some cases not impaired at all.

We are supported in this by the best available medical advice. The British Medical Association has said: There can be very few persons in whom impairment of the ability to drive properly and increased risk of being involved in accidents are not present to a significant extent at blood alcohol concentrations in excess of 80 mg. per 100 ml. When the Government consulted the Medical Research Council its advice was very similar. It said: When the amount of alcohol consumed results in a concentration in the blood of 80 mg. per 100 ml. or more, then the ability to drive would be impaired in the great majority of drivers. I must emphasise that persons who are seriously affected by concentrations of less than 80 mgs. will still be covered by the law. Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, which was subsequently amended by the Road Traffic Act 1962, is being retained to deal with those persons whose ability to drive properly is impaired by alcohol, no matter what their blood level concentrations may be; and drivers who are more ordinarily susceptible to the effects of alcohol may be prosecuted and convicted under this provision. I think I should point out that there would be no question of consideration of mitigating circumstances as the noble Lord proposes here. The courts could have regard only to the special reasons which lie on the offence itself and not the offender. So if the noble Lord's Amendment were accepted we should have different administrations of the law. The Bill as drafted would deal also with people who take drink in combination with drugs in such a way that their ability to drive properly is impaired, even although the amount of alcohol that they have taken is not such as to bring their blood alcohol concentration up to the prescribed limit. To sum up, if we set the prescribed limit higher than 80 mg., we should be flying in the face of all the scientific evidence available to us. We should be permitting too many people to drive who were too impaired by alcohol. If we set the limit lower we should be making too many people into offenders.

We have set the figure at this level because we believe, and there is all the evidence available to us, that once a driver is in excess of 80 mg. he becomes very much a danger. He is, in fact, in the eyes of science and of those who have studied this question, very definitely impaired. The Government and both Houses of Parliament have accepted the figure of 80 mg. We have sought with unanimity of view to see that the police are able to detect those who break the law. That is an important aspect of the deterrent. The penalty must be a major factor in the deterrent. Anyone who has had anything to do with magistrates' courts, whether petty sessions or quarter sessions, in respect of cases involving driving offences, will know that the greatest deterrent, the greatest penalty, lies in the sphere of disqualification. I believe that if we were to give discretion to the courts in this matter two things would result. First, the effect upon the public in being persuaded not to drive when there is a likelihood of their having over 80 mg. per 100 ml. in their blood would be lessened. That would be a very serious departure at this stage. But surely there should be uniformity in the deterrent.

If we consider the record of the courts since the 1962 Act was passed, and if we take what is called "totting up", which gives the courts discretion against automatic disqualification, we find that one in every four offenders was not disqualified. If such a record were applied to this Bill, and one in every four drivers with a concentration of over 80 mgs. were not to be disqualified because there was some mitigating circumstance, I believe that this would very much undermine the legal effect of the provisions in this Bill, and, I think, in the end the moral effect. Let us be under no illusion. What the noble Lord is suggesting is that a driver should be treated leniently when he has consumed a quantity of alcohol which science and scientific research tells us would result in his ability to drive being seriously impaired. I hope that the Committee will take the view that this is a serious offence and should be treated with a degree of uniformity throughout the country.

The noble Lord will be aware that this Part of the Bill will not come into force automatically. Under Clause 30 the Minister has to name a date on which Part I will come into operation. The Minister proposes, before Part I comes into operation, to carry out a massive publicity and educational programme, using all possible media to inform the public of the meaning of the Bill and of the steps they should take to save themselves from committing an offence under it. We shall do all we can to see that the public are aware of the dangers.

The Committee will remember a significant opinion poll carried out the other day in which drivers were asked whether they thought the existing law was tough enough, particularly in regard to drinking and driving, and 77 per cent.—a very high percentage—took the view that it was not. I believe that this Bill will be accepted by the majority of the people—though there are, of course, the odd exceptions—as fair and reasonable.

If we undermine, or even question the seriousness of, this statutory level, if we are to regard it merely as a technical level, all the good we are trying to do will disappear. We must not regard this as a technical offence. Scientific research tells us that a man driving with alcohol above the prescribed level is a menace to himself, to those who are in his car and to others who use the roads. I ask the Committee not to reduce the seriousness of this offence in any way. It is infinitely more than a technical offence. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, spoke about the difference between private and professional drivers. Disqualification affects a man's way of life, and that is why everyone believes that it is a real deterrent. It is up to all, both private and professional drivers, to obey the law and make our roads that much safer. I beg your Lordships not to weaken this provision.

6.44 p.m.


I should like strongly to support my noble friend Lord Shepherd in his argument that the escape clause for automatic conviction for driving with more than the prescribed level of alcohol in the blood should be the same as under the 1962 Act. It should be a matter of "special reasons" and not of "mitigating circumstances". All experience shows that "special reasons" are interpreted narrowly, and the number of cases which escape under this formula is much smaller than the number which escape under the "mitigating circumstances" formula. I cannot think that we want penalties imposed for the new offence of driving with more than the prescribed level of alcohol in the blood which are different from the penalties already enforced for persons found to have their driving capacity impaired by drink.

The argument, which we have heard often, and which we have heard again to-night from the noble Lord, that we must not disqualify people because they will disregard the disqualification, seems to me to be an extraordinarily feeble argument. It was put forcibly by Dr. Willett, whom the noble Lord quoted, and it has had pretty wide currency. If we think that a motorist is so drunk as to be a danger on the road, it is ridiculous to say that we cannot take any steps to keep him off the road. If he is a danger on the road, the answer is that we must have more effective measures of ensuring that he does not drive. It is an open secret that methods of doing this are under consideration at the moment by the Government. I hope that in due course we shall have more effective methods. The random test would be one.


May I speak on this matter of alcohol in the blood? I had expected to do so under Clause 7, but as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has raised the matter, perhaps it might be appropriate if I said a few words now. Your Lordships may recall that in the course of the proceedings on the Road Traffic Bill of 1961 I submitted myself to certain tests in order to establish at what level, through drunkenness, I became unfit to drive. The reason for my experiment was that I wanted to show that the effect of alcohol varies from individual to individual; and I think that this is now generally accepted. I drank one quarter of a bottle of whisky at eight o'clock in the morning on an empty stomach. I was found to have 122 mg. of alcohol in my blood. The doctor who was helping me to conduct the experiment—I drank the alcohol; he took the test—declared that, if asked to testify in court, he would have pronounced me as fit to drive. And, what is more (I will not be frivolous on what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has called a serious subject, but I say this just for the Record), I drove the doctor's son's tricycle around the doctor's garden without noticeable damage to the poultry.

On these empirical grounds, I greatly wonder whether the Government have not been over-cautious in their definition of what constitutes drunkenness. Personally, I would put the figure slightly higher. If I can safely drive with a level of 122 mg., then others perhaps should be able to drive with 100. But I am not pressing this point, which has, in fact, been made already by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. All I am doing is to repeat what he himself said; that what is proposed is rough justice, and some may suffer wrongly. I am quite willing to accept that, if the noble Lord, for his part, is equally willing to accept that these possibilities arise.


I am strongly against any completely automatic penalty for any offence. The offence of murder used to be a hanging matter, but there was always a pardon from the Queen. Cowardice in the face of the enemy was a shooting matter, but there was always a pardon from the Commander-in-Chief. One can imagine all sorts of circumstances in which it would be almost impossible for a man who has taken a little alcohol not to drive his car. He might, for example, have to take his wife to hospital because she had a sudden miscarriage. It is entirely wrong that the Bill should incorporate an absolutely automatic penalty. There should be some loophole for the exceptional circumstance.


May I remind the noble Lord that under the 1962 Act, which the noble Lord presumably supported when it went through your Lordships' House, automatic disqualification applied, but there was a proviso of "special reasons"; and that applies in this Bill. Therefore the penalty which the noble Lord was prepared to accept in the 1962 Act applies also to this Bill.


I hope that my noble friend will not press this Amendment. I think Parliament has for a long time been struggling against the excessive tendency of the courts to be unduly indulgent in motoring cases that involve danger to the public. Under the 1960 Act, the offence of driving when disqualified carries with it an automatic penalty of imprisonment unless there are special circumstances. It is really alarming to know that in the case of persons convicted of such an offence special circumstances were found in no less than two-thirds of the cases. I cannot think that this can have been a justifiable view. I believe that it is due to the excessive tenderness which the courts have been showing, and I think the acceptance of this Amendment would facilitate that continued softness to offenders. I regard the offence that we are discussing now as so serious that I do not think this Amendment ought to be accepted.

6.52 p.m.


I should like to say a little about the blood levels of alcohol, as I was on the Committee of the Medical Research Council which gave advice to the Government on this matter. We had before us all the deliberations of the British Medical Association, which had already gone carefully into the matter; and we had before us all the really scientific evidence—and I may say that it did not contain any reference to dangers to poultry—which we thought was relevant to this subject. Of course, among the strongest of this evidence is the Grand Rapids Survey, which has been referred to several times and is mentioned in the White Paper.

I should like to call your Lordships' attention to what this Survey shows. This was done with a study of accidents in that city in the United States. It was a carefully controlled experiment, in the sense that for every person involved in an accident there was also another person found at random, at the same time of day and in the same place, and his blood alcohol was also tested. The result showed that above the level of 50 mg. there is quite a significant increased risk of accident, and from 80 to 89 mg. the risk is increased nearly twice; that is, the ratio is 1.88, if you count 1 as the ordinary chance of an accident in a person who has not been drinking. But when we get to 100 mg. this is increased sixfold. These are serious figures. On the basis of this, we came to the conclusion that we entirely endorsed what the British Medical Association had said.

But this is not based purely on these studies of road accidents; it is based, too, on experimental work, also carefully controlled, with, for instance, Cohen's work in Manchester, where he had experienced bus drivers, who not only had to drive without damage between two bollards which could be knocked down, and between white lines, and that sort of thing, but also had to exercise their judgment beforehand as to what they could do, and whether they could or could not take the bus between bollards which were a certain distance apart. These experiments showed exactly the same kind of thing as was shown in the studies of accidents; namely, that there is a serious impairment of judgment in driving at any level over 80 mg., although there may be a small percentage of people to whom this does not apply.

On the other hand, an experiment conducted purely to show that I, or someone else, can drive safely at this level of alcohol is not really a good scientific experiment, for this reason: that the person is absolutely on his mettle to do his best with the test; whereas a chap who has just come out of a public house and drives up the main road towards his home is not on his mettle to do his best with the knowledge that he has had too much to drink and with a determination to drive particularly carefully.

I hope your Lordships will accept the scientific evidence on this subject. Of course, it was not the duty of the Medical Research Council to decide what legislation should take place as a result of the experimental work. I should mention, finally, that there is pharmacological evidence of alterations to cerebral processes at levels of blood alcohol of 80 mg. and over.


I should like to make one short point which I think has not yet been made; and it is that this is going to be a very harsh law. It has been held in the past that when somebody commits an obviously serious offence, which is proved by witnesses to the court's satisfaction, he shall automatically be disqualified. But consider what may happen here. A country doctor is driving along the road, and he gets run into by somebody else. The other driver is showing every signs of drink, but he says: "The doctor is drunk, too."

The police say to the doctor: "You had better come along to the police station, as well, and we will make sure." The doctor is behaving perfectly normally, and nobody knows whether he is committing an offence under the Bill until the reading on the machine is taken. The machine reading is 81 mg. The police say: "Well, doctor, it is 81 mg. Now you will lose your licence. What a pity it was not 79 m.g.!" He is a country doctor. He will suffer, and the community will suffer. The other chap, who has run into him, showing every signs of being drunk in charge, is carried off. But something has happened, perhaps: the machine shows 79 mg., and he gets away with it. This may be all right, but it will be a new and harsh depar ture from the kind of automatic disqualification which we have allowed to happen in the past.


May I say, in reply to that, that if anybody who is a country doctor is going to drive around with alcohol in his body at a level of anything like 79 mg. he is very foolish and should not be a country doctor. One thing that has not been said during this debate is that if there is one thing anybody can do it is to refrain from drinking before starting to drive. Therefore the usual argument about professional drivers, which has been introduced by my noble friend—what a harsh penalty this is for them—does not really apply. If they are professional drivers and wish to keep their jobs, then they should not drink before they drive.


I agree with what has just been said. The mover of the Amendment referred to the hardship that may be inflicted on the professional man. One would think that the professional man would be ultra-cautious in ensuring that he did not take an amount of alcohol above the limit. I do not agree with my noble friends on the question of random tests. I think the Bill is reasonable. It realises, as I have indicated, the social habits of people in having a little drink, as it were, and they should know their limit. They should take a test with a view to ensuring—no matter what the particular conditions, and whether or not they have had a meal—that they have not consumed more than the prescribed limit laid down in this Bill. If the professional driver knows that this is involved, and knows that his licence will be taken away if he is convicted, I think that if he consumes more alcohol than is laid down he deserves all that is coming to him. He has to earn his living, and so he must take the necessary steps to ensure that he is in a position to do so the whole time.


May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his very full reply to my Amendment, and observe that I shall not challenge his very interesting exposition of the Government's reasons for setting the level at 80 mg. I had accepted that. I only gave the noble Lord notice that I felt that this was something which the House should have an opportunity to discuss because the decision is very important. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Platt, that I fully accept the weight of his scientific evidence, and I naturally understand that the Government had very cogent reasons for laying down this level. But some may feel, as indeed the noble Earl, Lord Arran, feels, that this may have been set a little on the low side; others may feel that it is set a little on the high side. This is clearly a discussion that we ought to have. But I have not put an Amendment on the Order Paper to challenge the level in the Bill, because I feel that this is a decision for the Government. And once they have taken it, it will certainly have my support. I feel that it would be unfair to the Amendment I am now moving if it were judged in any way in the light of that particular discussion.

May I also make a further point to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd? He intervened in answer to my noble friend Lord Hawke's observation that he disliked an automatic penalty in this respect. But, as I said in my opening remarks, this Bill is substantially different from the 1962 Act. It is true that the 1962 Act has the automatic penalty, except for special reasons, but it leaves the court a very large measure of discretion with regard to whether they convict at all, and in practice they have shown all too much reluctance to convict.


But the discretion, surely, is on the evidence, not on the question of what penalty should apply. Surely one of the great difficulties, particularly at quarter sessions (this is the point that my noble friend Lord Lindgren made last week), has been that juries failed to convict because they were not satisfied that the evidence was sufficient for conviction. This is quite different from the question of whether one is guilty or not. If one is guilty, I would say that one has to take the consequences that apply, as under previous legislation, which the noble Lord presumably supported, and which provided for automatic disqualification, although special reasons could be taken into account, just as they can be taken into account under this Bill.


The noble Lord is, of course, entitled to his opinion. But the point I made, which I believe is a good one, is that here Parliament is defining precisely what the offence is—a level of 80 mg. (which, incidentally, is probably under half what it has been before)—and, at the same time as it is defining what the offence is, the Bill as now drafted is defining precisely what the penalty should be. On the whole, I think it is a retrograde step to deprive courts of discretion in this way. My impression has been that the administration of justice has been going in the opposite direction; but the noble Lord is now in a position to make laws and he is entitled to his view, as no doubt my noble friends and I myself are entitled to our views.

I should like to leave the noble Lord in no doubt about two points, which he raised and I did not. One was that this should be regarded as a purely technical offence. I did not suggest this. I should regard this offence as the offence of driving when the level of drink which has been consumed will dangerously affect the driver, and I should like to leave no doubt in anybody's mind that, once this Bill is on the Statute Book, not only is this not merely a technical offence but it is a very serious social offence. Anybody who is driving after having consumed alsohol above the level laid down, is a danger on the road. The noble Lord might have left the impression to noble Lords who were not in the Chamber when I spoke that I challenged this. I do not; I support it. My point is a simple one. I believe that when we are introducing a new law, a quite new stringency justified on scientific grounds, there should be some measure of discretion in the hands of courts dealing with a first offender. My point is just that very simple one. I believe that there is a very good case for it, and therefore I feel it should be put to the vote.


Before the noble Lord sits down and commits himself to a decision this evening, may I remind him that it is now about five minutes past seven and there are very few what might be called balancing Members in your Lordships' House on the Cross Benches, whose knowledge and advice we take into account? I was going to make a suggestion to the noble Lord, because I should be very sorry if this matter were to be decided on Party lines, and I have a feeling that that might happen this evening. I would make an offer, because we both approach this matter with the greatest sincerity, and certainly I hope that what I have said will not in any way be taken as a reflection on the views of the noble Lord.

Would he agree to this suggestion? We have had this debate. I will read very carefully what the noble Lord has said, and I would ask him to read what I have said. I am quite willing to meet the noble Lord between now and the Report stage, and if he is still of the feeling that this House should take a particular action, we can do it adequately at Report stage. We could arrange for it to be done at an early hour, when the House is fuller. This issue is something which I think transcends Party politics. It is a serious matter, and I hope that the noble Lord will accept my gesture. I will consider what he has said if he will consider what I have said, and if he still feels that he would wish to go ahead he could do so on Report stage. But I think it would be a tragedy if we were to vote at this time on, as I strongly suspect, Party lines when clearly this is not a Party issue.


I have naturally listened with care to the noble Lord's offer. He invites me to study carefully what he has said, and of course I shall do so, as indeed I have very carefully studied what has been said in another place. Am I to understand that he will give an equal degree of study to my observations?


I made that point. I said that I would certainly study what the noble Lord has said, and that I was prepared to consult with him.


In those circumstances, if there is any prospect that the noble Lord may be persuaded by my arguments, rather than by our taking the matter to a Division, then of course I am sure I should prefer that, as I am sure noble Lords generally would prefer it. I agree that this is not the best hour to decide an important point of this kind, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

7.10 p.m

LORD MOLSON had given Notice of his intention to move, after Clause 5, to insert the following new clause:

Arrest without warrant

"A constable may arrest without a warrant any person whom he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, to be disqualified from holding a driving licence."

The noble Lord said: In moving the new clause after Clause 5 I would ask your Lordships' permission to amend it by the addition of four words which I overlooked. I ask that it should read: A constable may arrest without a warrant any person driving a motor vehicle whom he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, to be disqualified from holding a driving licence. It is typical of the shortcomings of the amateur draftsman that, simply by an oversight, I omitted important words.


I was aware, as the noble Lord now is, that his Amendment was defective in drafting. He has now suggested a manuscript amendment to his Amendment. I suggest that it should read "driving or attempting to drive", which is the language used in another part of the Bill.


I am much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. The idea for this Amendment arose from my reading on Thursday, February 16, 1967, a remarkable article by the motoring correspondent of The Times. In 1965 more than 79,000 drivers were disqualified. Of these, nearly 8,000 were convicted of driving while disqualified. In other words, some 10 per cent. of those who were disqualified from driving had already been disqualified at the time when they committed the second offence. The fact that 10 per cent of those convicted of an offence and disqualified had already been disqualified previously, and were deliberately driving in disregard of that disqualification, indicates the gravity of this offence. It is grave because it is done knowingly and deliberately.

It is also serious because the effect of doing so is to invalidate the driver's insurance policy. It is the fact that in virtually every case the Motor Insurance Bureau, set up by the insurance companies, as a matter of grace pays compensation to persons injured as a result of an accident, but that is a matter of grace and not a matter of legal right. We may think well of the insurance companies for acting in this honourable and indeed generous way, but it in no degree diminishes the gravity of the offence of those who drive while disqualified.

As an example of how deliberate this is, and how serious it can be, I should like to quote two examples that were given in the article in The Times, which were quotations from Mr. John Gott, the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire. He quoted the case of a man who was eventually sent to prison by the local magistrates. Before this he had been reported in the county for six dangerous driving offences in two months. On each occasion he had to be dealt with by a summons because he could not be arrested.

The second case was that of another man last year who was seen driving by a Northampton policeman who knew that he was disqualified. The man was stopped, told he would be reported, and drove straight off. The Chief Constable then says: Before we could take out a summons he had moved to Scotland, where he was dealt with for a similar offence and again disqualified. He came straight back here and was again seen driving, and reported. Not long afterwards he committed a criminal offence and we were able to take him into custody. The Metropolitan Police have the power to arrest without a summons in cases where this offence is being committed. This has only been so since 1962 when, in the Act of that year, this offence was made indictable, but it arose under Section 66 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. The police have, however, no power to act on suspicion. In my submission it is an essential part of this Amendment, if it is to be effective, and certainly if it is to enable the Metropolitan Police to act in more cases than they are able to at the present time, for it to be extended to cover cases where the constable has reasonable cause to suspect that an offence is being committed. At present the Metropolitan Police are extremely chary of acting under this power, and that for two principal reasons. The first reason is that although a police constable may be 95 per cent. sure that the man he sees driving is in fact the man he knows to have been disqualified, it is quite im possible to be absolutely sure. In many cases he may have considerable doubts. Weeks may have passed since he took part as a witness in a prosecution, and it is difficult after some weeks to be absolutely sure that the man driving a car is the man who was in fact convicted on that occasion.

I might mention an amusing incident that happened to me, to emphasise how dangerous it would be for a Metropolitan police constable to act under this power when he is not covered in the case of reasonable suspicion. Not long ago, I was in a hurry and was just able to jump into an underground train before the doors closed. Unfortunately, I jumped on the feet of a tall and handsome man. Turning round I saw, as I thought, my noble friend Lord Ward of Witley, and I said, "Geordie, I am most awfully sorry". The handsome man replied, "Well, it is all right but I am not Geordie, I am his twin brother". The other case is where perhaps the person disqualified has given notice of an appeal, and under Section 66 of the Act of 1960 the court which disqualified him has suspended the disqualification pending the appeal. In either of those cases, the constable, acting perfectly reasonably, might in fact have made a mistake, and I think he would then be liable for wrongful arrest.

I should like to represent to the Government that it seems extremely unreasonable that, where a person has been disqualified and gives notice of his intention to appeal, the disqualification should ever be suspended pending the appeal. When a person has been convicted by the court that has tried him he is, of course, entitled in all proper cases to appeal and to try to get the conviction set aside. But it seems to me quite unreasonable that before an appeal has been heard there should be any question of suspending the disqualification which has been imposed. I would indicate to the Government that I am thinking of putting down an Amendment upon this point on the Report stage of this Bill. This was a matter which was not known to me until I was engaged in research into the powers of enforcing this provision.

The other matter to which I would invite the Government's attention is the fact that in many countries in the world it is obligatory upon the driver always to carry his driving licence with him. In this 20th century there are a great many things we have to remember to put into our pockets every morning and take around with us; it is not only money and an engagement book but in the case of many of us at least one, if not two, pairs of spectacles. I see nothing at all unreasonable in requiring a driver when he is driving a car to carry with him the documents that show he is licensed and permitted to drive the vehicle. I would ask the Government between now and Report stage to consider whether this is not an amendment in the law which might with advantage be introduced. If that were done, what has always in the past been the great difficulty in giving power of arrest on the spot, without a summons, of persons suspected of driving when they are disqualified, would indeed be greatly reduced.

Many speeches today have given attention to the ever-increasing number of accidents and the importance of doing something to make our roads safer. I can think of nothing more important and that would have a greater immediate effect than giving this reasonable power of arrest in the case of persons who, in defiance of the law, are driving after they have been disqualified. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 5, insert the following new clause— ("A constable may arrest without a warrant any person driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle whom he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, to be disqualified from holding a driving licence".)—(Lord Molson.)


With respect, I should have thought that the words I suggested, "attempting to drive a motor vehicle" would be essential. But I do not think we need to be too particular on this point because, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Molson, will appreciate, it would not be proper for me to accept a form of words which had been altered at the last moment like this without full consideration. As he showed by suggesting the insertion of words, he appreciated that his Amendment as drafted was defective and did not carry out the intention which he has made so clear, because as originally printed the Amendment would have empowered a constable to arrest a person anywhere at any time solely because he was disqualified from driving, and indeed whether or not he was driving a vehicle at the time. Obviously it was not what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, intended, and equally his real intention is one which the Government approve, namely, to provide a power of arrest of disqualified drivers who are caught driving.

We are very concerned with the growing prevalence of this offence. In 1964 there were over 7,000 convictions and in 1965 more than 8,500 convictions for driving while disqualified. Many more offences were undoubtedly committed but escaped detection. We do not know the exact number. There has been one estimate in The Times of 20,000. I do not know the basis for that calculation, but if it is accurate it means that one person in three who was disqualified would have driven while so disqualified.

This offence is one of the six most serious road traffic offences, carrying automatic disqualification for a year in addition to any earlier disqualification. I understand that in 1965 magistrates' courts sentenced 2,511 offenders to a sentence of imprisonment without option of a fine. In the higher courts there were 446 sentences of imprisonment, 63 of borstal training and 23 to detention centres. These sentences reflect two important facts, to one of which the noble Lord referred: first, that disqualified drivers are uninsured drivers, because insurance policies almost always limit their cover to drivers with a current licence; second, there is evidence that the offence is linked with other serious motoring offences, and there may also be a connection between many people who are disqualified and people who commit non-traffic offences.

The number of disqualifications has risen from 48,887 in 1961 to 79,364 in 1965, an increase of 62 per cent. in four years. Meanwhile the number of traffic offences generally in the same period has increased by 33 per cent. and the number of vehicles has risen by 31 per cent. In other words, the disqualification increase is double the increase in other traffic offences and double the increase in vehicles. This indicates that the courts are trying very hard to remove dangerous drivers from the road. But if their efforts are to succeed fully, disqualification has to be enforced. If the driver is not a person who is known to the police to be disqualified, the only way to detect the offence is to stop the vehicle and ask to see the driver's licence.

The noble Lord referred to this, and, as he said, it is not an offence not to carry a licence. He suggested for consideration between now and Report stage that the power would be more effective if drivers were obliged to carry their licences, as is the practice in some other countries. But this would be contrary to the normal British practice of not making a citizen carry identifying documents. If the requirement to carry a licence were introduced just to strengthen the power, then inability to produce it should strictly carry a penalty. To penalise a driver simply because he had mislaid his licence might at the present time lose a considerable amount of the good will which exists generally for taking the major power of enabling the police to arrest a man for driving a vehicle which apparently disqualified from doing so. I know personally, when I renew my licence every three years, give it to my secretary and do not expect to see it again until the three years is up and it is renewed. I have not had the need to go to the police station and produce my licence. But it is one of the matters the noble Lord has asked us to look at and we will, but I am bound to say I am not very hopeful of the outcome.

We cannot, of course, guarantee detection on the spot, but the police are seriously hampered by the lack of specific powers to arrest without warrant those who they know are disqualified or those who admit they are disqualified. In the case the noble Lord quoted, and there are many, it is possible for people, since they have to be summoned, never to be caught for a summons to be served, and we go round and round for weeks and months and cannot catch up with them. The power he proposes would help the police and reduce the chances of escaping detection in the commission of the offence of driving while disqualified. Indeed, we feel that if it became known, that in itself would be a powerful deterrent, and the ability to take swift and sure action against people who have already committed serious motor offences, are flagrantly flouting the law, and are seeking to nullify the protection to other road users which comes from disqualification, would also make an important con tribution to road safety. I trust that I have made it clear to the noble Lord that we fully accept and approve his intention, and I would suggest that so far as the exact form of words is concerned I consult with him between now and the Report stage, so that we can place him in a position to table a viable Amendment which would have the effect of fulfilling the intention that we both have.

One point that the noble Lord raised was the question of the suspension of a disqualification during the period of appeal. I think that is a matter that we shall have to look at separately. Perhaps the best way would be for the noble Lord to consider tabling an Amendment on the Report stage, and we will have a look at it in the meantime. But I hope that, with the assurances I have given, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his present Amendment.


May I add a brief word in support of the new clause that my noble friend has moved so ably. I am delighted to hear that the Government can accept it in principle. I am sure that this will help. After the observations I made earlier about the growing trend for disqualified drivers to drive, I welcome anything that can check this dangerous process, and I congratulate my noble friend on moving his Amendment.


I am more than grateful to the Government for the way in which they have received this Amendment, and I will certainly withdraw it on the understanding that the Government will provide me with one of those skilfully drafted Amendments which express exactly what we all have in mind, and which only the Parliamentary draftsmen are able to produce. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.33 p.m.

THE EARL OF ARRAN moved, after Clause 5, to insert the following new clause:

Amendment of Section 97 of Road Traffic Act 1960 and Section 1 of Road Traffic (Driving of Motor Cycles) Act 1960

".—(1) Section 97(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1960 (which specifies the minimum age for driving motor vehicles on roads) shall be amended by the substitution, for the words in the Table

'1. Motor cycle or invalid carriage of the words 16',
'1. Invalid carriage 16
1A. Motor cycle 17'.

(2) Section 1 of the Road Traffic (Driving of Motor Cycles) Act 1960 (which alters the power, conferred by section 97(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1960, of the Minister of Transport by regulations to vary the minimum age for driving motor cycles, or motor cycles of any class or description, on roads) shall be amended by the substitution, for the words 'sixteen years', of the words 'seventeen years'."

The noble Earl said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. I am astride an old hobby horse of mine. Perhaps your Lordships might feel that I am ranging rather far and wide outside the terms of the Bill, but in view of the previous Amendment, which gives me a lead in, and which perhaps is not directly connected with the terms of the Bill, I shall not be guilty of straying too far. After all, we are talking about road safety, and this Amendment is particularly concerned with that.

In April, 1964, in a Question on the licensing of young motor-cyclists, I asked that the permissive age for driving a motor cycle should be raised from 16 to 19. Perhaps I was setting my sights too high; perhaps I was being illogical. After all, if a chap can drive a motor car at 17, why should he have to wait until he is 19 before he can drive a two-wheeled vehicle?

I am here asking for far less, and I base my case largely on a recent statement in an interview by the Minister of Transport herself. She said this: Motor cycles are the most dangerous form of transport. Of course she is absolutely right. When I raised the matter in 1964, I received full support from the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth. He said: As it may be that I "— that is, the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth— fixed these ages in the Road Traffic Act, 1930, … would the noble Lord"— who was Lord Chesham— ask his right honourable friend the Minister"— that was Mr. Marples— to keep an open mind on the point raised by the noble Earl?"— that was myself. Lord Morrison of Lambeth continued: In view of the increasing density of traffic and the difficulty of travel, is there not a question as to whether not only the starting age for riding motor cycles but also the minimum age for driving motor cars is too low?" [OFFICIAL REPORT, 8/4/64, col. 137.]

When I raised the matter again two months later, in the context of the raids by the "Mods" and "Rockers" on the coastal towns, Lord Morrison of Lambeth then said: Is there not a case for re-considering the age at which people can drive either motor bicycles or cars?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4/6/64, col. 582.] Those were the words of the noble Lord. Nothing was done. I do not base my argument simply on the words of a wise man, whose passing we all deplore; I base them on statistics. I will give as few as I can, but I think they are quite telling. The figures show that between 1963 and 1966 the number of bicyclists and motor scooter riders between the ages of 16 and 19 killed or seriously injured was 31,503, which was 38 per cent of the total for all age groups. Among the 16-year olds—and this is what we are talking about to-day—the number of motor bicycle and motor scooter riders killed or seriously injured was 9,788. And, one other figure, the figures for fatal accidents between the ages of 16 and 19 were five times as high for two-wheeled vehicles as they were for motor cars.

Would there be any great harm in accepting this Amendment? At worst, it would mean a number of young people waiting an extra year. It is never a bad thing for youth to have to wait. It would also mean, on the 1966 figures, saving 2,406 young people a year from death or maiming—lives infinitely precious to their parents and to the nation. It could be argued that by raising the age from 16 to 17 you would be simply raising the accident age by one year. I do not necessarily accept that. Adolescence, the period of growing up, is a frighteningly speedy one. I did stupid things at 16, which perhaps I would not have done at 17. I recall touring around recklessly on a motor scooter when I was 15—yes, there were motor scooters in 1925—and that at some given moment, I cannot precisely remember when, I developed a sense of responsibility, and suddenly recognised that there were other drivers on the road apart from myself, and I said, "No".

Can we not save these young people from themselves? As the Minister has said, it may be argued that motor cycles are more intrinsically dangerous than motor cars, if only because the driver and passenger are less protected. It may be argued that the age of consent, so to speak, should be higher still—16 to 18 or 19, as I originally suggested. But let us immediately take this first step towards protecting our youth. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 5 insert the new clause.—(The Earl of Arran.)


I am most grateful for the way the noble Earl has presented his case, and I would say at once that the Government agree with the noble Earl that there is a strong case for putting the more powerful and dangerous types of motor cycle beyond youths of 16. The noble Earl's proposal goes a little wider than that, because his Amendment would make the minimum age for driving motor cycles 17 years; and that would, of course, include mopeds.

There is no question whatever about the facts presented by the noble Earl. Users of motor cycles and scooters are ten times more likely to suffer death or injury than the occupants of a car, bus or goods vehicle. The driver of a motor cycle or scooter is about twenty times more vulnerable than the driver of a car. Two-wheeled vehicles are involved in accidents with pedestrians three times as often as cars. These facts, deplorable as they are, are not disputed.

It is equally true, as the noble Earl suggested when putting forward a figure of some 9,000 or so accidents, that the accident rate for motor cyclists and scooter riders is highest at the age of 16, and thereafter falls rapidly. To some extent the high casualty rate is related to inexperience, but the facts strongly suggest that the most vulnerable group of young people should not be allowed to ride machines with by far the worst accident record one year before they are allowed to drive a car, which is the vehicle with the safest accident record. It is also, unhappily, the case that Britain has a worse motor-cycle accident rate than any other major European country and is the only country to allow motor cycles of any size to be ridden at the age of 16.

In regard to the noble Earl's Amendment we feel that an exception should be made for the moped, which is a different and safer vehicle. Broadly, it is a motor-assisted bicycle, with an engine of no more than 50 c.c. It has also been urged upon us that the less powerful type of motor cycle should continue to be available to youths of 16 even if the more powerful are not. The position is that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport announced last September her intention to raise the minimum age for driving motor cycles and scooters, but not mopeds, from 16 to 17 years, which is the minimum age for driving a car. Since then her proposal has been discussed with 54 organisations which are concerned. Of the 54 who made representations to the Ministry of Transport, 9 dissented, including notably the British Cycle and Motor Cycle Industries Association. Their representations are being considered.

Much as I have agreed with what the noble Earl has said, it is important that we should not be unnecessarily restrictive, and in our view the noble Earl's Amendment, which would make 17 the minimum age for mopeds, certainly is. Apart from that, the Government have not yet decided precisely where to draw the line and for which motor cycles to make the minimum age 17, though I hope that it will not be long now before that decision can be made and announced.

In regard to the Bill itself, quite apart from the objections I have made that the Amendment is both too simple and too sweeping, the necessary changes when they are decided can be made by amending the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations. Therefore, there is no need to include it as a new clause in the present Bill. The Government, while holding the view which I have stated on their behalf, prefer to use the powers they have and to change the present regulations only to the extent they consider necessary in the interests of road safety. Having given that explanation, I hope that the noble Earl will feel he has done a good job in raising this matter and that he can, with honour, withdraw his Amendment.

7.45 p.m.


May I add a word before my noble friend replies? Some years ago I did an interesting stint on a study of this matter when I was in the Ministry of Transport. All the evidence showed that the crucial factor in accidents is length of experience. Of course, when we look at the accident rate for motor cycles we see that it is so terrifyingly high that we all feel something drastic should be done, and done quickly. My noble friend rightly referred to the highest rate as being in the first year of riding, at the age of 16. All the evidence we studied indicated that if the age limit were raised to 17 there would be an equally high incidence in that first year of riding and that as experience develops, as the rider spends more time on the road, his liability to accident falls.

I believe that the Government's approach is the right one; that the smaller vehicle—the moped, which is very much slower, and therefore less attractive to young people—is the right vehicle for them to start on. This is what one always hoped might happen: that they would buy a moped and then later on, after a couple of years, go on to a more powerful vehicle. Whether that would happen I do not know, but in any event the Government would have my support in trying to do it. I feel that it is the right way to go. I hope that my noble friend will accept the cogency of that argument, because all the facts confirm that that is the right approach.

In conclusion, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that if the Government go ahead with their proposal to change the age limit and to raise it to 17 for the more powerful vehicle, they put upon themselves an even heavier obligation to develop the education and training schemes for young motor cyclists. If my noble friend Lord Chesham were here, I am sure he would be in his place to speak about the virtues of the R.A.C./A.C.U. training scheme. It is a very good scheme: it gives young motor cyclists the chance to learn to ride a motor cycle in closed circumstances before meeting actual traffic hazards on the road.

The real answer is that the Government should proceed to develop the scheme on a large scale throughout the country. If all beginner motor cyclists could have a period of training in such circumstances, there is no doubt that it would reduce very significantly the terrible accident rate which now faces us. Therefore I urge the noble Lord to pass on this advice to the Minister. I am sure she has it in mind, but it creates an even greater obligation to push on with this very desirable training, because this is the answer in order to cut down this terrifying accident rate. I hope that my noble friend, having elicited from the Government Front Bench such a valuable answer showing this progress, may feel that he has had a good day and will be inclined to withdraw the Amendment.


I do indeed feel that I have had a good day. Although there is clearly no commitment on the part of the Government, it is obviously present in their minds that they propose to do something about this important matter. As I said, I raised the point three years ago, and nothing happened. It is not a political matter, and I should certainly be very sorry to be standing up here in 1970 and making the same speech all over again. I think it would be of great comfort to a large number of people, particularly to parents, if they thought that a change in the age limit would shortly take place. Meanwhile, I thank the noble Lord and I look for good news. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


We have one more discussion on Amendment 37, with which I think we should take Amendment 38. It should not be a long discussion. If we could just take that, we should finish Part I of the Bill, which would be a convenient stage at which to resume the House.


I naturally wish to give the noble Lord every help that I can. Although I agree with him that Amendment 38 would not take long, I wish to raise a debate on the Question, That Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill, which will be quite a major debate, and I think this would be the wrong time of night to take such a debate. If the noble Lord would like to start with that next time, I should be very happy to do so.


Yes. I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me, because I recall that during the discussions on Clause 1 he gave notice of his intention to raise a debate on the Question, That Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill, and it would be inappropriate to take that to-night. It would be a convenient starting-off point the next day we have a Committee on the Bill. If the noble Lord would agree that we have a discussion on Amendments 37 and 38, we could then start off with the discussion on the Question, That Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill, next time we are in Committee on the Bill.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7.—[Interpretation of Part 1.]

7.52 p.m.


moved, in the definition of "breath test", after the word "test" where that word occurs the last time, to insert "by regulations made by Statutory Instrument". The noble Lord said: It does indeed appear that this and the next Amendment in the names of noble Lords who sit on the Benches on my left are on the same point. This Amendment is to secure that approved breath test machines shall be listed by Statutory Instrument. I think the need for this arises because there will, at any given time, be certain machines which have been approved and others which are not yet approved but which are being used experimentally and tried out. While I would not suggest that the police would dream of using a non-approved machine for, so to speak, an official purpose, there is obviously scope for a mistake to be made here. A person affected by such a mistake could not easily find out that there was a mistake, unless the approved machines were listed in a Statutory Instrument which he could consult.

I do not know whether I shall be told that anyone who is interested in a matter like this can ring up or write to the Ministry and find out. That would seem to be an argument for not having Statutory Instruments at all, but for having enormous bureaux of civil servants at all the Ministries who would answer the questions of energetic people who applied to find out. Personally, I think that the Statutory Instrument system is much more satisfactory and much more fair to mem bers of the public who are affected by these matters. Accordingly, I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 6, after ("test") insert ("by regulations made by statutory instrument").—(Lord Airedale.)


It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, which is substantially the same as mine, and so save the Committee's hearing the same arguments twice. The point I wish to make is that I recognise that the test which will determine whether a charge is made, and which will be produced as evidence in court, will be the laboratory test of either blood or urine, and that the breathalyser test is therefore of no official significance in court. But it is of great practical importance to any driver who is apprehended.

A driver who makes a positive reaction to a breath test machine, having been stopped by the side of the road, will be taken off under arrest in a police car to the nearest police station, to be subjected to a blood or urine test. This will be a very unpleasant and alarming experience; let us make no bones about it. So, from the point of view of the accused person, it is essential that the breath testing machine shall be accurate, and accurate enough to ensure that a driver who is apprehended is virtually certain to be found on blood testing to have over the 80 mg. limit. It would, I suggest, he intolerable if the inaccuracies in the breath testing machines were such that a significant number of drivers were arrested and taken to the police station, and later found on blood test to be innocent. It would also—and this is a point of secondary importance—be a waste of a very great deal of police time.

It is significant in this context to recall that the earlier breath testing machines were certainly unsatisfactory as to accuracy. I have resurrected the comment of Doctor Bicknell, who made a defence of the liquor trade in 1961, that the margin of error at that time was of the order of 24 per cent., up or down. This would, in my judgment, be quite unacceptable. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will tell us that it is now very much more accurate.

It is in order to bring this very important procedure of testing and apprehending an offender under proper control that I wish to support this Amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us what progress has been made with the development of the breathalyser and what margin of error the Home Office expect to be able to work to. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to do this, in order to resolve the doubts which I am now expressing.


I should like to support my noble friend on this point, because I believe that the degree of accuracy of these breathalysers is extremely important. And they should not only be accurate; they should also he consistent. I have always been very worried about this fact, ever since I subjected myself as a guinea pig to using one of these testers. I did so with a number of friends, and this occurred after we had been invited to dinner by a friend who was sensible enough to be a brewer. He certainly gave us a very good dinner, which started off with our having three glasses of gin. We then had some wine and after dinner we had some brandy, while to finish off we were offered some beer. As a night cap the breathalyser was produced, and this was a machine into which one blew. A plastic bag inflated and the crystals turned a purple colour if the appropriate amount of alcohol had been puffed into them. I blew into this expecting an alarming colour, but there was no reaction. So apparently, even after that consumption of alcohol, one was perfectly entitled to drive.

The machine was then passed to my hostess, who had presumably drunk marginally less, and the colour of the crystals was significantly different and indicated that she was more inebriated than I was. The experiment was then continued a little further and, to my host's alarm and horror, his wife consumed a whole glass of brandy, quaffed it down, and then blew into the machine. Whereupon, as might be expected, the bag virtually blew up—I am referring to the plastic bag—and the crystals turned a violent purple. To proceed with the experiment yet further, she then consumed a slice of bread and a glass of water and blew into the machine again, whereupon it in dicated that she was not in the slightest "tight" or inebriated.

I think that such huge discrepancies and differences in reaction in the machine are quite alarming when, under this Bill, we are saying that such a machine is a perfectly good method of indicating whether or not a person has a certain level of alcohol in the blood. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will be able to give some very strong assurance that the machines used will be much more consistent in the results they indicate than was the case of the machine which we happened to use, because if such discrepancies do occur, clearly it may well bring the whole system into disrepute.


I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that it would indeed be deplorable if the margin of error in breath tests was such that it could result in drivers' being taken to a police station and the subsequent discovery that the alcohol content in their blood or urine was far below the 80 mg. per 100 ml. of blood. That would certainly be quite insupportable. But I do not think there is any danger of that occurring. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was referring to the breathalyser which was produced in 1961, six years ago. Since then we have advanced somewhat.

Noble Lords will be aware that breath-testing for alcohol has been carried on for some years in quite a number of Continental countries, and the breath tests that we shall apply will involve the use of something like the device which the noble Earl described. It will mean blowing sufficient breath through a tube of crystals to inflate a plastic bag at the other end. The crystals will offer some resistance, and the bag clearly none—and I quite believe that no bag can offer much resistance to the amount of breath the noble Earld would blow in. As he suggested, the effect of alcohol passing through the tube is to change the colour of the crystals, the extent of the change varying with the amount of alcohol in the breath. The tube has a calibration mark on it to indicate the prescribed limit, and any colour change beyond the mark would justify suspicion of more than the prescribed amount of alcohol in the blood.

That is the general type of equipment which it is proposed to use. The instrument which the noble Earl patronised could not possibly have been an approved instrument, for the simple reason that it was only in February this year that, as it were, the general specifications for the type of equipment required were published, for the benefit of manufacturers and others. Those are general in character—necessarily so—and they are not suitable to be set out in a formal instrument to be laid before Parliament.

Noble Lords will probably be aware that Amendment No. 38, set down by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is the twin of a similar Amendment moved in another place, but withdrawn after a very short debate. In that debate, no reason was advanced for justifying the suggestion that approval of the devices should be given by statutory instrument. The movers of the Amendment in another place seemed concerned only to suggest that, in order to achieve standardisation, there should be only one approved device. Under our method, uniformity of standard will be achieved by the process of approval—approval by the Home Secretary—and not by restricting approval to just one device.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for pointing out that this breath test is an indication and no more. It cannot be used in evidence. I readily agree that any wild change, or even substantial change—I should have thought 10 per cent. would be a substantial variation—between breathalysers or instruments (I had better call them instruments, not breathalysers) used by different police constables, different police stations or in different parts of the country, or even any variation in a particular device—a point which I do not think has been mentioned so far—is something that we should guard against, to ensure that that does not happen or that, if it does happen, the devices used are replaced. Obviously they must be kept in a proper working condition.

The reason why we object to the Amendments is the fact that they would require the Secretary of State to prescribe by regulation the details of any device to which he has given approval, and that would mean that the details of each approved device would have to be pub lished formally by statutory instrument, in order that full information about each of them should be freely available to anyone. In the Government's view, that is not necessary. I must remind the Committee that the police are the only people who will make these tests. The police will be issued only with officially approved instruments—instruments approved by the Secretary of State—and it will not be lawful for the police to use any device which has not been approved. The police, of course, will be informed by my Department when particular devices have been approved; and so, naturally, will the manufacturers.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, quite fairly suggested that anyone who was being subjected to a breath test would want to know that one of the official devices was being used to test him; and that is a very reasonable feeling. In practice, of course, the police would give the driver who was being tested the opportunity to see the device, and the driver could ask the name or other description if he wanted to check that it was an approved type. If the question was ever raised in court whether the device had been approved by the Secretary of State—it is not evidence, of course, but the question might be raised whether a particular person had been brought to a court by reason of the use initially of a device approved by the Secretary of State—evidence by the police that they had been officially so informed should be sufficient.

The difference, I would submit, is not one in practice, in actual work in the field. The difference is between our proposal—that, as has been done, general conditions should be laid down; that it should be open to manufacturers to comply with those conditions and get their devices approved by my Department; that they should not be issued or supplied to the police until they have been so approved, and that only approved devices should be used—and the proposal in the Amendment, which in effect suggests that detailed specifications should be laid before Parliament in a statutory instrument. This, we think, is quite unnecessary, and would be cumbersome—and, indeed, in some ways unnecessarily restrictive—without conveying any practical benefit.


Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could tell the Committee what standard of accuracy the Home Secretary will require before he approves the breath-testing device.


This is something about which I shall have to write to the noble Lord or, better still, perhaps it can be raised when we have a discussion on whether Clause 7 stand part of the Bill. I was not aware before this debate that it was anticipated that there would be any substantial margin of difference in these instruments. My present advice, hurriedly obtained, confirms that view. So far as the precise margin of error which my right honourable friend would regard as acceptable is concerned, I should like to take advice on that before committing myself further.


Would the noble Lord agree that if you drink a glass of water before using an instrument it completely invalidates it?


The noble Earl will be aware that it depends on many factors. Earlier in the Committee discussion to-day my noble friend Lord Stow Hill said that it took half a minute to do the test; other noble Lords opposite said it took up to 20 minutes. The reason for the difference in time is that the breath testing indicates, first of all, the presence of mouth alcohol, which is in great concentration up to 15 or 20 minutes after perhaps only one drink is taken. Therefore, if somebody drinks a glass of water, cleans his teeth or does something to reduce the quantity of mouth alcohol, it could have an effect on the breath test. But that would not be the case if the blood-alcohol content was above the mark. It could not be affected in that way. In the particular case that the noble Earl mentioned I would suggest that either the instrument was defective or the lady in question had not taken sufficient alcohol to reach the limit in any case.


It is some comfort to know that the police will he issued only with approved devices. But what happens when an improved model is produced? Are all the police forces at once to be supplied with the approved model and the outdated model withdrawn; and is the Home Secretary going to make certain that all the old devices are called in?


May I interrupt the noble Lord? I am not sure what point he envisages. At the moment the police have not been issued with these devices, and the devices with which they will be issued will all be of the approved type. Perhaps the noble Lord will take it from there.


They are approved, and they are fairly accurate. But let us suppose that a better device can be produced which is even more accurate. The Home Secretary presumably, one would hope, will say that he approves the new model and does not wish the old model to be used any longer. But the old model will still be in the hands of the police. I do not suggest that the police will go on using it deliberately, knowing that it is outmoded, but surely the way to make sure that things like this work and that regulations are observed is by publishing, for the information of the public or of anyone who may be interested, what models of machine currently have the approval of the Home Secretary. This is something that the Home Secretary could perfectly well do by statutory instrument if he so chooses. I should have thought that it was a very sensible suggestion that he should do so. I am sorry that the Government do not feel able to accept this Amendment, but I will not prolong the discussion—


I hope the noble Lord will not think that there will be any difficulty at all with the police about withdrawing obsolete models from use. Coming along to the House on a lovely, sunny day about two years ago, I noticed something different about the policemen. I got out of my car at the Peers' entrance and asked a policeman what was the difference. He said that it was in the helmets. That day, all over metropolitan London, some 20,000 policemen had suddenly put on new helmets and the old ones had been withdrawn. There would be no difficulty about making changes; and it would be very much simpler to do so if the Home Secretary proceeded in the same way.


I can only say that when the old type policeman's helmet became obsolete and a new type was issued there was an obvious change in his appearance. It is much more difficult for members of the public—who perhaps have never seen a breathalyser in their lives, and who hope they never will see one—to realise that a particular instrument is obsolete. I do not want to prolong the discussion. I do not think it is very satisfactory. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.