HL Deb 04 May 1967 vol 282 cc1141-55

6.38 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Road Safety Bill, has consented to place Her interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a. —(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

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.

LORD SHEPHERD moved to add to subsection (1): Provided that no requirement may be made by virtue of paragraph (b) of this subsection unless it is made as soon as reasonably practicable after the commission of the traffic offence".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will remember that both in Committee and on Report the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, raised a doubt regarding Clause 2(1)(b), which provides for a driver to be required to provide a specimen of his breath for a breath test if a constable has reasonable cause to suspect him of having committed a traffic offence while his vehicle was in motion.

The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said during the Committee stage, that although everyone assumed that this referred to a recent traffic offence, after careful examination of the words it was possible to construe them as a reference to an offence committed some weeks, and perhaps some years, previously. I expressed an objection to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, that we should include the word "recent", because I took the view that it might increase our difficulties, in that we could be directing the attention of the police to the fact that it could be a recent offence in the sense that it could have been committed some weeks before. It is clearly the intention of the Government that there should be some direct relation between the moving traffic offence and the amount of alcohol in the body. I was pressed by noble Lords at the end of the Committee stage to undertake to see what could be done. This Amendment is the result.

It is not a perfect formula, because I do not believe that a perfect formula is possible. We could lay down a rigid time limit, but this would be arbitrary and would inevitably lead to anomalies. On the other hand, a more general indication of what Parliament have in mind could be open to different interpretations and hence make the task of the courts more difficult. If this Amendment is accepted, it could still be argued that there could be difficulties in exceptional cases where it is not reasonably practical for the police to take the required test for several hours, or even for several days, because they had failed to catch the driver at the time of the offence or soon after. The police will still have the advice of the Home Secretary to guide them.

The Amendment will make it clear that there is no question of the police having an unlimited power to apply a breath test to any driver who has committed a moving traffic offence. It therefore reduces the possibility of a perverse employment or interpretation of the subsection. My advisers and I have worked hard to see whether we could meet noble Lords. I will be frank and say that this is not so good as I should like it to be, but in all the circumstances it is the best that we can do. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 33, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Shepherd.)


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord and his advisers for the work they have done to meet the arguments put forward by my noble friend and myself on this matter. It is not an easy problem. I think that the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved is better than he made it appear to the House, and I support it. The real value of the Amendment is that it gives an indication to the courts as to the way in which this clause should be interpreted. I think it will be useful to have this guidance to the police as to how they should operate these powers, but that is no substitute for a Statute providing what it is intended to provide. Without this Amendment, there is really no guidance to the courts who are to adjudicate on this matter, guidance which would enable them to say that paragraph (b) would not apply, even though it might be that the offence had taken place six months or a year before. With this Amendment, it is clear that there must be a close relationship between the commission of an offence while the vehicle was in motion and the driver being stopped by the police for a breath test to be taken. As the noble Lord knows, I should be against any specific limitation of time, and I think this Amendment is just about right. I conclude as I began, by thanking the noble Lord for the time and trouble he has taken to meet this point.


My Lords, may I give a passing sigh over the fact that when a master of the English language like my noble friend Lord Conesford thinks that there is something to be achieved by inserting the word "recent", it takes three lines in practice to achieve this result? May I make one brief suggestion? The Amendment is a proviso to a subsection which enables a police constable to act on suspicion, but the proviso itself appears to abandon the concept of suspicion, because it says that the police constable has to act reasonably quickly "after the commission of the traffic offence", making it appear as though the constable does not act lawfully unless an offence has actually been committed, which I think is not the intention. I think it would have been better to have inserted the word "suspected" in the proviso, so as to make it read: after the suspected commission of the traffic offence", making it clear that the proviso, as well as the subsection to which it applies, still deals with a case of reasonable suspicion. But it is rather late in the day to be putting forward a suggestion of this kind.


My Lords, I have been conscious for some time that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, wished to share the cloak of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, as a protector of the English language, particularly so far as legislation is concerned. I assure him that the words I have suggested in this Amendment, which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has so warmly supported, are not to be classed with the original suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. We have moved a good distance away from "recent". I am grateful to the noble Lord for having drawn my attention to his point about inspection before we commenced proceedings, and I have been in touch with the Parliamentary draftsmen. I would explain that although the words on the Marshalled List give the appearance of being a separate power, they follow immediately after the word "motion", so that the subsection would read: …if the constable has reasonable cause … (b) to suspect him of having committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion, provided that no requirement be made … I am advised that the word "suspect" at the beginning of that sentence is sufficient, and that there is no need for a second "suspect". I hope that explanation will satisfy the noble Lord.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Determination of plated weights and other particulars, and goods vehicle tests.]


My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend. This Amendment is the product of the continuous process of consultation that is going on. Clause 9(8) provides a penalty for the driver who fails to comply with the requirement of subsection (6)(c)(ii), the driver who fails to be present when required during the examination of his vehicle, or fails to drive it when directed to do so, or fails to operate the controls if directed by the examiner.

This is a case where the interests of the owner and the driver may be different. The driver may have little interest in his job or vehicle and therefore may refuse to collaborate with the examiner. The flow of work along the testing lines will be delayed, and therefore this cannot be allowed. On the other hand, it is conceivable that a driver may wish to absent himself from his vehicle without being able to ask permission of the examiner, who himself may be absent. One can see this sort of situation arising if there was an epidemic of gastric 'flu and both had to be absent from their places. The Amendment leaves sufficient flexibility in the regulations so that in such circumstances the driver does not automatically render himself liable to a penalty under subsection (8). This is the aim of the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 12, line 45, after ("thereof") insert ("being a contravention which is declared by the regulations to be an offence").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 13 [Supplementary provisions]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved, after subsection (1), to insert as a new subsection: (2) Without prejudice to any regulations made by virtue of section 9(6)(c) of this Act, as applied by this section, the Minister may give directions with respect to the manner in which examinations to which such regulations apply are to be carried out".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple drafting Amendment. It is designed to achieve uniformity between the provisions of Clause 9, which deals with plating and testing examinations for pre-type approval vehicles and non-type approval vehicles, and the provision of Clause 13, which covers, among other things, examinations for replating a type approved vehicle on which a notified alteration affecting a plated weight has been made. In regulations for the purpose of such examinations under Clause 13 examination procedures laid down in Clause 9 may be imported, but no provision exists at present in the Bill for the Minister to give examiners directions, as he can give under Clause 9(7), as to the manner in which examination is to be carried out. If the power is given to the Minister for examination in Clause 9, the same power ought logically to be given to him where under Clause 13 he applies Clause 9 procedure to an examination. This is an Amendment to achieve consistency between Clauses 9 and 13. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 18, line 45, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 18 [Operators' duty to inspect, and keep records of inspections of, goods vehicles]:


My Lords, this is a simple drafting Amendment designed to make it clear that not more than one person is essential for the purpose of inspections under Clause 18. We are not foreseeing groups of people examining vehicles; one will be sufficient. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 24, line 41 leave out ("suitably qualified persons") and insert ("a suitably qualified person").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 19 [Licensing of drivers of heavy goods vehicles]:


My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I move Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 together. These are pure drafting Amendments. The subsections, as drafted, refer to "area" when meaning "traffic area". Since the full term "traffic area" is used elsewhere in the Bill, and defined in Clause 29, these Amendments are moved for the sake of consistency. I beg to move Amendment No. 5.

Amendment moved— Page 26, line 35, after second ("the") insert ("traffic").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 28, after second ("the") insert ("traffic").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 29 [Supplemental]:


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Raglan has achieved a right and left here without knowing it. At the Report stage of the Bill, his Amendment leaving out the word "again" was accepted. If this is correct, the word "again" in Clause 29(3)(b) is equally unnecessary and could be confusing. It is therefore proposed to leave it out. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 35, line 1, leave out ("again").—(Lord Winterbottom.)


My Lords, I think this proves that, when it comes to the English language, all the purists are not on this side of the House.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 33 [Short title, citation, commencement and extent]:


My Lords, this Amendment is merely simplification. Clause 33(4) at present provides that: This Act, except so much of section 6 as relates to persons subject to service discipline within the meaning of that section, does not extend to Northern Ireland. With the Amendment I am now moving the Bill will read: This Act, except as provided by section 6, does not extend to Northern Ireland. I am certain that this is an improvement. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 36, line 21, leave out from ("except") to end of line 22 and insert ("as provided by section 6").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Minor and consequential amendments]:


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to take Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 together. This again is an attempt to bring order into the Bill. Parliamentary draftsmen like sections to run in numerical order. This brings sections 185, 193 and 195 in the right order in the Bill when it is printed. It is apparently desirable. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 37, line 11, at end insert— ("3. In section 185(1), for the reference to section 184 there shall be substituted a reference to section 16 of this Act").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move No. 10.

Amendment moved— Page 37, line 14, leave out paragraph 4.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. This is an important Bill, shortly to become an Act, and I should like to say a few words before we part with it. First of all, I wish to express my great appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and his noble friends who took part in the processes of the Bill, either in debate or in Divisions. I should like to express appreciation also to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for his persistent examination of the drafting of the Bill. I could not help thinking, when I saw some of the Amendments, that the Parliamentary draftsman, apart from being a very good Parliamentary draftsman, also had a sense of humour, and was able to spot some of his own defects, which were defects that had escaped the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and put them right. I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for having moved an Amendment in Committee, which we were later able to accept on Report and which empowers constables to arrest without a warrant any person driving while disqualified.

It is interesting that, although we may have had some disputes on one or two parts of the Bill, at no stage has there been any question of the need for this legislation. Part II of the Bill certainly will bring about a major improvement in our goods vehicles. I believe it will lead to far better designs, and this may well contribute to our export trade. But Part I, dealing with drink and driving, which will affect all our social habits, has perhaps been more in our minds than Part II.

I should like to give your Lordships some recent statistics, because they have a bearing on the reason why this Bill is thought to be necessary, and why the public should regard this Bill, when it becomes an Act, as something that must be abided by. The Government have asked for laboratory tests to be carried out on drivers or riders killed in road accidents to discover their blood alcohol concentration. More recently this arrangement has been extended to cover all road users. Results for December, 1966, are complete, and we have a large proportion of those relating to the first quarter of this year.

In December, 1966, nearly half of the drivers and riders killed had been drinking. Over the whole period, December to March, 2 in 5 of those for whom we have reports had been drinking. Significantly, two-thirds of those who had been drinking had blood alcohol levels above the prescribed limit of 80 mg., and nearly half in excess of 150 mg. It is too soon to draw firm conclusions from this exercise, except perhaps that these latest figures suggest no improvement over previous results obtained by the Road Research Laboratory. Nor do they give us any grounds to suppose that British drivers behave differently after they have been drinking than do those drivers who have been subject to detailed studies in other countries.

Until recently it had not been possible to estimate the proportion of accidents which would not have happened if none of the drivers involved had been drinking, but as a result of studies carried out in Canada, in Czechoslovakia and recently at Grand Rapids in Michigan, accurate estimates can be made. If no one ever drove after drinking, then at least 20,000 casualties could be saved each year. And since we know that 80 per cent. of accidents due to drink are caused by drivers whose blood alcohol level is above the prescribed limit, we can also say that if no one ever broke the new law at least 18,000 casualties could be saved. We recognise that it is perhaps too much to expect that this law will never be broken, but a very similar law introduced in Austria resulted in a reduction by one-third in the number of accidents due to drink. If we apply this saving of one-third to the estimated savings in casualties which I have already mentioned, we think that, at the very least, we could save in a year 150 lives, 2,000 serious casualties and 4,000 other casualties. My Lords, this is the minimum. Surely, to avoid at least this toll of lives needlessly lost or shattered it is well worth making the changes in our social habits which this Bill calls for.

I recognise that in the early stages of the operation of the Bill there will be hardship, there will be a sense of anger, and certainly the Minister responsible is not going to add to her popularity because of it. But I would ask the House, and the country, to weigh up this factor. We can all enjoy ourselves at parties and in public houses and the like; we can all take a drink. But we are not forced to take a car to the party, to the public house or to the place of entertainment.

A new sense, a new discipline, is required. It will be an inconvenience, but I hope that the country and those people who will complain will weigh up that moment of inconvenience to them compared to the saving in the first instance of 150 lives, and, perhaps just as important, the saving of those 2,000 seriously injured. We have only to go to our casualty wards to see the shattered bodies that are brought to them. I hope that those people who may complain because their convenience is in some way affected—their pleasures are not; their convenience is—will weigh that up, and I hope the country will co-operate with the authorities in the enforcement and the administration of this Bill. I hope that we who have taken part in the proceedings on this Bill will be able to say that we have taken part in a step that will have a major effect in reducing this terrible toll upon our roads.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Shepherd.)

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has just given us are most impressive, and confirm as nothing else could the confidence we in this House place on this Bill as a contribution to reducing the incidence of accidents on our roads. As he mentioned, the Bill is all the better for going through this House, particularly in terms of Clause 30, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred. Now we must wait and see the effectiveness of Part I, and must overcome the difficulties, legal and medical, and the technical difficulties, which are certain to arise from the application of the Bill and the prosecutions thereunder. But the debates at all stages have revealed how as yet the statistics, the basic facts from which we make our deductions, are still imperfect, as therefore the deductions must be.

Although it is clear from what Lord Shepherd said that great advance has been made in the whole approach to the subject within a very short period of time, the vital necessity of thorough research has again been brought to the forefront. I have been tempted to speak, very briefly, at this stage by the announcement in yesterday's papers that the Ministry of Technology has made a grant of £24,000 towards the Motor Industries Research Association. May I express the hope that this will not mean that the Ministry of Transport's support of the Road Research Laboratory will be restricted by the Treasury by a like amount? Rather may it be a spur to the Treasury and to the Ministry to see that the budget for the Road Research Laboratory is entirely adequate to enable it to make full use, absolutely full use, of the skilled manpower and superior facilities at Crowthorne which are shortly coming into operation. I repeat the importance of co-ordinating the research of all the research bodies concerned, whichever they may be—a principle which your Lordships have already recognised.

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I join with my noble friend Lord Ferrier in asking the Government to step up yet further the resources they put at the disposal of the Road Research Laboratory? More research, more information, will all help the cause which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is advocating of trying to get this message over, and indeed in getting over the whole message of road safety, to the public as a whole. May I begin my few words by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for his patient and lucid explanation of the range of technical points in the Amendments on the Order Paper. In saying farewell to Part II of the Bill, may I send my good wishes with it. It is a useful start in making tighter regulations for goods vehicles, a very difficult field in which to legislate, and I am sure the Government have been wise to proceed by regulation with the utmost flexibility. As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, not only will this give us greater road safety here, but it will probably improve our prospects of exports as well. So I certainly wish the Government well in their development of regulations in this field.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his kind reference to my noble friends and myself for the part we have played in the debates here on this very important Bill—and it is a very important Bill. He rightly claimed that there is nothing between us on the main principle of the Bill. Experience in this country, and indeed in all other countries which have tried to tackle the extremely difficult problem of drink and driving, has led to the conclusion that it is a practical necessity, if drink and driving is to be checked, that there should be a statutory definition of the level of alcohol which amounts to impairment.

We all support the noble Lord and his noble and right honourable friends in the Government in putting this Bill on the Statute Book. I should like to thank the noble Lord for the new statistics which he has given us: they are both impressive and horrifying. We are all aware that these singularly unpleasant fatalities and serious accidents occur because people drink and then drive, and he rightly claims that his target of perhaps a third of the accidents being prevented, if the Austrian experience is repeated here, is a very worthwhile target. I entirely endorse his words. It is certainly a target which is well worth trying for.

During the debates we have had on certain aspects of this innovation there have been some differences of opinion, but I hope the noble Lord is in no doubt that he has my support, and indeed the support of all my noble friends, in putting this Bill into action. In the debates my concern has been only to impress on the Government the drastic nature of the change in the drinking habits of the nation which they are setting out to make, and to plead for humanity in administering the new law. I hope that it will not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, if I say that I believe that the success of the Bill in practice will depend more on the kind of human understanding which he brings to governmental problems than to the missionary zeal which his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport sometimes brings. The police will indeed have a difficult job to do in endeavouring to make this law effective. I have great confidence in the common sense of the police. They are exceedingly experienced, both in the administration of the law and in the frailties of mankind, and can be relied upon to proceed with fairness and with wisdom. Both qualities will certainly be needed to make this legislation effective.

The noble Lord spoke of the possibility of hardship and anger in the case of some of those who may be prosecuted and convicted. But I would remind him that at the end of the day the co-operation of the public must be won, and that the Minister of Transport, while she is absolutely right to stand firm and to put this Bill on the Statute Book, must at the same time win the co-operation of the public if we are ourselves, as a community, to win the greater safety on the roads for which we are all striving.

Finally, while this is an important section of road safety I would point out that it is only a small section of the whole field. We are talking about 6 per cent. of the accidents; the other 94 per cent. have still to be tackled, and at the end of the day we depend on the self-discipline of the average driver. In giving the Government my full support in putting over this extremely important legislation I ask them to redouble their efforts in the rest of the field, because there are many other factors still to be tackled.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, it was not my intention to speak, but I thought the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, might have mentioned something which is very near his heart. I am sure it was an oversight that he did not mention it, and so I propose to do so. This important measure which we all so greatly welcome will interfere with our social habits in this country to a very considerable extent. Therefore I sin- cerely hope that there will be an intensive propaganda campaign—or, shall we say, an information campaign?—drawing attention to the changes which are now taking place, in order that we may win and keep that co-operation for which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford has so rightly asked. For myself I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill. I am pleased with its passage through your Lordships' House.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I will respond to this debate with only a few words. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has said in regard to research and the great importance of the Road Research Laboratory. It is perfectly true that a large number of accidents in which drink is not a factor could be prevented if we knew more about vehicle designing, road construction, and the question of the lighting of our streets and of our vehicles.


My Lords, may I add tyres to that list?


I agree. There are many aspects about which we need to know a great deal more. I have no figures available, and without notice I have no way of giving a specific assurance to the noble Lord. But I will say this: that in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said about my right honourable friend, and from what I know of that lady, of her intention and her tenacity of will, I have not the slightest doubt that she will fight to get what she believes is necessary to reduce the accidents on our roads.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and with my noble friend Lord Popplewell about co-operation and the need for an information campaign. This is one field in which I can say again that I know of the tenacity of my right honourable friend. I think I can say that she is trying to wring the last halfpenny out of the Treasury so that we may have a campaign of such a size and quality that no one will be able to complain that he did not know this Bill had come into force and did not know the implications of it. We shall do what we can, but in the end, as the noble Lord has said, it is what we as motorists, and we as the people, will do. If only we could get people to weigh up what is their convenience and what is the cost I have not the slightest shadow of doubt which they would choose.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.