§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux rose to call attention to the White Paper The Road User and the Law (Cmnd. 576); and to move for Papers.1101
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords as President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, I must declare an interest in the Motion in my name on the Order Paper this afternoon. RoSPA, together with many other bodies and individuals, presented its views and comments to the Road Traffic Law Review so ably chaired and led by Dr. Peter North. That report, which was published last April, has become known as the North Report. It is full of refreshing and far-reaching proposals which, if implemented—or perhaps I should say when implemented—will have a very significant effect on the campaign to reduce road accidents.
§ As this is the first time that Parliament has been able to debate the report, together with the White Paper produced by Her Majesty's Government in response to the report, I should like to pay my tribute to Dr. North and his team for such an excellent report.
§ In recent years there has been a very welcome downward trend in the number of road casualties. When the growth in road traffic is taken into account, that is especially encouraging. But the total figures disguise a very worrying situation for vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians. However one paints the picture of road accidents, they amount to 14 deaths and 1,000 injuries every day on the roads. That is equivalent to an M.1 air crash on the roads every three days, a Clapham rail crash on the roads every two and a half days or a King's Cross fire on the road every two days. Every day 14 families are deprived of a loved one.
§ Top level inquiries and investigations into national disasters are thorough and exhaustive. Yet the biggest disaster, road casualties, appears to be accepted by the general public as the price we pay for our current way of life. RoSPA does not accept that nothing needs to be or can be done, and the Government certainly do not accept that view either. Command Paper No. 576, The Road User and the Law, is a very welcome response by the Government to Dr. North's proposals. It addresses the problems identified in the report and puts forward proposals for new legislation. The most significant proposal is to do away with the present reckless driving offences which relate to the driver's attitude at the time of the alleged offence and replace them with ones based on driving standards. RoSPA welcomes that move. Indeed, through the RoSPA Advanced Drivers Association, the society is working hard to raise awareness and commitment to improved driving standards. I can do no better than to recommend to any Members of the House who wish to ensure that they have and will maintain their own personal driving standards to write to RoSPA's headquarters in Birmingham for details or see me after the debate.
§ The White Paper outlines in general terms how good driving might be defined, but I suggest that there is still much to be done. RoSPA is committed to establishing and promoting good driving. The proposal to allow alternative convictions in respect of a less serious offence is also welcomed. RoSPA was one of the bodies that recommended the use of the manslaughter charge and is pleased to see its use 1102 advocated in the White Paper together with a new offence of causing death by dangerous driving.
§ The Government's proposals include the introduction of a new offence of causing death by careless driving while affected by drink or drugs. That proposal is particularly welcome in helping to reinforce the point that to drink and drive is a criminal act. If someone is killed as a result, the penalty should be just as severe as for any other life-threatening, irresponsible behaviour. I must say that the maximum prison sentence of five years for that new offence seems rather out of balance when compared with the maximum seven-year sentence for the new offence of acts of vandalism on the road.
§ RoSPA's National Road Safety Committee recently considered and endorsed the recommendations of the North Report. However, it believes that the penalties for someone convicted of failing to stop after an accident or of refusing to submit to a breath test should be more severe than that person would have received had he or she been convicted following the original accident. We note that the penalties of causing death by careless driving while affected by drink or drugs will also apply to a driver who fails unreasonably to provide a specimen for analysis.
§ For many years, RoSPA has expressed the view that insurance against the consequences of disqualification following a drink-drive offence is immoral. We therefore welcome the agreement reached with the Association of British Insurers to stop that form of insurance. I note that the companies operating that type of insurance are based outside mainland Britain. I should like an assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the influence of the ABI covers those companies.
§ There are many cases of accused drink-drivers committing a second offence, sometimes involving a second killing or injury, while awaiting trial. The Government's underlining of the powers available in the Bail Acts is obviously appropriate. However, RoSPA would like to see consideration given to provisions to suspend a driver's licence immediately following a positive screening. To facilitate that provision, we advocate that drivers are required to carry their licences at all times. There can be no doubt that a drink-driver is a danger to the community. For that reason, we believe that he or she should be treated in the same way as any other dangerous person.
§ I was very interested to hear the views of a man in Manchester who feels that the police doctor used incorrect procedures to take a blood sample. He complained that he had been treated as an outcast by his colleagues, made the butt of jokes at the office Christmas party and generally treated like a criminal. Without commenting on the particular case, it is interesting to note that society is increasingly treating drink-drive offences like other criminal offences.
§ The proposals will strengthen police powers, but I hope that the main effect will be to make road users more aware of their responsibilities. For example, I was pleased to see encouragement given to the use of roadside warnings by the police. The vehicle 1103 defect rectification schemes have been most successful. A helpful word by a policeman can do a great deal to reinforce road safety programmes; indeed, reinforcement is an integral part of any effective remedial measure. This is a proper and efficient use of limited resources and I commend the police for their initiative. The police, and those who finance the police, respond to public pressure and I therefore feel strongly that the public should be encouraged to express their view that policing traffic crime is just as important as policing crimes of violence. After all, 10 times more violent deaths occur on the road than through crimes of violence.
§ The Government propose to amend the law to allow the use of cameras to detect speeding and traffic light offences. Certainly, the evidence from Australia and New Zealand is that such a measure has significantly reduced the number of accidents, but I believe that the use of all accident prevention programmes must be restricted to sites where there is a history of accidents. If cameras are not used sensibly, their installation could well be counter-productive.
§ One major area that receives very little attention in the North Report is the topic of drinking and driving. The Government propose to carry out a major experiment in the use of retraining to influence the attitude to drink-driving of certain categories of driver convicted of drink-driving offences. I see that proposal as an important part of the continuing campaign and look forward to learning details of the experiment.
§ The Home Secretary is currently consulting with regard to three proposals relating to police powers to carry out breath tests. RoSPA's policy is to seek unfettered powers for chief constables so that they can decide on the appropriate action necessary to tackle each problem. Again, the police have that freedom in tackling other dangerous situations where lives are at risk. There may well be a half-way house involving a staging of the legislation. Mr. John Home Robertson's proposal in another place to incorporate a code of practice in legislation for conduct in respect of road blocks for screening was very helpful.
§ We are concerned that the sentences imposed by magistrates throughout the country vary so widely. A greater uniformity of sentencing and greater use of the powers available to the courts will be of major benefit. For penalties to have a deterrent effect, they must be seen by the public to be fairly realistic. There appears to be no logic in the regional variation in sentencing policy. Sentences must also impose a real penalty on the individual concerned. We have seen far too many celebrities pleading that they need their licences simply to carry out charity work. As a charity, RoSPA deplores that argument and cannot accept its viability. The person should have thought of the consequences before acting irresponsibly.
§ There are many other welcome, common sense proposals in the White Paper, but I shall leave it to noble Lords to read, consider and comment on them themselves. What causes me great concern is the timetable for the implementation of the proposals. Put together, the measures must amount to a major 1104 new road traffic Act. Unless the Government move now and have their proposals ready for the Queen's Speech in the autumn, I cannot see a new Act coming into force until well into the 1990s. The Secretary of State for Transport has set a target for a one-third reduction in road casualties by the year 2000. That is just over 10 years away. The Government must move quickly; time is running out.
§ This legislation must be an important part of the Secretary of State's plan to achieve that target. There are also other matters including education, training, publicity, engineering and, above all, enforcement which all require resources. In order for these measures to be effective I urge the Government to ensure that adequate resources are provided to guarantee that the dreadful total of people killed on our roads—14 every day—is reduced by the year 2000 to perhaps nine or 10 at most.
§ Quite properly the Government are consulting the general public and interested bodies about the content of their proposals, but the public is ahead of Parliament in this case. The North Report received universal applause. It was a breath of fresh air and a vote for commonsense. Of course it will be difficult to frame legislation, but the White Paper provides a good basis for progress. Survey after survey has advocated stronger powers to combat drinking and driving. According to the results of a survey of 10,000 children which is to be published this week, eight out of 10 said it should be the law that when travelling in cars all children should be belted up. The Act only achieves that in part.
§ I am sure that the public want to see an end to road accidents, and the new laws must go a long way toward achieving that aim. In moving this Motion, I urge the Government to complete the consultation as quickly as is proper and to introduce the necessary legislation with haste. My Lords. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, for introducing this debate today. As he rightly said, it gives Parliament a first chance to discuss the North Report and the Government's White Paper. The authors of the North Report and the Government are to be congratulated. I do not often have the opportunity to congratulate the Government but I believe that with this White Paper they have gone a long way toward achieving the right answers.
I should like to thank the noble Lord for setting out so clearly the scale of the problem that we face. I do not want to say much more than that it is unacceptable in a civilised society that such carnage should occur on our roads. We must all seek to find ways of reducing that carnage. It is not a party political matter; we must all put our heads together to make sure that we arrive at the right solution.
In the few words that I wish to say, I do not intend to go into the matter of drinking and driving—not because I believe that it is anything other than one of the most important issues in the report, but because my noble friend Lord Falkland will be dealing with it at some length when he winds up from these Benches.
1105 We welcome the White Paper because it shows a determination to deter dangerous driving while at the same time educating and warning about minor offences. We welcome the sensible provision to change the reckless driving provisions, which have not been entirely successful, and in future to base an offence on the actual standard of driving, leaving factors of inexperience, age and disability to be a matter for the courts in their sentencing policy. It seems to me to be a more balanced approach. It may not be perfect but I believe that we are coming ever nearer to achieving the right balance in that respect.
However, I have two reservations, one of which is in relation to paragraph 1.9 of the White Paper, which states:The Government proposes to replace the present offences of reckless driving and causing death by reckless driving with new offences aimed more at the observable standard of driving and less at the driver's state of mind".That must not be extended into drink-driving offences, in which being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is at least as important as the consequences of the act. It seems to me that that distinction should not be blurred.
The second point that I wish to make about this new offence is in relation to paragraph 2.9, which states:The requirements will he met if the state of the vehicle driven is such that a competent and careful driver would not drive at all".I fully accept that statement but it must not be used as a way of pushing responsibility on to a driver when in fact the responsibility rests with the owner of the vehicle, particularly as regards goods and passenger vehicles. There is sometimes a tendency for responsibility to be pushed down and on to the chap who is driving the vehicle where as it should lie with the owner, who ought always to ensure that his employees are provided with good equipment to drive.
The new offence of causing death by careless driving while affected by drink, etc., is welcome but it is perhaps a little strange that the the two-year period of disqualification which protects the public is so much shorter than the period of imprisonment, which is five years. It seems to me that in most cases a short period of imprisonment is as effective as a long one—that is the experience with many other offences—but a long period of disqualification in fact offers greater protection to the public.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, we are pleased to see the end of insurance against disqualification, which was not quite an incitement to offend but which could certainly lead to a careless approach to driving. It seemed to me and others on these Benches distasteful that people should be able to take out insurance against disqualification. I am glad that the Association of British Insurers has agreed to phase it out. However, as the noble Lord said, one wonders about cowboys from outside the Association of British Insurers and whether the Government will have to legislate in the end. I hope that, as they state in the White Paper, they will keep that point very firmly in mind.
1106 In Part III of the White Paper there are a number of matters of concern, but let me first comment on paragraph 3.5. We welcome the support for the vehicle defect rectification schemes. They are not to be made statutory but I hope that the Government will do everything possible to support them.
There are difficulties with paragraphs 3.7 to 3.22 in relation to the resources that the Government are prepared to put forward. There is considerable overloading on the traffic commissioners, who have an inadequate establishment of enforcement staff receiving salaries which tend to be uncompetitive. The parallel between what we were saying about the King's Cross fire and the railway inspectorate is too close for comfort. I hope that the Government will see fit to increase the establishment and the salaries of those people who, ultimately, are responsible for making sure that the law is complied with.
Similarly with regard to offences of overloading, county trading standards officers are restricted by limitations on local government finance. It is no good passing laws if they are not to be adequately policed. Deterrence is certainly related to the probability of being caught rather than the severity of the punishment. A lorry driver is likely to be stopped for overloading only about once in four years. Bad operators will measure the chances of being caught as slim against the high profits that can be made from overloading.
Some work recently undertaken in Groningen has shown that a very large number of lorry drivers crossing the Dutch borders have been working hours which are far too long. It should be borne in mind that a lorry arriving at a British port starts with a clean tachograph. There are reasons to believe that the spirit of the law is not being followed in many cases.
In paragraph 4.23, on failure to stop, it seems somewhat illogical to have a new maximum of six months' imprisonment where somebody is killed which is so much shorter than the five-year period for drink driving. It seems to me that it could be taken as an incentive to people who have been drinking and have been involved in an accident of this kind to get away from the scene of the crime. I believe that the matter needs looking at again.
On disqualification generally, which the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, raised, magistrates have shown themselves reluctant to disqualify people who are self-employed or where the loss of the licence will cause loss of employment. Will the Government consider the possibility of introducing a penalty of suspended disqualification—say, two years' suspension? The threat of automatic suspension if a minor offence is subsequently committed would do more to modify bad driving habits than would six months in prison. I put that forward as a matter which might be considered.
There is clear public support for the use of cameras for both speeding offences and failure to stop at traffic lights. However, have the Government considered the possibility also of setting up cameras at zebra crossings, where the law seems to be totally ignored in most cases? There is a zebra crossing not far from your Lordships' House which is almost 1107 impossible to cross. Is it not possible to train traffic wardens to use these cameras? It seems to me that here again is a resource that is being under-used.
On non-payment of fines, it seems to us that paragraphs 5.12 to 5.15 are rather weak. There is certainly public disquiet at the wilful ignoring of parking restrictions and the non-payment of fines. Even if we have to wait until the mid-1990s for the magistrates' courts to get themselves into the 20th century, it should surely be possible in the metropolis and in large cities for the police to clear fines before vehicles are released from the pound or from clamps.
We have very little time to deal wih this important topic. I have sketched in some of our thoughts. I believe that on top of all this the Government need to consider spending more money on education and propaganda than they do. We have campaigns at Christmas but throughout the rest of the year they are sparse. However, generally we very much welcome the White Paper.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, for this debate. In a recent report it was estimated that alcohol consumption in Britain is set to double in the next 20 years with devastating social consequences. With the increase in car ownership, and busy roads, the combination can mean only disaster unless something positive is done to try to curb aggressive, dangerous driving which is stimulated by alcohol.
I am glad that the White Paper (on pages 6 and 7) includes the problem of drinking and driving. Since I chaired the committee on Young People, Alcohol and Crime I can assure your Lordships that by far the most heart-rending letters that I have received have been from people who have had members of their families killed by drunken drivers. There has been dismay by the families at some of the very lenient sentences. I am pleased that the Government agree that there needs to be a stronger response to the tragic outcome of the driver's actions. Can the Minister say when the new offence of causing death by careless driving while affected by drink, drugs or certain other forms of incapacity will come into operation? The White Paper states that it will carry the same maximum penalty as the present Section 1 offence: five years' imprisonment, an unlimited fine, and obligatory disqualification of at least two years.
I should like to say something about a fine. There are two groups of people for whom I feel a fine is not very suitable. One is the poor who, having no money, live on social security benefits. For years I have dealt with many young offenders in young offender institutions. They tell me that when they have no means of paying it, a fine is a passport to further crime. The other group are the very rich who can pay the fine off with little inconvenience and no hurt. It seems to me that, whoever they are and however good their counsel is, if these people have caused death by being drunk they should go to prison. For lesser offences it seems that there should be a more flexible choice of community service orders linked with rehabilitation. For some of the 1108 smart young men who leave court with a fine, having to do some really useful compulsory community service such as cleaning out down and out hostels and removing rubbish might be good for their souls and make them consider what they have done.
I should like to ask the Minister a question about disqualification from driving. At the present time if a person who has an international driving licence is disqualified in this country, can he still drive in countries other than Britain? If this is now the case, will this be changed in 1992 when Europe becomes more united? It seems strange that if a person is banned in England, he can drive in France.
On page 8 the White Paper states:The North Report recommended that licensing authorities should be able to take into account, in considering whether to renew a licence, any evidence that the licensee had persistently served alcohol to customers who went on to commit drink driving offences".I agree that where possible motorists should be responsible for their own actions. But I have heard young people say that some publicans push the strong beer and lager at them and do not promote the less alcoholic drinks. I hope that the Government will look at this again. It seems that licensees need training and the ones who are not responsible need some encouragement to realise that their promotion of strong drink can lead to disaster involving innocent people.
Page 17 of the White Paper states:The Government considers that a major experiment in the use of retraining to influence attidudes towards alcohol and driving is necessary".Who will run these courses? Will it be the Department of Transport, the Home Office, or a combination of both? Which department will pay?
I welcome this suggestion so long as the scheme is well thought out and funded. Many of the people who will need this rehabilitation will be young, irresponsible people who do not even have licences. Perhaps some of the courses can take place inside young offender institutions run by the probation service. However, I share disappointment with the AA—the Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous—over the fact that there seems to be no emphasis on training to be given in our schools in order to become a responsible driver and road user. So often this country tries to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The AA, along with many health education people and myself, felt at the time of the Education Reform Bill that emphasis should be put on the need for teaching the life skills in all our schools including teaching about the dangers of drink and drugs when driving. The AA and Tacade have brought out a pamphlet which is called Smart Thinking About Drinking which I am sure will help. However, only some schools are interested in such important subjects. We need to teach our young people to prevent these tragic accidents resulting in death or permanent injury.
Any of your Lordships visiting one of the seven spinal injury units in this country will know that road accidents are top of the list of causes of people breaking their necks and sustaining permanent 1109 injury. Prevention is better than cure: in these cases there is no cure.
I hope the Government realise that many people were disappointed that the amendment I moved at 5 a.m. during our discussion of the Education Reform Bill to have life skills taught in our schools was thought not to be necessary by the Government. Perhaps one day this Government, or another government, will realise the need to promote with great vigour the prevention of all accidents.
I hope that the Government will act on this White Paper. I wish to refer to some aspects that have not been mentioned. One requirement is to try to stop the frightening action of lorry drivers who sit on the tail of law-abiding car drivers. So big are the monster lorries that it becomes impossible to move out to pass in the fast lane as vision is obscured. Their drivers have become the bullies of the road. Because they are not allowed in the fast lane, they take it out on the poor car user. I hope that the Minister will do all he can to make our roads safer places.
Having just spent Easter in France, my noble kinsman and I commented on the very good state of French roads compared with our English roads. Good, safe roads, together with responsible road users, are very necessary.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, I remember that I also commented to my noble kinswoman on the adverse way in which the French drove on those good roads.
§ 3.42 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux for raising this important subject for debate after being successful in the ballot. He may recall that when the North Report was first published, I tabled a Question in the House drawing attention to it and commending its main recommendations. Noble Lords may be reminded of that because, in a supplementary question, I drew attention to cars speeding down narrow built-up streets with cars parked on each side. I felt that they could not all belong to doctors attending emergency cases or parliamentarians responding to urgent whips. It is only gracious that I should take part in the debate and applaud the fact that the Government propose to adopt most of the recommendations.
There seem to be two main principles in the North Report. The first is that the law should be made more effective concerning very bad driving offences and, secondly, that minor transgressions, which are not serious or dangerous, should increasingly be dealt with by police warning only. On the first of these principles the Government are proposing a new offence—probably to be called "dangerous driving"—to replace the term "reckless driving" in England and Wales. They say it may be necessary for this to be done in Scotland as well. As I am the first speaker in the debate who lives in Scotland, I urge the Government, if there is any doubt, to bring in the new offence in Scotland too.
I am glad to see that there are still to be the lesser offences of "driving without due care and attention" 1110 or "driving without consideration for other road users". I am glad to note that in future where a driver has been found not guilty of the more serious offence, he will not automatically thereby be acquitted of a less serious offence. Such changes are particularly needed in Scotland as well as in England or Wales.
At the other end of the scale, the second principle—the greater use in future of warnings for minor transgressions, preferably given on the spot—should help to improve the relations between the police and motorists. That should mean fewer bureaucratic and pedantic procedures.
Other noble Lords may join me in this opinion: as a parliamentarian driving a small car, I witness many more cases of dangerous and thoughtless driving than any policeman in a police car can. I am talking of my experience in Scotland and in the London area when I am here. The reason is that the police car can be detected from afar. One sees drivers quickly adjusting their speed or mode of driving. I warmly welcome therefore the proposals to use the latest technology, proposed in the North Report, to assist the police in monitoring traffic and catching offenders.
Cameras and measuring devices can be employed to detect speeding. Surely this is much to be preferred to police cars indulging in a chase, which only leads to further dangerous situations and higher speeds. Of course police cars may have to chase criminals, for example, the getaway car after a bank robbery. But it should not be necessary to chase individual motorists who are speeding. Cameras can also record the offence of crossing red traffic lights. New equipment for these purposes must be proved to be accurate and reliable. It must also earn the respect of Parliament and the public. The Automobile Association has pointed out that if possible the face of the driver should also be recorded. It is not enough for the registered number only to be recorded. The AA suggests that there have been cases in the past of conspiracy to shield the identity of a driver who may be disqualified. I realise that legislation may be necessary for these new pieces of equipment. I shall support it. I wish to encourage development of the new technology to obtain systems which cannot make mistakes and which will win the confidence of the public.
Speaking for myself, I should feel much safer and happier on the roads with such new equipment operating and deterring impatient and thoughtless drivers. Only this morning on my way to the House, another car narrowly missed my stationary car to go past and through a red light. I realise that the frustration of the traffic jams today caused by the Underground problem may have been one of the reasons. But that incident and others like it are alarming to me. I feel that I cannot allow myself to be involved in an accident or any incident of speeding or other lapse. So far I have been successful in this since I had my first licence over 50 years ago. Your Lordships will have guessed immediately that my reason for this attitude is that I have disabled legs. Indeed, I believe that it is more likely that 1111 someone who has disabilities will be a more careful driver and less likely to have an accident. That may seem a paradox, but it is probably true in general.
When I emerged from hospital after the war in 1946, I had in due course to take another driving test with specially fitted hand controls in the car. A car is essential to me in ordinary life because my walking capacity is limited. If I did not have a licence I should be greatly restricted. As noble Lords may have observed, I can get in and out of taxis only on hands and knees. I mention this personal situation; nonetheless I support fully the intention in the White Paper to enforce rules about medical or physical unfitness to drive. When a person can no longer safely control a vehicle that person should no longer be on the road. I am prepared to accept that if and when it happens to me.
I note that there is to be a new offence in respect of under-age driving. I trust that it is "new" because it will be more effective and will carry heavier penalties than under the present regime. Only last week the press reported the case of a 14-year-old boy driving on a motorway at 100 miles an hour. He had a head-on collision and caused the deaths of seven people, including himself. That kind of behaviour—allowing a child at the wheel of a car—I can describe only as "diabolical". We must try to make such behaviour impossible. Why should other road users be subjected to such a hazard?
I turn to disqualification. The North Report shows that in 1986 there were approximately 33,000 convictions of drivers who were on the road although disqualified. The North Committee estimated them to be about one-fifth of the total number of disqualified drivers at that time. It is clear that a great many drivers who are disqualified for one reason or another are still driving on the roads. I hope that the use of the new technology to which I have referred will be a deterrent, especially if there is acceptance of the recommendation that there should be a camera record of the identity of the driver.
I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the recommendation that insurance against conviction for drunken driving offences should be made illegal. That should be carried out as soon as possible. There should be no way in which the effects of a conviction for that offence can be reduced. I refer also to driving under the influence of drugs.
I should like to say a few words about bicycles. I know that my noble friend Lord Strathcarron will probably speak about motorcycles, as he usually does. I am glad to see that the Government intend to retain the offences for cyclists. We, in this country, do not have special arrangements for separate cycling paths, as do the Netherlands and Denmark. They may be introduced. My guess is however that it will be a long time before they are widely available in this country.
Offences are committed by cyclists who, for example, ride two or more abreast in the most ridiculous places. Another example is cyclists coming in to a road from the left without looking. They appear to believe that there is a rule of the road which allows that. The only other explanation is 1112 that they believe that all four-wheel vehicles will automatically be more than two metres from the kerb. Perhaps the Government can do something to promote knowledge and education about such examples because it would greatly help. Bicycles are part of our life but they can cause extreme difficulties in close traffic if the riders do not know the simple rules of the road.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Strathcarron
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux for initiating the debate. It is an important subject and one about which people often have biased and preconceived ideas. I welcome the White Paper as a whole, although I was disappointed that it did not mention bad eyesight as being a major cause of road accidents and fatalities.
The White Paper contains six paragraphs relating to drink driving. While no one could possibly condone that, figures show that of all fatal accidents only one-quarter are drink related and one-third of those are drunken pedestrians possibly solely responsible for their early demise. There could be a case for breathalysing drunken pedestrians if they reached three times the driver's limit, for example. After all, an innocent driver could be killed or injured while trying to avoid a drunken pedestrian.
My view has always been, and will always remain, that far more accidents are caused as a result of defective vision than alcohol. Whenever I have raised the subject the official reply has been that there are no figures to prove it. Of course there are not. I have never heard of a case where the driver's eyesight has been tested after an accident: breathalysed, yes; eye tested, no. I must conclude that the reason for the lapse is that to be over the limit is not respectable but to have poor eyesight is. Therefore no one is in the least bit interested in doing anything about it.
While on the subject of eyesight and visibility, I was pleased to read that the Department of. Transport, in its road safety publicity programme, proposes to make conspicuity the focus of a campaign in November.
In some countries the elderly and children are encouraged to wear reflective discs below waist level so that they can be seen by motorists using dipped headlights. When motorcycling I always wear a yellow fluorescent heavy-duty anorak, as worn by the police and people working on motorways. A cheaper and just as effective a method for being seen in the half light is to wear a fluorescent belt and diagonal shoulder straps. They are available for anyone to buy at a modest cost. It has been estimated that 30 per cent. of all road accidents involving injuries occur at night, so being seen is most important.
Turning to other aspects of the White Paper, I welcome the fact that some offences are dealt with by written warnings. However, of the 8.9 million alleged offences only 2 per cent. of motorists received warnings. That is a small percentage indeed. I believe that it was the Lancashire Police who, before the war, mounted a campaign to advise motorists rather than to prosecute them; they were called "courtesy 1113 cops". That was most successful and did much to enhance the relationship between the police and motorists.
As regards construction and use, I am pleased to note that vehicle defective rectification schemes are to continue. I note that 300,000 notices were issued in 1987. If a defect occurs between MOTs the motorist may not be aware of it. In the majority of cases he will welcome the chance to put it right without being prosecuted. It also helps to seal the relationship between motorists and the police, which I believe to be of the utmost importance.
The report contains little about motorcycling, apart from penalty points for unlawfully carrying a motorcycle passenger, which will be increased from one point to three. I believe that to be acceptable and I am pleased that no further restrictions are recommended for motorcyclists. Apart from the fact that there is no mention of eyesight testing, I welcome the White Paper.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I believe that I am first on the list. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux for introducing the government review of the North Report. I should like to congratulate all three Ministries on the review. It does not implement in full the North Report. However, when I first read the report, I considered that we were going down many roads much too quickly and were almost a danger to the public. Therefore, I should like to congratulate the Government on the White Paper before us today. I can also say, with its authority, that the Magistrates' Association extends a warm welcome to the review as it is now. In my view it is both comprehensive and complicated. It does much good in many of the spheres we are debating.
There are 8.9 million alleged offences each year on the roads in this country. That is a vast number. Of these 2.1 million, or 24 per cent., are dealt with through court proceedings—the sphere in which we are mostly interested today. In passing, I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Strathcarron that yet again he brings the eyesight problem before your Lordships' House. As he knows very well, many of us have done the same over the years. We are still amazed that the Department of Transport does not seem able to realise that defective eyesight is a major cause of accidents.
Drinking and driving is, because of its terrible consequences, a major concern of the White Paper we are discussing today. We are told that as many as 25,000 cases—roughly one-tenth of total road accidents—may be caused by drinking and driving. Therefore, I welcome the new offence of causing death by careless driving; namely, where the driver is affected by drink, drugs or certain other forms of incapacity. The deterrent sentence of five years is of course a maximum and unfortunately magistrates and judges, when such a case reaches them, are 1114 very loath to impose the maximum deterrent on the defendant. There is also an unlimited fine, which I imagine is supposed to accord with the defendant's means, and there is also mandatory disqualification. I believe that that is very welcome indeed.
The disqualification mentioned in paragraph 2.45 of the White Paper is to be welcomed. I should like to direct the Minister's attention to paragraph 2.38 and the Bail Act. If a magistrates' court decides to convict a defendant of a charge which disqualifies him from driving and takes away his licence, I understand that—this certainly used to be the case—if he is found guilty and appeals, he may ask the magistrates whether, pending the Crown Court hearing, he can have his licence back or continue to use it. I believe that that is wrong. I think that if one is disqualified and found guilty of drinking and driving and one then elects to go to the Crown Court on appeal, one should have one's licence taken away in the interim period, which, unfortunately, could be a very long one, as we all know.
I also welcome the points differential. That has been raised from 8 points to 10 points for failing to stop after an accident. That may seem to many people a heavy points fine, but I am informed by the police that many motorists have slight accidents which do not impair the use of the car and then go away, having been drunk at the time. Perhaps the 10 points may serve as a deterrent.
I also welcome the written warnings. If you are apprehended by an officer in uniform and that officer says, "I have seen you driving in an erratic manner", or, "I have seen you driving dangerously" or whatever, and he gives you a friendly but fairly—and I think the two can be amalgamated—severe warning instead of taking you to court, I believe that that will be a deterrent for the car driver and it will also save a lot of court time.
Cameras have already been referred to. I am sure that, if the public realise that the cameras have been thoroughly tested by the departments concerned, they will be accepted, and I am quite certain that they will be a deterrent. One often sees glass in the middle of a road at a crossroads indicating that there has probably been an accident caused by somebody jumping the lights. Given a camera, those people could be caught
I am so glad that the Government did not go down the road of increasing the possibility of clamping as the North Report advised, because I have seen—as I am sure have other noble Lords—cars clamped in ridiculous positions where they cause far more trouble than if they were simply removed.
I should like to refer to two problems faced by the magistrates' courts, where all the offences with which we are dealing today will start their lives. I am told that there are over 100 vacancies for court clerks. That does not appear to be very many but it means that the courts in question cannot sit. Whether or not the court clerk has officially passed his exams, without a clerk the magistrates' court cannot sit. Therefore, those vacancies mean that a great deal of time has to be wasted and that the defendant too has to wait much longer than he perhaps should before his case comes to court.
1115 Also, the Crown Prosecution Service will have a problem in dealing with some drinking and driving offences. It does not see the defendant and has not witnessed the accident, and I believe that it faces much difficulty. There have been many cases where the wrong charges have been brought. I do not lay any blame. Perhaps it is because there is too little experience but certainly throughout the country the Crown Prosecution Service is not, however hard it tries, as good as we all hoped it would be when it was introduced.
I believe that this review and the impending legislation will deter and will also, because it deters, reduce the number of accidents—and that, after all, is the end product which we all desire.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, perhaps I may first apologise to the noble Baroness for trying to jump in ahead of her, as a result of having lost my most up-to-date pair of glasses. Perhaps I may also thank the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, for making this debate possible.
In any discussion on road traffic laws it is worth remembering that the United Kingdom has almost the lowest road accident fatality rate in the entire world, and which has steadily declined year by year over a long period. That puts some of the shrieking headlines of the "Stop this Road Carnage" variety into perspective.
It is also worth noting that 50 or 55 years ago, when there were 17 or 18 times as many fatalities per vehicle on the road as there are today, there was very little worry or concern expressed by the government, the press or the general public. Were the Britons of 40, 50 or 60 years ago exceptionally callous, or is it that today we are exceptionally safety obsessed? It is interesting to speculate. Having said that, nobody would quarrel with the Government's wish to reduce vehicle road accident casualties by one-third by the year 2000 provided that it can be done without economic dislocation or excessive interference with personal liberty.
I now come to the specific recommendations of the White Paper. Last year the Government were good enough to accept my proposal that the minimum period of disqualification for causing death by reckless driving should be raised from one year to two years. I am, therefore, naturally glad that the new minimum disqualification period of two years is being extended (paragraph 2.13) to cases where dangerous driving results in a manslaughter conviction. It is also good that the law is being tightened up in order to counter the unexpected difficulties that have been found in practice in the interpretation of the word "reckless".
Particularly interesting to my mind is paragraph 2.31, intended to deal with people who are unfit to drive a motor vehicle by reason of temporary incapacity due to "fatigue, somnolence or temporary disability". I have long felt that a large number of accidents happen as a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel, though obviously very few drivers are quite so silly as subsequently to admit that to the police for fear of losing their licences.
1116 We then come to the emotive topic of drink-driving. The trouble in that respect is that a substantial section of the public has been led to believe that if drink and driving were to be totally divorced nobody would ever again be killed or injured on our roads. However, government statistics indicate that only 19 per cent. of fatalities and 10 per cent. of injuries on the roads can be ascribed to drink. Even those statistics may be suspect; in other words, exaggerated.
Let us take the case of a driver who is slightly over the limit and has stopped at an intersection, where the traffic lights are red, with his handbrake on. Coming up fast behind him is another driver, perfectly sober but who has just had a flaming row with his wife and is accordingly not looking where he is going. He crashes into the back of the stationary car; people are injured, possibly seriously. The police arrive, breathalyse everyone concerned and naturally find that the stationary driver is over the limit. Is it not highly likely that such an accident would be listed in the statistics as one involving drink, even though drink clearly played no part whatever in causing it?
Mr. Auberon Waugh sometimes goes over the top—indeed, he frequently does—but he is surely right in claiming that the present drink-driving hysteria is well on its way to ruining social life in the country, where people have to drive 20, 30 or 40 miles to a dinner, Sunday lunch, a wedding reception or whatever. For obvious reasons the situation is not quite so bad in urban areas.
That brings me to the question of random breath tests delicately touched upon in paragraph 2.46. Frankly, the idea of consultation is something of a cop-out. Why not have public consultation over water privatisation or the re-introduction of the death penalty? If the Government are thinking of introducing random breath tests, they should be prepared to incur the odium themselves and not seek to shuffle the responsibility on to the public at large. I very much hope that they will not do so. Just as the searching of young people in the streets—the "sus" law as it was known—led to great hostility towards the police on the part of young people, so random breath tests will lead to greater hostility towards the police on the part of motorists at large. There would be humiliation, or at any rate indignity. There would be missed trains, missed planes, missed job interviews and missed business appointments. For people suffering from chronic middle ear or sinus trouble the effort of blowing hard into a tube could cause distress and possibly pain and in many instances almost certainly aggravate the condition.
What is more, random breath tests do not show the presence of drugs. Approximately 12 years ago a doctor friend assured me that more road accidents were caused by drugs than by drink. He was not only referring to illegal drugs—for example, cannabis, which was smoked much more widely than it is today—but to perfectly legal and often prescribed drugs such as painkillers, anti-histamines and, above all, tranquillisers. It will be interesting to hear the Government's reply to that assertion on the part of my doctor friend.
1117 I now refer to the offence of failing to stop after an accident. This offence ranges from the extremely serious, where a person is killed or injured—the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to this—to the extremely trivial, where in the dead of night a motorist reverses into a gate post and knocks off a flake of paint the size of a thumb nail. All the more pity, therefore, that the Government have seen fit to introduce such a narrow penalty points band of between eight and ten. I urge them to reconsider and permit the same seven-point spread as applies to the offence of careless driving.
I am not happy about the proposals in Chapter 4 for forfeiture. Where a large fine in the region of £1,000, £5,000 or £10,000 is justified, it should be imposed openly and not in a roundabout manner by the offender having to forfeit his car. On the use of cameras, until such time as speed limits are more realistic, I am not happy at the suggestion that they should be used to catch speeding motorists. But if they are used merely to catch people jumping red lights, I have no objection at all and would heartily endorse such a suggestion. Re-testing should not be used purely as a punishment but only when justified by a consistent record of bad driving. Above all, the proposal to abolish penalty points in cases of car theft and taking cars without consent is surely wrong, particularly in view of the number of deaths caused by joy-riders in stolen cars in recent weeks, about which we have all read.
Not everything can be achieved by legislation. There is a great deal that the police can do to enforce the existing law more rigorously within the present penalty structure. One has in mind the tens of thousands of people who drive without lights in conditions of poor visibility, who bunch together far too closely on motorways and dual carriageways at speeds of 70 miles per hour plus and who drive through red lights, as has already been mentioned. This offence is particularly prevalent today since compulsory seat belts have made drivers feel more secure and over-confident and hence often inattentive. Above all, the law on the carrying of insecure loads should be much more rigorously enforced. Goods vehicles—indeed, passenger vehicles—which carry insecure loads present a terrible danger to motorists and motorcyclists who are following behind them.
Finally, the Government themselves have a most important responsibility, quite distinct from legislative action against faulty driving. The very worst accidents are those involving vehicles colliding at combined speeds of 140 or 150 miles per hour. The Government should resolve to proceed with all haste to ensure that impregnable safety barriers are erected along the length of central reservations of every motorway and dual carriageway in the country.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, the Motion of my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux reminds us that certain parts of the North Report have already been implemented and the changes that we discussed some months ago came before us on 1118 1st March. At the time we discussed those changes in this House my noble friend the Minister told us that he would put in place a mechanism for monitoring the effects of the changes. I hope that this afternoon he can tell the House a little more about the mechanism.
My noble friends Lord Strathcarron and Lady Macleod of Borve referred to eye tests, which is a subject we have debated in this House on many occasions. The last time on which I exchanged views with my noble friend who is on the Front Bench this afternoon he said that he would ensure that, of the millions of pounds that had been set aside for further research into motoring matters, he would try to ensure that some was used for gathering the information that my noble friend Lord Strathcarron called for. I wonder whether this afternoon he can tell us anything further about that.
In the earlier remarks of my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux he drew attention to the anomaly that arises in the government White Paper between the five-year term of imprisonment for causing death by careless driving with a drink involvement (referred to in paragraphs 2.26 and 2.29) and the seven-year term of imprisonment for endangering other road users (referred to in paragraphs 3.2 and 3.3). That seems to make nonsense of causing death while being drunk. I am tempted to suggest that perhaps that causing of death could be looked into by your Lordships' Committee which is considering the question of murder at the moment—because causing death by driving while drunk is just that. I believe that it is not unwise to use such a description because of the serious nature of the offence.
The North Report speaks about one in four disqualified drivers who flout the law and who apparently get away with it. It is an extremely difficult offence to detect and it is almost by chance that a disqualified driver is caught unless another offence has been committed. When we come to deal with a Bill containing this and other matters, we should look at that question very carefully. I perceive, as I believe also did my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, some difficulties as regards paragraph 2.31, which relates to the new offence of being unfit to drive due to fatigue, somnolence or temporary disability. That will be extremely difficult to prove I envisage an enormous schedule having to be devised so that people can understand when they may or may not be committing an offence.
The White Paper also proposes what can only be described as a return to the offence of dangerous driving. The definitions of reckless and careless driving are to be changed. I believe that that in turn will cause precisely the same difficulties which we experienced in 1930 and onwards and which brought about changes later on. If I recall correctly, there were cases where the magistrates of their own volition reduced the offence to the lower one because they had the power to do so, or they entered into some kind of plea bargaining. I cannot conceive that as regards motoring offences or any offences at all we would wish to enter into plea bargaining. I do not 1119 believe that the definition set out in the White Paper is clear or objective as to what is intended.
I wish to pose a question to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and perhaps he can give me the answer after the debate. He made the rather sweeping statement that the chance of a driver with an overloaded lorry being caught happens once in four years. I wonder where he gets that information. My experience in the haulage industry suggests otherwise. He also suggested that we might use wardens for policing duties. I hope that we do not get into the very dangerous practice of using other bodies for what are essentially policing duties. In this country we have been able to maintain one police force, though I know it is broken up into different areas. We have refused to have a separate traffic police force, a motorway police force and so on. I hope that the Government will not be persuaded that they should in any way change the structure of the police.
The Association of Chief Police Officers has now asked that the police should have unfettered powers for breath testing. That is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised. In his statement in another place on 1st February the Home Secretary invited consultation and opinions on three points. It is right and proper that he should do so. The three alternatives were to make no change to the existing powers, to consolidate the existing powers or to introduce unrestricted powers to require a breath test. Public opinion has changed greatly about drink-driving offences. The police have totally adequate powers in current legislation—though the two parts are separate in the Act. The police authorities have now decided that public opinion is such that they can go for additional powers.
There is a certain ignorance by the public of the powers contained in existing legislation. Those powers give the police all that is necessary. We should stay with the existing powers and consolidate them for ease of understanding. I do not believe that in matters of this kind the police should be given unfettered discretion subject only to a code of practice or guidelines. They should work within the law as set down, not subject to codes of practice.
The other question I wish to raise this afternoon concerns imperatives. I can guess what my noble friend will say if I ask him when we can expect legislation on the White Paper. I shall save him the embarrassment of giving me the stock answer by not asking the question. However, I urge on him the imperative need, for all the reasons given by noble Lords in this short debate and by the public in general, to make yet another onslaught on road safety and fatal and serious injury incidents where motor vehicles and pedestrians are concerned. That imperative is great. I hope that he will use his very best endeavours to ensure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport secures a legislative slot for this necessary legislation at the earliest possible time.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, the House will be obliged to my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux 1120 for having initiated this very timely debate. I have a dual interest to disclose. I am a fairly longstanding honorary vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, though safety in the home was my original forte, and a newly elected honorary president of the College of Driver Education.
One of the main aims of the college is to educate learner drivers. There is a great deal of concern about the proliferation of driving schools at the present time. I would be the last person to launch an attack on driving schools, many of which are extremely reputable, but one has only to travel in a built-up area at a busy time to see a car driven by a young learner driver with an instructor who singularly fails to persuade the driver to keep to the left of the road. The traffic is thereby held up. This proliferates the offences which are largely the subject of the interesting report by Dr. North.
I wonder whether the Government will consider putting greater emphasis on subjecting driving schools to more frequent inspections. I cannot help thinking that there is a link between the number of accidents caused by inexperienced drivers and the fact that in the late 1980s some of the driving schools are not of the same standard as existed 30 years ago, although of course there is far more traffic on the roads now than there was at that time.
Since I was the victim of a mugging attack some 10 years ago I have not driven a motor car. I did not drive a great deal before then. This has given me more opportunity to see for myself some of the things which happen on the road. My wife is an experienced driver and a magistrate and therefore has a special responsibility to drive carefully, which she does. I should like to follow my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy in referring to cyclists. For many years I was a keen cyclist. It is an admirable and healthy pastime. It brings one to one's destination quickly, and, as I say, is a healthy form of exercise. However, too many young people cycle without lights and proper brakes. They do not have to carry insurance. In Surrey where I live I see youngsters of eight and nine cycling without lights around country roads. They could cause serious accidents.
A few years ago I was knocked down in London by a cyclist. A youngster of about 16 overshot the lights. I was not badly hurt but I lost a good deal of blood. The accident could have been very much worse but it would have been difficult to prosecute him. If the person involved had been eiderly or disabled the consequences would have been too dire to contemplate. The paragraph in the report about cyclists is a valuable one. I notice that the penalties have been increased. It is a difficult matter to enforce but it will be one for the law authorities to follow up as far as they possibly can.
Paragraph 4.23 has come in for some discussion. Six months' imprisonment is an inadequate sentence for this offence. A person must know if he or she has hit somebody. The impact of hitting a human being is enormous. I hope that some consideration will be given to increasing the sentence in this respect, especially if the driver involved is trying to avoid a breath test.
1121 The contents of the report are in themselves valuable. Enforcement will be the most important test. The magistrates' courts will have an important responsibility. I do not agree with the rather dismissive views of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on the number of road accidents in this country. There may be fewer than in France but there are still 4,000 to 5,000 too many. The committee chaired by Dr. North has produced a valuable report and I hope that its proposals will be enforced as soon as possible.
§ 4.35 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, on his good fortune in having been successful in the ballot and thank him for giving us the chance to talk about both the North Report and the Government's White Paper, both of which are admirable in many ways, although from my point of view—perhaps some noble Lords will not agree with me—in one respect the North Report, and not so much the Government's White Paper, falls rather short of what I should have liked. I refer to the areas relating to alcohol and to drinking and driving.
It is curious that of the two briefing papers which I received from two major motoring organisations—presumably other noble Lords taking part in the debate will have also received them—one made no mention of drinking and driving. The other, to be fair, mentioned it a good deal. This highlights in a way, as did some of the speeches this afternoon, a reluctance to get to grips wih the problem of drinking and driving. It is this point which compels me to concentrate my speech on drinking and driving.
One cannot ignore the magnitude of the problem. I cannot go along with the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on this point, or with the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, although I agree with him about concentrating on eyesight. As a fellow motorcyclist, I know how important that is. With motorcycling drink and riding, as distinct from drink and driving, is a serious problem, especially among young people.
If the figures have not improved in the past few months, we can expect three people a day to die as a result of contact with a drunk driver. That is more, statistics tell us, than will be murdered in a day. Another 55 men, women or children will be seriously injured. That is more, if one agrees with current statistics, than will be mugged or assaulted in the streets of Britain today. In the past eight years 137,000 people have been killed or injured. That is because drivers have had too much to drink and have caused a fatal accident.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, would the noble Viscount give way for a moment? I am grateful to him. We have more time than we expected but I shall take up only a minute. It is simply to say that the North Report does not go into the drinking side of offences because the committee was not asked to. I agree with what the noble Viscount said, but to be fair to the North Committee, in its conclusions on page 276, paragraph 23.7, it says:The specific drink driving offences are not matters which we have been asked to examine; but a number of our recommendations, taken together, should have a significant impact on drinking and driving".1122 The Government in their White Paper have of course gone further, as they said, and taken in more on the drinking offences side. But I thought that to be fair to the North Committee one should make it clear that it was not asked to look into drinking and driving offences.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He is absolutely right. Perhaps it was my passion about the subject, but I agree with him that the Government have taken this up and their recommendations and proposals are highly acceptable. I hope that they will even go further than they do in the White Paper.
The police use of the breathalyser has helped, and also the Government with their advertising campaign have had a significant effect on drinking and driving. Nevertheless the costs—which I think are again accepted by the Minister's department—are quite staggering. Each fatal accident costs society half a million pounds. One can see that the cost of any innovative scheme that reduces the number of fatalities resulting from drinking and driving must be set against this staggering figure. Of course the total drink-driving bill in this country in terms of days lost in production, demands on the health service and damage to property runs to somewhere around £50 million or £60 million a year.
I am disappointed also that the Government in their White Paper have not shown an indication that they will go further into the examination of the nature of drink and driving in this country. It is connected with our alcohol culture, which varies somewhat from that of other countries but is similar to that of many other developed indusitrial countries and many of our neighbours. In many respects we are better than other countries. France has a horrifying record of death as a result of drink, but generally the social patterns connected with it are somewhat different. Having spoken recently to some French friends, I believe that accidents are common in France as a result of people eating in restaurants and drinking wine. They come out not necessarily in a drunken state, and not necessarily with a very high blood alcohol content but nevertheless in a soporific state in which they are not paying attention, and that often results in fatal and horrifying accidents.
Of course in this country attention has been concentrated on young people—often what we call the young, semi-skilled male who drinks lager, and plenty of it. He goes out in his car and has an accident which could be fatal or could cause serious injury. The Government's campaign targeted against these people has had some success. However, we must not forget that just under half of the total number of accidents are attributable to people over the age of 30, and many of these people have identifiable drink problems—not driving problems, but drink problems. This is an area in which there is some confusion in this country. Drink and driving are seen as a driving problem rather than a drinking problem.
In some ways our neighbouring countries, particularly Germany, have gone a lot further than we have in tackling the problem and in setting up a system 1123 whereby offenders who have offended more than once, and where an accident or a fatality has resulted, have to undergo treatment. This is paid for at their own expense, which gives plenty of motivation to the subject. Their problem is analysed sensibly by psychiatrists and other trained people, and they are put on a course that has produced significant results in Germany. In fact it has reduced by about one-third the number of offences which are recommitted, so that recidivism in Germany has been significantly reduced.
The cultural background to drink and driving has not been properly tackled. There are one or two isolated surveys. Indeed the Nottinghamshire accident study, which took place some time ago, revealed that 50 per cent. of drinkers were classified as heavy drinkers. This is under the recognised scale of definition, the general household survey definition, which relies on numbers of units. About 25 per cent. were moderate drinkers and 23 per cent. were frequently light drinkers. The heavy drinkers were, more often than not, people with a drinking problem who required help in their life generally rather than just in the area of their driving.
What is clear from this and other studies is that the association of drink driving with drink problems is very much more serious and much wider than people thought. If I am right, an offender who had been twice caught with two and a half times the allowable level of alcohol, or who had refused to take a breath test, or had one offence of each kind, was considered to be a dangerous, high-risk offender. I certainly welcome the Wakeham Committee's decision to ask the Department of Transport to consider extending the defnition so that drivers who have two or more disqualifications for drink-driving will be required to satisfy the licensing authority before they got their licence back that they did not have a drink problem. That is a welcome suggestion, and I hope that this will be seen in future legislation.
To sum up, I think that drink is a major problem. It has been tackled and it is reducing, but the attitude of the country at large needs to be changed towards drinking and driving. That should start in the schools. I hope that the Government will support any moves to increase teaching in schools about the harm that can come from abuse of alcohol, in particular in connection with driving. I would ask them again to look closely at the German experiment to see whether we cannot produce a system that goes some way to treating people and finding out the background of offenders so that they could be taken off the roads to prevent future offences.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking Dr. Peter North and his colleagues for carrying out this review of road traffic law, which involved some 55 meetings, and for presenting at the end of the day a first-class and excellent report of that review. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, for his timely debate, which has enabled us to not only debate the review report but also the Government's White Paper.
1124 I am generally in agreement with the main conclusions of the review report and the great majority of the 137 recommendations, although there are some exceptions with which I shall endeavour to deal in my short speech. The same principle applies to the Government White Paper. In general one can agree with its main points, but again there are some points on which I shall show some disagreement. Generally the motoring bodies take a somewhat similar view of the Government's White Paper.
We have heard details of road casualties, and I shall not weary the House by going through them again. However, it should not be overlooked that the latest figure announced by the Department of Transport only a few days ago showed that there are now 23.3 million registered vehicles on our roads. That gives some indication of the problem with which we are faced. One has a large number of points with which to deal, especially as there are 137 recommendations in the North Report; but I shall be able to deal with only one or two.
At the outset perhaps I may ask whether much of what is now proposed will be upset by proposals being considered by the European Commission. Noble Lords will have seen the Guardian newspaper of 27th March which carried a report of the proposals being considered by the Commission which could have a far-reaching effect on our existing law and the Government's White Paper proposals. Ministers have made certain comments about the Commission's proposals, but what is the real position? Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he comes to wind up. As other speakers have said, while the Minister can give us no definite assurance, I should like to emphasise, as have other noble Lords, that we must have legislation on that matter in the next Session. The position is too serious for it to be put off. There is sufficent time for the Government to consider legislation, especially as when the North report was first issued the Government said that they had made their decision on many of the proposals. Draft legislation must therefore be available for implementation, especially if the Government are going to carry out their praise worthy objective of reducing road casualties by one-third by the year 2000.
The Government have stated that they intend to issue a clear and simple guide to traffic law to complement a planned revision of the Highway Code. I believe that that is vital. That is another reason to have legislation next Session. Road traffic law deals with congestion and road safety. The Minister may give the same answer as he has previously given: that it will be as and when legislative time allows. We must have early legislation on the Horne Report (which was published as far back as November 1985) to deal with street works. They have a considerable effect on congestion and road safety.
I have taken three quotations from three paragraphs in the North Report which are worth repeating. I put the three together:The bulk of road traffic law aims largely to avoid accidents rather than enforce".1125Unfortunately road traffic law often fails nevertheless to prevent bad driving".North,see road traffic law as an instrument to promote good driving by discouraging bad driving".I was then somewhat surprised to see paragraph 2.29:There is little firm information on the contribution which road traffic law and its enforcement make to road safety, the free flow of traffic and the preservation of amenity".The report refers to some limited research which is being undertaken on those matters, but urges that there must be more research. If what North says on that matter is correct, extensive research must be undertaken in the not too distant future. North also said:No law will be truly effective if it fails to command the confidence of the community".All noble Lords will agree with that statement. It would appear also to be the Government's aim as set out in their White Paper proposals. If that is to apply, there must be enforcement. It is useless to have good laws if they are not properly enforced because that reduces their value to the community. Enforcement means that the Government must ensure that there are adequate resources—that is, police resources and, where necessary, resources for the local authorities.
The North review paid a great deal of attention to the consequences of offences and whether one should bear in mind the driver's state of mind. North states that the one objective test should be that of bad driving. A number of noble Lords have referred to the Government's decision to change the present offence of reckless driving to dangerous driving.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to one of the two ingredients involved in the standard of driving, which the Government have said they will follow and which at present apply in Scotland. He quoted that ingredient; but a second ingredient was mentioned in the White Paper:The driving must carry a potential or actual danger of physical injury or serious damage to property".The North review did not refer to the types of risk which might result from very bad driving. It would appear that that omission was intentional. It was considered that there would be a danger that a new very bad driving offence might be difficult to establish. In the light of what the North review said, why has that criterion been added?
Other questions are being asked: will the new offence of dangerous driving have sufficient impact on the driving public? Does it give a clear message of deterrence to the public? Will not the Government's proposal leave too great a gap between bad driving and careless driving, especially as in the White Paper the Government declare their intention to retain the lesser offence of driving without due care and attention?
Although I want early legislation, that change from reckless to dangerous driving will require careful consideration, and I hope that that will be given without holding up the legislation. 1126 Noble Lords have referred to the use of new technology with the introduction of cameras for speeding and traffic light offences. Speeding can of course be a dangerous offence; but nothing can be worse than the jumping of traffic lights. I travel from the suburbs to the House every day, and I see that going on at crossing after crossing even where there is a yellow box traffic system. Frankly, that is something which needs urgent attention. If there is to be public acceptance of and confidence in the use of such equipment, there must be a recognised standard. We must avoid what took place concerning radar equipment. That took pressure on three occasions—in Committee, on Report and Third Reading—before the Government decided that a standard of equipment must be established and that it must be approved by the Secretary of State. Clearly, the standard must be one which is laid down and approved by the Secretary of State.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to the necessity of identifying the driver. That is clearly necessary because unless the camera can identify the driver, there will be difficulty in prosecuting cases. It may not always be practicable for the car to be stopped immediately. If it can be done, then the driver can be identified. I believe that both motoring organisations accept the principle of the use of the new technology. It has been urged, especially by the AA, that if it is intended to prosecute, a notice should be sent by recorded delivery within 48 hours. That is essential in the interests of natural justice both for the prosecuting police and for the individual concerned.
All I shall say about drink and driving is that in general I support the White Paper proposals on that important matter. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that the public are gradually becoming more vigilant on the question of drinking and driving. That is a healthy sign. Despite the fact that it was not in the terms of reference, I was surprised that the White Paper makes no reference to random testing. The Government were not committed to consider in their White Paper only what North considered. They could consider proposals for the reform of road traffic law as they thought fit. The matter of breath testing is dealt with in the North report in paragraphs 3.8 and 3.9. It seems to me that they approve of the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers that present police powers are sufficient, and that the police will not require random testing because they can always do that now if they so wish.
I note, as other noble Lords have said, that paragraph 2.46 of the White Paper indicates again that the Secretary of State is to carry out consultation on the matter. I hope that the consultation will proceed fairly quickly. I believe that many sections of the public are prepared to adopt random testing if a sound case can be made out and if testing can be exercised by the police in the correct and proper manner.
I also accept what the Government White Paper says on the proposals for rehabilitation of convicted drink drivers. It is proposed in the White Paper that such schemes in selected areas be carried out over a 1127 period of at least five years, in order to enable a proper evaluation to be made.
However, no reference is made in the White Paper to complementing this with a similar experiment in schools in the same selected areas. I wish to support what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on the need for education. While that may not be considered a matter for the road traffic law, I hope that the Government will have something to say on education concerning the general effects of alcohol, and that road safety should be included in the core curriculum subjects in schools. Looking back, I understand that the 1967 White Paper on road safety proposed that road safety should be taught in the schools. Here we are, 20 years later, with not the slightest reference to it in the present government White Paper.
The only other point to which I wish to refer is that I cannot understand why the White Paper supports the rejection of the North proposal that the clamping and removal of vehicles should be extended to unlicensed vehicles or where there are outstanding fines against the registered owner. Paragraph 5.10 of the White Paper argues that such extension runs the risk of undermining public acceptance of the need and desirability of clamping, and removal of vehicles. There are 23 million vehicles, and I am sure that most of the driving public strongly resent that some owners get away with not paying for their car licences and also with not paying their fines, although they have properly been found guilty in a court of law.
In conclusion, perhaps I may say that my attention has been drawn to complaints that the decision to clamp or remove a vehicle is not always under the direct supervision of a police officer. I understand that in a letter to the AA the Metropolitan Police have admitted that clamping and removal is being authorised by the police on the telephone to the appointed contractor. I would draw attention to a statement made by the then Minister of State of the Department of Transport, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, on 26th October in another place. She said:the constable on duty must always be in charge and supervise the uniformed vehicle removal officers".—[Official Report, Commons, 26/10/82; col. 952.]That is the contractors. I understand that in the 12 month period from October 1987 to September 1988 the charge payable following vehicle removal was waived or refunded in no fewer than 2,292 cases. Why, my Lords? Are we to assume that the police procedures or the police interpretation of the law is radically at fault, and that is why it had to be done?
Finally, these procedures for clamping and removal must be led by the police themselves, directing the clamping and removal contractors. With those criticisms, by and large I welcome the White Paper and look forward to early legislation.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord 1128 Brougham and Vaux for enabling us to discuss this very important package of proposals. I know from my noble friend's work as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that he shares the Government's concerns on road safety and I am grateful to that organisation for its support for the measures described in the White Paper.
With other noble Lords, I would like to pay tribute to the work of Dr. Peter North, who chaired the Road Traffic Law Review, and his members, whose report led to the publication of the White Paper. The Government accepted the great majority of Dr. North's proposals in publishing the White Paper and I am pleased to say that the measures proposed continue to receive generous support from a very wide range of individuals and organisations. I am sure that Dr. North will appreciate the debate held today and your Lordships' expressions of support for his recommendations.
The proposals in the White Paper should be seen as a major part of the Government's wider package of road safety initiatives, which was set out in the road safety review report of May 1987, Road Safety: The Next Steps. As such they will make a very significant contribution towards achieving the main objective of the review, which is to reduce the number of road casualties by one-third by the year 2000, from their present levels of over 5,000 deaths and 300,000 injuries. The underlying intention is that the proposals should improve the structure of road traffic law and thus make it more comprehensible and acceptable to both road users and those whose job it is to enforce the law.
It may be helpful to your Lordships if I briefly outline some of the major proposals in the White Paper. Many noble Lords have mentioned the dangerous driving provisions. The existing "reckless" driving offence, which has given rise to difficulties of interpretation in courts in England and Wales, will be replaced by one of "dangerous" driving. The new offence will be based on the objective tests of whether the bad driving created a danger and whether the standard of driving fell far below that expected of a careful and competent driver. This will relieve the courts of their present burden of trying to establish the driver's state of mind at the time of the offence.
Moreover, our approach follows helpful precedents in Scotland where "reckless" has been interpreted more objectively and has therefore not given rise to the same problems in bringing successful prosecutions. They are designed to ensure that the new offence does not catch the driver who makes the kind of careless error which all drivers are likely to make from time to time.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, asked why the period of disqualification for causing death by dangerous driving is only two years whereas the period of imprisonment is five years. The period of two years' disqualification is the minimum period which must be imposed. The five year period of imprisonment is of course the maximum penalty. It is open to the courts to impose a longer period of disqualification, extending up to life, if they consider the circumstances merit it.
1129 There will be a new offence to catch those who intentionally obstruct roads or interfere with road traffic regulation devices. Noble Lords have referred to a possible disparity between the maximum penalty for this offence of seven years' imprisonment and the maximum sentences for other offences. The maximum of seven years is set in recognition of the wilful nature of the offence and its potentially extreme consequences and reflects the recommendation made by the Criminal Law Revision Committee.
On the subject of drink driving, to which so many noble Lords have referred, the White Paper demonstrates the seriousness with which the Government regard those who drive while over the limit, in particular those who do so and whose bad driving causes death. In 1986 some 950 road users were killed in accidents where at least one driver or rider was over the limit. This represents one-fifth of all road fatalities. Overall, some 25,000 casualties resulted from drink/drive accidents—approximately one-tenth of all road casualties.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, stressed the need for government action to tackle drink problems. I can assure noble Lords that we take the matter very seriously. Much work is being done, co-ordinated by the Ministerial Group on Alcohol Misuse which is chaired by my right honourable friend the Lord President. There will be a new offence of causing death by careless driving while unfit through drink, drugs or certain other forms of medical incapacity. In order to recognise the wilful nature of the offence, it will carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. The Government announced a period of public consultation on 1st February on possible changes to police powers to administer breath tests throughout Great Britain, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. Decisions will be taken in the light of the responses to the consultation which ends on 30th April.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, disapproves of this consultation. However, noble Lords may be interested to know that so far over 2,000 people have taken the opportunity to make their views known. The comments that have been made in your Lordships' House this afternoon will obviously be taken into account in the consultation.
The high risk offenders scheme, which deals with drivers whose dependence on alcohol presents a serious road safety risk, will be expanded to include all drink drivers who are disqualified once for driving while 2½times or more over the legal limit, have had any two drink drive convictions within 10 years or are disqualified for refusing without reasonable cause to supply a specimen for analysis. These drivers will have to satisfy the medical branch of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre that they do not have a drink problem before they are allowed to drive again. The scheme produced some 200 cases in 1987 and this figure is expected to rise to something in the order of 600 cases by 1990. I hope that that will be encouraging to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.
I shall now deal with the matter of driving while unfit. The present offence of driving while unfit through drink or drugs will be extended to include 1130 drivers who are unfit to drive as a result of any other physical condition, including temporary conditions such as sleepiness, fatigue or temporary disability, where these are severe enough to cause the driver to be a danger to the public.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and also to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for what they said in support of this proposal. In reply to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I should say that I do not envisage that legislation will include a long schedule seeking to define all the cases that would constitute unfitness. As with the present offence, we expect that evidence of unfitness could come from a medical examination.
Drivers convicted of certain road traffic offences will have to pass a new, longer driving test before they are allowed back on the roads following a period of disqualification. The new test will be conducted by my department's own examiners and will be introduced on a phased basis, starting with those convicted of the new dangerous driving offences. In time it could also apply to all those disqualified as a result of careless driving and other accident offences.
For drink drivers the Government also propose a major experiment in the use of rehabilitation courses to influence attitudes towards alcohol and driving. Some voluntary schemes exist already, but the Government would seek powers to allow the courts in selected areas to order those convicted of drunk driving offences to attend such courses. Any experiment would take the form of a research programme which would enable a variety of courses to be established and their impact in reducing the level of re-offending monitored. I hope that the courses will be run by a variety of organisations. Offenders will be required to make a substantial contribution to the cost of the course, subject to an assessment of means.
My noble friend Lord Auckland suggested that more should be done to check the standards of driving instructors. We are taking steps to weed out unsatisfactory instructors; that is, those not able to reach the improved standard laid down by the department in 1985. We have taken, and we are continuing to take, steps to make the ADI qualifying examination more effective.
I now turn to the confiscation of licences. It has been suggested that the police should be able immediately to suspend a driver's licence if he fails a breath test. It would be inappropriate for the police rather than the courts to exercise this function. The White Paper draws attention to the powers which already exist under the Bail Acts to prevent a drink driver from driving while there is a risk of a further offence being committed. The White Paper also welcomes local initiatives by the courts to ensure that drink drive cases are dealt with very quickly.
I shall now deal with the new technology, to which a number of noble Lords referred. The purpose of enforcement technology is to reduce road accidents by improving compliance with speed limits and traffic signals. It is not intended as a means of catching more people simply for the sake of doing so. Enforcement by conventional methods, that is, 1131 pursuit and stopping, is often difficult and dangerous, and in some places virtually impossible. But it is often in precisely those places where non-compliance is most dangerous; for example at contraflows, roadworks and major junctions. Technology will enable the police to enforce the law effectively in such places for the first time.
Concern has been expressed in the press and elsewhere about strict owner liability in these circumstances. This is not our intention. The aim is to ensure that the person who commits the offence pays the penalty. Because drivers will not be stopped at the time of the offence, it is inevitable that responsibility for identifying the driver must rest initially with the keeper. Such a duty already exists in road traffic law and my officials are considering with the police and the courts how the scheme will work in detail. It has been suggested that the driver should be identified in the photograph. However, in some cases, there are technical problems. It is certainly not our intention to require the police to stop the vehicle, as one of the main reasons for using cameras in this way is to avoid the difficult and often dangerous pursuit of vehicles.
It is desirable that a reasonable time limit is set for the issue of notices of intended prosecution following the detection of an offence by camera. We do not, however, wish to set a limit which would be difficult to achieve in practice, as this would allow many offenders to escape prosecution on a technicality. We will bear in mind the views expressed in our further discussions on enforcement procedures. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, expressed a view on this subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested that traffic wardens could be employed in the use of cameras to detect speeding and traffic light offences. In the case of traffic lights, the cameras are designed to be operated automatically. They do not require the immediate presence of a police officer. However, some cameras are adapted for use in police patrol cars. In these circumstances it would not be appropriate for traffic wardens to be involved in the use of the cameras.
A few police forces are already testing equipment in use and we will monitor the results. Legislation will introduce requirements for such equipment to receive type approval from my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to ensure that it meets standards of accuracy and reliability. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. There will be further consultations with the motoring organisations and others on the introduction of technology as proposals are developed.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and others referred to the subject of wheel clamping and removals which must always be authorised by the police. It is, I understand, a matter of operational policy that police officers accompany clamping teams in order to authorise clamping on the spot. We are not aware that "remote" authorisations are taking place, but I would be glad to have details of any specific cases. The number of instances where the charge has been refunded is very low in relation 1132 to the total number of removals carried out; it is only about 1 per cent. The fact that refunds are made suggests that the police do exercise a sensible degree of discretion in cases where there are mitigating circumstances.
My noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux has suggested that the penalty for failing to stop after, or report, an accident, should be more severe than that which the driver would have received had he been convicted following the original accident. We have already increased the penalty points by order for these two offences to a new higher range of eight to 10 points. As my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth said, these and certain other changes came into effect on 1st March this year. Incidentally, I can confirm that arrangements are being made to monitor their effects. I shall write to my noble friend about that. The White Paper proposes a further increase in the maximum penalty for the offences to include up to six months' imprisonment, as applies to drinking and driving. This should strengthen the courts' powers to deal with the worst cases.
It has been suggested that failure to take a breath test should attract a more severe penalty than that for the drink drive offence itself. However, the general principle in setting penalties for criminal offences is that the maximum penalty should reflect the seriousness of the offence. It would be inequitable to have a greater maximum penalty for failure to provide a specimen for analysis than for the drink drive offence itself. However, under the Government's proposals to expand the high risk offenders scheme, the person who is disqualified for refusing without reasonable cause to provide a specimen for analysis would be referred to the medical branch of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre.
The North Report also made a number of recommendations requiring non-legislative action of one kind or another to complement the legislative changes. Specific recommendations have in all cases been taken up and consultations will be initiated with the representative bodies of the courts and police, including local authority associations, on the detailed implementation of some of the proposals. For example, we are following up the recommendation that there should be better co-ordination of research between government departments and between departments and the police as well as looking at possible new areas of research.
My noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux and a number of other noble Lords asked for an assurance that the agreement negotiated by the Association of British Insurers covers those companies operating offshore which offer insurance against the consequences of disqualification. I am happy to give that assurance. We welcome this self-regulatory approach as it avoids the need for legislation and will take effect much more quickly. However, as the White Paper states, we remain prepared to introduce legislation if for any reason the agreement fails.
The Government are well aware that with such a wide-ranging package of legislative proposals it would be important to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of the law and of the road safety problems which it seeks to address. We shall ensure that consultations are undertaken with all concerned 1133 with a view to producing a clear and simple guide to the law.
The department also recognises the importance of road safety education in schools. Every opportunity is taken to encourage its inclusion in the curriculum. A wide selection of road safety material, including leaflets, posters and video teaching programmes, has been made available to promote road safety education in schools. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory is undertaking a project to develop and test a new code of practice for road safety education in pilot local authorities. That project is now well under way.
I should like to try to answer one or two more points. My noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve drew attention to the shortage of clerks in magistrates' courts. That is a serious problem and all concerned are trying to alleviate it. Measures taken include a new pay rise just awarded, the approval of 25 trainee clerk court posts and encouraging magistrates' court committees to apply for some of those posts. Also the Home Office is improving recruitment literature aimed at school leavers and those in higher education. In addition, we announced in March a review of magistrates' court procedures.
Turning to resources for education, training, publicity and enforcement, I can assure noble Lords that road safety is one of the Government's top priorities. We aim to ensure that the substantial amounts of money which are already spent on road safety are used effectively. We are encouraging local authorities to develop the sort of low-cost road engineering schemes which have been shown to be particularly cost effective in terms of reducing casualties. We are targeting spending to give priority to reducing casualties among children and other vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motor cyclists. We are spending more on research into key areas such as driver behaviour and urban traffic accidents, in which 80 per cent. of fatalities occur.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested a heavier fine rather than forfeiture of the car. We consider forfeiture appropriate in cases in which a serious road traffic offence has been committed and where the court considers the penalty of disqualification and a fine inadequate for the offence. Stopping short of imprisonment, forfeiture provides an additional penalty appropriate to the offence which will also strengthen the effect of disqualification by making it more difficult for the offender to drive in defiance of the order.
On the question of fines, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, the courts already have the ability to impose a lower fine where the offender has limited means to pay. That does not affect road traffic offences alone. More generally, the Home Office is running an experiment on linking fines more closely to poorer offenders' means. We shall await the outcome of that initiative before considering further action.
In relation to consistency of sentencing, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux, the Home Office will be monitoring the level 1134 of sentences awarded throughout the country and will make the results available to the courts.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, asked whether local authorities and the traffic commissioners will have sufficient resources to implement the proposed extension of prohibition powers and whether their salaries might be increased to compensate for the additional workload. We shall be consulting local authorities and others on our proposals to extend powers to prohibit the movement of unsafe vehicles and shall have to take those aspects into account.
The noble Lord also suggested that liability for the dangerous state of a vehicle should lie with the owner rather than the driver, particularly in the case of passenger service vehicles. Under the operator licensing legislation it is already the responsibility of owners of goods and passenger vehicles to maintain vehicles properly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, suggested that more should be done about the behaviour of heavy goods vehicle drivers on motorways. The average speed of heavy lorries on motorways is 54 miles per hour and the maximum allowed is 60. Heavy lorries are already restricted to the first two lanes and only a minority of drivers are at fault. The accident involvement rate of heavy lorries is much better than that for cars and motor cycles, but there is always room for improvement.
The noble Baroness also asked whether a person banned from driving in this country could use an international licence abroad. If somebody is banned in this country he can still drive abroad on an international driving permit issued by a motoring organisation. However, a foreign driver disqualified by a British court is not allowed to drive in this country on an international driving permit or foreign licence. I shall consider the noble Baroness's suggestion for change as part of our consideration of the Government's response to the proposed draft EC directive on driver licensing, to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also referred. Those proposals could have some effect in certain areas—for example, driver licensing. However, they are still only proposals and negotiations on them are at an early stage. We do not expect them to hinder the achievement of the proposals in the White Paper.
Above all, the Government are committed to the principle that, while the law is an important aid to safety, its success depends on public acceptance that the law is sound. The Government attach the greatest importance to getting the proposed changes right so that they command the widest possible support and work well in practice. We do not want to pillory motorists or make life more difficult for them. That is why one of the most important aspects of both the North Report and the White Paper is the intention to avoid treating motorists as criminals wherever that is practical. However, where genuinely serious offences have been committed and people have been put at risk, the proposals of the White Paper will allow the law to deal more effectively and appropriately with those responsible.
Several noble Lords have asked about the timing of that legislation. The House will not be surprised that I can go no further today than the traditional answer—as soon as parliamentary time allows.
1135 I am grateful to all noble Lords for a most stimulating and constructive debate and for their generous expression of support for the general thrust of our proposals. It is clear that there is much further work to be done and wider discussions to be held on a number of detailed matters. The Government will be taking those forward vigorously in the coming months.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank my noble friend the Minister for his very full and helpful reply. I know that I shall read with interest what he has said and I am sure that many others will do so too. Secondly, I should like to thank all noble Lords and Baronesses who have taken part in this short debate today. As my noble friend said, the North Report made recommendations which do not require legislation, and I hope that he can bring forward some of those recommendations as soon as possible.
If I thought that moving for Papers today would produce a Bill in two or three weeks time, I should do so. However, as my noble friend said, it is a question of "wait and see". With sincere thanks to all noble Lords who have spoken, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.