HL Deb 10 June 1991 vol 529 cc894-955

3 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

("Criminally negligent driving

—(1) A person is guilty of an offence if his driving of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place is criminally negligent.

(2) A person's driving is to be regarded as criminally negligent if in all the circumstances that person acted

  1. (a) unreasonably; or
  2. (b) without sensible regard for the safety or well-being of other persons on the road or other public place, in driving in the manner in which he did.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to insert a new clause which, essentially, we debated at an earlier stage. However, despite the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in that debate, we continue to have considerable anxieties about the new offences that are provided for in the Bill. I shall listen with care to what the Minister says in response to the observations that I shall make and I hope, because I am always an optimist, that he might even accept the reasoning behind our propositions; though I state at the outset that I do not intend to press the issue to a Division.

I made it clear last time, and I reiterate it today, that, if the clause were accepted, consequential amendments would be required to delete from the statute book the existing offence of careless driving and the proposed offence of dangerous driving, but that is a relatively minor issue. We must discuss not so much the objectives, because we share those with the Minister, but the way in which the Government seek to achieve their objectives.

The purpose of the new clause is to replace with a single offence the two-tier driving offences that will exist under the Government's proposals, that single offence being criminally negligent driving. That would extend right across the whole range of driving offences from one-off errors and lapses to more serious acts and would entail the courts differentiating between different categories of act. The courts would operate on the basis of the evidence before them in each case. It would also be for the prosecution to advise as to the type of trial—whether it was to be summary trial or trial on, indictment before a judge and jury —but it would not be for the legislation to differentiate between categories.

In the Committee stage of the Bill I developed arguments in support of the new clause, but I do not propose to rehearse them all again. However, I want to put a number of questions to the Minister which have been raised before but which, in my submission, have not been satisfactorily answered.

The concept of criminally negligent driving was canvassed in the North Report but under consideration at that time was a draft criminal code which defined criminal negligence as conduct constituting: a very serious deviation from the standard of care to be expected of a reasonable person".

North was concerned about that definition, considering that it might achieve perpetuation of the problems which arose from the reticence of courts to include within the meaning of reckless driving cases of bad driving as opposed to very bad driving. That definition has gore. It forms no part of the new clause. The reality now is that there are strong similarities between the test which was criticised by North in the wording of the first of the criteria for the new offence of dangerous driving; namely, driving which falls: far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver".

So the first question that arises is: how do the phrases "far below" and "competent and careful driver" which are in the Bill avoid or overcome the difficulties which were envisaged by North as arising from an offence using the phrases "very serious deviation" and "a reasonable person"?

I refer now to Clause 1 and the use of the word "dangerous" in line 27. This subsection sets out the second criterion for defining the new offence: it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous".

The use of the word "dangerous" is important, as indeed is its exclusion from the definition set out in the new clause. In resisting the new clause the Government have urged—indeed, they have done the same in relation to a number of other new clauses and amendments—that the new clause is not supported by the reasoning of North. With respect, the Government are being very selective indeed, and inconsistent as well, because they have chosen to use North when they have found it convenient and to reject North when it is not convenient.

The fact is that North advised strongly against the use of the term "dangerous driving" on the grounds that: it would run the risk of the reintroduction into the law of the problems which led to the deletion of that term from the Road Traffic Act of 1972".

So the second question I ask is: why have the Government ignored that piece of advice proffered by North?

I come to the background of my third question. The essential difference between the approach of the new clause and the Government's approach in the Bill is that the new clause makes no attempt to define in legislation different categories of driving offence. Trying to define two tiers of offence in order to ensure that the upper level catches the appropriate types of driving at which it is aimed has led to considerable difficulties in practice in the past and to real inconsistencies in reasoning.

Let me explain what I mean. At the Committee stage in another place the Minister for Scottish Affairs, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, said: It is important that a proper distinction be maintained between the offences of 'dangerous driving' and 'careless and inconsiderate driving'. It is impossible to state categorically that an act is either 'dangerous' or 'careless', as it depends on the facts of each case".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee G, 15/1/91; col. 25.]

Precisely. That is what we are arguing today and the Minister has in fact conceded it. The Government seek to perpetuate the problems by endeavouring to define on the face of the Bill something which the Minister in another place said was impossible.

Again, applying the logic of what was said by the Minister in another place, we prefer to leave that issue to the discretion of the courts on the basis of—I repeat his words—"the facts of each case". At Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, threw overboard his colleague's own reasoning because he said that to leave the interpretation of criminal negligence to the courts, would run the risk of a restrictive definition and the possibility of different interpretation north and south of the Border".—[Official Report, 2/5/91; col. 878.]

I do not deny that there is some risk in pursuing the approach of the new clause but I contend that there would be scope for the development and evolution of interpretation by the courts over time. The difficulty with the Government's approach—that is, defining two categories of offence in the legislation—is that the distinctions are set in stone. It ignores every failure of previous attempts to define two-tier driving offences. I remain far from certain that the Government will succeed on this occasion.

I come to my third question: why does the Minister have such confidence that on this occasion he will be more successful in distinguishing between different categories of driving offences than his predecessors have been?

In conclusion, the definition of the new driving offences is extremely important. As I said, we share the Government's objectives in hoping that the definitions will be successful and effective. However, I remain deeply concerned about the means that are being deployed. It is open to the Minister to seize this occasion to allay those concerns when he answers the debate. I beg to move.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House except for a very short moment. I should like to ask my noble friend whether he has borne in mind the danger that should either his version of the Bill, or the amendment now proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, be passed, under Section 30 of the Criminal Justice Bill, which has just been before your Lordships' House, the crimes described in this Bill should be reckoned crimes of violence for the purposes of that Bill, or Act as it will be. My view is that the definition of crimes of violence in that Act is unreasonably wide. However, I wonder what liaison there is between the Ministry for which my noble friend is to reply and the Home Office in relation to these precise questions.

I wish to say this in addition about the proposed amendment. It perhaps overlooks the fact that the two or three-tier reckless, dangerous and careless driving are not mutually exclusive alternatives. It is no defence to a charge of driving without due care and consideration that one was also driving recklessly or dangerously. I think that that must be borne in mind.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I too shall be brief. Having listened carefully and with some sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, the difficulty that I feel is this. In combining the words "negligent" and "unreasonably" it is difficult to distinguish them in logic or in terminology from the phrase "without due care and attention" which necessarily involves negligence.

However, that is not my only difficulty. We find that there is a repetition of the phrase, reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place", and, without sensible regard for the safety or well being of other persons on the road or other public place". I know that it is arguable that a fine distinction between the two phrases can be made. However, in substance it seems to me that they produce the same result.

My other point is purely technical. Under Clause 2 of the Bill a person may be guilty of an offence, and it is a criminal offence. Therefore to say that the person is criminally negligent adds nothing to what is already in Clause 2.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I agree with noble Lords that these are important issues. The way in which the serious driving offences are formulated has an enormous potential impact on convictions. However, having listened to the debate I still do not believe that there is a case for creating a new bad driving offence based on the concept of criminal negligence. I am not convinced that in the light of the Bill's reforms there will remain a gap in the law which needs to be filled. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, indicated in Committee, and indeed in his remarks today, that this new offence is intended to replace not only the offences of reckless and careless or inconsiderate driving but also the offence of causing death by reckless driving.

I believe that there would be serious disadvantages in the replacement of the existing structure with a single offence. First, the maximum penalty for the most serious bad driving offence—in other words, causing death by reckless driving —is five years' imprisonment. If that were to be retained (and the noble Lord has said very little about the penalties which this new offence would attract), many people who were found guilty of relatively minor acts of bad driving which at present are charged as careless or inconsiderate driving, with a fine and penalty points, would in theory face a long term of imprisonment. The advantage of having two general bad driving offences is that it enables a lower penalty to be set for the less serious offences. It also means that the less serious cases can be dealt with by summary hearings in the lower courts. If there were only one offence, all defendants would have the option of trial by jury. This would create enormous practical difficulties, it would increase delays in bringing cases to court and in dealing with them and it would have significant cost implications for the criminal justice system.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, the North review looked at the general structure of road traffic law and considered a number of alternatives. including the creation of a single offence. It did indeed see arguments in favour of a single offence. But its clear overall conclusion was that the broad structure of general bad driving offences should not be changed. It recommended instead the reformulation of the offence of reckless driving. We have accepted that conclusion. Furthermore, I am not convinced that the noble Lord's proposals take account of the serious difficulties which I have just outlined.

The noble Lord has also suggested that the single offence proposed in this new clause would avoid the difficulties associated with the existence of a separate causing death offence. I do not believe it would. As a general rule we accept it is not right to define criminal acts in terms of their consequences. The offence should be based on the behaviour itself. However, road traffic law has for some time now singled out causing the death of another person through bad driving as an exception to this rule. That recognises the special emphasis which society puts on behaviour which results in a death. I believe this separate offence, with its higher penalty of five years' imprisonment, should be retained. It is generally accepted and supported by public opinion: to abolish it now would, I believe, send out the wrong signals to the motoring public.

The test of criminal negligence has some merits; it sets an objective test as North recommended and therefore goes wider than the existing English interpretation of "reckless". But as defined in the new clause it is too general: it fails to define what is to be regarded as "reasonable" or "sensible". Leaving that to the courts would run the risk of a restrictive definition and the possibility of different interpretation north and south of the Border.

I believe that the new offence of dangerous driving, as defined in Clause 1 of the Bill, more fully meets the criteria which the North report established as essential to the definition of the new bad driving offence. It is an objective test; it bases the assessment of the standard of driving on that of a competent and careful driver; it requires the court to have regard to all the circumstances of the particular case, including what the driver himself knew; and it takes account of the condition of the vehicle. The new offence is also based, intentionally, on the test which is applied in Scotland, which was established by the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Emslie, in the case of Allen v Patterson and which has been found to operate satisfactorily there. Together with the existing offence of careless or inconsiderate driving and the new drink-related bad driving offence, I believe that this establishes a better framework for the operation of road traffic law than would be possible with a single offence based on the criminal negligence test.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the standard described as "far below". In his report, North recommended that the new offence should contain within it a statement of the standard of badness to convey the idea of a serious fall from an accepted norm; and we have done just that in the Bill.

On dangerous driving, North did not say that the new offence should not be called dangerous driving. He was concerned about the previous offence in which no standard of driving was on the face of the statute. Again, we have avoided that. I therefore hope that that answers the noble Lord's questions satisfactorily.

My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham referred to Section 30 of the Criminal Justice Bill and asked whether my department liaised sufficiently with the Home Office on these matters. I can assure him that we do. I know that we do and I shall certainly look into the point that he raised. If I have anything to add to what. I have just said, I shall write to him.

For the reasons that I have given, I believe that the Bill is best as at present drafted. I do not believe that the new clause should be supported.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his careful reply and I thank other noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. It is not my intention to detain the House long in replying to the Minister. I found interesting the equation by the Minister of hope, assurance and knowledge. No doubt we shall return to it at some stage.

The Minister did not refer to the fact that there is no definition in the Bill of the terms "far below" or "dangerous" which appear in Clause 1. He has taken the view that he will be proved right. I hope that he will because it is our clear hope and aspiration that the Government have got it right on this occasion. I have my doubts, but that is to enter into the realms of conjecture.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, made an interesting point which had not occurred to me. I am the author of my own misfortune because by sitting in my office and struggling through various transport Bills I have not been an ever-constant attender at the debates on the Criminal Justice Bill. I too shall look into the matter but what I think about it is unimportant. If there is substance in the point that he raised it must be addressed by the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs]:

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 1A:

Page 2, leave out lines 38 to 40 and insert: ("(2) For the purposes of this section a person shall be deemed in law to he unfit to drive if he has consumed so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath, blood or urine at that time is three times or more than the prescribed limit.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2A. The meaning of "prescribed limit" is contained in Section 11(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is: as the case may require … 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath … 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or 107 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine, or such other proportion as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State".

In an ideal society the prescribed limit should be nothing but I do not believe that we shall reach that stage.

The new offence in the new Section 3A introduced this Bill is the serious offence of causing death, by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, and—

  1. (a) he is, at the time when he is driving, unfit to drive through drink or drugs, or
  2. (b) he has consumed so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath, blood or urine at the time exceeds the prescribed limit".

The amendment that I propose to the Bill now before the House, and to the principal Act is that if any person is carrying three times or more than the prescribed limit in his breath, blood or urine he should automatically be deemed by law to be unfit to drive.

I apologise to the House for tabling the amendment at a late stage of the Bill. It is my fault; I have been trying to gather background information. I table the amendment, however, because the new offence is extremely serious. There is no doubt that 99 times out of 100 any charge brought under the new Section 3A will be strenuously defended by the person involved not only because of the nature of the incident which causes the death of another human being but because of the consequences of conviction.

Clause 3A(2) reads: For the purposes of this section a person shall be taken to be unfit to drive at any time when his ability to drive properly is impaired".

That provision is taken from Section 4(5) of the principal Act at which the amendment strikes. It is a circular definition and gets nowhere. During the years, practice in the courts has shown that such a definition has provided an arena for legal and medical gymnastics sometimes leading to acquittals when that should not have taken place.

I speak for no particular body but as an individual who entirely abhors anyone who drinks and drives. It is high time that the community had a chance to say what it thinks of people who drive with high levels of alcohol in their blood. It is time that we moved away from the medical and scientific views.

Amendment No. 3 tabled by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis attempts to reduce the prescribed limit and that is to be welcomed. However, I do not detract from my amendments which provide that anyone who is three times over the prescribed limit, whatever that is, shall be deemed to be unfit to drive.

My amendments have two objectives. The first is to ensure that those who are unfit to drive as opposed to those who breach the statutory breathalyser limit are caught and are properly and severely dealt with within the legal system. The second objective is to bring home to the public the difference between being, in colloquial terms, over the limit as defined and being unfit to drive; that is, persons who are a danger to themselves and to the community at large.

The press make no distinction between the two categories. Anyone who is marginally over the limit is wrongly categorised in the press as a drunk driver. The person has broken the statutory limit but the public do not know into which category he may fall. A person who is over the limit is not in the true sense of the phrase a drunk driver. Since the breathalyser was introduced the police and prosecution services have become idle—and I use that word advisedly—in the pursuit of the boozy menaces on wheels. Time and time again in courts throughout the land one sees as many as 240, 300 and 350 people being dealt with as merely breaching the breathalyser regulations. They should be dealt with as being unfit to drive but are dealt with on a lower level. Noble Lords may read of many such instances in local newspapers.

That makes life easy for the police and for the prosecutor but it is against the public interest. Unfit drivers should not be allowed to continue to drive on the roads and to go scot-free of the offence of which they are guilty; that is, of being unfit to drive. There is also an insurance spin-off. The insurance companies may take a lenient view of a person who has marginally breached the breathalyser rules but not of a person who has been deemed unfit to drive.

If the amendment is passed there will be no need for such legal and medical gymnastics. There will be no need for policemen to go to court and give evidence that the driver's speech was slurred, he smelled of drink, his eyes were glazed and he walked with a stagger. Those who practise in the courts regard that as a preliminary to the real evidence in the case. The amendment will ensure that anyone who is three times over the prescribed limit at the time of the offence will be dealt with severely.

While the test is one of being impaired defences are based on medical and scientific tests, which will always be available. I suggest that in those circumstances an injustice is being done to the public. Varying figures have been produced. I was told by a police surgeon in Glasgow that in certain circumstances to drink one-and-a-half pints of heavy beer—perhaps I should qualify that as Scottish beer although I do not know whether it is stronger—is sufficient to take a person over the limit. The broader view is that two or three pints is sufficient. People who are three times over the limit will have drunk five or six pints of beer. If they then drive a motor car on the public highway they are motoring lunatics and a danger to the public. They should be taken off the road as quickly and as easily as possible. It is high time that the community had a say in this matter. As has been mentioned before, we should get away from medical and scientific theories about whether people can walk in a straight line. We have a measurable term showing the prescribed limits and we should apply that. Those rogues driving on the roads should be caught. In realistic terms it makes sense that if a person is three or more times over the prescribed limit, then he or she should be deemed unfit and dealt with accordingly.

The measure is there. Year after year on television we see people being interviewed in the car parks of public houses —particularly in England strangely enough—saying that they have had six or seven pints of beer; that they are quite fit to drive; and that having a drink makes them better drivers. I want those people to be warned through legislation that if they choose to take four or five pints of beer and then drive a motor car, then when caught they will be off the road for a long time. That is in the interests of society. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, again I wish to make a contribution which is on the borders of relevance; but I believe it is relevant.

The main clause to which this is a proposed amendment is dependent upon death resulting. Almost the whole speech of the noble Lord who proposed the amendment is related to the degree of alcohol which should constitute a deemed "unfitness to drive". That is to reduce the criminal law to something rather like a lottery. Here I differ from something which my noble friend said as regards the last amendment—the fact that death results from drunken driving or driving above the limit is unfortunate, but it does not necessarily indicate the degree of guilt of the driver. It is a fluke: the driver may not hurt anybody or he may cause serious injury. The proposed amendment only amends Section 3A. We are getting into very dangerous water here.

I have a strong suspicion that in spite of the hopes which my noble friend expressed in reply to what I said on the last amendment, the relationship and liaison between himself and the Home Office and between the road traffic drafter and the criminal justice drafter are inadequate for the purpose. I believe that there has been insufficient liaison. It has not been realised that the criminal offence as regards drunken driving or to what degree a person is above the limit will be made to hang on what the consequences of an accident may be.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has made a point which I raised in Committee as to the consequences determining the sentence or the crime. I believe that on that occasion the Minister chose to ignore a powerful argument; and that is regrettable. With respect, I believe that the noble and learned Lord has been less than fair to my noble friend because my noble friend's amendment seeks to deal with the imprecision contained in Section 3(2). He was entitled to do that and to seek greater clarification from the Government on the point which he raises.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord is being quite fair to me. I did not intend to be either disrespectful or unfair to the noble Lord opposite. Subsection (2) begins with the words: For the purposes of this section". That section depends upon the consequence of death as a result of the driving. That is what I was seeking to point out. I did not mean any disrespect.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, it is rare that the noble and learned Lord should intend any disrespect. I did not intend any disrespect to him; and, therefore, we are quits. I hope that my noble friend will join that, but he will answer for himself.

The noble and learned Lord is quite right; but there is a wider argument which my noble friend is entitled to raise on this occasion. Equally, it has relevance to the limits, constraints, within which this clause is drawn. I support my noble friend and I shall listen with great interest to what the Minister says, I hope not in rebuttal but in support.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, for explaining his amendments to the House. I have not had a great deal of time to look at them, and therefore I am all the more grateful for his explanation.

The new offence of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs is framed to mirror the existing drink-drive offences. These offences are driving when unfit through drink and drugs, which is to be found in Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act, 1988; driving when the proportion of alcohol in the blood, breath or urine exceeds the prescribed limit, which is to be found in Section 5 of the Act, and failing to provide a specimen under Section 7.

The most commonly charged offence is the objective excess alcohol offence in Section 5. But the unfitness offence in Section 4, which predates the introduction of the breathalyser, can be used where no breath test has been taken; it can be used where a combination of drink and drugs is alleged; and it is needed where the driver is under the influence of drugs, for which there is no prescribed limit. In such cases, impairment must be proved.

The noble Lord's amendment would severely constrain the drink-driving laws. It would restrict prosecutions for the new "causing death" offence to cases where a blood, breath or urine test had been administered. It would prevent prosecutions being brought where the offender was under the influence of drugs. I should add that limiting the offence to cases where the offender was three times or more above the prescribed limit would have no effect: the penalties for the excess alcohol and unfitness offences are the same.

I am sure noble Lords will accept that if the police are to crack down on the menace of drink-driving, they should not be limited to cases where a breath, blood or urine test has been administered. Nor is it right to seek to determine a higher limit before the offence can be charged. And the police need to act against drugs as well.

I understand the noble Lord's anxiety about the most serious cases of drink driving: hence the attention which has been drawn to cases where an offender is three times over the prescribed limit. However, there are already sanctions for the most serious offender in the shape of the high risk offenders scheme. Under this scheme offenders disqualified for driving at 21/2 times or more over the prescribed limit, disqualified twice within 10 years at any level, or disqualified for failing to provide a specimen must satisfy the department's medical advisory branch that they are fit to drive before having their licence returned at the end of a period of disqualification. Protecting the public in this way is the right approach for the most serious cases. There is no need for a further penal sanction.

My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham was worried about judging an offence by its consequences. I appreciate that anxiety. I referred to that as regards the last amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Causing death has existed in the road traffic code since 1956, since juries were reluctant to convict of manslaughter. I believe that the removal of such an offence would be unacceptable to the public and would give unfortunate signals to the motoring public in particular. I shall read carefully what has been said. In the light of my explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. Likewise, I shall read with interest what he said and try to digest it. I am grateful also for the contribution by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. This is an entirely new concept of careless driving being linked to death with the additional factor of drink. Certainly in Scotland it was not possible to lead evidence of a breach of the breathalyser rules in the context of causing death by reckless driving. This is an attempt to pool everything together so that the jury has all the information before it.

In the light of the explanation given by the Minister I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 2:

Before Clause 4, insert the following new clause: ("Random breath testing on an experimental basis

. In section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted after subsection (2) the following subsections— (2A) Subject to subsections (2B) and (2G) below, the Secretary of State may make provisions, by regulations which shall be subject to approval by each House of Parliament, for roadside checks at which either all vehicles or a sample of vehicles may be stopped by a constable in uniform under section 163 of this Act for the purpose of administering breath tests to ascertain whether any offence has been committed under section 4 or 5 of this Act.

(2B) The regulations referred to in subsection (2A) above shall in respect of the initial period be applicable on an experimental basis within the areas of not less than six police force areas.

(2C) The initial period shall for the purposes of this section be the total period comprising—

  1. (a) the period of twelve months from the coming into effect of any regulations made in accordance with subsection (2B) above; and
  2. (b) the period of nine months from the end of the period referred to in paragraph (a) above for the purposes of analysis by such person as the Secretary of State may appoint of the results of the experiment undertaken in accordance with subsections (2A) and (2B) above.

(2D) Regulations under subsection (2A) above shall provide for any roadside check under that subsection above to be authorised in writing by a senior police officer and for the maintenance of records of the authorisation and of the location, date and time of such checks.

(2E) Regulations under subsection (2A) above shall be made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department in relation to England and Wales and by the Secretary of State for Scotland in relation to Scotland.

(2F) The Secretary of State shall consult with chief officers of police and other organisations on a Code of Practice for the detailed operation of roadside checks which have been provided in Regulations under subsection (2A) above.

(2G) The Secretary of State may after consideration of the results of any analysis of experiment roadside checks made during the initial period, by regulations made in accordance with subsection (2A) above make provision for roadside checks within the areas of all police force areas." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 2 proposes a new clause. The amendment is similar to the new clause we debated previously on the principle of random breath testing, which the Committee chose to reject on that occasion. In this amendment we are considering giving the Secretary of State an opportunity to bring forward regulations to introduce random breath testing on an experimental basis in designated areas. That experiment would span a 12-month period. It would start on the day that the regulations came into effect and the Secretary of State would be obliged to report back to Parliament on the outcome of the experiment within nine months of its conclusion. It would help to build up an experience within this country to support or deny the evidence procured in other countries and to support or deny the concept of random breath testing.

The new clause specifies a minimum of six police force areas taking part in the experiment. There are, in fact, 43 in England and Wales and eight in Scotland. Given the reasonably short timescale of the experiment it is thought that at least six police force areas would be necessary to generate sufficient information to enable any reasonable scientific analysis to be made. The new clause provides also for the extension of roadside checks to all police force areas in the event of a successful experiment being undertaken. The arrangements for breath testing at roadside checkpoints remain the same as in the amendment discussed in Committee. They include provision for the authorisation of checkpoints in writing by senior police officers, the maintenance of records of the authorisation and of the location, date and time of such checks, and a code of practice outlining their detailed operation.

I indicated in Committee that support for the proposition in terms of the general principle was widespread. That support remains firms. It is worth stating that support has come from, inter alia, the Consumers' Association, the British Medical Association, the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, Alcohol Concern, the Association of Police Surgeons, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and, indeed, the police who indicated that they would want to go somewhat further.

In Committee I referred also to the recommendation made by the European Committee of High Level Experts on Road Safety. In that context I quoted from a passage at pages 28 and 29 of the report, which states: The Experts' Committee consider that the development of campaigns of random alcohol checks is without doubt one of the most effective steps to be taken to improve road safety in the Member States".

That is evidence which those experts considered and conclusions they reached, which should not be swept aside. It is an important conclusion. The rationale behind it lies in the deterrent value of random breath testing and the consequential reduction that it is believed will flow in terms of deaths and injuries.

It is right to reflect on some of the arguments adduced against the proposal although, as I indicated, we should proceed on the matter on an experimental basis. On further reflection, that was the view I took and perhaps it is a counsel the Government prudently could have followed in other respects in relation to health. Be that as it may, it is right in these circumstances that we should build up our own body of evidence.

I turn, therefore, to the arguments adduced against the proposition. First, the Minister said on a previous occasion, supported by some in your Lordships' House, that the driving record of this country is better than elsewhere. That is a generalisation. I suggest that it is extremely difficult to draw exact comparisons because all kinds of different factors apply. If one were to look at evidence elsewhere, in so far as it has any value, one would find that the Minister's case prima facie is negated by the experience in the Netherlands and Sweden. However, I do not place too much emphasis on that.

It is dangerous to come to these startling generalisations and put them forward as gospel. But there are other more important arguments to which I shall refer. The second is that what the Government have undertaken so far in terms of publicity campaigns has achieved a major attitudinal change. They therefore conclude that there is no reason to introduce anything as drastic as random breath testing. I take the opposite view. Random breath testing would be complementary to any success. I do not deny that there has been some success in the campaigns that successive governments have undertaken, but random breath testing should be seen as being complementary to those campaigns and not set aside from them. Another factor is that campaigns tend to be seasonal and therefore their effects are also somewhat seasonal.

The third argument used is that increased penalties will achieve the results that the whole House wants to achieve. But that misses the essential point that unless there is seen to be a real risk of being caught, increased penalties will not by themselves have the desired effects. They will not deter the drinking driver. That case was made out quite convincingly in a number of other countries. I referred to that in the previous debate and I shall not weary the House with a further recital of that point.

The fourth argument is that an inefficient use of police time would arise as a result of random breath testing. It was a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, the Minister, and others. In other words, there are more important things to be done than chasing up drink drivers. That belies the point made by the noble and learned Lord on the previous debate. There is a tendency in some quarters — I do not say that it is shared by the noble and learned Lord; no doubt he will speak for himself— not to regard drink driving offences as being criminal. They are criminal, and that needs to be emphasised over and over again. Drink driving is very likely to have draconian effects and that is why it cannot be said to be an inefficient use of police time; nor, indeed, is the evidence available to suggest that that has been the case elsewhere.

The crunch point perceived by the Minister is one relating to the police having sufficient powers. I do not depart from the argument that I and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and others, deployed on the previous occasion. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, who unfortunately cannot be here today, made a strong case against that.

The position is not very clear. The law does not appear to be interpreted in the same way throughout the country. It is not sufficient to say that we must simply allow senior police officers to deploy the powers as they think fit. There is a different interpretation of those powers. That is the point that we seek to make. When we debated this matter in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, asked:

"Why should the police want to administer breath tests where t they have no reasonable suspicion that a person has been drinking?" [Official Report, 2/5/91; col. 901.]

I have to tell the noble Lord that they do. The police administer the breath test when they have no such reasonable suspicion. That exacerbates the difficulties in the relationship between the public and the police far mere than anything we are proposing on this occasion. I am not going to weary the House by reciting, again the evidence, which runs completely counter to what the Minister asserted in that regard, but I shall just headline it.

The case in Australia and elsewhere is that, far from damaging the relationship between the police and the public, the introduction of random breath testing has met with increasing and overwhelming public support and has, caused no damage whatever. Indeed it has had the reverse effect. One must respect the arguments and I hope that I have done them some justice. Nonetheless, they do not deal with the essential issue, which is this: have we done enough to deal with the appalling harm which is done to society and the terrible consequences that arise from drink and driving? Is there any possibility of affording room for complacency as regards this matter?

I contend that the Government's approach is redolent of some complacency because they are saying that there is not much room for improving on the present situation. I hope that that is not the case and that they will now say, "All right; we do not believe that the case being put forward is entirely valid so let us conduct an experiment and see what it yields. Let us see if there is a better way of dealing with the situation than at present".

If the Government were proved right in those circumstances, I should be happy. I do not think that they would be proved right, but I should be happy. I hope that the Government will not assert a blind negative on this occasion, but will be prepared to undertake such an experiment. We recommend that the House supports this proposal. I beg to move.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, as the noble Lord has already observed, we have been around this course before. Once again the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has exposed his case most lucidly. The case on the other side is the Government's view, which I support. It is that we are making good progress. No one will disagree that drink driving is a serious crime. The thought that an innocent victim might lose his life or a limb because he was driven into by someone who had been drinking excessively, and therefore driving dangerously, is a horrible one. We all feel the same about that.

The Government's approach is that it should be left to the judgment of the individual chief constable to decide what he should do as regards testing. That approach is working. The record for the past 10 years was put before the House at Committee stage. The record shows a substantial improvement. There has been a reduction of approximately 50 per cent. in the number of deaths caused by drinking and driving. That is a very substantial improvement.

I am very happy to have the legal view of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. This informal system of testing carried out by the chief constables is within the law. But what matters very much is that it is clearly accepted by public opinion; namely, that it is essential for the police in most parts of the country to carry out a good deal of extra testing at Christmas time. That is important and it shows that public opinion is in favour of it. I believe that when tests of public opinion are taken and people are asked what they think of roadside testing, they are thinking about what is happening at Christmas time, and that they accept. However, setting up formal testing at the roadside throughout the year by haphazardly stopping traffic and testing drivers goes a great deal further. That would be quite a major institution and a major interference with the public. I am not at all sure that it would be so well received.

It may be asked why, as the present policies are achieving quite a significant measure of success, it is necessary to interfere further with the liberty of the subject by setting up these formal roadside tests. My noble and learned friend said quite rightly last time that if that is done throughout the year then one is really firing shots at random. However, if the tests are carried out at Christmas time they are much more likely to catch out those who have been drinking and driving. They will be punished. That is what this is all about.

There is a good deal to be said for the present system. I was interested to see in the statistics that of the tests carried out last Christmas those which were positive had decreased by 15 per cent. That again shows that drivers have got the message. Therefore, there has been a progressive improvement. It is important that the best and most efficient use is made of police resources and that that should always be borne in mind. We are always conscious that we live in a dangerous world with all the usual relatively important crimes such as breaking and entering and so forth. Above all, there are terrorist crimes committed by the IRA and others. The police have to spend a great deal of time dealing with specific instances and threats. Nothing should be allowed to divert their resources from dealing with those matters.

The case has been very well exposed and argued the second time round. An experiment of this kind does not alter the proposition put before the House that random breath testing should be generally introduced. I hope that we shall stick to the view which was expressed last time that the present system is working. It may be less formal and logical but it is generally accepted. It is succeeding and therefore we should continue to support it.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I rise again to criticise the suggestion. I make some apologies to the House for having spoken on each of the proposed amendments. I shall try to be very brief. I am against the principle of experimental crime which is involved in this amendment. It cannot be right to make a crime in Lancashire which cannot be prosecuted in London. That must be bad. That underlines the point that I made all through. We must recognise that there are not two kinds of law: road traffic law and criminal law. When we are talking about criminal offences we are making a change in the criminal code as we enforce it. That is a very bad principle.

My second point is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis has referred. I venture to draw an analogy with a sporting gun. If one aims at a target, however bad a shot one is, one is more likely to hit that target than if one simply aims into the air hoping that something will come down. It is not simply the question to which my noble friend has just referred, although that is also involved. The deployment of a police force which is already over-stretched by an alarming increase in crime cannot be dictated from above. It must rest with the view of the local chief constable as to how he deploys his force and whether or not he is going to take extra precautions in an area where there is an additional security risk.

Even if I confine my remarks to traffic offences, I still make this point. In seeking to improve the standard of safety of the public, both of property and of person, in the field of traffic laws alone (treating them as a separate branch of law, which I do not believe they are) I should still say that the deployment of the police force is very much better done by concentrating on the policing of moving traffic offences, over the whole range of moving traffic offences, than by selecting the element of drink alone and having random breath tests. The police would be using their manpower far better by testing the extent to which people exceed the speed limit in dangerously overcrowded areas. It is just as bad to have one's leg broken, be seriously or permanently injured, or even killed, if it is done by a careless and sober driver as it is if the driver has had a whiff of alcohol too much. There is basically an irrational approach to the law.

My final point concerns the relationship between the police and the public. I have a nasty vision at the back of my mind that if this experiment were to be made universal— or, if not universal, carried out in Liverpool or somewhere similar— of driving to the House via my usual route through overcrowded traffic and being caught up in the existing congestion which has been made far worse by a tailback of unmoving traffic and a delay of about 25 minutes as drivers are stopped at random at a police checkpoint and asked to breathe into a bag. Basically, that is a nonsensical scheme. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that there is a great deal of public opinion behind it— I do not deny that— but it is misguided public opinion. The purpose of parliamentary government is to get rid of populism and bring a breath of rationality into our law.

4 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, that breath of rationality about which we have just heard will, I am sure, go down well with the public. One or two points arise from what the noble and learned Lord has just said. He talks about experimental crime. With this amendment we are not talking about a new experimental crime, or the creation of a new crime which will only apply in certain areas. It is the creation of a system of detecting that crime. The crime remains the same wherever it is discovered. What the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has suggested is that the methods of detecting that crime should be improved in certain areas of the country, as an experiment.

The noble and learned Lord also raised the question of firing shots in the air at random. I do not know anything about shooting wild animals, but clearly it would be a foolish thing to do. However, we are not talking about shooting at random. We are endeavouring to identify the target. This is another method of identifying the target— the people who have committed what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has rightly pointed out is a criminal offence. We should not get away from that. It is a serious criminal offence. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, tells us that the system is working. I do not dissent from that. There have been improvements. However, the question is: where do we go now to improve the situation still further? One feels that the current methods have reached their limit.

We became slightly involved in what the noble Lord called the whole question of the liberty of the subject. I had hoped that on this occasion the trade-off between criminality and the liberty of the subject could have been left out of our arguments. That argument was lost when breath testing of any sort was introduced. Everybody accepts that this is a very serious offence and the liberty of the subject has to be somewhat restricted in order to make sure that people are not killed and maimed on our roads any more than sheer accident dictates.

The argument that the police can carry out random breath testing already is an argument that we addressed at an earlier stage in the progress of the Bill. Under the present law as it stands the police should not conduct random breath tests. They do conduct random breath tests, as we know, and therefore must feel that there is a need to conduct random breath tests in order to carry out their duties. Therefore, what is being said by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and myself— I speak purely as an individual on this matter and one who, as the Bill has progressed, has become more convinced of the need for this type of random breath testing— is that if there is a need to carry out random breath tests, as has been shown by police forces in different parts of the country, it is a power which should be written into the law and not left to the whim of police officers.

The argument that it is up to chief police officers as to how they deploy their resources is absolutely true. However, I have never heard that argument put forward for failure to include other matters on the statute book. It may be that the Government feel there are no further resources available to be able to administer parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, but they have not withheld from putting them on the statute book. Clearly we agree that these matters have to be left to the chief police officers. What we are saying is that here is a weapon which in the hands of chief police officers, if they choose to use it, will improve safety on our roads.

The final matter is the question of deterrence. Deterrence lies at the back of this whole argument. The reason that deterrence is imperfect in this case is that many people do not believe they will be caught. They set out from a drinks party or a dinner in the evening and they say, "I do not have far to go. If I drive carefully then I'll be all right". In theory, of course, if they drive carefully they should be all right. But that should not be allowed to happen. It should be clear in everyone's mind in both the driver's mind and, dare I say, in the spouse's mind— the passenger's mind— that there is a chance that even if one does drive carefully one is likely to be caught and randomly breath tested and brought to book as one should be.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lord, I have been taken by two comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. The first was his reference to experiments in crime. I think he meant experiments in crime control. I believe that he referred to the difference between London and Lancashire, or something of that nature— but that will do. He will recall that it is quite possible to have experiments between England and Scotland. We had, for example, the experiment of the poll tax which had a dry run in Scotland before its somewhat arid run in England.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he putting this forward as an awful example or as an encouragement of what we ought to do?

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I am putting it forward as a thought which clearly has not previously been in the mind of the noble and learned Lord. That, by the way, is unusual. Therefore, the idea of experimenting within the island is clearly containable within the geography of it.

I was struck by another point which arose in the noble and learned Lord's speech. He drew a picture of being caught in a 25-minute tailback while everyone was randomly tested. If everyone were randomly tested, it would not be random testing at all. It would be specific and all-enveloping testing. Therefore I do not think that that argument has great strength, although the rest of the noble and learned Lord's speech was, as usual, quite interesting and remarkable.

I have over many years followed with admiration the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to road safety and transport in general. He spoke about the liberty of the subject. I took his point. Random testing must interfere with the liberty of the subject to some extent. But the liberty of the subject is already interfered with in this way. I would merely add a piece of quite flimsy anecdotal evidence in support of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis on the Front Bench. I was in Scotland two weeks ago. I was being driven by my wife to a meeting when we were flagged down at random by the police. My wife was driving with her usual gentility and care and I was cowering in the passenger seat beside her. It turned out that the police were conducting not a random breath test but a random vehicle test. Our breaths were impeccable, it being before lunch time. The police wished to examine the treads of our tyres and our suspension— that is, the suspension of the car. It was a wholly random examination, a total interference with the liberty of the subject. We held our breaths, quite correctly in the circumstances, and were passed fit to continue with our journey.

There is no real difference between that kind of random testing for the fitness of a vehicle and random testing for the fitness of the driver. It is quite possible, although I have no statistics to back this up, that the fitness of the vehicle is less important in some respects than the fitness of the driver. I do not know whether unfit vehicles cause more damage than unfit drivers, but it is at least questionable. If the principle of randomness is applied to the vehicle, I cannot see how it can possibly—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. Is he using his own happy experience of being exonerated as an argument for random testing simply because it can be done in the case of vehicles, or as a warning that the police were wasting their time and the time of the noble Lord and his wife by examining a totally roadworthy vehicle?

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I was about to finish a sentence when the noble and learned Lord interrupted me. Other noble Lords will be pleased to know that, as a result of that interruption, I have completely forgotten what the sentence was. Therefore I shall not finish it. I was pleased to be exonerated and I was pleased that the vehicle was exonerated but I was not at all perturbed that the test was made. The vehicle, being by no means a new one, could have been a danger to the public as a whole. I should not have liked myself to have been there as an accomplice to the driver should anything in any way untoward have occurred.

My point is that this was to my mind a wholly appropriate distribution of the time and energies of the police. At any rate, they thought so or they would not have been there doing it. They would have been away catching burglars, though this was in Ayrshire where there are hardly any burglars to be caught. The police thought that this was a proper way to utilise their time. As, I suppose, a victim — although I would not use that word too strongly— of their activities I thought that it was a perfectly sensible thing for them to do. Had my wife been plastered, I might have been a little unhappy, but I would have been no less pleased that they had stopped us at random to discover that.

My noble friend's amendment is sound. It deserves better than the criticism that was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I have a strong suspicion that it is about to be attacked again by the noble Lord sitting beside him. I see him ready to spring to his feet. It is a sound argument and the Government should give it a good deal more careful attention than Back-Bench supporters— not quite Back-Bench but Front Bench below the Gangway supporters— have given it.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will accept that most of us found great pleasure in listening to his speech. We congratulate him on being exonerated. No doubt if the verdict had gone the other way we should not have heard quite the same speech; nor should we have had the delightful admission, as was once phrased, that he plunged into a sentence trusting to almighty providence to get him out of it.

I rise only to make two points in connection with the police. First, if your Lordships and another place were to accept the amendment, the police authorities would have to deploy a certain proportion of their forces on the road in an attempt to enforce the provision. It is their duty, when Parliament has legislated, to ensure that they do their best to enforce the legislation. I am doubtful whether that would be a sensible deployment of police resources. We know that the police are overstretched.

A more useful direction for police effort on the roads would be in enforcing speed limits. It is notorious that speed limits are not enforced. Indeed, earlier this afternoon the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, who is no longer in his place, took the line that they are so little enforced that there is not much use in having them. That is not a view that I share, but that it should be expressed at all in your Lordships' House is perhaps indicative of the fact that on our motorways in particular the speed limits are not adequately enforced. I believe that the danger to life and limb resulting from these excessively high speeds, particularly by large vehicles but also by sports cars and cars publicly advertised as being capable of speeds of 140 m.p.h., is a greater menace than, at most times of the year at any rate, the dangers of driving under the influence of drink or drugs. I do not think it would be wise to push the police into deploying more of their effort in this direction knowing, as one would do in so forcing them, that they would be able to make less effort in what seems to me to be the more important direction of the speed limit.

My other point concerns the relationship between the police and the motoring public. When I am on the road I am always glad, as I am sure are most noble Lords, when I see a policeman. It is a good sign that the law is being enforced and that one will have the protection of enforcement of the law. However, if we are to know that at any moment we may be stopped, together with a great many other people, and forced to undergo a slightly humiliating test, and certainly a delaying test, our relationship with the police on the road will deteriorate. I do not want to overdramatise or overstate the case but I think it will undermine what is a valuable position at the moment— the good relationship between the good motorist and the police.

Therefore, while I fully understand the motives that cause the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, to put forward the amendment and while I do not under-rate the dangers of drink or drugs when driving, in looking at the picture as a whole, as I think it is the function of your Lordships' House to do, I believe that it would be a mistake to shift the balance of law enforcement in the way that the amendment would do.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I thought it right that as a lay person I should rise to answer the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because everyone takes so much notice of what he says — not only your Lordships but people outside the House. It is important that an attempt should be made to answer him. However, I find that I also have to address my noble friend's rather sexist remark about women drivers. I hope that he will subsequently withdraw it.

As regards the relationship between the public and the police, surely that argument could be compared with the argument that the public do not have a good relationship with the authorities at airports who search your bags and can ask you to stay behind to answer questions. That is exactly the same situation.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene?

Baroness Phillips

All right, but I shall have to try to remember what I was going to say.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I am sorry about that, but I am much obliged. As regards the noble Baroness's point about the examination which takes place at the airport, it is known that in the present state of the world there is a risk of explosives being taken on board and the aircraft subsequently being destroyed. I for one am thankful when I go on a flight to see that there is an examination of everyone and his or her baggage before boarding. Indeed, I should be most alarmed if there were no such examination.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, the noble Lord is not often wrong. However, in this case he is wrong statistically. I believe that the relevant figures show that the risk is one in 10,000 that a person will be a terrorist. It is certainly a difficult matter, but very different to the situation involving a dangerous drunken driver.

The relationship between the public and the police is damaged by one practice indirectly and it must surely concern the police more than anything else. I refer to the practice of clamping vehicles. People do not like it. It is carried out by private firms, through the police force. Moreover, it is known that the more people they clamp, the more money they receive. As I said, that is what people do not like. However, I do not believe that they would resent what is being proposed here.

I am sure that some noble Lords must drive along the Embankment. It is quite usual to be stopped. As we have heard, the police have to give a different reason for stopping a driver. They have to make a comment about the wheels of the car or something else. Then they ask the driver whether he will take a breath test. That is happening all the time.

I turn to the point about the deployment of police time. I am sorry to refer once again to my accident. However, I am somewhat tired of sitting here listening to various comments on the legislation after having had such an experience. A young man managed to smash up about six vehicles in Parliament Square but he has riot been charged with anything. I suppose that had one of us died or lost a leg he may have been charged with driving without due care. But it seems to me that there is no problem about the deployment of police time in London. Indeed, two police cars managed to visit the scene of this accident. But what had they to do other than take statements, which were obviously not used afterwards? The only witness to the accident subsequently withdrew. One wonders why.

There is no doubting that the relationship between the public and the police is good. I believe that it is better for drivers to be tested at random. It means that at least they would not be selected in the same way. If a driver is selected because he or she appears to be doing something wrong, that is different to knowing that at a given time and in a given area random breath tests will be carried out. I do not agree with the reasons put forward as to why we should not accept this excellent amendment.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I should like to exonerate myself from having made a sexist remark. I did not intend to. I suppose that my noble friend was referring to the fact that I spoke of "cowering" in the passenger seat.

Baroness Phillips


Lord Howie of Troon

In that case, I should point out to her that I also cower in the passenger seat when my sons. are driving.

Lord Fraser of Kilmorack

My Lords, from the relatively impartial position of being a non-driver for many years, and recognising the very good intentions behind the amendment, I am wholly against it. I am in agreement with a number of the submissions which have been made by my noble friends who are sitting in front of me about the use of police time. While I am a great supporter of the police force as a good institution in the broad in Britain— though it has its failings like any other— I am completely against the amendment because I am not in favour of giving random instructions to any police force anywhere.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

My Lords, I should like to say a few words in connection with this amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, talked about misguided public opinion. I was trying to think of what the opposite might be.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Well guided.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I presume that it is a guided private opinion expressed in public which the noble and learned Lord was putting forward.

In Scotland at present everyone who drives a motor car knows that if he has an accident, especially in certain areas, he will automatically be breathalysed. I can assure noble Lords that that has awakened motorists to the fact that they will be in severe trouble in such circumstances if they have been drinking. Indeed, there are figures which show the salutary effect that this has had on people as regards drinking and driving.

As regards the police, there are now moves afoot to civilianise the police force. Therefore, all that would be required to pull people in would be a police officer. So far as concerns the technicalities of going through the test, that could well be done by civilians.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships— I am sure that there is no need to do so but I believe that it is worth saying in the context of this issue— that the liberty of the subject is a two-way road. The liberty of the subject in regard to not being unnecessarily harassed by law enforcement is one of them. However, there is another— not to be exposed to the risk of injury by idiots in motor cars who drink and drive. That is what the amendment is striking at.

I was in Australia at Christmastime in the state of Victoria. I have never come across a more road conscious community. They have what is called in "Australianese" the "Booze Bus". It can appear at any part of the county at any time and random breath tests are taken. Indeed, a guest driving from the wedding which I attended was pulled in on the way to the reception. Fortunately he had not had anything to drink, even though he was a Scotsman. However, the effectiveness of the presence of that Booze Bus on the road was quite remarkable. As I said, I have never met more road conscious people in all my life. The existence of random breath tests would certainly drive home to people the fact that if they drink and drive, they may be pulled in and breathalysed and taken off the road if they have contravened the law.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I apologise if the point I am about to make was previously made while I was not present in the Chamber. Noble Lords who support the amendment will be aware that a proportion of people in this country suffer from chronic or acute middle ear or sinus trouble. Even with the new improved type of breathalyser, a proportion of such people are bound to be adversely affected if they have to blow into such equipment. Why should people who are totally innocent of any drink driving offence be subject to this danger?

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I spoke on the last occasion when the matter was debated. I propose, therefore, to speak only briefly today. Why are we all in favour of these Christmas campaigns directed at people who are driving cars? In my view we are in favour of them because we believe that a large number of people drive under the influence of drink at Christmastime. However, does anyone believe that the police do not at present use random tests on such occasions? We all know perfectly well that they do. Indeed, they do not wait for a moving traffic offence to be committed before stopping a car.

In the past we have frequently seen Ministers from different governments appearing on television, very often accompanied by a senior police officer, warning drivers of the risks they run if they drive a car under the influence of drink at that time of the year. Why should we have what is in fact one law at Christmastime and a totally different law at any other time of the year? It seems to me that no one has answered that question.

During the course of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said that we are making progress. I agree with him. He said— and I do not challenge the statement, although I do not know the facts— that there has been a 50 per cent. improvement in the number of deaths caused by drunken driving. As I have indicated, that may well be so. But still many innocent men women and children are killed by drunken drivers

. When people talk about the need to maintain a balance on the matter, I agree with them. When they talk of the use of police resources, that is an important matter. However, can we not leave it to the chief officer of police in the area? He is well aware of his resource problems. If this amendment were to be carried, he would decide what resources he would make available for the purpose. That seems wholly reasonable.

The amendment seeks to introduce an experiment in no fewer than six police force areas, the chief constables of which would have to be volunteers. We would then see the effect of the change in the law in those areas before we moved any further. It seems to me that that is an entirely rational approach. I give an illustration: in 1972 we had a similar approach when the law was changed on community service which is seen as an alternative to prison. It was introduced first in a limited number of areas— just six. On the basis of the success in those areas, it was extended to the rest of the country. That seems to me an entirely rational approach and I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I support the amendment as I supported similar ones on previous occasions. I do not intend to go into the debate again because we have already gone through it thoroughly. However, I believe that this experimental amendment is even more to be supported because it would establish clearly, one way or another, what we have talked about. I also wish to allay the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, because people who do not wish to be breathalysed can opt for a blood test. That would cover the medical cases to which he referred.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am an asthmatic. If I were pulled up by a car with a blue light flashing it would probably start an asthma attack and there is no way in which I could blow into the bag. However, I could certainly be taken to give a blood test.

I have never been breath tested, and I shall not drive home tonight. I was talking to a noble Lord the other day who said in a tone of amazement, "I don't drink, but I have been pulled up twice recently and breath tested". As I said at Second Reading, we already have random breath tests by police— let us be honest about it— and anyone who says otherwise is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. The police will stop any car at any time for any reason— it does not matter whether they are right to do so— and they will say, "We are just checking your documents, sir. Have you been drinking?" Then they breath test you. We do not need this amendment.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Nugent said in his speech, we have been round this course before. Random breath testing was debated extensively both on Second Reading of the Bill and at Committee stage when the amendment tabled then by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was decisively rejected by the Committee. A similar amendment was twice rejected in another place. This amendment is substantially the same except that, as the noble Lord explained, it provides for a time-limited and geographically-limited trial to be undertaken before random testing is introduced nationally.

Those limitations do not obscure the fact that the House is again being asked to approve the introduction of random testing. Noble Lords only last month rejected the principle of doing so, and I am therefore reluctant to detain the House by setting out again the arguments which then won the day. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that he would not weary the House by repeating the arguments he used last time and then he proceeded to some extent to do just that. I must therefore apologise for repeating the arguments which have already been quite fully aired at earlier stages in the progress of the Bill.

First, I do not consider that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and other noble Lords have brought forward any new arguments which would lead the House to reconsider the view already reached. As I have explained on previous occasions, the reasons why the Government have rejected the introduction of random testing are quite straightforward. We do not believe that this is the most effective strategy for further reducing the level of drink-driving in this country. The police already have very extensive powers to stop drivers. Again, as is often claimed and was claimed by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, this afternoon, they do not need to find an excuse for stopping the vehicle. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, gave a good example of his vehicle being stopped for other reasons.

Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states clearly that a person driving a motor vehicle on a road must stop the vehicle on being required to do so by a constable in uniform. Having stopped the vehicle, the police officer may require the driver to submit to a breath test where he has reasonable cause to suspect that the person has committed a moving traffic offence or has alcohol in his body or has been involved in an accident. The police have used these powers increasingly in recent years— and throughout the year, not only at Christmas time, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, suggested. They are also able to target drivers whom they have reason to suspect of having alcohol in their body. That, together with the change in public attitudes brought about in part by our extensive publicity efforts, has led to a continuing decline in the number of drink-drivers.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who felt that current methods have almost reached their limits. I believe that further progress can be made. Our strategy has already been shown to be effective, and my noble friend Lord Nugent gave figures to underline that.

As concerns the proposed experiment, I comment that the geographical limitation offers the prospect of confusion among drivers in that the law as it applies to the enforcement of drink-driving legislation would vary from one part of the country to another. Much was made in the debate in Committee of the importance of the relationship between the public and the police. It seems to me that the prospect of substantially different approaches to enforcement operating in different parts of the country would be likely to place a strain on that relationship. I very much agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter who pointed that out.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for intervening? Does he suggest that the application of the current law is uniform throughout the length and breadth of the land?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the law certainly is uniform throughout the length and breadth of the land. As we have discussed on many occasions, different. chief constables use the resources in the way that they feel best. These are points of detail. The real issue before us this afternoon is the introduction of random breath testing. I submit that no new arguments have emerged in the past month or this afternoon which should cause the House to reconsider its previous decision. Therefore, I hope that the clause will be rejected.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this interesting debate for their contributions, whether for or against. I thank notably the noble trio on the Benches opposite. I wish I could get through to them sometimes, but that is a rarity. As for the Minister, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. There have been new arguments; and he has been dismissive of the argument on experimentation about which I shall say something in a moment.

I draw to the attention of the House something to which no one except the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred. The provision in the new clause, subsection (2F), refers to the requirement that the Secretary of State has to consult, with chief officers of police and other organisations on a Code of Practice for the detailed operation of roadside checks which have been provided in Regulations". That is the key to ensuring a good and effective experiment which will carry the police and the public with the department on this issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, made an eloquent plea for not changing matters. He asserted that the Government had made good progress. I do not deny that progress has been made, as I said in my introductory remarks, but the fact is that in 1989, which is the last year for which we have any reliable statistics, 22,000 people were injured and 840 were killed. I ask noble Lords, and in particular the Minister, which other offence has led to deaths and injuries on that scale? When people say that the police would be unreasonably deployed in dealing with such matters, they are not addressing the statistical information which is there before us.

The noble Lord spoke about nationwide adoption. We are not considering that at this stage. We are talking about an experiment in certain designated areas which would be the subject of close consultation. Then the noble Lord raised the question of the liberty of the subject, to which a number of other noble Lords referred. The liberty of the subject is an important matter but it has been dealt with in the case of wearing seat-belts. Very recently the Government came forward with further legislation to strengthen the provisions in that regard, which we wholly applaud. But, as my noble friend Lord Howie said, the liberty of the victims and potential victims should also be considered. That is rather more important in my order of priorities.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, spoke about his opposition to the principle of experimental crimes, but as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, noted we are not talking about an experimental crime but about an experimental way of enforcing the law. The noble and learned Lord said that he was against the principle, but I understand that in his governmental career he supported the electronic tagging of offenders. That was an experiment.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I did not have anything to do with that.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the question of whether the noble and learned Lord distanced himself from it is really the riposte to that.

Then there is a further possibility of privatising some prisons. That is not an experimental crime but it is an experiment. To assert that there is no merit in random breath testing at all is to belie and refuse to acknowledge the experience that exists in many other countries.

I should like to come to the question of the relationship between the police and the public, which the Minister chose to reiterate in expressing his opposition. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, disagrees with any matter that the public might be supporting he says that the public is misguided. That is a novel concept but I suppose it is one which the government in which he served deployed with great effect. They were always thinking that the public was misguided and that they were right. I think that they are going to be shown to be wrong in the foreseeable future.

I did recount the following evidence, but apparently it was not heard in the House last time. In New South Wales the concept of random breath testing was always popular in theory. That conclusion was based on surveys that had been carried out, but it is interesting that there they carried out further surveys once random breath testing actually came into operation. In 1982 a survey indicated that 64 per cent. of respondents gave their support. That rose to 85 per cent. in 1983, and in 1987, five years after the measure came into operation, support had increased to 97 per cent. There was not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that the public/police relationship was impaired at all. Indeed, surveys in this country have shown that the public want to see more police enforcement on drinking and driving. A Harris poll in 1990 showed that the public saw drinking and driving as the third most important area on which it wanted to see police time spent. Admittedly that does not deal with the question of random breath testing itself, but it does deal with the question of deployment of police forces, about which so much has been said.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was right. We should not sit back complacent but should go on improving the situation. That is the crux of the matter. My noble friend Lord Howie made an entertaining speech illuminated— I am not sure whether that is the right term to use in this context— by his interesting reference to driving with his wife, about which be was berated by my noble friend Lady Phillips. But I do not think it is necessarily for her to berate him; that will happen elsewhere and from other hands.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made a number of points to which I have already referred, but he went on to say that the police force would be better used to enforce speed limits. That is a question of applying priorities. The two matters are not mutually exclusive. It is not necessarily right to say that speed— which is unquestionably a danger, and it was a matter alluded to earlier today at Question Time— necessarily poses a greater danger than driving and drinking. That was a point substantially made by my noble friend Lady Phillips.

I was interested in the concept of the "booze bus". I do not know whether it would travel with quite the same frequency as some of our services in London, but it is an interesting concept to which, admittedly, I had not given any consideration. It would be for the Government to work out in the experimental period whether that would be the best way of dealing with the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, was right that one cannot talk simply in terms of campaigns at Christmas. The law has to be applied throughout the year. Unquestionably, greater emphasis is given to it at Christmas time, for perfectly good reasons, but the fact is that there is not a similar emphasis given throughout the year and, as the noble Lord said, too many innocent people are killed and injured.

Perhaps I may say something about the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I was sorry to hear that he suffered from asthma, which is an appallingly difficult condition to cope with, but his position would be protected by the law as it stands at present and in no way would it be made worse by the new provisions. Under the present law one can offer reasonable cause for not submitting to a breath test. That would apply in relation to any changes that were made.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I merely mentioned that I suffered from asthma. I know perfectly well that if I cannot breath sufficiently into the bag I shall be taken to a police station and have a blood test or give urine. That does not matter at all. I was not using that as an excuse or as the reason why I am against the amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the noble Earl referred to it, and I was seeking to correct his assertion about what he apparently believed the law to be.

As I have already said, we have had an interesting debate. I feel that there is no alternative but to test the opinion of the House on whether we should have an experimental period. That is what I now propose.

4.50 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 117.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Ardwick, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Aylestone, L. Hughes, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Birk, B. Jay, L.
Blease, L. Jeger, B.
Bottomley, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Broadbridge, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. John-Mackie, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Kilbracken, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Clinton-Davis, L. Listowel, E.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe
Cox, B. Lockwood, B.
Craigavon, V. Longford, E.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Macaulay of Bragar, L.
David, B. Masham of Ilton, B.
Donoughue, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Molloy, L.
Ennals, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L
Ewart-Biggs, B. Mulley, L.
Falkland, V. Nicol, B.
Fitt, L. Peston, L.
Gallacher, L. Phillips, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gladwyn, L. Rea, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Scanlon, L.
Grey, E. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hampton, L. Serota, B.
Hanworth, V. Shepherd, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stallard, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stedman, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Strathcona and Mount Royal, L. Underhill, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L.
Swinfen, L. Wharton, B.
Taylor of' Blackburn, L. White, B.
Taylor of Gryfe, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Tordoff, L. [Teller.] Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Aldington, L. Knollys, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Lauderdale, E.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Long, V.
Ampthill. L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Arran, E. Lurgan, L.
Ashbourne, L. Lyell, L.
Astor, V. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Attlee, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Bauer, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Malmesbury, E.
Beloff, L. Mancroft, L.
Bessborough, E. Manton, L.
Blatch, B Margadale, L.
Blyth, L. Merrivale, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Milverton, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Monson, L.
Brigstocke, B. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Brookes, L. Morris, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mostyn, L.
Butterworth, L. Mottistone, L.
Caithness. E. Mountevans, L.
Caldecote, V. Munster, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Carnock, L. Nelson, E.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Orkney, E.
Cockfield, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Cottesloe, L. Pender, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Pennock, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Derwent, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L
Dilhorne, V. Rankeillour, L.
Downshire, M. Renton, L.
Elles, B. Renwick, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Rodney, L.
Faithfull, B. Romney, E.
Foley, L. Roskill, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Gainford, L. Seccombe, B.
Goold, L. Selborne, E.
Grantchester, L. Shannon, E.
Gridley, L Shaughnessy, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Strange, B.
Strathcarron, L.
Halsbury, E. Strathclyde, L.
Henley, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Swansea, L.
Hives, L. Swinton, E.
Hood, V. Terrington, L.
Hooper, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Howe, E. Trumpington, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Ullswater, V.
Jeffreys, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Waddington, L.
Kimball, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Kinnaird, L. Wise, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.58 p.m.

Clause 4 [Driving under influence of drink or drugs]:

[Amendment No. 2A not moved.]

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 3:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause: ("Prescribed limits on concentration of alcohol In section 11(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for the words "35 microgrammes" there shall be substituted the words "22 microgrammes", for the words "80 milligrammes" there shall be substituted the words "50 milligrammes" and for the words "107 milligrammes" there shall be substituted the words "67 microgrammes".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I indicated when we discussed this issue on a previous occasion, the measure I am proposing would be more effective if complemented by the new clause which the House has just chosen to reject. Nonetheless it remains useful in its own right. The purpose of the amendment is to change the legislation on alcohol limits from a level of 80 milligrammes per hundred millilitres of blood to 50 milligrammes per hundred millilitres of blood.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the figure of 80 milligrammes is now too high as a base and that lower levels of alcohol can impair judgment and driving skills. There is considerable experience elsewhere— for example in Australia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Yugoslavia— to suggest that the level of 50 milligrammes is a more reasonable base. I must say, however, that Yugoslavia has other rather more major problems to consider at the moment. Several states in the United States of America feel that 50 milligrammes is a more reasonable base. The European Commission has undertaken studies which corroborate the value of proceeding along these lines.

The Minister himself said something on which I should like clarification. At Committee stage, in the debate on 2nd May, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish said (at col. 908 of the Official Report) that to introduce a provision of this kind:

"would detract from the main message, which is not to mix drinking and driving at all".

I simply do not understand that remark. Perhaps the Minister would be kind enough to explain it.

The Minister said previously that I had not supported my case with any statistical evidence. We have just had a long debate on this matter. I can assure the House that there have been major investigations, to which the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety (PACTS) has referred. I have no doubt that a number of your Lordships will have received information on the studies that have been undertaken.

The data which were set out in the Grand Rapids study in the 1960s justified the case for 80 milligrammes. The re-analysis of that data indicates that for most people excess risk of accident occurs at around 60 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Evidence from a large number of behavioural studies suggests that impairment by alcohol takes place at even lower levels. The conclusion which one would draw from that, with some reason— and certainly the European Commission appears to be drawing that conclusion — is that the current legal limit is no longer supportable on scientific grounds.

It is important to note that Section 11(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 permits the Secretary of State to amend the prescribed limits by regulation. Given the Government's refusal to accept the amendment at the previous stage— and I assume that they will reiterate that refusal tonight— it may be useful if the Minister will give the House an assurance that he will look at the position again under that power in 12 months' time and that, if the Government then feel that the time is appropriate, they will have no hesitation in using their powers to reduce the limit. Certainly the next government, which will not be long delayed, will be giving consideration to the matter along the lines that I have suggested. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the effect of the amendment would be to ruin social life in rural areas and in all parts of the country with an inadequate public transport service— which means most parts of the country. The enjoyment of modest— and I stress the word "modest"— amounts of alcohol is an integral feature of European civilisation. It may not be a feature of Saudi Arabian civilisation or for that matter of the civilisations of Missouri, Idaho or Arkansas, but it is a central feature of the European civilisation to which we belong. It simply will not do to say that couples or groups can share the driving to and from a party, one person being the non-drinker who drives home. There are millions of people in this country who live alone— widows, widowers, divorcees, bachelors, spinsters and so on. Are they to go in terror of allowing a single glass of wine or half a pint of beer to pass their lips at Christmas or Easter, at weddings or similar social occasions?

No doubt the noble Lord is right in claiming that even tiny amounts of alcohol fractionally increase reaction times. However, so does over-eating, which draws blood away from the brain to the stomach; eating too little, which lowers blood sugar levels; staying up all night, which causes people to doze off at the wheel; getting into a foul temper; or becoming totally absorbed in the music emanating from one's car radio or tape system.

The amendment goes much too far and I totally oppose it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, it is very difficult to establish whether the present figure is completely right but it is even more difficult to establish that it is wrong. I know of no evidence to suggest that people whose blood alcohol content is below the present statutory figure constitute any serious danger. Unless there is substantial evidence to that effect it would seem unfortunate to try to alter the law at this stage.

In addition, it is difficult to get the right figure anyhow because of the different reactions of different people. An amount of alcohol which would make a young man of 19 highly dangerous on the road might have little or no effect on some of your Lordships, who are of maturer years and more accustomed to an occasional glass of something or other. The effect of alcohol on individuals differs greatly. Someone who is unaccustomed to it, perhaps someone who is young, will react excessively to even one glass of beer. On the other hand— and I do not wish to be more precise in identification— if any members of either Front Bench were to drink a great deal more I am sure that they would be perfectly safe to drive.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I, too, am opposed to the amendment, partly for the reasons already given. I shall add a little to what my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said. When I was a Home Office Minister many years ago I was involved in the discussions as to what should be done about this matter. If I remember rightly. and I shall be corrected if I am wrong, what was laid down in the Road Traffic Act 1960 in terms of the number of milligrammes of alcohol per 1,000 cc of blood has already been reduced once. To reduce it further will be an inhibiting and unnecessary measure.

In addition to the relevance of age to the capacity to absorb alcohol into the blood without its having any ill effects, other physical characteristics are also relevant. I speak as a man who is not tall and not very broad. I understand that alcohol in my blood would show a higher registration per 1,000 cc than— and I do not wish to look round the Chamber— in the case of a much larger person. Therefore, bearing in mind that this is only a very rough and ready and preliminary measure of capacity to drive, we should be very careful before we take the drastic step of reducing it as suggested here from 35 microgrammes to 22 microgrammes and from 80 milligrammes to 50 milligrammes. That is going very far, bearing in mind that there has already been one reduction from what was agreed upon about 30 years ago.

Lord Rea

My Lords, perhaps I may refer to the opening remark of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis when he reminded us of the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, at Committee stage that to reduce the lower limit in this way would detract from the message that to drink and drive was wrong. At that point several of us questioned the logic of his statement. I consider that the logic is in precisely the opposite direction. If it were an offence should any alcohol at all be detected by a breathalyser or blood test that would surely back up the message that the activities of drinking and driving must be totally separated. The amendment is extremely sensible and logical and has the full backing of the British Medical Association.

Lord Tordoff

; My Lords, perhaps I may follow what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said. I was disturbed by the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, which appear to suggest that they do not support the Government in their basic message that one should not drink and drive. They appear to suggest that it is all right to drink up to that limit, but that is surely not the message that the Government are trying to get across to the British public. That message is slightly independent from what the law says in relation to the point at which one is prosecuted. However, the basic message is that, regardless of whether one is short or tall, old or young, one should not drink and drive.

The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that if one is elderly, one can drink more and be a better driver, is very dangerous. One could argue that, because of their faster reactions, young men can be slightly more fuddled before they get into difficulties. I do not support that view, but one can take that argument either way. The basic argument is that people should not drink at all if they intend to drive.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the present legal alcohol limit for drivers 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or the equivalent in breath or urine.— is scientifically based as being the level at which, for most people, the chance of being involved in an accident starts to rise sharply. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, there has been a great deal of experimental research about the effect of alcohol at various concentrations in the body on the range of activities involved in driving. Those experiments have demonstrated that driving performance is impaired at levels below the present legal limit. However, unlike the extensive Grand Rapids study in Michigan, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred and on which the internationally accepted level of 80 milligrammes is based, these studies have been concerned with drivers in general rather than with those involved in accidents.

The Grand Rapids study demonstrated that it was at 80 milligrammes that, for most people, the chance of being involved in an accident started to rise sharply. While driving ability is undoubtedly impaired at blood alcohol levels below 80 milligrammes, the degree of impairment for a given level of alcohol varies between individuals, and indeed varies in individuals at different times according to the state of their metabolism. That point was correctly made by my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton. The chance of being involved in an accident is higher than for a sober driver, but not significantly so. It is at 80 milligrammes that the risk curve starts to rise sharply. After all, that is what this debate is all about.

A reduction in the limit could be expected to discourage some drivers from drinking altogether before driving and to reduce the level of alcohol impairment among others, but the effect in terms of reducing the number of drink-drive accidents is likely to be only marginal.

I believe that it would be premature and counter-productive to reduce the legal limit. It would be unlikely significantly to reduce the numbers who currently exceed the limit and whose accident risk is highest, almost half of whom are convicted at twice the limit, The most significant effect is likely to be an increase in the number of drink-drive convictions, with a consequent burden on the police and the courts.

That is not to say that we do not take the issue of drinking and driving seriously. I do not think that anyone has suggested that. It is a major problem, resulting in some 900 unnecessary deaths each year. Our approach to tackling that problem is to change attitudes so that the practice is seen as anti-social behaviour. Backed by tough legislation and rigorous police enforcement, that campaign is succeeding. The number of drink-drive fatalities has halved over the past 10 years. I am confident that we can reduce that number s till further in the next few years. That is our goal. However, I do not believe that lowering the legal limit will help. Debate about how much alcohol a driver should or should not be allowed to consume merely detracts from the main message which is not to drink at all before driving.

With regard to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, I do not think that my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton were trying to dilute that message. Our general advice is, do not drink and drive. That is prudent. We do not want people to drink up to a given limit. Our campaigns do not focus on the limit, nor should we so focus, but it would not be realistic to enforce a zero limit in law. We believe that the present limit is appropriate for the practical purposes of enforcement and that it deals with the priority cases. That is an expansion of what my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness said in Committee. There are tough penalties for those who drink and drive to the extent that they pose a significant threat to others.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked me to assure him that we would review the situation in about 12 months' time. The Government keep the drink-driving laws very much under review at all times and are not, I hope, impervious to new guidance. However, it would not be sensible to undertake a specific review in 12 months' time or at any other particular time. The Government will consider over time whether there is a case for a change in the law, but this is not the time for it.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the gentle assurance that he proffered in the last part of his speech. Certainly, as I have indicated, the next government will most clearly look again at this issue, and with some speed.

The argument that has been adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about the impairment of rural social life has not been echoed anywhere else in the House. He seems to be isolated on that point, as he was on the question of seat belts. That is not the essential issue that divides us. It is whether one should move towards a lower limit at this stage in the light of analyses that have been carried out, or whether one should retain the present level.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, observed that he knew of no evidence. I have referred in general terms to the evidence that was put before me and in those circumstances I should record it before the House. The Grand Rapids experiment was a substantial experiment carried out in Michigan some 30 years ago into 6,000 accident-involved drivers. It was the basis upon which the scientists concluded that 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres was the appropriate limit. That has been the subject of considerable reappraisal. The Minister referred to it, but said that no experiment had been undertaken on quite the same scale. He is right about that, but a comprehensive review was presented by Messrs. Moskowitz and Robinson to the 10th international conference on alcohol, drugs and traffic safety in 1987, in Amsterdam, which covered some 200 reports. Those included studies of alcohol impairment in relation to reaction time, tracking skills, visual functions and psychometer performance, whether on the road, in a car or in a simulator. It found different degrees of impairment for each area. Most studies found impairment below 70 milligrammes and nearly 40 per cent. indicated impairment at or below 40 milligrammes. Around 60 per cent. of the studies, which subjected drivers to the most complicated tests — those most nearly approximating to the driving task — showed impairment at or below 20 milligrammes. A review of experimental studies conducted in 1985 by New South Wales traffic authority led to its conclusion that it would be unwise to undertake any relaxation of its 50 milligramme limit. It concluded that it could lead only to an increase in traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.

As I said, it is not unknown for the level that I am seeking to be deployed in a number of countries. However, the Government have indicated that they are not at this stage prepared to review the position. I have noted what the Minister said. It offers some, albeit scant, comfort and in those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 4:

After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

("Safety Audits

— (1) Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Powers of Secretary of State and local authorities as to the giving of road safety information and financing) shall be amended as follows—

(2) After paragraph (a) of subsection (3) there shall be inserted— ( ) may, in carrying out those studies, subject the road network within their area to a systematic external check of its safety level" ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment proposes the insertion of a new clause to deal with safety audits. My noble friend has referred to a report prepared by the European Community Committee of Experts on Road Safety. The proposed new clause seeks to amend Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to reflect a recommendation of that report on the establishment of machinery to check that roads are safe. The report concluded that, the fitness of road networks to afford their users the maximum degree of safety should be systematically checked".

It states: Every local network, regardless of the body responsible for it (national, state, local authority or private company) should be compulsorily subjected periodically to a systematic external check of its safety level".

The new clause is primarily designed to provide the Minister with an opportunity to set out the Government's views on this recommendation and to indicate whether they intend to take any action in response to it both nationally and in discussions within the Community.

The objectives underlying the recommendation are clearly worthy of support. They mesh well with the existing practice in this country. Subsection (3) (c) of Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 already provides for a safety audit of new roads, a practice that the new clause which this amendment seeks to include would in effect apply to the existing road network.

The same subsection of the 1988 Act requires highway authorities to prepare a programme of road safety measures. The Local Authority Association's road safety code of practice recommends that the programme should be set out in road safety plans and be linked to local casualty reduction targets. The type of check referred to in this new clause could usefully form part of the preparatory work for those plans.

I must point out that one of the more difficult aspects of the European Community committee's recommendation is that the check should be undertaken by an outside body. It will be appreciated that local highway authorities have a statutory responsibility for road safety. There is no reason to suggest that they will not take seriously a new responsibility such as this. However, given the current climate, there would be doubts about their ability to finance any remedial or improvement works identified as a result of the checks. A requirement that an outside body should be commissioned to undertake that work would add to the financial burdens without necessarily achieving beneficial results.

In summary, if implemented the recommendation could provide a useful focus for and complement to existing road safety arrangements. In fact the road safety plans which the authorities are being encouraged to produce cannot be comprehensive unless they are based on this type of approach. But we believe that the responsibility should rest with the highway authority.

In asking the Government to indicate their attitude to the proposed recommendation of the committee's report, there are two further points on which their views would be appreciated. First, it is recognised that safety audit and safety engineering work is extremely specialised. Therefore additional training facilities are required to ensure the availability of suitably skilled people. It is important that career and training patterns within the engineering profession reflect the importance of this area of work. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate how the Government propose to tackle this important issue and whether in fact they are already planning to do so.

The other matter concerns guidelines on the undertaking of safety audit on new roads. I understand that at present there are two sets of guidelines: one prepared by the Department of Transport and the other prepared by the Institution of Highway Engineers and Transportation. The institution's guidelines, which are used by many highway authorities, are more stringent than those of the department and include audit at the important feasibility stage of road planning. It would be helpful if the Minister in dealing with the amendment could also indicate how the differences in the two sets of guidelines can be justified.

Safety audit is very important. I hope that the Minister will accept the spirit of the amendment as well as dealing with the particular points raised. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the safety audit of the existing road network is an essential element of any programme aimed at reducing road casualties. However, we do not need to amend Section 39 of the Act to make clear that local authorities have the power to conduct such audits. Subsection (3) (b) of that section makes it clear that they can and indeed must take such measures as appear to the authority to be appropriate to prevent accidents.

The local authority associations' code of practice published in 1989 urges local authorities to consider how they are able to assist in reducing road casualties through their statutory functions and local influence. It suggests that they should do this by drawing up a road safety plan. Local authorities have taken that on and are beginning to produce their plans, setting targets and identifying local safety schemes which will help to achieve those targets. In drawing up such schemes, authorities make extensive use of accident investigation techniques, including a full analysis of the distribution and causes of road accidents within their areas. This positive work is indeed welcome. To that extent the amendment is therefore not necessary.

The noble Lord also referred to funding. I am sure the House will be pleased to know that funding is now available for local safety schemes through the transport supplementary grant, and many schemes are starting throughout the country. In fact as I said, in 1990– 91 the Government were able to extend TSG and the sum of £31 million was allocated for it. I am sure that that will be welcome.

The noble Lord asked me two specific questions about the EC report, which has 81 recommendations in total The committee was set up to advise the Commission. Its report, published earlier this year, has not been adopted by the Commission. We are encouraging the Commission to develop a strategy for road safety from which priorities can be identified. That is on the agenda for a meeting of the Transport Council later this month. The proposal is to set up a high level group to take that work forward, and we shall be involved in that work.

The noble Lord also asked me about two separate sets of guidelines, one issued by the department and one issued by the Institution of Highway Engineers and Transportation. I shall have to write to him with details since I do not have them at the moment. I hope that in view of what I have been able to say, he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I should point out that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of which I have the honour to be president, is fully in agreement with the recommendation of the European Community committee for safety audits. The association is the body responsible for dealing with the highway authorities in the important urban areas of the country. Therefore, in accepting what the Minister said, I need to consult with the AMA as to whether the powers to which he referred are satisfactory to the highway authorities.

I am pleased to learn from the Minister that the Council of Transport Ministers meeting later this month will consider the general question of this important report on safety audits by a European body. I shall need carefully to consider what the Minister said on the transport supplementary grant covering the proposals of the safety audit, bearing in mind that we want the safety audit to apply not only to new roads but also to the existing network. We want the safety audit to be carried out at regular, systematic intervals.

I am grateful for what the Minister said and I shall consider it carefully. Whether there will be time to return to the subject on Third Reading remains to be seen. However, I am grateful for the points that he made. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Clause 8 [Construction and use of vehicles]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 5, line 16, at end insert: (" (1A) In Section 41 of that Act at end of paragraph (h) of subsection (2) there shall be inserted the words including, in particular, the fitting of all motor cars with a third stop light placed high." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a simple but important amendment. It seeks the Government's attitude on requiring cars to be fitted with a third stop light. Noble Lords will recall that on a number of occasions the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, has raised the issue. I have also pointed out that if there were a third stop light it should not be of too great an intensity.

In common with an earlier amendment on safety audit, the amendment also arises from the recommendations of the European Community committee to which I referred. The report deals in detail with the question of vehicle design and regulations, referring in particular to increases in the speed and performance of cars. The recommendations include encouraging manufacturers to develop an approach to vehicle design which encourages calmer driving, calling for research on the development of car fronts which are less dangerous to pedestrians, and to improved protection for the occupants of vehicles. Those are important recommendations. It will clearly take some time before they can be implemented and the benefits obtained.

However, at least one of the recommendations in relation to vehicle design could be implemented in a short timescale. Recommendation 41 of the European Community committee's report states: In order to give a greater awareness to following vehicles that a vehicle is braking, it would be desirable to require all cars to be fitted with a third stop light placed high. Experience in the United States, where this measure is common, has been fully conclusive".

This is a probing amendment to seek the Government's view, and to ask whether they intend to carry out the recommendation of the European Community's safety committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. Due to a very unfortunate accident two months ago, I have been unable to be present during the debates on this important Bill. Perhaps I may have the indulgence of your Lordships' House for a few moments. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill for bringing the matter before the House again. I agree with him, as we so often do on matters of road traffic and transport.

I have had the pleasure of asking two Questions of the Government fairly recently regarding the third brake light in the rear window of motor vehicles. On both occasions I stated that the Americans are way ahead of us and the Europeans far behind. The Americans undertook a survey of taxis in New York. Half of the taxis were provided with the third high brake light; the remainder were not. Within a month there were over 53 per cent. fewer knock-on accidents involving taxis. The Americans have decided that it will be the law in America that in future every private car shall be fitted with a high rear brake light.

I was interested to hear what the noble Lord said about the European Community. I should have thought that the French— who have double the number the accidents that we have— would be anxious to fit a measure which obviously prevents knock-on accidents. I should have thought also that the insurance companies in our country would be helpful and would encourage users of cars in this country to prevent accidents— as such a provision undoubtedly does— by asking users of cars to fit high rear lights. They do not dazzle, as some motorists believe, because they come on for only a short time when the driver brakes. Unless one drives on one's footbrake, which is unusual, then it is not a nuisance.

I do not know what the Government will say. However, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has just told us— I was unaware of the recommendation— perhaps there will be an alteration in the EC's attitude. It is high time that it changed its mind. I shall not refer to it coming into line with us because unfortunately we do not have a law which states that car users shall have high brake lights. However, when it is realised that a great number of knock-on accidents would be prevented if such lights were encouraged, I hope that the Minister will take some steps to encourage this provision. It costs so little. As part of the law in this country it could make our cars safer and prevent accidents. I hope that the Minister will give some guidance on this point.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, when my noble friend replies to the amendment, I hope he will indicate that he appreciates that the provision has considerable merits. When, how and at what time the installation of a third stop light should be made compulsory raises a number of practical questions. However, on the merits there is a great deal to be said for the provision. If one is moving in a queue of vehicles (on the motorways one generally is) one is in no particular difficulty if the car immediately in front shows signs of stopping because one can see the ordinary stop lights fairly low down. However, if a sudden stoppage occurs with a car two or three ahead, one's view will be blanketed in most cases by the intervening cars. One will not see that stop light. One will not see that suddenly the queue is coming to a halt. The third high-placed stop light is a useful device in those circumstances.

There are many questions in connection with compulsion and so on. However, on the substance and merits of the matter, there is a great deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and my noble friend Lady Macleod said. I hope that my noble friend will not reject the amendment out of hand.

Lord Feversham

My Lords, I enjoin with what the noble Lord said. It seems to me that there are merits, not least because some people fit a third stop light and in some cases two extra stop lights. There is therefore an unsatisfactory situation whereby some people have three or four stop lights and others just two. Any legislation which produces a common practice which everyone can follow more easily would be good.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I welcome the return of my noble friend Lady Macleod to our deliberations on the Bill. We missed her presence during Committee and we know of her particular interest in road safety. I am glad that she is sufficiently recovered to return to the House.

Like my noble friends Lady Macleod and Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, the Government recognise that centre high-mounted stop lamps can give following drivers a more prominent warning that a car is slowing down or stopping. The same effect could be achieved by a separation of the rear position lamp and stop lamp functions by at least 100 millimetres. That is based on research carried out by TRRL.

We stated in the Motorway Safety Package in 1988 that we would explore in the European Community whether a requirement for such lamps to be provided on new vehicles could be introduced by means of an amendment to the relevant directive. I have to say that there is not much support for that but that we shall continue to press the case in Europe. In the meantime, centre high-mounted stop lamps may be used in the United Kingdom, although their use is not mandatory. They must fulfil certain requirements. For instance, in their intensity.

Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 already gives sufficient power for the lighting regulations to require or permit any lighting device on vehicles. A change in primary legislation is not therefore necessary as we could introduce such a requirement in regulations. As I have said, we shall however continue to press our case in Europe. If agreement were to be reached, we could introduce the necessary changes by regulations and we would wish to do so. I hope with that assurance the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who supported the amendment; and it is to be noted that they all supported its principle. I was interested to hear the Minister say that Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 already provides the power. Why must we wait for EC agreement before introducing it? Surely we could decide to introduce certain mandatory provisions on the manufacture of new cars in this country as we have as regards construction and use. Why must we wait for EC agreement before introducing what the Minister described as an important power?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may expand on my comments. EC law would require an exemption to be made for any vehicle which meets the EC standard— that would be without such a lamp— and manufacturers would not therefore he obliged to comply with our additional requirement. The power would be ineffective without EC agreement.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. It is one which I find difficult to comprehend because we are talking about safety on our roads. I shall read his comments carefully; but. I am glad to know that there is unanimity on the desirability of such a provision. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Strathcarron moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 5, line 16, at end insert: ("( ) In section 41 of that Act, at the end of subsection (2), there shall be inserted— ( ) for securing that overflow pipes from diesel fuel tanks are directed into catchtanks." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment is tabled in order to prevent the spillage of diesel oil from overflow pipes by the fitting of a catchtank. A diesel oil spill age is extremely dangerous in particular on roundabouts because in certain conditions it is invisible. When driving a car, many noble Lords may have experienced a slight skid on a roundabout without knowing the reason why.

I speak in particular on behalf of motor cyclists for whom diesel oil on the road is lethal. When travelling round a corner the motor cycle is leaned over and the effect of diesel oil on the road is like hitting sheet ice. The rear wheel slides away and the driver may be badly injured, killed or run over by the traffic behind. I hope that my noble friend will give some encouragement in order that we may take the matter further. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend has indicated that his intention in tabling the amendment is to prevent the spillage of diesel fuel on our roads. I agree that this can be a safety hazard especially to motor cyclists. The reference to overflow pipes is, however, a little misleading as the majority of vehicles are not fitted with such devices. My noble friend may have in mind the small vents or similar systems which many fuel tanks have to prevent the build up of pressure within the tank.

We amended the construction and use regulations last year in order to deal with the particular problem of diesel spillage. From 10th December 1990 the regulations have required all vehicle diesel tanks, including those fitted with a venting device, to be constructed and maintained so that leakage of any liquid from the tank is prevented. This change has brought diesel tanks into line with the requirements relating to petrol tanks in this respect. The majority of diesel spillages are in fact caused by inefficient or missing filler caps, and the drivers of vehicles with diesel tanks in such a condition are now liable to prosecution under these new construction and use provisions. I trust that my noble friend Lord Strathcarron will agree that in the light of the changes which we have made his amendment is not necessary.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his encouraging reply. I understand that overflow pipes are not normally fitted because the vents must be designed so as to prevent spillage. In the light of his comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 7:

After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

("Seizure of Heavy Goods Vehicles

In the Road Traffic Act 1968, Part V, there shall be inserted after section 60 new sections as follows—

"Seizure of Vehicles.

60A. A vehicle used in contravention of section 60 of this Act shall, on the laying of information of such use by an officer before a licensing authority and on the subsequent direction of that licensing authority, be liable to seizure.

Interim Disposal of Seized Vehicles.

60B.— (1) Any vehicle seized by an officer in pursuance of a direction made under section 60A of this Act shall be delivered by him to the local authority in whose area the place of seizure is situated according to such arrangements (including the sharing of expenses) as may be agreed between the local authority and the licensing authority or, in default of such agreement, as may be determined by the Secretary of State.

(2) While any vehicle seized under section 60A of this Act is in the custody of an authority in pursuance of this section it shall be the duty of that authority to take such steps as are reasonably necessary for the safe custody of that vehicle.

(3) In this section "local authority"—

  1. (a) in relation to England, means the council of a county, a metropolitan district or London Borough or the Common Council of the City of London;
  2. (b) in relation to Wales, means the council of a county;
  3. (c) in relation to Scotland, means the local highway authority. Ultimate disposal of seized Vehicles.

60C.— (1) A vehicle seized under section 60A of this Act shall on an application made for the purpose by its registered keeper or its owner to the licensing authority who authorised the seizure be returned to its registered keeper or, on proof thereof, its owner within one year of its seizure and provided at the time of such application it shall be—

  1. (a) an "authorised vehicle" as defined in section 92(1) of this Act, or
  2. (b) on proof thereof, a vehicle the declared use of which is exempted from the provisions of section 60 of this Act,

and provided that any expenses aforementioned in section 608(1) of this Act arising from the safe custody of that vehicle or any fees arising therefrom as from time to time be determined by the Secretary of State have been paid by the applicant.

(2) If not reclaimed under the provisions of subsection (1) of this section a vehicle seized under section 60A of this Act may be disposed of after one year from the date of seizure in accordance with instructions as may from time to time be issued by the Secretary of State.

Right of Appeal.

60D.— (1) Where a vehicle is seized under section 60A of this Act and within six months of the date on which. it was seized no person has been charged since that date with an offence in relation to that vehicle under section 60 of this Act and that vehicle is still detained, a magistrates court shall, on an application for restitution made for the purpose by the registered keeper or, by the owner or, by the person from whom the vehicle was seized or, by an officer, make such order respecting the disposal of the vehicle and award such reasonable costs as the court may determine.

(2) Any proceedings in Scotland under this section shall be taken by way of summary application in the sheriff court; and in the application of this section to Scotland references to costs shall be construed as expenses.


60E.—In section 60A, section 60B and in section 60D of this Act an "officer" means an examiner appointed under section 68 of the Road Traffic Act 1968 and any person authorised for the purposes of the aforesaid sections by the licensing authority for any area." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when we discussed the matter in Committee the Minister expressed considerable sympathy with the new clause. The present situation leads to considerable prejudice as regards the interests of the good operator—that is to say, the operator who abides by the law. The Minister argued that his department was carrying out special checks in co-operation with enforcement agencies and we welcome that. He then said: There remains the proposal put forward in this amendment of providing powers to impound unlicensed heavy goods vehicles. I would not rule out the possibility in the longer term. We would, however, have to be very clear that the sort of measures that I have just described and the action already in hand are not proving adequate to deal with the problem. The power to impound and forfeit vehicles is a much more draconian measure".—[Official Report, 2/5/91; col. 948.]

Indeed, it is intended to be so.

The problem with the Government's situation as we perceive it is that while we welcome the checks that are to be carried out, making them more effective, and the introduction of a new registration system to control the carriers of waste substances, it is a pity that the measures were not introduced some considerable time ago. There can be no doubt that the good haulier is strongly disadvantaged at present, and time is of the essence. I fear that if we wait for the special checks to be concluded, the damage done to the good operator will continue in the interim. That is insupportable.

I hope that the Government will agree to the proposal. Perhaps the power can be invoked later and the House can deal with the matter appropriately; today I wish to consider the principle of seizure. There exists the power to invoke by regulation, and it is intended to be a draconian measure.

However, this measure was recommended by the commissioner for the metropolitan traffic area and it is not without precedent, as I said in an earlier debate. HM Customs and Excise is able to use powers of seizure and I see no substantial difference in principle here.

If the Government are dissatisfied with the wording of my amendment—because it is much more difficult for us on this side of the House to draft legislation without the help of parliamentary draftsmen—they could draft their own amendment or they could provide a timescale for the implementation of my proposal. I shall listen with great interest to what the Minister says but if he is not more forthcoming than he was on the last occasion, I reserve the right to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I indicated when we debated the issue in Committee, I share the noble Lord's anxiety about the unfairness and potential danger of the unlicensed operation of heavy goods vehicles. I would repeat the assurance I gave then, that the Department of Transport is taking all possible enforcement action within existing powers to deal with the problem. I would remind noble Lords that this action includes special checks by the department's traffic examiners in co-operation with the other enforcement agencies. These are designed to target the operators who are known to be running their vehicles illegally. In the first place, where their vehicles are found to be overloaded or with safety defects, which they often are, prohibition notices are issued. A prohibition cannot be ignored. The vehicle is held at the place where it has been checked until the defects are corrected. These special checks are already being mounted in parts of the country where the problem is especially severe, including London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister indicate how many prohibition orders have been issued in each of the past three years?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, without notice of that question I am unable to supply the information.

In Committee I also indicated that the department is looking at ways of making these checks even more effective by combining the information available to the different enforcement agencies and targeting rogue operators, especially those unlicensed operators who are in the waste disposal business. A new registration system is being introduced to control carriers of waste substances. We hope to link this register with the computerised goods operator licensing system and to develop a computerised enforcement system of information to which all the agencies will have access under strict security rules. We are also seeking the co-operation of the major civil engineering contractors in helping to stamp out the employment of unlicensed subcontractors.

The new clause is intended to provide powers to impound unlicensed heavy goods vehicles. I said in Committee that we would not rule out this possibility in the longer term, but I believe we need to see what effect the measures now in hand will have on the problem before we can decide whether such new and extensive powers are justified. The traffic commissioners will continue to be informed of progress. The power to impound and forfeit vehicles is draconian. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, admits that. We should not rush into it in the way proposed by this amendment. I appreciate that opportunities for legislation are limited. But we simply should not take such swingeing powers unless we are quite sure that innocent parties, such as the consignors of goods, will not inadvertently be affected. Nor should we make provision in legislation unless we are sure that such powers could be effectively and efficiently enforced. We are not in that position. I believe we need to be sure that all other measures which can be taken within existing powers have been taken before we can consider whether impounding is necessary. It would be premature to take a decision on that until the new enforcement measures have been given time to work.

I cannot accept this amendment. The noble Lord must choose which course he wishes to take. We take the situation seriously. We recognise the problem and are acting to combat it.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I do not dispute the Government's bona fides on this but I am anxious about the timescale. At present I understand that road hauliers are finding life extremely difficult—I am referring to those who observe the law. They urgently need more protection and they are not receiving it. It may be, as the Minister said, that prohibition notices are issued. However, he cannot provide the House with evidence as to the incidence of those notices, which goes to the crux of the case.

I appreciate what the Minister said. Of course he operates under constraints and is not the Minister specifically responsible for road transport. However, the views of the traffic commissioner for the metropolitan area should prevail. He sees it as a major problem, as does the road haulage industry. Time is of the essence. There will not be an adequate deterrent until the law is changed so that seizure is permitted to take place.

I indicated the scope within which the Government could act, but the Minister merely reiterated what he said in a previous debate. In those circumstances I must test the opinion of the House.

5.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 64; Not-Contents, 93.

Division No. 2
Addington, Hampton, L.
Airedale, L Hanworth, V.
Ardwick, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Barnett, L Hatch of Lusby, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Blease, L. Hughes, L.
Brookes, L.. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jay, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jeger, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Carter, L. Kilbracken, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Listowel, E.
Clinton-Davis, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Longford, E.
Craigavon, V. Mackie of Benshie, L.
David, B. Masham of Ilton, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Donoughue, L. Meston, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Ennals, L. Mulley, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Nicol, B.
Falkland, V. [Teller.] Phillips, B.
Gallacher, L. Rea, L.
Gladwyn, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Sefton of Garston, L.[Teller.]
Shepherd, L.
Gregson, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Grey, E. Strabolgi, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Tordoff, L. Winterbottom, L.
Underhill, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Amwell, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Arran, E. Lauderdale, E.
Astor, V. Long, V.
Attlee, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Auckland, L. Lurgan, L.
Bauer, L. McAlpine of West Green. L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Blatch, B. Manton, L.
Blyth, L. Merrivale, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mersey, V.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Milverton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Caithness, E. Mottistone, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mountevans, L.
Carnock, L. Munster, E.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Murton of Lindisfarne. L.
Clanwilliam, E. Nelson, E.
Coleraine, L. Norfolk, D.
Colwyn, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Onslow, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Orkney, E.
Downshire, M. Park of Monmouth. B.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Pender, L.
Elles, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Rankeillour, L.
Elton, L. Renton, L.
Ferrers, E. Renwick, L.
Feversham, L. Rodney, L.
Flather, B. Saint Oswald, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Seccombe, B.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Selborne, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Sharples, B.
Goold, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Gray of Contin, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Greenway, L. Strange, B.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Strathcarron, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Strathclyde, L.
Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Henley, L. Swansea, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Swinfen, L.
Hives, L. Swinton, E.
Hooper, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Howe, E. Trumpington, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Ullswater, V.
Jeffreys, L. Waddington, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Killearn, L. Wise, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 8:

After Clause 19, insert the following new clause:

("Taxi Licences

.—(1) An applicant for the grant or renewal of a licence under Part II of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 shall, not later than seven days after the date of the application, send a copy of the application to the chief officer of police for the police area in which the district council to which the application is made is situated.

(2) The chief officer of police shall submit any observations on the application for the grant or renewal of such a licence to the district council considering the application.").

The noble Lord said

My Lords, Amendment No. 8 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hollis. My noble friend will speak to the amendment in a moment. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am sorry, but I was delayed in entering the Chamber. This amendment seeks to address a problem that the Minister admitted, at Question Time, does exist. The problem is that in London hackney-carriages, or taxis, are licensed by the police. Outside of London they and private hire vehicles are licensed by the local authority—the district council—which has a statutory duty under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to ensure that the driver is a fit and proper person.

When the matter was raised at Question Time on 16th May it became clear that though the local authority has a responsibility to ensure that the driver is a fit and proper person, it has no power to do so. The reason is that local authorities cannot require the production of the relevant information by the police. The amendment seeks to ensure that the local authority can perform its statutory duty and thereby protect the public.

Many of us use taxis every day to go to and from meetings, social occasions or from the pub. In the context of some of the drink-driving debates we heard this afternoon one can understand the significance of that. For many other people taxis are an emergency vehicle. For example, they are used by the elderly to take them to and from hospital and by women when it is dark at night and unsafe to walk home. They are used by parents to take children to or collect them from school. They are used by the frail or disabled who find public transport too difficult to handle. They are used by people with heavy baggage who are likely to require assistance with their bags into their home. Taxis are used for convenience and peace of mind.

People believe that the hackney-carriage plate protects them. No woman, child or elderly person would dream of getting into a vehicle with an unknown male driver except with the protection of the hackney-carriage plate. They believe that the plate says that the car and the driver are licensed by the local authority. They believe that the cab has been inspected and that the driver has been found to be a fit and proper person. The first of those beliefs is true; the second may not be unless your Lordships choose tonight to alter the position.

The vehicle will indeed possess a valid test certificate from the local authority. Its meters will have been checked. The fares that may be charged are laid down by the local authority. It will be clean, safe and roadworthy. However, when it comes to the question of whether the driver is a fit and proper person, that may or may not be true. There is no way for the local authority, the public or ourselves to know. We cannot know and cannot be sure.

When we hire a taxi outside London we know that the driver must have held a driving licence for at least 12 months; he must have passed a geography or knowledge test for the area and he must have submitted a medical certificate showing the state of his physical health. However—if I may use a Victorian expression we do not know about his moral health. All that information can be checked by the local authority but what it cannot check is the question of moral integrity and the good standing of the driver.

On his application certificate the driver is required to declare whether or not he has any unspent convictions; but the local authority has no way of checking whether or not his declaration is false. The police currently refuse to disclose such information. In other words, the local authority is required by law to declare that a driver is a fit and proper person. It has a statutory duty to do so. The only way that it can perform that statutory duty is to seek help and information from the police, but that help and information is currently denied them. Therefore, how can we be sure that a taxi driver outside London is a fit and proper person? It is a matter of serious concern. If your Lordships will bear with me I shall give some examples.

In Arfon and Ashford two drivers who received their licences were subsequently found to have committed sexual offences against young boys in one case and young girls in another but the offences had not been declared. In Eastbourne a driver failed to disclose a conviction for assault causing actual bodily harm. It was only discovered when he was convicted of affray against a fellow driver. In 1990 Erewash had three licensed drivers with undisclosed convictions, one for assault, one for receiving drugs and one for sexual offences. Within two months of being convicted of gross indecency with a child, an Exeter driver obtained a licence. Gedling district council discovered that licences had been given to applicants with convictions for rape, kidnapping and under-age sex. In the New Forest area a driver with undeclared previous convictions for rape and wounding with intent had a valid licence. Several cases have come to light in Pendle involving theft, possession of unlawful weapons, wounding, sex offences and driving whilst disqualified. Similarly in Poole, five recent cases have come to light, including theft, assault, drugs, dangerous driving and sexual offences. In Portsmouth taxi drivers were found to have convictions for causing grievous bodily harm, unlawful sexual intercourse, rape, theft, drugs and other offences. I could go on and on. These are only the cases that we know about which have come to light following subsequent convictions. The offences have been taken into account when sentence has been passed. The offences may have also come to light as a result of anonymous tip offs, letters from neighbours or secret files, which none of us wants. There will be very many more offences unknown to local authorities. The people concerned will be driving black cabs outside London.

I ask whether noble Lords are comfortable with that situation. Would noble Lords want any member of their family to be driven home late at night in a black cab when it cannot be known whether the driver is a fit and proper person to do so? The point is that taxi driving is the only skill for many people. It attracts men many of whom have a dubious past and may have criminal convictions. It may be one of the few legitimate ways of entering the straight community. It may be entirely right that men with such offences behind them and penalties paid should have a licence. But it is crucial that when the licence is granted the local authority is in possession of all the facts in order that it may properly protect the public and assns whether in the circumstances the driver is still a fit and proper person to hold a plate.

This amendment will ensure that. It will give all of us, and above all the most vulnerable and fragile members of our community, the protection that they currently believe they have but which they do not. The amendment requires that taxi drivers submit to the police their applications for licences listing any unspent previous convictions. The police will then authenticate them to the local authority. In that manner we protect the data held on the individual. In other words the police would be doing no more and no less for unspent convictions than doctors expect to do every day of the week concerning medical certificates for taxi drivers except that most doctors do not have access to the number of clerical staff or computer facilities that most police forces have.

We may be told by the Minister that the workload involved for the police is unreasonably high. We were told at Question Time recently that they already check 500,000 people a year in connection with child work. That is right and proper. Checking the previous unspent convictions of taxi drivers would involve about 30,000 to 40,000 checks. That is perhaps an 8 per cent addition to the workload. If it is a question of resources there will be no problem about requiring taxi drivers to pay a fee to the police for the information to be sent to the local authority should that be the major stumbling block.

During the passage of the Transport Act 1985 the Government promised to review the situation as regards taxis but nothing has happened. At Question Time on 16th May the Minister was the first to admit that there is a problem in this area. If tonight noble Lords were minded to accept the amendment they would have behind them the support of all the local authority associations and the national federations of taxi drivers' associations, who no more want their profession contaminated by cowboys than they would want to le driven by them. Above all such a measure would have public support because people would know that a hackney-carriage plate certifies not only the integrity of the vehicle but also that of the driver. That is 1A hat the plate should mean. If your Lordships accept the amendment tonight, that is what it will mean in future.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I support this amendment which has been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, with such strong reasons and eloquence. Although applicants for taxi licences are obliged to disclose all previous convictions and can be convicted for failure to do so, many of them fail to do so. Therefore, the public do not get enough protection merely from that obligation to disclose previous offences. As the noble Baroness has said, there has been a considerable number of licences to run and drive taxis granted to people who have been previously convicted of offences against women and children. They use the opportunities which the driving of taxis fives them to commit such offences again.

It is vital that the public should be better protected. The only way to do so is to require the police to make enquiries about each applicant and to let the local authority know. The amendment is drafted in very moderate terms. It is left open to the chief of police to make any observations. That is not placing a very heavy burden on him. I hope that my noble friend will not say to your Lordships that the police are too busy and that too much work would be involved. That would be a poor argument, because the police will suffer if the authorities do not get it right. They will have a great deal of work to do if further offences occur.

There may be one purely technical point which my noble friend Lord Brabazon has in mind on which he will have to enlighten your Lordships. He may say that the police have no power to disclose previous convictions. There are conditions under which they have the power to do so and various public authorities have a right to demand knowledge of convictions in certain circumstances. If there is a technical embargo in the circumstances envisaged in the amendment, the Government should remove that as soon as possible. As far as I know there is no such embargo, although there may be. I do not know and we wish to be told. I most earnestly want to persuade my noble friend that this is a matter on which the Government should be taking action in order to save women and children, and no doubt other people, from a fear from which the public are entitled to be protected. No wonder the taxi drivers of this country are anxious to support the amendment, because they wish to maintain the highest reputation for their members.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I support the amendment moved so very ably by my noble friend. I do not think she will find that anyone will speak against it because the argument could not possibly be advanced that there is anything wrong or unusual in this request. I should like to say how lucky we are to live in London. Over the years that I have been using black cabs I have been full of admiration for the drivers. In the past four or five years I have noticed, as a solitary female being driven home at night, that taxi drivers will keep the engine of the cab running until one is safely inside one's house. They do not say anything, though it is quite obvious that they care about their customers.

Equally, it is very important that this high standard should also be available outside London. For example, in Birmingham taxis look like our black cabs but if they are dealt with under a different system then there is an undoubted danger. I do not want to bring in any red herrings, said she, proceeding to do so. However, since we do not, even now, have any legislation on security guards—anybody can employ a security guard who may have many offences which nobody knows about—that is what we have to deal with next. However, let us take this one small step. Surely no government can refuse it. It is so uncomplicated and so obviously needed that I am absolutely certain we shall not have any difficulty.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I should also like to support the principle behind the amendment. However, I am not sure that the amendment has quite the right wording. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, should table another amendment at Third Reading that allows the Secretary of State to make regulations.

In moving this amendment she mentioned in her speech that a fee could be charged. However, as I see it, there are no provisions within the amendment that would allow for that to be done. There is nothing in the amendment, unless it is on the application that has to be made to the local authority, that allows an applicant for a taxi licence to say whether he has had any previous addresses or, indeed, any previous name. That also needs to be looked at.

With regard to paragraph 2 of the new clause, there is no time limit within which the chief officer of police must submit his observations. Therefore, a little more work needs to be done on the new clause to make it practicable. However, I support wholeheartedly the principle behind the amendment.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I apologise for arriving so late and missing the start of the debate on the amendment. I should, however, like to support it fully because from the point of view of people with disabilities it is a very important amendment. I do not know whether or not it is right as it stands, but I certainly heartily support the principle.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend the Minister is not going to rely on the obvious technical deficiencies in the drafting of the amendment. Obviously if he wants to, as my noble friend Lord Swinfen pointed out, he will not have much difficulty in finding deficiencies. Indeed, there is the further point which has not yet been referred to; that is, whether such an application made by someone who is running a small taxi firm will involve disclosing the names of all his drivers. In that case, it would offer considerable protection. However, if it did not, and only involved the applicant himself—the head of the firm—the protection given would be very limited.

Having said that, I am sure the purpose of the amendment is supported by noble Lords on both sides of the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in her most admirable speech, if she will allow me to say so, pointed out the real difficulty outside London, particularly for ladies going home at night and the very real risks to which they are exposed. Reading the press confirms that, unhappily, these risks do exist from time to time. Therefore, I ask my noble friend that, however successful he may be in demolishing the drafting of the amendment—and he may well be very successful in that—he will accept the purpose of it. Ideally, perhaps he will indicate that the Government intend to come forward at the next stage with a new amendment carrying out its purpose and effectiveness. I hope he will feel able to do that.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to add my voice to the many who have supported the amendment. My noble friend covered almost everything that could be said. However, I should like to add that taxis are used a great deal for school journeys. That is a very important point. To add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said, they are also used on school journeys by handicapped children. I was told by the officer in charge of my own local council, when I was making inquiries about this amendment, that there was one girl who used regularly to strip off her clothes while the driver was taking her to school. In fact, this driver was very good and when they got to school he just told her to put her clothes back on again. One can imagine that had he not been a responsible and good man he could have taken advantage of the situation.

I hope the Minister will look favourably on the amendment. As the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Swinfen, said, if the drafting is not correct we do have another stage of the Bill to put that right.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham would have wished to take part in this debate but, unfortunately, he is unable to be here. He is a great friend of taxi drivers. Indeed, he drives a black cab as a private car. Whether or not he has a dubious past I cannot tell, because as Chief Whip I do not ask for police records on people who take our Whip.

The amendment is admirable in its intention. As noble Lords on all sides of the House have said, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, spoke to it movingly as well as admirably. I hope that the Government will not hide behind any of the obvious loopholes that exist in these situations.

As regards the right of local authorities to obtain this information from chief police officers, I do not believe that it would set any great precedence since access to these records is available to licensing justices, court welfare officers, and the like. Surely the basis of the matter is that this information is obtainable in London because the situation is different. There is control in London because the situation is different. That control should be extended to the rest of the country. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment in principle and come back with their own more detailed and efficacious amendment at Third Reading.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, with the leave of the House, having already made perhaps my most positive, helpful and timely intervention since I became a Member here, I should like to add a few words in support of the amendment which, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, was so eloquently and movingly spoken to by my noble friend Lady Hollis. She said that many vulnerable people are at risk in a situation of this kind. She has questioned and has been joined in her questioning by noble Lords on both sides of the House. How can local authorities carry out this essential duty of determining a fit and proper person unless they have the ammunition to test the information which is put before them? There are too many cases, perhaps not a large number overall in terms of the whole country, but still too many cases where the deficiency that exists has been vividly demonstrated.

What has been apparent from the interventions in the debate is that noble Lords want to hear from the Government clear and unequivocal support for the principle underlying the amendment and not a statement on its technical deficiencies. Of course there are deficiencies. I can think of some, although I fully support my noble friend. There should be an appeals procedure, and one or two other points should be included, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. But that does not impact upon the need that has been demonstrated during the debate that the Government must go beyond the position adopted by the noble Lord when he was questioned in the House on 16th May.

On that occasion the Minister said that the Government were not blind to the anxieties expressed in some quarters; those anxieties have been expressed in all quarters, as has been demonstrated today. He went on to say that the department was part funding a research project being carried out by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust on the incidence and perception of serious crime in relation to minicabs in London. I asked him whether he would do something about what was needed as a matter or urgency and not wait interminably for reports to pile up on his table. He replied: My Lords. I cannot promise to do anything immediately" —[official Report, 16/5/91; col. 1748.] The Bill is the right vehicle. It provides ample opportunity. I sense that the House will demand from the Minister an undertaking and that he should come hack in performance of that undertaking, having consulted his noble friend Lord Ferrers at the Home Office on this obviously important matter.

My noble friend pointed out the measure of support the proposal has received from the National Federation of Taxi Cab Associations. It is not unlike the position we took earlier in relation to heavy goods vehicles. Respectable operators in any occupation of this kind want high standards; otherwise their position will be impaired commercially. Much more importantly, however, the people who use these cabs run serious risks. It is true that that is not so in the overwhelming majority of cases but it is in some cases. That is the point that has been stressed.

The Government informed the House in 1985 that they intended to carry out a more fundamental overhaul of taxi legislation. What has happened to it? Six years have passed. We do not want to wait another six years. When one has an opportunity to do things of this kind, one has to take it. It will not be the Minister's fault if he cannot get legislative time on another occasion, so now is the time to ensure that we take the action.

I hope that the Minister will depart from his previously prepared brief and import a sense of urgency into the reply that he offers. We are looking for a precise undertaking from the Minister today.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I appreciate that the purpose of the new clause is to assist district councils to undertake their statutory duties effectively with respect to taxi and private hire driver licensing. The Association of Chief Police Officers, which issues guidelines to individual police forces on matters such as access to criminal records, is aware of the considerable concern of district councils that their inability to check the records makes their position difficult. For that reason it has considered several times in the past the case for vetting but has found it difficult to make an undertaking to introduce such checks.

That is primarily because of the very heavy burden already placed on police resources. Nearly 500,000 checks were made last year on the criminal background of those who work closely with children. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred to that point. That is five times the volume estimated when the arrangements were first introduced in 1986. Some forces are already taking more than a month to process checks and are incurring criticism as a result. ACPO feared that any addition to its disclosure work would serve only to exacerbate the situation.

There is the further point that the National Identification Bureau has yet to be fully computerised. The pressure on its services is very great indeed and will not be significantly alleviated until the computerisation is complete.

In response to a Home Affairs Select Committee report in December 1990, the Home Office set up a scrutiny study of criminal records to examine the most appropriate arrangements for the maintenance of and disclosure from the national collection of criminal records. The scrutiny team has recently completed its report and Home Office colleagues intend to look again at the question of disclosure in relation to taxi and private hire vehicle drivers when the report has been considered.

The aim of the amendment is a very worthy one. There is legitimate public concern. The licensing authorities too are understandably concerned that lack of access to criminal records makes it difficult for them to discharge their statutory duties properly. Nevertheless, I believe the police concerns to be legitimate; they have many pressing calls on their resources, as was pointed out in our earlier debates. In the Government's view it would be better to proceed with rather than without police agreement. In addition, it would be unwise to pre-empt the recommendations of the scrutiny committee.

I am, however, conscious of the anxieties expressed by speakers on all sides of the House. I undertake, without commitment, to take the matter away, to think about it before the next stage of the Bill and to consult my colleagues in other departments. My noble friends Lord Swinfen and Lord Boyd-Carpenter pointed out various drafting deficiencies in the amendment. I am not seeking to use those as an excuse for not accepting it. I say to my noble friend Lord Renton that I do not use the argument that the police do not have the right to disclose such information. I understand that there would be no problem in that regard.

I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw the amendment at this stage. As I have said, I undertake to take it away and think about it. I do so without commitment, as obviously I have not had a chance to consult on the issue. However, if the noble Baroness is not satisfied or if that assurance comes to nothing, the opportunity will arise again at Third Reading.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I thank most sincerely all those who have spoken in the debate. The support for the amendment certainly surprised me and I was delighted that so many speakers on all sides of the House—on the Cross-Benches, the Conservative Benches and the Liberal Democrat Benches as well as the Labour Benches—were able to support the amendment. We all accept that there may be minor deficiencies in drafting. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for their wise words in seeking to extract from the Minister a commitment in principle.

I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say. I realise that he might not have been able to accept the amendment in its precise form. I am not a lawyer and I admit that there may have been deficiencies in drafting. Had the Minister felt able to say that he would take the amendment away, that he was sympathetic to it in principle and that he would come back on the Government's behalf at Third Reading with an amendment to meet the spirit of the points raised by noble Lords tonight, nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to withdraw my amendment. But that was not what he said. He said that he would take it away without commitment, as though this were a new issue that the Government had not had time to consider in the past. That is not true. It was considered in 1985. We have also raised it in Questions. There was an all-party Early Day Motion in another place.

There is a wide and swelling body of support for the principle of the amendment. The Government should recognise that today and guarantee to come back at Third Reading with an appropriate amendment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am a little anxious as to what the conclusion of the noble Baroness's reply will be. However, with the greatest respect, I can assure her that if she had been in the House for as long as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter —and I hope that she will be—she would realise that my noble friend on the Front Bench has given just about as firm and promising an undertaking for further consideration as could possibly be given. If she were to divide the House and lose tonight, that undertaking would be thrown away.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I find myself in a difficult position. However, I have to point out that the Minister's only substantive argument was ACPO's anxiety about an additional workload representing roughly 8 per cent. Many noble Lords have said this evening that the pressure of the workload on the police was not the primary consideration—although it was an important one—because the police will operate any law which we see fit for Parliament to pass.

The pressure on the police is far lighter than that on doctors. Therefore, for the police to say at a time when the public, the taxi drivers, your Lordships and the local authorities want the proposal—

Lord Swinfen

I trust that the noble Baroness will forgive my intervention, but I feel that she may be about to take the wrong path. Of course, she could withdraw the amendment. That would leave her with the ability to return on Third Reading with a redrafted amendment which I am sure would receive warm support from the whole House. However, if she presses the amendment to a Division tonight and loses, it will be impossible for her to bring it back in any form on Third Reading because the House will have made a decision on the issue.

My noble friend on the Front Bench has given an undertaking that he will consider the matter. That does not prevent the noble Baroness from reconsideration with her advisers, and putting forward another amendment on Third Reading which takes account of all points which have been raised. I urge the noble Baroness to consider that course of action.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I beg forgiveness if I trespass on the convention of the House; but I wonder whether it would be appropriate for me to ask the Minister directly whether we can seek government support in the drafting of such an amendment. I defer to the Minister.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I have already gone as far as I can. I did not say that we would accept the amendment; I said that I would look at it without commitment. I should remind noble Lords that we are now at the Report stage of the Bill and not in Committee. I should point out to the noble Baroness that this issue was not raised in Committee either in this Chamber or in another place. Indeed, so far as concerns this Bill, it is a new issue.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, in view of what has been said, and despite the views which were earlier expressed, it is clear I may not win if a vote were to be taken tonight. However, if I take on board, as the Minister has done, the views of the House and return at the next stage with a more adequately drafted amendment, I hope, if it should go to a Division, that I shall receive the support of all those who urged me to withdraw it tonight and resubmit it on Third Reading. On the basis of that assumption, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 22, line 45, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 23 and insert: ("(3) Where a range of numbers is shown in the last column of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to this Act in relation to an offence, the lowest number in the range is the number of penalty points to be attributed to the offence for the purposes of sections 57(5) and 77(5) of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall, with leave of the House, speak also to Amendment No. 86. I must apologise both to the House and to my noble friend for putting forward these amendments at this stage. In fact, I was not given the information upon which they are based until we were half way through Committee. To that extent, I suppose: one has to feel that it is in the nature of a probing amendment.

These amendments were suggested by the Magistrates' Association. It has been opposed to the introduction of variable penalty points for speeding offences dealt with by court proceedings since they were first recommended by the North Committee and subsequently in the White Paper The Road User and the Law.

The Magistrates' Association continues to oppose the proposal a s contained in Clause 27 and Schedule 2 to the. Bill. The reasons for the amendments are as follows first, speeding offences are very prevalent. It is not always easy to distinguish which are more or less serious. In addition, the police do not always offer a fixed penalty. They are not always able to do so because the defendant does not always have a driving licence available. Secondly, fixed penalty offences will carry three points only, and there is a greater fear of unfairness as between those who are offered fixed penalties and those who are brought before the court. In addition, the prosecutor always has the option of bringing a more serious charge of reckless or careless driving for the more serious cases.

Speeding offences are among the most common of all cases. There is a fear that magistrates will be overwhelmed by the work of distinguishing the more serious cases from the less serious. With a system of variable points, there will be a serious risk of inconsistency in the way speeding offenders are treated at a time when resources are limited.

Magistrates have a big commitment; they deal with over 95 per cent. of all criminal cases which appear before the courts. It is, above all, most important that they should appear, both to those who offend but more importantly in a way to the public, to be as consistent as they possibly can in the way they handle such cases. The points to which I have drawn attention will make it harder for them to appear to be consistent. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will feel that there is no need at this stage to change the position, and that there is no need to make the alteration set out in the Bill. I also hope that he will feel happy at this stage of the proceedings to accept my amendments as being a suggestion made by people who actually practice the application of the law. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mottistone for tabling this amendment, which, as he has indicated, reflects the views of the Magistrates' Association, as it gives us the opportunity to debate the nature of speeding offences and the Penalties which are available.

The North Report recorded the widespread public anxiety about the consequences of accidents in which excessive speed was a major contributory factor, especially where it results in death or serious personal injury. On the other hand, there appears to be a widely held view among the motoring public that speeding is a technical offence which, on its own, does not cause undue danger to other road users. These apparently conflicting views reflect the fact that speeding encompasses a very wide range of behaviour, the seriousness of which will usually depend on the circumstances of the particular case. However, it is important to bear in mind that, whatever the circumstances, excessive speed increases the risk of an accident occurring and the seriousness of damage and injury which arises.

At present, magistrates have only limited discretion in dealing with speeding offences—they must impose three penalty points; and they may, in appropriate circumstances, order a period of disqualification. They rarely exercise that discretion at present. We have introduced proposals elsewhere in the Bill which will change the rules relating to the effect of disqualification on the penalty points which the driver has already accumulated; and which will introduce more efficient procedures for short period disqualifications. These will, it is to be hoped, encourage the courts to make greater use of a short period of disqualification in very serious cases.

The other way in which the courts are able at present to reflect the seriousness of a particular speeding offence is in the financial penalty. But any fine imposed should also take account of the offenders' means. Because the penalty points system is specifically designed for road traffic offenders (with the ultimate sanction of licence withdrawal if the person continues to offend), the North Report concluded that there should also be flexibility in the number of points which the court can impose for a speeding offence. The Government accepted the recommendation because it will enable the courts to reflect, to a greater extent, the seriousness of a particular offence.

However, I should point out that we do not expect all speeding offences to be brought before the courts. In the majority of cases, as now, the fixed penalty will continue to be an appropriate response. However, where there are aggravating factors, then cases will be brought before the courts. It is entirely appropriate therefore for the courts to be able to impose penalty points within the range we are providing to reflect the seriousness of an offence.

Since the courts already have to take account of the seriousness of a particular offence in the amount of the fine imposed, I do not believe it will cause undue difficulties for them to reflect that in the number of penalty points ordered within the new range of three to six points which we propose. I therefore cannot agree to my noble friend's amendments. With that explanation, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw them.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I hesitate to say this. My noble friend knew what I was going to say since I told him, but he did not take advantage of that. He said, in effect, that the Government had come to the conclusion that the North Committee was right. The fact that the magistrates as a body resist this and have done so from the beginning seems to have escaped their thoughts. The magistrates have experience of what they have to do and the Government—with the greatest possible respect to them—have not.

It is rather disappointing that I did not receive an answer which appreciated a little more the problems of the magistrates that will result from this. However, the fault is mine because the amendment was put down too late. Otherwise, I should have been able to take it through all the various stages, which the noble Baroness has just had explained to her; through, successively, Committee and Report stages. One can then arrive at a conclusion. However, it is too late with only Third Reading available. Thus, with great disappointment, I withdraw the amendment. I hope it does not lead to more trouble than it should.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 10:

After Clause 34, insert the following new clause: Disabled persons' badges

(".—(1) Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 (badges for display on motor vehicles used by disabled persons) shall be amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (5) below.

(2) For subsections (2) and (3) there shall be substituted— (2) A badge may be issued to a disabled person of any prescribed description resident in the area of the issuing authority for one or more vehicles driven by him or used by him as a passenger.

(3) In subsection (4), the words "and any badge" onwards shall be omitted.

(4) After subsection (4) there shall be inserted— (4A) A badge issued under this section may be displayed only in such circumstances and in such manner as may be prescribed. (4B) A person who drives a motor vehicle on a road (within the meaning of the Road Traffic Act 1988) at a time when a badge of a form prescribed under this section is displayed on the vehicle is guilty of an offence unless the badge is issued under this section and displayed in accordance with regulations made under it. (4C) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (4B) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(5) In subsection (5), the words "and in the case" onwards shall be omitted.

(6) In section 117 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (wrongful use of disabled person's badge) for subsections (1) and (2) there shall be substituted— (1) A person who at any time acts in contravention of, or fails to comply with, any provision of an order under this Act relating to the parking of motor vehicles is also guilty of an offence under this section if at that time—

  1. (a) there was displayed on the motor vehicle in question a badge of a form prescribed under section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, and
  2. (b) he was using the vehicle in circumstances where a disabled person's concession would be available to a disabled person's vehicle,
but he shall not be guilty of an offence under this section if the badge was issued under that section and displayed in accordance with regulations made under it.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 10 and, with the leave of the House, speak to Amendments Nos. 47, 48, 49, 90, 107 and 110, which are government amendments, and also to Amendment No. 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinfen.

This new clause responds to points expressed in Committee by my noble friend Lord Swinfen about the misuse of the orange badge scheme, particularly by able-bodied people. He drew attention to the problem of enforcing the existing offence under Section 117 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which depends on a fraudulent use of a disabled person's parking concession. As I explained at the time, the major review of the scheme which the department has undertaken, has led to the development of a package of proposals, including the introduction of a passport-style badge with photograph which should do much to improve the situation. It should help to remove the temptation for abuse. However, as I also indicated in Committee, we were prepared to consider my noble friend's amendment to see whether the existing offence could be supplemented in some way to enhance the deterrent effect. The amendment I have tabled today is intended to achieve that. I note that my noble friend Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, have tabled their amendment again. I hope that they will agree that their anxieties are met by this government amendment.

First, it creates a new offence of displaying a disabled person's badge when driving a motor vehicle on a road except where the badge is issued and displayed in accordance with the regulations. The regulations will enable us to define precisely the circumstances of use, for example, when the badge holder is in the vehicle as a driver or passenger, or when an able-bodied driver is going to collect a badge holder and needs to rely on an exemption provided in a traffic regulation order.

Secondly, Section 117 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 is amended to provide for regulations to prescribe the circumstances in which a badge may be lawfully displayed in order to benefit from a disabled person's parking concession.

I hope that the new offence will help to deter drivers from abusing the orange badge scheme, and I invite the House to support these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I wish to take the opportunity to thank my noble friend for listening to the worries that I and others brought forward at Committee stage. I also thank him for his courtesy in seeing me and my adviser, Mr. Peter Large, of the Joint Committee on Mobility for Disabled People.

Can my noble friend tell the House when it is proposed that the new passport-style badge will be introduced? It is of considerable interest to disabled people. If he can do so, I should be most grateful. I know that disabled people have for a long time been seriously concerned about the misuse of orange badges by able-bodied people. I am grateful to him for taking this opportunity to put the matter right. I should let the House know that when we come to Amendment No. 42, I shall not even attempt to move it.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, may I also add my heartfelt thanks to the Minister and also those of the Joint Committee on Mobility for Disabled People, of which I happen to be a member? In Committee when we were debating an amendment similar to Amendment No. 42, I called the Minister "a sensible, listening Minister" and hoped that he would listen once again. I am delighted to see that he has demonstrated his ability to do this.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, it would be remiss if, from the Opposition Front Bench, I did not say how much we welcome this set of government amendments. We appreciate the fact that the Government are implementing a longstanding promise to do something about the orange badge scheme. It is generally agreed that unless there is legal clarification, the problem of enforcement will remain difficult. These government amendments give that legal clarification. They will help the orange badge holders. We welcome the Government's move and hope that the House will support the amendments.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I also wish to add our support from these Benches. People who use orange badges when they are not entitled to do a grave disservice to people who are disabled and who need to use them. It is encouraging that the Government have taken this step to legalise the situation so that those people can be penalised.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful for the reception which these amendments have had from the House. I am glad that I have been able to fulfil a commitment which I made to my noble friend Lord Swinfen and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, at an earlier stage. I hope that the amendments will be of benefit, as the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff, and Lord Underhill said, in tackling the problem of the misuse of orange badges. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that able-bodied people who use other people's orange badges cause a great problem for the disabled. That is true, but it must be remembered that very often disabled people allow others to use the badges. Thus we all have an interest in seeing that the problem is dealt with.

My noble friend Lord Swinfen asked when the new passport-style badge would come into operation. I am afraid that I cannot give him a firm date, it is part of the package to which I referred and which has been referred to in the House on several occasions while we have discussed the issues. I cannot really add anything to what I have said.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Report stage begins again at 8 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.