HL Deb 02 May 1991 vol 528 cc861-910

3.38 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Offences of dangerous driving]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 18, leave out ("subsection (2)") and insert ("subsections (2) and (2A)").

The noble Lord said: It falls to my lot to move the first amendment on this important Bill. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and the whole Committee would like to join in welcoming back the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, after his hospital treatment.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Underhill

This is a complicated Bill, although not of great political content. I am glad that the Minister will be fresh and energetic to deal with the many points that will arise. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2. Amendment No. 1 is merely a paving amendment for Amendment No. 2.

The effect of this amendment is to include driving when suffering from fatigue as one of the criteria for the new offence of dangerous driving. This matter was raised —admittedly briefly —in Committee in the other place. It was pointed out on that occasion that the White Paper, The Road User and the Law, committed the Government to extending the scope of the offence of driving or attempting to drive while unfit through drink or drugs to drivers who are unfit through any physical condition, such as fatigue. I quote from paragraph 2.31 of the White Paper: The offence will remain one of strict liability and is intended to cover people who are unfit to drive a motor vehicle by reason of drink, drugs, substance abuse, temporary incapacity due to fatigue, somnolence or temporary disability". An amendment to provide exactly what the White Paper proposed was brought forward in Committee in the other place. Surprisingly, this was rejected by the Minister, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, primarily because he said that the overwhelming response to a consultation paper was opposition to the proposal. The Minister continued: The reasons were that it became clear that it would be difficult to frame an offence to deal with a driver who falls asleep at the wheel. It would be unfair to convict if the effects of the fatigue could not have been foreseen". —[Official report, Commons, 15/1/91; col. 46.] I am certain that all Members of the Committee agreed that the Government should not be discouraged from changing their mind in the light of consultation documents. However, in this case the statement was quite clear in the White Paper. The important issue must have been considered by the Government when the White Paper was published in February 1989. When they drafted the White Paper they must have considered the point raised in the Minister's reply in Committee in the Commons. It is significant that the Civil Aviation Authority recently proposed that fatigue should be one of the factors to be covered in regulations governing air traffic controllers.

When the amendment was moved in the other place, it was stressed that the adoption of a new offence and the production of publicity material associated with it could have a deterrent effect. The Minister quoted various bodies whose responses were to oppose the proposals. It would be interesting to know the view of the police. Their response has not been referred to. However, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of which I am the president, issued its response. It has police advisers and I assure the Committee that those advisers were fully in support of the AMA response, which was in complete agreement with the basis of the amendment I now propose.

Despite the Minister's attitude in the Commons Committee, it should be mentioned that at the Second Reading in another place the Secretary of State was so impressed by the arguments in support of the proposal that he said he was prepared to look at the subject again. That was on 10th December at col. 689.

The matter was raised by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, myself and other noble Lords at Second Reading. On that occasion the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred to it in his reply. However, except for commenting that the causes of fatigue are complex, he did not explain the reasons for deciding not to make the change in the Bill as suggested in the White Paper.

The purpose of the amendment is to highlight that it is stupid and irresponsible to drive when fatigued. I am certain that many noble Lords have suffered from fatigue and have considered whether they should continue driving or have a rest. I hope that the Minister will decide that this is an important matter. It is in line with the original White Paper proposal and I hope that he will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I find myself in some difficulty over the amendment. I hope that the noble Lord opposite will not mind my saying that his reference to a comparison with the position of air traffic controllers is quite misleading. There is no suggestion by the Civil Aviation Authority that an air traffic controller who becomes less efficient than he should be because of fatigue commits a criminal offence. It is simply that as a matter of sensible policy it is thought advisable by the authority to take care that air traffic controllers, with their responsible and difficult job, should not work when too fatigued. There is all the difference in the world between that responsible attitude of the authority and suggesting, as the amendment does, that there should be a criminal offence committed by the fatigued person.

The only other point I make is that I believe it would be quite extraordinarily difficult to prove at a court hearing that a driver was, as a result of fatigue, driving dangerously. The hearing may take place some days later and no one will be in a good position to judge, other than the person concerned, whether he was suffering from fatigue. People's stamina varies enormously. Some people —I am sure that the noble Lord opposite is one —have tremendous stamina; they can go on working, as he does in this House, for many hours without showing any manifest symptoms of fatigue. Other people are less resistant to it.

It seems to me extraordinarily difficult to charge a man with driving when he is tired. If he goes to sleep at the wheel, other charges could easily be preferred. However, one is not concerned with that. The amendment proposes that if someone drives when suffering from fatigue, he thereby commits a criminal offence. I can see possibilities of injustice if charges were brought under this clause. No one, except the man himself or the woman herself, is in a position to know whether the fatigue was serious enough to diminish his or her effectiveness. I shall listen with interest to what my noble friend the Minister says, but I have some doubt about the amendment.

Lord Renton

I share this doubt. I wish to add one or two points. The first is that we are asked to make a presumption with regard to danger, but it is not a necessary presumption. Normally in cases like this the guilt of the accused is judged by the way in which he drives, not by the condition in which he may or may not be. I sometimes get sleepy when driving, especially on a long journey. The sleepiness may not be caused by fatigue at all but by boredom or by there not being enough fresh air in the car. The boredom can be overcome by turning on the car radio, especially if there is a report of parliamentary proceedings. The lack of fresh air is easily overcome by opening the window at the side of the driver's seat, and possibly by turning off the heating inside the car. However, to make an assumption that any kind of fatigue or apparent cause of fatigue must inevitably give rise to the kind of dangerous driving to which Section 2A already refers may well turn out to be unfair in many cases.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his kind remarks when moving the amendment. I am pleased to be back and able to lake part in the Committee stage of what is an important Bill. I hope that we shall treat it as such.

Turning to the content of the amendment, we are all in agreement that the question of driving fatigue as an element of dangerous driving is difficult. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said. Driving when overtired, for whatever reason, is dangerous. Common sense tells us that the risk of having an accident increases the more tired a driver becomes,. My noble friend Lord Renton has outlined some of the reasons why drivers may suffer from fatigue. But fatigue is not the only physical condition which increases significantly the risk of having an accident. We should not place undue emphasis on it to the exclusion of other factors which are equally, if not more, important, such as alcohol and medical conditions. That is why the Highway Code gives the following advice to drivers: Do not start a journey if you feel tired. Never drive after drinking alcohol or while under the influence of drugs. If you have to take drugs in the course of medical treatment consult your doctor about their possible effect on your driving ability. Do not drive if you feel unwell". As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned, we have given a good deal of thought to this matter as it was originally proposed in the Government White Paper, The Road User and the Law. The reaction to that proposal was unfavourable on the grounds that it would be unfair on people whose illness or incapacity could not have been foreseen, and it would be difficult to prove. A consultation paper issued in March 1990 explained that the proposal had been dropped. Response to that paper was overwhelmingly in favour of the decision.

We have therefore given the matter a good deal of consideration and we have concluded that it is too difficult to frame an offence which would catch a fatigued driver before there was evidence to show the effects on his driving. One of the main difficulties is that there is no established method for measuring fatigue, unlike alcohol consumption. But, where there is bad driving, it should be possible to bring an appropriate charge. My noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Boyd-Carpenter made that point very clearly. For all those reasons, I believe we should reject the amendment although I accept that it responds to a real anxiety. Nevertheless, I do not believe it would be helpful.

Baroness Phillips

I recall that some time ago we discussed legislation in this Chamber which concerned the number of hours that a driver of a public service vehicle could remain at the wheel. That discussion was connected with the tachographs which revealed how many hours a driver had been at the wheel. Surely that discussion is relevant to the Bill that we are discussing. I am not suggesting that tachographs should be installed in private cars, but surely it should be possible to ask a driver whether he has been driving for, say, longer than six or seven hours without a break. There is no doubt that people often drive for far too long perhaps because their business obligations force them to do so. I have been driven by people who have asked me to keep talking to keep them awake. That was probably why they took me along for the ride. It is possible to assess, presumably in hours, how long someone can drive without becoming fatigued. If such a measure can be introduced in one piece of legislation, I do not understand why a similar measure cannot be introduced in this Bill.

Lord Renton

The noble Baroness has raised a point which deserves consideration. I hope I may remind the Committee that the limitation on drivers' hours was contained in the Road Traffic Act 1930 and referred specifically at first to drivers of public service vehicles. I believe it was extended later to the drivers of commercial goods vehicles. There is no point in making provisions of that kind unless they are enforceable. In the case of the public service vehicles and the commercial goods vehicles they are enforceable because drivers are obliged to keep journey records. They have an obligation to do so. Quite frankly, if we were to apply the same sort of test to private cars, it would not be enforceable. I cannot imagine that with all the road inspectors that would be needed, we could contrive a system whereby every single driver of a private car kept an accurate record of the hours he spends driving and that that could be relied upon.

Lord Gisborough

I wish to reinforce that point. Many drivers who become tired may well have only just got into their cars or have driven for only one mile. They may have become tired during the day doing something totally different. The number of miles they drive after that does not alter the fact that they were tired when they got into their cars.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

They may have attended a prolonged debate in this Chamber until a late hour.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I believe my noble friend Lord Renton has answered many of the points that the noble Baroness made. The rules concerning drivers of commercial vehicles, whether public service vehicles or lorries, are aimed at those whose business it is to transport various items. They may well become tired after a certain number of hours spent at the wheel. However, as my noble friend has just said, one could be tired before one gets into one's car, not having driven a single mile; for example, those of us who get into our cars at the end of this evening's debate in the Chamber. The question of fatigue relating to private drivers is a very different matter.

Lord Underhill

I am grateful to those who have taken part in the discussion on this important amendment. The Minister has explained why the proposal in the White Paper has been dropped. However, I cannot understand —I am certain others will not understand this either —why this matter was not seriously considered before the White Paper was published. This is an important issue. Questions have been raised of a legal nature, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

Reference has been made to hours spent at the wheel. Tachographs will be discussed on a later amendment dealing with heavy goods vehicles. I am on very good terms with my local vehicle hire firms, and I do not wish to upset them. Without the aid of those vehicles, I could not get to the Chamber on certain days. I know the hours that a person who works for such firms may work. Some drivers work long hours for economic necessity; some do it because they enjoy driving; while others do it simply because their employer wishes them to work such hours. Have the Government any intention of considering legislation to deal with the number of hours that a mini cab driver, for example, may remain at the wheel?

Reference has been made to the fact that one can get in one's car and feel tired after having driven for just one mile as one was already tired before getting into the car. I know of people who have been stopped by a policeman before they even got into their cars. The policeman suspected they had been drinking heavily by the way they held the door handle of the car. However, I believe it is quite right for the police to take such action.

I appreciate the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I am not a lawyer but, as regards a driver accused of an offence, I am certain it would be possible to ascertain under cross-examination how many hours he had been driving, his attitude and what he had been doing prior to driving. I am certain lawyers could find some way of dealing with this issue. I do not intend to press the amendment, but I hope this debate will convince the Minister and his department that this is an important matter to which some publicity should be given so that people do not risk driving long distances when they are fatigued. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Careless, and inconsiderate, driving]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 18, after ("attention") insert ("including while using hand-held car telephone apparatus while the vehicle is in motion").

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the matter of hand held car telephones. A similar amendment was proposed in Committee in another place. I and my noble friends appreciate the value of the development of the car telephone. It is a considerable asset to many people who find it necessary to travel. The amendment is aimed at hand-held instruments being used by a driver when the car is being driven. The practice can be distracting and potentially dangerous to other road users. I am sure that every noble Lord who drives about the country will have realised that by seeing what happens when people use hand-held telephones while driving their cars.

In Committee in another place reference was made to other circumstances in which drivers take one hand off the wheel, such as eating an apple, lighting and smoking a cigarette and fiddling with the radio or cassette. The Minister, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, appeared to be sympathetic to those points. However, all of us, except those who have automatic cars, are always taking one hand off the wheel to change gear. That might have been brought in as another foolish point to oppose the amendment.

The Minister went on to say: there is universal condemnation of the use of car phones while cars are being driven. It is especially dangerous on motorways. The highway code specifically states that drivers should not use a hand-held telephone or microphone while the vehicle is in motion except for an emergency. That is rule 54 of the code. A driver who does so could face a charge for not having proper control of the vehicle or, indeed, a more serious charge depending on the circumstances of the case".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee G, 15/1/91; col. 33.]

It was then pointed out to the Minister that despite what he said enough is not being done to discourage this very dangerous practice and that very few prosecutions are brought to act as a deterrent.

I believe that the amendment will send a clear message. It will act as a deterrent so that people will not do this. When the Minister replies can he give figures for the number of prosecutions that have been brought as a result of this very dangerous practice of using a hand-held telephone while a car is being driven?

We know that the manufacturers are alert to the situation. A number of manufacturers are now bringing forward instruments which do not need to be held. That should be encouraged. However, the Minister will appreciate that it is not sufficient to put this in the Highway Code. We need the utmost publicity about this very dangerous practice. I do not know how many noble Lords do that, but I am sure that others, like me, see what happens when people are using tie instruments when driving. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said since it is obvious to any of us that using a hand-held telephone while driving a car is a very dangerous practice. I have sometimes travelled with people who have done it and I confess to the Committee that I felt considerable apprehension while that was happening. Members of the Committee may perhaps. sometimes regret that my apprehensions were ill-founded!

My only hesitation relates to the fact that anyone conducting this practice is quite plainly driving without due care and attention. A charge would therefore lie without adding these words to the Bill. I know that the noble Lord said that he wants to spell it out, but the trouble is that when legislating if one spells out one offence one appears to override the importance of others. There are many other activities in a moving car which are equally dangerous. An obvious one, without going into too much detail, is paying too much attention to a charming companion in the adjoining seat. Some Members of the Committee may, indirectly, have observed that happening. Therefore I wonder whether the law is not clear enough already and, if one is caught telephone in hand while driving a car, one would not in any event be convicted.

If that is right, and I wait to hear what my noble friend the Minister says, then it would be bad draftsmanship to pick out one plain example of driving without due care and attention while ignoring others. As a normal principle of legislation that is a sound approach.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Before the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, sits down perhaps he would agree that there is one essential difference between the very constructive points that he has made —namely, that when one is using a telephone one is driving with one hand —that would not apply in the other example (at least, I presume it would not) of having the kind of companion to which he referred.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

It might be indelicate for me to reply to the noble Lord from the Floor of this Chamber, though I am sure that his experience as a man of the world may to some extent contradict what he said.

Lord Gisborough

I do not use a hand-held telephone. I do not have one. I join all those people who detest mobile telephones. We have seen in another context the depth of feeling against the mobile telephone —additional tax was placed on it. However, I do not believe that someone who is holding a telephone cannot necessarily pay adequate attention to the road. On the other hand, I believe that people who change a cassette are really dangerous because their attention and their eyes are taken off the road. That is really dangerous. I do not believe that speaking on the telephone is necessarily dangerous.

If being mobile and speaking on the telephone is illegal those people who use their telephones when traffic is crawling at five miles an hour are also acting illegally, but they are probably telephoning to say that they will be late. I do not support the amendment.

Lord Renton

We should not end this discussion without reminding ourselves of what the Chancellor said in his Budget Statement on 19th March (at col. 176 of Commons Hansard for that day). It might assist the Committee if I read it out: I turn now to what I regard as one of the greatest scourges of modern life. I refer to the mobile telephone. I propose to bring the benefit of car phones into income tax and to simplify the tax treatment of mobile phones by introducing a standard charge on the private use of such phones provided by an employer". There is a limitation, I agree. Tax will be paid of £200 for each phone for 1991–92. I hope that, as a result of this measure, restaurants will be quieter and the roads will be safer". I suggest that we give the Chancellor's fiscal measure an opportunity to produce results without adding for the time being to the offences in the Road Traffic Bill.

Baroness Nicol

I should like strongly to support my noble friend's amendment. Several times in the past few weeks driving down the M.11 on Monday mornings I have had to fall in behind a car whose driver —always a gentleman, I regret to say —is holding a telephone, has put himself in the centre lane of the motorway, reduced his speed to about 60 miles an hour so that he can give half of his attention to driving and the other half to the telephone and is ignoring the left hand lane, which is completely empty. When one wishes to drive faster than 60 miles an hour, in order to overtake him one has to pull right out into the outside lane before being able to go back into the left hand lane.

That is two offences in one. We are not nearly fierce enough with people who hog the centre lane when the left hand lane is empty. When that person's attention is diverted by the use of a telephone it becomes a very serious matter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that it is driving without due care and attention and I do not know why more people are not prosecuted.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I added my name to the amendment because I have some sympathy with it. I have seen drivers with a hand-held telephone start their call at the traffic lights. The lights turn green and the phone is in their left hand. They have to change the phone to their right hand to change gear, meanwhile steering the car with their knees. That is not very easy and is very unsafe because they are not in control of the car for the few minutes until they get into top gear.

There is an article in ROSPA's magazine Care on the Road in which the police say, Have you heard the one about the motorist driving along the M.6 with his car phone to one ear and his finger in the other? You do not believe it? Neither did the guilty driver until he watched the replay of the police video". The amendment might cause problems with cyclists using Walkman machines, which is also a dangerous practice as you cannot hear the traffic coming up behind you. I have some sympathy with the amendment, but I shall listen to my noble friend's reply.

Baroness Phillips

I too should like to support the amendment. The advertisements on television are particularly dangerous because they show a man in a van who is clever enough to have a telephone while the other people cannot get in touch with anyone. He is usually shown on a motorway, just as my noble friend Lady Nicol described. With the telephone, the driver can do things that others cannot.

I was in a vehicle that was completely smashed up in Parliament Square. It is the second time that something has happened to me in Parliament Square. It seems to be a place to avoid. The driver of the van who crashed into the Mercedes said that he was looking at a map, so he had no hands on the wheel. That was going one better. When it was suggested that it was a case of driving without due care, I said that it was dangerous driving. The phrase "due care" does not mean anything.

This telephone business has rather a macho image. Those of us who travel by rail have to listen to totally fatuous conversations so that those people can produce their telephones. They usually ring their wives to say that they are on the way home, which must astonish their wives. It is unfortunate that it is now the "in" thing. The advertisements always show the man with the telephone. It undoubtedly takes a person's attention away from the wheel. I do not speak as a driver, but as one who has been driven by some drivers who probably should not be on the road but, as they offered me a lift, I did not refuse.

We must be careful not to add more dangers to those that already exist in driving, particularly, as my noble friend said, on motorways.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and I have great sympathy with the amendment. When I was much younger, I was a grand prix driver. People today do not appreciate the speed of traffic. They must concentrate all their attention on driving. It is perfectly all right for a person to use a telephone in his car if he goes at a leisurely speed but, if he goes at 70, 80, 90 or 100 miles an hour and breaks the law, he is a danger to the public, no matter how proficient he is. In my experience, having occasionally driven with people who have hand-held telephones in their cars, they are only trying to show off the fact that they are rich enough to have them, but I should like to see them banished from the roads.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

We have had an interesting short debate on this matter. It is obvious from the debate that a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux, have witnessed examples of the bad use of car telephones by drivers. It is also obvious, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, that in his Budget speech my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer touched a nerve which has also been of concern to the Committee.

I should begin my reply to the debate by making it quite clear that the Government condemn the practice of using a telephone handset while driving. The Highway Code states quite clearly in Rule 54 that drivers should not use a hand-held telephone or microphone while the vehicle is in motion, except in an emergency. Noble Lords will be aware that contravention of the Highway Code is not in itself an offence, but it can provide prima facie evidence of, for instance, careless or inconsiderate driving. That applies to Rule 54 as much as to any other part of the Highway Code.

Noble Lords may also know that the construction and use regulations made under the Road Traffic Act 1988 create an offence of not having proper control of a vehicle. There are circumstances in which use of a hand-held telephone can be held to constitute an offence under the regulations.

I know that there are those who say that this is a back-door approach to dealing with a threat to road safety and that what is needed is, as the amendment states, a specific offence. I do not agree. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, the principle behind the road traffic acts —a principle which was examined and commended by the North Report-is that bad driving should be covered by a limited number of general offences backed up by a similarly limited number of easily proved specific offences. The obvious examples of the latter are speeding and traffic-light offences.

There are many types of behaviour when driving a car which are to be deplored —my noble friend Lord Gisborough quoted the example of changing a cassette in a cassette player —but they are not all the subject of separate specific offences; nor should they be. It is much better that a driver can be charged, depending on the facts of the case, with careless or even dangerous driving. The prosecution can then bring evidence as to what the driver was doing, whether using a telephone handset or anything else, and how that constituted careless driving. The police and prosecution service are content with their existing powers. Convictions for careless driving in those circumstances are far from unknown.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me about that point. Unfortunately, the statistics for careless driving, as for construction and use offences, are not collected in such a way as to permit us to identify how the offences were committed, but I can assure noble Lords that they are convictions. They will undoubted-ly have seen reports of them from time to time in the press.

I appreciate and endorse the strength of feeling against the use of hand-held telephones while moving, but I do not believe that further legislation is either necessary or desirable in that case.

Lord Underhill

It is notable that no noble Lord said that it was a good idea to use a telephone while driving. The Minister made clear the Government's view; namely, that the practice is to be deplored.

It was asked why we should pick out that particular offence, The Minister referred to Rule 54 of the Highway Code but, despite that rule, people persist in that foolish and dangerous practice. The purpose of the amendment is therefore to endeavour to lay more emphasis on stopping the practice. I do not intend to divide the Committee, but we must do far more than just say that the matter is covered in the code. A number of matters are covered in the code, but people do not follow the advice. Every noble Lord who spoke in effect deplored the practice of people using hand-held telephones while driving. I hope that manufacturers will be encouraged to explore hands-free equipment, that drivers will be encouraged to use that equipment and that firms which pay for their employees to have a telephone in their car as a useful object while they are driving will be encouraged to provide their employees with hands-free telephones.

Great emphasis should be laid on and publicity given to the point of the amendment. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I wish to raise a few points on Clause 2 of which I have given notice to my noble friend and which I raised on Second Reading. I thank my noble friend for his letter of 27th March covering, some of the points that I raised on Second Reading. I am content with his explanation as to why he cannot at present bring in new legislation to simplify the road traffic signs, but I hope that he can find a way round the problem soon.

I want to come back to my point about motorway driving standards; that is lane discipline and tailgating. There must be some way (stiff fines or something else) to get motorway drivers to pull into the inside lane when they have overtaken other cars and to deal with cars that proceed slowly and sit in the middle lane with big lorries sitting on their tails flashing their lights.

As the White Paper said in paragraph 6.6, the Government recognise the importance of improving public understanding of the law and propose to produce a clear and simplified guide for the lay person to understand the Highway Code. Together with heavier penalties, that would be one way to get the message home.

The other point I raised at Second Reading concerned the yellow junction boxes. When they were first introduced on the whole drivers did not go into them if their exit was not clear. That has changed. Cars are always stopping in those boxes blocking the way for ether road users and causing disruption to the flow of traffic and long tailbacks. Can we not consider making them red boxes and have more signs warning drivers to keep clear?

The last point is concerned with drivers who fail to use their indicators. I like to think that we have been given two eyes to see with and two hands to point with; car manufacturers have provided us with two flashing indicators so that others can see. If drivers fail to use their indicators, not only are they guilty of inconsiderate driving but also of dangerous driving which can affect other road users and pedestrians. In an ideal world, if everyone took an advanced driving test, as I have, they would be much more aware of their past misdemeanours than they are now and would rectify them. That is one way of re-educating drivers, which is long overdue. I hope that the new Highway Code will be simpler for drivers to understand and that all of these points as well a lot of others will be covered.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

Knowing that my noble friend was going to raise some points in the debate on whether this clause should stand part of the Bill, I venture to intervene for one moment. On the question of the yellow boxes, I shall look forward to discussing it further when we consider remote surveillance equipment later in the Bill.

This debate gives me the opportunity of discussing generally motorway driving and behaviour. The Committee may recall that some months ago there was an horrific road accident on one of our motorways. It caused a Question to be asked in your Lordships' House which tended to lay the blame firmly on the police authorities for not having switched on warning lights at an earlier stage. That Question was answered in part by a noble Lord from the Cross-Benches with whom I agreed. In his remarks, he suggested that this was not really the responsibility of the police or highway authorities but was firmly the responsibility of individual drivers.

In the past few days we have had some fairly foul weather. While anecdotal evidence is not very good for the purpose of law-making, it will illustrate what I mean. When driving on a motorway last Monday in absolutely appalling weather I came across an individual waving vigorously, urging traffic to move over from the right-hand lane. Suspecting that an accident had taken place, I and a number of other drivers slowed down to about 40 miles per hour. We came upon an accident involving three cars. Notwithstanding that, within moments cars and other vehicles resumed thrashing down the motorway certainly at all of 70 miles per hour —I would not suggest any more —in conditions which made it patently obvious to anybody that speed should be restricted. I take this opportunity of praising the police and authorities responsible for warnings on motorways for what they are able to do in the very short time available to them. But I underline that frankly the cause and remedy lie in the hands of the motorist and that responsibility cannot be passed to anybody else.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My noble friend Lord Brougham kindly gave me notice that he would raise a number of points on the use of motorways, tailgating, box junctions and lane discipline. I have considerable sympathy with the points he has raised. Motorways are still the safest roads. They carry 14.6 per cent. of all traffic but account for only 2.5 per cent. of those killed or seriously injured. We are all aware of some of the serious accidents which have taken place recently. My noble friend Lord Lucas reminded us of one such accident not long ago. The Government are not complacent about safety on motorways and agree that a minorityߞand I hope it is only a minority-drive dangerously. Legislation is not always the answer. We need to ensure that drivers are aware of the rules and the road safety reasons for them. We welcome the efforts of the police in educating drivers: for example, through their regular motorway safety campaigns. Indeed, they are planning another national campaign this summer.

As far as tailgating is concerned, I agree that driving too close to other cars and overtaking on the inside lane is dangerous. There is no evidence to show that it is a major cause of accidents, but I am concerned that motorists who do this are increasing the risk of having an accident. Some police forces are using video cameras to educate drivers about the dangers involved. It is not a specific offence but drivers could be charged with careless and inconsiderate driving, or in extreme cases, the new dangerous driving offence. As with the use of indicators, this is largely a matter of education backed up where necessary by enforcement. I am not aware that in itself it is a major cause of accidents, but it may well be a contributory factor.

Dealing with box junctions, failure to comply with the requirements of a box junction marking is an offence of failing to comply with a traffic sign under Section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

As far as lane discipline is concerned, the advice given in the Highway Code is clear; it says keep to the left except when overtaking". Lane discipline is not in itself a specific offence. Although the Highway Code is not a legal document, it has the statutory authority of Parliament, and consequently failure to comply with the rules therein may be brought forward as evidence in proceedings for any alleged offence. We are commissioning research which will help us decide whether changes are needed in our advice to drivers, but we continue to stress that good lane discipline on motorways is important. I hope that that gives my noble friend some reassurance.

Clause 2 agreed to.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

("Criminally negligent driving

.ߞ(1) A person is guilty of an offence if his driving of a mechanically propelled vehiclfe 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 actedߞ

  1. (a) unreasonably; or
  2. 874
  3. (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: I beg to move Amendment No. 4 standing in my name on the Marshalled List. This amendment touches on consideration of the concepts which are developed in Clauses 1 to 3. It is a little complicated and I beg the indulgence of the Committee if I take a little time seeking to explain why we have put down this new clause. It introduces into the Bill the concept of criminally negligent driving. As I have indicated, it enables us to test whether the new offences which are set out in Clauses 1 to 3 achieve the objectives which both the North Report and the Government White Paper sought to attain.

I want to make it clear at the outset that it is not our purpose to question the underlying principles of Clauses 1 to 3. We are anxious to determine whether the most effective means of implementing those principles has been deployed, because we are not the only ones to have serious reservations about the likely effectiveness of the new offences.

Those issues were canvassed at the Committee stage in another place. Reading the response of the Minister to the amendments which were tabled on that occasion, I have to say that it was less than satisfactory. Consequently, I believe that it is perfectly proper to pursue those concerns further.

Perhaps I may start with the objectives set out by North and in particular the second principle in the report's recommendations. It was said: The law will be at its most effective when it is seen to be laying down necessary and reasonable standards for road user behaviour. We have therefore tried, in the changes we are proposing, to make the content of the law accessible and clear to the average road user, and we believe that clarity in the legislation should be backed up by a clear and persuasive presentation of the law's requirements to the public in order to obtain the maximum level of voluntary compliance". That is very well put indeed and would govern the considerations of any new offences that fall to this House to consider.

What are the anxieties that we wish to express about the new offences? First, the creation of an offence which is specifically linked to the consequences of an actߞthat is to say, causing death-gives rise to some concern. Secondly, the criteria used for defining the new, more serious offence of dangerous driving and of driving which falls far below that of a competent and careful driver are novel concepts which certainly require very careful examination. As I said, they give rise to some anxiety.

As to the first area of concern, it is highly controversial, to say the least, to seek to establish the principle that driving offences should mirror the consequences of the driving. That was a matter very properly discussed in considerable detail in the North Report. Although the report recommended that separate offences in relation to causing death should be kept, it recognised that there were strong, very respectable legal arguments against that idea. In particular there was the view that such an offence might be seen as downgrading cases where no death arises and further the view that: it is improper to create a greater liability based on the consequences which may to a degree be fortuitous". Given the nature of the debate that was canvassed in North, I express some surprise that those points were given so little attention in the White Paper. In effect, all that was said there was: The Government agrees that there needs to be a stronger response: to the tragic outcome of the driver's actions and therefore proposes to introduce a new and more serious offence'. That did not do justice to the argument. One has to ask why the White Paper was so dismissive of the issues which were genuinely and properly raised.

So serious questions arise. Is it not a fact that serious injury can lead to more pain, anguish and heartbreak, particularly when the victim is permanently maimed rather than killed? Should not the deterrent factor relate to the propensity to kill or injure rather than to the actual outcome which may arise in any specific case?

As to the second area of concern, the North Report advised very strongly against using the term "dangerous driving". The report states: It would run the risk of the reintroduction into the law of problems which led to the deletion of that term from the Road Traffic Act of 1972". So the essential question is: will the new offence of dangerous driving encompass in practice all those types of driving which North envisaged should be caught Put which are not caught by the present offence of reckless driving? Again I quote from North, because what was said was very important: We have in mind such activities as driving excessively fast for the prevailing road or traffic conditions, or driving in an aggressive or intimidatory fashion which might involve, for example, sudden lane changes, cutting into a line of vehicles or persistently driving much too close to a vehicle in front". Those are the matters about which North was troubled.

At the Committee stage in another place, the Minister, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, asserted that aberrant acts would qualify as dangerous driving under Clause 1. When pressed on the matter he went on to say: 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".ߞ[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/91; col. 25.] Perhaps I may say that from my point of view in moving this amendment that was an extremely helpful response because it makes the case for the new clause. The real weakness and problem of the law as it stands is a failure to draw a satisfactory distinction between reckless and careless driving. That is represented in the everyday experiences of many lawyers who practise in the criminal courts.

Is it not likely that precisely similar problems will arise because of the distinction between dangerous and careless driving in that decisions about the degree of blame or seriousness of a particular act will have to be judged against the particular circumstances. As has been intimated earlier, one cannot provide in legislation for all the various permutations that exist.

Criminally negligent driving was considered by the North Review. The report gave two important arguments in favour. First, there was the objective nature of the test: It covers the driver who thinks about the risk and decides to take it, the driver who does not bother to think about it and the driver who does think but also thinks foolishly that there is no risk".

The second point that was made was that the offence is not linked to particular circumstances or results. Why then, having regard to the formidable way in which the point was made by North, was the approach rejected in that report? I believe that the reason is that when North analysed criminal negligence it focused on a draft criminal code which proposed the definition of criminal negligenceߞI quote from the draft codeߞas conduct which is: a very serious deviation from the standard of care to be expected of a reasonable person". North went on to argue that the very serious deviation test could perpetuate the problems arising from the reluctance of the courts to include cases of bad as opposed to very bad driving within the meaning of reckless driving. I think it right to add that that draft criminal code was never adopted and the very serious deviation test is not proposed in relation to the new clause.

In my submission, North was right to be concerned about the test. However, that concern is far more relevant to the "far below" test set out in the new offence than to the new clause. The second reason that North gave was rather curious; that new case law would have to develop. That is right. It is equally right of the new offences. Indeed that represents an argument against any change whatever. I therefore find it an extraordinary argument.

The third reason given by North was that although a single offence has the force of logic because bad driving is bad drivingߞthat is to say, it is essentially indivisibleߞit was thought that the courts would be given too broad a discretion and would therefore risk greater inconsistency of treatment of like offenders. However, our experience seems to be the other way when seeking to differentiate between various categories of driving in the relevant Acts of Parliament.

My conclusion is this. I suggest that we abandon the effort to differentiate between levels of offence. The new clause makes such provision. I urge the creation of a single offence which extends to all circumstances of driving. It would then be left to the prosecution to decide how to proceed in each individual case in the light of the individual circumstances. The question of sentence would be appropriately reflected in the event of conviction.

We propose that the offence should be triable summarily or on indictment before a jury. The prosecution would have a hand in that. The court would make the ultimate determination. Our wish is to ensure that the Bills avoids what I call the pitfalls of previous multitier offences and the potential injustice which can accompany charges linked to the outcome of an action. I therefore urge the Committee to support the new clause. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Renton

We are grateful to the noble Lord for the very careful way in which he has put forward his view of the need for the amendment. However, having listened to him carefully I am sorry to have to say that, first, I do not think his amendment achieves the purposes which he describes and wants. Secondly, it seems to me that what he has put forward overlaps to a great extent what is already in Clause 2 of the Bill. Indeed, if he analysed the amendment the effect of it is to a great extent identical with Clause 2.

It is a rather complicated matter. However, let me do my best to explain the view that I have just expressed. The noble Lord took a lot of trouble, having had the opportunity to work the matter out beforehand. I now have to explain the answer to it having merely listened to him. I view the matter in this way. First, subsection (1) of the amendment states that, A person is guilty of an offence if his driving … is criminally negligent". The expression "criminally negligent" brings us to an in-between stage of dangerous driving and driving without due care and attention or consideration to other users of the road.

At present when people are charged with offences of driving without due care and attention and driving without consideration they frequently plead guilty. They are not obliged to attend court and many people do not do so. But people will not readily wish to have recorded against them a finding that they have been criminally negligent. If the noble Lord's offence were added to the Bill there would be relatively few pleas of guilty and people would attend court to contest cases. I do not say that that in itself is an objection to the clause. If what the noble Lord proposes is right, we should not be afraid of that consequence. I must grant that point. However, this is a new expression which people will find unwelcome.

I turn to subsection (2) of the amendment which describes the substance of the offence of being criminally negligent. The first example given is that the person acted "unreasonably". With my limited intelligence I find it difficult to distinguish between that and either driving without due care and attention or driving without reasonable consideration, both of which are covered already by Clause 2 of the Bill. To that extent in substance the new clause adds nothing.

Let us consider paragraph (b), which states, without sensible regard for the safety or well-being of other persons on the road or other public place". Again, I find that extremely close to the expression in Clause 2 of the Bill which rewrites Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988ߞa consolidation Act. The phrase, without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place overlaps. I can see no difference of importance or substance between what the noble Lord proposes and what is in the last part of Clause 2 of the Bill. Therefore, without advancing any further, the new clause has the disadvantage of introducing a concept of being criminally negligent and overlaps to a great extent what is already in the present law as rewritten in Clause 2 of the Bill. Therefore, I would not expect my noble friend to accept the amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

Is it only the act of driving that is covered, or would someone driving a car which is in a dangerous condition and could result in an accident also be covered by the amendment?

Lord Clinton-Davis

I shall reply later to the entirety of the debate. However, in my view it would.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

First, I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton that this is a complicated matter. I am very conscious that, unlike my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I am not a lawyer. Therefore I am at a disadvantage when considering these matters. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for the detailed way in which he introduced the amendment. Obviously it will require further reading on my part. However, I 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 any gap in the law which needs to be filled. My noble friend Lord Renton made that point.

I remind Members of the Committee that many of the provisions in Part I of the Bill, especially those relating to the creation of new and revised driving offences, are based on the recommendations of the major review of road traffic law carried out by the North Committee.

The North Committee looked at the general structure of road traffic law and considered a number of alternatives such as a more detailed hierarchy of offences. Its conclusion, which the Government accept, was that the broad structure of general bad driving offencesߞfor example, the reckless and careless offencesߞshould not be changed although it recommended the reformulation of reckless driving. It also considered the Law Commission's suggestion in its draft criminal code for an offence to replace reckless driving based on a test of criminal negligence in which the manner of driving showed a serious deviation from the standard of care to be expected of a reasonable person. In spite of some obvious merits, notably the fact that it sets an objective test and goes wider than the existing English interpretation of "reckless", it rejected it on the grounds that it did not fully define what is meant by criminal negligence. 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 recognise that the proposed new clause contains a fuller definition of "criminally negligent" driving but this particular formulation fails to distinguish the extent to which the driving falls short of a reasonable standard. It would therefore overlap with the existing offence of careless or inconsiderate driving in Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. That offence is defined as driving: without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road". Clause 2 of the Bill will extend the scope of this offence to other public places. I do not consider that the definition of criminally negligent driving set out in the proposed new clause would add substantially to the Section 3 offence. Furthermore, it would lead to confusion as to the appropriate charge in different circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the question of serious injury. I sympathise with the view that the driver who causes serious injury when driving dangerously may cause as much pain and suffering as the driver who causes a death. I heartily condemn such driving. However, we must be careful that our concern for the consequences of an incident does not lead us to lose sight of the need for the court to concentrate on the offender's culpability and to consider the circumstances of the individual case in deciding on the appropriate penalty.

Causing death is an exception. For many years the law has recognised the particular horror of a driver who causes a death, but it is difficult to extend that principle. What is a serious injury for this purpose? It would be difficult to define on the face of the statute, and the definition would doubtless become a matter of protracted legal dispute each time the offence was charged. The point was carefully considered by the North Committee which accepted that there were arguments on both sides of the case but concluded by recommending against a specific offence. I concur with that conclusion.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will be assured that our intention in reformulating the bad driving offences was to meet as closely as possible the recommendations of the North Report (recommendation 20). The test is based on the standard of driving and it avoids the subjective element of the current reckless offence.

What will dangerous driving cover in Clause 1? It has proved difficult to secure convictions in England and Wales for the existing reckless driving offences because of the need for juries to be satisfied as to the driver's state of mind at the time of the offence. The new offences are based more firmly on the standard of driving. The driving must fall far below what would be expected by a competent and careful driver. It must be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous. This is a reasonable person test; we no longer need to inquire into the mind of the driver. Moreover, it is intended that the requirement of the offence should be fulfilled where the manner of driving is dangerous even if it can be shown that no person or property is put at risk in the particular case. It should henceforth be possible to secure convictions in many cases which in the public's mind clearly and reasonably constitute dangerous driving but where the existing offences have not proved satisfactory. That would fulfil the recommendations at the North Report.

If one offence of criminally negligent driving were to replace dangerous driving and careless or inconsiderate driving all drivers would face the same maximum penaltyߞfor example, at present causing death by reckless driving carries a penalty of five years' irnprisonmentߞand that would be inappropriate in many cases. There would also be significant procedural problems; for example, if all defendants were to elect trial by jury in the Crown Court which would be possible if the offence were to be triable either way.

The offences of dangerous driving and careless or inconsiderate driving will in future provide sufficient scope for bringing appropriate charges where bad driving has occurred. The seriousness of the charge will depend on the individual circumstances of each case. To add a further offence which introduces the concept of criminal negligence into road traffic law is unnecessary and would create confusion. Therefore I cannot recommend the new clause to the Committee.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have participated in this interesting debate. If the amendment were to become part of the law the existing offences must be amended. My purpose was not to complicate the issue unduly, but to canvas the ideas at this stage and to hear the response of the Committee, and in particular that of the Minister.

I turn to the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I always respect him; he speaks from a wealth of experience in the courts. He appears to have missed the main distinctions between my proposed new clause and the new offences which are created by the Government's proposals in relation to Clauses 1 to 3 of the Bill. I shall return to that matter in a moment. It is not an entirely respectable argument to say that there would be relatively few pleas of guilty. My experience in the criminal courts is now a little distant but I believe that too many people are able to plead guilty to driving without due care in circumstances which justify a more major offence. That might be the noble Lord's experience too but he must speak for himself. Consequently it is an argument of convenience which ought not to be a major concern for the Committee.

In relation to offences of this kind, particularly where serious injury or even death occurs and where there are serious consequences, the purpose should be to deter. Indeed, that goes to the heart of the considerations to which we shall turn later. They are reflected in the Government's approach to the matter and in ours. It is true that if one were to isolate from the arguments that I have put forward the references that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made to subsection (2) one would see points that were not massively capable of being distinguished from the Government's provisions. However, there is one distinction. As has been widely canvassed, the Government have taken a different view, as did the North Committee, when reflecting on the issues. However, we believe that there is a strong case for arguing for a single offence. Most specifically, in our judgment it is necessary to avoid creating an offence which is specifically linked to a consequence of the act; the act being the causing of death.

It is true that in the past there has been legislation of that kind. However, we are considering the whole matter and there is every good reason to inject the notions that I have sought to introduce into the debate when considering the approach that we should now take.

If the Minister believes seriously that my proposal will introduce protracted legal arguments but that as regards his new offences everything will be hunkydory and that the Court of Appeal will never be worried about those matters, then let us consider the notion of "far below". That is a novel concept. I suspect that the Minister's expectations of a fair ride, and no challenges or complexity will be sadly disappointed.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I did not say that.

Lord Clinton-Davis

The Minister did not say that but it is implicit in everything he said. He said that my proposals are inordinately complex and will lead to a joyride for lawyers. Therefore, I merely mentioned the concept of "far below". He must not run away with the idea that it will all be easy and right nor that it will all work out in practice. I am convinced that that will be far from the case.

I do not intend to press the matter to a Division. Before the Report stage I shall reflect on what the Minister and other Members of the Committee have said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

5 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I should like the Minister to explain subsection (3) of Clause 3. That says that subsections (1) (b) and (c), which are alcohol-related offences for failing to give a specimen: shall not apply in relation to a person driving a mechanically propelled vehicle other than a motor vehicle". For example, does that mean that a person driving a steam-roller under the influence of alcohol-a rather riotous thoughtߞ would be immune or is it, as I suspect, that there is an alternative way of dealing with that? On the face of it, it is rather surprising to see that subsection but no doubt, as always, my noble friend has a good explanation.

Lord Renton

Do horse-drawn vehicles come into this? In the past there have been notorious cases of people causing injury to other people by driving a horse-drawn vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I believe that I may have to write to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter with an explanation in greater detail than I am able to give him now. There are certain categories of mechanically propelled vehicle to which this clause does not apply. That does not mean that, for example, it is legal to drive a steam-roller while under the influence of drink. Such a person could be caught under other provisions.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Will my noble friend be good enough to let me know what are those provisions under which such a person could be charged? I should hate to think that we may be excluding that rather amusing possibility.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

As I said, I shall have to write to my noble friend and I shall include that in my reply.

As regards a horse-drawn vehicle, I am not sure whether that would be included in the definition of a mechanically propelled vehicle. I suspect that it would not because it is being propelled by a horse. I know that it is possible to be charged with driving a horse-drawn vehicle while under the influence of alcohol just as it is possible as regards driving a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol. However, I shall write to my noble friend in more detail on that.

In general terms my noble friend will appreciate that breath tests are designed for motor vehicles. However, drivers of go-carts, mechanical diggers and so on can be convicted of driving when unfit.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

It may be that the man is driving the horse but surely the horse cannot be under the influence of drink, or at least I hope not. Who is responsible for the accident?

Lord Renton

Is my noble friend aware that the great Earl of Montrose always gave quantities of beer to his horse?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

In law the human being must be responsible for the conduct of whoever or whatever may be hauling the carriage.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

Perhaps I may put another conundrum to my noble friend. Will he take into account that some vehicles are now driven by solar panels? Will they be mechanically driven?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am sure that they would be mechanically driven because they require a source of power. It may be solar but it is a source of power just like an internal combustion engine.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I should hate to be excluded from the intriguing correspondence and I hope that the Minister will agree to let me have a copy of the engaging letters which he is going to write to his noble friends.

In the course of the Minister's reply, I wondered whether he was going back to the past and confusing horse power with the issue which we are now considering. However a serious point has been raised and I am sure the Minister is right to reflect upon it rather than to give an immediate answer.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 5: After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

Random breath testing at roadside checkpoints

(". In section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted after sub-section (2) the following subsectionsߞ

(2A) 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 their drivers at or near the place where such vehicles are stopped to ascertain whether any offence has been committed under section 4 or 5 of this Act.

(2B) Regulations under subsection (2A) above shall provide for any roadside check under sub-section (2A) above to be authorised in writing by a senior police officer and for the display of signs making the purpose of the check clear to road users and for the maintenance of records of the authorisation and of the location, date and time of such checks.

(2C) Regulations under subsection (2A) 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.

(2D) 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 carried out in accordance with the Regulations under subsection (2A).".

The noble Lord said: I should say at the outset that this amendment is intended to apply not to horses or animals but only to human beings.

On Second Reading I attempted to make out a case for random breath testing. That is a matter for the judgment and conscience of Members of the Committee. I said at that stage and I repeat now that I have not asked the Opposition Chief Whip to impose a Whip on this issue for that reason, although I believe that the Government have taken a different view, but that is a matter for the Government.

I believe that there is a very powerful case for random breath testing. In order to put the matter into context, I shall redeploy some of the arguments I raised in order to set the proper backcloth to the debate.

The latest figures I have are those of 1989 which show that one in six accidental road deaths was drink related. The terrible toll was that 22,000 were injured and 840 people were killed. The cost in terms of human suffering is incalculable. There is also a cost to society which is measurable in terms of each fatal accident. I believe that the Government said that each fatal accident costs about £600,000. Consequently, at the very least, that cost could be said to be £365 million per year. I do not believe that that is a major item of anxiety but it is worth recollecting.

Also, far too many people continue to drink and drive. A Gallup poll was conducted by the General Accident Insurance Group in 1990 which revealed that 30 per cent. of all drivers and 41 per cent. of business drivers admitted to drinking and driving. Therefore, the deterrent factor which seemed to appear at first has, to some degree although not entirely, withered on the vine.

There is of course ample precedent for random breath testing along the lines that we are suggesting. That is reflected by the practices that have been deployed in other countries. The practices which have been so deployed appear to show that the random breath testing experiment works. That proposition is sustained overwhelmingly by organisations which have impeccable credentials as regards their ability to speak on these matters. They are the BMA, the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport and Safety and Alcohol Concern. Interestingly enough, the National Council for Civil Liberties, which would be the first to complain about any invasion of civil liberties, supports the proposition. The Association of Police Surgeons, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the police as well support this measure, although they want to go further than we are advising in this case.

The European Committee of High Level Experts on Road Safety supports the proposition. The United Kingdom representative was a Mr. Jim Harrigan, who was a former deputy secretary at the Department of Transport. He must have had appropriately good credentials. Perhaps I may quote from a passage in the report at pages 28 and 29: 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".

It is true that against that very heavy weight of experience and expertise the Government have been able to muster the support of the RAC, which is a perfectly respectable and worthy organisation. They also have the support of the National Licensed Victuallers Association which has campaigned vigorously against this idea, and not altogether surprisingly. The proposition that I have advanced is supported overwhelmingly by public opinion. Among many other tests that have been carried out, that support was revealed in response to the consultation paper put out by the Home Office. Out of the 3,400 replies received to the paper, 3,000 supported random breath tests.

The common denominator in support of this idea is that it is believed that there is a deterrent value and, based on the conclusions reached elsewhere, that that deterrent value would lead to a reduction in the number of deaths and injuries. But, Canute-like, the Government continue to stand against the rising tide in support of random breath testing. In another place Ministers have categorically refused to take steps, and Ministers here have been obliged to say the same thing. But that is not unlike the resistance that once occurred not so long ago to the wearing of seatbelts. More topically, it is not unlike the endeavours of the MCC to exclude women members. That endeavour will fall to the ground in no time at all.

Lord Peston

I think that is a bit optimistic.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My noble friend says that that is a bit optimistic. Not even the MCC can prevail against the tide, but that is another matter.

I should like to consider some of the arguments which have been adduced in another place and here against the proposition. It is argued that random breath testing is unnecessary because fewer drivers are drinking and driving. It is argued that we have a better driving record than other countries and so on. The argument about the experience of other countries is of itself not conclusive either in my favour or against. It is difficult to make an exact comparison because there are different factors, different attitudes and different approaches which govern the issues.

I claim that the assertion made by those who say that we have a remarkable record is probably wildly optimistic. Notwithstanding what I have said, Sweden and the Netherlands seem to have lower levels of drinking and driving deaths than occur here. But the important point is that there can be no room for complacency whatever may be the situation as regards the statistics that I have already adduced. In my judgment the suggestion that we do not need to go further is complacent.

There are other factors which it is said render random breath testing unnecessary. It is said that there have been changes in attitude and publicity campaigns. There have been Christmas campaigns and there is also the effect of the media. That is all very good. I do not complain in the least about those factors. I support them. But are they and random breath testing to be regarded as mutually exclusive? Are they not to be regarded as complementary instruments in attacking drinking and driving?

It is said that increased penalties and their severity will do the trick. That argument is misconceived. I am not at all against increasing the penalties. But the fact isߞ and this is the subject of much research-that while far too many drivers here believe that there is little chance of being caught, heavier penalties will not deter the drinking driver. In Sweden, where penalties for excess alcohol reached the ceiling of severity without evidence of deterring the excess alcohol offender, the situation was dramatically changed with the introduction of random breath testing.

Then it is said that random breath testing is an inefficient way of catching drinking drivers and therefore of using police time. The real criterion for dealing with a policy of this kind must be whether we can reduce alcohol-related accidents. When we look at the situation in some other countries we find that random breath testing has had a considerably greater effect on reducing accidents and casualties than targeting offenders alone.

We have heard from the Minister that police powers are already sufficiently extensive to cover this and therefore there is no need for any extension. That is a very strange argument in a way because, while the Government argue that they are against random breath testing in principle, they assert that the police already have the necessary powers. The Government cannot have it both ways. Quite apart from the logical inconsistency, that is not right. The same patterns are not deployed by the police throughout the country.

There appears to be some questioning by police authorities in some parts of the country as to whether what the Government have to say in this regard is right. Therefore they do not deploy the tests that are used elsewhere. In order to sustain the breath tests that they undertake, the police are sometimes driven to invent and engage in pretence in order to enable them to be applied. I do not believe that engaging in pretence is good. It is the very matter that determines that relationships between the police and the public can be impaired. I am against that.

It is argued that too much time would be involved by the police in dealing with this issue rather than dealing with issues that are more generally regarded as crimes. I regard this as crime. I make that clear from the first. The consequences of drinking and driving can be, and often are, absolutely appalling. However, if it is a question of cost and the deployment of the police forces, should we not consider again that statistic to which I referred earlier-the cost to society? That has to be weighed against anything the Minister says in regard to a cost of at least £600 million.

It is probable, I concede, that traffic policing levels will have to be increased, although the situation has not been mirrored in New South Wales or Finland when random breath testing has been introduced. Traffic policing levels have been allowed to dwindle, let me say, over recent years. Therefore the increase in resources which may be necessary in some areas is, I would argue, absolutely right. The fact is that quantifiable benefits to the community would far exceed the known direct costs of making random breath testing work. The allocation of new resources would be cost effective and a good investment.

The next argument to which I refer is that random breath testing would not operate as a deterrent to drinking and driving and would lead to fewer convictions of drunken drivers. The reason why relatively fewer offenders are detected at roadside check points is that random breath testing acts as a deterrent. People have to come into collision with these random breath testing points and of course have to take more care. That is the whole object of the exercise. It is also said that there will be friction between the police and the driving population. I do not believe that a random breath testing system such as we are seeking to introduce here would have that effect. People are against drinking and driving. They would understand. It would avoid the pretence to which I referred earlier.

I dealt with the question of civil liberties on Second Reading. I simply do not believe that the civil liberty of someone being able to drink and perhaps enter into some conjecture as to whether or not he has exceeded the limit or whether he was within the limit is a civil liberty that ought to be preserved at all cost against the civil liberty of ensuring that people who have not taken a drink can drive safely and pedestrians are protected from these people who absorb so much drink. Therefore I believe that that is not an argument to which this Chamber should give serious credit. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that this is a matter on which there are no conceivable grounds for complacency. I know that the view which he has argued, if he will allow me to say, so effectively just now is a view that is very widely held by a great many people in all parties and in all sections of the country. It is therefore an issue which I am sure the Committee will wish to consider carefully and on which it will wish to weigh carefully the arguments used. However, before I venture direct comments on that point I must take the noble Lord up on his historical inaccuracy when referring to the Government's Canute-like attitude to this issue. The noble Lord may recall that, by standing beside the sea and asking the tide to come no further, his late Majesty demonstrated to those who had foolishly said that the King had complete and overwhelming power what nonsense they were talking. If the noble Lord was referring to that, his late Majesty was absolutely right. He was also extremely sensible and extremely persuasive. Therefore to use him as a term of abuse to the Government-because of the view the Government have taken on this matterߞis somewhat a perversion of history.

The amendment itself is rather curious because it provides for random stopping of either all vehicles or a sample of vehicles. How the sample would be selected, if this power were given, of itself raises some quite important questions. Would it be all big cars? Would it be all small cars? Would it be all cars apparently driven by young people? How would a sample be selected? I should like to put the argument nonetheless on broader grounds. Why is it thought that the knowledge that the police have this power would, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, act as a deterrent to drivers from drinking and driving'? Everybody knows nowadays that if one is caught driving under the influence of drink the penalties are serious. To anyone of any public position the publicity is extremely tiresome and harmful. Everybody knows that. Why should the thought of the stopping of either a sample or the whole lot, add appreciably to the deterrent factor? I do not follow. People know that if they drink before driving and anything happens they will be in for very serious trouble. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I will not enter into the debate at this stage, save to say this: what we are seeking to do by this provision is to supplement the existing law, not replace it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

That does not seem to sustain the argument that the deterrent effect of the law will be substantially improved by introducing this provision. People know that if they have had drink and an incident occurs while they are driving they are in serious trouble. They know that perfectly well. Why should the separate factor of being the victim of a sample stop, or of a complete stop, be a greater deterrent? That does not seem to me to be at all convincing.

One comes therefore to the question of what such a provision will do to relations between the motoring public and the police. I attach very great importance to that. I like the feeling that when one sees a police officer one is pleased and reassured to know that he is there. However, if a perfectly sober driver is liable to be stopped and subjected, first, to a certain amount of delay, and, secondly, to a somewhat humiliating process of being tested, it is likely very seriously to damage relations between the motorist and the police.

The noble Lord said, and I agree with him, that we want fuller policing of the roads. I believe that considerably more police should be available on the motorways. However, they should be available to deal with actual incidents of bad driving, accidents and all the various chances and changes of the road. If one makes the police the potential enemy of a perfectly sober driver who is stopped and subjected to a somewhat humiliating routine, one will very seriously damage those relations and make the motorist feel, "Oh, there are those wretched police. Now they are probably going to stop us". Given the weight of traffic that we now have on our motorways, particularly at weekends and in the rush hour, if any substantial number is to be stopped for testsߞthe majority of which, I think it is accepted, will produce nothingߞone will add very seriously to the traffic congestion and therefore once again to the ill temper and ill will towards the police.

It seems to me that the onus is upon those who argue that the present law is inadequate to discharge that onus. I have no reason to believe that the present legal position is inadequately strong. Motorists increasingly realise the serious consequences of driving when they have taken even a moderate quantity of drink. That fact is well realised. I also believe that, for practical purposes with the various other powers that the police have, it is quite unnecessary to make this addition. As making such an addition would impair relations with the police, I suggest to Members of the Committee that we should follow the previous decisions taken in another place and elsewhere and reject the amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant

I rise to speak in support of the amendment. I should like to begin with a personal view. I have to say that I personally enjoy the fruits of the grape and related beverages in appropriate circumstances. There is some evidence that alcohol in moderation can make a significant contribution to human well-being. There is even some recent evidence emerging to suggest that in moderation it may have a protective effect against coronary heart disease.

However, my personal decision not to drive after drinking made several years ago was, I can assure Members of the Committee, not wholly related to the fact that any doctor convicted in the United Kingdom of driving with more than the prescribed level of alcohol on the breath is automatically reported to the president of the General Medical Council. That was an office which I held at the time. That particular decision was based upon my growing realisation of the appalling roll of death, injury and bereavement caused all too often to innocent persons in this country by drinking drivers.

I wholly accept some of the arguments put forward so cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. However, I believe that there is one that he may conceivably have overlooked. The present law requires that, for the police to stop a motorist and invite him to undergo a breath test, there must be reasonable cause for suspicion that he may have been drinking. It is my viewߞand one which I have to say is shared by the British Medical Associationߞthat that immediately introduces in the present law a confrontational situation. If the public were to recognise that random breath testing was part of our law, then, contrary to the noble Lord's view, I believe that that would not impair but that it would ultimately improve the relations between the public and the police.

Drinking and driving still remains the single main cause of death and injury on our roads. The Department of Transport estimates, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, that over 22,000 casualties each year can be attributed to alcohol at an annual cost to the National Health Service of £600 million.

In countries such as Finland and Australia, random breath testing has reduced the number of casualties and fatalities on the roads. Moreover, in New South Wales, the public has responded well to testing by teams stationed by the roadside which, combined with a public information programme, has been successful. In the four years following the introduction of random breath tests in that country, the average number of alcohol-related fatal and serious accidents has been reduced by 35 per cent., and the savings in health and social security benefit costs have been 20 times the cost of implementing the scheme.

I firmly believe in the proposal. I understand from a recent conversation that this view is not only shared by the British Medical Association, and many other organisations to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred, but that it is also supported by many other organisations. Moreover, I also understand that the Automobile Association has recently expressed the same view.

If we were to accept the amendment in Committee it would send a signal to the world at large and to the country that we take very seriously this growing toll of people being injured, killed or maimed on our roads, and that this is one way in which we can hope to reduce that appalling incidence.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I am sorry that I missed some of the first moments of this debate. However, I should like to say a few words in answer to what has just been said. Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I do not drink and drive. By that I mean I do not drive at all after drinking, as of set purpose. I accept wholly what the noble Lord said about the seriousness of the number of casualties which may occur if people do so. However, I am perfectly convinced that the amendment is unnecessary. I believe that the noble Lord has been misled by his perhaps insufficient acquaintance with what actually goes on on the ground. It is true that before a breath test is administered a policeman must have reason to believe that alcohol is within the body of the driver. But it is not the only reason why a motorist can be stopped.

To begin with, a motorist can be stopped if he is committing a moving traffic offence. It is thereafter that the policeman can form the idea that alcohol is within the body. A moving traffic offence includes, of course, breaking the 30 mph speed limit. Anyone who thinks that that limit is observed generally at present has only to go out into the streets and watch the cars going by. In fact, anyone can be stopped who is in motion.

Moreover, the police have the power to ask for one's driving licence and insurance certificate and thus form some idea, as the documents are being examined, as to whether there is alcohol in the body. The impression that the noble Lord seems to have that the policeman is driven to form some conclusion about the state of alcohol in the breath before he stops a motorist bears no relation to the truth. I should point out that I have had quite considerable professional experience of cases in which breath tests have been administered and where other alcohol-related offences when driving have been committed, and also some ߞalthough not quite so muchߞjudicial experience.

I do not wish to detain Members of the Committee for any length of time. However, I should like to put the matter in the form of a parable. I am a very bad pheasant shot, as many of my noble friends (and those who are more acquainted with my social habits) will probably be able to confirm. But I am rather more likely to hit the bird if I aim at it than if I just fire my gun into the air in the hope that something will come down. The number of our policemen is not unlimited. They have many other duties to perform, quite apart from the possibility that they may stop every member of the public on any occasion to see whether he has any alcohol on his breath. Indeed, they may have to search for more serious criminals or have better reasons than that for stopping motorists. I suggest that an aimed shot is rather better than one shot into the ground. I regard the amendment as dangerous and wholly unnecessary.

Lord Tordoff

There is no question that my noble friends from these Benches shall have anything other than a vote according to their consciences. In other words, this is not a matter for party distinction. The vast phalanx which sits behind me will now therefore be making up its own mind!

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who engaged the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, on the matter of King Canute. He was perfectly right in what he said; indeed, had he not done so, I should have said precisely the same, although less well no doubt. I say that because my territorial title is Knutsford in the county of Cheshire which, as people will know, is Canutesford. Therefore, I have a particular affection for that great and noble King.

I said on Second Reading that I was an agnostic on the subject and was waiting to be persuaded. As Members of the Committee may guess, I have received a great deal of correspondence, as they will have, from various organisations on this important amendment. Having thought about the matter at some considerable length, I have come down in favour of the amendment. I do not seek to persuade my colleagues. They can make up their own minds. They probably have done so, which may be why they are not here. I have come down in favour of the amendment, although I listened with great care to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and which will doubtless be made by the Minister in due course.

It does not seem to me that the arguments that those noble Lords adduce against the amendment are strong enough to overcome two simple facts. The first was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and it is that we are talking about serious criminal behaviour. It is serious in the sense that it causes grievous bodily harm to many people. I find the argument about it causing friction with the police difficult to accept, because the police, on the whole, are in favour of the amendment. We should listen to what they have to say. I cannot believe that being tested i i the way suggested is likely to be worse than being tested in the way that people are tested at the moment. That brings me to my next point.

On the one hand, people say that they do not want random breath testing and, on the other, they say that we have random breath testing at the moment, so why bother. If we have random breath testing, let us call it random breath testing, let us ensure that it is random breath testing, and let us ensure that it is on the face of the Bill, and is not done by devices that the police may be forced to introduce to carry out the amendment's intention. That is what is happening at the moment.

The noble and learned Lord is right, of course: the police cannot stop people on suspicion of their having alcohol in their bodies, but they can stop them for a moving traffic offence. A moving traffic offence can be their suspicion that the driver is not driving fast enough. That causes them to suspect that something is going wrong. The vehicle may have a cracked tail light or something similar. There are a thousand different ways by which a policeman can find justification for stopping a car if he wishes to do so. Basically, I cannot accept that the law should be brought into some disrepute by relying upon a device such as I have described to introduce random breath testing by the back door.

The final point we must consider is whether the introduction of systematic breath testing will reduce the number of deaths on the road. It is my belief, after due consideration, that it will so reduce death and injury on the roads, and because of that, I support the amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for so comprehensively exposing the arguments in favour of random breath testing. I have never heard it done better. The argument, as he will be the first to recognise, is very much a matter of balance, My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham made the point that police capacity is limited and always will be. It could be extended a little, but it costs a great deal to do so. The police have many other duties of great importance to carry out in protecting the public. What we are considering is how police power, authority and spread can best be used.

My noble and learned friend made a cogent point with his metaphor about shooting, or not shooting, pheasants. A random shot in the air is not likely to do much good. What has evolved is a type of instinctive arrangement. Over the past 10 years, the police have developed a practice of intensifying tests over the Christmas period. They now carry out about three times as many tests as they did 10 years ago. That practice is accepted by the public. The law just covers it, as my noble and learned friend with his great authority explained. People as a whole accept it as a convention that at Christmas time, for a week or two, there will be an intensification of testing. Everyone thinks mat that is a good thing, and so it has been accepted.

As a result, during those 10 years there has been a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of deaths caused by drinking and driving. To a considerable extent that must be due to the practice of intensification at Christmas time when, instead of the random shot in the air described by my noble and learned friend, the police shoot at some birds they are pretty sure they can bring down. Some of those people will have been drinking and driving. They will be caught and prosecuted. That is the deterrent in which we are all interested.

I share with other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Walton, with whom I am glad to find myself agreeing as usual, the view that we all want to reduce drinking and driving. We all recognise that there are still some people who drink and drive, and perhaps there always will be, unless they are taken off the road altogether. But we cannot do that at one fell swoop.

We must consider whether the available police capacity is being used most effectively at the moment, using present methods. There is no doubt that substantial improvement has been achieved over the past 10 years and is likely to continue. Last Christmas, breath tests increased by 15 per cent. over the previous year. The number of positive testsߞthat is to say, the number of people who were found to have been drinking and drivingߞhad decreased by 10 per cent. It indicates that the present approach, although gradual and not completely logicalߞit is not as logical as the random breath testing the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, advocatesߞis succeeding, and in an irrational way probably suits us.

There is no doubt that formal roadside tests carried out throughout the country would offend many people. When public opinion polls show that most people are in favour of random breath testing, I believe that they are thinking of the Christmas time tests which most people accept as reasonable. There is a big risk that offence would be caused and that important police public relations would be stirred up, whereas the present system is accepted. There is a type of convention that it is reasonable that people who are foolish enough to drink and drive at Christmas time should be apprehended.

The Government have the balance of the argument right. What is being done is succeeding, and has succeeded considerably. It is carrying public opinion with it. That is important. The system will continue progressively to achieve the results which we want. It would be a pity further to restrict the liberty of the subject as we should have to do if we were to institute general random breath tests at the roadside by stopping all, or some, vehicles. It would be a pity to go further than we have to if the present methods are succeeding. I believe that they are, and so I shall support my noble friend.

Viscount Caldecote

We all agree that driving under the influence of drink is a serious crime. However, it is always difficult to maintain the right balance between methods of detecting and deterring crime and the reasonable convenience of the public and in this case attitudes to the police. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter referred to that most eloquently.

Recently I had the interesting first experience of being breathalysed when I was driving back from a dinner wearing a dinner jacket. I am glad to say that the test was satisfactory. The policemen concerned were polite and efficient. They warned me, as is necessary under the Road Traffic Act and other legislation. I asked why they had stopped me. They said that the main reason was that my trafficator turning lights had been operating from time to time when I was turning neither to the right nor the left. I believe that that is because the same lever in my car operates the headlamp dipper in one direction and the trafficator in the other. The police stopped me clearly for that reason and I was breathalysed. They were polite and afterwards they waved and said goodnight.

I felt slightly annoyed at having been stopped and it caused me to think about the problem of random breath testing. I came to the conclusion that they were perfectly within their rights to stop meߞI suppose that it was a type of random breath testing. After a lot of thought, as is usual after an occasion like that, I came to the conclusion that the police have adequate means of enforcement. To go further along the lines of the amendment would not be wise. As my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Nugent pointed out, the police have many other tasks to perform. It is a matter of the best use of manpower and maintaining good relations and attitudes between the public and the police.

I believe that to accept the amendment would therefore not make the best use of police manpower; it would not do much good. The present arrangements such as have been described by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, are satisfactory and the best balance that we can achieve. Therefore I shall oppose the amendment.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I was chairman of the committee of the Cabinet in 1965 and 1966 which dealt with transport policies under the Wilson Administration. We agonised over this for a long time in the committee. We had a much longer discussion on it in Cabinet probably than on any other subject. In the end, we decided to favour the random test and included it in a White Paper published on a wide range of transport matters in 1966.

The late Tom Fraser was the Minister of Transport at the time. Much to the perturbation of Whitehall, I was chairman of the Cabinet committee on transport policy. The Minister of Transport was not made chairman; nor was the Home Secretary appointed chairman of the Home Affairs Committee in the Labour Government; and nor was the Minister of Agriculture made chairman of the farm price review under the Labour Government. I was the professional chairman of that administration. I was chairman of eight Cabinet committees at the same time and my grasp of the general policy of the government was greater thanߞI was going to say with great respect ߞthat of the Prime Minister himself.

Returning to the serious side of the subject, the two difficulties that we dreaded most about this and had to overcome were, first, relations with the police. It was a long time ago, when we were less certain about the conduct of the police and much less certain about the reaction of the public to greater interference by the police with the freedom of the citizen. We decided that we would have to try to cope with it. I submit now that the relationship between the police and the motoring public on transport matters is much better than it was then. People understand the need for discipline. We have introduced many controls of traffic and imposed duties on the police far beyond anything contemplated in 1965–66.

The second difficulty was the effect of the random test on the public. We could not get rid of the feeling that presidents of the Band of Hope might feel affronted if they were stopped without reasonable cause. They might become a little haughty about their lifelong abstinence from strong drink. I was a member of the Band of Hope. However, we thought that if the public only knew how important it was, they would put up with it. We felt that the question, "Why me?" from people on the road was a response that had to be overcome.

Thus we came to examine the reasonable cause to suspect that a person had been imbibing alcohol to excess. The first thing we had to do was to assure the drinks trade, or at least the proprietors and managers of licensed premises, that the police would not stand guard on the car parks of those premises to find, without much difficulty, motorists who had been imbibing alcohol. The police were given no instructions, but we rather suspected that they would probably not accept the excuse that people had been drinking lemonade for five hours and were still sober.

The presumption that one goes into a pub to have a real drink was so strong that we wondered how to overcome it. Therefore, the police were barred under the policy that was adopted later; it was felt that they should be barred from standing guard over the car parks of public houses. In my constituency when the selective test came in, all the pubs on the moors and in the country villages were emptied almost overnight. All the drinkers in my constituency went straight into the pubs from which people could walk home. That was a good sign of how seriously people were taking the matter, but it was not good for the legitimate trade in the beauty spots in my constituency. We had to overcome that.

Apropos the speech of my noble friend Lord Walton, I thought that any motoring offence for which a policeman stopped a motorist gave him the right to apply the breath test. From memory, I believe that the subject had to be under reasonable suspicion not only of having been drinking. If the policeman stopped a motorist for not having his lights on, he could say, "While we are about it, please breathe into this bag". It probably did not improve the motorist's temper, but at least it was an excuse to administer the breath test.

People understand the gravity of death on the roads. I confirm the hideous consequences which I have seen for myself of accidents through drinking and driving. The mutilation of people, the time they have to spend in hospitals and the disabilities with which they come out are so dreadful that for it to be inflicted not by accident but by sheer negligence in not keeping oneself fit to drive is a crime. We should deal with it accordingly.

The legislation on random testing that was approved by the Labour Cabinet never came to fruition because Tom Fraser ceased to be the Minister of Transport. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, succeeded him and she complained that the Transport Bill which she was handed was already so enormous and controversial that, with this additional difficulty, it would not be politically desirable, nor could it be accommodated with sufficient parliamentary time to wrangle it all through. So it was dropped, but the selective test remained.

I support the amendment. I wish to make one suggestion, a new idea. Should we, when making regulations, have the power to bring about a selective introduction of random testing? Do we have to include the whole country, or is there any possibility of placing areas on trial and imposing random tests if the ratio of drink driving convictions rises above the average? I suppose that under regulations we would have the power to impose this provision nationally at certain seasons of the year. For example, at Christmas.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that such measures have had a good effect. I doubt whether the Minister is right in saying that the police already have such powers. I do not believe that that is the case; but I may be wrong about that. I believe the police get away with imposing such powers at Christmas because people are willing to co-operate.

I have put forward a few ideas. This discussion is an indication of how long it takes to resolve parliamentary and public opinion on matters which seem relatively elementary and simple. That has been my experience of such matters. This is the first occasion that I have spoken on this subject since the time I finally persuaded the Cabinet in 1966 to agree to breath testing.

6 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

I wish to oppose the amendment. Naturally, I am no less against drink driving than anyone else. However, I think the amendment is totally unnecessary because the police already can and do stop motorists without cause. They do this in my part of the world, although perhaps they do it illegally. At a pub that is situated near my house the police take the licence numbers of cars that are parked at the pub. Recently the publican was driving some customers back to their homes. He passed a police car twice and he was asked to stop. The policeman asked him why he was going backwards and forwards. The publican was not committing any kind of an offence.

I was stopped after I had attended a hunt. It was assumed that I had been at the flask all day. In fact I had not had a single sip. The policeman stopped me for no apparent reason and breathalysed me. At the moment the police appear to be able to stop any motorist without giving any reason for doing so. Therefore it is pointless to establish additional legislative provisions on this matter. The question of co-operation with the police is of great importance. The job of the police becomes more and more difficult as crime continually increases. Co-operation between the public and the police is essential and nothing should be done that may jeopardise that.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

If the noble Lord will forgive me saying so, I did not understand the logic of his speech. He appeared to be saying that there is no need to change the law because the law is clear on the matter. However, he then said that if the law was changed, it would lead to a substantial deterioration in relations between the general public and the police. I do not understand that argument at all.

I have one or two points to make on this matter. It is not an easy question at all. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, there has been a change in police attitudes on this matter over the past 20 years. At one stage the police undoubtedly were not in favour of an amendment of the kind that has been moved today. However, there has now been a substantial change in attitude on their part, and the reason for that is the clear evidence of the appalling consequences of people driving cars while under the influence of drink.

I again refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. Do we all imagine that at Christmas the police wait for a driver to commit a moving traffic offence before they stop him? I wonder how many Members of the Committee believe that. In some police areas that may be true; but I believe that in the overwhelming majority of police forces chief officers of police take the attitude that at a season when there are national advertising campaigns drawing attention to the dangers of driving when under the influence of drink, the police should stop a substantial number of motorists, some of whom have not committed a moving traffic offence. We should not have to continue with humbug of this kind any longer. There should be a clearly expressed statutory provision which makes it clear what the police powers are at the moment. I do not believe that is the case at the moment, and that is why, on balance, I favour the amendment. I do not believe that the present law is at all satisfactory.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I wish to support the amendment. I shall not repeat all the arguments that I made on Second Reading as many different points of view have been put forward today.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that the police can stop motorists for any incident. That is true but, technically and legally, there must have been an incident. The police cannot just stop a motorist because they suspect he has been drinking. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, appreciates how much court time is wasted discussing not whether a driver has been over the limitߞthat is clearly shown on the evidenceߞbut whether or not the police had the right to stop the motorist. A lot of court time is wasted on such discussions. A police officer is asked why he stopped a motorist and the client's solicitor or his counsel will go on and on and turn what should be an open and shut case into a whole morning's court hearing.

There has been a great deal of comment about police manpower. To listen to that one would think that we in this Chamber had the power to decide how many police should be allocated to this work. Surely that is a matter for the chief police officer in charge of each area to decide. It is up to him to decide whether men can be spared for this work. All that this amendment, if passed, would achieve would be to give the police the legal power to carry out this provision. It would not dictate the number of policemen who should be allocated to this work and removed from their present duties. It would not even determine the season of the year when such testing would take place. All those issues would remain flexible. My noble friend Lord Nugent referred to the matter of how best to use the police manpower. However, that is not our decision. That is for the police to determine.

It has been said that the public accept an intensification of random breath testing at Christmas. I believe the public accept breath testing in general. Those who do not accept it are those who are bound to be over the limit, or the people who are irritated by being pulled up by the police. However, we must consider the greater good. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to excuses used to stop motorists. That is nonsense. It is wrong that such excuses should have to be used to stop motorists. I am very much in favour of the amendment, but I do not like the proposed new subsection (2B) which requires police officers to display signs to inform motorists of the purpose of the check. Surely that is tantamount to advising motorists to take a back route and not pass the sign. If the checks are to be random, they should be genuinely random. The police should not warn people of them. However, that is where my Australian background gives me a different attitude. Australians do not believe the police should give offenders a sporting chance.

Random breath tests have been effective in Australia. Without doubt they make motorists think twice about drinking to excess before they drive. They stop some motorists from doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, made a most interesting point when he suggested that people should think about drinking only when they were within walking distance of their homes. In Sweden when people go out with a group of friends and they know they are likely to drink, one of the group will undertake not to drink so that he can drive the rest home. This is a moral rather than a political issue. I hope there will be a free vote on this matter. I am not sure that I agree with the wording of the amendment; but I certainly support the principle behind it. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I am the president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents which has various committees, one of which is considering random breath testing. The society has consistently disagreedߞand still doesߞwith random breath testing. It has advocated a system which is commonly known as unfettered discretion. That in essence means that the police may test motorists at any time if they suspect that they have consumed alcohol.

It is RoSPA's opinion that the results of the scheme which operates in Australia, for example, suggest that people quickly become aware of the places where the police have set up road blocks for the purpose of testing and find alternative routes between their drinking place and home, thus negating the randomness of testing. Unfettered discretion would enable the police to operate road blocks if they so chose and also to stop vehicles if they thought a person had been drinking alcohol. As I said in my Second Reading speech, I am against random breath tests.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I should like to say a brief word, mainly because my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes suggested that there was some doubt as to whether there were adequate powers for the police in existing legislation. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has said that there are. No doubt he had in the back of his mind the comments which his right honourable friend the Attorney-General made in another place on 5th December 1989, which were repeated by the then Home Secretary, Mr. Waddington, now my noble friend the Leader of this House, on 21st March 1990.

There is no doubt that the police have sufficient powers. What has led to the confusion is that for various and different reasons individual police forces apply their powers in different ways. In my view it would be quite wrong to suggest in any alteration to the law that instructions should be given to police authorities as to what they may or may not do in this regard because conditions vary in different parts of the country. For exampleߞand I am sorry for my noble friends who live north of the Borderߞthe record of testing and conviction for drunkenness associated with motor vehicles is much higher in Scotland than it is south of the Border. There is no doubt that there is a greater concentration of police effort, with their existing powers.

My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford mentioned some figures. I would only underline what he said by quoting Miss Barbara Sabey's paper, given at a conference at Essex University in March of last year. Miss Sabey is a recognised authority on road safety and safety-related matters. She was at the Department of Transport and TRRL and is now a consultant in that field. She said that in the 10-year period from 1975 to 1986 road deaths from drink-related accidents have halved. The process has continued. It would be fair to pay some tribute to the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Transport, Mr. Peter Bottomley, who waged a continuous and consistent battle against drinking and driving, and has succeeded. By any measurement, the figures are getting better and better.

At the conference to which I referred, the police, through the voice of Mr. Peter Joslin, the chief constable of Warwickshire and the then chairman of ACPO's traffic committee, said that hitherto the police had been unwilling to seek greater powers because they felt that without adequate resources they might find themselves in some difficulty. They have changed their minds since then. I wonder whether that presumes an increase in resources, which will undoubtedly be required if the amendment were carried into law. At the same time he said that there is doubt and there are inconsistencies. Others say that an improvement could be brought about by a change in the attitude of the courts, which have been too lenient. The Magistrates' Association has taken the matter up and introduced a code relating to punishments. The Govern rent themselves have recognised the problem in alterations to the Criminal Justice Bill. At the end of the day we are moving forward steadily.

By all accounts there remains a hard core of drivers who are convicted of drink-related offences. It is for the police to target those drivers, having identified them through the available statistics. They have the tools to do the targeting. The courts have the tools to punish I hem. When this Bill comes into force, there will be other penalties. I do not believe that there are any good grounds for changing the law in this regard.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

As my noble friend referred to me, I must take up some of his remarks, because they were so full of inaccuracies. First, he said that the police have the necessary powers. If they have the powers, why are we debating the amendment now? It is because in this Chamber we are all agreed that they do not have the powers. Even the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, explained that the police have to have a device, such as stopping a driver for some other reason. That has come out so clearly in the debate. How can my noble friend say that the police already have all the necessary powers? That is what the amendment is all about.

He went on to say that the courts had a code of practice. I am a magistrate and in my experience if one is over the limit the penalty is mandatory disqualification. There is no such thing as a code of practice. That is why I believe the matter is so hotly debated.

I shall not go into the matter further, but it is so important that we must be accurate and I could not allow those comments to be made in my name.

Lord Foley

I feel compelled to rise and say a few words on this matter and I strongly urge your Lordships not to accept the amendment. I feel entitled to do so for two reasons. First, I have driven a motor car and have held a driving licence continuously for more than 50 years. Secondly, for reasons which do not concern this House, I do not drink alcohol.

My experience of driving a motor car, not only in this country but in various parts of the world, over such a long period has led me to discover that when in control of a motor car the frailty of human nature causes accidents for one reason and one reason only: the exercise of bad judgment.

The exercise of bad judgment may manifest itself in many ways. It may be lack of attention, because of tiredness, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has suggested, paying too much attention to the charming companion sitting next to you, or picking up a telephone and talking to someone instead of watching the road. It could even be the more grievous crime of excessive use of alcohol before or while driving. Those are the main causes of accidents.

The law being as it is, the police are entitled to stop you if they believe that you are driving in a careless manner. They do not do so unless you do something abnormal such as driving too slowly, clipping a corner or something which suggests to them that you are not in a normal state. That is all very fine, and that is how it should be. That is the right way to proceed. However, I suggest that to stop people at random merely because they happen to be unlucky is a gross invasion of their personal rights.

The motorist is not the most popular member of the community. Motorists have had a hard time over the past 30 or 40 years. Road tax has gone up, petrol prices have risen, the price of motor cars has increased enormously; more and more restrictions have been imposed in relation to parking, and so on. Motorists feel that they are somewhat hard done by. They are not all as evil as the press and certain sections of the community suggest. To impose a new restriction such as that will have the reverse effect to that which is desirable. I therefore strongly urge the Committee to resist the amendment.

Lord Lewin

My professional training has taught me to have a great respect for the power of deterrence and for that reason I support the amendment. With the greatest temerity, I question the logic of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who seemed to me to look at the problem from the point of view of the sportsman and not of the bird. If the bird knows that within a certain area people will shoot at random, or badly aimed or well aimed, he will avoid that area.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

The noble Lord is quite wrong. The bird would stay on the ground and walk backwards. Lord Lewin: It would have the same effect. In the present circumstances, if a man goes out to dinner, as I hope to do this evening, has the normal three or four glasses of wine and thinks he is near the limit, he will drive with greater care than usual on his way home in the hope that he will not commit some minor offence and be stopped. On the other hand, if he knew that there was a risk that he would be stopped at random, he would not drink and drive. Surely we are trying to persuade people not to drink and drive. That is why I shall go home by train this evening.

Lord Swinfen

We already have checks on our roads operated by the police for road fund licences on motor vehicles, with regard to commercial vehicles to see whether they are overweight, for traffic censuses and for unannounced radar speed checks. As far as I am aware, those are perfectly acceptable forms of enforcing the law. I can see no difference in having the authority to set up checkpoints to ensure that the public do not drive with excess alcohol. It will probably engender better relations between the police and the public generally if they know that the police are setting up checkpoints rather than their being stopped for some minor offence of which, at another time of day, the policeman would take absolutely no notice.

For those reasonsߞI could go on for hours, but I shall not do so; it is getting lateߞI strongly support the amendment. However, there is one point that we should consider at a later stage; namely, the notice on the side of the road explaining the reason for the check. If there were a long queue of cars waiting for drivers to be checked, it would not be difficult for a driver to change places with one of the passengers. For that reason, I should not want a specific sign saying that it was a check for alcohol.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will be pleased with this evening's debate on the subject. It has been well supported.

All noble Lords certainly agree that drinking and driving do not go together. That is indicative of society's hardening attitude towards drink-driving, which has changed very much over the years since the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was concerned with the matter 25 years ago. There is now a very much harder attitude. I therefore well understand the spirit in which the new clause has been tabled.

However, I have to say again that the existing police powers, which the Government reviewed last year following a period of public consultation, are extensive. I do not believe that they have led to any problems in practice or have limited police enforcement activity. I do not see how assertions of problems can be consistent with the fact that there are now three times more tests than there were a decade ago. As noble Lords said, positive tests have gone down, which says much for the deterrence value of the current approach. I must again remind noble Lords of what my noble friend the former Home Secretary said in another place on 21st March last year and which my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham reiterated this evening.

It is lawful for a police officer in uniform to require the driver of a vehicle to stop for the purpose of investigating whether he has alcohol in his body. It is important to note from this that, contrary to popular belief, the police officer does not need an excuse to stop a vehicle on the road. Having stopped the vehicle, it is then lawful for the officer to require a specimen of breath if he has reasonable cause to suspect that the driver has alcohol in his body. It is accordingly lawful for a police officer in uniform to stop vehicles at random for that purpose provided that there is no malpractice such as oppression or capricious conduct by the officer. These are not devices, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, described them.

We have to ask anyway whether formalised roadside checks in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State would provide an effective approach to policing the problem. I acknowledge the safeguards that this approach provides for the protection of the public, but might it not act as a constraint on the police? Why should the police want to administer breath tests where they have no reasonable suspicion that a person has been drinking?

I know that the checkpoint approach has brought about a reduction in drink-driving in some states in Australia to which the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes referred. But our approachߞthat of changing attitudesߞhas brought about a greater reduction. The incidence of drink-driving in Australia was, and remains, higher than in the United Kingdom, although comparison is complicated by differences in the legal limit. After an initial large reduction in the number of drink-related fatalities in New South Wales, the level has remained fairly stable, while there has been a steady decline here in the United Kingdom. Indeed, in New South Wales the percentage of drivers and riders killed who were known to be above the legal limit stood in 1989 at 33 per cent. down from 40 per cent. in 1982 when random breath testing was introducedߞa 7 per cent. reduction. In Britain it was 19 per cent. down from 33 per cent. in 1982 ߞa reduction of 14 per cent. Moreover, the New South Wales environment is one where a driver stands a one in three chance of being breath-tested every year and where those powers are coupled with extensive publicity.

Testing at that level would mean a twentyfold increase in testing in Britain. The police could not be diverted from their other responsibilities on the scale which that would require. That point was clearly made by, among others, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham and my noble friend Lord Nugent. This could be done only if there was a significant increase in police manpower. It would also mean considerable disruption to law-abiding motorists on our roads, which are much more heavily trafficked than those in New South Wales. That point was clearly made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

In other countries, such as New Zealand and France, where the powers have been taken but no additional enforcement resources have been put in, there has been little or no long-term effect on casualties. They have failed to make the improvements over the last decade that we have. So we should not assume that a similar approach to that adopted in some other countries would be practical or would bring the results that we are looking for. Our circumstances are different and we have different levels of public awareness of the problem.

I acknowledge that the roadside checkpoint approach is a high-profile, deterrent approach. I am all in favour of a high profile in that area. Indeed, it seems to me that it is the profile and the level of enforcement that are most likely to bring results, not the randomness of the tests.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and other noble Lords have criticised variations in levels of breath testing in different parts of the country. Clearly I am keen to see high levels of police activity in that area, but operational decisions of that kind are matters for individual chief officers of police. That is as it should be. I agree with my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes on that point, although not with the rest of her speech. The introduction of a random breath testing power would not change that. There could be no question of obliging the police to carry out checks. Chief officers would properly have to make decisions on operational priorities as they do at present.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the responses to the consultation on breath testing powers. It is by no means clear that the responses to consultation were as overwhelmingly in favour of random breath testing as the noble Lord suggested. What emerged more clearly was that almost all respondents were in favour of more testing.

I conclude therefore that the case for random breath testing has not been made out. I do not see that it would extend police powers significantly in practice. It might indeed give rise to new operational constraints. Hence, I am not convinced that it would be a better approach to tackling the menace of drink driving than the approach we have been pursuing for some years—that is, a substantial campaign to change public attitudes reinforced by police enforcement activity which has been stepped up in response to society s proper concern about this anti-social behaviour. The success of that approach is demonstrated by the reduction in the number of drink-drive fatalities in the 10 years between 1979 and 1988. Fatalities have halved from an estimated 1,790 to 840.

The existing powers of the police provide a proper balance. between enforcement and the rights of the individual. They have been shown to be sufficient for the job of bringing down the incidence of drink driving. I and I am sure your Lordships want to see that continue, and I should like to see the police make full use of those powers. Accordingly, I hope noble Lords will reject the new clause.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

Before the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, responds, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister could answer the point raised by his noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. I understood him to say that there had been no difficulty in administering the law as it stood. As she rightly pointed out, there is considerable difficulty in the courts, In that excuses are raised on all sides as to why a particular prosecution may not be proper, not because of the presence of alcohol but because of the way the matter was brought before the court and the method of stopping and questioning the accused.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I do not think I can say more than I have just said in clarifying the current powers of the police, which I believe to be crystal clear. The Home Secretary mentioned them in another place only last year and I have repeated them this evening. I cannot say what difficulties may arise in individual cases. However, what I can say is that the potential for difficulties in this amendment, if it was agreed to, would be even greater than under the existing law, bearing in mind all the regulations which would have to be obeyed. I believe that to be a recipe for confusion.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I shall try to be brief in responding to the debate, though not as brief as the Minister. However, I have rather better arguments than the Minister. I should like to thank the whole Chamber for the interest taken in the debate which has certainly been very worthwhile. I thank all noble Lords on both sides of the Chamber who have supported the proposition I have advanced. I think it right also to pay tribute to all those organisations, whether for or against the amendment, who have helped to sustain the arguments of noble Lords, as they supported Members of Parliament in another place. I refer in particular to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, of which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is a director. He exercised his right to depart from the policy which that organisation strongly espouses, which is to support this new clause.

The arguments deployed against the new clause are various. I shall select the most important ones. They tend to assert that the powers are sufficient as far as the police are concerned and that there would have to be an unreasonable deployment of police forces to deal with the situation. Those were arguments I sought to anticipate at the beginning of the debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, very cogently pointed out, if the powers laid down in the statute book and deployed in practice are all that clear we would not be debating this issue today. The fact remains that the prospects of being stopped, notwithstanding the assertions by the Minister, are about 250 to 1 against. The statistics advanced, which the Minister did not seek to refute, clearly indicate that people have become less concerned about being breath tested.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent (a former Minister of Transport), indicated that the "Christmas" argument was that more people were stopped—and they did not care whether it was on the basis of a pretext or pretence on the part of the police—and breathalysed at that time. I rather thought that was an argument in favour of the proposition for which we are contending rather than one against it.

One cogent argument the Minister did not deal with is that the percentage of deaths caused by drivers over the legal limit is higher now than in the 1960s. We do not appear to have made much improvement on that score. For two days running I have been fascinated by the reminiscences of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. Yesterday we were taken back to the Parliament Act 1911. Today we have had some very revealing accounts of discussions that took place in the Labour Government (which he served so magnificently and in respect of which he chaired more committees than I knew existed). There can be no doubt that the noble Lord speaks with great experience in these matters. I am bound to say that if joining the Band of Hope has done him so much good I am tempted to do so myself. We heard that that Government took the view that there were great barriers to legislation. I believe it is a great pity that that decision was taken, but it is a matter of history.

There has been much argument about what happens in Australia, in particular in New South Wales. There is one thing about the relationship between the police and public that is significant and worth recounting to the Chamber. This measure has always been a popular measure in New South Wales. Based on surveys carried out, there was increased popularity for the measure when random breath testing came into operation. In 1982 a survey indicated that 64 per cent. of respondents gave their support. That support rose to 85 per cent. in 1983, and in 1987 —five years after the introduction of the measure—it had increased to 97 per cent. There is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that police public relations have been impaired. The contrary would appear to be the case and that is because people see what is happening. There is a clear indication that other people are being tested and there is nothing unfair in the arrangements being made.

I say in parenthesis that I take the point made by the noble Baroness and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that the detail of the new clause could be re-examined if adopted, but I do not propose to go into it now because I do not want to take up the time of the Committee.

I believe that the argument that police public relations would be more seriously impaired is seriously flawed. People become very upset if they think that they are being asked to take a breath test, in circumstances which the law may or may not permit, when they appear to have been singled out. In fact it has happened to me. A police officer said that I had been speeding. At the time I was accompanied by my wife. There was no possibility that I had been speeding. I could see from 400 yards away the police car that had stopped another vehicle. The police officer admitted that I had been obliged to stop in order to enter the road, so that I should have had to reach the speed that he had indicated of 43 miles an hour—which was the source of his justification—in order to justify him having stopped me. People do get fed up with that sort of conduct. It brings humbug and hypocrisy into the situation and it is that which impairs the relationship between the driving public and the police.

There is this other argument. The average number of breath tests carried out per traffic officer in the United Kingdom for 1989 was—remarkably—only one per week. In New South Wales even the most enthusiastic policy of random breath testing stops each driver—each driver—every two years. I do not consider that excessive.

I end by saying that one of the protections against many of the arguments that have been adduced against this proposal tonight—it has not been commented on at all—is in subsection (2D) of the new clause: 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". That is a protection which needs to be carried out. It would be done in accordance with regulations which would be set out following the adoption of this new clause.

Every argument has been deployed by the Committee. I fear that I cannot accept the recommendation of the Minister. I too am pleased to see him back in his place but I am not wholly delighted with the arguments that he adduced. I feel that on this very important matter we must test the opinion of the Committee.

6.43 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 41; Not-Contents, 87.

Division No. 1
Airedale, L. Lockwood, B.
Ardwick, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Birk, B. Milner of Leeds, L.
Blackstone, B. Nicol, B.
Carter, L. Northfield, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Rea, L.
Craigavon, V. Richard, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Seear, B.
Dormand of Easington,L. Serota, B.
Falkland, V. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Foot, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Gallacher, L. [Teller.]
Gardner of Parkes, B. Swinfen, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Tordoff, L.
Underhill, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Walton of Detchant, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. White, B.
Hughes, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jeger, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Lewin, L.
Abinger, L. Henley, L.
Ailesbury, M. Hesketh, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hooper, B.
Ampthill, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Astor, V. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Auckland, L. Long, V. [Teller.]
Belstead, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Blatch, B. Lyell, L.
Blyth, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Merrivale, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mersey, V.
Brigstocke, B. Monk Bretton, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Butterworth, L. Morris, L.
Caldecote, V. Mountevans, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Munster, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Nelson, E.
Clanwilliam, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Orkney, E.
Coleraine, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Colnbrook, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Colwyn, L. Peel, E.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Rankeillour, L.
Craigmyle, L. Reay, L.
Cross, V. Renton, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Renwick, L.
Dilhorne, V. Rodney, L.
Downshire, M. Saint Oswald, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Seccombe, B.
Elles, B. Selsdon, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Shannon, E.
Erroll, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Ferrers, E. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Feversham, L. Strathcarron, L.
Foley, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Teviot, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Gisborough, L. Thurlow, L.
Glenarthur, L. Trumpington, B.
Gridley, L. Ullswater, V.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wise, L.
Harvington, L. Wrenbury, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 6: 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 sh ill he substituted the words "50 milligrammes" and for the words "107 milligrammes" there shall be substituted the words "67 microgrammes.").

The noble Lord said: The measure complements, and would be therefore at its most effective, if we had random breath testing. That proposal has been rejected: by the Committee today. Nonetheless the amendment remains useful in its own right. The objective is to change the legislation on the alcohol limit from 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood. The change is supported by evidence from accident studies and experimental behaviour studies with which I shall not weary the Committee unless I am challenged. I have the details with me.

It emerges that, relative to zero, the accident risk starts to shoot up sharply for most people at about 60 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. There:.s ample evidence now to suggest that the present limit of 80 milligrammes is no longer supportable on technical grounds. The experimental studies seem to confirm that low levels of alcohol are able to impair driving skills very significantly. The legal limit has been set at 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres in Australia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, the Netherlands, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Yugoslavia and some states of the United States. Many countries have discovered that, if introduced with other measures—such as high profile random breath testing —a reduction in the limit is likely to contribute to accident reduction.

There is overwhelming evidence from studies that have been carried out for the European Commission that such a reduction in the limit would be worth achieving. I believe that, when people start out on the road having had some drink, they are uncertain about whether they have gone over the limit. That factor remains notwithstanding all the advice given that people should not drink and drive. I believe very strongly that the amendment is a move that should be undertaken.

Like the other amendment, it requires general improvements in enforcement. I am by no means convinced that we are far enough along that road. The Minister believes that we have gone virtually as far as is reasonable; I do not accept that. If we were to go along t this route we should be adopting a sensible regime which is supported now by powerful studies. If challenged, I shall refer to the details when winding up. I beg to move.

Lord Walton of Detchant

I rise to support the amendment. I wish to reiterate what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Last year the British Medical Association's annual representative meeting passed a resolution supporting the terms of the amendment: that is, a reduction in the legal limit for blood alcohol from 80 milligrammes to 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. I shall not detain the Committee long. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, it is well over 20 years since the present British legal limit was chosen. However, since that time, Australia, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and some states of the United States of America and Yugoslavia have introduced a legal limit of 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres.

Much research carried out was reported in a seminal paper by Dr. James Dunbar from the University Department of Forensic Medicine in Dundee four years ago. It indicated—I need not go into the details—that there were over 200 scientific papers then in print on measuring reaction time, tracking, concentrated attention, information processing, psychomotor performance and driver performance. The research demonstrated serious decline in those skills at levels of about 30 to 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. Data from Canada clearly showed that young men under 20 years of age, and drivers over 55 in particular, had an increased risk of having an accident at low alcohol concentrations. Driving experiments on closed courses showed impaired responses to braking and steering in accident avoidance manoeuvres at concentrations of around 30 milligrammes per 100 millilitres.

It is long overdue that we in this country should follow international trends by bringing down the legal limit to the figure mentioned in the amendment.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

The present legal alcohol limit for drivers—80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or equivalent in breath or urine—is scientifically based as being the level at which, in contrast with what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, for most people the chance of being involved in an accident starts to rise sharply. Although he stated that he had the figures with him he did not use them to back up his case; I do not complain about that but it is the case that at present almost half of those convicted of drinking and driving are convicted at or around twice the existing legal limit.

I believe that we shall get the greatest benefit by continuing to target present efforts at those who drink above the current limit. Diffusing those efforts to cover a wider range of drivers would increase the risk that the most serious cases might not be identified. There is little evidence of a significant accident problem among people with blood alcohol levels below 80 milligrammes. So a reduction in the limit might increase convictions without materially reducing casualties.

We remain of the view that it would be premature and counter-productive to alter the present alcohol limit. To do so would detract from the main message, which is not to mix drinking and driving at all. That is the underlying message in our successful campaign against drinking and driving. Without any change in the law we have succeeded in changing attitudes so that drinking and driving is now seen as anti-social behaviour. Over the 10 years 1979–1988, the annual number of drink-drive fatalities has halved; reducing from 1,790 to 840.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton, spoke about young people. We are particularly concerned to reduce the high casualty rate among young drivers. For that reason we target that group in our anti-drink campaigns. Introducing a lower limit for young or inexperienced drivers would, however, complicate the task of enforcement. It would also imply that older and more experienced drivers can, so to speak, hold their drink and so undermine the main thrust of the message, "Don't drink and drive".

As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, the amendment was drafted chiefly in order to mesh in with the previous amendment relating to random breath testing. However, he also said that it would be freestanding. I hope that in the light of my remarks the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Renton

I should be grateful if the Minister would give the Committee an idea of the amount of drink that one can consume with 80 milligrammes of alcohol and the amount that one would be allowed to consume if the limit were only 50 milligrammes. Years ago the amount was expressed in terms of half pints of beer, single measures of whisky, glasses of table wine and so forth. It would be of great assistance to be told at this stage of the debate.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I have heard of various measures, having once been an enthusiast, but it is 12 years since I took a drink. The Government prefer not to give such advice because the amount varies from individual to individual and could be misleading.

Lord Rea

Can the Minister explain his logic because it has escaped me? He said that lowering the legal limit to 50 milligrammes would dilute the general message that it was wrong to drink and drive. Can the Minister explain that statement because I believe that the change would accent the position?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I suppose that it depends upon how one looks at the situation. I believe it to be self-evident that if one is changing the emphasis one is changing the message which has been so successful; that is, do not drink and drive. Because it has been so successful, we wish to stick with it.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The logic of my noble friend's comment escaped me but I found the Minister's answer singularly unimpressive. I see no logic in it whatever. The Minister and several of his noble friends have said that we are making slow but good progress. Approximately 1,200 people are killed each year as a result of drink driving. The Minister shakes his head and I shall be corrected. Approximately 5,000 people are killed on the roads every year, but we are dealing here only with cases of drink driving. The progress is not fast enough. This amendment— and the amendment unfortunately rejected by the Committee—will make a valuable contribution towards speeding up the process of saving lives.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I said that we should have more convictions but fewer results. I believe that the noble Lord's figures are wrong, but I did not shake my head. From 1979 to 1988 the annual number of drink-drive fatalities halved from 1,790 to 840. That must be regarded as satisfactory progress.

Lord Clinton-Davis

According to the Minister's logic progress would be even more remarkable if he were to agree to adopt my proposal. He merely asserts that certain things are happening and therefore we should stick with 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. There is no evidence whatever —indeed, such evidence as there is would appear to point the other way. In 1985 a review of experimental studies was carried out by the New South Wales Traffic Authority. It came to the clear conclusion that any relaxation in its 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres limit could only lead to an increase in traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. Analysis after analysis rejects the conclusion that the Minister has made. We should be in extremely respectable company if we were to agree to the change.

I should be stretching the bounds of credulity if I were to say that I shall consider the Minister's reply with great care. However, I shall reserve the right to return to the matter in due course, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Reay

I beg to move that the House do now resume. I suggest that the Committee meets again not before five minutes past eight o'clock.

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

House resumed.

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