HL Deb 29 October 1999 vol 606 cc528-31

2.17 p.m.

Lord Whitty rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th July be approved [26th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order has already been approved in another place. It seeks to introduce on a permanent basis throughout Great Britain a scheme to provide an incentive for drink-drive offenders to attend courses the purpose of which is to persuade them not to reoffend. If they complete the course satisfactorily, the period of disqualification from driving will be reduced by up to one-quarter.

The scheme has been running in certain designated court areas on an experimental basis since 1993. The experiment was first proposed as long ago as 1988 in the review of road traffic law chaired by Dr Peter North. Since 1993 a number of different organisations have been running courses on a self-financing basis, including issuing of fees to be paid by offenders. A typical course is organised into sessions lasting for between two and four hours per week for a period of eight to 10 weeks.

Monitoring of the courses by the Transport Research Laboratory has involved tracking three groups of drink-drive offenders convicted between 1993 and July 1996. Those groups comprise: first, those who attended an experimental rehabilitation course; secondly, those who did not although they were convicted in designated courts; and, thirdly, those convicted at 18 control courts where rehabilitation courses were not available. Researchers looked at the proportion of offenders who were reconvicted within a three-year period as the main measure of the effectiveness of the courses. The results suggested that those who attend a rehabilitation course are three times—I repeat, three times—less likely to reoffend than those who do not.

We therefore propose a permanent rehabilitation scheme operating throughout Great Britain as that may play an important role in our long-term campaign to reduce drink-drive casualties and the rate of drink-drive offending. I hope that the order will be supported. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th July be approved [26th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)

Viscount Simon

My Lords, as my noble friend has said, these courses to rehabilitate drink-drive offenders have been very successful, resulting in a lower level of reoffending. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to congratulate everyone involved in running the courses.

I ask only one question of my noble friend: is the monitoring of those who take these courses to continue? I hope so. I am pleased to support the formalisation of this experimental order.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, from these Benches I should like to say—as indeed I did when I spoke to the original draft order—that the provision of these options for those convicted of drink-driving is very welcome. However, we on these Benches, and myself in particular, as a deputy chairman of the All-Party Group on Alcohol Misuse, are concerned about the information that is coming out on the assessment of those convicted, in terms of their drinking history. I refer to male drinkers between the ages of 16 and 24, who in relation to the social costs of drinking in this country are always viewed as a particularly active group of likely offenders, and to those whom one might term "addicts".

We should like to know whether there is any information so far relating to the effect of the scheme on those two groups. I take it that what the Minister said, and the welcome statistic that he gave on the reduction in offending, probably relates to the former group that I mentioned rather than to those identified as having a long-term drink problem, but I may be wrong. Perhaps in his closing remarks the Minister will be able to throw some light on that matter.

I conclude by saying that this is a welcome development which I fully support. I hope that in the future we shall gather more information and statistics on which we may base future action to help those with such problems.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, it is always a pleasure when experiments such as this prove successful. As a magistrate, it seems to me a sound and sensible provision to give courts the discretion to order someone convicted of drink-driving to attend a rehabilitation course. We on these Benches support this scheme, and we hope that it will go from strength to strength.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I greatly appreciate the support from all around the House for these measures and for the rolling-out of the scheme nationally. In response to the question of my noble friend Lord Simon, I assure him that when the permanent scheme is established we shall be conducting further research to evaluate best practice among the courses and to consider how the providers of those courses can continue to maintain high standards. We shall consider also how we may publicise the courses more widely and obtain more information on the nature of drink-driving offences.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, raised a good point about how we may categorise the different types of offender. It is not clear from the current statistics whether they can be divided precisely into the two types that he mentioned in terms of those who reoffend. That is something at which we shall be looking across the range of drivers. Of course, even addicts can change their behaviour in relation to their driving.

It may be of some consolation to the noble Viscount to know that the courses which we run are currently provided by a range of different bodies, including voluntary organisations in the alcohol rehabilitation field. Therefore, identified addicts' problems can be referred to other advisory services and hospitals by professionals. That is one of the many measures that we have taken in dealing with drink-drive problems which have brought the problem home in a small way so far but which will, we hope, do so in a greater way hereafter, to change the behaviour of drivers so that one-time offenders no longer offend.

We have had a substantial record in reducing the number of drink-drive fatalities and accidents over the past 10 years. This will be one more measure to improve that record. I thank your Lordships for your support. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.