Orders of the Day — Road Safety Bill
Mrs Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In 1964, the latest complete year for which figures are available, 7,820 people in Great Britain were killed in road accidents and over 95,000 were seriously injured. In all, more than 380,000 people were road casualties. This was the highest number in our whole history. And of these, 60,000 were children under 15 years of age.
Despite intensive efforts during the past year to make the people more road safety conscious, the figures continue to rise. From January to November, 1965, 6 per cent. more children were killed on the roads than in the corresponding period of 1964. The percentage increase in casualties of all kinds was three per cent.
These figures do not include the Christmas period. It is true that the provisional casualty figures for the four days of the holiday showed a slight fall compared with 1964, but a total of 3,500 killed or injured in four days is hardly a cause for self-congratulation.
This suffering and tragedy are not inflicted on us by an enemy. We inflict them on ourselves. Perhaps that is why we tend to accept them so complacently. During all the five years of war, Hitler did not manage to kill as many civilians in Britain as have been killed on our roads since the war at the hands of our own citizens. This is something which lies within our own power to correct and we ought to bring to it the same dedication of mind and heart as we brought to the winning of the war.
If we do not, this country faces something like a holocaust in the next 10 to 20 years. Today, there are 13 million vehicles on our roads. It is estimated that by 1970 the figure will have risen by 40 per cent. and that by 1980 it will have doubled. It is true, thank heavens, that road casualties have not risen in the past at the same rate as motor traffic. Since 1962, there has been an overall fall of 6 per cent. in the casualty rate per 100 million vehicle miles.
But this is largely due to the decline in the use of the most vulnerable classes of vehicles, especially motor cycles. The casualty rate for each class of vehicle is rising. In due course the beneficial effect on the overall casualty rate of the decline in the use of two-wheeled vehicles is bound to be outweighed by the underlying upward trends. By 1970, if the casualty rate continues to fall only at the average rate of the past three years, the number of killed and injured on our roads may exceed 500,000, about 80,000 of them children. By 1980, the figure might be nearing 1 million.
This appalling prospect must surely make us all ready to stop and think afresh about our responsibilities. We shall never reduce these figures unless we achieve a profound change in public attitudes. Recognising this, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser), my predecessor in what is sometimes called the "hot seat", gave a great deal of thought and study to this problem. He reached the conclusion that we must make a two-pronged attack on the hazards of the road. These were outlined in the White Paper which he published last December and are now embodied in the Bill which I am now presenting to the House, and in doing so I am conscious of how much I owe to the work which he did in this field.
The Bill falls into two distinct parts. The second, which deals with the condition of goods vehicles, will, I suspect, be relatively non-controversial, but the first, which deals with the condition of people, will, I gather, be very controversial indeed. We are all now ready to condemn lorries which go on the roads mechanically unfit. We support spot checks designed to discover mechanical defects, or overloading, which may not be immediately visible. But spot checks on ourselves designed to discover whether we are fit to drive—ah! that is a very different thing.
I frankly admit that Part I of this Bill proposes far-reaching changes in our law, but I do not apologise for this. I hope to convince the House that the methods which we propose are the only way of making an impact on one of the contributory factors in road accidents, drink while driving.
Of course, no one would pretend that this is the only, or even the major, cause of road accidents. Half our motorists do not drink at all when driving, and we should be very grateful to them. Others drink only very moderately. But there is a minority whose social irresponsibility endangers all the rest, and it could be a bigger minority than we yet realise, because we now know that drink impairs the ability to drive long before that impairment becomes visible. It does so by acting on the brain and central nervous system and research carried out both in this country and abroad has established beyond any reasonable doubt that the risk of accident increases as the concentration of alcohol in the body's tissues rises.
Until recently, it has not been possible to estimate the proportion of accidents which would not have happened if none of the drivers involved had been drinking, but recent studies in Canada, Czechoslovakia and the United States, and particularly that made by Indiana University, have shown that the average risk of being involved in accidents for drivers as a whole increases as the concentration of alcohol rises above about 40 milligrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood. At 80 milligrammes or more it is about twice as great and at 160 milligrammes or more it is twenty times as great.
Now, of course, individuals are affected by alcohol in different ways varying according to age, driving experience, drinking habits, and so on, but the evidence shows that at about a level of 80 mg. virtually all drivers are seriously affected. It also shows that if it were possible to dissuade all drivers from drinking while driving, there would be a reduction of accidents of between 5 and 9 per cent. Studies carried out by the Road Research Laboratory in this country confirm these findings and if we apply American results to British casualties we can see that we could prevent between 18,000 and 32,000 casualties by enforcing a blood-alcohol limit of 80 mg. Equally important, we could reduce the extent of injury where accidents occur, for we know that accidents in which drink is a factor tend to be the more serious.
Under the present law, a driver is guilty of an offence if his ability to drive properly is "for the time being impaired" by alcohol and the courts must have regard to any evidence showing the proportion of alcohol in the driver's blood or body. But the law gives the courts no guidance on the degree of impairment to be expected at different blood-alcohol levels and, except where an accident has occurred, prosecutions are rarely brought in this country at concentrations of less than 150 mg.
Moreover, we all know full well how many drivers on this charge are acquitted. As the White Paper points out, in the last quarter of 1964 in the Metropolitan Police District one third of the drivers committed for trial who had been shown by urine analysis to have blood-alcohol concentrations over 200 mg. were acquitted and nearly half of those with concentrations between 150 and 200 mg.
For all those reasons it is clear that, if we are to stop people from driving when their ability is impaired, we must define this condition much more precisely. That is why, in Clause 1, we create the new offence of driving or attempting to drive, when the proportion of alcohol in the blood exceeds the prescribed limit, and the prescribed limit is described in Clause 6 as 80 mg. per 100 millilitres of blood.
Clause 6 empowers me to vary this limit by Order, subject to the affirmative Resolution of both Houses, in the light of experience. This will help to meet the views of those who think that the limit is either too high or too low. The operation of the Act will help us to judge this, but, acting on the recommendation of the B.M.A. and bearing in mind the views of the Medical Research Council, the Government believe that the level which we have in the Bill is about right. At this level of 80 mg., these two medical authorities agree that the ability to drive of the great majority of drivers would be impaired, even if the drivers were not aware of it.
Of course, it is true that alcohol affects people in different ways, but, by taking the concentration of alcohol in the blood as our measurement, we allow for a large part of those differences because some people can drink much more than others before reaching a particular concentration—and it is the concentration which matters, because it is this which affects the brain and the central nervous system. Of course, it is also true that everyone's driving ability is not impaired to the same extent at the same blood-alcohol level.
Young people and those who are not used to drinking are more affected at low concentrations than those who are older or more regular drinkers. But beyond a certain point everyone's ability is impaired to an unacceptable degree and evidence shows that this is the case above a level of 80 milligrams. This is a fairly generous limit from the point of view of a man or woman who enjoys a drink. If they have had a good meal and are drinking in a leisurely way, and are used to drinking, it could take six pints of beer or six large whiskies to produce the prescribed limit.
I am not suggesting that this is a safe limit for everyone to drink up to. On the contrary, I want to stress that 80 milligrams is a limit above which all drivers, including even the most hardened drinkers, are an unacceptable risk to other road users.
Mr Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
Before the right hon. Lady leaves this point, I am sure that she would not unintentionally wish to give the wrong impression. She said that a person might drink as much as six pints or six whiskies. Will she also agree that for a woman weighing about seven stones it would mean one whisky?
Mrs Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I am trying to make it clear that I am stretching this to the limit to show that it is a generous limit. That is why it must be the maximum limit. This does not mean that everyone is able to drink up to this because the effect is different in different cases. We have tried to strike a fair balance and to those who think that the limit is too high I would say that it is better, when we are making a great step forward in our legislation and introducing an entirely new type of offence, to start with a level which rules out any possible injustice. I should have thought that this would be universally acceptable. We can adjust the limit later in the light of experience. In the meantime, the impairment rule of the present law will still apply at concentrations below this level if there is clear evidence that ability to drive properly is impaired.
Clause 1 also makes important changes in our legislation about the "in charge" cases. Clearly, the new offence must also apply to these cases, but if it does then two consequences follow. We want to encourage as many people as possible to stop driving as soon as they feel that they may have exceeded the prescribed limit. The purpose of this Bill is not punitive; it is preventive. I do not want to persecute motorists, or to catch them out. I want to stop them driving when it is not wise for them to do so. As the law on "in charge" cases now stands, the motorist has to establish two defences: first, that there is no likelihood of his driving while in an impaired state; and, secondly, that he has not done so since he became impaired.
The second limb of the statutory defence would clearly discourage the motorist from stopping, with the additional risk of being found by the police to be "in charge". Moreover, under the new law the motorist would have to prove that he had not driven since he committed the new offence of exceeding the prescribed blood-alcohol level and this would be more difficult for him to do. For both of these reasons we have decided that the interests of road safety would be best served by removing the need to establish the second line of defence in "in charge" cases, though the motorist will still have to prove that there was no likelihood of his driving.
It is true that the motorist ought not to have driven at all in that state, but I repeat that I am not out to punish for the sake of punishing. I am out to prevent accidents. For this reason random checks, to which I shall now refer, will not apply to the stationary motorist, although the police will be able to take action, as under the present law, if the driver is visibly impaired.
I now turn to Clause 2, which I know full well, is the most controversial in the whole Bill. The question we have to ask, assuming that we all accept the creation of this new offence, is how do we propose to enforce it? This is an entirely new offence and I would have thought that, by assumption, the old methods of enforcement would not be appropriate. The new offence depends solely upon having an excessive concentration of alcohol in the blood. A driver does not have to be visibly impaired, he does not have to be driving oddly, or to have had an accident. For this reason, this new law could not be adequately enforced by relying on the existing police power to act only when a driver is clearly and visibly impaired. How are the police to detect that the new offence has been committed?
I think that most people accept that there should be roadside checks at which the preliminary test can be made by means of a breath-testing device. This is reliable enough to indicate that there is a strong presumption that the blood-alcohol limit has been exceeded and that there ought to be a further blood or urine test at the police station. I know that there is strong disagreement about the method of conducting these roadside tests. How should the police proceed? By stopping any motorist at random or on suspicion that the new offence may have been committed?
The Government have given a great deal of thought to this point, and since taking office I, too, have given it additional thought. We have come to the conclusion that it would be far less invidious and less offensive to the individual to be stopped completely at random, without any stigma being attached to it, rather than to be stopped because he has been seen coming out of a public house, or even when he has committed a traffic offence, which is one suggestion that has been put to me. The sort of offence such as jumping the lights or crossing a white line are examples. In such cases a driver may not have been drinking at all.
If we have preliminary tests on suspicion, and this is what these amount to, then the presumption is that the driver has drunk more than he should and that is why he is being asked to take a breath test. Anyone seeing him undergoing the test will draw that conclusion. In the case of the random test there can be no such presumption. Anyone can be stopped at any time under any circumstances and be asked to take a breath test. Passers-by seeing that test being conducted will know that this is a decent citizen collaborating in carrying out a social duty in the interests of road safety.
If we want a deterrent, then there could be no more effective way than for people to realise that there will always be a possibility of their being asked to undertake a random test. I know that there are strong feelings about this, and we shall debate it fully in committee. But to those who maintain that there is a great principle of individual liberty involved, I say that there is no difference in principle between random breath tests and random tests on goods vehicles.
There may be some cases where the driver has good reason for refusing a roadside test, for example a doctor hurrying to an urgent case. Clause 2 enables him to establish a "reasonable excuse." But if he could not satisfy the court that his excuse was reasonable, it would clearly undermine the whole enforcement of the Bill if he were to go scot-free. The penalty provided for unreasonable refusal in this Clause is a fine not exceeding £50.
Clause 3 outlines the procedure to be followed when the result of the preliminary breath test has been positive and the driver has been taken to the police station to provide a specimen for the laboratory test. It is the result of this test, and not of the breath test, which will be given in court. We are, therefore, anxious that the laboratory test should be as accurate and reliable as possible. It is on this test that the establishment of guilt or innocence depends. That is why Clause 3(6) provides that the driver should first be asked to undergo a blood test as this is generally held to be the most reliable for this purpose.
This is not a gruesome affair these days. A perfectly adequate specimen of blood can be provided quickly and painlessly by a mere finger prick. To safeguard the motorist, we provide that the specimen must be taken by a doctor. But if for any reason a driver does not want to give a specimen of blood he may provide a specimen of urine. If there are difficulties about this he can again be asked for a specimen of blood.
Since these tests are crucial for establishing whether the new offence has been committed, refusal to provide a specimen of either blood or urine must obviously carry the same penalty as if the person concerned had been found to have exceeded the prescribed blood-alcohol level unless he can show reasonable grounds for refusing the test. Otherwise, the guilty person could escape conviction merely by refusing to give a specimen.
Mrs Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
It would be for the courts to decide and for the person concerned fully to explain the circumstances. I do not think that we can lay down any rigid definition, and we have not attempted to do so in the Bill, because this is a matter for the courts to decide.
Mr Raphael Tuck (Watford)
Clause 2(3) makes provision for a person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to provide a specimen of breath. Subsection (5) provides that if a person fails to give a specimen of breath when required to do so by a constable, the constable may arrest him. The subsection does not say anything about what happens if he fails to provide it without reasonable excuse. According to the Clause, even if he has reasonable excuse, the constable could still arrest him.
Mrs Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
That is not our reading of the Clause, but this is a point which should be examined in Committee. Clearly, we want to deal with anomalies which sometimes slip in owing to a Bill's wording. I think that probably my hon. Friend has misread the Clause.
Mrs Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
Yes; that is made clear in the Clause. I think that the motoring organisations will advise drivers to insist on a blood test, certainly to ask for it, because it is the most accurate and reliable, and therefore most in their interest. But if they have some objection to a blood test and prefer to give a urine sample, this will be acceptable.
An additional safeguard in Clause 3 provides that a person who has not had the opportunity of taking a preliminary test at the roadside must be given that opportunity at the police station. Therefore, an innocent person can clear himself by undergoing the breath test at the police station if he wants to and then he would not be liable to the penalties for refusing or failing to provide a specimen of blood or urine.
I need not detain the House by dealing at length with Clauses 4 and 5. Clause 5 applies the provisions to vehicles and persons in the service of the Crown and members of the Armed Forces. Clause 4 provides the same periods of disqualification for the new offences as for the parallel impairment offences under the existing Law. It also puts the new offences on the same footing as the old ones for the purpose of higher penalties on second conviction. I have already referred to Clause 6. So much for Part I of the Bill.
As I have said, Part II does not arouse so much, if any, controversy. For a long time the public have been demanding vigorous action to improve the state of goods vehicles on our roads. This concern has been aroused by the reports of accidents in which defective lorries have been involved and by the outcome of the spot checks on goods vehicles which my Ministry has been carrying out under the present law.
Here again, I have no wish to exaggerate. It would be quite wrong to suggest that our roads are full of "killer" lorries. Of the 139,000 vehicles which were inspected in the 12 months up to 30th September last, only one in 10 was in a sufficiently dangerous condition to warrant being taken off the roads immediately. Another 36 per cent. were found to have sufficient defects to warrant a delayed prohibition notice without being dangerous. But I am sure that we would all agree that 14,000 dangerously defective lorries are 14,000 too many. The serious point is that the figures show no improvement over the previous 12 months.
We must tackle this problem in a more far-reaching way. I know that the operators' own associations, which are fully aware of their responsibility to the public, welcome the steps which the Government propose to take. The first need, we suggest, is to submit heavy lorries to regular and more stringent tests. When compulsory annual testing was introduced in 1960 its operation was limited to vehicles over 10 years old and to motor cycles, private cars and light goods vehicles of less than 30 cwt. unladen weight. Since then, the age of vehicles for which annual testing becomes compulsory has been successively reduced, and now it applies to vehicles over five years old. But heavy goods vehicles have remained completely exempt. The Government believe that the time has come to include them, and in Clause 8 we have taken power by regulation to compel all heavy goods vehicles, of whatever age, to be tested annually.
This step is long overdue, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton for having put this in hand so quickly after taking office. The previous Government gave frequent assurances to the House that they were considering what should be done, but no firm plans were ever announced, and, from what was said in the House, it is clear that they were aware of the difficulties of attempting to fit the testing of heavy goods vehicles into the present testing scheme for private cars under which the testing takes place in private garages.
After careful examination and consultation with all the appropriate organisations, we have decided that to carry out this testing in private garages would be quite impossible. The testing of heavy lorries, particularly the very heavy ones like articulated vehicles, needs special facilities and equipment which private garages, however competent they may be, simply do not possess; nor, by and large, do they have the capacity. That is why we have decided to use and build special Government stations for this purpose for which we seek the power in Clause 21. We estimate that 60 to 70 stations will be needed if vehicles are not to have to travel too great distances. As the Financial Memorandum sets out, the capital cost is estimated at about £8 million, spread over a number of years.
Some sites have already been chosen, and we are pressing ahead with the preparatory work with the aim of having a nationwide chain of stations established by the end of next year. We have assured the garage trade that we do not intend to steal its staff to man our own testing stations. Instead, we have started discussions with the Ministry of Labour about recruitment and training of the extra staff which not only we but the trade itself will need if vehicles are to be maintained to the higher standards that we simply must have.
The proposed industrial training board for the road transport industry and for the motor vehicle repair trade will be of great help here. Both the capital and the operating costs of the testing scheme will be recouped from fees varying with the size of the vehicle, up to, say, £5 for a large vehicle. We shall certainly keep in touch with the interested organisations in working out the details.
That development enables us to tackle another very important road hazard, the overloading of goods vehicles. That is something which, under the present law, we have not been able to deal with effectively. To do it, we must, first, establish the maximum load at which it is safe for a particular vehicle to operate and then show that weight by a plate fixed to the vehicle. That will not only give us greater safeguards over braking but will also help reduce the congestion on our roads caused by the over-burdened lorry which infuriates every other driver by crawling up hills and holding up everything else on the road in the meantime.
Clauses 7 and 8 give me power to fix these maximum weights and to make plating compulsory. The aim is that when a particular vehicle is first tested mechanically, it will be plated at the same time and the weights shown on the plating certificate and the plate will remain in force for the rest of the vehicle's life. Thereafter, the vehicle will be subject to the Ministry's spot checks for overloading, just as for mechanical defects, and we intend to intensify those spot checks. We shall need extra weighbridges for the weighing, and the Ministry intends to operate about 100 of its own as well as making arrangements for using existing ones.
Clause 8 must be read in conjunction with existing powers of Section 64 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. I intend to extend the construction and use requirements under that Section by making it an offence to use a vehicle on the roads above its plated weight, and Clause 22(1) of the Bill increases the penalty for overloading from £50 to £200.
I have seen it estimated in one of the motoring journals that a lorry can earn its owner about £1,000 a year extra profit through systematic overloading. We believe that the knowledge that both the owner and the driver can be fined £200 for this offence may make the owner think twice about taking the risk. Moreover, loading above the new maximum plated weights will now be one of the factors which are taken into account by the licensing authority when deciding whether to revoke, curtail or suspend carriers' licences.
Eventually, plating may apply to all goods vehicles, but we intend to start with the heavier ones. Having built the Government testing stations and trained staff, we shall be ready to start annual testing and plating of existing vehicles by 1968. This will be done by groups of vehicles, starting with the oldest and by 1970 we hope that all the heavier vehicles will have been covered, irrespective of age.
In the meantime, we shall be preparing to deal with new vehicles under the type approval scheme outlined in Clauses 9 to 12. Under that system the Ministry will be empowered to inspect and approve a sample vehicle of a type which is about to come into production. The manufacturer will then issue with every subsequent vehicle of that type a certificate to the effect that it is of a type which has been officially approved, and it will then be an offence to put a new vehicle on the road without such a certificate. If the vehicle is not of a mass-produced type, then it can be given an individual approval certificate.
This new system will enable the Ministry inspector, when approving a lorry, to allocate plated weights to it, and the manufacturer will be able to give plates to identical lorries subsequently produced. The plates will rank as officially approved without the need for each vehicle to be inspected.
But the system will also have other very important advantages. It will enable us to check that our requirements about construction are being met. Some of these—protection against excessive noise, for example—have proved very difficult to enforce effectively under the present law. The type approval system will enable us to tackle them where they can be best enforced, at the manufacturing stage. We shall also be able to incorporate the higher braking standards which my working party has been studying and on which I hope to issue new regulations shortly.
Here again, I want to stress that in working out the details I shall keep in the closest consultation with the manufacturers and other interested bodies. I also want to stress that type approval will be granted against requirements explicitly set out in the Regulations. There will be no question of Ministry officials rejecting vehicles because they do not like the look of them. Clause 11 provides for appeals to the Minister, who can appoint an assessor to assist in hearing them.
It will not be possible to introduce the new scheme all at once. We may at the outset be able to deal with only those features of a vehicle which are relevant to its plated weight—for example, the brakes—bringing in other features of vehicle design step by step. I hope that the scheme will be got under way by the end of 1969, when we plan to have completed the plating of all existing vehicles. If the scheme works well for goods vehicles, I hope eventually that it will be extended to other vehicles, including private cars, though that would need fresh legislation.
All this is a big contribution to road safety, but by itself it is not enough. There is no substitute for systematic inspection and maintenance of their vehicles by the operators themselves. I fully admit that some operators provide adequately for this, but the associations themselves—the Road Haulage Association and the Traders' Road Transport Association—would be the first to agree that a substantial proportion of operators do not. The associations have done all that they can to impress their members with the need for improving the standards in the industry. They have set up maintenance advisory committees in most traffic areas to advise and assist their members on this, and the T.R.T.A. has initiated a maintenance inspection scheme of its own, which I welcome. But I am sure that it realises that it is to a large extent preaching to the converted. What we need is Government action to compel those who will not listen to come into line.
In Clause 17, therefore, I am empowered to make regulations requiring all users of goods vehicles to put into effect an adequate system of regular vehicle inspection and maintenance and to see that records of the inspections are kept and are available for inspection.
Clause 19 of the Bill follows the announcement made by my predecessor last June of his intention to reintroduce special licences and tests for the drivers of heavy goods vehicles. The scheme was suspended during the war and has never been revised. I am sure that we would all agree that it should be now.
The majority of heavy goods vehicle drivers have maintained high standards and they have built up a good reputation for themselves and their industry. But there is a minority which has let the industry down, as some of the accidents that have worried us all have shown. Besides that, heavy goods vehicles are developing more and more sophisticated control systems and these clearly demand a more advanced and more stringent test than the learner driver test, which is all that is needed at present. I am sure that the House will welcome the Clause.
There are many details of the Bill on which I have not had time to touch and which can be thoroughly examined in Committee. There are many other aspects of road safety on which we are working outside the context of the Bill. But the two parts which I have described are the most urgent steps on which we must concentrate and they will powerfully reinforce our armoury to protect users of the roads.
I repeat that our aim is not to persecute the motorist or the road haulier. Our aim is to encourage a new sense of our responsibility to each other when we use what is, after all, a potential instrument of death or injury. The Government must sustain and reinforce the good social behaviour of the majority, and I hope that this afternoon the House will give us the powers to enable us to do so,
Mr Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
The right hon. Lady made a most eloquent appeal for an urgent reduction in road casualties, and I hope that any criticism of the Bill in detail which I may express this afternoon will not be taken as evidence that we do not wholeheartedly support that appeal and its objective. Indeed, it would be most improper if any such suggestion were made.
The Minister has fully explained Parts II and III of the Bill. I had some points to raise on those parts, but she has answered a number of them. We were very late starting, and I think it would be better not to take up the time of the House by commenting on them. There are minor points for Amendment, and, of course, we shall have plenty of time for this in Committee. I hope, therefore, that the House will excuse me and understand that this does not mean that I am minimising the importance of Parts II and III. I turn now to the far more difficult matter, as I see it, of drink and driving, and in dealing with this subject I shall try hard not to become submerged in a sea of medical, legal and statistical jargon, in which I have swum for the last few days. In a word, I shall try to take a plain man's view, because I am sure the Minister will agree that it is the plain man who has to see the need for and justice of the Bill in whatever form it eventually reaches the Statute Book.
I do not oppose the principle of the Bill, nor indeed will we oppose any constructive and reasoned attempt to increase road safety and lessen the toll of road accidents, but the House must be sure that the methods which we use to achieve these objectives are right and that in no circumstances are reasonable people living sensible lives overridden by restrictions and controls which are either unnecessary or, indeed, counterproductive in what they seek to achieve.
The basis of the White Paper was the Indiana Study, and I want to say a word or two about it. The White Paper, leading from that study, claims that there could be a 6 per cent. reduction in road accidents if all who drank ceased to drive, but the House must note—I am not decrying the value of this Report—that it was based on breathalyser tests and not on direct blood tests. The breathalyser test has been rejected by the Government as exact evidence, and therefore it would not be wise to quote any of the figures of that Report, or indeed of the White Paper, too precisely. It is all good guidance, but it is not precise guidance.
I want to make a second point, and that is in respect of Table 3 of the Indiana Report, produced as Table II of the White Paper, although in slightly more graphic form. Table 3 is an "Estimation of the proportion of drivers whose involvement in accidents was attributable to alcohol." It shows a figure of 6·21 per cent., which is the figure brought into the White Paper, but I think the House must note—and it is only fair to note—that nearly half that figure, 2·52 per cent., is accounted for by those whose alcohol content was estimated at the remarkable figure of 160 milligrams, a level at which they could scarcely claim that they were not simply drunk. They are adequately covered by the 1960 Act, although prosecutions under that Act have been insufficiently successful, as the Minister said, and I do not argue that they will not be more adequately caught by the Bill, and so much the better. On that we are agreed.
But the fact that half the 6 per cent. is in this class of excessive drinkers is a strong reason for saying that the House should not clutch too easily at the 6 per cent. saving of accidents in assessing the effect of the Bill in respect of the great majority of those who drink and drive, nor assume—and this is important—that that majority play as big a part in the problem as the compulsive drinker, the addict, and it is the addict, the man who is in the top bracket, who must be the first target of the law.
I do not think that I need waste the time of the House by discussing things which are agreed between us. It is obvious now that the blood test will provide the best available evidence that we can get, and I think it can be agreed that the level recommended by the B.M.A. is the one which we should support.
The Minister stressed the remarkable differences in the effect of alcohol as between person and person, between different groups of persons, and indeed in respect of any one person in any different situation. Without wishing to reprove the Minister, I think it is a pity that she mentioned even one figure of equivalent, glass or tot, or whatever it is, because it is vitally important that all who have to tackle this subject from a personal point of view should never assume that so many drinks are safe and so many are not, because if we do that we may have an unpleasant surprise.
In all these matters—and I say this without offence—the White Paper can be accused of being a little selective. It tends to conceal the fact that drivers with an alcohol content of more than 80 mg. are in a very small minority. The Grand Rapids survey puts it at 1·5 per cent. of the totality of drivers tested, and the House will have noted a recent survey by the Automobile Association which, interestingly enough—it was not scientific, but it was a poll—showed that 50 per cent. of all drivers are either abstainers or say that they make a point of not consuming drink when they drive. Added to that, there are a large number of drivers who drink but who are capable of conducting themselves moderately in accordance with their habit and their constitution. Of these people, a large percentage are those who are likely to be favourably affected by propaganda, and indeed to be sharply affected by the existence of reasonably punitive legislation. They are by far the largest majority, but it is the small minority, the more or less compulsive drinkers, with whom we have to deal.
Before I come to the main burden of my speech, I want to deal briefly with some points on which I should be grateful for assurances from the Minister if they can be given today, or at least careful consideration in Committee. I agree that some of them would be of lesser importance if Clause 2(1), which deals with random checks, was drastically amended.
Clause 2(3) which deals with the failure to provide a specimen, or to stop, with liability to a fine on conviction on either charge, has caused much misgiving. It seems very sweeping, and most of that misgiving would be removed at once if the random checks were stopped. But I have to agree, and it is with reluctance that I do so, that if the Bill is not amended the argument for making it an offence to refuse the test or to refuse to stop is unanswerable. The Clause would be ineffective without it, but the fact is that that argument stands only because the system of random checks is wrong, and, therefore, one wrong creates another. If random checks are dropped and a condition is substituted that a constable must have reasonable cause for his actions, I should happily agree that refusal should be an offence.
However, whichever way that argument goes, I must point out that many people have written to me expressing their concern at the stopping of drivers—especially of women—on lonely roads by what may appear to be police in uniform, but which may be a trap, and has on occasion been a trap. It seems certain that a test carried out by any method must clearly be seen to be the work of the police; there must be recognisable lighted signs on the police cars fully in evidence. I do not believe that any check of this sort should ever be made—nor can there be any reason for its ever being made—on a deserted road.
Subsection (4) raises the question of the accuracy of the preliminary breathalyser test. I shall return to that question, because it relates closely to random checks. I want to ask a specific point about breathalyser tests. If a driver so wishes, will he be entitled to check the reading or to ask for a second test on the spot if he thinks that the first was wrongly performed? I shall show that it is quite easy to perform these tests wrongly and to produce incorrect results.
Under the provisions of subsection (5), a constable has power to arrest a suspect who refuses a test if he has
reasonable cause to suspect him of having alcohol in his body.
I do not know what the Home Secretary thinks about that drafting, or what any lawyer would think about it. It is certainly nebulous. It will be supported by the usual sort of statement that the constable noticed the smell of alcohol, or that the accused appeared confused. We can envisage a situation arising in which a motorist has got across the constable and there has been a certain fraying of tempers, on both sides, in which case the constable might well be tempted to invent an excuse.
What is the position if, after such an arrest following a refusal to take a test, it turns out that the victim—who admittedly has been pretty awkward—has a minimal quantity of alcohol in his blood? I am not sure whether it is good law, but it seems to be good common sense, that that man has reason to claim that he has been wrongfully arrested.
Clause 3(6,b) allows the option of providing a specimen of urine provided it is produced within an hour. The danger here is that the Bill specifies a concentration of alcohol of 107 mg. in urine as being the equivalent of 80 mg. in blood. The Minister will be aware that the B.M.A. has reported that this conversion factor is only an average and does not apply at all constantly either as between individuals or as between different states of those individuals at any one time.
If this is to be—as it must be—the only evidence submitted to the court, convictions will be wrongfully secured. Admittedy, others may escape, but we must consider the question of wrongful convictions. The B.M.A. recommends that a second and separate sample of urine is desirable, but this may not be obtainable within the hour specified in the Bill. We must study that point carefully in Committee.
Clause 6 also provides that a doctor must be present for the purpose of taking blood, but since evidence of impairment based on a clinical examination is no longer relevant it would appear that the police are under no compulsion to allow a clinical examination in any circumstances. Although I know little on this point, I am advised that a driver may be suffering from a medical condition which either simulates alcoholic intoxication or affects his ability to understand what is required of him by the police at that moment. It is put to me that it is essential that the doctor or the patient should be entitled to request a clinical examination in such circumstances.
Another point that has been fairly widely referred to concerns the argument that the police should not seek to obtain specimens from patients in hospital unless they use the services of a police doctor, with the consent of the hospital doctor in charge of the case.
I now come to the question of the accuracy of the clinical result, whether of the blood test or the urine test. That is separate from the question of the inaccuracy of the urine content figure. Conviction under the Bill depends on the blood ur urine test, to the exclusion of all other evidence. It is therefore imperative to ensure that the courts are given figures which they can accept without question. These figures must contain an allowance for possible error, in accordance with the recommendations of the B.M.A. In Sweden, where the law is notoriously repressive, this allowance is about 15 mgms., and I would not have thought that any smaller allowance should be accepted in this country.
The last of my miscellaneous points concerns the Minister's power to submit new Regulations. I hope that she will agree right away that there is no question of drafting new Regulations setting out different levels of blood alcohol without the fullest consultation with the interested parties—the B.M.A. and so forth—because that would be a very big step.
The most important part of the Bill from my point of view is that which deals with the random check. I want, first, to say something about the breathalyser. I have an Alcotest in my pocket, which I believe is the one most likely to be used. I do not propose to display it, because that would be against the rules of the House, although I believe that many hon. Members would be interested to see it. I want to quote from the leaflet which is packed with the Alcotest.
First of all, it claims that the result of a comparison between the Alcotest and a specimen blood test shows an accuracy of over 95 per cent. But in another part of the paper headed "Results of the test" it says:
The accuracy of the results depends on the fulfilment of the conditions of test given above.
I want it to be fully understood that I am not trying to belittle this machine or to make a mock of it, but these are matters which will require thinking about. The conditions are as follows:
It is therefore essential that at least 15 minutes should elapse between the drinking of alcohol and the taking of the Alcotest.
We all know that. Some authorities say that the period should be 25 minutes, and I shall be interested to hear which figure will be accepted by the Minister. The leaflet goes on to say that
The time taken, and the number of exhalations required to inflate the bag, is of significance. In practice it is not possible to inflate the bag in less than 10 seconds because of the resistance of the testing tube. A prolonged inflation time or repeated attempts at inflation give a false evaluation because of the increased proportion of tidal air in the expired sample.
I take it that that refers to quick gulps of fresh air. A person blows into the bag and when it is full the air is expelled by pressure back through the chemicals. It goes on to say:
The time of inflation of the bag should be 15 seconds plus or minus 3 seconds and the bag should be inflated by one breath only.
That is not very easy for flustered or nervous people. I am not belittling the instrument, but it is not easy to get hold of. Some of us—I say "us" as if I expect to be constantly found to be a guilty party—will regrettably become familiar with it and, therefore, perform these functions quite easily, but I do not see why we should all become familiar with it without good cause.
That leads me into my point about the random checks. Before I leave the subject of accuracy, I am told that the inventor claims about 5 per cent. false positive reactions, that is, reactions over the level, and 5 per cent. false negatives, although other users report a wider variation. It is therefore clear that the error inherent in the instrument when used for tests on a random basis, that is, with the great majority of people, who are likely to have less than an 80 blood content—98½ per cent. of drivers, according to the Indiana test—creates at least the lively possibility of obtaining a number of false positive reactions.
Even if only one in a hundred or one in a thousand people are affected, it is important. In such cases, following a random test, drivers who have not given any cause for suspicion, either by their driving or by their behaviour, must be taken to a police station and subjected to further unpleasant ordeals like blood or urine tests. Going to a police station under suspicion is, strangely enough, not really happily accepted by a great number of law-abiding people. It is a serious matter, and they may have to go simply because the machine is not sufficiently accurate.
Further, having taken these tests, they will not know the result for two or three days. One can imagine some perfectly ordinary person who has been to a party and who was most careful all evening and was sure that he was all right. He runs into the check and takes the test and is unlucky enough to have a false positive reading. For two or three days he has to endure the not inconsiderable agony of wondering whether he will suffer the disgrace—it will become more and more of a disgrace as the Bill bites—of being charged with being drunk.
I am not saying what happens to him in the end: he will be all right, and no doubt the test will be all right, but this will still worry people very much. I wonder whether the Minister wants to put any of her fellow creatures in that beastly situation of uncertainty without good cause.
I should like to look at the practicability of random sampling. Presumably the procedure will be the same as for vehicle testing: the police will draw vehicles off the road as their patrols can best manage it and the majority of vehicles in the traffic flow will proceed. I doubt whether any test which I have described will take less than a minute. Perhaps the time could be reduced if the instrument were practically stuck into one's mouth like a baby's dummy, but some care will have to be taken and drivers will have to be told how to use the instrument. If good relations with the police are to be maintained the operation will have to be conducted with tact and politeness, so each test will be fairly slow.
Therefore, the number of vehicles handled will not be very great. What happens with a positive reaction? I hope that these points have been studied in the Ministry, because it will be tremendously important for public relations. Will a driver be told to wait while others are tested, sitting miserably by the side of the road until somebody bothers to take him to a police station, or will he be whisked off to the police station in a vehicle? If the tests are as successful as the Minister hopes, there will have to be a vehicle or two available for this purpose. The driver will not be able to drive his own car, although he has already driven it quite successfully and capably. The fact that the breathalyser gives an adverse result means that he is potentially unsafe.
Another point which arises out of the 15 to 25 minutes delay which there must be before a breathalyser test is taken is that it is important that each driver should be specifically asked by the police whether he has had a drink during the last 25 minutes. That must be done. If not, if he takes the test, it proves adverse and he says, "Of course, it is wrong, because I have had a drink within the last five or ten minutes", the police will then be prejudiced against him. If he is asked that question, it puts him in an awkward situation, because if he says, unwisely—having had a drink within the last 15 or 20 minutes—that he has not, he runs the grave risk of an inaccurate positive reading, which he could not escape. If he says, "Yes, I had a drink five or ten minutes ago" he has to wait until the rest of the 25 minutes has passed.
In these conditions, the number of drivers tested as a proportion of those on the road will not be very great and, as I have said before, it must be constantly borne in mind that only 1·5 per cent. of those tested—about one or two in every hundred—are likely to show a true positive reading. In the meantime the traffic rolls by, and who is to say where the one or two per hundred are in respect of any check? I am not much of a gambling man—
Mr Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's argument closely, and it is a most reasoned one. What I do not understand is that he has told the House about the 5 per cent. margin of error which there might be in a breathalyser test—that it might get a positive reaction when there is not the required level of alcohol in the blood—but this seems to be an argument for better breathalyser tests and not an argument against the principle of having random checks by the police. Could the right hon. Gentleman make his position clear?
Mr Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
That is an important point. If anyone invents a breathalyser which is 100 per cent. perfect, the hon. Gentleman's point is made. But I am talking about the type of thing which is likely to be used as soon as the Bill becomes law.
I was about to say that I am not much of a gambling man, but there can be no question that the odds that this system will catch the one or two in a hundred are considerably long. The man over the danger mark, who is the most likely menace, may be driving home as best he can—or, sadly enough, weaving his way home, if he has had a little too much—unchecked because the police are too busy with a largely fruitless search to be on the alert for the careless driving of the man they really want. That is the real point of the argument.
There are problems here. First, I believe that the system of random checks, which I have tried fairly to describe, however carefully and methodically and dutifully carried out by the police—of course it will be—will become ridiculous. It will become something of a joke and drivers' experiences in a certain class will be spoken of as a joke in pubs and clubs the day after they have escaped an obvious check. The police will be the victims of the joke. It will be a gamble, too. The potential offender, as he takes one more drink, will persuade himself easily enough as his spirits rise—in more than one sense—that the odds are getting longer. The gamble, too, will be against the police.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) will be winding up the debate for the Opposition, and I will not poach on his ground, except to say that in the recent debate on crime, he stressed the need to maintain the respect of the public for the police and the equal need to see that their scarce time, already employed 50 per cent. on traffic duties, is used to the best advantage. This proposition for spot checks is no way to achieve that and I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary will bring all their guns to bear—if that is a tactful expression—on the right hon. Lady to see that this practice goes out of the Bill—
Mr Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
I have spoken for too long already. Indeed, I have taken note of a Motion on the Notice Paper stating that we speak for too long.
What I am saying is a perfectly simple matter; that the target of the Bill is specifically those whose blood shows more than 80 mg. of alcohol. These are the people who, by their actions, most clearly offend the law and most clearly cause the accidents. These are the people on whom the police must concentrate, and, therefor, the Bill should be amended so that the police cannot take this action—except, of course, after an accident—against a driver without good cause for suspicion.
Mrs Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
The right hon. Gentleman is missing the whole point of the Bill which is to create an entirely new offence, based on medical evidence, to the effect that a person's ability to drive is impaired without that impairment being visible or without even the driver being aware of it. It is no good saying that we want to accept 80 mg. as a limit unless we are able to enforce it. The whole point here is to detect something which is not visible by the normal methods.
Mr Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
The B.M.A. recommendation is to the effect that over the 80 mg. level one finds a class of drinker who is clearly a menance. I want the whole of the Bill and the resources of the police to be directed towards eradicating that menace. I do not believe that the spot check will do anything but waste the time of the police.
Mr Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
The right hon. Lady does not agree, but I am attempting to put this as reasonably as I can. There is no real precedent in law for this procedure; namely, that a subject whose actions have in no way given reasonable grounds for suspicion that he may have contravened the law should be compelled, on pain of penalty and arrest, to submit to a physical examination for the purpose of possibly establishing that he has committed an offence.
The right hon. Lady quoted vehicle checks. If that is the best precedent the Minister can give for this new proposition, she will have to think again. I have heard other suggestions or parallels. For example, the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), the former Home Secretary, is on record as having said that there is no difference here from the powers of the Metropolitan Police. Yet the Metropolitan Police Act—and the Liverpool Corporation Act, which is the same in this respect—empowers constables to make an inquiry of a person as to the possession of property only if there is reasonable ground to believe or suspect that the property has been stolen.
Similarly, the Customs and Excise Act has been called in aid, but here again, in one Section after another, there must be reasonable grounds for suspicion. Even in time of war a power as drastic as Regulation 18B of the Defence General Regulations imposed on the Secretary of State a duty that he should have reasonable cause to believe the person concerned to be of hostile disposition. In spite of these precedents, this Bill proposes that a constable in uniform can act without reasonable cause for suspicion.
The Minister was very eloquent and she appealed to our sense of urgency in this matter. However, the danger is that this new proposition is put to us in a situation in which the sympathy and sentiment of most people, including motorists, are in favour of the objects of the Bill. But it is an emotive situation, and it is in this emotive situation that the Government are instituting a method and procedure which will produce new restrictions on the citizen. I sincerely believe that they are both unnecessary and inffective. And the precedent, once established, will be increasingly hard to resist.
The Minister may argue that the public are so anxious to see a reduction in casualties that they will willingly submit to inconvenience. That maybe so, but we at least have a duty to see that such inconvenience is reduced to a minimum and that it is justly applied, not to the public at large but to potential offenders.
The right hon. Lady properly congratulated her predecessor on the groundwork for the Bill. I would have used precisely the same terms about her predecessor. But he was the father of the Ml. He had to have parental pride in it. However, it is not the present Minister's Measure. She has inherited it. I therefore appeal to her and the Home Secretary to help us to ensure that it will be a successful Measure, and I urge them to give an undertaking tonight that the random check will come out of the Bill.
Mr George Strauss (Lambeth Vauxhall)
I join with the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) for his responsibility for this excellent Bill. We all agree, even if we disagree with certain parts of the Measure, that it should do a great deal to reduce the number of road deaths in Britain and, plainly, its preparation was largely in the hands of my right hon. Friend, who deserves the thanks of the House.
I must at the outset say a word about my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and I speak as one who has had the longest experience of transport matters in the House, starting as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr. Herbert Morrison, as he then was, when he was Minister of Transport in 1929. I congratulate the new Minister on her presentation of the Bill and on her appointment.
Having said that, I warn her that when she spoke about her position as a hot spot she was making an understatement. There is no Government responsibility more difficult than that which must be carried out by the Minister of Transport. I have had long experience of this. My right hon. Friend has ranged against her a huge number of powerful interests all acting, as they believe, in the national interest—local authorities, unions, private car owners, national transport boards, private carriers and always the Treasury. She is faced the whole time with many grave, urgent and almost intractable problems.
We wish her luck and, from my experience, I say to her that to be a successful Minister of Transport she must have certain qualities. She must have an iron will, a razor-sharp mind, the persuasiveness of a snake charmer and the hide of a rhinoceros. I am sure that she has all those qualities. I am, perhaps, not quite so sure about the last one, but I am certain that she will acquire it, whether or not she wants to, during her occupancy of her present post. Having those qualities, we look forward to her achieving great things.
My right hon. Friend is fortunate to be introducing this as her first Bill, as she has the good will of everyone. Normally, transport Measures are highly contentious and raise party political passions. This one does not. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will share my pleasure that these proposals have at last come before Parliament, having advocated them over many years.
When the last Government Road Safety Bill was before the House my hon. Friends and I did everything we could to try to persuade the then Minister of Transport to introduce alcohol tests and to make it an offence for a motorist to have more than a certain quantity of alcohol in his blood. We were turned down. The Government of the day said that it was impracticable, that the difficulties were almost insuperable and that public opinion was against it. At last, after many years and after the British Medical Association made this recommendation in 1960, we have this Measure before us and we can look forward to this proposal being enacted.
What used to happen over and over again in those days was as infuriating as it was ridiculous. Public opinion was aroused every year by the huge number of accidents over Christmas and New Year. Questions were asked in the House with great indignation to the Minister of Transport demanding to know what he would do about it. The answer was always the same—that he would ask the Road Research Laboratory to inquire into those road accidents and ascertain their cause. Every time there came the result that everybody expected—that the heavy rate of accidents over the holidays was to a considerable extent due to the large amount of alcohol consumed during that period.
The Bill embodies the principle that it will be an offence for anybody who has more than 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to drive a car. Everybody is now in agreement; nobody says that this is wrong or impractical. I am glad to say that, as far as I can judge, the two motoring organisations, which sometimes are rather reactionary and which, in the past, have defended the interests of the motorist rather than the public interest, support this proposal.
It is suggested that the figures quoted in the White Paper are rather misleading. The White Paper tells us that 22 per cent. of the people killed during December, 1964, and January, 1965, were found to have a greater concentration of alcohol than 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood. That may or may not be a fair figure. If, however, it is roughly accurate and if one projects those figures throughout the year and assumes that nobody who drinks that large amount of alcohol will be driving, that would be the equivalent of saving possibly 1,500 deaths a year. That is a purely mathematical calculation. These figures relate only to the drivers of motor cars and motor cycles and take no account of the number of passengers or pedestrians who may have been killed.
I am not as optimistic as some people who suggest that the effect upon the death roll will be anything like as great as that, but I draw to the attention of the House a figure quoted by the British Medical Association in its 1960 Report, showing that it is not only the direct effect in preventing people drinking more than they should which may have a salutary effect upon the number of road accidents. It is also the psychological effect and the fear that people may be caught which has a substantial influence in road accidents.
I am referring to the experience in the State of Tennessee, in 1956, when random road checks took place for the first time. It was found that the mere existence of random road checks to see whether people had too much alcohol in their blood resulted in a reduction by 16 per cent. in the number of accidents on the roads in the subsequent year.
Mr Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
Regardless of what happens in Tennessee, the figures from which the right hon. Gentleman can quote as a result of that system, may I ask him to understand that my belief is that the more limited system will be more effective still?
Mr George Strauss (Lambeth Vauxhall)
That is arguable, but if we could get a reduction of 16 per cent. I should be very satisfied.
The main argument against the Bill will be, as the right hon. Gentleman has emphasised, that random checks are wrong, are against public policy and would not be as effective as a check upon those people who appear to the police to have, or whom the police suspect of having, too much alcohol in their blood.
First, I will deal with the general principle of whether this is an infringement of individual liberty which is unjustified and whether we should not accept the idea that sober people or those who may be teetotallers should be stopped on the road and put to considerable inconvenience by having to undergo the breathalyser test, and that this is contrary to our traditions of personal freedom and violate our ideas of the extent to which people should be molested by the forces of law and order.
I do not support that view. The principle of spot checks in other matters has been well established and in operation for many years. Spot checks are made on commercial vehicles the whole time. 130,000 such vehicles were stopped last year and the state of their maintenance checked.
Mr George Strauss (Lambeth Vauxhall)
That is not the case. They are definitely spot checked. Any vehicle is subject to check by a policeman who may stop it.
We are all inconvenienced as individuals by spot checks when we pass through the Customs, where sometimes we have to wait a long time. Although the Customs officer has no suspicion that we have offended against the law by carrying contraband, he stops us and examines our luggage. It is a spot check.
Mr George Strauss (Lambeth Vauxhall)
Not a bit of it. The right hon. Gentleman and I have passed through the Customs often looking, I hope, like perfectly respectable and responsible citizens and not smugglers. The Customs officer has no reason to suspect that either the right hon. Gentleman or I carry contraband. I never do, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not carry it either. The Customs officer has no reason to suspect, but, quite rightly, he wants to open my bag and see what I have.
Every citizen entering the country has the risk of a spot check being made. Therefore, the principle of spot checks, whether conducted by a policeman or by a Customs officer who has no suspicion whatever that an individual may be carrying contraband, is accepted and established.
Mr George Strauss (Lambeth Vauxhall)
That may be. I am talking about what happens in practice. In practice, the Customs officer can have no possible reason for suspecting me any more than he has for suspecting the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe when he asks us to open our luggage. In practice, therefore, spot checking takes place on a large scale, to the inconvenience of the public.
Whatever the legal position might be, I do not think, therefore, that we can morally object to spot checking if, in fact, it achieves the purpose of the Bill better than merely testing people whom a policeman suspects have too great a concentration of alcohol in their blood.
If someone drinks too much he probably thinks that he is likely to be asked to take a breathalyser test, only if he drives poorly so as to cause a policeman to have suspicion. He will say to himself, as nearly everybody does when drinking, "Well, I will be all right. My drink will not make me wander across the road. Therefore, the chance of my being picked up is negligible." Such a belief may, of course, be wrong. The probability is that if an accident happens it will not be when he is going down a straight road driving perfectly well, but when an emergency occurs, because he will be confident that he can drive without causing suspicion.
If, on the other hand, he knows that he may be stopped by the police anyhow, he will be more cautious. Someone suggested that the chance is only one in 100. Why should it not be less than that, perhaps one in 50? It would be far better as a deterrent that the spot check should be in operation rather than checking only on vehicles which are badly driven. The right hon. Member spoke about a gamble. From a gambling point of view deterrent, the spot check is very much better. It will be more frightening.
Are there to be sufficient police to carry out these tests in view of the other duties they have to undertake? Will they concentrate their efforts, or spread them in such a way that only one in 100 drivers are stopped, or will they go to an area and stop perhaps one in 15, 20, or 30 drivers? I ask the Minister what publicity it is proposed shall accompany this new system of testing blood and urine to make people understand what is happening, to make them willing to cooperate and, in particular, to make them understand that even if they take less than 80 mgs. per 100 ml. of blood that may not mean that they are fit to drive on the roads.
Is the safety propaganda—to be initiated, I hope, by the Minister through the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—to be better than it has been in the past? I express a personal opinion when I say that on the whole it has been poor and much of it wholly ineffective. I have not been much impressed by the one poster recently put out, which many people seem to like, saying, "Do not ask a man to drink and drive". I have never heard a woman ask a man to drink and drive, and I do not suppose anyone else has. That does not seem to be very sensible.
Are the motoring organisations, the A.A. and the R.A.C., which have enormous influence on the motorist, to take part in the propaganda to make the new system acceptable to the motoring public? This is very important. They should be asked to co-operate. Would it not be a good idea to make it compulsory for every public house and hotel bar not only to have a glass of water available for anyone who wants a drink, but a breathalyser on the premises? Then, if there is any doubt about whether anyone has had too much to drink he can give himself a test before going out. If that were done on a large scale, people would not think it humiliating, but exceedingly wise.
I do not want to take up time speaking about the rest of the Bill. Nearly all the proposals in it have been advocated for a long time. It is good to see that they are to be incorporated in legislation at last. However, whatever one does on the lines of legislation, whether by further tests of vehicles or by the new tests applying to individuals, the amount that can be done by legislation is inevitably limited. Responsibility must rest on the individual user, those who put cars on the roads, and in particular those who drive them. Our problem is not with the majority of road users who are competent drivers and do not drink much, if at all, but with the small minority, the addicts as the right hon. Gentleman called them, the really heavy drinkers who cause all the damage.
It may be that the provisions in the Bill will not have a salutory result by their direct application, but a more subtle and effective one in strengthening the climate of public opinion against their anti-social behaviour.
Sir Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire South)
This debate has started late and, therefore, I shall make no reference to Part II of the Bill, following the two right hon. Gentlemen who preceded me, but come at once to the part which I think arouses controversy and interest in all parts of the House.
The first thing I comment on is the Minister's description of the state of accidents on our roads. Of course, everyone must be disquieted by the number of accidents on the roads, but it is also right to remember that our record in Britain in this matter is one of the very best in the world. We have one of the lowest proportions of casualties to vehicle miles of any country anywhere.
Secondly, our record in this respect has been one of very great progress over the last 25 or 30 years. Without drastic and panic remedies, as the number of vehicles coming on to the roads has increased—I hope I shall not say anything which distracts the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary from his conversation—the number of accidents per vehicle mile has tended to decline. That is the true background against which we should see the problem we face. It is important that we should have that in mind because the right hon. Lady the Minister started by presenting to us a somewhat horrifying projection of the road scene for the future. I venture to doubt whether anything of that kind could happen, because if vehicles come on to the roads in the numbers expected, either the roads will be completely choked or they will have been improved.
If the right hon. Lady looks into this carefully, as I am sure she will, I think she will find that the very greatest contribution to safety on the roads can be made by improvement of the roads, in particular by the separation of vehicles going in opposite directions and the separation of vehicles from pedestrians. Probably, after improvement of the roads, the next greatest contribution can be made by procuring greater concentration on driving by those who drive. Nothing causes more accidents than the temporary dissipation of concentration whether by conversation inside a motor car or in some other way.
While, of course, we should address our minds to the question of drink and see what contribution we can make there to reducing the number of accidents on the road, whatever is possible there is on a quite different scale from the sort of figures the right hon. Lady put before us in her opening remarks. I am a little mistrustful when I hear a Minister of the party opposite saying, as so many have said in the past, that he or she intends to go into some undertaking as if it were a military operation. Again, I hate to distract the attention of Ministers from their conversations. I hope that if I do not speak too loudly I shall not disturb them.
The reaction of many people inside and outside the House to Part I of the Bill will be that there is a grave risk of acting in a mood of hysteria because there is a feeling that steps of a rather dramatic and drastic character ought to be taken. I am not sure that the right hon. Lady by Part I, and, in particular, by the randum checks, which is what I am really addressing my mind to, will effect quite the change in public attitude which she wants. I think that she may procure the exact opposite of what she wants.
I have taken a great interest in this subject for many years, as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) knows, because I think that we have been together on two major road traffic Bills in the past. I have a feeling that the general condemnation of the motorist, the mad dog approach to the motorist, the reference to the motor car as a lethal weapon and to motoring offences as ordinary criminal offences, is a habit of mind and of speaking which has gone on for a good many years and people have only just come to the verge of challenging it and objecting to it. On the whole motorists feel pretty vulnerable because there are so many accidents.
If the right hon. Lady goes ahead with this random testing, she will go over the line and will bring about a public reaction to the treatment of the motorist by the Executive and, if you like, by Parliament, and certainly by the police, which will surprise her and which, I think, will be justified. Motor cars are not lethal instruments. They are motor cars. Motoring offences are not ordinary criminal offences. They are offences of negligence, of neglect of duty in some way or another, and are clearly distinguished from offences of malice, of fraud, and of deliberate ill-doing.
The citizen who injures another citizen by his momentary lack of due care and attention does a serious thing, but no one serves any useful purpose by describing him as an ordinary criminal. He probably is not. He may be a most respectable member of a family who has no other wish throughout his life than to uphold the cause of law and order. Abuse of the motorist has reached the ultimate point. With the random checks the point is reached where we ought to stop and consider very carefully what we are to do.
The right hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall made a comparison between the random testing for mechanical efficiency of goods vehicles and the random testing proposed in the Bill of people by the road in public view to determine whether they have a certain proportion of alcohol in their blood. I do not know that in a speech which I want to be short I can successfully define the difference which I apprehend between those two, but I think I can say, as one does when challenged to define an elephant, that at any rate one knows an elephant when one sees it. It is perfectly clear to me that there is a most material distinction between stopping a lorry to spot-check it and stopping an individual by the roadside and spot-checking him physically to determine his physical condition, in full and open public view of any man, woman or child.
The figure of 1½ per cent. has been freely mentioned in the debate as being the proportion of people shown by a survey to be those who might be found to have more than 80 mg. of alcohol per 100 ml. of blood. I question that figure. If it were true that there were driving round 1½ per cent. of people with more than that amount of alcohol in their blood, this would be a serious matter. But when are the samples taken on which the statistics are based? Does anyone in his senses believe that, if these statistics were to be based on, say, the morning rush hour, 1½ per cent. of people would be found with that proportion of alcohol in their blood? It is an absurd suggestion. I very much suspect that those who take these surveys and who are very interested in the subject choose the sort of times which are most likely to be productive of interesting figures and that if the survey covered the general mass of traffic at all times of the day a totally different figure would result.
The right hon. Lady said that it is arguable that 6 per cent. of accidents are attributable in some degree to alcohol. Let us assume that this be so, though, again, I doubt whether it is accurate. However, if it be so, it must be remembered that nothing like that 6 per cent. is the prize of Part I of the Bill. The main yield or dividend from attacking drunkenness on the roads, is already covered by the existing provisions of the Road Traffic Act and all that the random testing would hope to catch would be those whose impairment by alcohol would otherwise escape detection unless they had an accident. That is the primary purpose of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) so correctly pointed out, if members of the overstrained police force are taken off the work of looking for motorists on the road whose conduct as drivers suggests that it might be profitable to stop them and are transferred to the task of stopping at random every twentieth driver, the dividend or yield from this operation will fall and not rise.
The Minister seemed to recognise some of the obvious objections and difficulties of her random checks method. She asked the House to suggest in what other way this system can be enforced. She challenged my right hon. Friend to say how he would enforce the new system, because, she said, by definition we are dealing with people who are to be punished simply because they have a certain proportion of alcohol in their blood; there is nothing to be seen; unless they are stopped at random, the whole operation loses its purpose.
That is not so. As the right hon. Member for Vauxhall said, we had debates about this on the last Road Traffic Bill. What was envisaged then and what could be envisaged here is that we should replace with a physical test of blood or urine the argument, which is very familiar to those in the practice of the law and who have to deal with these cases, as to whether the man was drunk or not and all the business as to whether he walked straight or was wobbling and, if wobbling along a straight line, to what degree was he wobbling, whether he could spell peculiar words, and whether he could repeat odd tongue-twisters.
That is completely independent of any question of random checks. That is when a motorist, as under the existing law, is stopped because someone, usually a policeman, considers from some observed fact that his driving is, or may be, impaired by reason of alcohol or drugs, and the issue is whether or not he is guilty. We all know that there is a great deal of coming and going in regard to the number of motorists whom juries acquit. I do not quite agree with all the criticism. Nevertheless, that is what the debates were about when we considered the previous road traffic Measure. I do not think that there was ever more than a passing reference, even if that, to random checks.
I therefore submit to the right hon. Lady that Clause 1 introduces this very striking change—not wholly controversial—and we can see how it works. But it is a completely false argument to say that this very large change in the administration of the law must be accompanied by random checks. Indeed, I believe that, on general grounds, this is a most objectionable innovation, and I do not shrink from saying that I regard it as a great infringement of personal freedom.
The Minister did not actually use the phrase, which is so depressingly familiar in these discussions, that no price is too high to pay for a reduction in deaths or injuries on the roads, though she rather implied it by her argument, as did the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. It is an absurd statement. If it were true, we should stop all vehicular traffic on the roads. That would stop all deaths and injuries on the roads, and if no price is too high to pay we should be prepared to pay that price. We all know that it is nonsense; that there is a price too high to be paid for a reduction in road deaths and injuries, and it is only a lack of frankness that sometimes prevents us from expressly saying so.
In my view, the price exacted by the random checks is higher, so far as my own choice goes, than I am prepared to pay for any reduction of deaths or injuries that it might yield, though I do not believe that it would yield a reduction. I do not believe so, but I do not shrink from saying that even if it were the case I am not prepared to pay that price.
The right hon. Lady said that the random check was a good thing because it removed any sense of suspicion or guilt from the person being tested. She said that passers-by, watching the test, would know that it was just a respectable citizen being put through the hoops in accordance with routine because—and I took down her words—"Anyone, at any time, in any circumstances, may be stopped." I think that the ultimate test here is for each to ask himself how he would feel about being stopped. I think that it will be regarded by most people as a humiliating experience—and it will be a humiliating experience.
We have reticences in this country which are not universally shared. We should regard it as somewhat undignified to be stopped at the side of the road and made to blow up one of these beastly little balloons. If I were asked to blow one up in one breath in fifteen seconds, plus or minus three seconds, I would feel it not only undignified but a little difficult. As my right hon. Friend so cogently demonstrated, there is 5 per cent. of false positives—or rather, that is the claim of the inventor of the device, and it is not unreasonable to think that that is the most optimistic estimate and that those not so closely concerned with it might take a rather different view.
That means that five people in every 100 will have a wrong positive test. They will be taken to the police station, but may have to wait at the side of the road until a police car is available to drive them off to the police station, where they will be forced to undergo further tests, the results of which will be unknown to them for two days.
That is quite a price to pay—quite a price. I must say to the right hon. Lady that the average British person—and 50 per cent. of persons, as motorists, do not drink at all—I am one of them—and the great majority of the rest drink in such minimum degree when driving that apparently they are not really concerned as possibly guilty persons—will regard this as a grossly insulting and offensive procedure. And he will be right.
The function of the police is to detect the guilty, and to detect the guilty inside the rules that the rest of the community choose to make for the operation. It is not their job to spot-check innocence—or rather, to cross-check innocence. Of course, we can stamp out crime fairly easily if we are prepared to sacrifice a vast area of personal freedom, but the question is: what sort of country do we want to live in?
Is the most important thing in the world that we should all stay here as long as possible, so that no price is too high to pay to reduce the toll on the roads, or do we want a country in which we are proud and happy to live? I have no hesitation in saying to the right hon. Lady that I really hardly care how many accidents are prevented by it, this is not something that I am prepared to support. I think that the Executive are getting a little above themselves in proposing things like this to Parliament; and that the public will think so, too.
What is perhaps more unfair is that the public will think that the police are getting a little above themselves. That is very unfair, because so far as I have been able to discover the police do not want this check at all. It is being wished on to them by experts, who get wrapped up in their subject and think that nothing is more important in the world than making progress in their own chosen field of interest and arranging things more methodically, and planning things better. But the main odium will fall on the police.
The thing above all that is corroding relations between the public and the police is the duty of the police in relation to road traffic. That is the great destroyer of good feelings between public and police; and this provision will be the last straw. It will, I am afraid, prompt a good many people to regard the policeman as their enemy instead of as their friend and protector. For that reason, also, I am most sorry that this proposal should have been made to the House. At a later stage, when I can vote against it without voting against the rest of the Bill, I shall certainly do so—alone or, as I hope, in the company of many other hon. Members.
Mr George Pargiter (Southall)
It is probably true that all laws are restrictive. To some extent, all laws interfere with the liberty of the subject, and the more complicated society becomes, the more and more laws are passed which become more and more restrictive of the liberty of the individual. We must accept that as something that is bound to happen in modern society. Our concern in Parliament is to see that what is done is reasonable, and will not inflict any undue restriction on the liberty of the subject. It is on that basis that we must consider the present position.
Everyone accepts that there are far more road accidents than there should be, and that something must be done. It is also an accepted fact that a vast number of these accidents are due to motorists having had too much to drink. We start from there in considering what sort of legislation we need to be able to improve the situation.
The fact remains that everything done up to now has not materially improved the situation. I am not sure, technically, whether the level of 80 milligrammes of alcohol in the blood is the right figure. The British Medical Association says that, on the whole, it is on the high side. Thus the Minister has erred rather on the high than the low side so that a greater number of people can escape the trap than will fall into it; but that is probably the right thing to do.
Nevertheless, this does not alter the fact, about which I am seriously concerned, that a person with below 80 milligrammes of alcohol in his blood might well be impaired. But unless he can be found to be driving dangerously he will not be liable to any penalty or prosecution. Frankly, I do not know of any way out of that situation. Once we begin to fix arbitrary levels, it is difficult to depart from them either way.
It has been argued that people with higher content than 80 milligrammes in their blood have been able to get away with it under present procedures. Certainly, I think that it is a good thing that the number of arguments in court about whether a person is capable or incapable will be reduced in this respect. The acceptance of a limit is thus a good thing in itself.
When a spot-check is made, how will a person who is pulled up and found, on a breathalyser test, to have a prima facie case against him get to the police station? Will a police car take him? Will a police car be available at spot-checks? We want something firmer on this aspect. We shall want a provision whereby the person involved may allow a police officer to drive his car to the station. That would certainly be the quickest way, especially if that person was allowed to drive his own car home after further examination at the station.
Certainly, if I were stopped and had to go to the police station for further tests, I would much rather a police officer drove me in my own car. That would be a far more satisfactory way to proceed than to go in a police car. These are all matters which must be taken care of in the interests of the individual citizen. Being stopped like this will be regarded by most people as a stigma and unless we include careful and sensible procedures the public will soon quarrel with the police about the operation of the Bill.
Many factors must be taken into account. I do not like random checks of any kind. But will someone tell me precisely what can be done over and above what is now permitted to be done, apart from using the breathalyser, in order to deal with the person who should not be driving but who, to all intents and purposes, appears to be capable of driving?
Nothing has been said by right hon. and hon. Members about any reasonable alternative proposal. I would certainly welcome one, as would the motoring organisations. They accept the idea that people who drink should not drive. An alternative method to random checks would be welcomed by the motoring organisations, and I am on their side in that respect. But in the absence of anything else, spot-checks will have to be tried.
If the system does not prove satisfactory, then the Minister will have to come back to the House in sackcloth and ashes and say that we must try something else. Incidentally, I would like to see Ministers sometimes prepared to admit that they have been wrong. But it is very unusual for them to do so. As I say, this new method must be tried. I do not welcome it, however, although I recognise the near-impossibility of doing otherwise. I recognise, too, that this proposal represents an encroachment on the liberty of the subject over and above what has been done before and it is only because of the nature and the urgency of the problem that I can give it my support.
I have been connected with the heavy motor vehicle industry for 40 years. Many of us in the industry were asking for plating of vehicles before the war. In the 1930s we suggested that this was one of the ways in which overloading could be prevented. The manufacturers were among those who advocated it. But successive Ministers always refused to do it and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on at last bringing in the plating of vehicles, which will show whether or not there is a prima facie case of overloading.
Vehicles which appear not to be overloaded very often are and there is usually a long argument in court about it. If a vehicle is plated, one need only put it on a weighbridge and there can be no question about the matter. I hope that this provision will have a considerable effect in stopping overloading.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the proposal to approve types of vehicles. I am sure that this will be generally welcomed. At present, the procedure is by more or less willy-nilly inspections at particular times, when 100 or even 1,000 vehicles might be involved. The inspector may pick up something and say, "We are not approving this", and thereby affect a whole range of vehicles. But if these things are sorted out beforehand and there is type approval of vehicles, it will be generally helpful to the industry and certain standards will be implicit in design, which will tend more towards road safety.
I welcome the Bill, with some reservations on the random spot-checking. I hope that someone will suggest an acceptable alternative I shall be able to support. But I see no alternative at the moment.
Dr Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I am sorry that I failed to notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) was trying to catch my eye last time. Sir Richard Nugent.
Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That puts me all the more on my mettle to be quick.
Whilst, of course, I support a Bill to improve road safety, I shall depart from the right hon. Lady on Clause 2. My answer to the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) is that there is a solution. It was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne). It is that Clause 1 makes a very considerable advance in dealing with drink and driving.
One of the major problems today is the difficulty, to which the White Paper refers in paragraphs 20 and 22, of getting convictions of obviously drunk drivers, and undoubtedly the definite level set at 80 mg. of alcohol in the blood will help to secure convictions in cases where there should be convictions. I welcome that.
There are cogent arguments against the system of spot-checking, and I want to turn directly to them, but not before I have said to the right hon. Lady that I warmly support her intentions. I had the pleasure of serving for three years in the Ministry, and I know how heavily the problem of road safety weighs upon all who serve her. I warmly support her broad intentions.
Most of the Bill seems quite admirable, but, on balance, I do not think that the right hon. Lady is going to get this provision about spot-checking.
The right hon. Lady claimed that most people would accept the need for roadside spot-checks. But already there has been a very strong reaction from the motoring organisations. I agree that they are usually rather defensive in their reactions. I am on the Committee of the R.A.C., and I do my best to see that we take a positive view of things. The fact is that these organisations speak for millions of drivers, and together the drivers make up, if not the majority, precious near the majority of the whole adult community. Therefore, the R.A.C. and the A.A. speak for a very large number of people, and I believe that they are right in what they have said about this matter.
I do not propose to develop what has already been said about resentment because of interfering with the liberty of the subject. However, I am very glad that the Home Secretary is here to hear me say that what I regard as very important will be the resentment against the police in the carrying out of these tests. The right hon. Gentleman has just taken on his very onerous office, and he has the best wishes of everybody, but he more than anybody else in the country must be very conscious that at this time we are in a crime wave the like of which this country has never seen, and it must still be in the balance whether it will be possible to command the strength and skill to control and defeat this crime wave.
One of the vital factors in doing that must be the measure of support which public opinion gives to the police and the extent to which the average man in the street feels that the law is his law and that it is his concern to uphold it, and the extent to which he sees the policeman as his trusted friend and protector. This general support is a vital factor psychologically and physically in the degree of support which many brave men and women give to the police when actually in action. Without that we all know that the difficult and dangerous job of the police is impossible.
I am sure that the Home Secretary will confirm that recruitment must be gravely handicapped when public opinion of the Force is adverse. It is true that in the last year or two there have been signs of improving public opinion, after a rather bad patch in the post-war years, but if Part I of the Bill, especially Clause 2, is put on the Statute Book, the police image will be damaged in the eyes of all the drivers in the country. Instead of regarding the policeman as being on his side, so to speak, the driver will regard him as being somebody on the other side, and that is completely the reverse of the attitude which we are trying to get. The policeman will seem to be an officious and interfering person and the driver will be resentful towards him.
It is not a bad thing to remember that although we in Parliament put laws on the Statute Book, they are put there by consent of the nation, by the consent of the majority, and ultimately it is the weight of the nation's approval behind an Act which makes it a reality in practice. It is the weight of the approval of the whole community which gives it authority and force, and it is the weight of the community's disapproval of an offender which supports the police, the arm of the law, and which makes the work of the police possible.
No one should assume that support for the law and condemnation of the offender is automatic. Our history is littered with examples of unpopular laws which have become dead letters. We need look no further than the traffic laws for the parking of motor cars. Everyone knows perfectly well that until we introduced the meter system we got no enforcement whatever. The police simply did not wish to implement those laws. They felt that to do so was a difficult and unpleasant job which made bad relations with the public. The result was that, practically speaking, those laws were unenforced. That is typical of what happens with an unpopular law—it is simply not enforced.
If the law in Clause 2 is put on the Statute Book and there are spot checks, I dare say that it would fall by the wayside, as have other unpopular laws, but the point I am making is that in the meantime the loss of confidence in the police and the change of the relationship between the driving public and the police would be a dangerous and damaging blow.
The reaction of the Police Federation when these plans were announced was soon. The Federation asked from where the men were to come to do this work. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) will develop the other point, that if these spot checks are to be carried out effectively they will have to be done on quite a large scale and quite frequently. No one has told us how many men would be required each time, but a number of policemen would have to be on duty at each spot check. This would mean a considerable diversion of the strength of the police force from the prevention of crime to dealing with these offences, and that would be quite the reverse of being in the public interest.
I accept that the right hon. Lady might produce some marginal gain from these proposals, although nobody knows. However, I do not believe that, with the expense of embittering the relationship between the driving public and the police, we would have a net gain in the overall life of the country and in the interests of law and order. I believe that we would lose out.
I put it to the right hon. Lady most earnestly that her Bill would be greatly improved if she stopped these provisions at Clause 1. That would be a substantial advance, because it would make sure that the worst offenders were convicted when they are now getting away with it again and again and she would produce a Bill which would receive the support of the whole country, including the whole driving public.
Mr Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
It is not surprising that every speech so far, almost including the Minister's, has concentrated on Part I, because the tragedy and drama which follow accidents caused by persons who have been driving under the influence of alcohol is newsworthy and the proposed new penalties and tests are somewhat dramatic. However, I hope that the House will not forget Part II of the Bill which deals with goods vehicles. If the novelty of Part I attracts a great deal of attention, we should not forget the continuing tragedy which lies behind the proposals in Part II.
I note in parentheses that the White Paper on Road Safety, Cmnd. 2859, which was published only a few weeks ago, refers to the proposed new Regulations governing the brakes of lorries. An inquiry which I made of the Ministry leads me to understand that these Regulations will not be coming forward for some months yet. I am sorry about this, and later I shall refer to a case involving defective brakes, a case upon which I wish to pin many of my preliminary observations.
The ultimate sanction against people who drive lorries or cause lorries to be driven when they are defective and unsafe is the revocation of the licence to operate road haulage fleets or vehicles. The figures mentioned by my right hon. Friend, which are available in the annual reports of the licensing authorities, show a progressive but minimal increase in immediate prohibitions which have been attained as a result of vehicles being examined by her Ministry's officers and, presumably, the police.
In the 12 months 1963–64, something fewer than 118,000 vehicles were examined, 9·5 per cent. of those examinations resulting in immediate prohibitions. In the 12 months ending 30th September, 1965, 139,000 vehicles were examined. Of that number, 11·5 per cent. were served with immediate prohibitions. This figure should be qualified to some extent by the increase in the number of registrations. They are not quite as bad as they appear to be, but they are bad enough.
Part of my case will be to show that there is the other sanction, the revocation of the licence, which is not being applied often enough. In 1963–64, three licences involving four vehicles were revoked. In the 12 months ending 30th September, 1965, out of 132 prohibitions, 86 concerned A and B licences and only three were revoked. This power of revocation was referred to in the Geddes Report in paragraph 2.43, which said:
A licensing authority has power to revoke, suspend or curtail a licence…for…a single conviction or prohibition for an offence of a wilful or particularly dangerous nature.
To the ordinary person the figures for revocations of licences bear no relationship to the seriousness of this problem of defective vehicles on the road.
There is a social aspect to all of this. Many hon. Members will have read a series of well-informed and well-documented articles which appeared in the Sunday Times towards the end of 1964, when evidence was given in support of that newspaper's general contention that much of this trouble was attributable to the laxity of the so-called "cowboys". I have never quite understood what the term "cowboy" means. In this context it could mean an owner-driver or even a man owning two or three lorries of dubious maintenance quality. The more I look into this problem the more I am convinced that these so-called "cowboys", and more especially their drivers, are not necessarily the worst offenders. The Sunday Times performed a public service in bringing this matter to the attention of the public. I was not sure at the time whether it was anti-cowboy or pro-big business. This matter has been taken up in a very sensible way by the Sun newspaper.
One has to examine the degree to which drivers of lorries are subjected to coercion by their employers. I know that certain trade unions have been studying this for years. I have a lot of
evidence which has been sent to me about the positive blackmail to which some drivers are subjected on the general principle of "if they won't drive the lorry, they lose their job". In one of the articles in the Sunday Times, there was the case of a driver called Brenton who, on oath, described the treatment to which he was subjected when the brake pedal cylinder of his lorry became defective. He reported this to his employer who was annoyed about the delay over the lorry and told him to get on with the job. He refused and a replacement was promised for the next day, after some discussion. The spare was delayed and the foreman at the garage where the lorry had been taken said that the employer had demanded that the lorry should be sent back in its defective condition. The foreman told the lorry driver:
Your gov'nor is a bit of a bloody nit. He only expects me to put the old cylinder on and send you on your way.
It is a bit of a joke, I know, but the fact is that it conceals a most dangerous action and attitude. Once again I quote from the Sunday Times:
Late on Wednesday I rang my employer again. He said: 'I want you to bring it down.' I said: 'No, I am not driving something without brakes.' The employer said: 'Well, I'd do it. Other drivers have done it. If you can't, I'll get someone who will'.
I have examples of other cases. A lady in my constituency, whom I do not know personally, wrote to me about a case, to which I am going to refer later, involving the death of four children and two adults. In her letter she said, and this is the only party political point I can be accused of making:
I have an uncle who has been a driver for private companies and also for B.R.S., and although he is not a Socialist, he admits that he often had to risk his life and others in the lorries he took out for many private firms. (He was made to or he would have lost his job.) But in B.R.S. he would have been dismissed if he had knowingly driven a defective lorry.
I could go on quoting cases, but I hope that I have made my point. I feel very strongly that many drivers are subjected to positive blackmail. My chief complaint against the existing law, and certain provisions of the new Bill, is that the penalties for having a defective lorry on the road are wholly derisory. Clause
15 of the Bill provides no sort of alteration of penalty for this offence. The penalty remains at £50, a figure which I would ask hon. Members to remember.
As I understand the law—and I am glad to see that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General is on the Front Bench—magistrates have no power to refer cases to a higher court even if in their judgment the maximum penalties they may impose are wholly inadequate for a given offence. This is the tragedy of the situation. If the law prescribes a maximum penalty which is inadequate, what can a bench do if cases are referred to it under regulations procured under the Road Traffic Acts? I challenge any hon. Member who is not a departmental specialist, or ex-departmental specialist, fully to grasp the complexity of the Road Traffic Acts, 1960 and 1962, and the multiple regulations which derive from them. It is the 1960 Act which is the principal Act in the Bill we are now discussing. I am not at all sure that it can be said that the law as it stands is either understood or greatly honoured.
In my local newspaper, the Tamworth Herald, there was a case reported recently of a lorry driver who was extremely annoyed when pulled up by the police because he had a series of defects in his lorry, including a faulty speedometer. He said:
The law was an ass.
This is nothing very original, and we have all heard it before. One lorry driver is one thing, but when this attitude is supported by professional organisations then I begin to wonder. There is a journal called "Road Way", which is the official journal of one of the road haulage organisations. In its edition of January 1962, in reporting a case in Northumberland, it said that the defending lawyer complained that his client was being prosecuted because the police had examined the time sheets attached to the log sheets.
It is true that the law demands only that the log sheet shall be examined and not the time sheet. This is a matter which I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to examine, because this lawyer finished by saying, "Never show your time sheet to a traffic examiner." Yet I have seen evidence that it is on the time sheets that many of the abuses take place. I would ask my hon. Friend whether something can be done to amend the Bill to tighten either what is already provided in the Road Traffic Act, 1960, or insert something new in the Bill to ensure that this sort of evidence is available to the police or examiners.
I should like to refer to the particular case which made me interested in the problem of the enforcement of maintenance discipline in this industry. I want to measure my words very carefully. I do not want to carry on a vendetta against the firm which was convicted, let alone against the driver. What I complain about is the judicial system which permitted a firm to employ a driver who drove a lorry, one of three defective lorries in that firm's garage, which was involved in an accident which caused the death of two adults and four children. It is very easy, I know, to accuse one of being emotional about a case involving children. I hope that hon. Members will acquit me of being too emotional about this case, but it exemplifies what can go wrong.
In this case, the driver, a man called Brown, was put on trial at the assizes. He was eventually fined £25 and his licence was endorsed for 10 years. I am sorry for this driver—deeply sorry—because what he must be suffering mentally must be very serious indeed. During the course of the trial, before Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones, there was obviously a great doubt in the judge's mind about whether, in charging this man, the real villain of the piece was on trial.
I want to quote a few lines from the court proceedings:
Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones: So it is not that this man failed to report that the brakes were in this state. He was sent out with a vehicle with brakes in this state.
Mr. Pratt, who was prosecuting for the police, replied:
That is undoubtedly the position.
Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones: What has happened to the employer?
Mr Pratt: The Information has been laid under the Construction and Use Regulations"—
which carry a maximum fine of £50—
charging him with using the vehicle in a dangerous condition. It is a Limited Company.
Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones: Have you read the decision in the Court of Criminal Appeal where the Court has given a ruling that persons
can be charged with being an accessory before the fact in manslaughter?
Mr. Pratt: I have not read it.
Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones: Why cannot he be an accessory before the fact to dangerous driving?
Mr. Pratt: He might be that. I should like to consider it.
Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones went on to say this:
But if it be the fact the employers sent this man out driving a large lorry with brakes in such a state as to be practically worthless, I should have thought their share of the blame is greater than the driver's. If that is right, it would be right to charge him with being an accessory before the fact to dangerous driving. I should think it would be a very good thing and a salutary thing. We cannot send the Limited Company to prison, but there are other steps which can be taken which are quite adequate.
I emphasise that point because of what happened subsequently. The public thought, and I thought, that that firm would be subjected to some form of indictment proceedings. I tried to find out what was happening, but I was properly told that I could not raise this matter in the House because there were further proceedings. It turned out that the firm was going to be charged under the traffic regulations of 1963, which carry a maximum penalty of £50.
The evidence, which I heard myself in the court, certainly did not convince me that that firm should not have been indicted, possibly under the 1960 Act, which permits the licence to be revoked. This is what will hurt these employers—revocation of the licence. Why did not that happen? Why was this firm put on a charge in a magistrates court to which it immediately pleaded guilty and which carried this derisory fine? I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General or my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will answer this. Justice does not seem to have been done in this case, and I do not think that it was done—I am measuring my words—because the firm was not tried on a charge which carried much more serious penalties, which I think it should have been.
I do not wish to make heavy weather of a case which, as far as the firm and individuals are concerned, is now over and done with. What I am pleading for is amendment of Clause 15 of the Bill. I do not think that the public expects that this sort of case, involving the death of six people, should be considered judicially in a lower court with such minimal penalties. Revocation of licences and references to a higher court are imperative in such cases.
Mr Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
Some hon. Members may not have been present when my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General answered a Question on this case in the House yesterday. My right hon. and learned Friend, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), said:
The Director of Public Prosecutions caused careful and extensive police inquiries to be made and discussed the case with me on several occasions. We came to the conclusion that, on the evidence available, the only proceedings which could be brought with a sufficient prospect of success against the company and its transport manager were summary proceedings for a contravention of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1966; Vol. 724, col. 400.]
I would emphasise the words "with a sufficient prospect of success". If my right hon. and learned Friend and the Director of Public Prosecutions had felt that the sort of proceedings to which my hon. Friend has referred—that is, proceedings on indictment—had a reasonable prospect of success they would certainly have been initiated.
Mr Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
That is a matter of opinion. I bow to the superior legal knowledge of my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope that I am not sounding offensive. All I can say is that I heard the evidence in the magistrates' court. I must not quote the observations of at least one senior policeman. I repeat what I said, that justice does not seem to have been done in this case. The fact that there were three vehicles in a dangerous condition in that firm's garage, the fact that there was contradictory evidence about the maintenance of log sheets, the fact that there was a straightforward disagreement between the senior director and the reputed traffic supervisor lead me to suppose that the public would have been better satisfied had this case gone before a judge and jury, as was suggested by Mr. Justice Glyn-Jones. I concede that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General knows a good deal more about the law than I do, but the fact is that the Ministry does not appear to understand how disquieted the public is, not just about the case that I have referred to with all its emotive factors, but about the whole tragedy of the lack of maintenance, the difficulties of the police with their lack of personnel and vehicles and the inadequacy of the Ministry in the shape of examiners. All have to be looked at.
The Bill does a great deal to improve the situation, but do not let anyone on the Government Front Bench get away with the idea that the case I have discussed has satisfied the public that justice is being done.
Mr Peter Crowder (Ruislip Northwood)
I hope that the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of brakes. I agree with the greater part of what he has said, but wish to confine my remarks to those parts of the Bill which affect the liberty of the subject.
Everyone in the country, and particularly everyone in the House, though one might not think so by the attendance here tonight, is both concerned with the liberty of the subject and the mounting toll of death and destruction on the roads. This is a psychological reaction which makes people look for a panacea, a universal cure to the destruction, and that may be the reason for the first three or four Clauses in the Bill.
I was interested to hear the Minister interrupt my right hon. Friend, it seemed to me with some emotion, and ask what is the alternative to the proposals in the Bill. That challenge was also put by another hon. Member from the right hon. Lady's side of the House.
I have an alternative to suggest to-night. I think that it is a workable one and one which will meet with agreement on all sides. The first duty that a police officer is taught is to prevent crime. Why not bring in the new machinery, the breathalyser, not as the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport said in her interruption to create a new offence, but to prevent the commission of an offence? There is no reason why that should not be done.
In my experience of about 18 years in the courts, be it prosecuting, defending or presiding, I have found that in the vast majority of cases involving driving under the influence of drink the offence has emanated from people being in public houses. I should like to see random spot-checks carried out with police officers visiting public houses from time to time and, on seeing someone come out of a public house and going towards a car, asking if that person intended to drive, and if the person said, "Yes", asking that person, "Would you mind giving us a few moments and taking this test?"
If the test went against the person, he would not be creating any offence, but he would have had a salutary and useful warning. If he proved obstinate, he could be taken to the police station and detained. In those circumstances, the police would be working and cooperating with the public and be preventing such offences, which is their first duty. That is the alternative which I suggest to the Minister.
Mr Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
May I warn the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously about what he has just said? In the debate in June, I followed that argument in opposition to one of his hon. Friends, merely to point out that that was the logical thing to do. I have since been the recipient of a tremendous barrage from brewery interests accusing me of maligning, they said, a fine body of men in public houses.
Mr Peter Crowder (Ruislip Northwood)
We can include restaurants, hunt balls, and any other form of social entertainment, be it in a public house or anywhere else. It might even be after a Division in the House.
The whole safeguard is that the police would be able to approach anyone who looked as if he was about to drive and ask, "Will you take the test, because obviously, you do not want to drive if you are likely to commit an offence?"
As it stands, the Bill presents a very serious intrusion into the personal liberty of the subject. Equally, the offence which is created can be a false one. I expect that hon. Members will know that so far as the courts and the British Medical Association are concerned, there are 32 measures to a bottle of spirits, be it gin or whisky, and alcohol is burnt up in the body at the rate of one of those 32 measures an hour; in other words, one small whisky or the equivalent of a half pint of beer.
Supposing someone has had a lot to drink in the early hours of the morning and he goes to bed at about four o'clock. Supposing he has consumed something like a half bottle of spirits, or 16 measures. Only one measure will disappear in his body per hour, so that at 8 p.m. the same morning 12 measures will still remain. Taking 12 against 32, that is an extremely heavy concentration.
The fact is that the person concerned will have slept it off. He may have a headache, but he will not be under the influence of drink and he will be perfectly capable of driving a car.
If hon. Members want to know the test, I can tell them straight away. As a matter of general practice, people who are taken into police stations and found by a police surgeon to be unfit to drive through drink, normally speaking are detained as a measure of safety—one knows how careful the police have to be—for a period of three and a half to four hours at the most. It can be longer, but it very seldom is.
Anyone who has had too much to drink and is unfit to drive, will be safe enough on the road having had three or four hours in which to sober up. In any event, that would seem to be the view of the police. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) laughs, but he does not drink alcohol, so he cannot know anything about it.
Alcohol affects the highly sensitive nerve tissues of the brain and, therefore, affects the co-ordination between hand and eye which is so essential to every motorist. After four hours have elapsed, the effect of alcohol on the body disappears. It may leave a headache or a slight hangover, and that is all. But it is still retained in the blood and the nervous system.
Under the earlier Clauses of the Bill, people will be disqualified automatically from driving for 12 months by Statutory Instrument when they are perfectly sober and perfectly capable of driving as well as anyone who has had nothing at all to drink. As alcohol takes such a very long time to be burnt up in the body, it is still there, and anyone in that condition is still subject to the offence.
I am sure that everyone agrees that it would be most unfair for a person in those circumstances to be penalised at all, and the penalty here is a heavy one. I notice that an offender is to be automatically disqualified for 12 months, which is the situation now if anyone is found guilty of driving when his ability is for the time being impaired through drink.
I have never liked the idea that the House of Commons could impose statutory penalties. Who is the House of Commons to decide? Who is Parliament to decide what is the correct penalty in a particular case? Time and again we find cases where it would be wrong and unfair, because a man through no fault of his own, or scarcely any fault of his own, has got into that condition, to impose a statutory penalty. Every case should be considered on its merits by the court which tries it.
The only way in which a court can get round that statutory penalty is to give a man an absolute discharge, which means that no penalty can be applied. I need hardly say that that has been frowned on by the Court of Criminal Appeal, but there are occasions when courts have no option but to do it simply because Parliament has imposed a statutory penalty. I do not like to see a statutory penalty laid down here. I think that each case should be looked into and tried carefully on its merits. Courts are quite responsible in dealing with matters in that way, and I think that most people would agree that it is their job to do so.
We seem these days to be suffering from a regulation mania which amounts almost to a disease. As a result, we are creating laws which are asking to be broken, and here we are creating a criminal offence. Offhand, I know of no other criminal offence which a person can commit without knowing that he has committed it. One of the basic principles of the criminal law is a guilty state of mind. Here we will have people acting innocently, but who will, nevertheless, be convicted of a criminal offence. Let us consider the hypothetical case of a person who goes to a cocktail party. He is given what purports to be a glass of orange, but it is filled with ice, and laced with gin. He does not get the taste of the gin, and before he knows where he is he has committed an offence of this nature.
Equally, consider the case which I quoted earlier of somebody who has had a good deal to drink earlier in the day. He is sober, but he does not appreciate that what he has had to drink has not been burnt up in his body. He is taken in on this random check system which I detest, and which I shall vote against, speak against, and lobby against, in every way I know because it affects the liberty of the subject. He is taken in and disqualified from driving for a minimum of 12 months. This is not the thing which should be allowed to go unnoticed through a sparsely attended House of Commons.
Mr. Justice Byrne, who, in my view, was one of the greatest authorities of this century on the criminal law, said that the only real test which one could apply in cases of people who were unfit to drive through drink was the actual driving. I should like to see that defence open to anybody who is taken in and charged with an offence of this nature. Once it has been shown that a person had more alcohol in his body than is allowed by the Bill, he should have open to him the defence of satisfying a jury—and the onus of proof should be on him—that despite that he was perfectly fit to drive at the time that he was taken in. I think that that defence should lie open to him and that he should be entitled to be acquitted if he satisfies the jury on that score.
I am within a minute of my quarter of an hour. I have sought this evening to keep within the new suggestion which has been put before the House, and with which I agree. I am grateful for the attention which I have received, and I hope that when the Minister returns she will have time tomorrow to read what I have said, and perhaps consider it in Committee.
Dr Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
We have just had portrayed by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) a picture of someone going to a party, being given water laced with gin and ice, and suddenly finding himself in prison for a year.
Dr Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
An equally sorry fate for having had one drink. This is the sort of emotional attitude which many hon. Gentlemen opposite have adopted towards this proposed legislation.
I think that if we examine the Bill carefully it will be seen to be a serious attempt to deal with drinking drivers. It is a long overdue piece of legislation, and something which should have been tackled by the previous Government. If we, as Members of Parliament, do not tackle this problem, I do not know who the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks will.
We often regard road deaths as statistics which appear regularly on television at Christmas, Easter, and so on, but statistics, if they are repeated often enough, lose their meaning. For some months I was a casualty officer in a large hospital near a main road, and I noticed that on Friday and Saturday evenings, always after the public houses had closed, people were brought in either seriously injured or dying, and invariably a large number of them were under the influence of alcohol. The Road Research Laboratory's Report shows that drink accidents form 44 per cent. of all fatal accidents.
I do not see the Bill as either antisocial or anti-motorist. It is not the final solution to this problem, but it is at least making some attempt to solve it. As I see it, it is a protection to the pedestrian who, incidentally, has not been mentioned in this debate. It is a protection to sober motorists who are often involved in accidents with drinking drivers. It is also a protection to drinking drivers themselves, because so often these people take cars on to the road with no deliberate intention of causing an accident, and completely unaware that they are not in a fit state to drive a vehicle and are a potential danger to themselves, to their passengers, and to others using the roads.
Alcohol gives a person a sense of euphoria, and often a driver thinks not only that he is driving adequately, but that he is driving even better than usual; and whoever heard of a driver, even when he was sober, admitting that he was not fit to drive. One's capacity for driving is probably the vainest form of conceit, particularly among men. One will never hear a man admitting that he is not a very good driver, and even less so when he is under the influence of drink.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out in her speech, the essence of the Bill is to detect, for their own safety, people who are under the influence of alcohol and are not fit to drive. Yet they are unaware of this fact, and it is not apparent to anybody who might meet them on the road or in general conversation. They have too much alcohol in their blood, but it is not apparent on superficial examination. That is the purpose of these random checks. The purpose of the blood test is to detect an excess of alcohol which is not apparent.
As we all know, alcohol is a form of drug, and it affects different people in different ways, but it has certain specific physiological effects. We have been advised, probably rightly, not to equate a particular amount of alcohol in the blood with the amount of a certain spirit which one might drink. But even if we, as Members of Parliament, do not equate it, we can be sure that the Press will make it widely known what the man in the street can or cannot drink. There is no point in saying to a man, "You must not exceed 80 mg./100 ml." He does not know what that means. He will want to know what that means in terms of beer, gin and other intoxicants.
We are told by a spokesman of the British Medical Association that under this law a person cannot not with impunity drink more than four single whiskies, five single gins or three to eight glasses of sherry. If I had half a glass of sherry I know that my judgment would be impaired. There are thousands of motorists whose driving capacity will be affected by half the amounts given in this list. I am sure that many of my friends would be flat on the floor after four single whiskies. We cannot avoid these lists appearing in the newspapers, and when a person sees them he will say, "I can drink four whiskies, or five gins, or eight glasses of sherry, or five half pints of beer, and be all right. They cannot touch me." If a person is thin he will be more easily affected than if he is fat, and if he has just had a big meal he will be less affected than if he has not eaten for a few hours.
I would point out to the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood that eminent medical men have pointed out that there is no level of alcohol which does not impair a driver's judgment and neuro-muscular coordination. The B.M.A. has admitted that a driver cannot safely take 80 mg. in his blood. Some impairment is nearly always evident even at lower level. This impairment is not evident to the person himself or to other people who talk to him. It is evident only if the alcohol content in the blood measured, or other similar tests are carried out.
According to the White Paper, an American survey showed that on average the risk of accidents begins to rise after the 40 mgm. level has been passed, in which case the figure of 80 mg. seems rather high. I wonder whether the Government have yielded to pressure on this point. I know that a lot of discussion has gone on between doctors, lawyers, the police and everybody else as to what the level should be, and I am not at all happy with this figure. I believe that it should be lower.
There is the safeguard that the Road Traffic Act will deal with people who have an alcohol level below that provided for in the Bill and who show clinical evidence of having had too much to drink, but the trouble with writing this level of 80 mg./100 ml. into the Bill is that it will encourage motorists to think that they can drink up to that amount with impunity. It has been suggested that breathalysers might be installed in public houses and at hunt balls.
I would point out to those who suggest this that when people are leaving public houses or similar places they will test themselves on these machines and if the machines show that their blood alcohol does not exceed the 80mg. figure they will drive off in their cars regardless of the fact that they may not be in a fit state to drive a car.
We are told that if the Bill is passed we may have pocket drink meters for sale at 2s. apiece in all the shops. This level is an arbitrary one, and I welcome the fact that it can be altered by the Minister. I hope that the figure will be lowered eventually. In fact, I hope that in the end no alcohol will be allowed in the blood of drivers. As it is, we shall have people going into the streets and thinking, "I can avoid the consequences of a police check because I have passed my little test". There are four stages of drunkenness—dizzy, delirious, daring and dead drunk. In my opinion, a person may be able to reach the final stage and still pass the test of his little pocket meter—which might have broken down that day and which will show a reading less than 80 mg.
The Bill in that respect makes a mockery of the excellent slogan which was put out by the previous Minister of Transport, "Do not ask a man to drink and drive". If we are asking him not to drink, why imply that he can drink until his blood-alcohol level reaches 80 mg.? We should say, "Do not ask a man to drink more than 80mg./100ml. and drive". I hope that eventually we will introduce the type of legislation which exists in Sweden, where a person is literally not expected to drink and drive.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) went through the laborious process of reading out the instructions for the use of the breathalyser. The instructions for the use of anything sound far more complicated, if they are read out, than is the case in practice, when one is given the instrument and told to use it. The right hon. Gentleman implied that it would be beyond the average individual to breathe out for 15 seconds into this complicated machine. If a man can drive a motor car fast; if he has taken driving lessons, and has learned how the car works and how to drive it, surely it will not be beyond him to breathe into a breathalyser for 15 seconds.
Dr Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
He will come under the exceptions. He will be able to have a blood test. Not everybody will have to use this instrument. The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe made far too heavy weather of the conditions that we will see on the roadside as we go by.
I welcome the fact that, after a long time, a policeman's opinion will be given greater weight. I have always thought that a policeman's judgment of the extent of a person's intoxication when found driving a car should be given far more consideration by the courts. At the moment, his opinion is often overridden. His nose will not be put out of joint by the breathalyser test, because it has been pointed out that if a constable has reasonable cause to suspect that somebody has alcohol in his body because of the way he is behaving, and so on, he will be able to ask the man to take the test and, if the test is refused, to take him to the police station.
The Bill will put a stop to the practice of people refusing to allow a sample of their urine to be taken because they know that it will incriminate them when their cases go to court. Many people know that it is possible for them to refuse to supply a specimen. Those who do not know give in and conform to what the police ask of them, but those who are a little wiser refuse, and although this may be held against them in court the jury has no specific evidence from a test as to how much alcohol was in the urine. The Bill will remedy that situation.
I hope that a police doctor will be at the police station to supervise the taking of blood samples and deal with asthmatics and people suffering from similar disabilities, and will also be able to give evidence as to the clinical state of the person who is charged. All these things will help the jury to decide upon their verdict.
The pathological laboratory test is vitally important to a jury. It provides them with something which they can firmly get their teeth into instead of having two doctors wrangle between themselves and trying to sway them one way or the other as to the extent of a person's intoxication.
I welcome the Bill, particularly Part I, as being a very good step in the right direction. The level may need to be altered, but at the same time our roads will become much safer from this type of driver. We have had enough of appeals to the public before Easter and Christmas. The Bill will not affect 50 per cent. of drivers who do not drink at all. It will not affect most of the other drivers whose alcohol content in the blood does not nearly reach 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres.
I do not feel that it will interfere with the liberty of the individual, about which we have heard so much. It will be commonplace on the road to see someone having this test. It will be no stigma on that person if the tests are random. If people have any sort of community sense, they will willingly agree to this test if they have nothing to fear from it. I would ask the House to accept the Bill as one which will prevent needless deaths on the road.
Mr Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
I should like to preface my speech by congratulating the right hon. Lady the Minister upon her recent appointment and say that, as it is my responsibility to speak on transport matters for the Liberal Party, we certainly wish her well. I know that she will not feel that I am detracting from the sincerity of that congratulation by paying tribute to her predecessor. It was for me a great pleasure and privilege to work with the right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) during the last 14 months and I found him co-operative and helpful in every way and at all times. Moreover, I believe that he brought to his Ministry a real measure of purpose and was certainly, in every sense of the term, a most dedicated Minister.
We on this bench welcome the Bill, because it is a step towards dealing with the problem of the evermounting numbers of deaths and accidents upon our roads. No one with any sense of humanity or concern for his fellow man can be other than distressed by these continuously rising figures and the enormous amount of suffering which results from road accidents. It is not only a question of the deaths but of those people who are permanently maimed, often seriously, and whose lives are impaired by road accidents. These victims, too, must be our great concern.
The Bill has been criticised in some quarters for being too limited, but I do not think that that should prevent us from welcoming it. It makes a good start and, speaking for my colleagues, I should like to congratulate the Government on introducing a Measure which will not be popular in all quarters. Certainly, for that reason, I hope that everyone who feels strongly about road accidents and death on the roads will do everything in his power to see that the Bill has a speedy passage through the House.
I should like to turn to one or two points in the Bill. I should like to deal with the first part, that dealing with drink and driving. There is no doubt that there is ample medical evidence to show that drink is a contributory cause of many accidents which occur on our roads. This has been proved in almost every country in the world and the evidence is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. It is, therefore, worth while to tackle this aspect of road accidents as a matter of priority. It is something which can be controlled and the measures suggested in the Bill go a long way towards controlling it.
Successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, have exhorted the public not to drink and drive and I know that the Ministers who have occupied the position now held by the right hon. Lady have done everything in their power, by way of publicity, posters and television broadcasts and every other means to try to persuade people to avoid drinking if they are going to drive. It is a tragedy that the recklessness of human nature and the inconsiderateness of man towards his fellows is such that all these admirable suggestions and pleas which have been made by successive Ministers of Transport have not been successful and it is, therefore, necessary for the House to legislate.
One point which causes me some concern is Clause 2(1). In this Clause, there is a notable absence of the words "reasonable cause". I still feel, in spite of the arguments advanced, that the police should have reasonable cause before requiring anyone to undergo a test to determine whether he has a dangerous amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. So far as I have been able to discover, there is no precedent for a law which allows the police to stop a person at random and cause him to undertake a test even though they may have no reason whatever for suspecting that he is drunk.
After all, we know that there are cases of a police officer, who is like any other human being, having a grudge against somebody else. I know that this is very rare, but such a thing has been known. He might humiliate this person by stopping him and reuiring him to undergo this test. There should be the provision of the words "reasonable cause to suspect." The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) quoted the provisions of the Customs and Excise Act, but he is quite incorrect about this. The Customs and Excise Act of 1952 laid down very clearly that no officer shall be allowed to search baggage or an individual unless he has reasonable cause to suspect.
Mr George Thomas (Cardiff West)
If the officer has to have suspicions before he asks someone to undergo a test, does the hon. Member not realise that, as people passed by someone who has been stopped, they would realise that that person is suspected? How does he think I would feel or he would feel if we were stopped? There is a great advantage in having random checks. It is then the same for everyone and there is no disgrace.
Mr Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
The hon. Gentleman is persuasive as always. This is the argument advanced by his right hon. Friend in her opening speech, that, by making these checks at random, there would be no disgrace attached to them. I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not impressed with this argument. I still feel that, to introduce a new type of law, something for which there is no precedent, is something which this House should consider very carefully. I hope that an Amendment on this point will be introduced in Committee and accepted by the Government.
Mr Samuel Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I am following the hon. Member's argument with a good deal of sympathy, but could he clear up one point for me? Suppose there were such an Amendment and it was made a requirement that a police officer should have reasonable cause to suspect something or other before he applied the provisions of the Act. Would the hon. Gentleman say what kind of thing in his opinion would amount to "reasonable cause", which would fall short of grounds for making the arrest anyway?
Mr Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my next remarks. I suggest that this could be applied to a person coming out of a public house, hotel or bar in an obviously convivial state of, shall we say, happiness; to someone who appears to have been drinking; somebody whose car is not keeping an even course on the road, somebody who passes through traffic lights at red late at night or somebody who commits an ordinary motoring offence. These and others could be suspect and subject to the check. It is the existing presentation of a completely new principle that troubles me and I hope that in Committee careful attention will be paid to the matter.
There is no doubt that the level of blood alcohol content has a varying effect on different individuals. This was emphasised by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). While 80 mg. of alcohol in the blood might be regarded as a safe limit for some people, it cannot be so regarded for others. As a comparatively moderate drinker I am sure that it would be an unsafe limit for me. With that amount of alcohol in me I would probably become a bad driver. On the other hand, there are people for whom 80 mg. of alcohol might be a perfectly safe level.
I urge the Minister not to regard this as the final means of testing a person's ability to drive. For the time being this may be a good Measure, but I trust that note will be taken of other methods of testing reaction because many experiments are going on in various parts of the world to check the reaction of a driver, independent of the measured quantity. It would be wrong if the idea went forth from the House that because a person has under 80 mg. of alcohol in his bloodstream his is entirely safe, for the contrary might be true. For some people this level could be dangerous.
If anyone has any objection whatever to this part of the Bill he need only follow the advice of successive Ministers of Transport: "If you are going to drive, just don't drink." If anyone says to me that this is too great a price to pay for the safety of his fellow men, I reply that that person is irresponsible. We cannot allow this mounting toll of death on our roads to continue and we cannot act irresponsibly when we know that there is overwhelming evidence to prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that by drinking and driving we are adding to the risk of accidents and putting at risk the lives of perfectly innocent people.
We did not have any detailed comment from the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) on the second part of the Bill, but I have no doubt that his right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) will deal with the matter.
Mr David Webster (Weston-Super-Mare)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) spoke for well over half an hour. He curtailed his remarks to preserve the rights of back benchers and pointed out that we would have a great deal to say on this issue in Committee.
Mr Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
I accept that, and I was not being critical of the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe. However, I hope that the right hon. Member for Monmouth will have more to say on this part of the Bill because there is no doubt that it is at least as important as the earlier part of the Measure. Most hon. Members will say that there is little in the second part of the Bill to be debated. It is comprised of admirable provisions and we owe a great debt to the right hon. Member for Hamilton, the father of the Bill.
Is the Minister satisfied that a sufficient number of men will be available in the police force or from another source to carry out the necessary tests, and will she consider recruiting special officers to ensure that adequate spot-testing of goods vehicles takes place?
I understood the right hon. Lady to say that there were about 100 new weighbridges. This is wholly inadequate. For some years I was associated with a large produce company in Canada. The regulations governing the weight of goods in vehicles is carefully observed in that country by every operator. That is because of the large number of weighbridges, so many that it is almost impossible for a heavy vehicle to avoid the weighbridge centres along the main roads, particularly on a long journey. We in this country have neglected this matter and, as a result, we have over-laden vehicles which are a source of accidents. I am glad that the Government are taking certain steps but I would feel happier if we could be assured that they are providing the necessary facilities to make this part of the Bill fully effective.
The question of overhanging loads on vehicles was raised yesterday at Question Time in connection with lights. However, this problem was not raised in terms of the daylight hours. This is certainly a cause of mishaps. Indeed, the only occasion that I had anything approaching a serious accident was when I skidded on ice and my car went into the back of a vehicle which had an overhanging load. The wooden planks on the vehicle came through my windscreen and missed my head by inches. Overhanging loads are a dangerous hazard and I hope that provision will be made to make them illegal. There is no need for overhanging because vehicles can be constructed to carry the necessary long loads.
My hon. Friends and I wish the Bill a speedy passage. There are some minor Amendments which we would like to see made, but that will not cause us to see the Measure held up on its journey through Parliament.
Mr David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney North)
Part 1 of this Bill enacts provisions dealing with persons driving or in charge of vehicles after consuming alcohol. It is a timely Measure. I listened with interest to what my right hon. Friend the Minister said, and I have carefully read the White Paper on Road Safety Legislation. I am quite certain that both sources have presented ample material to justify this Measure. It is, however, our duty also to read anything in opposition. I therefore carefully read, as all other hon. Members probably read, the case presented by the Wine Trade Defence Committee; and particularly that booklet sent to hon. Members called " Alcohol and the Motorist" by a Dr. Bicknell.
I fully appreciate the suggestions made that this legislation is unfair. I think that some of the dangers referred to in that booklet are clearly exaggerated and can be guarded against. The Minister referred today to the number of vehicles on the road—in 1964, 12 million vehicles, and an estimated 20 million vehicles in 1975. She also referred to the number of people killed on the roads—nearly 8,000 killed in 1964, and a couple of hundred thousand or more injured in that year. Clearly, any step that will help reduce that terrible carnage is worth adopting, even if it means that there is some risk to law-abiding citizens.
I am only sorry that this Measure was not brought in earlier. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), I remember the Report stage of the 1962 Road Traffic Bill, when a new Clause was moved by the then Opposition—this side, then—to enact that the presence of the prescribed quantity of alcohol in the blood or body should be conclusive proof that the ability of the person to drive was impaired—
Mr Hugh Wilson (Truro)
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will allow me to say that I was on the Committee to which he refers. Does he recollect that at that time we were told that there was no efficient form of breathalyser which could be guaranteed to be accurate?
Mr David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney North)
Plenty of material was provided. If the hon. Member looks up the details of the debate, and particularly the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, he will see that a tremendous case was presented. That new Clause was defeated by the present Opposition—the Government, then. Amongst those voting against it was the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). I wonder how many people might have been alive today if that provision had been brought into the law at the time.
Again, I would remind the House that in a debate in January 1964 on a Motion for further measures for road safety—a Conservative Measure, which was accepted by the House—this very topic was raised again—two years later, I would remind the hon. Member in view of his intervention. The subject was then raised again in no uncertain way. The Motion was accepted. It was one of those things that was suggested should be done, but nothing was done. Following that, if something had been done, I wonder how many people would have escaped injury. With that in mind, I welcome the introduction of the Bill that will considerably assist us in this problem.
The White Paper suggests that 6 per cent. of accidents might be caused by the effect of alcohol on drivers. A memorandum that was issued by this Wine Trade Defence Committee quoted Dr. Smeed as saying that if driving after drinking was prevented altogether in Great Britain it would reduce accidents by only 5 per cent. To me, that would be enough justification for this Bill.
Having said that, I have one or two criticisms to make of this Measure, and I hope that the Minister will look at these matters again. There is a great deal in the objection made from the other side to spot examinations—stopping people and examining them in this way. Everyone agrees that the liberty of the individual must not be interfered with unless it is essential to do so, and everyone also agrees that if that liberty is interfered with, it should be interfered with only to the extent that it is absolutely necessary to do so.
Under Section 223 of the principal Act of 1960 a constable in uniform may require a person driving a motor vehicle on the road—and I emphasise "on the road"—to stop, and failure to do so is an offence. And, of course, the constable has a right to ask the person who has been stopped for his licence and for other details. Now, under Clause 2(1) of this Bill a constable in uniform may stop a driver, not only on the road but in a public place—so we have the addition—and require a specimen of breath. "Public place" is not defined, and the judicial decisions in regard to what is a public place vary in many cases. It should be defined in this Bill.
The position now is that any driver, under this provision, however faultless his driving may have been, even though there is nothing in his conduct or breath to evoke suspicion of any kind may, at the whim of a police constable, be stopped, and this demand made, not only in the road but in a public place—wherever that may be. Frankly, I believe that that goes too far.
I appreciate the argument that this is a dreadful state of affairs and that we must do something about it. I agree that we should curtail liberty, if that is essential, but we have to be very careful about the rights we confer on the police. I speak from some considerable experience in criminal cases, and I can only assure the House—and I am sure that many hon. Members will agree with me—that we want to be extremely careful in extending the rights of the police in this matter.
I would agree that if a constable has reason to suspect, from the driver's breath, from his conduct, from some circumstance, that his driving ability has been impaired by drink, he should have the right to stop that driver and demand that specimen of breath. The power as framed is too wide.
I invite the House to see what follows. If a driver refuses without reasonable excuse to provide a specimen of breath, he is liable to a fine of £50. There was an interruption by an hon. Member asking what was meant by "reasonable excuse". I do not know. What does "reasonable excuse" mean? It is not defined anywhere. The Minister said that it was left to the good sense of the court. That is all very well, but what does it mean? It is difficult to imagine what could be a reasonable excuse. The right hon. Lady said something about a doctor being in a hurry. I do not think a court would accept that as a reasonable excuse. It might or it might not.
If the driver does not provide a specimen and the constable has reasonable cause to suspect him of having alcohol in his body, any alcohol, he can arrest him without a warrant. He is then taken to the police station and asked to provide a specimen of blood or urine. If he refuses, under Clause 3(2,a) he is to be treated as guilty of the offence under Clause 1. He is to be punished as if he had committed the actual offence.
Suppose that a driver is indignant with the police for stopping him for no reason and he is a little pigheaded. He adopts the attitude of saying, "I shall not have the test taken. You can charge me and I shall prove to the court that I have had no drink today and bring evidence of passengers and others to show that my driving ability was not impaired by drink." He will not be allowed to present that evidence to the court. The very fact that he has refused to provide the specimen of breath makes him punishable as if he were guilty of the offence and he cannot dispute the guilt.
That is wrong. It is the first time in our history that we have had the position that a person can be held to have committed a crime even though he has not committed that crime. The prosecution is not called upon to prove it. That provision is wrong and goes too far. Note that the driver is liable under Clause 2(3) to a fine of £50 or failing to provide a specimen of breath. The court will have the evidence that he refused to provide a specimen. The judge or jury dealing with the matter will take that into account if he is charged with an offence under Clause 1.
I press the Minister not to dismiss this as something which does not matter very much. It is a matter of great consequence to the question of the right of individual liberty. It may be weighed against the evil which is wrought by drivers taking alcohol, but setting one against the other and considering the matter carefully, I suggest that the case is not made for spot tests. Moreover, the provision I have referred to which makes a man punishable as if he were guilty of a crime when there is no proof that he has committed it, is wrong.
Mr George Thomas (Cardiff West)
Could my hon. and learned Friend give an idea of how many people who knew that they had been drinking too much would be willing to have the test if it were not obligatory?
Mr David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney North)
—and that it should not be lightly dismissed. Our criminal justice is something which we ought to treasure. The liberty of the individual is a golden principle which runs through our law. Please do not break it unless it is absolutely essential to do so.
Is it intended under Clause 2(5) that a constable shall have the right to enter a person's house? As I read the subsection he would have the right to enter a house and demand or take a specimen although in the ordinary way he cannot do so without a search warrant. That needs to be looked into. I should like to have the answer to that question.
Mr Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
Would the hon. and learned Member agree that if it is possible for a constable to enter a house without a warrant, a situation might well arise in which a person, having driven home, might have several drinks at home and be subject to this penalty even though he has not driven after drinking?
Mr David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney North)
I do not want to make further points on that. I turn to a point with which my hon. Friend the Undersecretary might agree. Under Clause 1(1,a) on summary conviction a man may be sent to prison for four months, fined £100, or both. Why is the period four months? Is it deliberate in order to allow the accused person to elect to go for trial by jury? If it were three months he would not have that right. I am not expressing any view in regard to that, but it might be considered because we know that in motor cases juries are notoriously unwilling to convict and it might be that it would be better to alter the four months to three months in order that such a case might be tried in summary fashion.
Part II deals with goods vehicles. As far as it goes, its provisions are excellent. The introduction of a system of type approval for new goods vehicles; the onus upon the manufacturer to obtain a certificate; the provisions with regard to compulsory testing; the power to prohibit the driving of unfit vehicles, and the duty to keep records, are all necessary and welcome provisions.
I tell the Minister frankly that I am disappointed at the limited scope of the Bill. It is called the Road Safety Bill. A Road Safety Bill should be much more comprehensive and should cover many things vital to road safety, apart from the effects of alcohol and certain matters with regard to goods vehicles. It is true that under Section 64 of the principal Act the Minister has power to make regulations covering a great variety of subjects. Under Clause 7(1) of this Bill that power is extended, but, whether it be by the Bill or whether it be by regulations, there is surely so much more that could be done and should have been done.
For example, in their White Paper which was the prelude to the Bill the Government say that it must always be the responsibility first of the manufacturer to see that the vehicle is fit to drive, but the Government must lay down safety standards and ensure that they are complied with. Has enough been done in this direction? I know that British motor manufacturers have a proud record in many respects, but is it not important that there should be compulsory constructional standards to which all manufacturers must conform? Is there not a tendency to specialise in flashy, tawdry gimmicks, instead of concentrating on stability?
May I mention just a few of the things which, I suggest, should be considered? Should not all cars have sturdy bumpers or fenders fixed at a standardised height from the ground? Is not this particularly necessary with commercial vehicles? Indeed, it has often been urged that they should be protected on all sides to stop smaller vehicles, cyclists, or even pedestrians, from becoming wedged under them. Many an accident has happened in this way. Should not the interiors of all cars be padded? I am told that, unlike many American cars, many of our own cars are built without a separate steel chassis framework for body rigidity. Has enough been done to tackle the problem of fumes and smoke? What about dust and other similar substances blown off open lorries, causing discomfort and danger to pedestrians? What about uniform street lighting particularly in towns?
On Friday last there was a very interesting and useful debate on the need for better and higher standards of driving instruction and education. Many useful suggestions were made. Many Questions are tabled on these and other matters and we are constantly told that expert bodies are examining them and advising the Government and that soon—very soon—something will be done. We now have a woman Minister of Transport for the first time. What a great opportunity this is for her to deal with road safety in a real, energetic fashion.
I welcome the Bill as a first useful and necessary Measure, but I hope that it is only the prelude to the adoption of many other Measures to help to deal with this terrible problem.
Mr Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)
I have sat through this debate since half-past four, so practically every single argument that could be used has already been used. As all my best points have already been made, I propose to make a very short contribution to the debate.
I cannot agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) that we on this side have been emotional in our approach. I think that we have put forward strong, rational, logical arguments. I appeal to the Government to listen to what we have said. Practically everyone who has spoken agrees that it is right to create this new offence, with the automatic conviction that will follow, although I am certain that not everyone outside the House will agree with us. That fact must be faced.
I want to say a few words on the prescribed limit, which I believe may be too low. I realise that the B.M.A suggests a blood alcohol concentration of 80 mg. The report of the British Medical Association stated that there can be few people whose ability to drive properly was not impaired by blood alcoholic concentration in excess of a figure of 80. It follows that there must be some people, however few, whose ability would not be impaired at that level, and yet they will be liable to disqualification under the Bill.
In their earlier report in 1960, the British Medical Association published interesting conversion tables showing the blood alcoholic concentration on certain minimum intakes of beer and whisky. The figures are revealing. As little as two pints of beer can produce a concentration of 73 mgs.; two and a half pints of beer can produce a reading of 92, and a reading of 90 can be produced by less than five whiskies. To many people, that is not a great deal of drink.
The hon. Lady the Member for Halifax made a great point of the fact that a small sherry was a lot of drink for her, but many people would not regard two and a half pints as a great deal of beer. I recently purchased two Alchotest machines, one of which I lent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne). This German machine is set to indicate a reading of 70, and not 80 as specified in the Bill.
In view of today's debate, I decided last week when travelling back to my constituency to try a simple test on myself. I bought a half-bottle of British Railways claret, which I drank with a meal on the train. I am saying nothing against British Railways; both the claret and the meal were extremely good. The point is that I did not drink the claret on an empty stomach but took it with a steak in the train.
I then returned to the privacy of my carriage. As nobody else was about, I carried out a test with the machine and to my horror discovered that I had failed. I now realise that I would have been wiser had I waited 25 minutes instead of ten minutes. The fact is that four not-so-large glasses of claret are roughly equivalent to two pints of beer, which give a reading of 73. I was 100 per cent. sober. I went on working in the carriage and I drove home confidently when I reached my station. I admit that the figure shown by the machine was only 70, but that is getting near to the level of 80 which is specified in the Bill.
Other countries have figures a good deal higher in their legislation. I do not expect the Minister to be able to furnish figures without notice, but perhaps he may confirm my figures in correspondence. I am told that in Austria and Belgium, a figure of 150 is accepted, and in Switzerland a figure of 100. In Germany the mandatory figure for drivers of cars is 150 and for motor-cyclists 130. I am told that in Australia a figure of between 50 and 150 is admitted as evidence, but as sufficient evidence on its own, and that only when the figure reaches 150 is it regarded as sufficient for a conviction. I must admit there are countries where lower figures are accepted. In Czechoslovakia the figure is 30.
I realise that the prescribed limit can be altered by the Minister from time to time by means of Statutory Instrument, but I should have thought that it would be far wiser to start at a high figure and to reduce it later, if necessary, rather than to try and increase it at a later stage. I ask the Government to consider this possibility, which perhaps we can discuss in Committee.
I shall not make a long speech about random checks. Powerful arguments have been advanced from this side of the House against random checks. Obviously, if random checks are employed, more people would be caught, but a grave disadvantage of random checks will, however, be the loss of the good will of the motorist, on which the success of the Bill depends. In her opening speech, the Minister made it clear that she wishes to have the good will of the motorist, but she will lose it with random checks.
Sometimes—perhaps often—the party opposite make the mistake of being entirely right in theory but wrong in practice.
That really is my criticism of the Bill. Although I believe that it is unnecessarily harsh in practice and that in Committee we shall have to make it more lenient, the Bill should have a Second Reading because it is right in theory.
Mr Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to speak briefly on the Bill. I promise the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that I will share the remaining time with him, for it is only right that he should take part since he endeavoured to introduce last June a Bill of this kind.
It is odd that tonight I find it difficult to equate my position in June with my position in this debate. Fundamentally, in June I was taking up precisely the position that right hon. and hon. Members opposite are taking today. Then, they were taking the opposite view. In June, I was told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that I was not aware of the importance of trying to stop drunken driving and that I should be prepared in the circumstances to accept some loss of individual liberty in order to save lives. Today, they have expressed the opposite. They say that we should not give up any liberty. One hon. Gentleman went so far as to say that he would always vote against such a proposal.
I believe that my right hon. Friend has attempted with this Bill to face the situation. Any decision involving freedom of the individual inevitably brings out those for and those against. I want to comment on one aspect of Part I—the spot-checks. When I spoke on the Bill of the hon. Member for Crosby, I tried to illustrate how difficult it is to take spot checks of people who have imbibed more than the prescribed limit. I went through a long series of discussions to show how difficult it would be.
I said that if we were trying to be logical we should go back to the cause of the problem and not just deal with the effect, which is what my right hon. Friend proposes in this Bill. I said that to be logical we must try to stop people from drinking in the first place. It is not sufficient to find them on the road unfit to drive and then impose penalties. By that time they may have killed someone.
One should go back to the cause. I understand clearly that we are trying to get people to be responsible to themselves, to discipline themselves, to say to themselves, "I will not drink if I drive." But it may take a considerable time before people are able to impose such self-discipline on themselves.
I see, therefore, that we must have some form of legislation which will help towards this self-discipline, but surely the best way to stop people driving cars while drunk is to concentrate on the obvious places. As I said last June, the obvious places are outside public houses, anywhere where dinner dances are being held and hotels. A police officer standing outside such a place would probably find that 50 per cent. of those he might stop had imbibed more than the prescribed limit.
If one knows that such a situation exists, it is surely indefensible to say that we must introduce random checks, well knowing that if attention were given to certain places the police could be sure of finding offenders. It is on this point that I take issue with my right hon. Friend.
Another problem is how to get sufficient police to make this method effective. We must ensure that the Bill can be implimented or it will become a laughing stock. If ways and means can be found to ensure that the checks are made at the right places, they will have a greater impact on the problem.
I intervened earlier to explain what happened to me following the debate in June. I said that I had thought after that debate that we would have political trouble, but in fact I was subjected to tremendous pressure from brewery interests because I suggested what I thought was the logical line. I committed a further error because I said that I drank whisky and did not take water or soda with it, and I was bombarded by the teetotallers and the churches because I had had the effrontery publicly to say that I drank whisky, even though I explained that I did not drink when I was about to drive. It is a problem to find out exactly how far individuals are prepared to go to help in dealing with the problem.
I have tried to follow the argument of hon. Members opposite about random sampling, but until we get an alternative I find myself able to support it as a first stage. In June, the hon. Member for Crosby said that we could not find the whole solution at once and must take just one stage at a time. I took issue with him then and adduced other arguments to show why I thought that it could not be taken one stage at a time. However, my right hon. Friend is doing just what he asked.
I find it difficult to understand why hon. Members opposite are so firm in their view that they will vote against random sampling. It may not be perfect and it may not reduce accidents as quickly as some may think and it may not work as well as some other ways might, but it must commend itself to the House as making an impact, if only psychologically, if only because people will think that there is a chance, however slight, of their being subjected to a spot-check.
One hon. Member said that people would work out their gambling chances of being caught and that in the clubs and the pubs and spot-checks would become a bit of a joke, but I do not believe that people are like that. That is reducing the mentality of the nation to a low level. People do not go out deliberately to get drunk. That is not how it happens. One meet friends and has talks and discussions and inevitably one has drinks, and at the end of the day, when one can do nothing about it, one finds that one is incapable. But I do not know of anybody who goes out and intelligently and deliberately decides to get drunk and then to drive home. It was rather devaluing the mentality of our people to suggest that there would be gambling stakes on whether people were caught.
I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend has attempted to face up to a serious problem. I sincerely hope that the House will not try to make this a political issue, for it transcends political lines. I felt tonight that some hon. Members opposite were beginning to give the impression that the Government were somehow acting in an arbitrary manner and becoming officious and so on, but that is hardly credible. The problem has been discussed by both sides of the House for a long time. Last June, I was at variance with the hon. Member for Crosby because I was regarded as not being serious enough or officious enough.
I hope that hon. Members opposite will not try to make what is a tremendous problem into a political issue. Someone has to do something, because we cannot continue to have people killed and maimed like this. My right hon. Friend was right today when she said that unless something is done quickly, we shall have an even more difficult problem in the future.
Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), I do not feel that the Minister has gone as far as she might have. I am sorry that there was not a Clause relating to the licensing of goods vehicles. One of our road safety problems could be solved if we could ensure that before a licence was granted for a goods vehicle the owner had to show that he had a garage for it. This would immediately take care of one of the big problems in conurbations, when these vehicles are parked unlit in side roads, often two abreast, so that one has half the road to get through. It seems that my right hon. Friend has to face this issue. These large vehicles coming into the conurbations and parking on the road are the cause of many accidents because traffic cannot properly get past. Often chances are taken and accidents happen.
The opportunity could have been taken to ensure that the licensing authority must be satisfied that these vehicles are properly garaged at night or else the licence would not be granted. My hon. Friend was quite right to touch upon the construction of the vehicles. One of the things he might have suggested was the need for sliding doors. I do my best to look in my rear mirror and wing mirrors to see if anybody is coming by, but I have often opened my door only to discover that I was about to cause an obstruction or accident. I touch wood and hope that I will be lucky in the future.
We should introduce the concept of sliding doors, not only in goods vehicles but in private cars as well. I know that it is a construction problem and that there are tremendous difficulties but we pride ourselves on our ability to seize a problem and find an answer. This is an attribute which I am trying to spread in Europe, that Britain is outstanding in her ability to solve problems. Manufacturers ought to get down to this. I do not know the figures but I am told that the number of accidents occurirng as a result of car doors being opened and cyclists, motor cyclists and pedestrians being hit are quite large.
I welcome this Bill. It is a great attempt by the Minister to solve the problem. It may not be all that it ought to be and it may not solve all the problems in one swoop. But at least we do know that the people will see the magnitude of the task and that we can rely upon them to understand that they have to discipline themselves in order to make the country safe for everyone to work and live in.
Mr Graham Page (Crosby)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) has given his solution to a main issue of the Bill as it has emerged during this debate—the random tests. It is what I would call the "pub" car park test. I do not think that it is any more acceptable to the public than the form of test which is given in the Bill.
I find myself more in agreement with the powerful argument put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who said that a constable should have reasonable cause before using the breathalyser test. I do not, however, agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman when he complained that the Bill had not been brought in by previous Governments. A Government can lead public opinion, but can only move as fast as public opinion allows. Public opinion was not ready much earlier for this legislation.
It is a happy day for me, because I made my maiden speech on road safety 12½ years ago. I was then thought to be a crank for suggesting that drink had anything substantial to do with road accidents. I was even crankier for suggesting that there should be a limit to alcohol in the blood and that it should be an offence if that limit were exceeded.
Mr Graham Page (Crosby)
That is my point: public opinion had not moved. Over the past dozen years, it has gradually moved towards an acceptance of the fact that drink and driving cause accidents. It has also moved towards an acceptance of the fact that defects in vehicles cause accidents.
When making my maiden speech on the subject I was apparently a crank for suggesting that defective vehicles were a substantial cause of accidents. But public opinion has moved over the years. There is no doubt now that it is entirely accepted that drink causes accidents when taken by the driver and that defects, particularly in heavy vehicles, contribute to accidents.
The Minister told us, in connection with drink and driving, that if the Bill were successful it could prevent 18,000 to 32,000 casualties a year—that is, at least about 50 casualties a day—and that it could reduce the extent of injury from accidents. We can quibble over the 5 per cent. or 9 per cent., or whatever it may be, but if there is a saving of only 1 per cent. in casualties that is a saving of 11 casualties a day, and surely that is well worth while.
When the Minister was talking about the danger which arises from defective lorries, I do not know why she slipped in the word "only". She said that when spot-checks were taken on lorries "only" one in 10 was sent off the roads at once. One in 10 lorries stopped on the roads were killer lorries and were taken off the roads at once. I do not know why we have tolerated this for so long. This legislation, indeed, should have been on the Statute Book long ago. This is only one in 10 of the lorries which were stopped. I presume that the police stop lorries because they look as if they are defective. One in 10 works out at 14,000 killers on the road of those inspected that year.
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North said that the Bill did not deal with enough road safety subjects. What about dangerous loads in lorries—the chemical loads? Many of us have pleaded for regulations on these for the past 10 years. I have been told again and again that the Home Office—and I hope that the Home Secretary will deal with this when he replies—has the power to make the regulations in this instance. Neither the Home Secretary nor the Minister of Transport has dealt with this subject over many years. So we have dangerous loads spilled on the roads, causing extreme danger.
Once when some acid burst out of a very large tanker, members of the local fire brigade had not a clue what to do with it, so they hosed down the road and poisoned the drains of a whole village. It took a great deal of time to get rid of the substance. This is the sort of accident which may happen from dangerous loads and about which there should be proper regulations.
As with drink in the driver, so with defects in the vehicles and danger in the loads, I think that it is now accepted that we have killers on the roads. But there has been hesitation in presenting this legislation because of the difficulty of enforcement. How can the law be a factor in road safety, a factor in preventing accidents? As is recognised in the Bill, there is no other effective way than by making it an absolute offence, and an offence regardless of what the actual risk may be when it is being committed. We adopted that principle many years ago with a speed limit in the built-up areas, and it is an offence to go above the limit whatever the immediate danger may be. I recollect that when it was introduced there was a 50 per cent. reduction in accidents to vehicles to which that speed limit was then applied. I hope that the right hon. Lady will have the same success with her Bill.
It is the same principle with the two parts of this Bill, the alcohol limit and the plating of goods vehicles. There is an absolute offence no matter whether there is danger at that moment or not. For that reason, there can be no other way than for the police to apply some such test without evidence of any danger to the public at that moment.
I come back to my point that it is quite sufficient to provide a test which will be given only when a constable thinks that there is reasonable cause. I cannot see the difficulty about it. To put in the words "reasonable cause" will not harm the right hon. Lady's Bill. I imagine that is what is done in the stopping of lorries, because the police stop a lorry only when they have reasonable cause to think that it is a defective vehicle, whatever the law may be on the point. In the same way, the police will want to stop only those whom they have reasonable cause to think have been drinking too much.
The right hon. Lady made the point that a driver may not know of the impairment of his ability, and that, therefore, there must be random checks. But the impairment of his ability to drive is not unobservable by others. All of us know that, driving home from the House at 11 or 12 p.m., it is possible to spot the fellow who has been drinking. He cuts in, he drives too fast and he jumps the amber light. Those would be reasonable causes—particularly at that time of night—for a constable to stop a man, and in my opinion a constable should have reasonable cause before he applies the test.
I am sure that the Bill will be successful in reducing road accidents. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) said in opening the debate from this side of the House that a conviction for drinking and driving will become more and more a social disgrace as the Bill bites. That is surely what we are trying to do by this legislation. We are trying to change social and employment habits. We want to make it a social disgrace to drink and drive and a commercial disgrace to operate a defective lorry. That is what we want to impress upon the public, and that is what I hope the Bill will succeed in doing.
Mr Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
It is a privilege in such a debate to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), whose activities in recent years have done something to form public opinion in favour of a Bill of this character.
These are important matters which we discuss, because they relate to the toll of road casualties, which is the concern of both sides. May I say to the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport that, of course, we must stress these casualties, but let us also stress the falling casualty rate per million vehicle miles, because some tribute must be paid to those in her own Ministry, under various Governments, who battled against the very difficult problem of keeping the casualty rate per number of vehicles down. It is descending too slowly, but it is still descending.
It is important, because it touches on the conflict between liberty and order, which is always the problem of every Home Secretary; and it is important because it touches significantly on the relations between the police and the public, about which I would like to say a few words a little later.
I hope that in so far as it is humanly possible we shall seek agreement on Measures of this kind, at least in the area where agreement is possible. The first thing that I would say about the Bill is that, inevitably perhaps, it is a limited approach to a large problem. An enormous number of factors enter into road safety. The road programme enters into it, and as we phase it out we have to admit to ourselves that in doing so we defer the possibility of grappling with some of these measures of road construction which might decrease the number of accidents.
There are other matters which must be considered, such as those which were touched on during the debate a few days ago. The standard of driving instruction is vital in matters of this kind, and I would have hoped that in a Bill of this character some of those considerations might also have been brought in.
The main concern here has been the question of drink and driving and I shall not deal with the other part of the Bill, which is concerned with road haulage, not because it is not important, but because, apart from some Committee points, there is virtually complete agreement about it. I shall concentrate my remarks on that part of the Bill which deals with drink and driving.
In that part of the Bill set out in the White Paper we have the fact that at the blood-alcohol level which is to be an offence, the danger of an accident is twice what it would be with a sober driver. This is an important consideration which must be taken seriously by the whole House. The trouble with these statistics is that they tend to prove either too little or too much. When I was preparing myself for this debate I delved a little more deeply into the Grand Rapids Survey, which analysed much more than drink. It found that in the age groups 16 to 25, and over 75, the chances of an accident were also twice that of an ordinary sober driver, and I ask the House to reflect on what that means. It means that there is a large body of people on the roads whose chances of an accident are just as great as those of the fuddled driver.
There are questions on which any Minister of Transport has to reflect. This is not an argument for not doing what is in the Bill, but it is an argument for seeing whether anything else can be done. Have we got the age level right? Can we face the fact that we have these peak accidents at the age of 17? Is the driving instruction of young people before they are left in charge either of motor vehicles or of motor cars adequate to the responsibilities which they have?
If one looks at the admirable statistics issued by the Ministry with regard to motor cyclists, one finds that, if one takes the casualty rate of the motorist as one, the casualty rate of the motor cyclist is very nearly 10. This is getting up to a level far beyond the "twice" which we are talking about in the Bill. It is getting nearer to the level of the highly intoxicated driver.
If we are to discuss statistics of this character we must take into account their full implications. I am not speaking against motor cyclists, but we must realise that there are on our roads, every day of our lives, thousands of people, usually young people, in charge of motor cycles, and that their chances of having an accident are equal to those of people whose blood alcohol content is far above the 80 mg. level, and much nearer to the 150 level.
I raise these questions because, in a Bill like this, we should consider the full implications of the various studies which have taken place, and give equal weight to these other matters. Do not let us be content, this evening, to say that we have taken a great step forward and have done something about drink and driving; let us realise that there are many other areas which stretch far beyond this rather narrow one, which involves only 25,000 out of the 300,000 accidents which occur every year.
In the survey which forms the basis of the Bill it was pointed out that the drinking driver—the man who takes drink from time to time—was 40 per cent. under-represented in the total number of accidents that occur. This does not mean that it is a good thing to drink and drive, but it shows that this is a rather more complicated question than it might appear to be at first sight. Many other factors are involved. Sometimes people who do not drink at all are less stable characters, or become more impatient, or are part of a younger age group, or belong to another category which is responsible for a substantially greater proportion of accidents, as observed in the Grand Rapids survey.
The 80 mg. level is undoubtedly one which everybody would accept as a suitable level to start with. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill)—not in her remarks about the vanity of men, but in her view that it would be dangerous and unwise to take this level as a sort of norm which people could drink up to. I understand that a man of average size, like myself, could, on some assumptions and some conversion rates, drink an amount which I am sure would make me quite incapable of driving. I do not propose to attempt that experiment. When I see the levels which are accepted in Germany and Belgium I am lost in admiration for the capacity of the people of those countries to absorb alcohol.
In any event, there is not much between the two sides of the House on this aspect of Clause 1. We agree that this should be an offence, and the Bill will make it an offence. We have the objective test of the blood-alcohol level.
The Bill will bring about an enormous change in the present law. The Minister rather underplayed its effect. Although her speech did not bring the fact out, she probably realises what a dramatic change it will bring about in the present situation. At the moment, impairment has to be proved, and those of us who have any knowledge of these matters recall the sort of evidence that is given. The jury hears the police doctor, the doctor called by the defence, and hears about the defendant's walking along a line, his pronunciation of words, and the strain which he was supposed to be under. In about half the cases which go before a jury there is an acquittal. I was studying the north-eastern survey conducted some time ago, in which it was discovered that the average blood-alcohol level of persons acquitted was 180 and the average level of those for whom they managed to secure convictions was 220, a level at which most people would have been nearly incapacitated.
The change from that position to the Measure which we are discussing today is complete. We should not underestimate what we are doing. Under the Bill, a completely new offence is created, that of having a blood-alcohol level of 80 or above, which is a completely plain, factual offence.
The question is: should the tests be random? I hope that the Minister of Transport and the Home Secretary will not be too emphatic about all this this evening. I hope that they will listen to and reflect upon what has been said, not from one side of the House but from both. There is not a party in the House which has not expressed grave doubts about this approach. This has come from the Conservative benches, in speeches like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent). The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) made a powerful speech criticising this approach and, for the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) reserved his judgment on this matter until the Committee stage.
In the light of all that, and having regard to the desirability, in Bills of this kind of trying to bring all sides together, I would ask the Home Secretary to say that he will at least reflect upon, carefully read and consider the views which have been put. I have rather grave doubts about this method. In her speech, the Minister put first the fact that, in her judgment, it would be less invidious to motorists. I beg her to think that over. The indignation among motorists will be considerable, whether it is right or wrong, and she should not go away with the idea that this approach will be regarded as less invidious. It will be very much resented.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) compared this with vehicle testing. I hope that the House will be careful about comparing vehicles to human beings. Humanity is one of the factors which has to be considered in the House. Most of us are here at all only because we have some knowledge of the way in which our friends behave, and they do not think about this as they think about vehicles. To stop a vehicle and look at the brakes is quite a different matter from stopping a man and asking him to breathe into a rubber bag. These distinctions must be very clearly drawn.
Above all, if the police are patrolling the roads, or even ringing the public houses and trying to take a scoop of apparently innocent motorists with no reasonable cause at all except that they are driving motor cars, this will do damage to a situation which should be giving the right hon. Gentleman great concern, and is certainly giving me great concern—the relations between the public and the police. Somehow, for wider reasons which I need not go into, we must get the public on the same side as the police.
We do not have that at the moment and I must say that some of the things I have seen on television would not appear to be calculated to achieve that cooperation. The Home Secretary must be as worried as I am about this. We must persuade the public that the police are on their side.
I thought that Lord Devlin, to quote from his Frank Newsam Memorial Lecture—and I am not quoting him because he is either for or against breathalysers; I do not know his views on the subject—put it well in that lecture, which was entitled "Police In A Changing Society", when he said that the more important thing was to remember
…that the police were continually being brought into disagreement and conflict with fundamentally law-abiding members of the public on whose co-operation they must rely in the fight against real crime.
This is the fundamental problem of the police today.
In his conclusions Lord Devlin used these words, which we should bear in mind:
The British people"—
he was talking about the balance between liberty and order—
are hard taskmasters. They have from the earliest times had a love of freedom which has expressed itself in an intolerance of tyranny and at the same time a desire for order and good government which they know is unobtainable without respect for the law. Respect is the word. One must not expect them to be affectionate to those whose duty
it is to enforce the law. I know that a grudging respect is a poor return for the sort of service the police are asked to give. Yet it is because the British have learnt to measure out stingily their grants of authority, so that it is just enough and no more, that they have, perhaps more successfully than any other nation, held the balance between order and freedom. The Police power oscillates uncomfortably at the point of balance and this is what gives every Policeman an exacting task. But the British way of life depends to a great extent on the way in which he discharges it.
There we have reference to the point of balance, I am afraid that if one asks the already over-burdened police to tour the country and pick up motorists just because they are motorists, one will get beyond the point of balance. Nor am I impressed by the argument that the police should ring public houses, hunt balls and the like and start testing people as they approach their motor cars. There are certain things which are clean outside reason from the point of view of asking the police to do them.
Mr Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I do not think that the right hon. Lady understands the Bill. In introducing it the Government are introducing a really fundamental change in the law of Britain. We are to ensure that in future, whereas in the past numbers of people were acquitted by juries, people will be convicted. That is absolutely certain as we now consider the Bill. I ask the right hon. Lady to take credit for what she is doing, because I assure her that she is doing a lot more than she seems to have understood. This is, indeed, a fundamental change in the law.
When we consider what will happen when an accident takes place we must bear in mind what is new and what is not new in terms of the law. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to the Customs and Excise Act. But the words about there being reasonable ground to suspect that an offence had been committed are in that Act. There is a difference in the Metropolitan area, but in normal cases those words are written into legislation in regard to stolen goods, even in the Regulation 18B. Always, or virtually always, in English law it is necessary to show some reasonable ground to suspect before the police can act. To depart from that is a wide departure indeed.
This has been a good debate. It has not been a party discussion in that sense. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed their views on a subject which is of great national concern. From both sides the Home Secretary has heard reasoned, argued cases against the random test. I think that he would be failing in his job and in his responsibility if he were now to say, "We must have the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." In this case we really could discuss a matter of public importance more as a council of State, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will weigh the arguments that have been put to him.
Mr Roy Jenkins (Birmingham Stechford)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) began by taking this debate fairly wide, going over a number of issues concerned with safety—and I do not complain of that in the least—which were not specifically concerned with drink. At one stage I thought he was getting rather near the danger of taking the view that because we could not isolate and solve every problem we should not seek to isolate and solve any problem. But he then came down firmly in favour of the 80 mg. in 100 ml. level, and the broad part of Part I—though he then, like most other hon. Members opposite, concentrated on the random test aspect of the matter. I shall have a good deal to say about that later in a speech in which I shall confine myself largely, as nearly every hon. Member has done, to Part I, partly because Part II is less controversial—although it contains some important provisions which should have been introduced long before—and partly because it was dealt with very thoroughly by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.
On Part II, I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) who, while he agreed with the proposals in this Part, argued that the Bill should have increased the legal penalties which the courts can impose on employers when vehicles are proved to be dangerous, that we will carefully consider what he said about penalties and the outcome of court proceedings, following the tragic incident to which he referred. The Government agree that there are some circumstances in which the present maximum penalties seem inadequate, and we shall consider, before the Committee stage, how any changes might best be made. My right hon. Friend will write to the hon. Member about the point relating to drivers' hours.
For the rest of my speech, I turn back to Part I, some aspects of which have obviously excited some concern—at any rate, in some parts, and not confined completely to any particular part. Some persuasive speeches have been made. Frankly, I would say that before I took up my present office and looked at the problem closely, my instinctive feeling was to share these doubts, and departmentally, of course, as the right hon. Gentleman did not fail to point out, I have every reason to approach sceptically anything which imposes additional burdens on the police.
Of course, no Home Secretary, particularly at the present time, wants to put unnecessary burdens on the police, but to prove this point one has to show not only that new burdens are being put on the police, but also that they are unnecessary burdens; that they are not a proper and worth-while part of police duties. I cannot take the view that they are not a proper and a necessary part. The fact is that 8,000 people are killed on the roads every year, and a very large number more are maimed. Quite a proportion of these deaths and injuries result from accidents in which drink is a factor.
Some hon. Members opposite, and some organs of opinion outside, have recently got very excited—and I make no complaint about it—about the murder figures for last year. It has even been suggested that they provide a reason for going back on the legislation we passed. As I told the House last week, we do not yet know the final relevant figures, but we do know—and this is the significant point for this argument—that they will be very roughly of the order of 150. No one would begin to suggest that it was an improper use of police manpower to achieve even the smallest reduction in those figures, yet they are only 2 per cent. of the total of road deaths, and of those road deaths we might eliminate up to 20 per cent.—1,600 a year—if we could get a general national acceptance of not driving after drinking considerable quantities. Let us, therefore, see this matter in proportion. This Bill will involve some limited additional strains on police manpower, but, as it offers some prospect of saving the lives of possibly ten times as many people as are murdered each year, I could not regard it as my duty as Home Secretary, even at a time of mounting crime, to resist such a limited claim on the police as the Minister of Transport is making.
Why have we legislated for this fixed blood-alcohol level of 80 mg. per 100 mls.? Because, as I think it has been generally agreed, the previous law was not biting effectively enough. It meant that except after an accident—and after an accident by definition is too late—practically no one was charged unless he showed signs of gross impairment, which generally came from having over 150 mg. of alcohol. Over and above this, there was still a high percentage of acquittals. It was not enough to have a sanction which worked when a man was ten times as likely to have an accident as if he were sober.
The new fixed level will apply when he is twice as likely to have an accident as he is when he has had no drink at all. It should cut out 90 per cent. of the accidents in which drink is a contributory cause. Is this enough? Should we go the whole way and ban driving after taking any alcohol, cut it out 100 per cent.? I should say on the whole "no" to this. A balance has to be struck between public danger and reasonable private freedom. I believe this provision does it at about the right level. To go further would produce rapidly diminishing returns for accident reduction and rapidly increasing inconvenience. The only absolute safety provision, as some hon. Member pointed out this afternoon, is one in which we ban not only driving after drink but driving in any circumstances. I therefore think that a level of 80 mg. per 100 ml. is reasonable. As a level it has been contested by very few people—not even, I note by the motoring associations.
Let me try to remove one misapprehension. A fixed level of alcohol in the blood does not mean that we are ignoring the different effects which the same amount of alcohol has on different individuals. [Interruption.] I do not suggest that the right hon. Member said that we would.
Mr Roy Jenkins (Birmingham Stechford)
I do not know whether the right hon. Member heard him, but his hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) was getting extremely near making that joint.
I should like to give the House a little information about the position as we see it. The blood-alcohol content produced by a given amount of drink varies considerably according to how used the individual is to alcohol and according to the circumstances particularly whether he has imbibed it with food or not and the time at which he has imbibed it. On the whole, the 80 mg. level is in practice unlikely to be produced by less than five single whiskies or their equivalent. Here we get to the figures which the right hon. Member was querying; it may require up to 12 single whiskies. This is not because the test is unreliable but because, broadly speaking, it measures not the amount of drink but the degree of intoxication and, therefore, of impairment.
In answer to the hon. Member for Chippenham, who produced the example of the unfortunate result of drinking half a bottle of British Railways claret, if he will not regard it as offensive, I should say that I think he was suffering from "mouth alcohol", against which we have provided.
So much for the fixed level and for fixing it at the 80–100 level. Both decisions, as the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe has said, have attracted relatively little criticism, either inside or outside the House. What has attracted more criticism, clearly, are the methods we propose for enforcing the new law. After listening to the debate very carefully, I believe that these objections are on the whole misconceived.
Let me try to deal with this at two levels. First, in my view the methods of enforcement flow almost inevitably from an honest acceptance of the new fixed level. Secondly, they are not in themselves nearly as objectionable as has been made out.
Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I am listening with great interest to what the Home Secretary is saying. There are 12 million motor cars in Great Britain, which means that there are probably 20 million drivers. How are people going to find out what their ceiling is? This is a practical problem.
Mr Roy Jenkins (Birmingham Stechford)
There are methods by which people could find out what their individual ceiling is, but I think that there are disadvantages in people trying to find out their ceiling and thinking that they are perfectly safe up to that ceiling. Therefore, I do not wish to encourage that approach. If I may be permitted by the hon. Gentleman to develop the fairly close argument which I was trying to put to the House when he interrupted me on an interesting but different point, the level of blood-alcohol ratio has been fixed, for reasons which I gave earlier and which have not been seriously challenged in this debate, at a level well below that at which the majority of drivers show any signs of obvious impairment. There is no possible means by which the police, without some sort of special check, could tell the difference between a car driven by a driver with 100 or 120 mg. and one with 60 mg. or nil in his blood. If they could not make a check without evidence of impairment, we should be back, whatever the Bill says, at an enforcement level of 150 mg. or higher—at an enforcement level, not at a legal level.
If we say that we believe in the 80 mg. level but refuse any means of enforcing it, we are indulging in a piece of organised hypocrisy. We would be back where we started, with no effective sanction against the person who is prepared to break the law in this respect—unfortunately, as we know from experience, many persons are—until the driver has become ten times as likely to have an accident as if he were sober. I do not believe that that is really what the House or the country wants. Therefore, there must be special checks, not based on driving or other behaviour which is in itself suspicious. Those checks could either be random, or they could be based on some objective circumstances not relating to the driver's behaviour which might give rise to suspicion—for instance, stopping all the drivers who left a particular pub or club, or whatever it might be. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is saying "Absolute nonsense".
Mr Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
I am following the Home Secretary's argument and I have listened to almost all the debate. If the right hon. Gentleman follows his argument through to its logical conclusion in another field for which he is responsible, is he not saying that the police should be entitled to stop any person at any time and ask him to turn out what he has in his pockets because he might have a house-breaking implement in them?
Mr Roy Jenkins (Birmingham Stechford)
What I am saying, and what is certainly accepted in another field, is that it is not much good talking about law enforcement unless there are effective means of detection. I am saying that there is no means with this new offence which we are creating of having effective detection without some form of special check. The point which I was on was whether this should be the random check, or whether it should be based on what I describe as some objective indication of suspicion but not directly related to the individual's behaviour.
I recognise that between these two methods it is possible for people honestly to take different views. On the whole, however, I think that the system by which the police fix upon a pub or club and check everybody who came away from it would lay the police open to more complaint that they were abusing their powers and that, apart from the danger of any such complaint, it would be less fair.
Mr Roy Jenkins (Birmingham Stechford)
Under Part II of the Bill, which is accepted, the police will make the random check of lorries. I know, of course, that there is a difference between lorries and individuals. When a lorry is checked and it is discovered to be unsafe, one does not arrest or prosecute the lorry; it is the driver who is prosecuted. In the last resort, it is an individual with whom one is dealing.
Perhaps I may mention, because I have no desire to conceal anything from the House in this matter, the attitude of the police to what we propose. The views of the police are divided. Chief constables generally recognise the need to strengthen the law against drunken driving. Some accept fully the case for random checks as the only way properly to enforce a statutory limit. Others are more conscious of the extra burden that this would place upon the police and of the risk to relations with the public which might be involved. They all recognise, however, as they obviously would, that it is for Parliament to decide what should be the laws which they have to enforce, and there is not the slightest doubt that they will carry out with complete loyalty whatever we as a House of Commons and Parliament decide.
It is important to deal with the misapprehensions which have been expressed to some extent either in this House or outside about the tests. Clearly, any test of this sort involves some inconvenience and some interference with individual liberty. Nobody denies that. It is certainly possible to exaggerate the interference. The whole process should not take more than five minutes at most and the test will be a simple one. A delay of five minutes can, of course, be a great nuisance to a motorist, but many similar time hazards are connected with motoring.
Mr Roy Jenkins (Birmingham Stechford)
In most cases it will take less. I was giving a maximum period of up to five minutes. We do not envisage a position in which a queue would form. There would be no question of that. The whole process from being stopped to driving on again if the result were negative would not, in our view, take more than five minutes and it might well take less.
The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) raised a point concerning lonely roads. There is nothing new about police checks and the police stopping vehicles on lonely roads. But chief constables will, I know, use their discretion in this matter and certainly see that their officers behave responsibly. There will be no question of the police cars which take part in the checks not being clearly identifiable. They will have flashing blue lights on the top and there is no reason why anyone should stop if he does not see what is clearly identified as a police car.
In addition, it is always open to the motorist to give a reasonable excuse for refusing the test. This might relate to his health or, in exceptional circumstances, to the urgency of his journey. In many cases, the police would no doubt accept an excuse, if reasonable, without trouble. It cannot be argued, on the one hand, that the police are desperately worried about the Bill exacerbating their relations with the public and, on the other hand, that they will apply the Bill unreasonably. I do not believe that they will for one moment. In many cases they will accept an excuse if reasonable. If they do not, the question of reasonableness can, in the last resort, be decided in the courts.
Then there is the question of whether the breathalyser is sufficiently accurate. Complete accuracy is not claimed for it. It is essentially a screening test. If the result is negative, that is the end of the matter. If it is positive, the motorist is asked to go to the police station where a blood test, which is more accurate, will be taken. There is no question of anyone being prosecuted on the result of a breathalyser test alone.
The right hon. Gentleman made a good deal of play with the figure of 5 per cent. falsely positive readings. We do not claim complete accuracy for the breathalyser test, but the position is not one in which someone with no alcohol in his blood will suddenly get a positive reading. The 5 per cent. of inaccurate readings might be ones in which a person with 75 mg. in his blood shows by mistake a reading of 80. I see no reason why, in practice, a motorist should not ask, if he so wishes and if he doubts the validity of the test, for a second breathalyser test before going to the police station. This is specifically what we propose in the case of the mouth alcohol problem of the hon. Member for Chippenham—the position where a falsely high reading is given because the motorist has had a very recent drink. There is such a problem, but the effects of mouth alcohol last only about 20 minutes, and this matter can and will, no doubt, be dealt with by the motorist who produces a positive result claiming that it is for this reason that he should be allowed to wait for an appropriate period and take a second test. But the fact is that, if a positive result is produced by a test, there is a 95 per cent. possibility that the motorist is above the permitted level and we cannot legislate in this matter without some inconvenience to people who are only near the level.
Then there is the question of whether the blood or urine tests impose an unreasonable burden on a suspected motorist. I do not think so. He will only be asked to take them if the result of the breathalyser test shows prima facie evidence of guilt. The blood test is extremely simple, painless and accurate and there is no relationship between it and the unpleasant medical process of pumping a sample of blood out of the arm. It involves the merest pinprick at the top of the thumb.
It is suggested that this should be done by a doctor as a protection, it is claimed, for the motorist. That is the desire of the motoring organisations. It is not thought that doctors will be loth to assist in the process. Unlike the present procedure, they will not be called upon to go to court to give evidence. It will be the right of the motorist to ask for a clinical examination if he wishes and thinks it desirable.
Then there is the question of the "in charge" cases. This is a somewhat unsatisfactory feature of the law as it stands. My right hon. Friend and I considered very carefully whether we could not get rid of the "in charge" offence altogether. We would greatly have liked to do so. But we found that there were two fairly insuperable objections. First, without it, one could not prevent a man who was manifestly impaired from driving—he might drive in the future—if one saw him drunk beside his car, except by making the police hang around almost indefinitely. Secondly, one could not in all circumstances deal with the position which might arise after an accident.
Nevertheless, we have been able substantially to reduce the objections to the drunk-in-charge offence. The difficulty here has always been that a man who is driving and realises that he is somewhat affected by alcohol has been subject to two conflicting pulls. If he goes on he may run the risk of an accident, and if he stops, either to sit in his car and wait for a time, or to abandon it and go home by taxi or bus, he may well think that he is more likely to draw the attention of the police to himself.
But the public interest is, of course, much better served by his stopping driving, and the Bill goes a very long way to remove the conflict and gives him an incentive to stop driving. He will be forgiven the past, provided that he can show that he did not intend to go on driving, and from the motorist's point of view and the public's point of view that makes a substantial improvement.
I therefore commend to the House the scheme put forward in the Bill. Of course we shall carefully study in detail what has been said and no doubt there are several points, some important and some less important, which can be dealt with in Committee. However, I am sure that the main lines of our proposals, including the random checks, are right.
Of course they involve some invasion of individual rights, and I would certainly not be anxious to countenance this unless I thought it necessary. However, I must say that for once the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe got things rather out of proportion when he said that the breathalyser test was comparable with being committed to prison under 18b during the war.
The object of this part of the Bill is not to get convictions. It is at once less punitive and more far reaching than that. Its object is to change social habits, as the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) put it. It is to make people accept the need to separate the habits of drinking and driving and to do so not on the spur of the moment, but as the result of settled and accepted planning of individual and family lives. It is by whether we achieve this result that the Bill must ultimately be judged. We cannot achieve it without some deterrent effect and we cannot achieve the deterrent effect without some reasonable chance of detection. Propaganda in itself is not sufficient, although I attach great importance to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said about publicity in this matter.
Nevertheless, we can and, I hope, will ultimately achieve the result of separating drinking and driving in a way which we have not hitherto done when the Bill has settled down and been working for a few years, with fewer offences, fewer cases and fewer convictions, but at the same time with the achievement of that change in social habits which is the basis of our desire in the Bill.
Mr Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
I propose to make two points very briefly, having listened with interest to the Home Secretary. First, on the subject of random testing, I accept that there may be a complete defence in this matter, but the right hon. Gentleman should not underestimate the damage which this testing will do to the relationship between the police and the public. It is not so much a matter of over-burdening the police as of the relations between the police and the public.
Secondly, the Home Secretary has admitted, as did the Minister of Transport, that the trouble with a test of this kind is that one is unable to give any guidance to a man as to the amount he can drink, for the amount he can drink depends entirely on his weight and various other factors. Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, when a limit is being fixed which might be surpassed while, at the same time, not causing impairment of a person's ability to drive, we should carefully consider whether there should be far wider variations in punishments which magistrates would have the discretion to give, rather than making it automatically 12 months' disqualification for such offences?