Road Safety Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 8:26 pm on 27 June 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

House again in Committee on Clause 10.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 are put forward to try to tackle the scourge of legislation by statutory instrument, although we welcome the Government's amendment to that effect that we have already dealt with.

I ask the Minister to give us a clear explanation of how much deposit we are talking about. I touched on the issue on the previous amendment. There is no indication in the legislation whether that deposit is meant to be a proportion of any fixed penalty, the equivalent of a fixed penalty, a proportion of the maximum penalty that can be charged, or the maximum penalty itself. Will the Minister give us any indication about that? If we are not careful this will be another area where we will spend an enormous amount of time quizzing the Government about whether they are raising revenue for other purposes or whether there is a proper rationale to the decisions being made.

That brings us back to the question I asked at the end of the previous amendment about where was the legislation that enabled enforcement officers, whether police or others, to take money from motorists. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

First of all, I wish to allay the noble Baroness's suspicions: this provision is not about revenue raising; it is about an appropriate sanction to ensure compliance with the law. I cannot be drawn on the amount of the deposit because it would cross neither our mind nor that of any noble Lord concerned with legislation to include such a figure in a Bill. First, it is far too detailed, and, secondly, we do not know how long the currency of the figure would last against the background that we expect the legislation to be in place for a number of years.

I am not to be drawn on the issue of the deposit but I shall seek to give the noble Baroness another assurance. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform viewed the matter as so important that we should undertake to make it the subject of secondary legislation through an affirmative order. I am happy to confirm that we will comply with that recommendation. When we debate the affirmative order we will have the opportunity to debate the appropriateness of the figure at which the deposit should be set.

In the previous debate I wanted to reassure noble Lords that we intend the legislation to work, and it is therefore necessary to set the deposit at a level that results in compliance with the requirements. I also confirmed that the legislation contains the innovative but nevertheless clear principle that enforcement officers would have the right to enforce the deposit and take cash for it. I even assured the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on his question whether there was any reason, if people did not comply with the law and a vehicle was stopped, the driver could legitimately go on his way.

We are reasonably watertight on the issue, save for the figure of the deposit. That is a subject for extensive consultation and for an instrument to be laid before this House and the other place. We will have plenty of time to discuss the appropriateness of the figure.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am also grateful for his confirmation that there are clauses—I think he said in this legislation—to enable enforcement officers to take deposits from offenders at the time the offence is committed. I have not gone through the Bill clause by clause and schedule by schedule but it would be extremely helpful if the Minister could point me in the direction of the provision that says that. It may be understood but so far it is not implicit that that is the situation. If it is to be the situation, it needs to be made very clear in legislation that that is proposed.

I am grateful for the indication that the secondary legislation by affirmative procedure will indicate what the deposit should be and how any increases or changes to it will take place. The Minister did not say that but I assume that it will be part of the legislation. On the basis of that reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Lyell Lord Lyell Conservative

If Amendment No. 37 were agreed to, I would not be able to call Amendments Nos. 38 and 39.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

In moving Amendment No. 37, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 38, 39 and 41. We welcome the clause but, once again and as always, only if the powers are fairly used. I am trying to elicit from the Minister—who is very straightforward in his replies so I am sure I will get it—a little more detail of how the clause will work in practice.

As we see it, proposed new Section 90D would enable the police or vehicle examiners to prohibit the movement of the vehicle if the deposit is not paid immediately and this would continue in force until the owner pays. What would happen if individuals were unable to pay immediately—always presuming that the legislation is there to ensure that they are able to pay immediately—either through not having sufficient funds on them at the time or simply through not having sufficient funds? In those circumstances, the vehicle in question would be taken away and considerable sums in removal and storage charges would then be run up to such an extent that the costs might actually be greater than any fine.

Surely there must be some flexibility in the system to allow a person to come back the next day and pay the fine when he has managed to get the cash together. What opportunity will the police have to use their own discretion and judgment in such matters?

How much is it anticipated this additional bureaucracy will cost? Will it be self-financing? If it is, once again we are in danger of the scheme being used as income generation; if it is not, there will be a suspicion that it is.

Amendment No. 41 is intended to ensure that any removal direction imposed on the motorist is reasonable. It is a wide clause. I refer the Committee to page 12 of the Bill, where it states that a constable has the right to prohibit a person from driving if he has been stopped and fails to make a payment. I can understand why that may be necessary, but the constable can prohibit the person from driving on a road,

"any vehicle of which the person was in charge at the time of the offence by giving to the person notice in writing of the prohibition".

However, the provision goes on to state:

"A constable or vehicle examiner may by direction in writing require the person to remove the vehicle to which the prohibition relates . . . to such place and subject to such conditions as are specified in the direction".

We can understand why this may be necessary. It could well be that the vehicle in its position is causing an obstruction. However, when the police make such a direction, it should be fair and it should not directly result in the person who has committed an offence being subjected to a huge cost. I am thinking of a scenario in which a policeman tells the person in charge of the vehicle to remove it to, say, an inner London car compound which happens to be next to a perfectly acceptable car park where the charges are £10 a day, whereas the compound charges £80 a day for the storage of vehicles. If the police officer were to make such a direction, the driver who had committed the offence could face storage charges of up to five times the fixed penalty that he has not paid. Would that be reasonable?

Many questions are raised by the whole issue of deposits and my next one I have asked before. It concerns the costs of the bureaucracy and people's ability to go and collect the money if we are now satisfied that they will be able to pay the police directly. Are we to have visions of the Prime Minister's last frolic into this area, where it was suggested that people should be taken down to the local cash machine to collect money in order to pay fines for hooliganism. If you are going to have to pay a deposit, access to money is another important area in terms of fairness and how it will be managed.

I have made our position clear. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

Members of the Committee should give particular attention to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. At present, when the police detain a vehicle, it has to be removed to a place of safe storage. It cannot just be parked out in the open. It has to be taken, often under cover, to a place where it costs money. It is important that costs are recovered from the owner of the vehicle.

On detaining a vehicle that has brought peaches from Spain or meat from Ireland, we are talking about a vehicle that probably contains goods worth £10,000 or £20,000, apart from the cost of the vehicle. It is important that the Minister makes plain that this will not become a charge on council tax payers via the police, or the taxpayer. If the person has committed an offence and is arraigned by the police and charged, he should also be responsible for whatever storage and demurrage charges relate to that vehicle. The police are not able just to park the vehicle in a lorry park; they are obliged to park it somewhere secure, which could involve lots of money. In the Minister's reply, I hope that we get an answer which relieves the police and through them the taxpayer or council tax payer of the costs.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

In practice, most of the time the deposit would be paid with a credit card, debit card or company charge card, so I suspect that it will not be too much of a problem. We need the deterrence of impounding so that the driver magically finds his company payment card. But what happens if subsequently there is no case to answer and significant storage charges, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred, have been run up? If a vehicle has been stored at cost for, say, a week, while the matter is sorted out, perhaps the operator has incurred quite significant charges because he has failed his customer. Who pays those storage charges that may be legally required, but for which there is no case to answer?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

I had hoped that I had covered most of those points in earlier debates, but perhaps not with sufficient accuracy. I will do my best to be precise on this occasion. The purpose of the deposit scheme is clearly set out in Clause 10. It enables officers to demand a deposit to guarantee equal treatment of everyone who breaks the law. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, quoted the number of people—a very considerable number—who fail to meet their fines and effectively abscond with the vehicle and return to the country of origin. That is why we are out to remedy an abuse by making sure everyone is treated equally.

That requires, first, the right and powers of the officer concerned to enforce a deposit. If it cannot be paid at that point, a little discretion may be exercised, but the vehicle does not move until the deposit is paid. If the vehicle moves, it will go into storage, as happens now. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is right. Storage costs mount up. They are not inconsiderable. However, if the case were dismissed, it would not be by a decision just of the enforcing officer. By definition it would go to court. If it were rescinded, it would be for the court authorities, the judge or magistrate, to make a decision on costs.

Should an extraordinary miscarriage of justice have occurred through a wrong identification of the person responsible, not only would the individual go free, but almost certainly no charge would be made on the company that owned the lorry. That would not be fair. It is where appropriately society bears the costs of dealing justly with people. If they are found innocent, by definition they ought not to bear excessive costs. I think that is the answer to the question put by the noble Earl.

However, in most cases officers will not make mistakes; quite the opposite. They will have identified that an offence has been committed and will expect the money to be paid. If it is not forthcoming, they will want reassurances either that they can get the money because the address given is significant enough for the penalty to be pursued effectively and the issue is thus resolved subsequently, or if they are uncertain about the address and suspect that it may be part of a pattern of absconding scot free by not meeting the obligations of the offence, at that point they will take action. If no money is available, the vehicle will go into store. It is then the responsibility of the driver and the people who own his vehicle. The costs would accrue to them accordingly. So I do not think that there is a problem either in principle or in practice on how the system is to be enforced.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

Would my noble friend help me on a point that has been worrying me for some time today? Will the officers who take deposits be able to process credit cards? Perhaps I missed the point, but will they have a little machine? How will they take the payments? We do not all go around with several hundred pounds tucked into our left sock, as people did in the old days. How will the money be collected in practice?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

It is right to say that we live in a relatively cash-free economy and it is likely that a foreign driver will not be carrying huge amounts of sterling. So the answer is that a credit card system will be used.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet)

I thank the Minister for that reply. He has dealt with most of our points, but the more we look at the deposit scheme, the more questions are raised on how it is going to work fairly. The legislation makes it clear that a constable can first freeze a vehicle wherever it is and in writing can then order it to be taken by the person driving it to a safe place. So it will be very much in the hands of the officers on the road where the vehicle goes. That returns to my point. If the driver is directed to take the vehicle to a car pound, one situated next door to a secure car park, by definition the car pound will be that much more expensive than the car park. There are questions here about where drivers will be required to take their vehicles, how they are to be identified and whether it is to be in the hands of the police themselves to indicate which depot or holding place is to be used.

The noble Lord also touched on a point that we all want to be sure about: what happens when a deposit is taken? How will it be done? Can I presume that a receipt for the money will be given? We will need to dig out quite a bit more information one way or another. In the mean time, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 13, line 1, leave out "A statutory instrument containing such an order" and insert—

"(4) No order shall be made under section 90B(2) of this Act unless a draft of the instrument containing it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(5) A statutory instrument containing an order under section 90A, 90B(1), 90C or 90D of this Act"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 9:00, 27 June 2005

moved Amendment No. 42:

Before Clause 11, insert the following new clause—

"DRIVING OR BEING IN CHARGE OF A MOTOR VEHICLE WITH ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION ABOVE THE PRESCRIBED LIMIT

(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52 ) is amended as follows.

(2) For section 5 substitute—

"5 DRIVING OR BEING IN CHARGE OF A MOTOR VEHICLE WITH ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION ABOVE THE PRESCRIBED LIMIT.

(1) If a person—

(a) drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, or

(b) is in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit as defined under subsection (2) he is guilty of an offence.

(2) The "prescribed limit" means, as the case may require—

(a) 22 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath,

(b) 50 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or

(c) 67 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine.

(3) The Secretary of State may make regulations amending subsection (2).

(4) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection 1(b) above to prove that at the time he is alleged to have committed the offence the circumstances were such that there was no likelihood of his driving the vehicle whilst the proportion of alcohol in his breath, blood or urine remained likely to exceed the precribed limit.

(5) The court may, in determining whether there was any likelihood as is mentioned in subsection (4) above disregard any injury to him or any damage to the vehicle."

(3) In section 8(2) for "50" substitute "35".

(4) In section 11(2)—

(a) for "35" substitute "22"

(b) for "80" substitute "50", and

(c) for "107" substitute "67"."

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

Amendment No. 42 seeks to introduce a lower drink-drive limit, while Amendments Nos. 44 and 43 support targeted breath testing and random breath testing respectively.

Amendment No. 42 would lower the alcohol content for drinking and driving from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams. The current alcohol limit is 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, or approximately four units, depending on factors such as age, sex and body weight. However, alcohol can impair driving at levels much lower than that. Ideally, drivers should not have any alcohol in their bloodstream at all. A lower limit would help reinforce the message of "none for the road".

In 1997, a study commissioned by the Government indicated that a lower drink-drive limit could prevent 50 fatalities per year. Earlier this year, a study by University College London revisited these figures and estimated that 65 lives could be saved per year through a lower limit. The current blood alcohol limit is among the highest in Europe. Only Ireland and the United Kingdom retain a limit of 80; in the majority of other countries, the limit is 50. In several other European countries, the limit has been lowered to 20, or even zero.

A recent Home Office survey indicated that a majority of drivers would support a lower limit, with 62 per cent in favour. Action is of course necessary to deal with drivers who are well over the limit as well as those who currently drive with a BAC of between 50 and 80. However, as a spokesman for the recent inquiry commented:

"When you're thinking about keeping burglars out of your home, you don't say 'I won't bother to fit locks to the windows, because they'll do nothing to prevent burglars coming in through the doors'— you fit locks both to the doors and to the windows".

So while reducing the limit from 80 to 50 may well do little to save the 400 and more lives lost each year from driving way over the 80 limit, there is no reason for not acting to save around 65 of the 130 or so other lives that are lost each year from driving at around the limit of 80 by reducing the limit to 50—acting to save those lives by reducing the limit to 50.

Amendment No. 44 would allow police to undertake targeted breath testing for a maximum period of 24 hours where an inspector believes that drinking and driving may be taking place. After more than two decades of significant advances in combating drink-driving, casualties from drinking and driving have again begun to rise. In 2002, there were 560 fatalities and 2,820 serious injuries from crashes involving illegal alcohol levels. This compares to a low point of 460 fatalities and 2,470 serious injuries from drink-driving in 1998.

The failure to continue the reduction in drink-drive casualties is of significant concern. Action to prevent drink-driving needs to be incorporated as a key element in the Government's alcohol harm reduction strategy.

However, despite this, the number of roadside screening tests for alcohol has been declining, while the percentage of positive tests has been rising. In 2001, there were 624,000 tests, of which 16 per cent were positive. That compares to a peak of 815,000 roadside screening tests in 1998, in which 13 per cent were positive. This percentage rise in positive tests may be due in part to more selective testing by police, but the rise in the percentage of drivers and riders killed while over the blood alcohol limit—from 15 per cent in 1998 to 19 per cent in 2002—suggests that the prevalence of drink-driving is rising.

Effective enforcement is central to reducing drinking and driving. A number of studies have shown that enforcement and the perceived likelihood of getting caught can have a major deterrent effect on the levels of drink-driving. One recent study suggested that, if the level of breath testing were to be increased ninefold in Great Britain, the proportion of drivers who died with BAC in excess of 100 milligrams to 100 millilitres of blood would fall from 20 per cent to 12 per cent. It would also significantly reduce drink-drive casualties.

However, current testing levels are among the lowest in Europe. In terms of tests per head of population, only Ireland and Austria have a lower rate of testing than the United Kingdom. In 2000, the United Kingdom conducted one screening test for every 67 people. In the Netherlands the figure is one in 16; in Spain, one in 30; and in Finland one in four. The European average probability of being breath-tested is one in 16 inhabitants. In a recent survey, 91 per cent of United Kingdom drivers reported never having been checked for alcohol in the past three years.

There are no express police powers to permit targeted or intelligence-led breath testing. As stated in the Government's road safety strategy, Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone:

"At present, the police can stop any driver but can carry out a breath test only if there has been a road traffic offence, an accident or if they suspect that the driver has been drinking. We are looking at rationalising the law because the current practice is too restrictive. We want the police to have powers to breath-test people driving at locations where it is reasonable to assume an amount of drinking has taken place".

A consultation document on combating drink-driving published in 1998 also proposed introducing targeted breath testing. However, no action has yet occurred and the Government have reversed their position. While some police officers at an operational level believe that the current position allows them adequate manoeuvre for stopping drivers, the extension of the powers to allow more widespread and targeted breath testing would send a clear message to all road users that the chances of being stopped by the police had increased significantly.

Amendment No. 43 would give police the power to undertake random breath testing, which is also not allowed as yet. Random breath testing would permit police to stop vehicles at random for the purpose of conducting breath tests. It is wider than targeted breath testing, but the two strategies are not mutually exclusive. In most European Union countries, the police are entitled to use random breath testing, the only exceptions being Denmark, the UK and Ireland. A Swiss study in 1998 found that random breath testing was one of the most cost-effective safety measures that can be implemented, and minimum levels of random breath testing is one of the main elements of the European Commission's recommendation on enforcement in the field of road safety.

Increasing drivers' perception of the probability of detection is key to reducing alcohol-related casualties. That may be best done when enforcement is unpredictable in terms of time and place and deployed in a widespread manner to ensure broad coverage of the road network. A recent Home Office survey found widespread support for random breath testing, with 86 per cent of drivers in favour, including 70 per cent of those drivers who had admitted to driving while over the limit. I beg to move.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I have an amendment in this group: Amendment No. 54. Alcohol is clearly a problem, but so are drugs. My amendment is similar to and based on the existing provision for breath testing for alcohol. I moved a similar amendment during the passage of the Transport Act 2000.

I believe that if there were primary legislation in place to provide for saliva testing for alcohol, there would be a greater chance that manufacturers would develop suitable equipment for testing for drugs. As for the blood alcohol limit—the BAC—the Minister has the right approach. Our ethos is that, if you break alcohol laws in the UK, you will be in very serious trouble. Other countries have lower BAC levels, but they also have graduated penalties, which I think sends the wrong signal—that an alcohol level a little over the limit is not a problem. I believe that we should stay where we are and that our current policy strikes the right balance. I am grateful that the Minister has resisted lowering the BAC.

However, I should like to see random breath testing for all drivers; I should like to see a trap whereby everyone gets a breath test. I have not had a breath test in 20 years, although I have driven thousands and thousands of miles. Yes, of course I am no risk in terms of alcohol, but I feel that I should have been tested just occasionally. It would make me feel good, because I adhere to the law.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, argued that in many other European countries, the limit is 50 milligrammes, and in a few cases zero milligrammes. That may be the case, but as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, and in my experience, it is not really enforced. Scandinavia may be different, but the further south and east you go, it is not really enforced. You see quite a lot of people knocking back quite a lot of wine or beer at lunch and driving off without worrying whether they are going to be stopped. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, the penalties are usually quite low.

The argument is that even a small amount of alcohol adversely affects, to some small degree, driving performance—but so do all sorts of things. If you do not eat at all, your blood sugar level falls; if you eat too much, the blood goes from your brain to your stomach, making you drowsy and therefore dangerous. If you are up all night listening to pop music, or whatever, drinking nothing but Coca Cola, you are a real menace on the roads. That is far more dangerous than having a couple of glasses of something while listening to a Mozart symphony.

The situation may be slightly different here—although I cannot believe that it is very different—but American experience shows that 23 per cent of accidents are caused by people falling asleep at the wheel. That is a very difficult offence to prove. I can think of only one case in which someone was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving as a result of falling asleep, because the police cars had followed the driver and seen him weaving around the road and noticed that his eyelids were drooping. It is terribly difficult to prove, for obvious reasons.

What about the morning after? It is well known that alcohol remains in the bloodstream until the next morning. So what about single parents who have to run their children to school in the morning, there being no other form of transportation? Does it mean that they will not be able to drink anything at all with their dinner except on Friday and Saturday nights? If they have a part-time job on Saturday mornings, they could drink only on Saturday night.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that we should concentrate more on driving under the influence of drugs, and leave the limit where it is at the moment.

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 42, to which my name is added, before referring briefly to Amendment No. 55, which is also in my name in this group. I remind the House that I am the president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

I support everything that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said to Amendment No. 42. I have a couple of small points to make. One is that reviews of lowering the alcohol limit in other countries have shown that it can be accompanied by a reduction in drinking and driving at much higher levels of alcohol. A lower limit would send out a general education message and set the tone for no drinking and driving.

On Amendment No. 42, RoSPA believes that a lower drink-driving limit should not be introduced in isolation but as part of a wider package of drink-driving measures, including education and enforcement initiatives. Currently the police can stop any driver for any reason, but they cannot require a breath test unless they suspect that a driver has consumed alcohol, the driver has committed a traffic offence or has been involved in an accident. Allowing the police to administer a breath test without needing any other reason would increase drivers' perception of the risk of being caught—as has already been mentioned by previous speakers—without necessarily placing additional demands on police resources. It would allow the police to target their resources at areas and times where intelligence indicated they would be most effective; for example, at locations where it is reasonable to assume that drinking may have taken place.

This amendment may be opposed on the grounds that it erodes civil liberties, but I would maintain that drink-drivers also erode the civil liberties of everyone else on the roads. Drink-driving is such a serious offence that it justifies giving the police wider powers. I understand that a Home Office survey found that half of respondents felt that they could drive over the limit once a week for a year and not get caught. The perception of the chances of being caught, therefore, needs to be raised to act as a greater deterrent, and that is the aim behind this amendment.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 9:15, 27 June 2005

I think that my name is also on this group of amendments.

I should like first to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on the necessity for an effective roadside test for drugs. That has been a long time coming. The Minister may well say that we do not yet have an effective roadside test for drugs, but I suggest that it is time that we did. The drugs concerned have been around a long time. One of the resources wanted by police who stop those who drive erratically is some sort of evidential test that they have indeed been using drugs. A breathalyser does not give that information. They are obliged to rely on tests which I think were used 30 years ago by the police, such as asking, "Can you walk a straight line, and can you touch the end of your nose with your finger?". That is not very scientific.

If the person cannot touch the end of his nose with his finger, he has to be taken to a police station. Then, he has to give a blood sample, which requires the attendance of a police surgeon. As the Minister knows, police surgeons are not in plentiful supply; in fact, it has been a great problem finding people to be police surgeons. If police surgeons are being dragged out of bed at 3 am on a Sunday to deal with violent people or people suspected of taking drugs, one can understand why the problem exists. So I would first press on the Minister the need for a simple evidential test that the person is likely to have been taking drugs. It is an issue that we want out of the way.

The next issue I should like to raise is intelligence-led policing—an issue that we talk about a lot. Every police force has big notices around their headquarters extolling the virtues of intelligence-led policing. I think that intelligence-led policing would, as a first step, suggest that, if you are going to administer a test for alcohol, you would do it close to premises where you knew that alcohol was being dispensed in large quantities. We all know of the places, mainly in cities, where alcohol is dispensed without any limit at all and people are plied with as much alcohol as they can drink for £10 or £15. Surely, any form of intelligence-led policing must point to the police having powers to test people around places where alcohol is dispensed freely. Obviously the people coming out of there are the most likely people to be consuming alcohol.

The third issue to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention is another serious matter, one which I have raised with the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal. It concerns the number of disqualified drivers—disqualified due to drink-driving—who are driving. I raised with the noble Baroness the case of an individual who had been before the magistrates in a court in the Thames Valley on three occasions. He had been disqualified on each occasion. He required an interpreter. That is a familiar ploy on the part of foreign nationals, particularly those from eastern Europe who say that they speak only some peculiar version of Serbo-Croat or Hungarian, knowing very well that it is difficult to get an interpreter. Then, the probation service has to provide a report on the individual's behaviour. If on the third occasion the probation service has not provided that evidence, the person is set free.

I did not receive a satisfactory answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, although I received a very long answer from her. Countless disqualified drivers are driving today who have been disqualified mostly for drink-driving, sometimes for driving while being on drugs and sometimes for other reasons such as for driving stolen cars. Although I have much sympathy with what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, about reducing the alcohol limit, I believe that there are far more pressing problems that we ought to address. We ought to give the police more shots in their locker, as it were, to deal with a problem that, I am sure, we all know exists.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My amendment is grouped with the amendments that we are discussing but is slightly different to some of the others. First, I should like to comment on the other amendments. As the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, no alcohol in a driver's blood is the ideal situation. However, given the state of society it is unlikely that that will occur. My amendment suggests that, for new or novice drivers, that position should apply. It relates to a later amendment that I have tabled, which asserts that we should have a means of identifying such drivers. Unless you can identify them, there is no way that you can control them in a different manner from anyone else.

The nil alcohol level for new drivers is desirable. Every state in Australia has its own powers on drink-driving, but they do not differ much. I refer to the powers in New South Wales, where I have chapter and verse. I am not sure whether its blood alcohol concentration levels follow the same pattern as ours, but it is interesting to note that New South Wales claims that a BAC level of 0.05 doubles the risk of an accident; a BAC level of 0.08—which is only a little more—increases the risk of an accident by seven times; and a BAC level of 0.15 gives you 25 times the risk of having an accident. Therefore, small increases in blood alcohol concentration result in a rapid increase in the risk of having an accident.

The document states:

"In NSW the Police have the power to:

Stop drivers at random to test for alcohol.

Arrest drivers who test over the legal limit".

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to a drugs test. However, there is no proper drugs test that is absolutely conclusive, unless you carry out a blood test. The New South Wales police arrest drivers if they suspect that they are on drugs. In that case, the drivers must submit to blood and urine tests.

The New South Wales police also make a big thing about publicity to avoid drink-driving and drug-driving. The police advise that drivers should plan ahead; arrange alternative transport; share a taxi with friends; catch public transport; stay overnight at a friend's place; ride with a driver who has not been drinking or taking drugs; or arrange a lift with a friend or relative. In view of the fact that the New South Wales police issue publicity on how to deal with the problem, they are tough on people who exceed the limit.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said that it was logical to have roadside testing near venues where alcohol was provided. In central London, such venues constitute clubs and pubs. However, given the congestion charge and the difficulties caused by traffic in the centre of London, there might not be as many would-be drivers who have been drinking emerging from the clubs in Soho as would be the case if there were parking nearby. I have never understood the British attitude that it was not sporting for the police to be somewhere where people were rolling out drunk; that is rubbish. When you are driving along in Australia, whether on a motorway or near a pub or whatever, there is a great caravan sort of thing pulled up and people say, "Oh, look out! That is the booze bus". As the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, the greatest deterrent is the likelihood of being caught. Everyone is pretty careful the minute they see the booze bus waiting for them.

The Minister said that Australia had a bad record of accidents, but it is hard to prove a negative. We do not know that the results would not be 20 times worse if they did not have those restrictions. That is no argument against alcohol restrictions and tough tests. Targeted testing and intelligence-led policing are all very well, but nothing is as effective as random breath tests. I strongly support Amendment No. 43, and I support Amendment No. 45, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on drug testing. He also spoke about random breath testing.

In Australia, they are much stricter with young drivers. They have a restricted or "P" plate. The driving test goes through two stages: you must get your P1 plate, which you have for a year, before you get your P2 plate, which you have for 24 months. That makes 36 months in all. In that whole period, you must have a zero blood alcohol level. They issue information advising young people to check the products that they are using for alcohol content, because some medicines, mouthwashes and foodstuffs can contain alcohol. They advise you to look on the label to be sure, because when you have to have a zero level you cannot take anything like that. However, there is one interesting exception, which is that if you can prove a small amount of blood alcohol was caused by going to a religious service where you had that alcohol, that is a defence, but it is a very low level and you would have to prove that you were really at the religious service.

The penalties for drink driving there are severe, and the convictions involve a criminal record as well as fines and licence loss. The important point, as they say, is:

"Or worse still, you could be responsible for the death of a friend or an innocent person using the road".

I am very much in favour of nil alcohol for novice drivers and random breath tests for everyone else. A lower limit would be a fallback position, but I would much prefer to see greater powers and random breath tests.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I have added my name to two of the amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and I support him completely. As it turns out, I have supported a number of other amendments, despite not having added my name to them. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, in her story about Australia. She may well know that the state of Victoria has targeted drink-driving harshly. The number of people who drink and drive there has fallen not quite to zero but very close to it.

I should like to recount a story regarding a television programme many years ago about random breath testing in New South Wales. It was about a police crew doing random breath testing and various other things, but the random breath testing is what I shall address today. They had the cars queuing up for the drivers to be tested, and one driver said, "Can you please hurry it up because my wife is in labour?". They said, "Oh, is she?", and they went along and had a word with the lady. She was in labour, and she got a police escort—so there are benefits.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

It has been an interesting debate, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response in a moment. However, we need to be careful before we alter the limits that we have in this country. Over the past few years, we have been successful in persuading people that they should not drink and drive. The whole culture in this country is that you know that if you drink too much you lose your licence. I support graduated points for speeding, but people suggested examples from other European countries where you do not lose your licence but get various points and so on.

In this country, we have been successful over the past few years in getting people to realise more and more that they should not drink and drive. Therefore, the culture and the way in which we treat the matter is important. Although it has been an interesting debate, I am afraid that I do not support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Dundee that would reduce the levels of alcohol.

However, I very much support what we have heard about from my noble friend Lord Attlee and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—that there is not a sufficiently successful way of getting to drugs and driving yet. We need to work much harder at how we do that. I believe—I am sure that a lot of us believe it—that that is a bigger danger, particularly with young people who take drugs and then drive. We need to address that.

I hope that the Minister might agree with me in a moment that we need to be careful in this area of legislation. We have probably not been as successful as we might like, but we have had success over the past few years. We need to make certain that any legislation that we pass or changes that we make are not counterproductive. They must continue the trend that we have seen in this country of people realising that they should not drink and drive. Also, we must get something to stop drug driving.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour 9:30, 27 June 2005

I want to contribute briefly; I do not intend to speak at length, because virtually every point that I would have made has been made very adequately by previous speakers. Indeed, I made a number of the same points at Second Reading. I shall pick up on the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield.

Will the Minister comment on the trend? I agree completely that drink-driving legislation has been one of the great successes of our road safety measures over the past 20 years. What concerns me is that the recent trend shows drink driving creeping up again. I wonder whether it is not the time to look at the sort of measures that have been suggested of bringing the limit down to the level that one would find in other European countries. The question of enforcement and powers for the police, particularly to target where they think that drinkers are getting into their cars, driving away and causing danger, needs to be looked at as well.

I do not imagine for a minute that the Minister will agree to any of the amendments this evening. I am sure that we will have to come back to the issue in future. However, I ask him to pay particular attention to the alarming change in the trend, and the fact that the figures are going in the wrong direction.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I shall be very brief. I listened with interest to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. I support the principle for new drivers, but a zero limit is impractical. It would mean that, for most of the next day if you had had a reasonable dinner the night before, you would not be able to drive.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I want to follow on from what was said by my noble friend Lord Faulkner. The increase in people killed and seriously injured in the past five years is something like 22 per cent. For 2002—the latest figures that we have—that is 560 people killed and 2,820 seriously injured in crashes involving illegal alcohol levels. That is very significant.

Why can we not have random breath tests? What are we doing? The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, is right to say that it is as though we are at a sporting game. Let us have a sporting chance of getting away, like the fox in the fox hunting debate. Give it a chance; give us a five-minute start and we will get away. With this level of accidents, we cannot afford that. It is not a game—or it is a game with people's lives and we cannot have that.

We need random tests and lower limits. Then we might make some progress in reducing significantly figures such as the 560 people killed in 2002 in alcohol-related accidents. Yes, education has been a success and the figures have reduced, but I agree with my noble friend that now is the time to move to the next stage to get the figures down. The figure is now much too high and we cannot play games any more.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that there is one good reason why breath tests should not be totally random. Blowing into a breathalyser is extremely painful for anyone with a middle-ear infection and most of us have those at some time in our lives—I have, perhaps, had more than my fair share. It may be perfectly acceptable to subject people who are driving erratically to that pain and discomfort. I suggest that it is not acceptable to someone who is showing no signs of bad driving.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

On that last point, you always have the right to have a blood test. You need not be subjected to a breathalyser if you really would find it painful.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

This has been a most interesting debate with a large number of contributors and some useful comments. The only thing that I would say to Back-Benchers who have contributed so ably is that, on this occasion, the two Front Benches are united and noble Lords should quail in the face of the great forces that are arraigned against them. I agreed with much of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, about the need to tread with some care in this area, given that we have one of the best records in Europe.

I take seriously the stricture of my noble friend Lord Faulkner that we must be mindful of trends and that this past year's figures have not been welcome, to put it mildly. It is an indication that there may be a degree of complacency about the issue and of less care being taken by drivers who take excessive amounts of alcohol. We need to keep the situation under the closest review. I reassure him and the whole House that we shall watch the situation very carefully indeed.

But that does not mean to say that we think that the merits of introducing a limit of 50 mg in 100 ml of blood or even lower have been established. They have been examined and debated over a long period—almost as long as the drink-driving laws have been in place. I noted that the president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, my noble friend Lady Gibson, was fair in indicating that RoSPA would not wish to see changes to the drink-driving laws in isolation—they would need to be a package.

Given that we are concerned about the public response to these issues, there is no doubt that effective road safety measures must engage the commitment of the public to their fairness and justice and that it is prepared to abide by them. For every constraint that is the subject of law enforcement, infinitely more powerful is the compliance of our fellow citizens, if they regard the law as being fair and intelligently based.

We know that the results of research from other countries, where legal limits have been reduced below 80 mg, are likely to have been affected by the influence of other anti-drink measures, too. In some cases, it seems that underlying trends and current factors such as publicity and enforcement policy were not always measured. So it is difficult to apportion the benefits that might derive from that sole factor of reducing the alcohol limit. Our research does not enable us to be as categorical as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, was in his advocacy of the amendment. Quite rightly, he presented the argument with his customary force and eloquence and was supported by his fellow co-signatories. However, we are not convinced of this position.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned, the penalties in this country are enforced with great rigour and are heavier than those on the Continent. I am not sure that I can accept the definition of northern and southern Europe given by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, where anything goes south of some European Mason-Dixon line, but I understood what he was contenting; that is, that enforcement is not always done with the same degree of rigour in some countries. But it certainly is in our country, and people know that if they are caught breaking the drink-driving laws, there are serious consequences. There is a mandatory minimum disqualification of 12 months for the offence of driving or attempting to drive with excess alcohol, which can be combined with up to six months' imprisonment and a fine of up to £5,000. Most countries with a lower legal limit operate penalties a long way below these. We are of the view that enforcement, and the proper respect of the public for the degree of rigour that our society expects with regard to these laws—which I think was the main burden of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield—are the most secure way of ensuring that we reduce drink-driving to the absolute minimum.

The part of the debate that I have the greatest difficulty in coming to terms with was the cry of concern about those who are caught next morning because of excessive indulgence the night before. I am not sure that four or five hours in bed enable one to discount the law the next day on the grounds that yesterday was yesterday and has no implications for the morrow. If people are not below the necessary level, and therefore are a threat to road users, it seems to me that it does not matter what time they consumed alcohol, nor what time of day they drive a car and are a threat to others. I give way to the noble Earl.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I think the noble Lord was referring to my contribution regarding the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. It suggested a zero limit for new drivers. The problem with that is that if someone consumed a reasonable amount of alcohol the night before, even two pints of lager at 6 o'clock the night before, he would still have alcohol in his blood the next morning.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

Well, there are hard cases. I assume that the noble Baroness would emphasise that people are all too well aware of the consequences of breaking the law and therefore are careful. Our objection to the noble Baroness's contention—apart from the extreme difficulty this year of taking lessons from the Australians in any aspect of our national life—is that we do not like the idea of a signal that says that when someone qualifies he should keep to a negligible consumption of alcohol, but a few months later he is rather more qualified because he has had experience of driving so he can safely take a little more alcohol, because the law allows him to do so. We are not convinced that that is good practice.

The noble Baroness contends—with great accuracy, I have no doubt—that of the citizens of New South Wales are law-abiding by nature, but we would be concerned about that signal in our society. We would be concerned about a situation where we said to new drivers that they could not drink alcohol, but that when they got a bit more experienced, they could take a little more. That seems to be exactly the wrong path to take to reduce—I give way to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

I feel that I must point out to the Minister that statistics show that new drivers are the greatest risk to themselves and others on the road. The period is not six months, which is suggested in my amendment, but two years. It is believed that in two years they get into good habits of driving and good habits of drinking. Certainly the young in Australia have taken very clearly on board the fact that one of them, who is selected among the group to be the driver, does not have any alcohol. That was supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. That works very well. It is also beginning to work with the adult population who have been driving for longer.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 9:45, 27 June 2005

It goes without saying that I am very pleased to hear that testimony. We will look at the evidence very carefully. The noble Baroness will recognise that we are reluctant to move from our present position until we are convinced in the round of the research on this matter. She has presented her case in her usual able fashion. We will look at it very closely.

We monitor statistics not only in Europe—that goes without saying—but in other parts of the developed world to see whether we can improve our statistics against a background where I maintain that we are, in this particular area, one of the best countries in the advanced world. But, as my noble friend Lord Faulkner and others have indicated, there is absolutely no room for complacency.

So I shall not accept the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and I hope that he will withdraw it. However, we recognise the force of the argument he has put and of the necessity of us addressing ourselves to this issue as far as our general road safety record is concerned.

Turning to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Gibson, I see that they also address the question of enforcement. The amendments seek to remove a limitation provided by statute on the powers of the police to conduct tests on motorists. At present the law restricts breath testing, and the equivalent preliminary test for the impairment and drugs, to circumstances where an accident has occurred or where a constable reasonably suspects an offence is being committed.

The issue of random tests has been the subject of public debate for a considerable period of time. It is not surprising that we have had both sides of that argument put with considerable force.

The amendments would introduce random testing because they would take away the need for reasonable suspicion, allowing the police to make a requirement for the test without any prior cause. Many would regard this as a considerable intrusion that was unjustified in the majority of situations. I am open-minded at this point. We are still prepared to listen to the arguments. But I must say this: the police do not claim that they are hampered in their enforcement against drink-driving by this constraint on their powers. I do not say that enough random testing would not send out other signals. I think that that would be the burden of some of the remarks of those noble Lords advocating these amendments. But I do not have evidence that the police consider that the general drive against drink-driving is hampered by the fact that they do not have powers of random testing.

Amendment No. 44 presents a slightly different approach. It is designed to limit the police powers in a different way. I recognise that this is a clever and subtle amendment that presents some interesting points. There is certainly a range of approaches to breath-testing policy. This one gives additional and free-standing powers to the police to establish what might be called campaigns of testing for a limited time and in a limited locality.

The safeguard for the general law-abiding motorist is that these campaigns would have to be authorised by a reasonably senior officer and where someone who is required to be tested makes a request, he can obtain a written statement to explain the circumstances. I can see that the intention behind the amendment is to carry public support for blanket testing. So I recognise that the amendment has been well thought through. Nevertheless, it is a step too far, given the current practice of the police in enforcement against drink-driving. I reiterate that the police are content with their existing powers in this area and do not want to widen them, and that we want to test that against the effectiveness of police action and the response of our society to the measures.

Photo of Lord Blackwell Lord Blackwell Conservative

The Minister cites the police as having said that they are satisfied with their powers. What policeman is satisfied with his powers? Who is he citing?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

The noble Lord knows that whenever chief constables are exercised about their capacity to enforce the law, they have a whole range of measures by which to tell us what should be done. They sometimes do that in public, but an awful lot of consultation does not hit the public prints or airwaves. I merely reflect on the fact that we have not received representations that enhanced powers are needed on that offence, whereas we do in other areas of the law. That is often cited when we discuss what seems to be the myriad of Home Office Bills that descend on us from time to time.

I am merely saying that, in this area, it is relatively quiet on the western front, so the noble Lord will just have to accept my point: we are not under pressure to extend police powers in that area. We are under pressure to continue the improvement. With campaigns, powerful publicity and enforcement, backed by our tough penalties, there has been a massive reduction in our drink-drive deaths since the 1970s. That is why I have taken on board the point made by my noble friend Lord Faulkner that there has recently been a change in the other direction. That is a cause for concern. The figure rose to 560; we will need to consider that carefully.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, again impressed me with his conspicuous courage—never failing to be in evidence in this House—but he will recognise that we do not consider the case for tests that he advanced as proven. His amendment is unnecessary. During the passage through this House of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, the Government accepted that police powers to test for impairment and the presence of drugs at the roadside should be updated. As a result, Section 107 replaced Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 with a new Section 6 and Schedule 7. Those provisions gave the police the power to administer preliminary tests at the roadside for alcohol or drugs where they suspect a moving traffic offence—where someone has been driving—or attempting to drive; or in charge of a motor vehicle; or if there has been an accident.

The courage of the noble Earl is in suggesting that drugs should also come within that framework, against a background where our anxiety is clear. We have an established, independent, scientifically verified test for the presence of alcohol in blood. No one contests that. The scientific position with regard to drugs is much hazier. We are still some distance away from being able to be categorical and to propose a test or tests that command public confidence—especially as the drugs may have been taken for recreational use and therefore close to the consumption of alcohol. Drugs are present in a very high percentage of our fellow citizens—I was going to say "in a very high percentage of noble Lords", but I would not presume that—as medicine to treat complaints and for prescribed purposes. So, there are difficulties. It may be contended that by law anyone with a proven impairment of capacities should not drive, but we would need to know that the test was absolutely secure in those terms, otherwise rank injustices could be perpetrated against innocent citizens.

The noble Lord has had the opportunity to present an interesting point. It does not make sense to discuss only alcohol as impairing driving capacity when other drugs have the same or worse deleterious effects. We do not have a test that is secure enough to put the drugs issue four-square with alcohol.

I shield myself behind the support of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who presented the arguments rather more cogently than I have done. I hope that I have chilled the souls of Back-Benchers so much that they are all determined not to press their amendments.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

How long will the Government continue to think about the issue? The accident rate has been increasing for five or six years—by 22 per cent, as I said. My noble friend said that the penalties were enforced with great vigour. The PACTS figures show that only one in 67 people are screened, whereas the European average is one in 16. There is not much vigour attached to that.

The noble Lord will not accept a lower blood alcohol limit, and he will not accept random tests, on the basis that they are an intrusion on personal liberties, but 560 people are killed in alcohol-related accidents every year. How long before the Government will change their position and take the matter seriously? It looks as though there is a sporting chance that it will go on for much longer, which is unacceptable.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

That is a very fair challenge. I merely reiterate that we change our minds and introduce fresh legislation when we are convinced of the evidence that points us towards more effective measures. At this point, we are not convinced that those exist. We are always conscious of the balance between law enforcement and public acceptability, and therefore public practice and action. We need those two to be in consort with each other. I respect entirely my noble friend's remarks. We are disturbed by recent figures; that is why we are looking at the situation with great care. But we do not think that some of the arguments behind the amendments are convincing enough.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

We would be more convinced that the Government meant to introduce a Road Safety Act if some of the suggestions made had been taken forward. Given that this will probably be the only Road Safety Bill in this Parliament, the noble Lord is condemning us to another four years of inaction. I would have been more convinced, for example, if the noble Lord had said, "We will introduce legislation to introduce a drugs test as soon as one becomes available". In response to almost every question, the noble Lord has drawn in aid public perceptions or other such factors. He has sidestepped almost every suggestion.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

I cannot commit myself to a timescale on drugs testing for the obvious reason that I do not know when scientifically we will be able to establish effective testing in those terms. I have conceded that drugs can impair driving efficiency. Alcohol does that. We have tests for alcohol and we act in a very stringent way in that respect—although not as stringently as people on some sides would accept. But, across Europe, British law is enforced with rigour in this area and more rigorously than in most other countries.

Of course, if we were in a similar, parallel position with regard to drugs—where we were quite clear what the tests demonstrate, where impairment to driving can be established and the public become aware of the fairness of such tests—we would be able to legislate.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

I thank the Minister for his remarks and all noble Lords who have informed the debate.

As to the notion of introducing random and targeted breath testing respectively, I should like to reiterate a couple of thoughts. First, over the years we seem to have failed to continue a proper reduction in drink/drive casualties, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, reminded us. Secondly, all studies show that effective enforcement and the fear of getting caught present real deterrence, a point strongly put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Bradshaw, and by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes.

As regards the lower drink/drive limit proposal, I stress that the majority of drivers support it. Yet currently the United Kingdom has one of the highest limits in Europe. If we were able now to reduce it, we could then succeed in saving 65 lives a year. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.]

Clauses 11 and 12 agreed to.

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

House resumed.