Road Safety Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 22nd November 2005.

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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) 4:15 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, I am in danger of pouring cold water on so far a unanimous House. I admire the ingenuity of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in the way in which he has constructed his amendment. We had not seen anything like it—or similar to it—until he proposed it on 27 June in Committee. We recognise the skill that has gone into the construction of the amendment and its objectives, which seek to ensure that we make our roads safer by greater control over drinking and driving.

As noble Lords will recognise, there is a wide 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 law-abiding motorist is that these campaigns must be authorised by a reasonably senior officer, as the noble Earl indicated, and that someone who is required to be tested can request a written statement to explain the circumstances of the test. I see this as a helpful concept in taking public support with us on the question of breath testing. I say that because, despite the assertion of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, she will recognise that the concept of random breath testing does not command universal assent.

Nevertheless, while it was suggested by some that this proposal would not go far enough—although in the case of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, it would go just far enough—for the Government it is a step too far, given the current practice of the police in their enforcement procedures against drink-driving. The police are content with their existing powers in this area and we would not wish to widen them.

Since we last discussed this proposal, we have available further drink-driving statistics which show that while the number of road fatalities where alcohol is a factor has increased, at least the overall number of accidents has gone down from 12,400 in 2003 to 11,220 provisionally for 2004. I am also pleased to report to the House that since the publication of the joint Home Office, Department for Transport and ACPO Roads Policing Strategy, two well-attended conferences have been held on roads policing. The first was held by ACPO in October and the second by the Police Federation just last week. That shows that the police are taking this issue very seriously.

Our short debate today indicates how clearly noble Lords recognise that this is a problem which needs to be tackled. However, I repeat that, first, the police are content with their existing powers; secondly, we discuss regularly how the police enforce the existing law; and, thirdly, we have seen an improvement in one set of statistics. I am not at all complacent about the situation and we all know of the problems in this area. I hope that the noble Earl will accept that his amendment would not add to police efficiency, while at the same time acknowledging that we share his concern about this issue. I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.