Clause 11 - Power to require specimens of breath at roadside or at hospital etc.

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 25th January 2005.

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Amendment moved [this day]: No. 53, in clause 11, page 14, line 7, at end insert—

'(4A) Leave out subsection (1)(a) and insert—

''(1) to provide two specimens of breath for analysis by means of a device approved by the Secretary of State and operated by a trained operative in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.''.'.—[Mr. Chope]

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley 2:30 pm, 25th January 2005

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 54, in clause 11, page 14, line 20, at end insert—

''(2AA) For the purposes of this section a breath test shall not be relevant if it is administered within 20 minutes of alcohol having been consumed or would have been so administered but for a failure to co-operate with it.''.

No. 56, in clause 11, page 15, line 3, at end insert—

'(6A) In section 8 of the Act (choice of specimens of breath), leave out subsection (2) and insert—

''(2) If the specimen with the lower proportion of alcohol contains no more than 50 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath the person who provided it shall be asked by a constable if he wishes it to be replaced by such specimen as may be required under section 7(4) of this Act and if he then provides such a specimen neither specimen of breath shall be used.''.'.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The points that I was making before we adjourned are serious. I ask the Minister to put safeguards into the Bill. If that were to happen, it would have a salutary impact on this important area of interaction between the police and the public. I am not in the business of wanting to try to create loopholes; I want to ensure that the law is as clear as possible, thereby reducing the scope for a misunderstanding or a feeling on the part of the public that they have been hard done by.

Stories in the press today about the disproportionate effort made by the police to convict somebody of eating an apple show just how we should not be going in this country. The police have completely the wrong balance in their relationship with the motoring public. If the amendments become law, it will help to improve the relationship between the motoring public and the police.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I rise to support the thrust of the argument put forward so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and in particular to ask the Minister to focus on amendment No. 54.

The practice is adhered to by the police because it is common sense. It saves them wasting their time; clearly, if they administer a breath test to someone who has consumed an alcoholic drink only seconds earlier, the reading will be over the limit and they will go through the process of arresting someone who, it will transpire, is probably under the limit. The 20-minute rule is an important one. Although my hon. Friend made the point that someone who is given a breath test within the 20 minutes will not suffer the injustice of being found guilty when they are under the limit because of the procedure that takes place at the station, there is nevertheless the injustice of being arrested and having one's liberty withdrawn, even if only for an hour or so. That important provision has served us well.

I am aware from my previous incarnation as a lawyer that where someone is stopped by the police and reveals to them that he has had a drink only five minutes previously, the police often make a judgment while they are waiting for the 20 minutes to elapse by speaking to the driver. On at least three occasions, to my personal knowledge, the police have concluded in that period that the driver was clearly cogent and not over the limit. They then changed their minds, aborted the process and let the driver proceed on his way.

I hope, even if the Minister does not want us to put this on the face of the Bill, that he will give the Committee an assurance that this practice of the 20-minute wait between the drink and the administering of the test—a good practice—will continue.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

I am aware that we may have a small problem with the Committee, and I shall continue talking to help the Minister focus more accurately on the notes that he may have to refer to for the questions that I would like him to answer on this clause.

I am particularly concerned, not by the fact that there will be testing at the roadside, but about the kits themselves. I have never been breathalysed, but I have been pulled over on a purely random test. In fact, I was not driving, although it was my car; my then girlfriend, who herself had not been drinking, was driving. I have never seen a breath test carried out at the roadside, so I would appreciate the Minister going through how these evidential tests might differ from the current tests carried out by police constables at the roadside, for the sake of the record.

If the Minister could also provide us with information about where these particular kits are currently being used elsewhere in the world, I should be most grateful. If they are being used in the European Union, will it be a simple crossover in terms of the compliance requirements? If they are being used in Canada or the United States, are they being used in particular states, and have there been any problems with those kits?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

An interesting situation has developed in the Committee; somewhere in between my office and here, I have dropped my glasses. I will therefore have some difficulty reading. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is very generous in offering me a pair, but he has been beaten to it by the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) has very kindly lent me a pair of his glasses. If I look like a north of Scotland MP for a moment, it will be because I am wearing his glasses. Fortunately, my Department has arranged for the type of my notes to be of a certain size, which allows me to read without my glasses.

I ask the Committee to oppose these amendments 53, 54 and 56. Section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 has served us extremely well for many years in respect of the requirements it makes for the conduct of evidential breath tests. The amendments that the hon. Member for Christchurch has moved—with very good intent, I am sure—are unlikely to alter the way procedures are undertaken, or will in future be followed, by the police in dealing with drink-drive suspects.

These procedures are covered by a precisely worded set of documents known as the MG DD forms, and can be found on the Home Office website. I have got one copy of them here with me, and I daresay that if hon. Members want to have a look at some of the procedure, it is available to be seen. The police, in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service, will be adapting these to deal with the roadside and hospital circumstances for breath testing. So, although this will probably help the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook), they apply to the current regime of breath testing. Obviously, a new script will have to be written for the police officer in the light of the new procedures.

When I say ''script'', the police have to follow something like a script; there are words they have to say and questions they have to ask. Clearly, if somebody fails the first part of the evidential test, what is different is that instead of them being arrested and taken to the police station for the blood or urine test—  or a breath test in some cases, with special machinery—the test can be administered at the side of the road. It will, however, be administered within the very careful guidance set down in the same way as in the past.

Under the Police Reform Act 2002, a new procedure for taking blood specimens from unconscious people was introduced, suitably adapted to meet the new scenario. I assure Opposition Members that the procedures at the roadside will be no less rigorous than those at the police station. [Interruption.] I now have my glasses—the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has been extremely generous—and I can actually read the brief.

Amendment 53 aims to ensure that breathalyser equipment is used by trained persons in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions. One feature of the type-approval requirements is that equipment used in court evidence should be technically sound and foolproof. The hon. Member for Christchurch will, I am sure, recall from his time as a Minister that we are talking about an aspect of road traffic law on which legal challenges were once commonplace, and sometimes even successful.

Fortunately, the courts have dealt with such attempts to pick holes in the procedure and thereby undermine the police. Over time, a substantial body of case law has been established that helps to make procedure and equipment as close as possible to beyond challenge. As regards the breath-testing equipment supplied to and used by the police, I understand that if someone attempted to use the equipment other than as intended by the manufacturers' instructions, it would not produce the results required. Although I recognise the concerns that the hon. Member for Christchurch has raised, the procedures are well established and open, and a reference in statute will not make them any more or less effective.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Will the Minister put on record the fact that anyone operating such equipment will have to be properly trained and must operate it in accordance with the manufacturers' instruction?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I was at pains to say just that. Traffic officers have to undergo specific training, not just on the operation of the equipment. Officers have to follow clear and careful guidelines when dealing with such offences because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, they have been open to legal challenge, so the structure of the procedures must be tight enough to inhibit any such challenge that could be made against them. The proper training will be given and the procedures will be adapted to the new situation, just as they were in 2002.

Section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 deals with procedure for the evidential breath test. Whether the test is taken at a station, as it is now, or at the roadside, as it will be if the Bill is enacted, it is preceded by a preliminary breath test, as provided for under section 6A(1), to give an indication of whether the proportion of alcohol in the person's breath or blood is likely to exceed the prescribed limit.

Having secured a positive screening test reading, the police will proceed to an evidential test, whether at a station or, if the Bill is enacted, at the roadside. At that stage the individual will again be asked whether he has consumed anything and a further 20 minutes will be allowed if that is the case. It would not be helpful to put in place specific provisions to cover that. The amendment would also appear to carry the risk of transferring the onus Of course, they generally would not have the knowledge to be able to do that.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:45 pm, 25th January 2005

The Minister has just said, in relation to the second test, that the question will be asked again, and if the reply is that the person has consumed a drink within 20 minutes—those were the words that he used—he will then wait another 20 minutes. Is the Minister saying, in effect, that there could be a 40-minute wait in total; up to 20 minutes before the first breath test is administered, and then a further 20 minutes before the second one?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That could only be important in the unlikely case of the person at the side of the road somehow taking a drink after they had been given the first test. That would be extremely unlikely, although not beyond the bounds of possibility. I would not have thought it advisable for someone accused of such an offence to do so, but I suppose that the police officer goes through the procedures and asks the question as part of the formality.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was not the picture that I was painting. It may be that I misheard the Minister. I thought that he said that if the motorist revealed that he had had a drink within 20 minutes, the police then wait up to 20 minutes for the first test; if that test is positive, the question is asked again before the second test is given. The Minister then said that there would be a wait of a further 20 minutes, which means 40 minutes in total; 20 minutes before the first test and 20 minutes before the second. Did he mean to say that?

I am not talking about a motorist who goes to the back seat and takes another swig of whisky. If a motorist has consumed alcohol within 20 minutes of being asked to take a test and fails the first test, the police subsequently carry out a second test, and he is asked the question again, at which point he would say, ''Yes, I had the last drink 21 minutes ago'' because they   have waited the first 20 minutes. The Minister said that there is then a further wait of 20 minutes. Did he mean to say that?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If the police officer asked the first time, ''Have you had a drink within 20 minutes?'' and the answer was no, they would go ahead with the test. When they ask the question again, the answer again should be no. If the motorist failed the first test and the police officer then goes through the script and says, ''I am now going to give you the evidential test'', and asks the motorist the question again, the answer must again be no—if he is telling the truth—because the police officer has been standing in front of him.

I said that there may be a circumstance in which the motorist answers yes in the first instance, and says that it was five minutes ago, so they allow the 20 minutes to elapse. There cannot be a further 20 minutes before the next time, because he must have been telling the truth, or got his hip flask out in the mean time. The question is asked again, but there would not be a further 20-minute wait.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position. It is as I assumed it would be; that once the first 20-minute wait has taken place, unless the police see the man taking a swig from a bottle that he has in the car, there is no further wait. That being the case, why do they ask him the question again?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That in itself is a good question. I believe that it is a formality, because they are then moving into the evidential testing, and it is just a procedure to be absolutely sure that they have got it right. They give the screening test and the evidential test and, to be absolutely sure, they ask the question again. We can have a look at the instructions in more detail, and perhaps we can learn them off by heart so that the hon. Member for Taunton will be aware of them, in the unlikely event of him ever being stopped again with his girlfriend.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

For the record, I got married 15 months ago, so I would be in real trouble if it were a girlfriend. I should like to clarify whether the screening under the new legislation will replace what would currently be given as a breath test. Could the Minister clarify that point?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has clarified that he has not got a wife and a girlfriend; that would have given us some concern. Yes, that is the situation; there will be a screening test, which is a fairly simple and, I am told, fairly accurate test. It shows the crystals turning certain colours, but it is not an accurate test in terms of providing evidence for a court. If that test is positive, the next stage is the evidential test. There is still the ability for the police officer to arrest the person and take them to the police station if they choose to do so. As hon. Members will see later, the person has the ability to ask for a test at the police station if they are under a certain level.  

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

Let us assume that the screening test has been conducted and is positive. The Minister said that the driver would then be asked a further question about the 20 minutes. At that point, if the driver takes a Trebor mint out of his pocket and goes to put it in his mouth, can the police constable prevent him from doing so? Under what regulations can he prevent the driver from taking anything? Is there such a ruling to prevent the motorist from causing another 20-minute wait?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

As I understand it, there would come a point at which the police officer had to make a judgment as to whether the person was trying to obstruct him in carrying out his job. I suppose that if a person repeatedly did something that inhibited the officer from doing his job, he could be charged with obstruction or with refusing to give a sample of breath. It may be of interest to hon. Members if we go through the procedures, but I should say first that there are very few challenges now. Over the years things have been tightened up to such an extent that it is difficult to make a challenge unless the officer carelessly makes a mistake in the procedure, which is of course perfectly possible.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

Let me explain my concern. Currently, a driver who has been stopped on suspicion of drinking and who has failed the screening test will be taken immediately to a police station and probably breathalysed on the machine properly. As time goes on, drivers who have been pulled over will realise that the time between screening and an evidential test could be much less. Consequently, they will play for time as far as they can, probably sometimes in the mistaken belief that the longer they wait for the test, the lower their alcohol reading will be. In fact, if they had just left a public house, their reading could continue to go up, so waiting would mean a higher reading and probably a greater penalty in court. Can police officers say to someone, ''You have now failed the screening test. You are not allowed to imbibe anything, and that includes eating.''

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I think that what is possible will be contained in the guidance to the officer. I do not have intimate knowledge of that now, but we can consider the matter. I know that, at the moment, there are no challenges, because the police go through a procedure that ultimately has to stand up in court. The person could make a challenge at the court hearing if they felt that the procedure had not been followed fully and properly. In the past, people have done that and it has sometimes been a defence for them.

I understand the idea behind amendment No. 56, but I can assure the hon. Member for Christchurch that the procedures undertaken at the roadside will be no less rigorous than those undertaken at the police station. As I said, the MG DD guidance will cover that; it will provide the exact wording that a police officer should use in those circumstances.

Perhaps I can add to what I said before about the history of the drink-driving law. It has in the past been peppered with challenges. One reason why sections 4 to 11 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 are quite difficult to   follow is that they have been amended only where absolutely necessary and then with great care and attention.

I hope that, having heard those reassurances, the hon. Gentleman will seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to the Minister for his full response. The problem is that, as I said, what should happen does not always happen, which is the burden of the letter that I received from an experienced citizens advice bureau person. Why is it not happening? Although the forms are available, there seems to be anecdotal evidence—I have no direct evidence because I have never experienced the procedure at first hand—that they are not always complied with and that sometimes the police take short cuts.

To say that the forms will be adapted to the new situation and that there will be a new script is fine and no surprise, but what guarantee is there that the forms will be complied with to the letter, in all situations? The evidence seems to be that up to now they have not been.

One way through might be to make the use of the forms a statutory requirement, so that failure to use them would result in the procedure being vitiated and the offence not being established. The Minister says that the case law is beyond challenge, and that is true. However, it was always thought that the 20-minute gap was a requirement, but case law has established that because Parliament did not set it down as a requirement, it is not a strict requirement; just a recommendation. We have the opportunity, as Parliament, to make sure that what should be included is included. I do not know that the Minister's answer deals with that matter.

Obviously, we hope that police officers will follow the MG DD form procedure, but nothing at present requires the person who is being asked the questions to be given a copy of the form, enabling them to follow the procedure. Everything is reliant on the police officer saying that he proceeded along the course in question, without any short cuts.

The Minister's response to amendment No. 56 was particularly weak, because we are dealing with a different situation now, one in which a series of breath tests will take place at the road side. The scope for confusion will be much greater. Also, in the new situation the police may carry out a very large number of such tests. I suspect that that is the thinking behind the change in the law; the police could set up a breath-testing station on a temporary basis, on a main thoroughfare, soon after closing time, and screen tens if not hundreds of motorists in one area. As long as that does not strictly amount to random breath testing and they have a reasonable belief in each case that the driver may have been drinking, we cannot quarrel with that. But it will put a premium on the ability of the police to deal with the procedures in a streamlined fashion.

We also need to take into account the person who wants to go down to the police station and have a urine or blood sample taken; this human nature and what   will happen in practice. Police officers will have people lined up and will be going through the procedure, and the person who wants to go to the police station will be a complicating factor.

It is likely that there will be considerable temptation to short-circuit the procedure for ensuring that that option is given to someone who is close to, but over, the limit, particularly when, as we know from the proposed new subsection, the police will be able to say, ''If you choose to go to the police station for a blood or urine sample, we will have to arrest you'', making it seem as though the person is being put in greater jeopardy than they are already in. That could complicate matters as well.

If we are trying to build up confidence between the police and the public, why do we not put the onus fairly and squarely on the police officer who has the form? It is only a matter of printing the form out in a slightly different way. Why is the police officer not required to say on the form whether the specimen of breath on the screening tests suggests a proportion of alcohol greater than 35 units but not greater than 50? A person in that situation should have the opportunity of going for a blood or urine test to validate the finding.

I am ignorant about whether people who are on the margin benefit from going for a blood or urine test. If people are close to the margin, it is human nature for them to want to be absolutely sure that they are on the wrong side of the law. I see it as helpful for police-public relations to put the onus on the police to ask the person whether they want to take a blood or urine test, rather than putting the onus on the accused to make that request, with the additional problems that it will cause the police in their streamlined procedures.

On amendment No. 56, it does not seem to me that there is anything inherently wrong in changing the burden. It could be adapted in the forms that are going to be adapted anyway. The change would have the beneficial effect of removing the scope for misunderstanding and a feeling of injustice on the part of the accused. The last thing that we want is for people to feel that they have been unjustly dealt with. So unless the Minister will give us a further assurance that he will consider the suggestion of amendment No. 56, I will seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw the first amendment, but will press amendment No. 56 to a vote.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 3:00 pm, 25th January 2005

All I can add to the debate is that, if we did as the hon. Gentleman suggests by putting the procedures in primary legislation, we would have to come back to Parliament every time that we wanted to make changes to them. There will be, and have been, changes in the light of court cases, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would want us to come back for primary legislation every time that we needed to make changes. That would not be a good use of parliamentary time.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister said that we should not clutter up the statute book, but amendment No. 56 is just a slight adjustment of the statutory provision, so I do not think that the Minister's defence applies to it. On the more general proposition that the Minister is concerned about, if it were made a statutory requirement that the police comply with the MG DD forms, whatever those forms were and however they might be amended, it would still stand as a duty that they should comply with the forms in their latest format.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We will have to agree to differ on that. The other issue that I did not cover was the machines themselves, about which there was a question earlier. I understand that mobile machines exist and are being used in other countries. It is almost certain that they will meet our requirements. If the Bill is enacted, the Home Office will seek type approval of such equipment.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

Further to that point, in which countries are they used? Are there any international standards currently in existence or will there be any international standards? These machines are reasonably new in terms of technology. I presume that they are also fairly bulky and will give an accurate reading.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

There will be no international standards. There is no body such as the International Maritime Organisation for international agreements on this matter. Nevertheless, there will be companies producing equipment of a high quality. I am informed that one of the countries that currently has such equipment in operation is Sweden. Like us, it has a good record on road safety. I dare say that if the equipment is appropriate and suitable for use here, we would probably adapt it for our purposes.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

Sweden is part of the EU. If court cases are pending that question the reliability of these machines, will the question mark over the machine in Sweden undermine its use at the roadside in Britain?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Of course it would. If the Swedes found that their machine was not working properly, the last thing that we would want to do is to take an unsatisfactory machine. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there should be EU guidance on this, I would say definitely not. These are not EU matters.   They are matters on which we should decide as individual countries. We have different laws on drink-driving to many of the other countries. We have much steeper penalties for a start.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 56, in clause 11, page 15, line 3, at end insert

'(6A) In section 8 of the Act (choice of specimens of breath), leave out subsection (2) and insert—

''(2) If the specimen with the lower proportion of alcohol contains no more than 50 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath the person who provided it shall be asked by a constable if he wishes it to be replaced by such specimen as may be required under section 7(4) of this Act and if he then provides such a specimen neither specimen of breath shall be used.''.'.—[Mr. Chope.]

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Division number 2 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 11 - Power to require specimens of breath at roadside or at hospital etc.

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will be brief. I have two points to make. First, I would find it helpful if the Minister could give members of the Committee a copy of the MG DD forms. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton would welcome having sight of them, if that is not too onerous a task.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

It might also be useful if the Minister was able to explain what the initials he is using actually stand for.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sure the Minister will have heard that; now that he has his glasses perhaps he can indeed tell us what the initials stand for. My other point is really a question as to whether this Bill should become law in its present form, with clause 11 in it. How does the Minister see this change being implemented? Does he envisage the police trialling this new procedure in certain counties first, to see if there were any problems with it or whether any new procedural guidance was necessary? Or does he see it being implemented across the whole UK?

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

May I ask the Minister a question about clause 11? Clearly we are amending the Road Traffic Act 1988 regarding procedures for breath testing, but we are not amending the parts of that Act about when police may test. I   wonder whether the Minister has given thought to that and decided against making any difference. Can he explain whether the Government have any further plans in that respect? To take him through the situation, clearly the present worry is that in recent years we have seen a rising number of deaths where drink-driving is involved. At the same time, there is apparently a falling number of roadside breath tests by the police. The question must be asked as to whether we are going in the wrong direction and whether something extra needs to be done to try to reverse that trend, so that deaths start to fall again.

So far, what we have agreed in clause 11 is valuable. The police may carry out the evidential test at the roadside and also at the hospital bedside, instead of at the police station. That is a valuable addition to the police's powers in terms of deterrence. It is also potentially a massive saving in police bureaucracy back at the station, where all those forms must be filled in for every single detention. So there are some good things. But are we doing enough to deter drivers from drinking and driving, by showing them that there is a great risk of being caught, if they dare to risk it? I know that the British Medical Association thinks the answer is to allow a power for random breath testing.

The hon. Member for Christchurch touched upon that in a slightly different context; the argument being that if anybody could be stopped at any time by the police and be tested for drink-driving, it would be a massive increase in deterrence. Now that does sound a bit draconian; yet looking across to the continent, it seems several countries do have random breath testing as part of their law. I gather a Swiss study of 1998 found that random breath testing was one of the most cost-effective safety measures that could be implemented. It seems that at a European Union level, the European Commission recommendation on enforcement in the field of road safety was that there should be an element of random breath testing in each country's strategy.

Now, we do not have random breath testing and we seem to set our face against it, but some people argue for an intermediate stage between it and the present law. They call this targeted breath testing, which the Government themselves referred to in their road safety strategy ''Tomorrow's Roads -Safer for Everyone''. The sentence reads:

''At present, the police can stop any driver but can only 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 may have taken place.''

That is consistent with what is now called the intelligence-led model of policing. The question is whether our present law allows this intelligence-led policing. I know some police forces think it can be squeezed into the reasonable cause basis of being able to breath-test people, but others are a bit uneasy that they would be pushing the boat out too far. It has acquired great significance recently. Last week I mentioned that on the same day as the Second Reading   debate, the Secretary of State published his written statement about responses to his discussion note on graduated penalty points.

Also on the same day, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office and the Department for Transport published a new agreement; a commitment to a new road safety strategy within which the police made four commitments. The first is a highly visible police presence on the roads. Hooray to that. The second was a national police seat belt campaign, which is valuable. The third was the continued operation of the national safety camera programme, which I think is important.

The fourth commitment, crucially, is a national police drink and drug-driving campaign to ensure that people are deterred from those activities by a significantly increased risk of detection.

At the moment, I am not convinced that we will suddenly start to reverse the fall in roadside breath tests every year unless we change who gets stopped and tested. I repeat my question to the Minister: does he think the present law allows for targeted breath testing, or did he intend, in his 2000 statement, to do something more that has not yet appeared in the Bill?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 3:15 pm, 25th January 2005

Clause 11 amends certain sections of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Section 6D deals with arrest; section 7 deals with the provision of specimens for analysis; section 8 concerns the choice of breath specimens; section 9 deals with protection for hospital patients; and section 10 relates to the detention of persons affected by alcohol or a drug.

Regarding the questions asked by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, we will make the forms available for the Committee as soon as possible. They are available on the Home Office website, so if anyone wanted to have a look, particularly if they had been accused, they could scan through them there. The right hon. Gentleman asked about implementation. We hope that that will be as soon as possible, throughout the country, although type approval of the equipment is required first. As I was saying in reply to the hon. Member for Taunton, we would need to be satisfied that we had good equipment, that it was accurate and fit for the purpose, that it would give us results and that it would not be challenged in court. Once we have the type approval, the roll-out and use of the equipment is an operational matter for the police. It will not be for my Department or the Home Office to instruct them on their new power.

One of the main advantages of the proposals, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) said, is that they streamline the process for the police. If, on a busy night when they are out on patrol, they can curtail the time needed to take a drink-driver back to the station and get the evidence they need for a court appearance, so much the better. Then they can capture more drink-drivers, or people who have committed other offences. I hope that that is helpful to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire.

The response from the police is that they are satisfied that their current powers enable them effectively to capture people who are obviously drunk and over the limit. There is one other thing about blanket random testing: the police operate in this country generally with a lot of good will from the public, and they do an excellent job, not just on road safety but on other issues as well. I would be concerned if there were widespread random testing, because even late at night there are many drivers who are perfectly law-abiding and have not been drinking. The attitudes against drink-driving in this country are very strong indeed. The overwhelming majority of people here do not drink and drive, and would not dream of doing so. That is not just a generational attitude—it applies to young people as well, and many of them are seriously responsible about drink-driving. The problem is the small minority who are not responsible. They are the ones who are breaking the law.

I would be reluctant to advocate stopping lots of good, law-abiding drivers. Firstly, because it is not a good use of police time—it takes a lot of time to stop people. Secondly, we should not be inconveniencing people who are going about their business lawfully. Thirdly, it could drive a wedge between the people and the police if drivers are constantly stopped. One young constituent of mine has a job that leads him to come home from his place of work at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, and he is stopped by the police every other night. He gets quite cross about that as he says, ''All I want to do is go home and get to bed, but they keep stopping me and inspecting my car''. He does smell of alcohol because he works in a bar, but he has not been drinking. In cases like that I am aware that stopping drivers could lead to bad feeling between the police and the people. The discretion that the police have at the moment is quite adequate. It is for the officer on the ground, in the street, to make those decisions. They have the power to stop somebody randomly, but they do not have the power to start giving the alcohol test—they can only do that with good reason.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

While we are talking about breath testing will the Minister make a passing comment as to when we can expect testing for those who are under the influence of cannabis?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I will not stray too far on to this matter; otherwise I will test your patience, Mr. Pike. We recently gave the police some guidelines for testing   people who may be under the influence of any sort of drug. Those enable the police to operate a test on people at the side of the road which will indicate whether they are properly in control of their faculties. As for a test for a specific drug, that would be difficult to administer at the roadside, and we are nowhere near having equipment that can test in those circumstances.

Cannabis would be very difficult to detect at the side of the road. Studies have shown that some people who have taken cannabis slow down and are more cautious in their approach to things. The difficulty here is that drugs have different effects on people. Furthermore, many people take not one drug but a package of drugs and alcohol. Somebody just taking cannabis on its own may or may not be a danger to themselves or others. It shows up in the bloodstream for a considerable period after somebody has taken it, but the question is how much it has impaired the person.

This area is fairly new to us. Alcohol is clear and specific. It is one substance which can be checked. We have all the equipment and the experience of dealing with alcohol, but we certainly face challenges with other types of drugs. We do not entirely understand what effect drugs have in impairing people's driving. We have a breathalyser for alcohol, but we do not have a drugalyser that can test for a whole range of drugs.

Returning to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said, we need good targeting of people. Targeting has improved—the number of people who have been stopped have been found to be over the limit. I agree that that could be an indication that more people are driving under the influence, but it could mean that there is better targeting of people, and that the police are using resources to good effect and stopping and breathalysing the people who are committing the offences. My colleagues in the Home Office are aware of the matter.

It is disturbing to see that a minority of people—some of them men aged between 20 and 30 as well as, I am sad to say, a growing number of younger women— seem to think that they can control their car when they have had a considerable amount of alcohol. We have focused some of our recent advertising more specifically on the groups of people involved. The latest television advert, which has had a considerable effect, shows that people become drunk drivers in the pub, not in the car. We will continue with such programmes. We are going to introduce laws and change police procedures, but we will also keep up our efforts in other directions.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We have had a good debate on this clause. I very much support what the Minister said about the undesirability of harassing motorists with random drug testing, which is in line with our policy. What the Minister said, in effect, in answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Stafford, was that the wording of the White Paper was empty phrasing because there was no need to change the law at that stage. The Government realised that, but it made a good story for the road safety lobby. I do not ask the Minister to accept that in public, although he may do so in private.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That is a very good question; I asked it myself, and I am happy to deal with it. If someone who has been pulled to the side of the road fails the evidential test, the police officer will have sufficient evidence to charge that person and take him to court. When the formal procedure of obtaining the evidence comes to an end, the police officer will have to decide what will happen to that person. They may use their mobile phone and arrange for a relative to pick them up, or to pick up the car, and they would then be free to go on their way. One of the advantages of the system is that people who are wobbly on their feet will not be held for a long period in a cell where they are liable to make a mess; someone can take them home.

The officer would have to establish, too, whether the person lived close enough to be able to walk or get public transport home, and he may allow them to do so. He would have to be sure that they could not drive the car, and he would have the power to take the person's car keys to stop them driving the car. If the officer thought that as soon as the police had left the scene the person would use a spare key to drive the car, he would have the power to arrest that person and take them back to the police station, just as he would have done previously. That would be the last port of call, as it were, because there would be no saving of police time and so on. In the end, if an officer thought that the person was going to commit the offence again, he would have to use his powers of arrest.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What is police practice in cases where officers stop a driver who is found to be over the limit on a busy road where it would be dangerous to leave the vehicle? If the driver lives only a short distance away, do the police ever offer to drive the vehicle home when the procedures are completed?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The police use good sense and discretion in such circumstances. If the car was on a busy road and was causing an obstruction, which might cause another incident, the police would move it to a safer place and also prevent the driver from taking it. It would be entirely a matter for the police at the scene. If someone was very close to home, what the right hon. Gentleman suggests might be an option. At present, the police arrest the person and take them back to the police station and do not release them until   they are sober and able to drive their car. The car may be driven to the station by a police officer if there is no other appropriate place to take it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.