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The speeches today have been important. All too often, it is thought that only speeches on contentious issues really mater, but today's speeches have brought to the attention of the House, and of the wider listening public, matters that are of concern to many ordinary people and to many of our constituents.
Green matters are often thought to be the province of those who are already enjoying a good standard of living and who have become bothered by inconvenience or by the deterioration of the environment, but the people affected by the problem that we have discussed today are, in the main, members of poorer communities who live on council estates in our inner cities. They have not had the benefit of the voice of the green pressure groups ; they have had to find their own voice. They have had to batle with the authorities in an attempt to get redress for their grievances. We in London are often thought to be green yuppies, and it is a timely development that people who cannot so easily be described in that way should have found a voice for their concerns in the House.
We end this debate on a note of optimism, with the feeling that measures will be brought forward, and in the hope that the Bill will succeed in Committee and that the problems will be solved. Meanwhile, I remind the House of the suffering of people who live in neighbourhoods where tens of thousands of tons of rubble have been dumped. We cannot act quickly enough for them. A great deal of effort will be needed, and in this regard I want to acknowledge the support and efforts of my staff who, like the staff of any hon. Member who introduces a private Member's Bill, have had to work extremely hard. I thank all those who have assisted us and I promise them that if the House should now decide accordingly, much more work will be in hand--in a very good cause and, I hope, to a very positive end. Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Order for Second Reading read.
I am a little puzzled that the Home Office Minister whom I understood to be responsible for the Bill is not with us, although I am grateful to the Minister for Roads and Traffic for coming to the House to respond on behalf of the Government. We all know of his deep interest in this subject. I fondly recall the previous occasion on which I moved a private Member's Bill--now the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986. One of the prominent supporters of that Bill was none other than the hon. Member for Surrey, South West (Mrs. Bottomley), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I sincerely hope that this Minister will do me a similar favour.
The Bill has two straightforward provisions. The first is to clarify existing legislation to remove the popular misconception that drivers may not be stopped and breathalysed unless they are committing another traffic offence.
Clause 1 would establish a clear and specific link between sections 6 and 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It represents no real change in the substance of the law, but clarifies the statutory basis of measures that are already being practised by several police forces throughout the land. I should like such action to be better co-ordinated among police forces in various parts of the country to achieve more effective deterrence of the menace of drinking and driving.
Clause 2 would create new powers under which the police could conduct spot checks at the roadside and randomly breathalyse motorists, subject to clear safeguards to prevent any possible abuse of police power. The detailed powers and code of practice on implementation would be established by regulations made by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The objective of that provision is to deter the reckless minority of motorists who are still drinking and driving, regardless of the risk to themselves and others, and regardless of the now overwhelming public disapproval of that vicious conduct.
I emphasise that I have absolutely no objection to responsible social drinking. I very much enjoy occasional invigorating refreshment myself, both in the restaurants and bars in this House and in the excellent pubs and clubs in various parts of my constituency. I strongly recommend to all hon. Members the excellent products of Glenkinchie distillery and Belhaven brewery in my constituency of East Lothian--
Mr. Home Robertson : However, having taken a few drinks, we should travel in cars only as passengers. There are now no excuses for doing otherwise because any social pressure to drink and drive is long gone and an excellent selection of low-alcohol drinks is now available in virtually all bars. Therefore, there is now no excuse for failing to be self- disciplined.
I suspect that the Minister will tell us that all is comparatively well and that the situation is far better in Britain than it is in some other countries--
Column 1319The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) indicated dissent--
Mr. Home Robertson : I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that important and relevant point. It is not good enough to say that we are better than various other countries because, as I shall illustrate, the situation is still alarming.
Complacency would be cruelly inappropriate because there are still 950 deaths and 25,000 injuries each year in this country from alcohol-related road accidents. That represents an continuing disaster of truly tragic proportions. That figure of 950 deaths a year is 73 per cent. more than the number of lives lost in the recent disasters at Piper Alpha, King's Cross, Clapham junction, the M1 and Lockerbie put together. Britain's drink- driving death toll is equivalent to more than three Lockerbie jets and three Clapham train disasters put together. Clearly, there is no room for complacency and I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that.
I am convinced that the nation and the House are now ready for further action to deal with the continuing menace of drinking and driving. Up to a point, the legislative framework already exists. Drinking and driving is a criminal offence which is already subject to appropriate penalties. However, the trouble is that there is still a hard core of reckless morons who do not care about the risk of butchering themselves and others and who do not believe that there is any risk of being caught. That is the problem that the Bill aims to address.
Seasonal campaigns by the Department of Transport and the police do quite a lot of good. People can be routinely breathalysed following an accident or the commission of some driving offence. However, an offence cannot be deterred if it has already taken place so surely it would be better to deter drinking drivers before they take to the road in the first place.
In many cases these offenders can be deterred. For the most part, we are dealing with normal, law-abiding citizens. Half the culprits are upper middle-class businessmen between the ages of 40 and 50. The term "dumbo" has been used to describe these drunken, upper and middle-class business men over 40. By definition, these people are difficult for the police to target under the existing legislation, so they just drive on until the almost inevitable disaster, sooner or later.
If the Minister wants to target groups of drivers who pose a particular threat, clause 1 and the existing legislation make it possible for the police to do so. The second clause is designed to introduce a random aspect into the legislation so as to deter those drivers who are difficult to target. Poll evidence suggests that 77 per cent. of drivers who drink support random testing. If that is not a cry for help, I do not know what is, and it ought to receive a positive response from the House and the Government.
Human nature is very strange. Many of us cheerfully ran for years the risk of terrible injuries by not wearing seat belts, but when Parliament created the prospect of being ticked off by a policeman for not doing so, all of us buckled
Column 1320up pretty damn quick, and we have been doing so ever since. Legislation of this kind can therefore work, and in so doing can save lives.
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many of those who responded to the question about random testing do not appreciate that they can already be stopped in a way that many of them would regard as random? If a police officer has any reason to believe that a person may have been drinking, which should be fairly easy to ascertain, that person can be tested. A fairly large proportion of the drinking and driving public do not understand what the law is at present. If we need a campaign, it should be to ensure that people appreciate that the risks of drinking and driving are already grave, because they can be stopped at random now.
Mr. Home Robertson : Some chief constables apply the legislation, but the difficulty is that they have to do so under two separate provisions. The first is a general power that enables a police constable to stop a driver. If he suspects that the driver may have been drinking, he can then go ahead and breathalyse that person. The problem is that the drivers I have been talking about do not know that they risk being caught, otherwise they would not drink and drive. The two provisions are designed to overcome that problem and I have sought to demonstrate that legislation of this kind can work and can save lives.
Evidence from New South Wales suggests that spot checks that increase the perceived risk of detection have a dramatic impact on the behaviour of drivers. There was a 37 per cent. fall in alcohol-related accidents in New South Wales over four years, following the implementation of legislation such as this. If we in Britain could achieve such a fall in alcohol-related accidents, we should save 300 lives and thousands of injuries every year. If the Bill became law, we could prevent the equivalent of a Lockerbie air disaster death toll in the coming year and in every year thereafter. That is a goal worth pursuing.
Public opinion is ready for the legislation and is demanding it. There is support for the key principle in the Bill from the widest imaginable spectrum of opinion, with a few eccentric exceptions, such as Mr. Max Hastings, who earlier this week suggested in The Daily Telegraph that legislation of this kind is unnecessary and that to cramp the style of drinking drivers was a monstrous imposition on civil liberties. I suspect that that journalist must have used up a great deal of printing ink in protesting about the death toll at Clapham and elsewhere. Why is he not prepared to do something about this infinitely worse death toll?
Mr. Peter Bottomley : For the avoidance of doubt by those who have not read the article on the feature page of The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 21 February, Max Hastings--who must have been writing in jest--said that for those of his guests who were driving he was only offering small glasses of orange juice. If he had come across some of the other attractive drinks for drivers, his guests may have stayed longer and enjoyed themselves more.
Column 1321To turn to a few examples of those who are clamouring for a change in the law, the police want to be given increased powers because the existing legislation is unsatisfactory. That covers the point raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller). The National Council for Civil Liberties has withdrawn its earlier objections to random breath testing on the reasonable grounds that freedom to travel without running the gauntlet of drinking drivers must be more important than the liberty to drink and drive without fear of detection. The Casualty Surgeons Association, representing those who have to stitch up the pieces after the road accidents, supports the Bill wholeheartedly. A total of 9,200 women's institutes throughout the country strongly supports the Bill. The Royal Automobile Club and the Guild of Experienced Motorists support the principles of the Bill. The British Medical Association actively helped me with the detailed drafting of the Bill and the parliamentary advisory council on transport safety--PACTS--is closely involved with the initiative. I am grateful to Jeanne Breen, the co-ordinator of PACTS, for her great help in dealing with the Bill.
No doubt the most powerful advocates of the legislation must be the campaign against drinking and driving and the Scottish campaign against irresponsible drivers. They represent those who have lost relatives as a consequence of this murderous conduct. They want action and are entitled to demand it from the House.
The public opinion survey commissioned by Haig scotch whisky in December 1988 produced results which are anything but vague--93 per cent. of respondents thought that random breath tests were "a good idea". No fewer than 127 hon. Members from all parties and every part of the country signed early-day motion 382 supporting the Bill. Perhaps even more significantly, no hon. Member has yet voiced opposition for the measure although I am filled with trepidation at the sight of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in his place. We look forward to hearing from him--perhaps.
Even the Minister acknowledged that this is
"one of the few occasions during the past three years when an hon. Member has introduced a Bill that is designed to improve adult safety."--[ Official Report , 23 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, c. 848.] We know that the Leader of the House is chairing an important ministerial committee to address the range of problems caused by alcohol abuse and we now have the White Paper, published last month entitled "The Road User and the Law" which arises from the North report. All that is positive and I welcome it as far as it goes. Nevertheless, I am sure the Minister would acknowledge that the Bill would save more lives than all the proposals in the White Paper put together.
I recognise that progress on the Bill is likely to be complicated by the fact that the Home Secretary produced a consultation document on the same subject six weeks after the introduction of my Bill. That is rather like being gazumped in reverse. However, if my initiative has helped to goad the Home Office into some action at last, I am happy about that.
I welcome the fact that the Home Office has taken an initiative on the vital issue of deterring drinking drivers by police action. However, the alternatives put forward by the Home Secretary do not include one of the most attractive options--that outlined in my Bill. The Home Secretary offers just three possibilities in his consultation document. The first is to do nothing. The second is to clarify the
Column 1322existing law on the same basis as clause 1 of my Bill is intended to do and the third is simply totally unfettered discretion for any policeman to stop and breathalyse any motorist, anywhere, as often as he likes.
I fear that such blanket powers could give rise to serious abuses. They would certainly damage the relationship between the police and the public and, as such, would probably do more harm than good. They would certainly run into strong opposition from both sides of the House. I would have the greatest difficulty in supporting legislation on that basis. There is a potential consensus around the principle of random breath tests covered by proper safeguards as outlined in my Bill. It deserves positive consideration by the House. The Home Secretary has omitted that acceptable and effective alternative of properly regulated spot checks to deter and detect drinking drivers as proposed in clause 2 of my Bill.
I sincerely hope that the Minister will not reject the Bill out of hand. It would certainly save lives and I have introduced it with all-party support in a spirit of co-operation. If necessary, I would be willing to defer further consideration of the Bill until the Home Office consultation process has been completed at the end of April. I would be willing to accept constructive amendments and would even agree to running the spot check element of the Bill on an experimental basis if that is what the House and the Government prefer. Having presented the Bill in that spirit, I sincerely hope that the House and the Minister will allow the measure to make progress.
"Our debate takes place on the 87th birthday of the Emperor of Japan."-- [ Official Report, 29 April 1988 ; Vol. 132, c. 629.] It is a strange irony that our proceedings today take place not on the birthday but on date of the funeral of the late Emperor of Japan.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) on having secured his place in the ballot and on his excellent speech commending the Bill to the House. I entirely agree with what he said at the start of his speech about the appalling casualties and the great human suffering and misery caused on our roads because of drink driving.
It so happens that I am a member of the Select Committee on Public Accounts, which recently considered a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General that was presented to Parliament on 14 June last year. The findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General were in exact conformity with what the hon. Gentleman said. The report stated :
"Drinking and driving is a major cause of road accidents costing at least £360 million and involving some 20 per cent. of road deaths in Great Britain each year."
I would have put it the other way round and said that drinking and driving cost about 1,000 lives a year, just in England, Scotland and Wales. I would have put the cost after the human tragedy. The Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee on Public Accounts also note that an extraordinary and deeply regrettable feature of our criminal law is how widely it is believed--we cannot be certain about it--that the law is flouted. As statistics clearly show, the prospect of a driver who is over the limit
Column 1323actually being caught is very remote. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct to lay stress on the human tragedy. The Comptroller and Auditor General referred also to the enormous cost in monetary terms, though that is less important.
It is also relevant to point out that in other countries so-called random breath testing is increasingly becoming the norm. As the years go by, I should expect that practice, which is growing in other countries, to accelerate here.
If I have a doubt about the hon. Gentleman's Bill, it is not about purpose, because we share a common purpose, which is to diminish this appalling suffering. I am afraid that I shall not be able to stay to hear my hon. Friend the Minister but I shall be interested to read his comments. I believe that the law is already clear on this subject. Under section 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, the police have the power to stop any vehicle at random. Under section 7 of the same Act the police may require a motorist, once stopped, to provide a sample of breath if the policeman has reasonable grounds for believing that the motorist has alcohol in his body. Or even if the policeman does not suspect that, he can, if he thinks that a traffic offence has been committed while the vehicle has been moving, ask for a breath test. The courts have held that the police may use the power under section 159 to stop vehicles at random in order to decide whether there are grounds for administering a breath test. If, therefore, there is in effect already in existence under the present law power to stop any motor vehicle- -that includes, of course, a motor bicycle--at random and if, having suspected that an offence has been committed while the vehicle has been moving or that the driver has alcohol in his body, that gives a police officer the opportunity to administer a breath test, I ask the House, my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for East Lothian whether his Bill is really necessary.
In a sense, this is a matter for the lawyers, but the view of the police is also relevant. As I understand it--my hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--the police are not asking for the law to be changed.
Mr. Home Robertson rose --
Mr. Peter Bottomley rose--
Mr. Home Robertson : Perhaps the Minister could give us chapter and verse on this matter, but my understanding from my meetings with the Association of Chief Police Officers' traffic representatives in this House about the Bill is that it now believes that the existing legislative framework is not satisfactory and requires clarification to help the police to enforce the law.
The position is rather more than that stated by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). First, ACPO Scotland suggested to the Scottish Office that the
Column 1324removal of some restrictions might be useful. I believe that ACPO was suggesting that it would not want mass random testing. The ACPO General, which takes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, had a discussion in May on this matter at its conference in Eastbourne. I regret it if it did not ask my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne to attend.
Mr. Bottomley : At its May conference, it was evenly balanced between whether there was a need for reinstatement of the law, restatement of the law or the removal of some of the restrictions on police powers. Subsequently, it came to a majority decision that it would welcome unfettered discretion, but it was not talking about mass random testing.
The issue is rather in the air and is there to be grabbed by any hon. Member who is interested in taking hold of it.
In the Public Accounts Committee--under the distinguished chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who is also a distinguished former Treasury Minister--close attention was paid to the evidence presented by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
The Department of Transport--in which the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) used to serve--explained that in May 1988--which by common consent is only nine months ago--that English law gave the police powers to stop vehicles at random. Having stopped the vehicle, police could then administer a roadside breath test.
The Association of Chief Police Officers, to which the hon. Member for East Lothian referred, considered that the powers that I have just described were adequate to allow police forces to deploy resources effectively and efficiently to deal with those who seem likely to be driving while over the limit.
It is clear that the present law about the limit of alcohol that we are allowed to have in our blood, is being widely flouted. My hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for East Lothian would agree with that. Unfortunately, there is no representative from the Social Democratic or the Liberal parties here today.
Mr. Gow : As it is a Friday and the day on which the funeral of the Emperor of Japan is taking place, I think that I am allowed to call the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) my hon. Friend. He has asked a relevant question to which we both know the answer. We are discussing a matter of the highest importance, but representatives of the so-called centre parties are absent.
Mr. Boateng : That is very kind of the hon. Gentleman. He will recall when he and I were members of the Housing Bill Committee that time and again hon. Members on both sides of the Committee felt compelled to draw attention to the absence of members of what I believe at the time were still called the Liberal and the Social Democratic parties. That was before the great sea change. However, it was
Column 1325necessary for us to point out to the public that those right hon. and hon. Members are absent. Where are they now? It really is not good enough, is it?
Mr. Gow : I believe that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South who with characteristic eloquence described the Liberal party as being composed of a band of visionary missionaries with neither vision nor mission. I do not want to quarrel with those sentiments which, if my memory serves me correct, he expressed. We continue this debate as best we can without the assistance of any representatives from the Social Democratic party and the Liberal party.
I have already apologised to the hon. Member for East Lothian and to my hon. Friend the Minister, but it is a matter of deep regret to me that I must make a journey, mercifully in a railway train, to Eastbourne. I would like to take my hon. Friend the Minister with me, but I apologise to him and to the House for the fact that I will not be able to stay and hear my hon. Friend the Minister's reply. However, I will study the Official Report with great care on Monday. I repeat my congratulations to the hon. Member for East Lothian. He knows that we share a common purpose. My only question is whether this legislation is necessary now. Perhaps in future we may decide that it is important to clarify the law. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can answer my point and I assure him that no discourtesy is intended for the journey that I must make to Eastbourne. 1.8 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : I will detain the House only briefly because I had not intended to speak in this debate. However, perhaps there are one or two observations that I can make. I shall not speak for too long because I have an uneasy suspicion that other hon. Members may want to talk out this business and I should not like to spoil their opportunity to prove their prowess in such an ignoble exercise.
I shall make brief reference to my own experience. Until the middle of 1988, I was opposed to such proposals. Then I started to think more deeply and carefully about the issue and realised that I had probably been afraid of offending those of my colleagues who choose to combine drinking and driving. Indeed, I had done it myself. I confess to the House, not in any spirit of frivolity, nor with any wish to flaunt my past record, that on two occasions in the past I have been done for drinking and driving. On the first occasion, I was seeking to retrieve documents from the back seat of my car which was parked in my drive at 3.40 on a Saturday morning. I was apprehended by a police officer who requested me to undergo a breath test and did me for being in charge of a vehicle. I was guilty under the letter of the law. On the second occasion I had no such defence, so I have been convicted twice for that offence.
Perhaps that created a vestige of resentment to any intervention by the police in what I considered to be a fairly impeccable standard of driving. However, on 10 November 1985, for reasons totally unconnected with my medical condition or my driving ability, I decided to forsake the booze and the baccy on the same day.
Column 1326November 1985, which was Remembrance Sunday. I was drunk at the time when I made the decision, and I argued with myself for two and a half hours before I convinced myself that the move was necessary. However, the hon. Gentleman has diverted me. I must get back to the thread that I was hanging on to before he intervened.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The House will be awed by the hon. Gentleman talking about his past. He has made sure that we realise that the problem is an "us" problem rather than a "them" problem and involves people such as politicians, journalists, police officers, doctors, nurses, social workers, parents and drink-driving campaigners. We are looking for a combination of effective enforcement, deterrence and, above all, greater public understanding and the change of attitude which underlies the successful conversion. The hon. Gentleman will agree that we need more recent converts, although I do not know why he gave up tobacco and drinking on the same day.
To reinforce what the Minister said, on my second conviction my solicitor pointed out that if justice had been done on each and every occasion when the law had been transgressed he would probably have suffered 400 prosecutions in one year--that was his opinion, not a legal judgment.
In the middle of last year, I thought a great deal more clearly about the matter. I know that alcohol addles the brain temporarily, and if it is taken too consistently in too great a quantity it addles the brain permanently. Perhaps it took from 10 November 1985 until the middle of 1988 to clear from my brain completely. Certainly I had consumed sufficient alcohol in previous years to create such problems.
So much crime and law breaking is drink related. I refer not just to driving but to violence, theft, drug abuse, wife beating and child abuse. Probably 95 per cent. of crime is drink related. It was recognition of that influence that drove me to think more carefully, and to draw the conclusion that is clear to me now--I only wonder how it took 52 years for me to realise it. If we allow ourselves to be in control of a weapon as deadly as a vehicle which can move at speeds in excess of 25 mph--I say 25 rather than 125 advisedly--we must place upon ourselves the responsibility for being in full control of our faculties.
Alcohol consumption is designed to blunt our faculties and to obscure their acuity. That is an element in drinking about which people boast the morning after, when they talk of having had a good "bender" or, as they say in the north-east, "I had a black 'un". My realisation of responsibility drove me to adopt my present point of view and to support unreservedly the case put by my hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill. I am not a sponsor of the Bill, but I am a fervent supporter of the move. I shall not detain the House longer, because I wish to see from which direction the filibustering prowess will come which will deny the passage of the Bill at 2.30 pm. 1.16 pm
Sir. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : I join my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in congratulating the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) on presenting his Bill today. I believe
Column 1327that my hon. Friend and I are the only two people in the Chamber today who were present when breathalysing was first enacted in 1967. The argument that then ranged right across the House concerned interference in the individual's rights and freedom--whether, in the absence of evidence that an offence had been committed, it was right for a policeman to stop and detain a member of the public and obtain such evidence thereafter.
If my memory serves me right, that question was resolved by the then Minister of Transport Mrs. Barbara Castle, who said that the right to breathalyse could be operated only when the police suspected that a road traffic offence had been committed. It was said that shooting traffic lights, not having lights, indicating that one was turning in the wrong direction, and other actions that might attract a police officer's attention provided sufficient justification to breathalyse the driver. Although the law is by no means clear and has been interpreted differently by different police forces, the general trend has been to follow that practice. However, in recent months there has been something of a departure and some rethinking by the police as to whether or not the law should be more strictly interpreted and enforced.
The great merit of the Bill is not that it seeks to impose a blanket right on the part of the police to stop and breathalyse, but that it seeks to clarify the law and indicate circumstances in which breathalysing is permissible, as well as introducing the deterrent of organised spot checks. Although I generally support any argument in favour of the rights and freedom of the individual, there are times when, and circumstances in which, in the general interests of the community, a measure of restraint or delimitation must be imposed. What brought that matter to mind is the unhappy case of one of my constituents, a woman who still writes to me today, whose 17-year-old son was killed in a road accident some years ago. He was a passenger in a motor car. He was an outgoing young man of attractive personality and was well beloved, not only by his mother but by all who had contact with him. What a tragic waste of life. For reasons that I have not yet comprehended, the police decided not to prosecute, and the mother had to bring a private prosecution. The driver was found guilty, and the judge expressed his concern that she had been put to the expense of bringing the prosecution and that the public authorities had failed her to that extent.
That story, which comes back to me at regular intervals, has left me with two thoughts. First, until a tragedy occurs--please God that it does not happen--we do not realise the extent of a bereaved parent's grief. One can say, "If something happens to my child, I shall feel terrible about it," but one does not realise the depth of that grief and how long it lasts. It is easy to utter platitudes such as "Time will be a great healer" or "One must learn to forgive". It is almost impossible to eradicate deep bitterness. One would rather not have to contemplate the pain that is seen to be suffered. Young, hopeful lives are suddenly wasted on our roads every day because of some carelessness or foolishness on the part of a driver who has drunk too much--certainly more than entitles him to be in control of the lethal weapon that a motor car can be.
Column 1328The other thought was that perhaps we are too lax on drinking and driving and that we should take steps to increase the deterrence within our legal system. Some young people do not need it-- they are sensible. When they go to parties, my young but adult children and their group of friends always ensure that one of them has only soft drinks. They take it in turns to have soft drinks. That is a sensible practice, but not every group behaves in that way. Hon. Members should devise ways and means of encouraging young people to adopt that practice. They can enjoy themselves and have a good evening without consistently rendering themselves silly through the consumption of alcohol.
Because of the experience of that one constituent, I hope that the hon. Gentleman's Bill is successful. No doubt, the Minister will rely upon the fact that, through Home Office consultation, the Government are considering the matter and will say that the Bill is premature. But the hon. Gentleman has made a good offer. He is prepared to defer consideration of the Bill until consultations with the Home Office are complete. He is prepared to consider any reasonable amendments that the police authorities consider necessary for practical reason. One does not often hear a fairer offer, and on that ground alone the Bill is entitled to be given a Second Reading.
We are all aware of cases in which innocent people have had their lives destroyed through injury and paralysis because of the actions of a driver who should not have been driving because he or she was intoxicated. Relatives of those who have lost their lives have told us that the law should be strengthened to deter drivers from drinking and taking to the roads. We are all sympathetic to that objective, because far too high a proportion of the 4,000 or 5,000 deaths and the even greater number of serious injuries that occur on our roads each year could have been avoided.
We welcome the steps that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic has taken to prevent drinking and driving. He is right to say that there has been a sea change in people's attitudes to this unsociable and unacceptable activity. Much of that success is undoubtedly due to the discussions that he has had with brewers and others to encourage those who frequent pubs and other establishments to drink something else. Many people feel that it is a sign of lack of virility or strange social behaviour if they do not enter into the spirit of things and take alcoholic drink. However, people are increasingly appreciating that one can have a soft or low-alcohol drink without anyone thinking the worse of them. There has been much success in the development of low-alcohol drinks and my hon. Friend should take credit for the encouragement that he has given to speed up that development. We should like it to extend further. Hon. Members wre impressed by the sincerity and honesty with which the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) spoke. Few hon. Members would be prepared to speak as he did about their culpability and to say to others, "do not act in the way that I did in the past, which I now regret." We admire him for making those remarks.