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Column 1329Now is not the time to introduce legislation, however, because at the beginning of the month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department published a consultation document and it would be precipitate to introduce legislation when people are being asked to give their views. If the law is to be changed, the way to gain public acceptability is not by pressing ahead at the very moment when there are consultations and apparently taking little notice of the responses to those consultations.
Mr. Home Robertson : That is a point with which I tried to deal earlier. I welcome the fact that the Home Office has begun to move on the subject, albeit six weeks after the Bill was introduced. I made it clear that I would be prepared to defer further consideration of the Bill until after the end of the consultation process that the Home Secretary has started. I should be happy if the House could give the Bill a Second Reading at the beginning of May and for it to go into Committee after that. That would enable us to make progress with the benefit of the information gleaned by the Home Office in the course of the consultations. There is a prospect of partnership on that basis.
Mr. Waller : I welcome an approach that involves partnership, as the hon. Gentleman said. Nevertheless, I believe that the changes needed--if there are to be changes--are not so simple as he may believe. I would argue that there need to be safeguards which must be thought about carefully. I hope and believe that before long my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will introduce legislation to improve the road traffic law. That would be a more suitable opportunity to consider any legislation which may be desirable on this aspect, in the context of other legislation which may be introduced and may be of some relevance, following the Government's response to the North report.
Mr. Waller : It is correct to say that it did not fall within the ambit of the work of Dr. North to consider the law as it relates to drink driving, but clearly there is a relationship between this and much other traffic law. It is not right to consider drink driving in isolation without taking account of other aspects of road traffic law and also of police powers.
I want to discuss police powers because there is considerable misunderstanding about what they are. At present, the police powers to stop vehicles and to require roadside breath tests are contained in two separate provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1972. Under section 159, a police officer may stop any vehicle at any time. It is not understood that the police have those powers and it is important that the public should appreciate that those powers exist. Of course, the powers are used in different ways by different chief constables and police forces.
Under section 7 of the same Act, breath tests may be required : "where there is reasonable cause to suspect that the driver has alcohol in his body."
A police officer may be able to assess that simply by moving close to the driver to detect any smell of alcohol that there may be on the driver.
Column 1330legislation. Can he not see that the procedure whereby a motorist must be stopped under the general power in section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and then the constable has to go through the charade of deciding whether he suspects that the motorist has been drinking, and subsequently administering the breath test under section 6, is tailor made to create confrontation and misunderstanding? Has the hon. Gentleman not already acknowledged that the situation is widely misunderstood and that people do not recognise that they are at risk of being caught? There is a great need at least to clarify the existing law and, I hope, to go beyond targeted breath tests to the general principle of random breath tests.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I have been trying to avoid intervening, although I am fascinated by everything that has been said. As some hon. Members may not be present for the whole debate, I should make it clear that many motorists do not regard it as a charade if they are stopped and checked. For example, when the chief constable of Warwickshire made safety checks, he found more fault with the cars than with the drivers. People leaving Twickenham and Henley were stopped by the police, who found that of perhaps 700 people they needed to test about 70 and to arrest only five or seven at Henley and none at Twickenham. Such checks are not a charade, nor are they offensive to many motorists. The evidence does not support that claim.
Mr. Waller : What my hon. Friend says is right. I do not believe that there is enormous public dissatisfaction or outrage at the present law, although many people feel that it could work better. We do not receive daily or even weekly or monthly letters from our constituents saying that the mechanics and operation of the present law are unsatisfactory. Many people would prefer there to be a better deterrent, and many do not appreciate what the present law is. I was explaining the circumstances in which a police officer may require a breath test. He may require a test if he has reasonable cause to suspect that a driver has alcohol in his body. That is a very wide power indeed, He may also require a breath test where he has reasonable cause to suspect that a driver has committed a moving traffic offence. That, too, is a very wide power. It means that if one of the lights on a car is not working or if a person is driving somewhat abrubtly, a police officer has reasonable cause to administer a breath test.
Mr. Home Robertson : I know that the hon. Gentleman is making a serious point, but does he not acknowledge that it would be infinitely better if we could deter people effectively before they get behind the wheel of a car? It is too late to catch people when they are driving erratically or, as happens in many tragic cases, when they have already killed someone else or injured themselves. One way or another the House should get it across to people that there is a risk of being caught. We should pass the legislation required to deter people from engaging in this vicious, murderous conduct in the first place. We are catching people far too late if we catch them only when they have committed a moving traffic offence.
Mr. Waller : We are all interested in deterrence. This debate is essentially about deterrence, and we are interested in deterring not only the small minority of people who may be detected committing a moving traffic offence, but a much greater number of people than that. However, if more people appreciated what the present law is, they might be deterred. They might also be deterred if they appreciated the wide powers that police officers already have. Of course we are interested in deterrence, but it is a question of assessing how the deterrent effect can be applied most effectively. Many people believe--in my view mistakenly--in the abstract that a random power would be the most effective way of deterring people. As I develop my speech, I hope to show that there are different views as to the most sensible way of deterring people from drinking and driving.
A police officer may also require a breath test if there is reasonable cause to believe that the driver has been involved in an accident. The courts have held that it is lawful for the two powers contained in sections 7 and 159 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 to be used together. The question that we must ask is whether there would be benefits in clarifying the position and in bringing together the two powers in one section. That is one of the options that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has laid before the public. I maintain that consolidating the existing powers would be a sensible move forward. By bringing together in one section the separate powers of sections 7 and 159 of the 1972 Act, and by seeking to express parliamentary endorsement of their use in combination, there would be better public understanding of the powers that enable the police to stop and test within clearly stated legislative provisions. It would not be sensible, however, to introduce unrestricted powers to require a breath test or to give police officers untramelled powers to set up road blocks and to stop every fifth or tenth car and ask the driver to give a breath test. That would not be a sensible use of police resources which, after all, are one of the main problems in achieving better deterrence. The police have many other demands on their time.
At Christmas 1987, when the police tested 37,050 drivers and found that 10 per cent. were over the limit, that was the average of the country as a whole but there were enormous differences from one police force to another. At one extreme, in Norfolk 1,800 people were tested and only 30 were found positive--in other words, 2 per cent. of those tested produced a positive test. In Northumbria, far fewer motorists were tested but out of the 290 who were tested 100 were found positive--that is, 34 per cent. of the total.
Mr. Home Robertson rose--
Mr. Waller : I do not think that the evidence shows that. We can assess the effectiveness of deterrence only by reference to accident, injury and fatality rates. I submit that there is no evidence to show that counties with a much more rigorous approach to this matter--counties which already, in effect, impose random tests--have, for that reason, a much better record of preventing accidents in
Column 1332which people are killed or injured. However, if the evidence were available, it would strengthen the hon. Gentleman's argument.
Mr. Home Robertson : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way yet again. He disposed of his earlier point exactly as I would have done, and I am grateful to him for rubbishing his own point. Does he accept that there is ample evidence from abroad, especially from New South Wales, that as much as a 30 per cent. reduction in fatal and injury accidents can be achieved as a result of applying such a policy? Will he also accept that in New South Wales and Finland the implementation of this type of legislation did not lead to any increase in the requirement for police manpower? It is an efficient power which can work to save lives.
Mr. Peter Bottomley rose --
Mr. Waller : Before my hon. Friend intervenes, I should like to point out that there is always a temptation to say that because a change of one kind or another has been made, any change in the casualty rate must be the result of that change. Arguments of that kind were used in both directions in our debates on the seat belt legislation. New South Wales and the other Australian states are high on the list of comparisons, but I am suspicious about using statistics in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests, although I shall be happy to examine any that he may care to provide.
Mr. Bottomley : From 1982 onwards there has been a dramatic reduction in drink driving in New South Wales, but the amount of drink driving in Britain in 1982 was lower than in New South Wales, and it is lower in Britain now than it is in New South Wales. By selecting a particular year, one can prove all sorts of different things, but the key point is that one should not place too many hopes on any comparison. If a person doing research came to Britain from New South Wales, or from Victoria or New Zealand, and asked how Britain compared with what was happening in those places, he would be told that Britain was doing better. The issue that has been raised by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) is addressing is whether Britain can do better than it is doing now. I do not believe that we learn much from comparisons with other places.
Mr. Waller : That was a helpful intervention. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that those who promote road traffic causes tend to use examples from experience abroad which can sometimes be misleading. One has to examine carefully the circumstances in different countries. In many respects, the position in Britain is different from that in other countries. We must therefore exercise great care when drawing comparisons.
I said earlier that a much higher proportion--34 per cent.--of the tests in Northumbria proved to be positive. Had the police in Norfolk, as happened in Northumbria, limited themselves to stopping people who appeared to be drunk, they would have caught far more people. Road blocks are an ineffective means of catching drunk drivers. While the police are stopping thousands of innocent people at one location, they are not available to patrol
Column 1333areas where they are far more likely to come across people breaking the law. The police need to target their efforts much more carefully.
Some chief constables interpret the present law in a way that can only be described as allowing random testing ahead of any changes to the law that we might consider. It has been reported that in one area 6,000 tests were administered in the pre-Christmas period, only nine of which were found to be positive. Nationally, the percentage found to be positive has fallen from 43 per cent. in 1976 to 28 per cent. in 1986. That may be because people are drinking less when they drive, which is to be welcomed, but, it may also suggest that chief constables--certainly the chief constable of Norfolk--are operating a random policy. The wholesale stopping of innocent motorists to catch the guilty can be counterproductive and alienate the vast majority of innocent drivers.
It is true that a large number of those who were questioned said that they would not be against the introduction of a random system, even though many of them did not understand the present position. However, among the large minority of people who are against such a change there are many who would be antagonised by the random stopping of motorists. In this country we are fortunate that the overwhelming majority of people have great confidence in the way in which the police carry out their duties. I do not want to see a change in the law, introduced precipitatly, in a way which could damage the relationship between the police and the public. A minority of people would be antagonised by a change which conflicts with the general principles applying to the way in which the police carry out their duties. We have got rid of the sus law and other legislation in which the police could operate their powers arbitrarily. For instance, in public order legislation and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 we have been careful to ensure that the police cannot stop people at random simply because their face is black, they look scruffy or for some other reason. We do not want to return to circumstances in which the police stop people ar random without having cause to do so. That is why we have to be careful before proceeding in the way suggested by the hon. Member for East Lothian. There is a good case for improving the law so that there is no doubt about what it means. There is also a good case for consolidating the two separate provisions of the existing road traffic law so that people understand it and so that we have the best possible deterrent powers. Ultimately, we all share the same interest in making the person who is thinking of going out to drive after taking a drink have second thoughts and stay at home or find somebody else to drive. That is the objective of all of us. It is merely a question of how we go about it in an effective way which ensures that the current harmonious relationship between the police and the public continues in the future.
Column 1334I am sorry to say that I once again find myself in conflict with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. I hit him on the nose last week and he bears a scar to this day. His mother is convinced that I am trying to disfigure her son. On this occasion I do not propose to take my squash racquet to him but hope to win by force of argument. My hon. Friend said, rightly, that he does not wish to bring the police into conflict with the public and that he fears--it is a fear that he is right to express--that random breath tests could introduce such a conflict. Many people have come to see me in my prosessional capacity as a solicitor and, since becoming a Member of Parliament, to talk about contretemps with the police. I have never heard anybody complain about passing a breath test. Indeed, they have never complained about being given a breath test that they failed. Almost every member of the public understands the reason for breath tests. They are concerned about their safety and the safety of their family. We all know from statistics the effect that drink has on drivers. Therefore, I am confident that the public support the police. It gives me particular pleasure to support the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). He probably remembers that I was a sponsor of his previous private Member's Bill and that I served on the Standing Committee. It was a sensible Bill also concerned with safety-- the safety of children--and it was enacted. This is an equally sensible Bill, concerned with the safety of us all.
I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic says. He has done an enormous amount to bring to the notice of the public the dangers of drink driving, and he has done so without fear. Indeed, he has often been criticised in the press and also, occasionally, in the Tea Room for his strong views on what should be done to curb drink driving. I endorse and support all that he does. More strength to his elbow --if that is not an unfortunate phrase--in promoting the cause for which he fights so well.
I support the Bill for three reasons. First, the law as it stands is an obstacle to convicting someone who has been driving while under the influence of drink. When breath tests were first introduced they were a veritable obstacle course. It almost seemed that Parliament had made it virtually impossible for anyone to be convicted. The police had to go through the most extraordinary ritual before they could demand a breath test, and a further ritual had to take place at the police station before a blood test could be administered. If one wrong step was taken in complying with the regulations made under the Road Traffic Act 1972 the defendant in court would, almost undoubtedly, be found not guilty. As a solicitor I have, on many occasions, made use of the regulations to ensure that my clients were found not guilty.
Column 1335I have a personal friend from Loughborough called Henry Charles, whose main claim to fame was that he discovered that the breathalyser kit laid down in the original Act had not been approved by the Home Secretary. On those grounds, not only was one of his clients found not guilty but several other people received pardons. Those are the sort of obstacles that existed under the original regulations, and one remaining obstacle, remains.
As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley a policeman now has the right to stop the driver of a car or motor cycle on the road. If he suspects that the driver is under the influence of drink, he can demand that the driver takes a breath test, but he must show that he has reasonable cause. Regardless of whether the driver has been drinking, if the policeman fails to show reasonable cause, the driver may be found not guilty. That seems nonsense.
My first reason for supporting the Bill is that the present regulations are the final obstacle to bringing a drunken driver before the courts. My second reason is that it is still widely believed by the public that random tests--even to stop and breathalyse a driver if he is believed to have been drinking--are not right unless the driver has committed a moving traffic offence. There can be no better reason for supporting the Bill than to make it absolutely clear to the public that people can be stopped--regardless of whether they have committed an offence or whether they were weaving their way along the road--and then, if they have been drinking, given a breath test.
Let us have clarification. Let the people know the position. A recent MORI poll showed that 2 million people still drink and drive regularly. That is far too many. There should be none. Too many people are still drinking and driving because they believe that, if they drive carefully, they will get home without being stopped. Indeed, reference has been made to the Christmas blitzes. In those areas where it is most likely that a driver will be stopped over Christmas, people are not drink-driving. I have heard people say in the pubs and clubs, "You should not go anywhere near Derbyshire. They will be absolutely red hot on drink-driving during Christmas week". Therefore, people avoid drinking and driving in that area during Christmas week. However, the minute the new year begins back they go on to the roads, because the police do not have the right, or are perceived not to have the right, to stop motorists randomly. That is another good reason for clarification.
My third reason for supporting the Bill is that I believe that it will deter and that it will save lives. I cannot conceive of any reason why the public should object to the police having those powers when many believe that they have them already.
A recent newspaper report stated that a coach full of schoolchildren travelling from Dover had been stopped because the police believed that it was overweight because of beer bought in Calais. The coach was delayed for four or five hours while it was weighed. If the police have power to do that and to delay schoolchildren for four or five hours on their way home, how much better is the reason for the police to have a right to stop someone on the offchance that he may have been drinking.
Column 1336I support the hon. Gentleman's Bill and I hope that it has a Second Reading.
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : The Opposition have not taken an official position on the measures in the Bill, but I shall speak briefly about some of the concerns that we share with its presenter. The magnitude of the crime involved is, of course, not doubted by any hon. Members. There are 950 drink-drive deaths per annum and 25,000 casualities in alcohol-related injury accidents. In that enormous number of people who have suffered because of the effects of drink-driving, one half were people who themselves were not drunken drivers when they had their accidents.
Drink driving is a more serious source of death, accident and injury than any other serious crime, such as homicide. It follows from that, therefore, that the police should be expected to make this a priority. It is an area of criminal activity in which the police must properly give much time and attention.
The need for deterrence is clear. As other hon. Members have said, the risk of detection varies enormously throughout the country. It can be as low as one in 4,000 and at its highest it is probably only one in 250. As a consequence, public attitudes are important. In that respect I want to cite a poll which has been published this month that shows that of those who ever drink any alcohol away from home, 77 per cent. of drivers believe that the police should have the power to carry out spot breath tests on any driver. That shows that since 1976 support for such a statement among men has increased from 54 per cent. to 73 per cent., and to no less than 83 per cent. among young men between the ages of 18 and 24. It is that latter group which is of most concern to the police, and which is involved in the highest proportion of the offences.
For all those reasons, we believe that the House should have the opportunity to study in Committee this important Private Member's Bill. I believe that the manner of presentation of the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) shows that he is more than willing to negotiate and to postpone his measure until there has been full consultation. Those are the reasons why I wanted to come to the Dispatch Box to support the opportunity for the Bill to receive its Second Reading today.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I think that the advice which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) gave to her hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) about flexibility may lead to both of them being successful in getting private Member's Bills through. Obviously the time available for this debate is rather shorter than that available for the previous one. The hon. Member for East Lothian and I would want to acknowledge that the hon. Member for Deptford in moving her Bill and my hon. Friend the Minister who responded to her were very kind in not taking up all the time available so that this important subject could be debated, at least in part.
The House will also welcome the way in which the hon. Member for East Lothian said that he would be willing to
Column 1337put off the conclusion on Second Reading until the Home Office had had time to consider the responses to consultation. That shows that there is a great deal of common interest in this House in seeing how far public opinion has changed since the present powers were laid down in statute.
The hon. Member for East Lothian will want to welcome all the speeches today. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) perhaps made the most useful speech. He provided a reminder that there are many of us, especially men, who in the past did drink and drive. We know many still do. The MORI survey for LEX showed a figure of about 1.5 million people who thought that they drove above the legal limit. I suspect that that figure is exaggerated. People gave what they thought were honest answers, but many of them thought that the legal limit was higher than it is. I try not to concentrate on the legal limit because I want no one to try to drink up to it. The only sensible advice from the Department of Transport, from the House, from the medical profession and the brewers is that drinking and driving do not mix. Do not combine the bottle and the throttle. People must make sure that they decide in advance whether they are going to drive or drink.
The House would unite in the belief that there are three messages that we want to convey to people under the umbrella of "Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives". First, the host has responsibility to provide an attractive range of alcohol-free or very low-alcohol drinks for drivers. That applies to clubs, pubs, hotels, restaurants, office parties and family parties.
The second message was reinforced by the hon. Member for Deptford, who reminded us that nearly half of those who die in drink-related crashes are drivers. Of those who are not drivers, perhaps one in four or five of them are what I call consenting adults. In other words, they are passengers who knew in advance that the driver was going to drink, got into the car knowing that the driver had been drinking and then ended up as half innocent victims. We must also feel the greatest concern for people who might be called the uninvolved fatalities. In other words, I am referring to the driver coming in the opposite direction or the pedestrian on the pavement. Our hearts go out to them, and those are the people for whom we must fight hardest.
I suggest that the campaign against drinking and driving and the Scottish campaign against irresponsible driving, to which I give credit for raising public awareness about this problem, should open their memberships more obviously to the families of the drinking drivers who have died. To try to prevent deaths they should also open their memberships to the families of drinking drivers who are still alive. The deterrent approach matters most.
I am glad that hon. Members have not spent time trying to be heavy-handed. The arguments for clarifying the law and for altering police powers--the two sections of the Bill--are directed at ensuring that fewer people combine alcohol with driving.
I have spoken about the host's responsibility and the passenger's responsibility, but thirdly, and above all, we must consider the driver's responsibility. If I, as a driver, go to a party where most of the drink on offer is alcoholic, and if no alcohol-free drink is available, or if I feel a fool by asking for it, my responsibility is not to go along with the tide and drink alcohol, but to hold back because I am driving. If I am in a pub or a restaurant where the
Column 1338alcohol-free drink is being sold at the same price, a not-sufficiently-reduced price or even a higher price than alcoholic drink, how could I face myself the next morning if I had saved 10p or even £1 but I had ended someone else's life? My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) recounted quite graphically the effect upon the family of a person who has died. It is a life sentence for parents if one of their children is killed by a drunken driver, or even if the young person is the drunken driver who has been killed.
No excuses remain for drinking and driving. One of the main reasons for that is the way in which the media have helped to put the subject on the public agenda. I am grateful to Members of Parliament who have helped put the matter on the political agenda. All the old excuses have gone and people now realise that it is not possible to say truthfully that there is no alternative to alcoholic drink. I pay tribute to the brewers who have developed low-alcohol and alcohol-free lagers and beers, £20 million of which of which were sold in 1986 and about £120 million in 1988-- the fastest growing part of the beer market. Low-alcohol beer tastes much better, but I recommend that people keep it in the refrigerator as it does not taste so good warm.
The publicans and the people who work in the not-for-profit clubs, the working men's clubs, the Labour clubs, the Tory clubs and the Liberal clubs --such as the one in Colne Valley, which has a Tory Member of Parliament-- and the whole range of working men's institutes have joined publicans in promoting alcohol-free drink and I pay tribute to them. The one group which has made the biggest difference is the people behind the counters who decide what they stock. Derek Dormer for the union representing the working men's clubs has done a great deal and the institute's magazine quotes a great many clubs where a quarter of the beer sold is alcohol-free or very low-alcohol beer. That is tremendous.
When occasionally I am attacked by the media--not that people in the media are terribly interested in this debate, which is taking place at lunch time --I remember that I received a standing ovation once in my 14 years of public service, and that was at the annual dinner of the National Licensed Victuallers Association. If the publicans of this country get to their feet and applaud--or at least get to their feet--things are not that bad. It may have been because I spoke for so long or because I proposed the toast to Her Majesty the Queen, but at least it shows that the publicans are working with Parliament and are concerned.
Some have expressed the fear that I may suffer as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir. G. Young) did when he stopped being a Minister at the Department of Health allegedly because the tobacco interests got cross with him. I may end my ministerial service quite soon, but it will not be because the brewers have got cross. The brewers are contributing to cutting death on the roads and are doing it very well. They spent £15 million last year on promoting drinks that drivers can take and that is tremendous.
I must say to the hon. Member for Stockton, North that if every other person in the community--whether or not they hold a position of responsibility or community representation--were as open as he has been, drink driving would be virtually ended within the next year. If people are
Column 1339willing to stand up and be counted and admit, "I have been an imperfect driver", or that they had combined drinking and driving, more people would be aware of the dangers.
Yesterday evening in Huddersfield I said that I had never been to a British Medical Association dinner where, on the menu beside the list of the fine food on one side and the fine wine on the other it said, "Members and guests are reminded that alcohol-free drink is on every table for drivers." One of the reasons why I have not seen such a thing at a BMA dinner is because I have never been invited to one. I did see it done once at a dinner of the County Surveyors' Society, and I hope that that practice will spread to magistrates and others involved in trying to save lives and enforce the law. Perhaps it should be adopted at more parliamentary dinners.
I wish to re-emphasise my comments on stocking alcohol-free drinks. We should consider the kinds of people who may not want to drink alcohol on any given occasion. About 10 per cent. of people are teetotal, and they represent a significant group. Another 10 per cent.--some estimate 20 per cent.--are reforming alcoholics, who ought to be off the booze. They would be helped if the rest of us taking alcohol chose an alcohol-free drink before moving on to alcohol. In that way, the reforming alcoholic or person who acknowledges that they have a drink problem--and many people do not acknowledge that--will see that everyone else is ordering non-alcoholic drinks, and it will be easier for that individual to remain alcohol-free and not feel under any social pressure to take alcohol.
Mr. Home Robertson : While I have enjoyed the 10 minutes of the Minister's speech so far, I have heard a certain amount of it before. One knows of his strong feelings, and one agrees with much of what he says about individual responsibility. However, I eagerly await the Minister's comments about the Bill, which would deter more effectively the evil to which he refers.
ise that the hon. Gentleman has been left to hold the fort by the Home Office, and that he may have an embarrassing Home Office brief before him. Nevertheless, it will be helpful if before 2.30 pm, the Minister will give an indication of whether he intends to allow the Bill to make progress, or whether he is doing the Home Office's dirtwork in talking it out. Mr. Bottomley : I have an appalling suspicion that the hon. Gentleman must be coming up for reselection. He began his earlier speech cogently and effectively, acknowledging the realities of life and that it will probably be better to conclude the Second Reading debate--or at least make a decison about it--at the end of the consultation period.
The hon. Gentleman may have been momentarily distracted at the beginning of my remarks, but I thought that he had been sensible in agreeing on the best way forward. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I acknowledged how grateful we all are to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), and to the hon. Member for Deptford for making it possible to debate this subject. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that my remarks make no contribution to the avoidance and deterrence of drink driving, and thereby to the avoidance and deterrence of the casualties
Column 1340associated with it, but merely compensate for the quality of my brief. The relationship between my Department and the Home Office is probably better in this field than in any other--not that I suggest that there is difficulty anywhere else in the seamless robe of Government.
I regret that the hon. Gentleman distracted me, because I wished to make further serious points that might help to continue the dramatic reduction in drink driving over the past three years. During the past three years, we have managed to change the attitude of the prime target group--the 18 to 24 -year-olds, who previously were described in the General Accident survey as the YOBS, or young, over-the-limit, beer drinkers. Drink driving offences in that group have been cut faster than that of the Dumbos--dangerous, upper middle class business men over the limit, who have been drink-driving for decades. That shows what can be achieved without changing the law, police powers, or sentencing. However much one may believe either in the second part of the Bill, the suggestion that there should be full or mass random breath testing, or that there should be unfettered discretion, is misguided.
Every time that this issue is raised, there are opportunities to persuade another 100,000 people to give up drinking and driving. It is important to continue sending positive messages. The people who will be reading tomorrow's newspaper reports of this debate will not learn only that the hon. Member for East Lothian, is enjoying further success by steering another Bill through Parliament, albeit that the Second Reading decision will probably come after the consultation period. I hope that they will read also in Saturday's and Sunday's papers that drink driving deaths in Britain have been brought down below 1,000 a year for the first time since records began. I am not sure when the figures started to rise or to be calculated. Drink driving in Britain is at a lower level than in most other countries. It has been coming down persistently over the past 22 years or so. When Barbara Castle introduced the breathalyser laws, she was laughed at, and most men tried to evade their consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) made a lawyer's confession--he helped people to use technicalities to get off charges. We forgive lawyers many things, but, if they are changing in support of the general idea that 95 per cent. of us regard ourselves as potential victims of drinking drivers and few of us regard ourselves as potential victims of the police, we have made great progress. The hon. Gentleman's offers, first, to consolidate the law--that is the middle option in the Home Office consultation paper--and, secondly, to provide that, within circumscribed procedures, the police may opt for random breath testing. It has been made plain that the present police powers are not understood by everyone. In legal terms, they are clear. They have been tested in the courts and have not been found wanting. It is possible for any one of us to be stopped and checked by the police without having original cause.
It is possible for the police to require a breath test in one of three circumstances : first, if someone has been involved in an accident ; secondly, if someone has committed a moving traffic offence, or has given reasonable grounds to suspect that ; or, thirdly, if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that someone has been drinking. Although he did not mention the accident point, my hon. Friend for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) clearly made those points.
Column 1341Should those sections of the law be put together? I suspect that the results of the consultation are that they should be and it is possible that that could be put into the road traffic law or an amending Bill. I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Lothian for indicating that he would be prepared to be flexible about the Bill. The next matter is far broader, and, I suspect, needs more than a two-hour debate. Should, by statute, the powers and operational procedures of the police be directly controlled? Some say yes. Certainly, over 100 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion appear to support that view. Many others say that the police powers should not be circumscribed at all. If the hon. Gentleman had phrased his Bill in another way to state that there should be no restrictions on the power of the police to require an alcohol test of a driver, perhaps 100 or so people would have agreed to that also. The hon. Gentleman may not have put his name at the top of the early-day motion, but that shows how opinions may vary. We should not prejudge hon. Member's reactions.
It is difficult for the House to lay down detailed requirements on how the police carry out the law. I am glad that police officers have discretion in many motoring offences. The point of the Government's approach and response to the North committee and its recommendations is that the trivial mistakes that all of us as motorists make some of the time should not necessarily lead us into court. Serious offences need to be dealt with most effectively, and drink driving is one of them.
I remind the House of the evidence of the pilot random alcohol surveys that the Department carried out last year. At one stage, they appeared to be controversial, but they have generally been accepted as worthwhile. The good news is that, after 10 o'clock on drinking nights--Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays--four out of five of the cars driving towards us are driven by someone who has not taken alcohol. The bad news is that one in five has. The good news is that 49 out of 50 are not above the legal limit when they have been two to five times more likely to be involved in a crash or a collision. The bad news is that one in 50 is above the legal limit. One in 500 is at twice the legal limit or above.
As the debate has turned mainly on deterrence and perceptions of risk, I remind all drivers that the police catch 1,000 drivers a week at twice the legal limit or above--people up to 20 times more likely to be involved in a crash or collision. That could not happen with random testing, it must come from targeted testing. Many people support what the police are doing. Another 1,000 people are between the legal limit and twice the legal limit. Many of them are caught by random stops, not random testing. I should not want to exaggerate. If anyone wants to see a mild exaggeration, they should look at the Evening Standard of 30 June 1988. The article did not make the second edition because the future of Elstree studio was more important than 1,000 people a year dying on the roads.
The police can test anyone, except those who have not been drinking, those who have not had a scrape or those who have not committed a moving traffic offence. In New South Wales last weekend, four out of five people were caught as a result of targeted rather than random testing. To catch 120,000 people a year in this country by random testing would require 23 million breath tests instead of the present total of 400,000, which is rising.
Column 1342I shall not become involved in the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about different statistics from different police services. The police should analyse the comparisons and learn from them rather than my pointing out any obvious or less obvious messages. More and more police services are taking the issue more seriously. The chief constable of Fife said that he was fed up--he did not say that, but it looked as though he were--with accidents involving drinking and driving. He required his officers to take more tests when it was lawful to do so. The number of tests increased, but the number of people over the limit and accidents decreased.
I have read in reports of an appalling publican in Ditchling who said that over Christmas he lost trade because West Sussex police were stopping people and testing them if there were lawful grounds to do so. Any publican relying on the drink-drive trade should switch to running a coffie bar. Some nine out of 10 publicans realise that a change has occurred. The hon. Member for East Lothian reminded me that anyone who continues to drink and drive should carry a kidney donor card because others may find more use for their organs. The speech made my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green reminded us that we are not only discussing individuals. There is much pressure for less laxity. There is more pressure for effective enforcement, more effective deterrents and a culture change so that drinking and driving becomes as unlikely as smoking in a church, chapel, mosque or temple.
The biggest changes have come from public understanding. I ask the media to give more coverage not only to arguments for or against random testing, unfettered discretion or considering the existing system, which many have found unsatisfactory, but to why four men still go into a pub, the first buys a pint of beer all round and the other three feel that they must do the same. All four leave the pub over the legal limit. The media might say, especially the local press, why four out of five restaurants--whether they be Indian, Chinese, English or French--do not stock alcohol-free beer. Any restaurant that stocks beer should stock alcohol-free beer, because a third of their customers will be driving shortly afterwards.
Mr. Home Robertson : I acknowledge everything that the Minister is saying. Clearly we shall run out of time and the Chair is not in a position to accept a closure motion. Will the Minister say whether the Government will be prepared to consider making progress on the Bill, following the conclusion of the Home Office's consultation, on 5 May?
Mr. Bottomley : There have already been 2,000 responses to the consultation, and I am sure that the Home Office would welcome more. If it is possible to come to conclusions that might fit in with the Bill, there may be informal discussions to see what can be done. If there were an agreed way forward, the sooner that could be done the better, but whether it would be feasible is too early to judge. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and his ministerial alcohol group have a keen interest in seeing how we progress.
The hon. Member for East Lothian is riding with the tide. Many hon. Members have reflected the changing attitude that drinking and driving wrecks lives.
Many of us have misbehaved in the past. I put out a call to everyone concerned with the subject not just to give
Column 1343their views on the law, but to make their own contribution. They should provide alcohol-free drinks for drivers and expect them to take them. They should ask, "Are you sure?" if they see a driver drinking. Passengers should plan in advance to have an alcohol-free driver and drivers should remember that they have the prime responsibility to keep death off the roads.
There may be more deaths from sober drivers, but to have 1,000 deaths a year from drink driving means that 20 times a week a police officer knocks on a stranger's door and says that he is very sorry, but a son, a daughter, a husband or wife will not be coming home that night because somebody has been drink-driving. Those are the acts that we are trying to prevent. I ask everyone not to wait for a change in the law, if it comes, but to pack in the drinking and driving now. That is the real way of cutting our casualty rate dramatically.
It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed upon Friday 5 May.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 3 March.