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Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument. How are the statistics relating to those motorists who are just under the limit collected? I understand how figures are available for drivers whose tests show 81, 82 or 83 mg of alcohol, but how on earth do we know whether a driver has a figure in the mid-70s? If we do not know the figures, does that not destroy the hon. Gentleman's argument? Those who break the existing law, not those who are just under the limit, are the problem.

Mr. Kidney: The right hon. Gentleman has a point in the sense that we cannot tell who has been breaking the law if people are not prosecuted. If people are killed, however, an assessment is made—in assessing why they died, the alcohol content in their blood is tested for the coroner, so we have the statistics to make an assessment. The up-to-date assessment is that about 130 deaths involve the 1 per cent. of drivers who are somewhere near the legal limit.

I hesitate before introducing Europe into any debate, because I know that it has an unhealthy effect on some hon. Members, but the European Union has considered whether we should harmonise the limit across Europe.
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In 2001, the Commission recommended that all countries should adopt the same limit of 50 mg. That has not happened and, as hon. Members have said, some countries still have a limit of 20 mg. Three countries still have a limit of 80 mg—we are with Luxembourg and Ireland—but the centre of gravity has nevertheless moved to 50 mg, which is persuasive but not in itself convincing.

I support the three measures in the Bill on drink-driving. Evidential roadside tests and, I hasten to add, tests at hospital bedsides are significant and will benefit the police in catching more people who break the law. We can make gains by closing the loophole relating to high-risk offenders and by piloting alcolocks. However, why do the Government not view the Bill as the right time to change the limit? I know that they say that most people are familiar with the present law, that enforcement is effective, that the penalties are tough and that we do not want to distract from the present regime by changing the law as well. I say that we would still have the same rigorous enforcement if we changed the limit.

The Government spend a lot of money on publicity and education campaigns, which get ever harder hitting. Since 1998, however, they have not seen a return for their investment in a reduction in the number of fatalities. Now is the time to consider an additional element—not a substitution—in order further to reduce such deaths. Because of the pressures of time, I will stop there, but I hope that we can further pursue that matter in Committee.

6.13 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Bill, which is an important contribution to reducing deaths, accidents and injuries on our roads. It is unacceptable that 10 people per day die on our roads, and it is also unacceptable that 90 people per day are seriously injured on our roads. We sometimes underestimate the importance of serious injury through accidents—injuries can mean blighted lives.

Given the shortage of time, I shall concentrate my brief comments on my two areas of concern. First, although the Government are well aware that speed kills and have shown in many ways how they want to deal with the issue, it is ironic that the unintended consequence of the proposal on graduated speeding fines, as it has been introduced for consultation, is that speeding in 30 mph zones could result in a reduced penalty. It is known that a pedestrian hit at 30 mph has a 50 per cent. chance of survival, while 90 per cent. of those hit at 40 mph die. Indeed, a pedestrian hit at 35 mph is twice as likely to die as one hit at 30 mph.In view of those facts, I ask the Government to think again before the Standing Committee considers the proposal for graduated penalties. Given the severe consequences, hon. Members should have more information about the Government's intentions before they are asked to vote for that principle.

The second area to which I should like to draw attention is that of culpability for death or injury on the roads. Like other hon. Members, I ask the Minister to pursue with the Home Office the long-awaited publication of the Halliday report. All the evidence
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shows that death because of accidents on the roads is viewed far less seriously than death caused by any other means. That is simply unacceptable. When the Transport Committee recently took evidence, it became clear that bereaved families, among others, lack confidence in the system. There are worries about investigations at the scene of accidents and whether sufficient evidence is gathered and sufficient attention given to the possibility of culpability, and about the number of charges brought by the Crown Prosecution Service concerning careless, rather than dangerous, driving. Surely it is not right to put together and equate offences that include reading a newspaper and turning into a minor road and colliding with a pedestrian. Those two actions cannot be comparable, yet they are both classed under the heading of careless driving.

No proper statistics are kept on what happens following fatal accidents or accidents where there are serious injuries. That requires changes by the Home Office and the CPS as well as by the Department for Transport. Bereaved families and families of injured people are not kept informed about or involved in the progress of prosecutions that follow the accident. I ask the Department for Transport and the Home Office to consider the Transport Committee's recommendation of a new offence of causing death or serious injury by negligent driving. That, with other measures, would show that the Government mean what they say and that the Secretary of State for Transport follows up his words about how seriously he regards death because of accidents on the roads.

In general, this is a good Bill that will help to reduce accidents and death. However, as it passes through the House it is important that the Government reconsider the two areas of concern that I have outlined very briefly .

6.18 pm

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Many points that I would have made have already been dealt with in the excellent speeches that have been made. I do not need to repeat them, but I hope to reinforce some of them.

Road safety measures clearly save lives. I hope that the Bill will save more lives in future, but if it were strengthened it could save even more. In the past, there has been a cultural reluctance to accept safety measures and a kind of misguided libertarianism about driving. I think that that is well in the past and I hope that it will not return. We have experimented with voluntarism, especially with seat belts; that did not work, and we now realise that compulsion is necessary in many areas. We are making progress, and it is comforting that there is consensus across the Chamber.

We have heard a lot this afternoon about the effect of different speeds on pedestrians hit by cars and their chances of survival. If we look at that in another way, we realise that between 20 mph and 30 mph one's chances of survival decrease 10 times, and that between 30 mph and 40 mph those chances decrease five times. Even between the speeds of 20 mph and 30 mph, there is a much greater chance of being killed when hit by a car. In crowded pedestrian areas in towns, it would therefore be
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sensible seriously to consider a default speed limit of 20 mph. The proposal has been presented by the Safer Streets Coalition in a well argued briefing that I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to read.

We have heard much debate about alcohol limits. I supported the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who tabled an amendment on Report to the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003. The amendment was rejected, but the case has to be put again. I hope that the Government will be persuaded that the 50 mg limit should eventually become law. I would argue for an even lower limit. We have come to realise that we can save hundreds of lives by restricting alcohol and driving. We should go further to save lives and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made an effective speech on that.

The culture and attitudes to driving have changed. That shows that hon. Members, as legislators, have a duty to represent people at their best and most sensible, not their most spontaneous and perhaps selfish. When Barbara Castle introduced the breathalyser, I was sitting in a pub, drinking a pint of beer. I hasten to add that I was not driving and that, even then, I was careful about the amount that I drank when I was driving. A petition against the breathalyser was circulated in the pub. I was the only person there who refused to sign it because I thought that the law was sensible and would save thousands of lives, thus making us all safer. I was not popular in the pub that day but I believe that I was right and that subsequent events have proved that.

I support a general 20 mph limit in towns and a lower blood-alcohol level for drivers. Those measures would make a tremendous contribution to saving thousands more lives in future. I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to consider those two specific points seriously. Otherwise, I support the Bill.

6.22 pm

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