Road Safety Bill

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Mr. Jamieson: I intervene partly so the hon. Gentleman can catch his breath, as he has been running up the stairs. It is not intended that the programme should turn somebody into a teetotaller. It
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is intended to say to a person, whether or not they are carrying on with a moderate or relatively high level of drinking, that if they come onto this programme and get some release from the ban, they must demonstrate that they are not just near the limit, but virtually at a zero level when they get in their car and start driving it. That is totally fair and reasonable, as a person is getting off some of their ban. If we did anything other than this, it would be quite ludicrous, and offensive, particularly to those people who have suffered the death and injury of their relatives by drunk drivers.

Mr. Chope: I am not sure that somebody who had killed somebody through drunk driving would be able to qualify for this course. The Minister and I are ad idem, however, on the principles that we are trying to address. I am trying to ensure that the practicalities are taken account of. My concern is that somebody who is, for all intents and purposes, sober—or capable of being able to drive safely—in the morning after having been out for dinner the night before will not find that because they have residual alcohol in their system, they cannot get the car started.

I have no technical expertise; I do not know the rate at which alcohol leaves the system. As the Minister says, it is impossible to say exactly what happens, because each person has a different constitution and a different speed at which they absorb alcohol and at which it is released around the system.

We should be able to have some general guidance as to whether someone who has been out drinking the night before and then makes to start his car to go to work the following day is likely to have a level above 9 micrograms and therefore will be incapable of using the vehicle.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): My understanding of the clauses is that the device is intended for those people who are high risk; those who have committed a relevant offence and are therefore in the high-risk category where the longer bans have been imposed. It is a way of mitigating that. We are not dealing with somebody who has committed one offence and is now living a normal life, having learnt their lesson. We are dealing with people who have a repeat offence track record, and sadly often suffer from alcohol addiction. In those circumstances, zero tolerance is right.

To help the hon. Member for Christchurch, roughly speaking one unit of alcohol metabolises from the average body in about one hour. One unit of alcohol is equal—very roughly as it depends on the size of the glass and the volume of the alcohol—to one glass of wine. One can therefore work backwards as to how much of a skinful someone has to have had to have residual alcohol the following morning. I do not think that it is too much to ask, given those figures, that people should be clear in the morning. I would therefore support the level of 9 micrograms.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has made more of a speech than an intervention. It is a pity that he did not join in the original debate,
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as he is obviously a lot more expert in the matter than I am, and probably very careful in the calculations he makes.

To deal with the Minister's response to amendment No. 60, I intended to ensure that there was a clear sunset clause. The Minister seemed to interpret my amendment as against the principle of sunset clauses. My intention was to prevent the experimental period from running on.

I do not know whether the Minister will want to look at it again, but my intention was that by preventing a later time beyond the end of 2010 for incorporation, the experimental period would have to be finite. People who were planning and investing and so on in the programme, which might be quite expensive to set up, would know that it would end in 2010. Hopefully, it would by then have been such a success that it could be made permanent. People might invest because it looked inevitable that the measure would be made permanent, but might find themselves frustrated when the Government exercised the power in clause 15(1)(b), which would extend the experimental period, rather than dealing with the substantive case for removing the experiment and allowing it to be a general facility available to the authorities.

I do not think that we have quite established what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire wishes to do, but I do not wish to divide the Committee on any of the amendments. However, it was important to raise the issues in the way we did. Although the start of the programme may be some way down the track, the detail will be highly relevant to those on it when it starts and to those who implement it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Knight: I rise to ask the Minister a question. I understand from something that he told the Committee that the Department has laid on a demonstration of the alcohol locks for the press. If the Department has a vehicle with such a lock fitted, I hope that the Minister will consider inviting hon. Members with an interest in such matters—I include all members of the Committee in that—to a demonstration. Personally, I would like to see one of the locks in operation.

Mr. Flook: I may well have missed the Minister's comments on proposed section 34D(10) of the 1988 Act, but could he clarify that it specifies 9 micrograms and not 8, 11 or 12?

Mr. Jamieson: First, I shall deal with the point that the hon. Member for Taunton made. Fortunately, our proceedings are recorded accurately by Hansard. If the hon. Gentleman consults Hansard, he will see that the point that he raised was dealt with fairly thoroughly, so I shall not detain the Committee further on it.

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I sometimes think that there are too many demonstrations in and around the House. In the summer we gave a demonstration involving such a vehicle for the press in a pub forecourt. We told those taking part in the event that under no circumstances could they drive to it, because they had to attempt to start the car, first without having had a drink and then after having had a drink. After one or two glasses of wine or pints of beer, most of them found that they could not start the vehicle.

If there is an opportunity to demonstrate the device to Members of both Houses, we shall attempt to do so. We have given demonstrations of the hazard protection test, which I think many members of the Committee enjoyed. If we can put on a demonstration—not, if possible, with half the members of the Committee staggering about drunk and trying to start the car—I shall be happy do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Penalty points

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

Mr. Knight: May I ask the Minister whether he will allow the courts to make their own minds up when deciding what the penalty points should be or whether, concurrently or consecutively to the passing of the Bill into law, he will issue guidance to magistrates to give examples of the points that they should impose? If he intends to issue guidance, he should share it with the Committee before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament.

Mr. Jamieson: We discussed clause 16 when we dealt with clauses 2 and 3, so we have been pretty well round the houses on the issues. As I said at the time, we would have to put forward a proposition. There would have to be a consultation on that proposition and it would then have to come before the House in the form of a positive resolution statutory instrument before any of the measures could be introduced. As I was at pains to say last Thursday, and as I will repeat now, we have listened carefully to the debate on the issue in Committee and outside, and we shall be mindful of that as we take matters forward.

4.30 pm

The law fixes the penalty imposed on an offender. If driving at a certain speed attracted, say, four, five or six points on a person's licence, there would be no discretion. If the person decided to contest that and go to court instead, the magistrate would have some discretion over the fine up to the maximum level permitted for that offence. Generally, the law sets out, as guidance to magistrates, obligatory amounts of penalty points that are imposed for an offence. We would need to have further discussions if we had a
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proposition to change that. The proposal would then go before the House again. It would be then be converted into guidance for courts, and it would probably be appropriate to look at any guidance that may be given to magistrates. I hope that that is helpful.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the Minister for that. When he talks about the guidance, could he also discuss mitigating circumstances, which I mentioned earlier? The standard notices that go out with the penalty points will say that if there are mitigating circumstances the matter can be taken to the magistrates courts. As we know, the magistrates have no right to reduce the number of penalty points from the standard three imposed under the existing law or below the minimum under the new law. When the Minister produces guidance will he ensure that it extends to those pro forma letters? People who receive fixed penalty tickets will then realise that they cannot obtain any mitigation in respect of the penalty points by having the matter referred to the magistrates court. That is not clear at present.

The other problem is that the fine associated with fixed penalty points is fixed. Although magistrates cannot change the number of penalty points imposed, they have some discretion over the fine, and in making their decision they will want to take into account the offender's means, which will have to be disclosed in any claim for mitigation. That will open up a new can of worms for the offender who wants mitigating circumstances taken into account but does not want to raise the spectre of a £60 fine becoming much higher because he happens to be of substantial means. I hope that the Minister accepts that there is an inconsistency which should be addressed in any guidance. This question arises from a constituency case which I mentioned before. I have had a substantive but much delayed reply about it from the Court Service, which has identified that there is a problem with the present law.

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