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The Liberal Democrats, who tabled new clause 39, raised the question of mandatory disqualification. I believe that the new clause is among a number of amendments inspired by the insurance branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland. I am happy to congratulate the Liberal Democrats on their interest in the matter and the work that they are doing. The views and constructive ideas of stakeholders are always welcome, and I can see the logic behind the proposal, but I simply do not accept it.
When the original provisions of clause 36 were made following the road traffic reviewthe so-called North reportit was decided that while mandatory retesting should apply to drivers who committed the most serious road traffic offences, such as dangerous driving and worse, it was less appropriate for drink-drivers, whose driving skills, it might be argued, were less in question than their judgment about drinking.
I remind the House that the vast majority of drink-drivers are disqualified for 12 to 18 months, during which time their driving skills may not diminish as much as those of drivers who are disqualified for longer. More recently, however, it has been considered that the worst drink-drivers who were disqualified for longer periods, such as two years or more, should be subject to a retest because of the length of time for which they were off the road. Clause 36 will enable that to be done by means of secondary legislation, but it will be subject to further consultation. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will not press his new clause.
Finally, let me deal with the issue of alcohol ignition interlocks, which feature in a number of amendments proposed, again, by the Royal Bank of Scotland. If I understand correctly, their purpose is to impose a wider application of alcohol interlock programmes by extending their availability to all drink-drivers, and to require courts to impose orders unless they believe that there is good reason for not doing so.
We currently want to target the most serious offenders, and certainly those who cannot stop themselves from reoffending. That is where we can expect both the incentive and the commitment to participate fully, and, of course, where we might expect to achieve the best accident risk reduction. There may be a case for a more widespread application, but it has yet to be made. Best practice advice based on research suggests that a period of interlock use of less than a year is not likely to provide a benefit, and for shorter periods the fixed costs of installation and training may make it less cost-effective.
As for making the scheme mandatory, I have some difficulty with the idea of courts imposing such cost burdens on drivers, some of whom would not have the financial means to undertake the programme. Such drivers might have to sell their cars to pay for it. The Department would welcome the opportunity to have further discussions with insurance companies about drink-driving and other aspects of road safety.
I remind Members that our proposal is modelled on the successful drink-drive rehabilitation programme introduced by the last Administration in the early 1990s and rolled out nationally by this Government in 2000. In making the decision to undertake the course at
their own expense, offenders recognise the value of learning how to change their behaviour. We should be very cautious about deviating from an approach that has served us well so far. I hope that the House will reject those amendments as well.
Mr. Chope: We have had an excellent debate. The Ministers was a classic Yes, Minister response. As a former transport Minister, I congratulate his civil servants on having taken to heart his brief, which was to try to find an objection to every possible solution.
Every Member recognises that there is a real problem that needs to be addressed. It is causing the loss of a great many lives on our roads, unnecessarily, every year. But the Minister has come up with a whole lot of trivial objections. For example, he says that we need to establish the correct level for illegal drugs, but why do we need a legal limit for illegal drugs? Surely any level of illegal drugs should be illegal and the law should deal with it. What sort of message does the Governments talk on this matter send out to young people who may be tempted to get into the drugs scene?
The Minister says that there is a large variability of effects for the same dose taken. Well, that is exactly the same argument that was used against the breathalyser law. Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can drink 10 pints without it having any effect on you, whereas some colleagues might drink one pint and be paralytic. What are the Government doing in resorting to that old, failed argument?
From the way in which the Minister spoke about the difficulties of testing, anyone would think that we did not have drug testing in prisons, schools and in sportall promoted by the Government. So why cannot we have drug testing at the roadside? That is what the new clause is about. My Front-Bench colleague was absolutely right to draw our attention to the statistics that show that the proportion of drivers detected and prosecuted for drug-driving in this country is far below that of other countries. That is not because we do not have drug-driving, but because the Government are not dealing with the problem.
I believe in joined-up government, but what we have had from the Minister is a silo mentality, whereby drugs issues are viewed as nothing to do with his Department. I would like to see his Department deal with drug taking and drug use alongside the Home Office. One way of achieving that would be to make it an offence for anyone to be at the wheel of a car with illegal substances in their body. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) for making it clear that the Opposition will support the new clause. I hope that many Government Members will join us, too.
The Secretary of State shall, by 31st December 2007, by regulations made by statutory instrument require the fitting of retro-reflective tape complying with ECE 104 to international category vehicles N2 and N3 and on goods trailers under the international classification 03 and 04 newly registered in the United Kingdom... [Mr. Drew.]
All vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, operating in the UK, must have a mirror positioned on the exterior of the vehicle on the passenger side, which enables the driver to have a full view of vehicles and other road users in the neighbouring lanes, when driving on all roads in the United Kingdom..
All HGVs with trailers, registered in the UK, shall, by 31st December 2007, be fitted with an audible warning system that shall sound if the driver exits the vehicle when the brakes are not applied..
(3) Any person riding on a motorcycle which is not displaying daytime running lights and which is not exempt under subsection (2) commits an offence punishable by a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale..
It is with a feeling of déjÃ vu that some of us will approach the new clause, which stands in my name and that of several other hon. Members. I make no apology for bringing the matter back on Report, given that currently we have an unsatisfactory situation.
We were sure that the Government had seen some sense; with the Lords accepting the amendment, it seemed that the Government would let it ride.
There were arguments in Committee about whether this very minor change could be brought in at the earliest possible stage. I pay due regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who tabled an amendment in Committee to ensure that this measure could be introduced as early as 2007. Not only did the Government not accept it, they voted against clause stand part, meaning that we had no opportunity to introduce this very minor but important amendment.
I will not speak for very long. I hope that the Government have rethought their position, but I want to deal with some of the canards relating to this very small change. The biggest stumbling block appears to be that if we made the change we would be outwith some marvellous EU ability to deal with the matter. However, it appears that the EU is likely to accept the placing of retro-reflective materials on the side of heavy goods vehicles. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East raised a point of order, as did the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), to point out, in the nicest possible way, that what the Minister was saying was not the whole truth. Italy has passed the measure into law and the EU does not appear to be chasing Italy around. Italy does not seem to be having difficulties; it is to be congratulated on getting on with this minor but important change.
Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend is right. Italy did move on this matter, but there were objections to that not only from Great Britain, but from France and Germany. The European Commission is almost certainlyit has started the preliminary stagesabout to begin infraction proceedings against Italy. As I have said repeatedly, no matter how strong the merits of retro-reflective tapes, we have to conform to ECEUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe regulations. We cannot move ahead of those regulations without facing the same measures that Italy will face.
Mr. Drew: I am not sure that that helps, but it does put the matter into perspective. If we are to proceed at the speed of the slowest vehiclein this case, the EUwe are all doomed. This is a simple measure and it makes sense to do it now to save lives. If the argument is that we must proceed at the speed of the EU, it is a crass abdication of responsibility. This should be introduced now.
I wish to address other canards. It is argued that the measure would be too costly. All the researchincluding the Governments research done by Loughborough university, for which I am grateful, because I have been pursuing the issue for more than two yearssuggests that this is not a cost issue. The addition of £100 will not break the bank for those buying new vehicles worth £100,000.
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