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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply from my noble friend. Can he confirm that police and doctors consider that certain drugs do dangerously affect driving? When particular drugs are prescribed medically, doctors normally tell the patients not to drive. But in any future scheme, in cases of harmless drug medication, should doctors supply certificates which would explain traces found upon roadside testing? Is my noble friend aware that the RAC has today launched a nationwide campaign on the scale and dangers of drugs and driving?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, since 1977 the legislation has ensured that medicines which can affect drivers adversely carry warnings. It is also best practice on the part of the medical profession to warn patients of the effects of prescribed medicines. However, prescribed drugs can be misused or patients fail to exercise sufficient care. It is every individual's
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, are the Government aware that tiredness is also a cause of problems with drivers? Will they take steps to prevent motorway service areas levying parking charges on those who might feel drowsy and stop to have a little kip before proceeding on their journey?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I am not aware of service stations levying charges. The noble Lord nods. I learn something new every day. I have travelled up and down the country on many occasions. When I am tired, I pull into a service station and have something to drink--soft, of course--and something to eat.
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, no equipment is presently available that can test for drugs in the same way as roadside breathalysers. Some kits exist to detect the presence of certain illicit drugs on a person; for example, if someone has handled an illicit drug. However, I understand that at present there is no equipment that can be used to test whether someone is under the influence of a drug.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in 1994 678,500 breath tests were carried out, of which 14 per cent. were found to be positive? Is he further aware that, in the same period, 1,000 drugs tests were carried out following negative breath tests and Department of Transport figures indicate that 90 per cent. proved positive? Having regard to the fact that there can be no doubt as to the lethal quality of some of those drugs, is there not a case for an urgent and rapid inquiry to be undertaken by either the Department of Transport or the Home Office in order to ensure that proper cognisance is taken of the advice given by the police and many others?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I was not aware of all the statistics that the noble Lord gave. Research is being instigated between the Department of Transport, the Home Office, the Coroners' Society and the Association of Chief Police Officers. That is to establish systematically the instance of drug use among fatal road casualties in Great Britain. It relates not just to illicit drugs, but also takes into account those that are prescribed and those available over the counter which may affect the ability of a driver to drive safely. It is a three-year research programme. It will report on a regular basis, and if research brought to our attention implies the need for some legislation, we will take action.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, while at the present stage of knowledge it may not be possible to conduct roadside tests for the presence of illicit drugs in the body of a driver, do the police have the power to subject blood
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 empowers a constable to arrest a person if he has reasonable cause to suspect that that person has been driving or has been in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle when unfit through drugs. Section 7 of that Act empowers a constable to require the suspect to provide a specimen for laboratory analysis.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not just illicit drugs that cause such problems; ordinary drugs can cause drowsiness? The police say that that is very difficult to check. Will the Minister refer this very serious matter to the Secretary of State for consideration?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. This area is also being examined in relation to the research that will be carried out, starting on 1st July. That will look into various types of drug: alcohol; amphetamines; and methyl-amphetamines, which I am told include ecstasy, cannabis, cocaine, opiates, methadone, LSD, benzodiazepines and tricyclic anti-depressants.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, might one of the problems in roadside testing be that it is not necessarily so easy to detect the difference between various sorts of drugs in chemical residues in the body as it is with alcohol? If so, are the Government conducting or funding any research into that approach; in other words, developing better equipment to enable roadside testing to take place?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite correct. There is a great problem with this subject because of the wide range of drugs that can affect drivers and the matter of degree of substance in the bloodstream or urine. I believe that investigation into this area is currently being carried out.
The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon): My Lords, the Government are disappointed that the court has found against the current procedure for deciding on release for those detained during Her Majesty's pleasure. We are considering the
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, am I to gather that in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, the Minister is saying that the Government do not accept the finding--which, as most of us are aware, they are bound to accept--but are still equivocating? Are the Government now prepared to bear in mind that there are some 100 young offenders whose tariff has expired and who have been told that they must be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure? Does the Minister agree that, under the court ruling, those 100 cases should therefore go to the Parole Board? Are those young people being allowed access to the Parole Board; and are the Government ready to accept the finding of the Parole Board, or are they still equivocating?
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, as I indicated, the position is quite clear. The Government will announce what changes will be made to take account of these judgments. The Government accept the judgments, which were pronounced on the 21st of this month. I venture to suggest that to have to come to any decision within the period of time from that day to today's date on precisely what the new procedures will be would have led to an accusation of rushing the matter and not thinking it through clearly. I have given an undertaking that, when the changes are decided upon, they will be announced to the House as soon as possible.
The noble Earl raises the question of how many people may be affected. My information is that in England and Wales some 235 cases are potentially affected by the judgment. While each and every one of those cases is being looked at urgently, it is likely that primary legislation will be required to set up the new procedure. In the interim, before primary legislation is passed, cases where the tariff has expired will be dealt with on an administrative basis.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether, despite the fact that Parliament was not consulted about this matter, the Government regard the decision of this particular body as binding?
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, the Government regard the judgments in these two cases as ones that will require a change in the procedure. As I have indicated, that change will require to be done by way of primary legislation, which will be brought before Parliament as soon as practicable. It affects only those detained during Her Majesty's pleasure. As the House will know, those are people whose offences were committed while they were under the age of 18. It has no effect on people convicted of murder when they were 18 years or more on the day that they committed the offence.
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