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Lord Vinson: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for asking a question at this stage, but he seems to have forgotten that many single people in rural areas depend entirely on a car for their social arrangements. When making judgments, the noble Lord should take such people into account. Their social life and freedom of activity is an important part of the equation which I fear the noble Lord has left out.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I hope that I have taken that point into account. Of course, the social life of those living on their own in the country and who have a car is important, but I believe that 30 per cent. of those who live in the countryside do not have access to cars. They will go to the pub on foot or on a bicycle, down a road which probably does not have a pavement. They have a right to protection from drunken drivers. After all, a car is a lethal weapon whereas a bicycle is not, on the whole. One has to strike a balance. I am sorry but my answer is that if somebody who lives in the country wants to get drunk, he will have to do it at home, or find somebody to drive him, or use public transport if there is any. What about the 30 per cent. who do not have cars? I am sorry, but a balance must be struck.

In conclusion, I support the content of the report. We are all in grave danger of concentrating on the alcohol limit to the exclusion of everything else. However, as

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the report says, there must be a package of measures, combining penalties, enforcement and education. Together, they will send out the right signals that the Government are serious about the problems of drink-driving which kills 540 people per year. If those people had been killed as a result of a rail or air crash, there would be a major public inquiry. But if those people are killed by drunken drivers, on the whole, nobody cares. That is desperately sad. I fully support the report and I look forward to hearing the response of my noble friend the Minister.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I have read the report with great interest and I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, with great interest, although I do not entirely agree with him about the countryside. He said that 30 per cent. of people living in the countryside do not have cars. I do not know any such people. Frankly, in my part of the world, everybody has a car or access to one. It would be very difficult to find anyone without access to a car. I am talking purely for myself here because the official spokesman for the Liberal Democrats is my noble friend Lord Methuen and I should like to concentrate on the countryside and on a part that I know well, the County of Angus in the east of Scotland.

We have come an awfully long way in 50 years with regard to drink-driving and our general attitude to alcohol. Fifty years ago, I was the chairman of the annual Kirriemuir and District Agricultural Association dinner. It was a very jolly affair, and we had a form of drink-driving control which was absolutely ideal. Our admirable local sergeant, Sergeant Kippen, knew all the difficult families and understood their problems. At about 12.30 a.m., he would come into the room, and stand by the piano. He might even have a dram and, as the happy farmers trotted out, he would say, "Good night, Willie. If I was you, Tom, I would take a taxi". That form of control certainly worked, but I do not say that it can be applied throughout the country. However, it is most important that we consider what is happening in the countryside.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was being a trifle sexist when he said that when a couple go out, one of them should not drink alcohol. There is an appalling sexist arrangement in our part of the world. It seems to work like this: the husband drives to the dinner and the wife drives home. That appears most unfair. It is ridiculous that in that context he or she cannot have two glasses of wine.

The whole report indicates that the problem lies with two groups of people: the young, who cause the majority of accidents, and the drunks. That is certainly so in my part of the world. The number of difficulties and accidents caused by the ordinary citizen is absolutely nil with the exception of two or three drunks whom I know. But the young, with or without drink, are constantly crashing cars. It is absolutely right that the report should highlight the fact that they are the people who must be dealt with.

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The campaign has been enormously successful in reducing the number of accidents and has saved many lives. It has produced a new attitude in a good number of people. I believe the report to be excellent. I shall come to the point of disagreement in a moment.

I noted one or two extremely interesting matters in the report. On page 11 it is reported that the British Medical Association suggest that,

    "because alcohol impairs driving functions, it is safe to assume that any accident-involved driver with an illegal BAC contributed to the cause of that accident".

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, may or may not remember that some years ago a judge was proceeding home from his club. He stopped at a red light quite legally but a sober idiot ran into the back of him. That judge was breathalysed and lost his licence. As a result, his career was gravely damaged. It is not always the driver with alcohol in his blood who is involved in accidents; often such people do not cause accidents.

Further, the British Medical Association stated that there was,

    "considerable evidence that people who have been drinking lose certain social inhibitions resulting in, for example, the drinking driver being more likely to speed".

The opposite is more likely to be true of mature people who live in the country. If people have been drinking moderately, they are inclined to take care. The expression, "No more, I'm driving", is very common all over the country.

The report also highlights on page 21 the two main groups of people who cause the most damage. Enough has been said about that. The answer appears to be the imposition of stringent penalties. If a man or woman is to lose his or her licence, he or she will take care. If these individuals are liable to be caught because there are checks in places--I agree that they should be targeted, not random tests--more and more people will take care that they remain within a reasonable, safe limit.

I absolutely agree with the conclusions of the report, save for the last sentence which states,

    "On balance, therefore, the Committee considers that the permitted BAC level for drivers ... should be reduced".

I believe that on balance that conclusion is wrong and that an intensification of the efforts that are already being made and have been proven to be right, particularly in relation to the young and the habitual drunk, is the way forward.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, when our very able chairman suggested that we examine the new draft directive on drink driving legislation, I was less than enthusiastic. The arguments are well known. Convictions for drink driving have long since ceased to be a subject to boast about, as at one stage they probably were. As the inquiry progressed under the skilful and tolerant direction of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, it became increasingly interesting, to the point where members of the committee found themselves in

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fundamental disagreement. I find myself in a minority, together with the chairman and a number of colleagues, on the recommendations of the report.

With some thought, and at risk of pressing on the borders of good taste, I should like to make my position quite clear and declare a personal interest. Some years ago I was, with a close friend, involved in a particularly gruesome road accident in which both our wives were killed. It was caused by bad driving and had no relationship to alcohol whatsoever. I make that point, and quickly leave it, because I do not want my inability to accept the main findings of the report to give anyone the impression that I take issues involving road safety lightly.

There is no doubt that the legislation relating to seatbelts and drink and driving introduced in the mid-1960s has saved many tens of thousands of lives. Our drink and drive laws are among the most effectively enforced in Europe. In turn, that has provided us with one of the best, if not the best, records of accident prevention in this field in Europe. We are however faced with a considerable decline in the rate of accident reduction, and that is what triggers the argument underlying this particular report. That has been used to support the case for a further reduction in permitted alcohol levels. I believe that that view is a profound mistake with very serious implications.

As the inquiry progressed--I do not have the faintest interest in the welfare of brewers or anyone else on this issue--two key statistics began to dominate the entire debate. Fourteen per cent. of all road accidents involve alcohol. Of that 14 per cent., about 5 per cent. involve the high risk offenders to whom reference has already been made. Broadly speaking, they are drivers with a very serious drink problem and a record of repeated offences. Put another way, about 10 per cent. of accidents are caused by people who have had too much to drink. There is no argument about that. Five per cent. of accidents are caused by people who have an abnormally serious drink problem and should not be allowed anywhere near a motor vehicle until that is dealt with one way or another. But 85 per cent. of accidents have no connection with alcohol whatsoever. I do not argue that the 15 per cent. are unimportant. Having been there and done that, they are very important. However, 85 per cent. of the accidents are not subject to this report. Most of the traffic safety publicity is not connected with the 85 per cent. Common sense suggests that we are beginning to get our priorities seriously wrong, if we have not already done so.

The Police Drivers Handbook produced by the National Police Driving Schools Conference contains some very interesting statistics. The vast majority of road accidents fall under three headings. About one-third of all accidents are rear-end shunts, which was exactly what happened in my particular case. A vehicle crashes into the back of another. A quarter of all accidents are caused by one vehicle driving across another vehicle's priority. Around one-sixth of all accidents involve a loss of directional control. That is a

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concentration of accidents which one would not expect to find if the root cause in all of them was alcohol. The incidence would be more random.

Who are the drivers at risk? Even after taking account of age, sex, annual mileage and driving experience, some drivers are consistently more at risk than others. The police handbook states:

    "If you have had an accident in one three-year period you are twice as likely to have another accident in the next three years. If you have had an accident for which you could be held at least partly responsible, you are four times more likely to have a similar accident in the next year. Drivers also tend to repeat the types of accident they have".

I repeat that alcohol is involved in 14 per cent. of all road accidents and that should be controlled as much as possible. However, it is beyond argument that a high proportion of the other 86 per cent. have a single cause; that is, plainly and simply, bad driving. I believe that over the years we have focused on drinking and driving to the detriment of the far larger problem. I refer to the drivers one sees every day whose bad driving habits make them every bit as dangerous as the idiot with three or four pints under his belt.

The introduction of seat belts produced major benefits in terms of road safety. The drink-driving legislation has reformed social attitudes to a point where I suspect that the reason for the slow-down in the reduction is that we have arrived at a plateau beyond which it is unlikely we will make serious progress and where a further reduction in the limits would at best yield little improvement and at worst prove counter-productive.

I believe that it is time for another new initiative in the field of road safety; a complete re-examination of the problems of bad driving and what can be done about that. I believe that the existing driving test is completely inadequate for today's speeds and traffic volumes. A number of bodies provide advanced driving instruction with tests far more challenging than the MoT test. The Institute of Advanced Motoring, of which I am a member--it does not agree with my argument--provides a test which takes almost an hour and involves everything from driving on motorways to driving in town centres, council estates and on narrow country lanes. Similar tuition is offered by other organisations. I see no reason why anyone found guilty of a serious driving offence, for example, should not, at his or her expense, be required to undertake a specific programme of tuition followed by a far more demanding test than that currently required. Driving around the back streets at 20 miles per hour is not a very serious test. My car has the potential to travel at 150 miles an hour. I travel at around 70, sometimes a little more, and I am passed by vehicles as though I were going backwards. That is not an unusual experience for anyone who drives on motorways. A great deal can be done in the enforcement of better driving standards, but there is not time to deal with that now.

My experience as a member of the committee examining the matter leads me to believe that it is high time to face the fact that 85 per cent. of road accidents require a greater degree of attention than is currently the case. I repeat that I do not in any way decry the importance of drinking and driving as a source of road

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accidents, which in turn is a source of great misery to the many people involved. However, we must face the need for the department and Ministers to look at the matter again. The two previous initiatives yielded good results, but I do not believe that we can just sit back, concentrate on the 14 per cent. and virtually ignore the 86 per cent.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Geddes for his summary of the report and his introduction of the problems faced by the committee. Furthermore, I thank all noble Lords and others who approach the task so assiduously. It is opportune that the report is published and that the debate is taking place tonight on the eve of the close of the consultation period on the document of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The Government's response remains to be seen. I hope that we shall not wait too long for that response.

The vast majority of motor vehicle drivers happily conform with the 1967 laws introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, on alcohol limits for drivers. It is admitted that the level then set of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood was perhaps more of a political decision on what the motoring public would accept. It was also a pragmatic decision which, to the noble Baroness's credit, has stood the test of time extraordinarily well. Most people stick within those limits.

I accept that we cannot be complacent, particularly as the evidence suggests that the reduction in the number of road deaths caused by alcohol has flattened out. I do not believe that that reduction is consistent with the efforts that have been made, but perhaps it emphasises that further and greater efforts should be made to make an impact.

The difficulty which the DETR and your Lordships' committee share is that of conflicting evidence--or the lack of evidence--in comparison with other countries where driving attitudes, conditions and enforcement are widely different. I suggest that they are so different that comparisons will be almost meaningless. My noble friend Lord Geddes referred to that matter, albeit in a different context.

The so-called statistical evidence is of mixed quality and I am somewhat sceptical about it. It is so mixed that a number of assumptions have had to be made in the report and in the consultation document. At page 19, paragraph 35 states:

    "In counties like the UK, which have a legal limit set at 80 milligrams, there is a scarcity of information about accidents involving drivers with significant but lower alcohol levels, except in the case of fatalities".

Without reliable evidence and information, it was not reasonable to make some of the decisions which were made.

I share the minority view of the Select Committee, expressed as point 6 of its opinion, and note that it reached that conclusion on balance. It is worth repeating that the committee, in considering the draft report, was also not unanimous in its decision. Of course, I make no quarrel

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about that. However, it is worth making the point which the DETR document suggests at paragraph 15, when it states:

    "A package of measures dealing with enforcement, the system of offences and penalties and education, publicity and information to ensure that the right groups are targeted is the right way forward".

Those three points are contained in the sub-committee's general conclusions at paragraph 115, in which it concludes that the four-way matrix of counter-measures should be adopted, the fourth measure being the alcohol blood limit to which I have already alluded.

I do not wish to be frivolous when I say that at the end of last month, the Parliamentary Beer Club hosted a meeting. I hasten to assure your Lordships that that meeting was concerned only with drink-drive issues. One of a number of speakers was Mr. Peter Joslin, who is the chief constable of Warwickshire and formerly chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' road safety committee. I believe that not only is he the longest serving chief constable in England but he is also the longest serving police officer, with considerable experience.

In his remarks, Mr. Joslin suggested that lowering the alcohol-blood level to 50 milligrams might be seen as a quick fix--almost the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh--engaging more of the scarce police resources without greatly reducing the accident death rate. He questioned the effect on motorist/police relations and added that there may well be a detrimental effect on the social life of rural communities. Incidentally, I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, dismissed that point somewhat shortly. I believe that he did less than credit to those living in rural communities.

Mr. Joslin wondered also whether we are nearing a point of no return except in relation to the two groups which have already been identified: the young male driver and the high risk offender, the hard core driver.

Another speaker at that meeting was Dr. Herb Simpson. He is the president and chief executive officer of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Ottawa. He has some 20 years' experience of research into road accidents, deaths and injuries related to alcohol. He broadly supported Mr. Joslin's comments. He suggested that his research led him to believe that it was the hard core who caused the most damage. In support, he said that it was the 1 per cent. of night drivers who were drink drivers who caused 65 per cent. of accidents. He expressed the matter in another way by saying that 80 to 90 per cent. of drink drivers equate to about 10 per cent. only of drivers as a whole.

From what I have heard and read over quite a long time, I have reached the conclusion that lowering the permitted level of alcohol from the present 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood would achieve very little improvement at some considerable cost--not in monetary terms; perhaps I should say usage--of limited resources, with some potential loss of respect for the law and its enforcement agencies.

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I reject the sub-committee's opinion 15,

    "that road policing should be made a core policing priority in Great Britain",

because I believe that, most policing is intelligence-led and it is best left to chief constables to determine their local priorities as and when a particular situation demands.

I believe also that, were that prioritisation to be adopted, ultimately it would lead to a demand for a separate road or traffic police force. That would be quite disastrous. I tend towards the acceptance, in broad terms, of the three points of the sub-committee's four-point matrix, much in line with the Government's suggested solution set out in the consultation document to which I have referred.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Macclesfield: My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee on this subject, I fully endorse the conclusions and recommendations in the committee's report. I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, for being such a fair chairman. It is only now that I fully realise that he did not foist on us his view that the level should be below 50. He was very fair. I am also extremely grateful to our Clerk, Kate Ball, and our special adviser, who I note are listening intently to the debate.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that we should put the score card right inasmuch as of the nine people on the Select Committee, seven were in favour of reducing the limit from 80 to 50. Only two dissented; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who has already spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford.

There are two points which I wish to make. First, what is proposed is a comprehensive package of enforcement, with appropriate penalties--a point which has been picked up by noble Lords--for first-time offenders, different penalties for repeat offenders, with yet different penalties for reckless offenders; that is, those well in excess of any limit which may be laid down.

The second point is in relation to a reduction in the permitted level of alcohol in the bloodstream from 80 to 50mg/100mls. That is part of the package. It is the part which will be picked up by the media and understood best by everybody. We would rather that people do not offend so that the police do not have to enforce those penalties. It is the promotional and psychological part of the package. It underlines the legend, none for the road, because we should not drink and drive.

The BMA advises that drivers with between 80 and 50mg of alcohol in their blood are two-and-a-half times more likely to be involved in an accident. Let us compare that statistic with a comment from the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, which I notice was also present at the parliamentary beer club. It commented that the risk between 50 and 80 is very small. Why should that be? Setting aside the vested interests of the brewers, why should the BMA bring that to our attention?

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With between 50 and 80mg most people do not feel drunk. They are not remotely staggering drunk. They are often perfectly lucid. The reason is simple. If, as is often the case, something unexpected, difficult or dangerous happens on the road in front of him, the driver with between 50 and 80mg has his driving ability seriously impaired. There will be that vital fraction of a second--and we are talking about only a nanosecond, not a full second--of delayed reaction, by which time it will be too late and the accident, sometimes fatal for both guilty and innocent alike, occurs. The driver with drink in his blood may not have been the primary cause of the accident but his impairment ensures that the accident happens. That is the important point which we gathered from the expert evidence.

Exposure to that evidence and accompanying graphs has certainly changed my personal habits, and I have no difficulty in admitting that, although I do live in a rural area. Since I received that knowledge, I have noticed that the custom and practice in rural areas, especially among the young, have changed and are changing. Noble Lords would see for themselves if they observed the situation. They find a driver who will not be drinking at all or they collectively pay for hired transport in order to use their favourite watering hole. It is, as I observe--and perhaps my rural village is the exception to the rule--the more elderly and the more selfish who are reluctant to change their habits of a lifetime. I recommend the report of the Select Committee to the House.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, the United Kingdom has one of the best drink and drive accident records in Europe. While the actual number of deaths on the road may have stabilised, vehicle usage continues to increase, so that the number of deaths per vehicle miles travelled continues to fall. Per 10,000 vehicles, only Norway and Sweden have very marginally better records but, by population, we are top of the league. They have BAC levels of 20 and 50 to our 80, with virtually the same record. However, France and Belgium, with a limit of 50, have nearly the highest rate of road deaths. When it comes to deaths to distance travelled, the UK is the safest, followed by Finland and the Netherlands, both with a 50 milligram limit. Only then comes Sweden with its 20 BAC limit.

BAC is clearly not the determining factor and has little effect on the actual level of deaths. The public perception is that other countries are safer, and that alcohol accounts for most accidents. We should not allow misinformed sentiment to outweigh the facts. Strangely, the risk of being killed on the roads is only one in 16,000. That compares with one in 200 for those smoking 10 cigarettes a day. If the Government are so keen to protect people from themselves, they should heed that figure and ban smoking. That would save 80 people for every one saved by the BAC limit being reduced to 50 milligrams.

Nevertheless, the introduction of BAC levels in 1967 has been an unqualified success in changing the public perception of driving. No one condones drunk driving, and the efforts to reduce it have full public support. The

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old slogan, "One for the road", is no longer even considered a joke. The attitude to driving with drink and the enforcement and acceptance of the legal requirements are the key to safety on the roads. Public acceptance is crucial.

Unlike someone caught for speeding who is considered unlucky, the drink driver carries a social stigma and is condemned. This positive respect for the law has resulted in reducing drink-related deaths from 1,650 in 1969 to 540 in 1996. To reduce the BAC limit to 50 milligrams would put a strain on that support, as some of those caught would know that their judgment was not impaired and would feel aggrieved and unjustly treated. Public respect would be jeopardised. It was for that reason that the US Congress decided in 1992 not to reduce the limit below 80 milligrams.

No improvement could be guaranteed by a reduction to 50 milligrams in the UK, and there is a real possibility that the change could be for the worst. In other countries, the lowering of the BAC limit to 50 had small effect on accidents. There is no evidence to show that a reduction here, with our good record, would have any effect at all. It is suggested that the 12-month period of disqualification should be the same for a new BAC limit of 50. That would be penal and counterproductive, inviting public antipathy. If the 50 limit were to be imposed, the penalty should not be severe unless accompanied by bad driving. To be caught at all would be a severe shock to most people, who would take greater care in future. Once the 50 limit comes in, the one-pint man may well find himself over the top; and this is a new ball game. It will cause resentment, and lose the support of the public. Many a moderate drinker will say that, having had one glass of beer and being over the limit, he has little to lose by having another, on the basis that he might as well be caught for a sheep as a lamb.

The report suggests that the risk of an accident is doubled for someone with an over-50 BAC. If that is true, and it may not be, it is double such a small base figure as to make it statistically insignificant. French and Belgian experience was that reduction from 80 to 50 milligrams reduced fatal casualties by 10 per cent., but, at the same time, indications suggested that the lower limit had not in fact resulted in either lower BACs for drivers or a reduction in alcohol-related accidents. So it is probable that the reductions were for other causes.

As the number of drink-drive deaths becomes smaller, so the rate of improvement will inevitably reduce. Thus the review of the milligram limit should be taken in the light of reinforcing continuing success. One chief constable has suggested that lowering the limit, particularly with a high penalty, would increase the number of hit-and-run cases. The high risk offender will disregard whatever limit may be imposed. It makes no difference to his attitude what happens at the lower end of the scale. He is dangerous to himself, and to others, and must suffer the penalty of the law with the support of the public. But it is unfair to penalise the moderate and careful drinker to punish the high-risk offender.

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Those people who drink over the limit now are hardly likely to drink less when the limit is lower. The key is not to make more people guilty, but to enforce the law as it stands. Harrying the careful drinker will do no good. It will just antagonise the innocent and the careful who would otherwise support the 80 BAC limit. There seems to be a modern trend in government that, if someone blatantly disregards the law, everyone else must suffer. The withdrawal of pistols from perfectly innocent people was an example.

However the role of drink-driving should not be overstated. The Select Committee made it clear that only 14 per cent. of fatalities were drink related and that efforts should more effectively be put into reducing accidents for the 86 per cent.--this point has been made many times this evening--but that the reduction of the limit would reduce accidents by between 5 per cent. and 40 per cent. I fail to see how this can be when 86 per cent. of accidents are not drink related. Further, it is surely those well over the limit who cause most accidents. Therefore, it is the enforcement of the 80 milligram limit that needs addressing.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies said that a low limit inadequately enforced would be less likely to reduce casualties than the higher limit properly enforced, and that that is where the police effort should be targeted. The lower limit would strain police time, strain police relations with drivers, and clog up the courts. There are few enough police around now when one wants one, without tying them up with catching everyone who has had a pint of beer.

The Swedish National Road Administration stated that, with regard to accidents, alcohol is still by far the worst problem. Does this really accord with the fact that 86 per cent. are not alcohol related, or is it because the limit is so low that almost anyone in Sweden is over it? There, 100 milligrams represents gross drunk driving, a level that is only just above our allowable limit. To my mind, Belgium has a much more realistic approach with short suspensions for the less serious cases. Further, where one party in an accident is near or over the limit, it is assumed that he is to blame--and he may be. However, as one noble Lord said, that assumption may well not be correct on a number of occasions.

There are many causes of accidents. The influence of drugs comes to mind immediately, as do mobile telephones, tinkering with the wireless; and, of course, tiredness notoriously kills. The moderate drinker should not have to pay the penalty for them. Considering the number of people who appear to be on drugs, perhaps that is the direction that should be pursued with drug testing, as much as drink.

Subsidiarity should apply in these matters, and should remain so as much depends on drinking habits. Always leaving apart the heavy drinkers, every country has different styles, with different results. For example, in Finland with the low limit, the form used to be to drive to the licensed outlet, buy a bottle of whisky and drink it in one. On recovering, they would drive home and wait for their next month's ration. Luckily, without rationing, that is not what we do or need to do as a nation. Once the BAC limit became 50, who knows

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what some people would resort to. Certainly the general effect on social life would be far reaching and a great many law abiding citizens, who were sensible drinkers, would find themselves criminalised. A couple of drinks in the day, at the office before the train home, and the drive from the station would become criminal.

In the country, as opposed to the towns, people go out for dinner or a drink, and most are meticulous in restricting their intake of alcohol to ensure that they can drive back home under the limit of 80 milligrams. It is all very well for those who live in towns to wish for a lower limit, but countrymen may well drive for 20 miles when going out to dinner, or when going to a pub for a drink. However careful they may be, other than having nothing to drink at all, they will be over the new limit. I believe there would be a public backlash, particularly in the country, if the lower limit were introduced. Meanwhile, country pubs, already under strain, would be hard hit and many would close.

As regards roadside testing, this occurs already. I see no reason why roadside testing should not be undertaken from time to time. It would always alert drivers to the possibility of being stopped for no reason, particularly at night at times when people are returning from parties. But, again, to penalise people for having just a couple of drinks will antagonise everyone and achieve little to reduce the 14 per cent. of drink related offences. Half the 90,000 people convicted annually had a BAC of over 159mg/ml. That is way above the present 80, let alone the proposed 50. If half were over 150, surely an even greater proportion would have been over 100--still clear of the 80.

In Germany there are various assessment schemes which have to be taken by an HRO before he regains his licence. I think these may be worth considering. I like the idea of the ignition interlock device. Often drivers with no intention of driving sleep in their cars, even in a car park and are then prosecuted for being drunk in charge. The BAIID would help them to avoid that fate. It is a good idea to test HROs for drink dependency before the reissue of their licences, perhaps with just six hours' warning.

As with all legislation, it really must be acceptable to the public. Where a law starts to become harassment--as a 50 limit would be--it must be expected that it will be disregarded as a risk that people will take, just as they do with speed limits. That does nothing for the law. It is only reasonable legislation that will earn respect and compliance by the public. The US experience has shown that a low limit inadequately enforced is less effective in reducing casualties than a higher limit properly enforced. The committee acknowledges that lowering the limit would have no effect on those driving with significantly higher BACs. The committee accepts that reducing the limit would have only a marginal effect on the number of road accidents. Its conclusion to recommend the reduction was taken only on balance and by no means conclusively.

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7.41 p.m.

Lord Rea: My Lords, my main purpose in joining the debate on this important issue, despite not being a member of the Select Committee, is to present the views of my professional organisation, the British Medical Association. In fact the BMA gave both written and oral evidence through Professor Vivienne Nathanson, who is Head of Science, Ethics and Health Policy at the BMA. The evidence is published in full in the report. Most of the recommendations of the Select Committee are compatible with BMA policy on the issue, and of course I therefore congratulate the committee on its good judgment.

The lowering of the limit to 50mg/100ml makes sense in its own right, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, has said, and not merely because it will go with the grain of changes in the law in other European Union countries, or conform with Mr. Kinnock's revived draft directive--even though the committee believes in subsidiarity. On reading the report I was interested to note evidence of the split in opinion--which has been described so fully by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh--as regards the wisdom of the reduction to 50mg. The amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Marsh and Lord Howell of Guildford, stated that,

    "any gain would in our opinion only be secured at a disproportionate cost in terms of diversion of police resources".

The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, developed that theme more fully in his speech. However, that opinion was not shared by a clear majority of the committee.

As my noble friend has pointed out, the figure was seven members out of 10, the chairman abstaining. In fact there is a strong body of opinion in the country which goes further and believes that a zero limit would be appropriate. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has hinted perhaps that he is one of those and that that is the proper way to give a message of "none for the road". As the noble Lord said, this would mean adopting the Swedish level of 20--perhaps even 10 now--which is virtually a zero limit but which allows for those low and harmless alcohol levels which are caused by diabetes and the products that he mentioned such as mouthwashes and gargles which contain alcohol.

The committee and the British Medical Association felt that this restriction down to 20 or 10--effectively zero--would move ahead of public opinion to such an extent that it may be counterproductive. The figure of 50mg allows "one for the road" provided that is strictly one, for example a half pint of beer, a glass of wine or one nip of spirits.

Other noble Lords have mentioned my next point. At the risk of being repetitive, 50mg is the level above which the accident rate starts to rise steeply, particularly among younger people who are not so aware of the impairment of their judgment caused by drinking alcohol. My noble friend described that process well. They have not developed the compensatory caution which many of us of more advanced age acquire. I remember as a student riding a new (second-hand) motor bike and feeling enormously exhilarated by its acceleration. I did not feel in the least bit drunk after a

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pint of beer. Those were the days before crash helmets and therefore I am lucky to have come through that phase unscathed.

But to concentrate on blood alcohol levels alone as a means of reducing road accidents would be to misreport the recommendations of the committee, as many speakers have shown. The report sees the lowering of the BAC as only part--and not the most important part--of a package of measures. I refer to the four-way matrix described by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and others. They feel that penalties and enforcement are much the most important sanctions. That, again, is largely in accord with BMA policy which states that,

    "factors such as enforcement, visibility of policing, cultural attitudes to alcohol itself and to drink driving, the impact of public education campaigns, the availability of other methods of transportation and patterns of drinking, will all contribute to the level of drink driving within a country in addition to the legal BAC".

The committee has been cautious not to be too Draconian in its recommendations and not to be over-influenced by the European aspects of the proposed lowering of the BAC. It feels that subsidiarity should apply and that legislation should proceed at a rate which is appropriate for each country, as customs and behaviour differ, and should not be over-influenced, for example, by the problems of crossing borders into countries with different laws. However, I feel that is quite an important problem. I differ from the committee here and suggest that this is a public health concern which affects all EU countries. It is proper for Mr. Kinnock to seek a minimum European Union-wide standard of legislation through the draft directive.

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