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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves this point, I hope that when she reads the Official Report tomorrow or whenever she gets round to doing so, she will see that what I said was exactly the opposite. What is not fair in criticism of this report is to say that it has not gone wide enough and carried the other 86 per cent. of road accidents with it.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I obviously expressed myself badly. I believe that the noble Lord and I are at one on this. There is no criticism of the report not going wider in this area, but I do not think it right to criticise the Government for giving disproportionate attention to this area. There is a whole range of issues where we look at everything from the seat belt wearing campaign that we are planning, the strategy on safe routes to school in order to allow children to cycle and walk more safely, and the policies of the local authorities to introduce 20 mile per hour speed limits. There is also what we are going to do over the next range of issues which is at the European level. These include EuroNcap crash testing, the safety of vehicles and the training and testing of drivers. Together with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, I take that very seriously as an issue on which we need to improve standards.
But we shall not attack the 3,598 deaths in one single measure. We shall make inroads only if we are willing to take a comprehensive approach and take measures across a whole range of areas. It is something of a sterile debate to say that only one in seven accidents relates to drink drive. It is sterile because it is important that we recognise that only 1 per cent. of drivers are involved in 14 per cent. of fatal accidents. If we can make an impact on that 1 per cent. we can make a substantial impact on road fatalities.
Drink drive accidents are avoidable. They can be avoided by conscious decisions not to drink before driving. We have heard a lot about immutable and ingrained social habits. But enormous progress and change have been made in the United Kingdom since 1967 which many doubted would be possible. There is the experience of other countries such as Australia. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is not here to give us her antipodean experience; but I suggest that drinking is as much part of the Australian culture as it is of this country's, yet Australian states all now have a 50mg limit and most have intensive enforcement. That has not been the end of civilisation or social life as they know it in Australia.
At the other end of the scale, in this country there has been something of a counsel of despair about what we can do concerning the high risk offender. One of the things that encourages me is that the drink drive
The Government have not taken a final view on the issues on which we consulted. We are aiming to produce a coherent package of measures that will reduce drink drive across the board. The questions of which measures we take and which will provide the highest benefits are matters of judgment. I reiterate that no country which has successfully reduced drink driving has relied on a single measure. That was one of the main thrusts of the committee's report. It is certainly a thesis with which the Government agree wholeheartedly.
Where I differ from some noble Lords who have spoken, and with some of the correspondence on the subject, is to suggest that we can categorise this as, "You should not deal with this because the real problem is that". There is a range of problems in this area. There is also a range of problems from the high risk persistent offender to the young offender who, even at low levels because he is an inexperienced driver, is particularly susceptible. We have to recognise the problem of the impairment that occurs to people at levels below 80mg. Evidence about that has been referred to. They are at greater risk of both engendering an accident themselves and not being able to respond in such a way as to avoid an accident because of the behaviour of others on the road or when other dangerous circumstances occur.
It would be irresponsible of any government not to look at the impairment of drivers between the present limit and a reduced limit, given the evidence of increased risk. We have to take into account the whole range of issues that noble Lords have raised today as to whether reducing the limit would in fact alienate public opinion and detract from the effectiveness of measures that are already in place. I have not seen the AA briefing, but I am interested in the figures that it has suggested of the number of people who support reducing the limit. However, I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that the figure was 79 per cent. The latest tracking figures from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions gave us 77 per cent. of people who supported reducing the limit--although among those there is a division between those who believe we should go down to 50 and those who share the view expressed personally by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that we should go down to in effect a zero limit.
Certainly there is consistent evidence that there is widespread public support for this measure and so, while I take seriously the issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Gisborough and Lord Mackie of Benshie, about the feelings in some areas that this would be a great inhibition on social life, there are also many people who feel that the reduction of risk on the road is something that they would wish to see. They feel that because this is not only an issue relating to personal
Reference has been made to the number of lives that would actually be saved and what number would be acceptable as justifying the measures involved in terms of curbs on individual freedom and the effect that there might be on populations. In a way, one is forced to be hard-headed about cost-benefit analysis when you have to make choices about resources, whether they are police enforcement resources, financial resources or anything else. It is more difficult to be that hard-headed about the number of lives it is justified to save when you see the correspondence from individual people and families who have been bereaved. It is also harder to see the other side of the coin. But it is important that these matters are debated in a broad and open forum, and I welcome the contributions that have been made tonight, which very much mirror the debate going on in the country at the moment and also of course beyond our shores.
I take seriously the work of the committee. Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Berkeley, referred to the high-risk offenders and what lessons might be learnt from the Swedish and German examples and schemes in that respect. Our consultation document acknowledged the need for improvement in this area. This is another aspect where it has been extremely helpful for the committee to have taken such detailed evidence. It gives us a basis on which to assess what we need to do.
We also need to look particularly at the young driver concerning a whole variety of issues. Again, the committee's views, particularly on the impracticability of differential rates and differential penalties or levels of alcohol for young drivers and newly qualified drivers, are extremely helpful. I think we are making progress in terms of social attitudes. I should like to pay tribute to the difference of the younger generation from my generation in their attitudes towards responsibility in this area. There is a spill-over in attitudes to driving in relation to drink in terms of responsible attitudes to driving on issues like speeding.
Again, we are part of a continuum and we need to do the educational work. For example, the Driving Standards Agency is becoming very interested in the area of pre-driver education in talking to young people, before they become drivers, about their attitudes. Often the driving test can measure whether someone can manoeuvre a car competently. Some of the young men who are best at doing manoeuvres during a driving test are also those whose attitude towards driving is the least responsible and therefore they have the most accidents. Anything we can do to change that kind of attitude is important.
Another current project is a trial of roadside drug testing equipment, looking mainly at the practical and operational issues surrounding its use for drug screening. It is important that we look at the potential problem and try now to put in train the measures that could help us before this becomes a major problem. The committee considered the question of subsidiarity. This was something to which the noble Lord, Lord Haslam, referred: whether it is right for a drink drive limit to be set at Community level rather than by individual member states. It is a question that lies at the heart of the Select Committee's expertise and interest. I would not like to enter the fray on this issue with members of the committee. It is clear enough that the Community has competence to legislate in this area but it does not have exclusive competence. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, as far as road safety is concerned that is not to us the central issue.
Even if the Community were to adopt a common limit, that would not remove the need for us to build round it a suitable programme of enforcement, publicity and education and to ensure that appropriate penalties were available. These are matters which lie largely outside the jurisdiction of the Community, but they are central to the package approach that we envisage. Drink driving is a worldwide problem and the subject of heated debate in many countries. I have mentioned Australia, but in the United States a debate is going on similar to that in Britain. A main difference there is that the federal government are trying by economic means and incentives to persuade the majority of states with a 100 mg limit to lower it to 80. They are having in parallel many of the same debates about the costs, the benefits and the relative priorities of doing that as we are having here.
I welcome the fact that tonight, despite the differing views that have been expressed about the issue of the blood alcohol level itself and the differing views about what profile, if you like, or the amount of resources that the Government ought to put into drink drive as against the other 85 per cent. of accidents which are not drink related, no one has suggested that it is not a serious road safety issue. The reason, if I may go back to why we are having the debate in the first place--the debate nationally rather than this debate--is that, although we have achieved a tremendous amount for many years, the
As a government, we do not believe that we can simply tread water in this area any more than we can in other areas of casualty reduction. We have done extremely well, but we should not be complacent and just because we have had some of the "easy wins" on a variety of road safety measures, that does not mean that we should not tackle some of the more "difficult wins" which will nevertheless make an enormous difference to the risk on our roads and to the lives of the families of the victims which can be blighted as a result of road accidents.
New measures are needed if casualties are further to be reduced. The points made by the Select Committee will be extremely valuable in helping us to draw up a suitable package which will also take account of all the responses that we have received to the consultation exercise. I am extremely grateful to the Select Committee for its contribution to the debate. I am sorry that I cannot be more forthcoming with precise responses to some of its recommendations. I assure members of the committee that it will not be too long before we can, I hope, say something about a national strategy for reducing road casualties, in which a policy to reduce drink driving accidents will play a major but not an overwhelming part.
Lord Geddes: My Lords, it is traditional when winding up on such occasions that the Peer doing the winding up comments on the speeches made. The evening is far from young and, if I may be forgiven, I shall resist that temptation, perhaps to the relief of your Lordships.
Perhaps I may be allowed to put the record straight on a personal front. I reiterate my own view that if the blood alcohol level is to be reduced, it should not be tinkered with to 50 milligrams, but should be reduced to an effective zero. In my opening remarks, I failed to add that I do not think that this country is yet ready for that. When it will be ready for that, if ever, I know not. My point was, "Don't tinker to 50 milligrams; either leave the limit where it is or reduce it to an effective zero, but not yet".
I am most grateful to the Minister--and I mean that most sincerely. She always responds with great care and attention to debates such as this and that is greatly appreciated, certainly from the Select Committee's point of view. I am not surprised that the noble Baroness cannot give us a definitive answer because the consultation period still has two days to go. However, I hope that our report will have provided a major part of the consultative exercise and that the Government will take it seriously.
I should like to pick up on only two of the Minister's points. Like her--I had not realised this until she said it--I am greatly concerned that the replies to the consultative document have concentrated on the BAC limit. As we said in our report, that seemed to us to be the least important element, not the most important. As
Secondly, perhaps I may reassure the Minister because I think that she is being over-sensitive to our comments at paragraph 88 of the report. I certainly did not view the drafting of that paragraph as in any way a direct criticism of the Government, by which I mean "the present Government". If there was a criticism, it was of government in general over many years. One should pay just as much attention to the 86 per cent. as to the 16 per cent. Perhaps the Minister can now reduce her sensitivity on that point.
It is again traditional to say, "This has been an extremely interesting and fascinating debate". I believe that it has been an interesting and fascinating debate. It has been a very valuable debate, as I hope the Government agree. This is a subject on which there are more walking experts than on any other subject of which I know. Everybody has a definitive opinion and everybody knows that their opinion is correct. What has been interesting is that in the microcosm or micro-poll of this debate, we have had 13 speakers (excluding the Minister), of whom six have been against reducing the blood alcohol level with seven in favour. That is a classic example of being split down the middle. Those are the opinions, and everybody holds their own opinion very strongly.
I most sincerely thank all those who have spoken, the six members of the committee and the six non-committee members. In particular, I thank the Minister for her contribution and I commend the report to the House.