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Lord Berkeley: I support both the amendments. I have a lot of sympathy with the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, on the figure of 20 milligrams. Brake has done an excellent job in producing a briefing paper that summarises the facts and figures, alongside the excellent Select Committee report.
Brake says that 70 per cent of people are in favour of lower limits. That seems pretty conclusive evidence. However, having talked to a number of Members of Parliament on the subject from all parties, I was surprised by some of the responses that I received. They said, "Well, there are no votes in that, because my constituents won't be able to drive to the pub", to which my answer was, "Yes, and to kill people afterwards". I hope that that is not a real reason for the Government resisting the suggestion. The figure of 70 per cent of the population seems high, and I am sure that Members of Parliament and their constituents are more responsible. I hope that my noble friend will take the amendment seriously.
Viscount Astor: I want to say something about Amendment No. 60, which is on breath testing. It seems that successive governments, including one of whom I was a part, have always denied that there is random testing. However, we all know that random testing exists, whatever the police say. What happens is that someone leaves some event and is stopped and breathalysed. When they say, "This is random testing", the police say, "No, it's not, because we have a reasonable reason to suppose that you might have had a drink, because you have been at a race course", or a football match or whatever. In practice, random testing happens and I have nothing against it. I have always been perplexed as to why governments and police forces have denied that it happens. The amendment is probably rather unnecessary.
I remain to be convinced on the limit. One can follow the argument that, whatever level we bring it down to, there is always a diminution of accidents. Presumably if we got the level down to zero, someone would say that there would be none because of it. However, I do not think that practical, and a degree of practicality comes into the matter. Not enough testing goes on, and I support all Members of the Committee who have pointed to that. However, I want the
Lord Clinton-Davis: Random testing goes on anyway, but the police are rather devious about it. I remember an occasion when I was travelling along the M4, and took a by-road that was not part of the M4. Someone in front of me was stopped, and then I was stopped as well. The police officer said that he had reason to believe that I was drinking. That was completely untrue, as I am very observant about ensuring that I do not have anything to drink before I drive. He was pretending, because he wanted to stop methat was the only cause.
I support what has been said on this side of the Committee, and also by the noble Baroness, because the time has come to abandon in part the hypocritical idea that we do not involve ourselves in random testing, given that we do. There is no reason why there should not be random testing as well as the provisions that currently apply. I certainly support the idea that limits should be reviewed.
The time has come to abandon the pretence that, somehow or other, people on the Continent and people here are totally different, and that therefore we should not apply the same sort of rules applied on the Continent. There is ample reason why the same sort of rules should apply here as in France, Germany and so on. It is absolutely absurd that we should have a separate regime.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If we were to go to the general public and ask their interest in most of the provisions of the Bill, the answer would be, on a scale of one to 10, one, two or three. If we asked them about alcohol limits or random breath testing, it would be eight, nine or 10. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said that she hoped that I would give her some measure of comfort, she knows perfectly well that I shall not. It is not for me, the spokesman on transport in the House of Lords, to announce a major change of government policy on alcohol limits or random breath testing. If that means that she brings the amendment back on Report, so be it, but I cannot help her.
The merits of introducing an alcohol limit of 50 milligrams have been extensively examined and debated over a long period. In March 2002, the Government issued a statement that we had considered whether it would be desirable to make such a change and concluded that we should maintain emphasis on enforcement and publicity. We are mindful of the fact that our penalties are among the toughest in Europe. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis asked for us to be the same as the rest of Europe, but there are very considerable differences in different European countries.
Penalties in this country are far more severe for exceeding the 80-milligram limit than in other European countries with a 50-milligram or lower limit. We have a mandatory minimum disqualification of 12 months for any drink-drive offence, which can be combined with up to six months' imprisonment and a
We changed the law last year so that drivers who cause death while under the influence of alcohol must now retake an extended driving test at the end of their period of disqualification. Courts have sentencing options such as drink-drive rehabilitation courses open to them.
We wish to concentrate on alternative measures, which we believe can be just as effective, or even more so, in cutting drink-drive casualty totals. In particular, we want to emphasise the importance of effective enforcement of drink-drive laws and driver education. We are aiming to make it a requirement for repeat offenders to take a further driving test before being allowed back on the road. We are examining the effectiveness of breath-alcohol interlock devices as a means of preventing re-offending, and we have extended the annual £2 million publicity campaigns.
That approach of powerful publicity and enforcement backed by tough penalties has achieved a two-thirds reduction in drink-drive deaths since the 1970s. We have one of the best overall safety records in the European Union and beyond. It is encouraging that in 2001the latest available figuresprovisional results show that numbers of those killed in drink-related road accidents fell from 530 to 480, and those seriously injured from 2,540 to 2,410. We recognise that there is more to be done, and will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Does my noble friend support the idea that, in the European Union, there should be a common policy so far as the matter is concerned? If so, does he support the idea that Transport Ministers should convene a meeting as soon as possible to discuss the possibility?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is not up to this Government. There is no common policy, and we cannot impose one. If anyone wants to start a debate on a common policy on alcohol limits, we will of course take part in it. I have been saying that we have a good record in drink-driving, one that is better than that of many countries with stricter alcohol limits but perhaps worse enforcement and publicity. We emphasise that the safe option is never to drink and drive.
I shall deal with Amendment No. 60. We do not consider that there is a need to give the police unrestricted powers to require breath tests. I shall not venture into the minefield of whether there is random testing at the moment. Police forces in Great Britain as a whole make very effective use of their current powers, which provide that a police officer may require a specimen of breath to be given for a breath test where he has reasonable suspicion that a person concerned has committed an offence. We do not believe that they should have unlimited powers to stop and test. They are already quite adept at targeting
Members of the Committee will observe that I read that answer. It is the answer that I would give on any occasion on which the matter came up. It is a matter of government policy on which I have no flexibility.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am grateful to Members of the Committee who spoke in support of my amendment. The Minister misunderstood my hope for comfort. I did not want it on the issue in particular, but to understand a little more about where the Government stand on road safety issues. To many of us, it seems that there has been quite a reining back on the Government's part of their commitment to road safety since their strategy came out in 1998.
There are a number of ways in which that lack of commitment has been demonstrated, not least of which is the absence of a road safety Bill in the House. I find myself rather irritated by the constant refrain that there is no parliamentary time, when the Home Office seems to be able to get acres of parliamentary time for any Bill that it wants.
A couple of the Minister's statements caused me concern. As I said, the 1970s and 1980s showed a rapid reduction in the level of drink-driving, but that trend is now reversing in terms of the number of accidents. I do not think that we can afford to be complacent on that, and I do not understand why the Government choose to ignore both their departmental consultation in 1998 and reports from the Select Committee on Transport and independent bodies. I regard that as most unfortunate.
I shall finish on enforcement for drink-driving. As is the case in road safety enforcement generally, cash-strapped police authorities tend to put much less emphasis on enforcement than previously. That is having a marked effect on the extent to which people think that they will be caught. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, said, it is the fear of being caught that prevents people from behaving in such a way rather than anything else. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.