HL Deb 15 March 1967 vol 281 cc313-404

4.5 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, returning to the Road Safety Bill, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the very full and detailed account he gave us of this Bill, and may I tell him that I personally warmly welcome the 1966 version which I think is a great improvement over the 1965 version. I was one of those who pressed strongly in another place that the random checking proposals should be dropped as being likely to be unworkable and harmful to the general police-public relationships. Therefore, I congratulate the noble Lord and his right honourable friends in another place on their wisdom.

Turning to the testing arrangements in this Bill which the noble Lord described so fully, I personally find them satisfactory. To be less than what they are would make them unworkable. Briefly to mention Part II of the Bill, I thank the noble Lord for dealing with this also in some detail. Again, I personally welcome the arrangements for comprehensive testing of commercial vehicles. I am sure this is necessary. I feel a little concerned at the high cost of the Government testing stations, but no doubt that is something we can discuss on the Committee stage. There are one or two Committee points but, in principle, I support what is proposed in the Bill.

My Lords, I should like to spend the minutes I shall spend speaking on this Bill in discussing Part I which, as the noble Lord has rightly said, is the main feature of the Bill. First, let me say that I entirely support the general principle of a statutory definition of the amount of alcohol in the blood which is to constitute an offence when driving: I believe that this is a necessary measure in order to get a fair prospect of convictions. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I was very shocked to read in the White Paper the figures from the Metropolitan Police district quarter sessions, which indicated that some one-third of the people charged who had over 200 mg. of alcohol in the blood were nevertheless acquitted. This confirms what we have all known for a long time: that anyone who was charged who opted to go before a jury and who had a skilful counsel almost invariably got off. Drivers of that category are a danger to everybody, including themselves; they should be convicted and checked. I believe that this is the right way to do it; although I am bound to recognise that there are certain objectionable features which we usually try to avoid in our law-making process. But I think the experience in other countries has proved that this is the only way to deal with this situation. For myself, I am entirely in favour of it in principle.

I have to declare an interest in the world of transport and road safety. First, I am Vice-President of ROSPA, where much admirable work is done in the interests of road safety; secondly, I am on the Committee of the Royal Automobile Club, where also a great deal of valuable work is done in the same cause. Having spent nearly three years in the Ministry of Transport as a Parliamentary Secretary, I have an indelible recollection of the basic disciplines of traffic management and road safety which will remain with me for the rest of my life. All who have been in the Ministry of Transport know what a heavy burden it is to feel directly responsible for the terrible toll of death and injury on the roads. I think I can say that there are two direct consequences of this sombre experience. The first is that I feel an instinctive reaction to support any road safety measure, and the second is, because I am, I suppose, a semi-professional that I feel an equally instinctive reaction to examine each measure with an objectively critical eye to see what are the snags. I am quite sure that the first instinct is no use without the second. Therefore I should like, for a few minutes, to discuss some of the aspects of the very big change which is proposed by this Bill.

My Lords, the scope of accidents saving is described in the White Paper which indicates that if no driver drank, accidents would be reduced by about 6 per cent.; and that, of course, would be a very substantial reduction. We might, I suppose, hope to get a 50 per cent. compliance, and this would be a very valuable saving. Before I conclude, I wish to say a few words about the other 94 per cent., because I think there is no harm in calling the attention of the Government to that at the same time. Looking at the second aspect, some of the snags which the Government have to face, the Bill certainly sets out, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd said, to achieve a change in social attitudes. This is a very big undertaking.

First, let us look at some of the facts as we know them—and let me say at once that we do not know much about the facts: much more research is needed. The best estimate seems to be that about half the population who drive drink something at some time. It is also estimated that about 4 million drivers visit pubs once or twice a week, have a drink and then drive. We are not an intemperate nation, and I would say that drunkenness is something rarely seen nowadays; nevertheless, a great majority of people like to have a drink. There is virtually no information about the level of alcohol in the blood of the many millions of people who sometimes have a drink and then drive. Certainly we cannot have any idea at this stage how many of them have more than 80 mg. of alcohol in the blood. The Government have fixed the 80 mg. level on the best advice of the B.M.A., but the great majority of people would have their driving ability seriously impaired at that level.

My Lords, there are two points we have to bear in mind, I think. The first is that there will be a small minority whose driving will not be affected at that level, and therefore if one of those is convicted, although he is no danger to the public, he is going to be very heavily punished. The second point, and I think the more serious one, is that most people with 80 mg. of alcohol in their blood, are not drunk although it would seriously affect their driving. I am quite sure that that is so. They are not even offensive, and the fact that at the present time the police rarely charge a driver, unless he is found to have over 150 mg., gives us some indication of the measure of the problem. It indicates that most drivers will not know when they have had "one over the eight" or, more accurately, "one over the eighty".

Ideally, of course, everyone should respond to the provisions in this Bill by ceasing completely to drink and drive; or at least they should drink less. But in practice—for it is impossible to change overnight the drinking habits of the nation—this will not happen overnight: it will happen only very gradually; and it would be wrong if, when this Bill becomes law, a large number of innocent citizens were inadvertently made into criminals. Speaking in terms of those people who do sometimes have a drink and drive, if only 5 per cent. of them exceeded 80 mg the number would amount to some 300,000 or 400,000, so that here we are considering very large figures. I noted the words of the noble Lord about the difficulty of informing the public of what this means, and I recognise that there are great difficulties. But I am sure that the Government must find adequate means of informing the public of the meaning of the Bill and, as nearly as they can, what a content of 80 mg. of alcohol in the blood means.

The Government made an attempt in 1954 with the pamphlet, Less Drink Than You Think. It was a brave effort, but it is now being withdrawn. The Minister, herself, in her first Second Reading speech, also had a shot at it, with a definition of six pints of beer or six large whiskies, which she has now retracted. I can only suppose that she has tried the six large whiskies, which would seem to be a pretty stiff dose. I observed that in another place the Minister said much the same as the noble Lord has said this afternoon: that definition of safe drinking limits is really impossible, and that she intends only a general education campaign.

I recognise, with the noble Lord, that what is safe to drink and how a person's blood will react depends on many things—the weight and age of the individual; whether he has had something to eat, and so on; and, of course, the size of the drink. I was interested to learn that in Scotland a "small whisky" is a quartet of a gill. Further South it is one-fifth of a gill, and here in the Palace of Westminster it is only one-sixth of a gill. If we stick to that, we shall be pretty safe here. But, joking apart, beer is brewed to different strengths, so it is very difficult for the Government to know what to do.

I am quite sure that it will not be realistic for the Government simply to say, "Don't drink and drive", and expect to be obeyed 100 per cent. That just will not happen, however much we might wish it to. It is, I think, realistic to expect that this message might get over: "If you drink more than so much, you will become a danger on the road, and if caught by the police you will be heavily punished". I believe that that message could be got over. I am told that last night the B.B.C. television programme "24 Hours", was a very good programme. I hope that the Government will do everything possible, by television and in every other way, to educate the public. For here is a major problem.

I hear that the administration of the law by the police has been, and is being, very carefully considered by the Home Office in consultation with the police, in order to prepare the chief constables to get the administration uniform and right throughout the country. I am sure that this is wise. As I said before, a major change in the law is proposed, and it is vital that the Government should carry every fair-minded person with them. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, when he winds up, to tell us whether the police, in dealing with this offence, will have their normal discretion, the same as they have with any other road traffic offence. I feel that they should have. They well understand how to keep order with the public.

Two further points on this aspect. The Government have given much thought to the 80 mg. statutory level, and I observe that they have gone, perhaps I might say halfway between the experience of other countries. Norway set their limit at 50; Poland at 50; Sweden, with slight differences, at 50; Bulgaria at 30 and Czechoslovakia at 30. The other league, the higher league shows these figures: Denmark 100; Finland 100; Switzerland 100; State of New York, 100; Belgium, 150; some States in the United States, 150; Western Australia, 150; Western Germany, 150, but 130 for motorcycles.

I make the point to the noble Lord that most of the countries with living conditions similar to our own seem to have gone for a higher level. I notice that the noble Lord carefully called our attention to the Minister's power to vary the level if at any time she thought it necessary. I would only make the point that this matter must be carefully watched in the light of experience. However keen we are to check this dangerous anti-social habit, we must proceed step by step and carry the nation with us. But since the Government have decided that the level is to be 80 mg., I should be the first to give them my support.

This brings me to a point which I would wish to raise on Committee stage. Is it wise for Parliament to fix the sentence for all convicted offenders by making a 12 months' disqualification automatic? The noble Lord said—and he is right—that disqualification is the major part of the punishment; but is this really wise for the first offender? I should like to discuss this question further. There may be over 100,000 offences per annum on this charge, and circumstances are bound to vary enormously from one case to another. Are we not running some risk of perverse verdicts, on one hand, and, on the other—something of which I am sure the noble Lord is aware—an even further addition to the dangerously large number of people who already drive although they are disqualified? These are points which perhaps we can discuss further in Committee.

I feel that this Bill makes a vitally important improvement to road safety by discouraging drinking and driving and will make a significant impact in reducing accidents. But in giving my support to it I am going to ask the Government whether they will give their attention to the general problems of road safety, which I should like to mention briefly before I finish. The noble Lord himself referred to the major cause of accidents—the human factor: carelessness, impatience, selfishness. Sometimes I have thought that if everybody kept to the Highway Code—which does not seem a big thing to ask for—practically speaking there would be no accidents. But at the moment we are a very long way from that.

In my judgment, the Minister of Transport's responsibility here is to establish the basic disciplines and then win public co-operation for them, always remembering that the majority of drivers for the majority of the time are bound to be driving out of sight and out of hearing of policemen. Enforcement can touch only the very tip of the iceberg, and therefore the Minister's objective must be co-operation, because the ultimate objective is self-discipline, so that every one of us when we go on the road will be trying to make the road a safer place. The enemy is always the belief that it is "the other fellow" who is the dangerous driver.

If there is one small detail with which I would disagree in the noble Lord's otherwise admirable speech it is his mention of the "small minority" who cause accidents. I would say, No. I would say that nearly every driver is dangerous at some time, and in this context I think the Minister is more likely to win the co-operation of the driving public by treating drivers as responsible adults rather than by lecturing them as naughty children.

The pressure in the Ministry of Transport is so terrific, there is such a range of duties, that it is not easy at top level to get all the consideration one would like of this problem, with its huge loss of life and limb. I should like to call the noble Lord's attention to four points before I finish. The first is the Road Research Laboratory, a most valuable and respected body. I would say to the Government: please increase its resources for research into road accidents. We are still woefully short of information on almost all these problems. But for heaven's sake! do not let the Laboratory start out on public opinion polls. That is not its job, and such polls will not add to its reputation.

Secondly, there is the urban speed limit. Nearly three-quarters of all accidents take place in built-up areas, and by far the most effective road safety measure ever introduced was the speed limit in urban areas. But two factors are necessary for success. One is a realistic approach. There are still far too many 30 m.p.h. limits which are neither observed nor enforced. Many limits could with advantage be raised to 40 m.p.h. I am glad to say that when I was at the Ministry we introduced the 40 m.p.h. limit. Some of the 30 m.p.h. limits should be abolished altogether; the remainder should be enforced. That would be better for everybody.

The second factor is mobile police. After urban speed limits, the most effective safety measure is the presence of a uniformed mobile policeman. He has an electrifying effect on everybody's conscience. We all immediately drive more carefully, more slowly. If drivers know that if they misbehave themselves they will be caught and prosecuted, it is a wonderful means of making the roads safer.

The noble Lord asked whether we had to pay this huge price in casualties for civilisation with the motor car. I would say that without any question the universal motor car is still so new to human experience that we are not yet fully civilised in using it. Anyone who doubts that has only to go out in about an hour's time to any busy intersection in London and watch the commuters making for home. It is a question of the weakest to the wall, and 10,000 years slip off the shoulders of most drivers: they are back in the Cave Man age, and "do not give a damn" for anybody.

The right place to start is in the schools. There has been excellent training in schools in kerb drill and safe cycling. Most children learn admirably, but driving tuition must follow. In the United States three-quarters of the secondary and high schools have driving tuition. The lessons learned at school go in and stay there. Lessons to adults do not go into many people, they go in slowly, and do not go in far. The R.A.C. have a good record with some 400 schools and youth clubs with motor-cycle training. That is a start, but the Government must take a hand in this work.

Having had something to do with schools in the past, I know how difficult it is to fit anything else in the syllabus. Education authorities are not keen, and the Minister of Education does not want to upset them; and teachers do not like an extra job. But, after all, we are talking about the life and limb of the community. If we could get driving tuition in every secondary school in the country, we should be on the high road to getting a safe road system and reducing this terrible toll that we are suffering from now. Even then, it would take two or three generations. But we should get there. This is the basic way.

We have done the same thing with personal hygiene. I remember that when I was a kid, there used to be notices all over the place: "Forty shillings fine for spitting". They have all disappeared now. Nobody spits. One of the many things we have learned is that this is a dangerous anti-social habit. It is the same with the motor car. We could learn, if the youngsters were taught in the schools, and this country would gradually become a safe-driving community. So, in giving my support to this Bill, I urge the Government to look also at these general measures. They need a bit more steam put behind them, and then we should make some real impact on road accidents.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I shall try to be brief because a large number of speakers still await their turn, and because of the—I was going to say, long, but I had better say comprehensive, speech of the Government Chief Whip, and also because the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has said already so much better than I could so many of the things which otherwise I might have been tempted to say. I join with the noble Lord in welcoming the Government's resistance to the random test or spot check to detect drunken drivers. I believe that great pressure has been exerted on the Government to retain these tests. I resist this not because it is an infringement of liberty, which it is, but because it is manifest that the police are already hopelessly overburdened with their routine duties upon the roads and that it would be useless to add to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, mentioned speed limits. I do not think that I am alone in being able to say that I know of roads in this country where a 30 m.p.h. limit is imposed and where, if you drive along at 30 m.p.h. you feel as though you are obstructing the traffic—vehicles of all shapes and sizes are streaming past you at 45 m.p.h. If the police had the wherewithal to enforce speed limits, they would catch a great many more drunken drivers than they will ever catch in the process of spot checks, because the first, and I think perhaps the most dangerous, facet of the activities of the drunken driver is that nine times out of ten he drives a great deal too fast. I am sorry to say that I think the services of the police are wasted and frittered away far too much in useless and unnecessary duties, and that their time could be far better spent on the suppression of crime, in this era of crime wave, and also upon road safety.

I should like to give one example, culled from my own recent experience. Just over a year ago, the council of the rural district in which I live obtained judgment and costs against me at quarter sessions—I am glad to say that it was not in a case of drunken driving, but in a civil matter. I sent them a cheque for an amount which would amply cover any possible claim for costs which they might have. But, notwithstanding this, my house has been visited on no fewer than 15 occasions by the police, with distress warrants, telling me that if I did not pay the costs demanded my goods would be liable to seizure. The police very often hunt in couples, and on two of these 15 occasions two constables arrived together, and on two other occasions a sergeant and a constable arrived together. That makes a total of 19 visits by members of the force with distress warrants, telling me that my property might be seized for costs in respect of which the council claiming the costs have at all times held, and still hold, a cheque which exceeds the amount of the costs which they claim. The police are very diplomatic in what they say, but it is quite certain from their attitude that they think of this as being silly, as I do. I should like to think that those 19 policemen would be better employed in the suppression of serious crime or upon road safety duties.

If the time ever comes when the police are able to catch up on their routine safety duties; if they ever succeed in enforcing the speed limits and adequately patrolling the roads; and if drunken driving still persists on any scale, then I shall be only too happy to agree to any proposal to introduce random tests, even though they infringe liberty. But I am glad that the Government have so far resisted random tests. There has been a powerful lobby in favour of them, and it may still continue and develop; but I hope that it will still be resisted for the present.

I am bound to say, in conclusion, that I think that parts of Part I of the Bill are drafted very oddly indeed. I am strongly tempted to go now into Committee points, but I will not. I will mention just one, which I think is the oddest and perhaps the most glaring drafting point, and then I will sit down. Your Lordships may have noticed in several cases in Part I of the Bill the expression, a constable on the breath test". We are all of course familiar with the constable on the beat, although I do not think he has yet found his way into the Statute Book. But if we take him as an analogy, presumably the "constable on the breath test" would be "the constable undergoing the breath test". I think that we shall have to do something about this piece of drafting when we come to the Committee stage. I will not go on with Committee points. I give a welcome to this Road Safety Bill, and I will resume my seat.


My Lords, I do not intend to make a speech, but I should like to mention one thing to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who made a most interesting speech (I may say that I am not opposing this Bill) laying great stress on education. I do not disagree with that. But having held a driving licence since 1913, when no tests were necessary, and no "anything", I should like to remark that in my opinion experience is the most important thing, and that one can gain experience only by being on the road. A young man said to me the other day: "I have given up fast driving. I have had my experi- ence". I said, "What was that?". He had had a head-on crash. Well, now he has "larned"!

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that noble Lords who have so far spoken have been ready to accept the general principles of this Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will readily give it a Second Reading. I feel that I must apologise for introducing what may sound a rather discordant note, having regard to the course which the discussion has taken, because I am an unashamed supporter of the principle of random tests. I hope that my old friend the Minister of Transport will not think that I derogate in any sense from the sincere admiration that I have for her work and qualities as a Minister if I ask your Lordships to accept the view that there are reasons for thinking that the arrangements which she has sought to embody in Clause 2 of the Bill are, frankly, unworkable.

The Home Office, as I understand it, are to have discussions with the chief constables. Guidance will be given to them. Each chief constable, of course, is responsible, according to his own judgment in relation to the circumstances of his own area, for deciding how these powers can best be exercised. If there were a system of random tests as originally proposed, I should have envisaged that it would work somewhat as follows. A small detachment of police, possibly mobile police, would in daylight (although not necessarily always during the daytime) quite openly and in view of everybody, perhaps on a busy road, probably not in a built-up area, take up position. They would stop, I suppose, every one-hundredth car, according to the amount and speed of the traffic, or perhaps every two-hundredth car. The driver would come to a standstill. He would be asked to breathe into the breathalyser. It would take, I suppose, half a minute. I have had the experience of doing this, and my recollection is that that is the time it took. If the symptoms were satisfactory, the driver would be waved on, and the interference with his liberty, I should have thought, would be minimal. If the indications were that he had transgressed the 80 mg. limit, then other consequences would follow, and nobody could complain. I respectfully submit to your Lordships' House that, if I have envisaged with any degree of accuracy the basis upon which the system would work, to describe this as any great inconvenience is really to speak in terms of hyperbole.

I have heard the opinion expressed—I do not know how seriously—that the proposal for random tests compares with the worst excesses of the Russian Revolution. I can only say to that Quot Homines tot sententiae. I should like to quote the opinion expressed in a leading article of one of our most famous national newspapers, in a rather contrary sense, which appeared on December 28 last year. It said: Plans to allow random tests were abandoned because the motoring lobby claimed that it would be a gross infringement of individual freedom. Of course it would. It would attack the freedom of the motorists to kill and injure innocent people through their own lack of thought. It would attack the freedom to roar off from the public house in a spurious glow of confidence and speed fearlessly through a built-up area. It would attack the freedom to saturate the reactions with so much alcohol that all judgment, timing and driving skill is lost. Are these freedoms worth preserving? My Lords, I could not hope to assemble terms so graphic and vigorous as that, but I certainly would assent to the general spirit of those observations.

If one looks at this matter objectively is it really such an invasion of individual liberty? Of one thing I am quite certain: that random tests would be infinitely more easy for the police to operate. I am equally certain that the proposals contained in Clause 2 produce the worst of all worlds. They will cause the maximum of resentment with the minimum of beneficial result. After all, what inhibitions on our freedoms have we put up with already, without any complaint? It has been pointed out in the course of the discussions on this Bill in another place that under Section 223 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, the police already have power to stop any vehicle if they think it necessary. If a motorist is driving across Dartmoor and he comes to a road block, a prisoner having escaped, he does not complain, unless he is extremely unreasonable, when he is flagged down and a police officer asks if he may shine a torch into the back of his car. The motorist does not suppose that there is any slur on him, that he resembles an escaped convict: he submits with perfect good will.

Similarly, if a driver is stopped anywhere else by a police officer who is looking for a stolen motor vehicle, and who wants to make sure, purely by a random test, that the driver is not in fact driving the stolen vehicle, he does not complain. He recognises at once that the interference was necessary in the interests of society; and if it is necessary in a case like that, surely it is necessary if it is an effective method of trying to check, in some way, the appalling slaughter on our roads to-day. If we are going through Customs and a Customs officer asks us to open a suitcase because he wants to make a purely spot check to see whether we are carrying anything that we ought to declare, having said that we have nothing, most of us do not consider that unreasonable. It is a spot check in the ordinary sense. Why it should be thought to be so outrageous in the case under consideration I find it difficult to understand.

I remember that in 1946, when I was serving as a very unfledged Law Officer in the Government of that day, I had made to me, in the most vigorous, violent and moving terms, a bitter complaint by a solid citizen who said that if the Government were going to behave like that he was going to have no more truck with them. What had happened to him was that while he was walking along Oxford Street late at night a police officer asked him to open the valise that he was carrying in his hand, not being satisfied with his statement that the valise contained his night attire, his shaving equipment and his toothbrush. I was most distressed at this complaint and thought "Goodness gracious! Whatever have we been doing now?". I made immediate inquiries, to find that the officer, in an ordinary routine way, had been exercising powers conferred upon the police by Section 60 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839—powers which had been exercised for over a century, so far as I know, without a real complaint. I do not think that even the rugged individualists we read of with such pleasure these days in The Forsyte Saga ever raised complaints about that power.

In my view, there are only two alternatives. Either we have random tests, or we limit police powers requiring a driver to take a test only if the police officer believes there is reasonable ground to think the driver has committed an offence under Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1960. In the interests of brevity, would your Lordships allow me here to use an abbreviation? May I refer in my observations to motorists who, within the meaning of Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, as amended by Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1962, are so much under the influence of drink that their ability to drive is impaired, by using a terse compendious, brief, but I believe very well understood term; namely, the word "drunk"? It is a somewhat inaccurate term, but it may serve your Lordships may think, as well as any other. I think we must either limit the powers of the police officer to requiring a person who he thinks is drunk to take a test, or we have a random test. If we so limit his powers, we are limiting the effectiveness of this Bill. All we should be doing would be to ensure that there would be a conviction under Section 1 of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, whereas there might have been an acquittal had the same motorist been tried under Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1960. It would be useful, but would have a limited result, and would not be commensurate with the evil against which it is designed.

If we all know that we may—probably we shall not, but we may—when we are driving, be asked, as a result of a purely random spot check process, to undergo the test without any slur or imputation being made upon us by the request, we shall gradually—perhaps not at once, but over the years—become accustomed to the idea (those of us who are not already) so accustomed that we should not and must not drive in any circumstances unless we are well below the 80 mg. limit, or whatever the limit is at that time. That will effect a real transformation in our way of thinking, and I do not believe any other scheme will do so.

What the Government have done so far is to introduce in this Bill—and I say this with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—what seems to me to be rather an odd hotch-potch with an "element of randomness", as he described it, included in it, extremely difficult, indeed I believe almost impossible, to work, and likely to produce the maximum amount of resentment among those who are subjected to its processes against the unfortunate police officer who is called upon to do it.

As your Lordships know, the powers of the police to require a motorist to undergo a test are contained in Clause 2 of the Bill. They arise in three separate sets of circumstances. May I call them A, B and C. A is where the police officer has reasonable ground to think that the motorist has alcohol in his body but not alcohol beyond 80 mg. to 100 ml. and not any particular amount of alcohol; not that the motorist is drunk, in the sense in which I have used that term, but simply that he has some alcohol in his body. He may have had a glass of sherry or a glass of beer. If the officer suspects, from the quality of his breath, that he has had a glass of beer the officer's powers arise under A as Clause 2 is at present drafted. Whether and how he is supposed to exercise this power passes my understanding.B arises if the motorist has been guilty of committing an offence, or the officer reasonably thinks so, in a vehicle which is moving; and C if the motorist has been involved in an accident. That seems to me to be a most illogical amalgam.

May I examine for a moment, with your Lordships' permission, B and C? An honest, solid citizen, if I may take that purely hypothetical example, is driving his family in a "new" secondhand vehicle down to the seaside. He is driving along the main street of the suburb in which he is the proud occupier of a house, which he has paid for as to two-thirds on mortgage. He has his wife next to him and his children, say, Kevin aged eleven, Paul aged nine, and Alice, aged three, in the back of the car. So pleased has he been with Kevin's school report that he has omitted to notice that the 14 days' grace for renewal of his road fund licence, plus one week on top, has expired. He has been guilty of committing an offence in a moving vehicle and a police officer, noticing it, stops him. He is already in a somewhat deflated frame of mind, I suppose, at discovering he is liable to have proceedings taken against him. What is his frame of mind going to be if the officer then says, "By the by, I must now ask you to take a breathalyser test. Blow into this bag"? This is to happen in the face of everybody, in an area where he is known, when he has not touched a drink at all. The only people who will be delighted will be the three children in the back who will want a turn as well, and possibly his wife who has perhaps overspent the housekeeping and has been wondering when to break the news to her husband.

If one is testing this matter by reference to the position of the police officer who has to operate it, I cannot imagine a situation less enviable from his point of view than that. It may not have been a road fund licence; it may have been exceeding the speed limit; he may have bumped into the back of the car in front of him at a traffic signal and rendered himself liable to be prosecuted for the offence of careless driving or something of the sort.


Or been bumped into.


That comes into the next subsection, (2). He would be then involved in an accident, and the police would then be empowered to say, "You must take a breathalyser test". Can your Lordships conceive of anything more absurdly irrelevant to the question whether he is driving with too much drink in his blood than the situation I have described? Whatever else your Lordships do, ought we not to put a pen through paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of Clause 2?

Let us suppose the same solid citizen has not committed an offence but has been involved in an accident. Then he comes under subsection (2), as the noble Lord says. Perhaps somebody has bumped into him or somebody has overtaken and cut in and damaged his offside wing and slightly damaged his steering. He is very annoyed and reports the matter to the first police officer he finds, who takes particulars, and then says, "By the by, you have been involved in an accident. I must ask you to blow into a bag". If it is asked, "Is it intended that a police officer should ever exercise his powers in these circumstances?" the answer is plainly, "No." Then what are they for? Why give them to him if they are not to be used? If it is said that in any circumstances where a motorist has been involved in an offence or an accident the police officer should only ask him to undergo a test if he thinks he is drunk or has had too much to drink, the officer has already got power under A. So what do B and C add? Nothing. They only create a possible source or irritation to the public, and of humiliation to the unfortunate police officer trying to do his duty as concientiously as he can.

I suggest that if we look back at A we find that is really not very satisfactory either. The police officer's powers arise if he thinks the driver has any alcohol in his body—that is the phrase—not any specific quantity, but any at all. How is the unfortunate officer to discharge that duty? What sort of instructions is he to get from the most conscientious and careful and reasonable and moderate chief constable in the world? Fortunately, whatever laws we inflict on the police our excellent police force goes about them in a good-humoured, restrained sort of way, and they perhaps emerge in their implementation in a not too unholy form. What is he to do?

Take this case. There is a public house. Near the public house, or outside the public house, is a large car park. If a police officer goes to the outside of that public house at closing time and if he is to ask himself whether he has reasonable ground to suppose that persons have alcohol in their bodies, I should have thought any normal person would come to the conclusion that nine out of ten people coming out of the public house have some alcohol in their body. That is what they have gone in there for. Some will have had lemonade, and some potato crisps, but not more than one per cent. I should have thought the officer would have to say to himself, "Here is a very fertile field of research". But if he does do it, which heaven forbid! imagine the rows that will develop. Picture him going up to the men and women coming out at closing time and saying, "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, before you get into your cars will you blow into this bag?" The proposal is fantastic, I submit.

Take a driver who has been batting along at 95 m.p.h. on the wrong side of the crown of the road. An unfortunate officer, at some risk to his own life, has managed to stop him, and when he reaches him he notices that the driver's complexion is puce. The driver gets out, collapses over the radiator and vomits. What is the officer to do? Gently lift his head and say, "Will you be so kind as to breathe into this bag?" I suppose the normal robust officer would say, "I am arresting you under the powers I have under the Road Traffic Act 1960. Will you come along?" I profoundly hope he will go on doing so. There is power under Clause 2(7) of the Bill to require a motorist to undergo a breath test when he gets to the police station, so it is not as if he could not be subjected to the process of urine and other tests for which Clause 3 provides. There is therefore no reason why the officer should ask him to undergo a breath test when he stops him. All it would do would be to provoke a very rude reaction from the driver.

There is the intermediate case which sometimes arises. A man who is driving along normally is stopped by a police officer and is seen not to be puce but to be perspiring, and with regard to whose breath the police officer notices it has the agreeable aroma of a cocktail party. The police officer feels that here is a case where he has reasonable ground for suspecting that the driver has alcohol in his body. There may be cases in which high-minded citizens will say to that officer, "Dear officer, how right you are! Let me have the nosebag. You and I must get to know with certainty whether or not that last cocktail elevated me into the 81 mg. bracket." There are people like that in this world. I hope I am not too much of a pessimist when I say that they are very few and far between.

The sort of person the officer would be likely to encounter in the middle group would be the self-confident individual, driving perfectly satisfactorily, able to stand up, quite confident that he knows how far to go without going over the danger mark; and if he is asked to take a breath test he will reply with an extremely rude expletive and probably refuse to do anything of the kind. That is what most of the people in the middle group whom officers will have to deal with will probably be like. There are optimists in this world who think they will all be high-minded, and I am glad to think there are such optimists. The world is better for them, just as it is better for the rugged-minded individualist who will object to undergoing a random check.

The random check is easy to operate. It does not involve any slur. The sort of spectators who might be on the pavement and might be delighted to gape and watch, if they thought the police had caught up with one of these people responsible for road-massacres who had been taking too much, who would be interested to watch him being called upon to breathe into a bag, really will have very little interest when they begin to realise the test is purely random, that the car stopped was merely one out of a stream of cars which had been stopped. The fact that you are stopped does not in the least involve the imputation that you have drunk something; you may be a stone cold teetotaller.

I want to give just one other example, that of an accident case. Supposing you are thinking of a more serious accident. The honest citizen's wife has been badly injured, or an old lady has stepped in front of his car and he has run into her and killed her. He is in a state, in either case, of almost unbearable distress. He is stone cold sober. Is it really suggested that that is any reason in the world why he should be asked to undergo the indignity of being subjected to a breathalyser test, no doubt in the presence of a crowd that will have gathered who, if this is not a random test, will think to themselves, "There is reason to think that that man has taken too much "? The only way in which this system can be made tolerable and workable is if the phrase "random test" becomes generally understood by the public as something routine which we as citizens, who are all anxious to cooperate in the reduction of accidents on the road, willingly undergo for that purpose. It is a rather comic procedure anyhow. I think of grave personalities, possibly in this House, and elsewhere, who would not look their most dignified if they were at the wheel of a car, blowing into a bag. But this is one of the minor inconveniences which it is reasonable for us to put up with.

I feel strongly on this. I hope that I have not spoken in too superlative terms, but I believe that the Government have a real opportunity to make an impact upon this appalling problem of road accidents. I believe they are losing it. I greatly hope that when we come to the Committee stage the Government will advise the House that on balance it would be better to restore random tests. The police would have an intolerable burden put upon them if there were a test of the sort now proposed in the Bill, and if it is limited to the case where a driver is drunk the Bill will, I think, lose three-quarters of its effectiveness.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, as I heard the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, speaking across the Floor of the House, I could not help thinking that it was somewhat like old times. It made me rather think that it had been quite a long time since we had had a debate at all on road safety. I went on to think that it was even longer since I had taken part in such a debate on this side of the fence. I took the trouble to look up the date, and it turned out to be 1954, which was quite a shock. But as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, kindly said, there was a certain amount of experience on the other side of the fence.

Your Lordships know the direct connection that I now have in a professional capacity with a motoring organisation. In that capacity I speak, of course, only for the R.A.C. I am not able to speak for the A.A. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Brentwood is not able to be in his place to-day. He probably would have spoken for the latter organisation, but I think it possible that some of the things I am about to say may be applicable to both organisations. We are sometimes accused of viewing narrowly the motoring interest, of representing the motorist right or wrong, of being reactionary, and of opposing measures that are brought in just for the sake of opposing them. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, managed something of this kind of implication in what he said, but I shall return to that in a few moments.

Someone, even recently, asked, "When are you people going to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century?" The answer I would give to that person would not, I think, be acceptable in your Lordships' House. I often think that it is a great pity that the word "motorist" was even coined at all. What is a motorist? A motorist is a citizen of this country driving his car; that same citizen who is a householder, a ratepayer, a taxpayer, and even more so, incidentally, when he owns his car. He is a cyclist if he is on his bicycle, a pedestrian when on his feet, and a lorry driver if he happens to be driving a lorry.

All that the two organisations do in all this is to try to represent the rights and interests of the citizen when he is using his vehicle; and I do not believe that this, if I may be allowed to call it so, pseudo-sectarianism is at all in the interests of road safety. Much of the experience that I have had bears this out. I do not believe that, nationally, we are divided into motorists and cyclists and pedestrians, and this, that and the other, whatever kind of road user you choose; we are all citizens doing different things. Therefore, we regard it as up to us to do whatever we can to view road problems as a whole. I hope I can dispose of this narrow, vested, reactionary, self-interest accusation.

This means that, without any hesitation, I can say that I join in the welcome to this Bill. Quite frankly, it is a rather limited sort of Bill in its scope, in spite of the nice Title that it has; but I hope that, though limited, so far as it goes it will be useful. I think it will. I rather fear that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, when he comes to reply—as is usual in your Lordships' House—will have far more points to reply to than he can manage. That is the history of the thing. This is likely to be the more so because there is so much in the whole road safety world which, unfortunately, is not covered by this Bill.

I should like to make it absolutely crystal clear that neither I nor the R.A.C. have anything but condemnation for drivers who drink to such an extent as to become drunk or impaired in their driving. We have always been against it, and we still are. We should not on any account such as that oppose this Bill. It might even interest your Lordships to know that in our legal aid scheme we do not take on cases of charges of being impaired by alcohol or being drunk in charge, or anything like that. We do not do so because we deplore it, in the interests of the motoring public and everybody else, just as much as anybody else does.

We are concerned that the proposed measures in any of these matters, and drink in particular in this case, should be reasonable. At the moment I believe they are. Therefore, I am sorry to hear the almost passionate advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, that we should go rather backwards in our thinking about the provisions of this Bill. If he will allow me—I do not wish to be offensive—I must say that it seemed to me that he had been reading that mildly hysterical, lurid newspaper leader which I can name, because I read it, too. He must have read it once or twice too often, and it has perhaps created an impression on his mind which has been reflected in his speech, thoughtful and careful as it was.


My Lords, it the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, may I say that long before that newspaper article was published I had the privilege of announcing on behalf of the then Government that there were going to be random tests.


I am delighted to hear that and I accept the correction, if correction it be, but I still thought that the contents of that leading article shone through the noble Lord's speech, whatever he may have done before he read the article. I did not think much of the article at the time I do not think anything of it now. I do not care for this idea of random checks. I think that in many respects the noble Lord has got it wrong. I have a vested interest in seeing that people who drive motor cars are not treated like criminals and should be dealt with on the same basis as other people. I do not see why a law-abiding motorist should be pulled up by a random check to be tested as to whether he may have been guilty of anti-social conduct because he is drinking and driving, antisocial though such conduct is. There are other forms of anti-social conduct. I do not know of any random tests to see whether a person is carrying a cosh with which to hit old postmistresses, or a knife to carve up small girls.


My Lords, has the noble Lord never heard of what is familarly called the "Cosh Act" under which people can be picked up and prosecuted?


I have heard of a good many things, but it does not detract in the slightest from my point. Random checks on carrying coshes or knives, or in regard to anti-social behaviour are not carried out on citizens in other respects.

I consider that the provisions of this Bill are very much better as they are. What is more reasonable than to be checked when you have had an accident, or when you have been seen to have committed a motoring offence? That seems to me to be reasonable, and it seemed reasonable to us as people whom the Minister calls into consultation, under the Statute, when he is preparing measures such as this Bill. At the time we did not oppose the Bill. We accepted 80 mg. largely for the same reason that the Ministry accepted it, and that was on B.M.A. advice. Once the business of random checks had been settled, we were happy with this Bill.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford on the difficulty of specifying what 80 mg. means to the ordinary man in terms of drinking. I do not believe that it could be done. I would refer your Lordships to an exceedingly interesting series of checks which were carried out by the motoring journal, Motor; they were very detailed and very scientific checks. They proved simply that when one takes six or eight different men, of different sizes, different physiques, different characters, some of them hungry, some of them full, and so on, and subjects them all to the same tests, the multiplicity of reactions to those tests are as many as one could possibly imagine. I can understand that it is no good pressing for a specific statement on how many whiskies constitute what measure of alcoholic content in a man's blood. Therefore, although I think that the measure is a reasonable one, the level of 80 mg., even though it is dealt with on medical advice, is bound to be an arbitrary matter, which one will have to watch with some care.

My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has dealt comprehensively with the provisions in the Bill in regard to drink, and I need not repeat what he has said, except to emphasise once again that one must see the problem in proportion. My noble friend pointed out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the estimated scope of such accidents, and rightly said that a useful reduction could be brought about. So it can; and so I earnestly hope it will—but only within the scope and the limit of the field of accidents due to drink. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, emphasised this factor, but I thought he rather destroyed it later in his speech by saying what a big reduction this would make. I do not think it is as big as all that, because what we have to be clear about is that there are a good many other causes of accidents.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord would agree that there is a certain "spin-off", if I may use the term in this connection, in that if we have greater discipline in regard to drink we may well get discipline in other social vices which could have a good effect.


It is a nice thought, and I hope that it happens in that way. Even if one eliminates the element of drink in accidents, it still leaves a great many problems to be solved. That is why I have referred to the Bill as limited.

We have had a great deal of propaganda and publicity—in which I myself have taken some part—about drink, but we must guard against thinking that it is the only factor to be considered. In fact, at times one would think that there was almost nothing else to worry about. One of the dangers of over-estimating the importance of alcohol in road accidents is that there is public pressure for action, and the public are diverted away from other matters to which it is essential that attention should be directed. This is a great danger if one really wants to achieve results. I had hoped that the independent position of the National Road Safety Advisory Council, under the chairmanship of Sir Alfred Owen—a Council of which the noble Lord, Lord Willis (who I am sorry to see is not in his place to-day), and I are members—would help to persuade Her Majesty's Government to sort out the priorities and to initiate necessary measures where they would do the most good. But I am sorry to think that this ambition has been successfully headed off by the Minister of Transport, who has hastily bundled the Council back inside the security of the portals of her own Ministry.

Therefore, I again make the point which I have repeatedly made in the past; that is to stress the urgent need that exists for more information to be provided. We know a certain amount about drinking alcohol and driving; we do not know very much about the effect of drinking alcohol on accidents caused by the misconduct of other people. The Road Research Laboratory, in its analysis of Christmas accidents, has shown concusively that pedestrians drink, cyclists drink, and almost everybody on the road drinks at times and that such people are involved in accidents. I do not think we can claim to have covered the problem of alcohol in relation to road accidents until we have widened our knowledge. We know that the Ministry of Transport have arranged to get information from coroners about alcohol found in the bodies of motorists killed in accidents. It seems to me extraordinary that this is not done in the case of pedestrians and cyclists who are killed in accidents. I remember a young house doctor at St. Thomas's Hospital, just on the other side of the river, explaining to me that for every motorist he had to attend to, he patched up in the casualty wards at least three or four damaged pedestrians who had fallen under buses because of drink.

When this suggestion in the Report was made in another place the other day, I was astonished that the reply came back from the Government that this information could not be obtained because the road traffic legislation does not deal with pedestrians. This seems to me to be somewhat lame as a reason for not collecting this information, for we certainly need it. There is something of a case to be made for subjecting cyclists to similar penalties, if not perhaps the same penalties, as apply to drivers of motor vehicles. I do not think that such a case could be made out for pedestrians, for I do not know whether one could suspend their shoes if they were found guilty of drunken walking. But if those who were involved in accidents could be blood-tested compulsorily—and why not?—we should at least know the facts of the matter, and it might have a bearing on any subsequent charge or civil action against a driver who might have been involved.

I should like to turn for just a moment to the rest of the Bill, because here is a field in which even less is known about the potentialities of accident reduction. It is certainly true to say that better kept, better organised, better loaded lorries must be safer lorries. I think that a very useful contribution will come from this part of the Bill, and it is good. Incidentally, it is also quite pleasant to renew acquaintance with what one might call old friends in the form of this Bill's provisions, which one has seen around for quite some time and which are finally to see the light of legislative day. But, even so, this Bill is only another one in the spate of new road traffic legislation which we have had in recent years. We really must bring ourselves to recognise that the results from more and more regulations can only be limited, particularly when the regulations are largely restrictive, although I admit that this is a very cheap way of dealing with a problem. It is inexpensive.

Now that I really come to the end of the scope of the Bill, I must turn to one or two other matters. I have always believed, and so has the R.A.C., that there are three main, effective steps which can be taken in regard to the accident problem: more and better roads, more and better traffic police, more and better facilities for driving instruction. Therefore, in 1964 the R.A.C. Road Safety Report was issued, which went into some detail as to the beneficial effect of these measures. If any noble Lord would like a copy I shall be delighted to send him one if he will please let me know.

From that, and also from experience, one thing I do know is that all legislation, regulations, whatever it may be, is practically useless without proper enforcement. Indeed, I very often wonder whether, if we had proper enforcement of the law and the regulations which we have already, we should need to make any new regulations at all; whether we should not be all right, except here and there, to keep up with modern progress. I preached for years—I really did—the effectiveness which traffic police, well organised and well trained, would have. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, my predcessor, put up the idea inside the Ministry when he was there, but I myself certainly did and I have been pressing it ever since. The R.A.C. has backed the idea. There are many authorities and people of authoritative opinion—some are Members of your Lordships' House—who back it. The Road Research Laboratory, in various reports, have always tended towards recommending such a scheme, and the A.A. recently added their weight to the plea as well.

Therefore, I was glad to see reported in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday that the Home Secretary is actively considering just this—the creation of a special force of traffic police; and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will be able to confirm this when he replies. If he can, may I ask him please to bear in mind, or to convey to his right honourable friend that she should bear in mind, two extremely important things? The first is that a traffic police force, highly desirable as it is, must be well and properly qualified and trained, and highly mobile, to have the maximum effect. A sort of secondary police force—a kind of traffic wardens on bicycles or motor cycles—just will not meet the bill. They must be properly qualified and properly trained, and capable of doing this complicated job.


My Lords, would the noble Lord explain that a little further? I agree very much with the point which he is making, as he will probably know. But would he explain a little further exactly what he means by "fully trained"?


My Lords, they should be fully trained for the duties which they are to perform. I say that because in the article which I read, which may or may not have authority—I have no means of knowing—it was rather indicated that they would not be what one might call fully trained policemen; they would be specially recruited people. The implication was that in expertise they would be somewhere between a regular policeman and a traffic warden. I do not think that that would be right. I believe they need to be trained to the same standard as (shall we say?) the first-class chaps we see around London in crash helmets on white motor cycles, going in and sorting out the traffic and generally doing a first-class job. I think they should be proper traffic police trained to current police standards.

That is what I am asking for in this special corps of traffic police: that they should be specialists, properly trained and properly qualified. I want to see their duties as much to direct, guide, advise, admonish and warn as ever they are to prosecute. They can do a lot of good. As was said earlier on, they do a lot of good by just being there. But that is the kind of job they must do, and they would prosecute only in the flagrant cases. They would also help very much towards better relations between the police and the public, and that is important, too.

Your Lordships will probably know that in that connection there was an extensive experiment to find out the results achieved by concentrated deployment of traffic police on main routes in the West Country, and that this happened in the latter months of the summer of 1965. A Question was asked in another place recently, and the Home Secretary stated that a Report by the Home Office Research and Planning Branch about this experiment had been completed and was being considered by the Working Party on the Policing of Motorways and Trunk Roads. They had asked for further consideration to be given to certain aspects, and no decision had been taken on publication. There was another Question a little later, on December 7, when the Home Secretary said that he was not willing to make any further statement on providing information about the conclusions of this experiment. Here, again, I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will be able to add something to this to-day, because it would be very helpful to a great many interests in this country if we could know rather more about what has been found out from this experiment.

Like many people, I have feelings of disappointment that the road programme has been subject to deferments. I have feelings of disappointment that the White Paper on Transport Policy gives no satisfactory indication at all of when any substantial expansion of the existing plans for the future—which are not adequate now—can be expected. Furthermore, we have received the ominous threat that motor taxation and, indeed, parking meter revenue will be used to subsidise public transport. Very often there are these rather high-sounding announcements by the Minister of Transport about the preparation of a reservoir of road construction schemes, which may be included in the road programme at a later date. But this has all been done without any clear indication of intention actually to increase the level of expenditure in years to come, or of what we really may expect to get. I think such announcements may be slightly harmful in some ways, because publicity about the formidably large totals of the costs of carrying out such schemes may have given a false impression to the public, who may not have studied these matters quite so carefully as some of us, that the road programme is going to be enormously expanded and accelerated. It might be fore all we know, but we do not know. But, of course, I suppose that one will be faced with the usual remarks and excuses, that it depends upon the money available at the time, and so on.

It seems to me that when we look ahead and talk about the 'seventies, about hundreds and thousands of millions of pounds, and that sort of thing, we become disheartened and a little frightened, perhaps, at what appear to be such formidable difficulties. We get so overwhelmed by them that I sometimes wonder whether at the present time we do not begin to lose our sense of urgency and direction. It causes us—I see this every day of my life, and for a long time I have thought about this and tried to do what I could about it—to leave undone so many things which to-day could so easily he done quickly, cheaply and extremely beneficially.

We are only beginning to "fiddle" with one-way street systems. Goodness knows!, we know enough about them to know the improvement we get from them, both with regard to safety and traffic flow. And yet it still takes us five or six years to bring into being a one-way system around a half-mile circuit—Victoria Station, for instance. That one-way system, to my certain knowledge, was six or seven years in preparation; and we do not even think in terms of, say, 10 or 20-mile-long systems, or segregation of various kinds. Look at the amount of good we could do with sensibly-placed guardrails; and yet we do not do anything about it. Look at what we could do with little schemes of widening here and there. I know they go on, but on nowhere near a large enough scale. Look at what could be done to improve the safety of the roads by cutting hedges down a couple of feet.

All these things are there to be done, and they are quick and cheap to carry out. In the main, they are not done; and, even where they are done, in many cases they take an age in the doing. It takes nine months, to my certain knowledge, to make a simple square a one-way system, involving no more work than the erection of a couple of pairs of signs. I think that if we are to be seen to believe in what we are saying we must have a little more smart action from the quarter from which action can come, that is, the Ministry. These small things are not being done, and I hope that none of your Lordships will rest content until they are.

My Lords, I cannot finish without saying a word about better driving instruction, to which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, very rightly, and in some detail, drew our attention as being so desirable. I am sorry that the noble 'Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn, has disappeared, because I want to disagree with what he said. We all know that experience is very valuable in this, but basically it is proper instruction in early training which is most valuable of all. The noble Viscount has a young friend whose head-on collision evidently gave him some experience rather rapidly. If he had had better instruction perhaps he would not have had the head-on accident. We do not know; but I did not care for that illustration very much.

Where we need better driving instruction most of all is in the field of training young learner motor-cyclists. Your Lordships will know that there is a highly successful R.A.C.-A.C.U. training scheme, under which we train at present over 7,000 of these young learners every year—and we very much hope that this figure will go up sharply, and soon. We have the active support of the Ministry in this scheme, but your Lordships may not know that some time ago the then Minister appointed a working party to make recommendations for its wholesale expansion. Time is going on, and training facilities remain urgently needed. Some people, perhaps, through the lack of those facilities, are getting killed.

Recently, yet another Question in another place produced this information from the Minister: It is my intention to publish this Report. It has substantial financial implications which need to be studied in the light of the present economic situation and in the context of the new long-term plan for reducing road accidents which, as stated in the White Paper on transport policy, I am now formulating. Again I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, when he comes to reply, whether he can give us any idea when we may expect the publication of this Report and, even more importantly, when we may expect some action in this matter. Before long this egg will not hatch; it has been there so long that it will be addled.

In the interests of giving the public, while it is learning to drive, the services of highly-competent and qualified driving instructors, since 1935 we have also run an R.A.C. scheme under which instructors pass a stringent test of their capabilities. We have the better part of 5,000 of them on the register to-day; and I can tell your Lordships that this qualification is very highly regarded. In spite of that, I am very glad that there is a Private Member's Bill in the offing to make the registration of instructors and the passing of Ministry tests compulsory, because I think this is a good thing and thoroughly in the interests of road safety. We provide the cream of the instructors now, and I should like to make it quite clear that, even when compulsory registration comes in, by means of adjusting our test upwards we intend to continue to provide the cream of instructors. We think this is part of our duty in the interests of road safety, and that this point of good instruction and education is so important that this is very much part of our duty.

As I have said, I welcome the Bill so far as it goes. I think it is vital that the new drink and driving laws which it creates are sensibly administered, so that the relations between the public and the police are not made worse. But, as I said before, above all we want to make sure that we keep a proper sense of proportion in order to see that dangerous, anti-social conduct is properly hit and punished where it should be, but that people who drive are not considered collectively a lot of criminal alcoholics.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question which has always worried me about the breathalyser test? What is to stop a motorist going to a chemist and having a preparation made up to take all the smell of alcohol out of his breath? I should think that that is quite possible. I wonder whether that has been gone into at all. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell me that when he comes to reply, or perhaps my noble friend may be able to.


I do not quite know which noble Lord has not sat down. If it is me, I would much rather leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom.


My Lords, I will consider that point; and I shall have a chance to answer it later.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, like the other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate I rise to support this Bill, so clearly and fully explained by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I find myself in almost 100 per cent. agreement with everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and with the further measures of road safety to which he referred at the end of his speech, to some of which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has also referred.

The experience of the last few years has clearly demonstrated that drinking and driving cannot be prevented, either by exhortation or by public opinion, or by the threat of punishment if an accident actually occurs as a result of drinking. To say this is only to say that human nature is very prevalent. So we are faced with a choice: either we accept a continuance of the present number of accidents from this cause—a significant though not very high percentage of the total number of accidents—or we create a new criminal offence which in fact means an interference with the drinking habits of a large section of the population. And that is the essence of the debate, so far as the principles underlying this Bill seem to me to be concerned. How much limitation of freedom of action in the drinking line is it reasonable to require in the interests of road safety?

I have been wondering what some of the social effects of this Bill may be. One would hope, and I should have thought, that the Bill would certainly mean less drinking before driving. It might mean less drinking on the whole; it might mean more drinking in private and less in public houses; it might mean an increased popularity in invitations to the non-drinker to drive the party home. Probably there is not a person in this country who would decline personally to submit to the tests specified if he knew positively that by so doing he could save some other person or persons from death or serious injury by a third party.

Any remaining reluctance to accept this Bill without qualm is possibly due not so much to unwillingness to suffer the possible discomfort or annoyance or indignity of submitting to tests in certain circumstances, as to a residual fear from the days when talk of police-dominated States had a real relevance, at least in many countries in Europe. At present in England we can thank God that our democracy is secure enough, and our police-community relationship is good enough, to make unrealistic any fears about putting into the hands of the police the power to carry out diagnostic tests in the circumstances described in clauses of the Bill, particularly in view of the fact that people are at last beginning to realise that to go and have a few drinks and then to drive a car is not fun any more; and if you are caught doing this it has a social stigma.

The question of police-community relationship, however, will be a key factor in determining the success or otherwise of the new approach to the road accident problem heralded by this Bill. At every stage it has to be a case of joint cooperation. The landlord at the pub, the club steward, the private host or hostess, will have a part to play as important as that played by the police. It will in future be possible to refrain from offering or serving the additional drink without fear of appearing inhospitable or of insulting the guest by implying that he is incapable of knowing that he has had enough.

The question of police-community relationship is obviously a particularly important one in the case of the most contested issue which arises from this Bill, that of random tests. When first I studied this Bill, and read the debates in another place and the arguments on either side for the exclusion or the inclusion of random tests, I came down on the side of being anti-random test since present police powers would provide adequate powers to test under the existing provisions without needing the random test to be added, or so I should have thought. I listened with great interest and enjoyment to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill. This has certainly helped to influence my mind a little the other way. Whether random tests are included or not, much will depend on the way the police apply the measure in regard to tests. As a matter of fact, the two chief constables whom I consulted on this matter both came down, not having studied the Bill in any detail, against random tests.

My Lords, while thinking about the high burden of responsibility which the provisions of this present Bill, added to all the other traffic Acts places on the police, it is perhaps not irrelevant to note a point put to me by one of the two chief constables whom I consulted. It is this. The plea is that the regulations made in traffic Acts should be as simple and as brief as is consistent with the exactitude and detail necessary to avoid lengthy litigation. I had my attention called to the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1966. These came into operation in December. They comprise no fewer than 115 Regulations and, I think, 8 Schedules, and the Regulations covered 86 pages. To try to grasp these and, in addition, to have to grasp the further regulations contained in this Bill (although they represent a proportionately small addition to the total) makes one feel that the policeman's lot is not a happy one. Clearly it is a matter of some difficulty, but I think it is of great importance to recognise the problem facing the police in being able to know really what the law is in respect of these different traffic regulations which they have to master.

Most of our criminal law is directed primarily towards the prevention of offences and can do little positively to encourage certain standards of conduct. The measure we are debating is somewhat unique in this respect. It postulates that we must refrain from getting into a situation where our blood alcohol concentration might be a danger to others; and, what is more, if we fail to do so, we may be punished even if we have not in fact done any damage to anybody at all. The present accident situation is such that it would seem to be entirely right to support this Bill, implementing as it does the recommendations in the White Paper. The time has come when the present interdependence of all who use roads requires the community as a whole to accept responsibility for the safety of its individual members. This justifies embodying into the criminal law a wider concept of neighbourly responsibiilty than at present exists.

This Bill does, in fact, involve intrusion into personal liberty. Any intrusion into personal liberty, and any action which we require the police to undertake which might appear offensive, is something we must contemplate with considerable care, where the interests of the public safety require it, and only under such conditions. The circumstances which give rise to the Bill appear to me to indicate that this is a case in which the interests of public safety do require a Bill such as this; and I feel grateful to the Government for having produced this Bill for Second Reading.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, all the profound and deep arguments that I was going to use in favour of the Bill I have rejected at this moment because, to my great delight, I find that everybody participating in the debate has been thoroughly in favour of the main terms of Part I. Noble Lords who are to follow me will be greatly relieved, therefore, to know that I am able to cut my speech by half, rather than add to the sound arguments already put forward in favour of the Bill. But there are just one or two things that I want to say; and I hope to say them briefly.

First, there seems to be the need to emphasise what was said by my noble friend Lord Shepherd in introducing the Second Reading of the Bill, when he referred to the present situation arising from the Acts of 1960 and 1962. What ever the position may be with regard to 80 mg., it will not affect in the slightest degree the legislation which already exists. My concern, if I have a concern at all with respect to the terms of the present Bill, is that some motorists might regard it as a licence to go up to the point where they get sufficient alcohol in the blood to arrive at, but not too much to go over, the 80 mg. line. I think it needs stressing that the other Acts of Parliament are still there and that, whatever might happen as a result of this Bill, those Acts do not alter.

My feeling is that what we are now discussing is something which improves the present position and gives greater strength to those who want to abolish drink on the roads. I am delighted with the feeling expressed generally in the House, and the movement in the last five years towards this point of view. Your Lordships will perhaps permit me to say that during the passage of 1962 Road Traffic Act I was a member of a Standing Committee in another place which dealt with the Bill, and I moved an Amendment on these lines. It was turned down completely by the Government of the day, and no encouragement was offered to proceed with such an Amendment. The only difference between my Amendment and what is contained in this Bill is the difference between the figures of 80 and 50.

I am still quite convinced that the figure of 80 mg. to 100 ml. of blood is too generous an allowance. I would have followed the example of the Scandinavian countries and kept the figure down to 50. This was the safety margin put forward by the special committee of the British Medical Association which considered the whole problem, and I still believe it to be the right figure. While the Ministry, as was said by my noble friend Lord Shepherd, have departed from considering how many beers or whiskies this represents, it is still an essential point. I am quite sure that we are being far too generous in the allowance we are giving the motorist.

My Lords, in my other disappointment I am brought into line with my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill, and so, I am sorry to say, I find myself at cross-purposes with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich on the question of spot checks. I believe that spot checks are essential. It is some minutes since my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill concluded his speech, and perhaps I might remind the House of a few words in Clause 2(1) of the Bill: …if the constable has reasonable cause…to suspect him of having alcohol in his body… How on earth is that to be interpreted? We are putting on the shoulders of the policeman a much greater responsibility than would arise over the question of whether there should be spot checks. I envisage a random check in the same way as did my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill—as 1 in 100, or 1 in 200; never in the same place for two days or two weeks together. The necessity might be stressed of having the checks take place late at night, when the public-houses are emptying. That is my idea of random checks, and I am perfectly sure it would be much easier to work them than to try to interpret words such as are used in the subsection from which I have quoted.

I have no worries about being pulled up by the police, and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, who rightly claims the honour of being President, or Chairman, of the R.A.C., that I am myself a member, and I have been now, I suppose, for nearly fifty years. But I went further, and took the test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and I joined the company of the veteran motorists, because I believe that R.A.C. or A.A. membership is not enough. I thought I should show that I was engaged with people who are concerned with road safety, and not merely with protecting the interests of motorists. Because of that I have a lot of sympathy for motorists who commit small technical offences. My experience of over fifty years as a justice of the peace has brought me up against the tremendous problem presented by the drunken driver, for whom I have no sympathy. While I was prepared, as a magistrate, to "sling out" all sorts of small and technical offences, I could be very tough, and should have continued to be very tough, had I not gone on the supplementary list, with people who drink to excess and then drive.

I am reminded that during the Committee stage (or perhaps it was in the Second Reading debate) of the Bill which became the 1962 Road Traffic Act, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, made an analogy between spot checks and fingerprinting. I know that a man cannot be forced to have his fingerprints taken until he has been charged with an offence, and that would not apply in the case of spot checks; but that difference does not matter very much in respect of a person's point of view. Just as no one would object to allowing his fingerprints to be taken if he was innocent, I believe that a man who had no alcohol in his blood, or only a very small amount, would not object to a spot check. As was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill, how much better that everybody should be liable for a spot check than that there should be the procedure envisaged in the wording of the Bill! I have no doubt that an Amendment should be put down on Committee stage in connection with this. It has been said that we are creating a new offence in this regard, but I am not worried about that, because ever since the coming of the internal combustion engine we have been creating new offences; and that will continue.

Finally, my Lords, my great trouble about the whole matter is the attitude of mind of some people towards this problem. If I may refer again to the Standing Committee in 1962, I would quote what was said by a very respected member of that Committee. He was arguing that if food was taken with drink, there was not the same danger—and, of course, I agree. It is purely and simply a question of degree. He said: I had the pleasure of going to the Cutlers' Feast in Sheffield on Monday. In common with every one of the 400 guests I had a sherry or two before my dinner, a sherry with my soup, a glass or two of wine with my meat, a glass of champagne with my sweet and a glass of port at the end of the meal. I had a glass of brandy to top it off. Then he went on to say: I did not drive home, but I was perfectly in command of my senses. I had the nerve to interrupt him and say: "How does the honourable Member know?" And then he went on, I believe: There were 400 people there and they must have had a content of anything from 100 to 150 mg. of alcohol. All those would have been found unfit to drive a car if this Amendment had been agreed to, but many of them went out to drive their cars. It is this attitude of mind, my Lords, which is the great danger of our day in this respect; and because of that I welcome the terms of the Bill. Even if we are years later in introducing it than we needed to be, it is welcome now. In that sense I hope that the Bill will be given a quick passage to the Statute Book. I am almost sorry that I have not had anyone with whom to "fall out" this afternoon, but it is a wonderful thing that everyone should feel this a very good thing to do.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by apologising most sincerely for the fact that, because of circumstances over which I have no longer any control, I shall have to leave the House before the end of the debate—I am afraid a good deal before the end of the debate. I have listened with the greatest attention and interest so far and have enjoyed all the speeches, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill—partly, perhaps, because that was the speech with which I most agreed.

I think that the best contribution I can make to the debate at this stage is to try to explain to your Lordships why, although long experience has taught me to assume that any Government Road Safety Bill will be hopelessly inadequate, and although up to two or three weeks ago I fully assumed that I should find myself bitterly attacking this Bill as inadequate, nevertheless I now, greatly to my own surprise, find myself intending to support the Bill; but subject to one tremendous caveat about what is going to happen to the penalty clauses of the Bill when they have to be administered by the courts.

I ought perhaps to explain that in speaking of road accidents—that is a cold mathematical term, let me say, of the ever-mounting annual toll of sudden deaths, mutilation, bereavement and suffering—I have always been a radical. That is to say, I have been one of a comparatively small minority, often unkindly described as "cranks", who have persisted in proposing remedies calculated to go to the root of the evil, or at any rate much nearer to the root than the Government of the day were ever prepared to venture. I say deliberately the "Government of the day", because it often happens that measures proposed by the "cranks" and summarily rejected by the Government of the day are adopted by some subsequent Government. anything from 10 to 25 years later. I have always believed that it would have been possible by now to halve the annual casualty list if only we had ever wanted sufficiently to do so; but, of course, we have never sufficiently wanted to encourage people to shoulder the necessary burdens. I entirely agree with what has been said in a Report from the Stanford Research Institute in the United States, published last August and entitled Drastic Measures for Reducing Traffic Casualties. They said that enough is now known about traffic casualties to permit a reduction to any desired level. But, clearly, the lower the level at which we aim, the more drastic the legislation and the stricter the discipline which we must necessarily accept.

So far, public opinion has never been prepared to accept legislation sufficiently drastic or discipline sufficiently strict to bring about anything more than a temporary minimal change up or down in the annual casualties, which continue their remorseless, steady ascent. So when I first heard that the Government were gestating a forthcoming Road Safety Bill, which was said to be going to contain a provision for a random breath test, I fully expected the normal sequence of events to unfold: first, the sporadic sniping by angry self-appointed defenders of individual liberty—liberty in the context of going on living or dying with 8,000 killed and 400,000 injured a year; then the heavy artillery of the motoring organisations rolling ponderously into action—the motoring organisations which have massively resisted almost every major safety proposals on the roads, from the speed limit in built-up areas onwards. So far, the only surprise in the whole tragi-comic process, so familiar by now, was the rapidity with which the Labour Government surrendered to pressure, a Labour Government which one had hoped ex hypothesi would believe in controls, discipline and planning and in subordinating selfish private interests to the public welfare.

So far my attitude to the Bill was quite plain to me. I was hostile to the abandonment of the random tests principle. Up to this point, I felt that I wanted the random tests principle, because I believed that it would greatly augment the deterrent power of the Bill without making any increased demands on the time or manpower of the police. But now I come to my quandary. Here I have to make my volte face. I have always based my advocacy of a random test on the experience of Norway, a country which I know well, in which I have many friends and relations and which I have visited almost every year for the last forty years. As I have before now reminded your Lordships, it is possible to attend a festive gathering in Norway, maybe a great wedding, in which champagne is flowing like water, and always find that every guest who is drinking knows that he or she is going to be driven home by somebody else, and, conversely, that anyone who expects to be at the wheel of a car will not touch a drop. That has been tremendously impressive. Many times I have asked my friends why they have this successful discipline and freedom from accidents due to drink, and they have replied that they simply dare not drink because they know that, however well behaved a driver may be, he may be stopped for a breath test, and if it is then proved by a blood test that he has taken alcohol above the permitted level (and the level there is lower than in this Bill: .05 instead of .08 grammes), imprisonment is certain.

I want your Lordships to note that the certainty of imprisonment is the key to the Norwegian success. My experience, gained over many years, is that their comparative freedom from deaths and mutilations resulting from to drink is due, first, to having a random test and, secondly, to having that test supported by strict and inevitable penalties. Therefore, up to three weeks ago, that was the picture which I had of the Norwegian scene, which naturally led me to be opposed to the proposed abandonment of the random test here.

Then, as this Bill approached your Lordships' horizon, I thought it well to refer to some greater authorities than myself as to the law on the Norwegian "alcotest" (as they call it), and I referred to one of the most distinguished lawyers in Norway. I found, to my surprise, that the Norwegian alcotest is not a random test. The law in Norway is that if a policeman conducting a traffic check, or investigating an accident, has reason to suppose that a driver, or a would-be driver, is under the influence of alcohol, he may request a breath test, and then the rest of the process with which we are familiar follows. That, as your Lordships see, is very similar to the principle enshrined in the Bill as we have it. It is a non-random breath test.

Yet my many years of experience of meeting and questioning Norwegian motorists has proved to me that the impression indelibly and vividly imprinted on the imagination of the Norwegian motoring public is of a test which may come upon them at any moment, and which is accompanied by the menace of possible imprisonment. So this seems very powerfully to support the arguments advanced by the Minister in another place, and by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, here, for they have both said that in the test as proposed in the Bill there will be a good deal of randomness; motorists may be stopped unexpectedly for some traffic check, and so forth.

I would agree that the Norwegian example justifies the abandonment of the random test if, but only if, we accompany it by the severity of the Norwegian law.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, is he saying that the Norwegians are so responsible in their driving habits because they do not understand their own law?


If the noble Lord will be patient, although what I am trying to say is that to a persistent visitor the Norwegian clearly regards his law as something which may take him unawares, which is what our Bill will do, what I am going on to say is that what really frightens the Norwegians is the knowledge that, if they are convicted, they will go to prison. The combination of the two is the thing which really enforces discipline.

How is the Norwegian law enforced? What it says is that for the first offence the penalty is a fine and imprisonment of anything from 21 days to a year. But in practice—and this is the important point—imprisonment is certain except in circumstances so exceptional as to be not worth practical consideration. For what has happened is that the courts have standardised the penalty for a first offence at imprisonment for either 21 or 30 days. This has become virtually automatic. So it often happens in Oslo that you can ring up some distinguished citizen, perhaps the chairman of a great company, and be told by his faintly embarrassed secretary that, most unexpectedly, he has been compelled to take a three weeks' holiday at some unknown pleasure resort.

Then, also for a first offence, the licence is automatically confiscated for a year; and if a person is convicted for an offence for which he was convicted at any time during the preceding five years, he must lose his licence for life. I think it is the severity of those laws, and the knowledge that you may find yourself in "jug"—a perfectly reasonable citizen, like any of your Lordships or myself, may find himself in "jug" alongside the ordinary criminals—which is responsible for the high degree of discipline.

Can we rely on our courts? Many of your Lordships will remember how in recent debates a number of noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, constantly complained that the courts have not been imposing the penalties enacted by Parliament. If, under this Bill, persons convicted of drunken driving are only going to be fined, let us say, £25, then we shall have made a dead letter of our law on drunken drivers, as we have already made a near dead letter of our law on speeding drivers. Despite all my misgivings, I feel that, having, so to speak, always appealed to the example of Norway, I have to accept the verdict of Norway when it comes. When I find that, in spite of the impression of randomness made on the motoring public in Norway, the actual law in Norway is pretty much what we are going to make it here—


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord what impression on the accident figures this rather drastic law has had in Norway?


The percentage of Norwegian accidents due to drunken driving is very much lower than the percentage in England. I have the figures here, but I do not propose to quote them.


I mean the overall figures of all accidents.


Yes. The percentage of overall accidents due to drink is very much lower than in this country.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that there appears to be no proof in Sweden that the introduction of this legislation has had any overall effect on accidents?


I am certainly not aware of that, but I will provisionally accept it from the noble Lord. I do not know Sweden; but I do know Norway. That is all I want to say. There are other things that I should have liked to see in the Bill which are not there. All I have tried to do, rather incoherently, I am afraid, is to explain why, although long experience has taught me to expect any road safety Bill to be inadequate, and although I had intended to curse, nevertheless, subject to that one caveat as to what the courts are going to make of the Bill, I have remained to bless.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am one of those who welcome this Bill, and I feel the only pity is that it has taken so long to mature. I only hope that this House does not do anything which is going to delay its introduction any longer. As for Part I, I am prepared to accept the proposals, which I think go a long way to meet the demand for more stringent measures to curb drunken driving. Drunken driving undoubtedly contributes to accidents: that is as clear as crystal. Drunken driving is uncivilised and revolting, and it is avoidable, if only people would care—a point already made. But its actual effect, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said, is, I think, exaggerated. I think we are inclined to exaggerate the incidence of drunken driving in terms of the percentage of serious accidents which it causes.

One must respect the sincerity of those who support the idea of random tests; and one must admit that certainly in Scotland there is a strong body of opinion in favour of them, and a highly articulate body it is. But those who oppose this proposal I believe are in the majority among the people, certainly in Scotland, and I think the present proposals represent a fair compromise.

Originally, as we know, the first Bill accepted random tests, although the White Paper of 1965 described the proposal as "drastic". I believe the word "drastic" was not really strong enough. The proposal represented a departure from respect for the rights of the individual. The attitude has been scorned, but speaking for myself I was—and I am—bitterly opposed to the suggestion of random tests. This is a matter of principle. Never, never, never will I support this particular form of police approach which to my mind is much too similar to "the knock on the door". With due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill (and I am sorry he is not here at the moment), his comparison with a police officer stopping a car on Dartmoor is hardly comparable. The officer stops it not only to see whether the driver is an escaped prisoner but also to see whether he has an escaped prisoner in the boot of the car. I would not mind being stopped a dozen times for that, and I would help the "copper" to look for the escaped prisoner, but I do object to being picked, one in a hundred, out of a line of motorists on a motorway, being taken aside and asked if I would blow into a machine.

I assume that either the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, or the noble Lord, Lord Royle, will be moving an Amendment in Committee, when it can be discussed at length, but I was a little distressed at the noble Lords' approach to it and to the attitude which I represent—that of the people who are opposed to random tests in principle and are prepared to stand up and say so without fear that anybody will suggest that they are in favour of drunken driving or wish that anything we can do, within our powers, should not be done to limit this scourge.

We need not go into the principal difficulties represented by the random test, and I had not proposed to do so had they not been trotted out in the debate so far, but whatever those difficulties may be they are as nothing, I believe, compared with this matter of principle. Difficulties such as the pressures on the police have been mentioned; the opportunity for the thug disguised as a policeman doing a hold-up at night; the certainty of embroiling the police with the publicans, because surely if a policeman was doing his job properly under random test legislation he would lie in wait outside a pub.

There is also the uncertainty about the efficacy of the breathalyser apparatus. There is the question of a change of colour under a sodium are light; the question of an antidote being prepared by a chemist, which will act differently upon the gas, and other difficulties which are present. I believe the principle of the Bill as it now stands is a step in the right direction. I say this because, if nothing else, it will provide an opportunity to look into the difficulties of the apparatus and, if it is unsuccessful, we shall have to look further; but it will provide an opportunity acceptable to the people, to the police and, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham said, to the Royal Automobile Club, of which I may say I am not a member. It will be acceptable to them and will serve as a sounding board for these experiments.

I shall now refer to the breath, blood and urine tests as set out in Clauses 2 and 3. A point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, I should like to reiterate, if I may, as it was not pinpointed. The important thing is that these tests will fix a specific level of alcohol in the blood. This will take away from juries and magistrates the difficulty which confronts them at the moment, where it is a matter of judgment and not a matter of scientific fact. As your Lordships know, I have always recommended and supported the approach to the road accident problem from the scientific angle. If I remember rightly, in the debate on the Address in November, 1965, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor emphasised that this was the one principal point which he found most important in terms of fixing an alcoholic content in a Bill. These measures, as I have said, are well worth introducing and, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, implied, if he did not actually say so, if the penalties which are included in this Bill prove inadequate the next step might be to enhance them, but I feel certain that within the four corners of the Bill as it now stands we have something on which to work.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, made the point that we should emphasise the need for the education of the public. It is probably wise to urge the Government, if possible, to fix a figure. It may prove impossible, because we know the traps into which the Minister of Transport and her predecessor fell in indicating what amount of alcohol actually produced so many milligrammes of alcohol in a millilitre of blood. We must not make this mistake, but I think it would be wise if we could have some indication. Of course, we must face the fact that a driver may well be safer with a whisky and soda inside him than driving the last few miles of a long journey tired or sleepy.

So much for Part I of the Bill. I shall now turn to Part II, and I believe this is equally welcome. The provisions are complex, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, and will be costly to apply, but they will be worth it. I am prepared to accept that they are necessary, and I believe they will be effective. I have one particular point to make, which refers to Clause 10, under which the Government take powers to make regulations in regard to the design and equipment—and I repeat, equipment—of new vehicles. I say this because, again agreeing very largely with the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, on this point, I am prepared to contend, and I believe analysis will show, that more fatal and serious accidents are caused by vehicles running into the rear of stationary trucks than are caused by drunken driving. Certainly this is the case in the neighbourhood in which I live, and those accidents are killers.

I believe the incidence of these accidents could be reduced by more effective lighting at the rear of commercial vehicles. They should be almost festooned with red lights, as they are in America. Certainly there should be red lights high up—so high that they can be seen over the brow of a hill and over a hedge, no matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said, if it has not been cut down, as it ought to have been—and they should be high enough up to be free from the possibility of being obscured by mud and slush. I trust that any regulations which are made under this Act, which I hope it will soon become, will provide for this. Indeed I believe it is for consideration whether measures to improve the rear lighting of existing trucks should not be considered and introduced.

There is one other point in regard to Part II which I should like to mention: it is not in connection with any particular clause. I think many of your Lordships will agree that some of the worst offenders of overloading and poor maintenance of vehicles are the short-haul trucks which handle sand and gravel, and earth and dirt from quarries. With existing and potential staff it will be difficult to keep a check on them. I smiled when the noble Lord. Lord Shepherd, said that there were 70 stations under construction and that other steps were being taken to deal with the matter in remote areas. I come from an area which is littered or, shall I say, spattered, with gravel pits, and many of the roads are infested by these lorries which are badly maintained and which, in my view, are overloaded.

It seems to me that it is piecework payment, too tight schedules, and the like, that induces the overloading, the speeding and the neglect of vehicles of this sort. By "neglect" I mean not only neglect in regard to brakes, but in regard to reflectors and rear lights. I do not think this aspect could be introduced into this Bill, but as we have wandered fairly wide from the Bill itself could not something be done by the Government to consider this piecework angle? I should also like to suggest that in creating regulations the Government should pay attention to the problem of noise. This may not he concerned strictly with road safety but in a measure it is. I do not believe the regulations in this country are adequate to save the public and other users of the roads from dangerous interference by the hideous noise which is created by inefficient silencers on commercial vehicles. I do not say every commercial vehicle; some of them are beautifully maintained.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, made an appeal about the Road Research Laboratory. In conclusion I should like most strongly to support what he said about this matter of research, how every penny of it is well spent provided it is employed in tackling this tremendous problem of the causes of serious road accidents. I should like to turn to the publication Road Accidents, 1965. I do not know how many of your Lordships have looked at it. The Ministry's road research unit in referring in Table 21 to the causes, the manoeuvres and actions of riders and drivers in fatal and serious accidents, shows that "going ahead, not overtaking", is the cause of 65.3 per cent. of fatal and serious accidents. What I am getting at is this. I should like to know how many of these accidents were collisions between a vehicle moving ahead and a stationary vehicle, or a collision between such a vehicle moving ahead and another which it strikes through avoiding a stationary vehicle. I believe that, in our pursuit of road safety—if we agree, as I think we can, that these collisions with stationary vehicles kill far more people than drunken driving—the road research unit should be urged to take out another figure, so that we can see what new steps can be taken to avoid this dreadful cause of accidents. I believe that this type of accident should either be classified as such or indicated in brackets.

One other point arises out of reference to this Report, and that is the extraordinary figures of the graph of the hours and the days in the week at which peak accidents occur. Of course that is between 9 o'clock and midnight on Saturday. That is for January. Again the same applies in July: between 9 o'clock and midnight on Saturday is the time when the greatest number of serious accidents occur. This may or may not be due to drunken driving. I am certain that drunken driving contributes to this, but I am equally certain that what contributes to it is the very thing to which Lord Nugent of Guildford referred, which is the lack of education and lack of understanding among young people. It is these awful crashes of kids racing home after dances that is to me so tragic, and I believe that can be overcome not by breathalyser tests, but by giving them education, understanding that this is a serious time of day and that this is something they must avoid.

While on the subject of control of accidents, other noble Lords have referred to the need for traffic police. Certainly we in your Lordships' House have all agreed for many years on this point. But it is important that they should be seen. This is a tremendous contribution to the influence of police on road accidents in other parts of the world. There is one small matter with regard to collisions from the rear. May I suggest that the Postmaster General might have the rear of those olive-green telephone and telegraph vans painted with yellow and black chequers?

I do not say that because the drivers are careless; I think they are generally sensible in the way they park their trucks. But I believe that it would be wise as an example to others of the importance of being absolutely sure that people coming up from behind, no matter what the weather conditions may be, will know that a vehicle is halted. I support the Bill, and I hope your Lordships will not spend too much time in trying to amend Part I; and if an Amendment is moved in Committee I shall be one of those who will oppose it as fervently as I can.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I join in the general chorus of welcome to this Bill and I shall concern myself, as many others have done, only with Part I. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest. I am a Vice-President of the Pedestrians Association, although I have held a clean motoring licence for 43 years. I am not sure that I ought not to declare another interest; perhaps many of us should. In the rather quaint language of the Bill, I have to admit that in the course of the past hour I have put some alcohol into my body, but not, I think, to the extent that will produce 80 mg. per 100 ml. of blood.

Surely the essential virtue of the Bill is that it gets us away from the very unsatisfactory tests that we have had hitherto. Hitherto we have had to rely upon police observation of driving and clinical tests applied at the police station, often as much as two hours later, and in circumstances in which the person concerned obviously makes a very great effort to pull himself together. The clinical tests are notoriously unreliable. They are so unreliable that in some areas the prosecution have taken the line of not calling medical evidence except to establish that the accused person was not suffering from any illness.

Experiments have been made on these clinical tests in which doctors were presented with three categories of people, all of whom had taken just enough drink to make their breath smell. One had taken only one sip for this purpose; one had taken a great deal and was, by ordinary standards, likely to be near drunk; and one was a professional actor acting drunk. Members of the medical profession were asked to apply their clinical tests to these groups and to distinguish which was the genuine drunk, and the margin of error was exceedingly large. It is quite clear that these tests are inadequate.

Therefore, for the first time we now have the position in which the offence is not anything that necessarily shows itself in driving; it is a potential risk in driving, but it is not necessarily visible in the driving at any given moment. We have the position under this Bill in which the offence is the quantity of the alcohol in the blood. It is true that the figure of 80 mg. is higher than that enforced in a number of European countries, but I think that only makes it more important that we should remind ourselves of what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said in his opening speech. He said that Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1962 is still in force, and that anybody whose driving is apparently influenced by drink may be arrested and may be convicted, even though it turns out that he has only 50 mg. of alcohol in his blood. It is important that we should keep that in mind, because that will cover the case that everybody knows in which one glass suddenly does, unexpectedly, what it usually takes six glasses to do.

I should also like to mention one or two features in the Bill which I think show that we have profited from Continental experience. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned in passing that it will now be possible to apply tests to cases in hospital, provided that the medical officer in charge of the case does not think that it will do any damage to the patient or his treatment. This is quite an important clause, although only perhaps in a small way, because not infrequently hospitals have provided a haven for people who were aware that they were fairly drunk, and who knew that if they could once get themselves to hospital no tests would be applied.

I think also that the Government are to be congratulated on having solved a problem which has given rise to a good deal of controversy in some European countries. The measurement of alcohol in the blood is to be the measurement which obtains at the moment when the test is taken. In most cases this is probably to the advantage of the accused—not quite always, because sometimes he may not have reached the peak concentration. But normally it could be to his advantage if a period of a couple of hours has elapsed before the test is taken. In some European countries it is open to the defence to bring evidence that the concentration at the time of the driving would have been lower than at the time of arrival at the police station. This has led to a good deal of unnecessary litigation, and the compromise which is embodied in this Bill seems to me to be an extremely satisfactory one, even though it is arbitrary.

I must, however, admit that I regret the departure from the random tests. In the White Paper the Government said that they had given their full consideration to this problem, and that they had come to the conclusion that roadside screening tests are desirable if the new law is to be properly enforced. So, after full consideration, the Government a year and a half ago came to the conclusion that this was the only way to get effective enforcement. And that, I think, is the crucial question. The offence has nothing to do with actual driving, and it is always a bad thing to put on the Statute Book laws that are not going to be enforced. The Statute Book is littered with road traffic laws that are not enforced: laws about speeding, laws about parking, laws about the condition of vehicles. It would be a great pity if we did not mean to enforce this law, to make this new offence, because it will not lead to the detection of people whose driving risk is potential and does not happen to have been seen at the moment at which it became actual. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, I think, that the tests involved a random element. If I may say so, with great respect, there is no such thing as a "random element". Either a test is random or it is not; and these tests are quite definitely not random.

I am always learning from noble Lords opposite of precious rights which I have and which are liable to he eroded by this arbitrary and bureaucratic Government. I never knew until this afternoon how much I treasured the right not to be asked to blow into a bag. When I was a child I used often to blow into a bag in order to hear it go off with a bang; and I think I might recover some of the excitement of that if I were asked by a police officer to blow in a bag, though I should try to restrain myself from banging it afterwards.


I hope that the noble Baroness would not say this to the police.


What the noble Baroness says in this House is not to be confused with what she will say to the police. But either we mean to enforce the law, or we do not. If we mean to enforce it, we are obliged to have random tests, and to forgo this precious individual right.

Several noble Lords have queried the contribution which drunken driving makes to road accidents. This is a difficult matter to estimate, and it is easy to be misled about it. For instance, although the Road Research Laboratory recorded that at Christmas, 1964, 44 per cent. of the drivers and riders involved in fatal accidents during the six days of the Christmas holiday had taken liquor, and that on Christmas Day itself 63 per cent. had taken liquor, these figures do not by themselves prove anything. It is extremely probable that on Christmas Day the 63 per cent. of those which were killed or involved in fatal accidents had eaten turkey and plum pudding for dinner. We cannot draw the one inference any more than the other. The only way to draw a reliable inference is by having a control group who are not involved in accidents, and by estimating the amount of alcohol consumed by those who are not involved in accidents and comparing it with the amount consumed by those who are. This is why the survey made in the University of Indiana at Grand Rapids, which is referred to in the White Paper, is, I think, the most sophisticated and the most valuable that has yet been made. I should like to say a little more about it than is contained in the White Paper.

The basis of this survey was that in a city with a population of 200,000, some 6,000 drivers were involved in an accident during the course of a year, and some 7,500 drivers were stopped at random at the same points as these accidents occurred, also throughout the course of the year. These were drivers who were not involved in accidents, and who were examined as against the drivers who were involved in accidents. Both groups were then sorted out into classes, according to various factors which might increase their liability to accidents, such as age, and even sex, and, an obvious one, the annual mileage which they drove. One is not surprised to learn that the annual mileage was a factor increasing liability to accidents. Those who drove a large mileage were more likely to be involved in accidents than those who drove only a small mileage.

But when they took each individual group, the young, the old, the educated, the frequent drinkers, the infrequent drinkers; when they took different occupational groups, the manual workers and the non-manual workers, each group separately, it was always found, in each single group, that the liability to accident rose as the alcohol concentration increased. The high-mileage people suffered more accidents if they had had more drink the low-mileage people suffered more accidents, compared with the others, if they had had more drink. So that there is definite evidence, and the best evidence we have had up to now, where one compares the non-drinking driver with the drinking driver.

As a result of that, this investigation suggested that if you stop drink altogether you would eliminate about 6 per cent. of all accidents and probably a rather higher percentage of serious and fatal accidents because drink accidents tend to be serious and fatal. Six per cent. of all accidents in this country would mean something approaching 500 lives a year, and that is not by any means to be sneezed at; but it still leaves us with 7,500 lives that would not be saved. Because this would be a relatively small contribution to solving the accident problem, though a very important one, I very much hope that this Bill is only a first instalment and that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport will constantly come back and ask for more.


My Lords, before the noble Lady sits down, I think she said that some noble Lords have endeavoured to minimise the effect of alcohol on accidents.


I think I said that they had queried it. I meant it to be a perfectly neutral term.


I beg the noble Lady's pardon.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lady on the question of drink and blowing out bags. I should like in the first instance to disclose an interest in road haulage, as a director of one of the largest road haulage companies in the country and also as a past chairman of the A.A. I welcome the Bill in most respects, especially in so far as it refers to road haulage in Part II. I agree that under the heading of Miscellaneous Offences, in Clause 23, there is a need for a heavy fine and I accept the figure of £200 as a maximum to deter the unscrupulous operator and driver. On the other hand, I am a little concerned that the maximum penalty might be imposed for less serious and, as I would call them, technical offences, and also in cases when the operator is unaware of the infringements. I feel that definite safeguards should be provided in the Bill so that the penalty is aimed at the bad driver and operator and is not used for minor offences, nor against the unwitting offender. I suggest that the courts when considering these offences should be obliged to take into account the general maintenance record of the operator's fleet, which in many cases is very good indeed.

With regard to the plating scheme, I should like an assurance from the Minister in charge of the Bill that it will be operated with discretion and with full regard to the practical problems involved in it. Your Lordships will have noted that the success of a plating scheme is dependent upon the provision of a network of public weighbridges, which at the present time are very few indeed. Perhaps the Minister in charge of the Bill could enlighten the House on his intentions in this direction. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned that local authorities would be responsible for the location and upkeep of these weighbridges. I would point out that, even with a good network of weighbridges, a considerable problem will remain because loading points are widely scattered and many vehicles must pick up in very remote centres.

I appreciate the exemption for vehicles under Clause 24(4), but this in itself will often lead to uneconomic detours. I suggest that there is a need for a simple and cheap weighing device, perhaps incorporated in the vehicle itself or used at occasional loading points. I understand that the trade is pursuing the matter with the manufacturers concerned. It would certainly stimulate research in this matter if the Ministry of Transport were prepared to accept a small margin of error, say 5 per cent.—an error which is probably inherent in any design of that type.

I should now like to turn for a few moments to Clause 16(7), which permits examiners to require an overloaded vehicle to be off-loaded to a safe level if there is a risk of danger. I suggest that there should be some qualification as to danger, and that it should not be obligatory to off-load in all circumstances. I would point out that the intention of the clause, as I read it, is to penalise the irresponsible driver and operator for overloading but not for a purely technical offence. It is often difficult accurately to assess the weight of a loaded vehicle and, provided no danger exists, I suggest that it would be unrealistic to require the excess weight to be off-loaded. Obligatory off-loading would lead to vehicle duplication, and in the case of bulk fuel and grain carriers it would be a physical impossibility.

There is certainly no objection to the compulsory testing of goods vehicles by a network of Government test stations. On the other hand, I think facilities should be provided for very large fleet operators to have their vehicles tested on their own premises by Ministry examiners at an economic fee. Many operators have first-class maintenance systems of which full advantage could be taken. Perhaps Her Majesty's Government could give an assurance that such facilities would in fact be used.

I should like to refer for a few moments to axle weights, as the trade is concerned lest the introduction of plating and the rigid enforcement of gross and axle weight limits should place the loaders of vehicles in an impossible position. I agree that operators and drivers of commercial vehicles should know of the permitted gross and axle weights of the vehicles and should comply with those limits at all times. I also agree that the loader of a vehicle should know of the weight placed on the vehicle and should be subject to a charge of "aiding and abetting" where he knowingly permits a gross weight overload. On the other hand, loading compliance with individual axle weight limits is a different proposition. In the first place, it is often most difficult accurately to assess the weight of individual axles at the time the vehicle is being loaded. In any case, loaders are not usually responsible for the manner and distribution of the load, which is rightly the responsibility of the driver in all cases.

Again, with the introduction of plating, individual axle weights will vary considerably and the limits appropriate to an individual vehicle will not normally be known by the company whose commodities are being transported. In these circumstances I suggest that there should be some specific safeguards in the Bill against prosecution for infringement of axle weight limits by loading companies and their employees. I suggest that they should be liable only if it can be proved that they knowingly condoned the infringement; and this is a very important point which I should like to emphasise.

I should like now to refer to Clause 30, which states that Part I and Clauses 16 and 17 will come into operation on dates appointed by the Minister and that other measures covered by Part II require regulations. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that regulations would be made as a result of consultations with the trade concerned. I think he mentioned that the timetable for vehicles in regard to the first examination would be in 1968 and 1969, and in regard to plating in 1970. Perhaps the noble Lord could confirm these dates a little later on.

May I take the opportunity of reminding your Lordships that Section 72(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1960 lays down that whenever a vehicle draws a trailer, one person in addition to the driver must be carried for the purpose of attending to the trailer". This section of the 1960 Act is of very long standing and dates back to the time when trailer brakes were normally applied by a person carried on the trailer and could not be applied by the driver from his seat. Over the intervening years technical progress has been recognised by the introduction of an increasing number of exemptions, and surely the time has now come for the repeal of Section 72(2) of the 1960 Road Traffic Act. I believe that further exemptions are now becoming necessary, which will add to the complications and confusion of this Bill, and I suggest that this section of the 1960 Act should be repealed. Except for the few suggestions and exceptions which I have mentioned, I welcome this Bill especially in regard to Part II and hope that the Minister in charge of the Bill will consider the points which I have raised before the Committee stage.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is most interesting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, because he has nearly made my speech for me. About the only thing I shall do is to dot some of the "i's" and cross some of the "t's" in his speech. But before I do that, I should first like to express my apology to my noble friend Lord Shepherd, because I was unavoidably detained and could not hear his opening speech. There was no real neglect on my part. I was engaged in a Private Bill Committee, listening to the arguments of Manchester and Bury on a compulsory purchase order, and for that reason was unable to be in the Chamber until about a quarter past four. But since then, with the exception of a few minutes, I have listened to every speech.

Like all the noble Lords who have spoken, I greatly welcome this Bill. The pattern which has been followed here this afternoon is typical of the pattern which was followed in the other place. Those of your Lordships who have read the Report of the Second Reading there will know that every speaker except one welcomed this Bill. Unfortunately, there was one speaker who, I very much regret to say, attempted to make Party capital out of it instead of dealing with its contents, and that was the opening speaker for the Opposition. But Parliament is reflecting the opinion of the nation as a whole, because everything we hear and read indicates that the nation welcomes this Bill, particularly Part 1.

Naturally it is the first six clauses which formed the subject of most of the debates, both in the other House and here this afternoon, because the introduction of the breath test is something entirely new. But it is something which the rising casualty rate on our roads has shown to be necessary. I am not saying for one moment that drink is always the cause of accidents but, as the figures indicate, there is a very steep increase in the accident rate round about the end of drinking time. This in itself is indicative of the connection.

No one desires to interfere with the pleasures or the freedom of the individual, but I agree with the right reverend Prelate on this. First, I am delighted that the idea of the random test has been abolished. What I am saying is in distinct contrast to the major speeches from this side, but I believe, with the right reverend Prelate, that social habits have developed in this country and, provided that there is a reasonable guarantee that those habits are not interfering too much with ordinary individuals, we should not stampede or attempt to act like a dictator and think that we are going to change them. The evidence given to us by the British Medical Association and the Medical Research Council indicates, so far as it is possible to ascertain this, that a person with 80 mg. of alcohol in 100 ml. of his blood is safe. Therefore, I do not see why we should attempt to cut totally across these social habits.

I believe that by introducing this measure we are acting in accordance with the general desires of our people. I have heard it said that the introduction of such a Bill is inclined to encourage drinking habits, but I do not quite accept that. A few drinks at a social party, drinks in moderation, are something well in accord with the particular needs and system of society. Therefore, I welcome this Bill very much.

As I said, I am pleased that the random tests have been abolished. Nothing could be more undignified or create more contempt for any attempt to keep the good will of our people than for the police to be faced with the responsibility of standing out in the road, holding up passing motorists and conducting tests, although the motor cars were being driven perfectly reasonably in every sense of the word. The present method is a much better way of approaching this problem. It may be said that it will be difficult for a policeman to decide whether to stop a motorist and ask him to undergo a breath test. Certain safeguards and definitions have been laid down in the Bill as to how he should operate. But the cardinal point is that it is not possible to cover in a Bill all the sets of circumstances in which the police will have to judge whether or not a motorist is in a safe condition. This is something which can be decided only by the man on the spot, and I have complete faith that our policemen will not become unduly obtrusive in this direction. Many discretionary powers are given to them under other measures, and so far as we can gather their abuse is very small indeed. I am all for sobriety, and I am pleased that this formula has been found to bring this about without the unlimited powers first envisaged.

Before I turn away from Part I of the Bill and the first six clauses, I notice that Clause 6(2) defines the persons who will have powers of arrest. I should like to ask my noble friend a question on this, and I am sorry I have not been able to give him private notice of it. The subsection reads: the power of arrest conferred on a constable by Section 6(4) of the principal Act (arrest of persons driving or being in charge when their ability to drive properly is impaired) shall also be exercisable by a member of the provost staff and shall be so exercisable outside as well as within Great Britain. Will this power also extend to the railway police? I think this is a rather interesting point, because the railway police not only look after the track; they are involved in many other sections, looking after transport interests. It is as well to get this matter cleared up, although it might be a Committee point. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to give me an answer on it when he replies.

Much has been said about Part I, but apart from what was said by the noble Lord who preceded me, little discussion has taken place on Part II of the Bill. I look upon Part II as being a very important section of the Bill indeed. First, the provisions of Part II are to be imposed by way of regulations by the Minister of Transport. I wonder whether it would be possible for my noble friend to give some indication—a little more indication than I gather was able to be given by my noble friend Lord Shepherd in opening—as regards the dates on which it is proposed that these regulations will be introduced. I realise that full consultation will have to continue to take place with all the various road haulage and other interests in connection with the important provisions embraced in Part II. Some of these discussions have already been taking place.

Here, I should like to pay a tribute both to the R.A.C. and to the A.A., and to the many road haulage associations, for the spirit of good will in which they have approached this particular subject. In the interests of their particular service, they have tried to establish—and I feel it is right that it should be established—a code of good conduct for their drivers as well as for the private motorists; and I should like to pay a tribute to this development. I think it would be in the interests of some of the road haulage associations in particular if, in respect of some of the regulations under Part II, the Minister could be a little more definite about the dates on which they are to be imposed.

These associations are keen to deal with the unscrupulous driver, and they are keen, as I have indicated, to establish a reasonable standard of conduct, because they realise that it is in their best interests. But while, officially, they will be able to give this backing, we know that they will have tremendous difficulties with many of their smaller members. Their smaller members will kick against this; that is to say, as they were called by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, I think it was, the sand and gravel type of people. We all know them—and not only that type. We all know many more types who are living near to the bone, who have not an adequate maintenance staff and who will not take very kindly to axle weights or to the plating that is involved, and so on. It will therefore probably be in the best interests if the Minister could give a date as quickly as possible for these respective regulations.

May I put one or two more questions to my noble friend? I know that various trade associations feel very keenly, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that the steep increase in the maximum fine, up to £200, is somewhat stiff. The question has arisen whether it could be "hedged in" a little to give certain safeguards, and whether the Minister will give some indication on that. I hope the Minister will not budge on this matter. I welcome this steep increase up to £200, because I have the utmost confidence in our petty sessional divisions and in our magisterial benches. Having served for a considerable number of years as a magistrate, I know that when the police bring a case before a bench the magistrates normally do not impose the maximum fine unless the case is a very serious one. The question of imposing the maximum fine arises only when the person appearing before them has a rather bad history. If there were any question of the Minister trying to "hedge in", as there might be in certain circumstances, I think it would undermine this position considerably, and would not be in the best interests of our present method of justice.

I very much welcome the provision for the plating of the weight of vehicles. It is very interesting that it should have been so long before agreement was reached within the trade and there was a Government sufficiently courageous to introduce it. It is interesting that in the case of all railway wagons, the gross and the tare weight has to be shown on them. In the case of a system where there is a confined track, and where the trucks are under the care of skilled personnel the whole of the time, the maximum permitted weight has to be shown on the sides of the wagons so that the train may not be overloaded. Yet it is interesting that on our roads to-day we see the 30 cwt. vehicles, the 50 cwt. vehicles or the 5-ton vehicles, all running about ad lib with nothing like the same protection as there is for the railways. The only safeguard is a spot check, as it were, by a policeman if he sees a suspicious load coming along and makes inquiries. I think that requiring the weight to be plated on a vehicle, so that anyone can see what weight is applicable to that particular vehicle, is a step in the right direction.

I wonder if my noble friend can tell me, when he replies, whether it is also proposed, to have, in addition to the weight of the vehicle, the permitted axle weights indicated on these plates. I know that this is a very debatable point (the noble Lord, Lord Teynham referred to it), and I know it can be argued that a loader, not necessarily the driver of the vehicle, is in some difficulty about correct axle weights. Even so, I think this is a very important point, because those of us who have had any experience of driving any of these trucks know that bad adjustment of the load has a considerable bearing upon whether the vehicle can be controlled safely. Therefore, while I would sympathise (if I may say so again) with the "sand and gravel merchants", who may be in some difficulty in this connection, I believe that, in the interests of what we are trying to do, axle weights should be included. We are trying to reduce the accident figures, which are nearly 400,000 casualties per year, including something like 8,000 persons killed. Despite the difficulties involved, I think this can be only a step in the right direction. Despite the difficulties involved in this I think it is well worth making an effort to do it.

Public weighbridges are of course envisaged; and the kingpin of the success, or otherwise, of the plating of these vehicles is that there is an adequate number of them. I think it is well known that the Minister is running into some difficulty in finding sufficient sites and getting sufficient weighbridges. Naturally, the provision of these weighbridges will depend upon when the Minister is going to introduce her regulations so far as this matter is concerned.

I would add a plea to that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. It is this. Most of the large-scale operators are interested in keeping their large fleets of vehicles in good condition. Normally, these are not the people who infringe the regulations and become a danger on the roads. Is the Minister considering discussions with these people to persuade them to establish their own testing stations? I think that some of them already have their own testing equipment, and I am sure this would include weighing apparatus. They would thus be able to test and weigh all their vehicles on the spot, using their own resources. This would obviate the useless, empty running to an official weighbridge that is otherwise involved. And when the actual testing takes place, could not the Minister's inspector or representative be allowed to attend, charging an economic fee for his services? That might be a possibility. Moreover, probably some of the big operators may be prepared to allow their testing apparatus to be used by the smaller operators in those parts of the country where there is an inadequacy of weighbridge facilities. Those of us who have visited the Continent from time to time will have seen this type of private testing station in use. I feel sure that if this principle can be adopted it will assist in bringing the additional safety that we envisage in this Bill. British Road Services, Unilever and I.C.I. are among the big operators who may be willing to "play ball" in this particular direction.

My Lords, there is yet another interesting point in this connection. I wonder if the Minister could inform us whether D.S.I.R. or the Road Research Laboratory have themselves been conducting any research on a more economic and smaller weigh-in apparatus. I think there are two private firms who have been making certain developments in this direction. But I wonder whether D.S.I.R. or the Road Research Laboratory are doing anything at all. I think it might be a very useful project for them to investigate. It is something about which perhaps the Minister may be able to make some noises—probably not aloud at the present moment—and give some indication in this type of research what degree of accuracy he would be prepared to accept in laying down the regulations. We know that we shall get the regulations laid down I think very few instances will occur of the police making any charges if there is a slight variation of loading regulations or of any other minor breach. The usual conduct of the police in the past is not such that would lead us to think that they will be any more vicious in this respect. The development of a small economic weighing device (of which I understand there is a possibility) with guidance from the Minister as to the degree of accuracy acceptable would be worth considering.

Probably I am speaking for too long. I regret that there is nothing in the Bill which really deals with the noise question. It can be argued that probably noise has little to do with road safety; but I think the noise element has a tremendous bearing on conditions of life in this motor car age. Those of us who have had the privilege of investigating London Transport Depots have seen the efforts being made there with a view to reducing noise on the buses and the research taking place by analysing the oils to prevent emission of obnoxious fumes from exhaust pipes. I think this is a step in the right direction. Although this is not in the Bill, I make no apology for mentioning it to the Minister in order that he may convey to his right honourable friend that we in this House are as alive to the situation as are many people in the nation.

In conclusion, may I put forward another of my pet themes? I make no apology at all for constantly pressing it. If there is a fatal railway accident, a Ministry of Transport inquiry is established. Tradesmen are represented and all the safeguards are incorporated. Over 8,000 people can be killed on the roads, and yet there is no question of investigating whether there might be any contributory factors, such as a bad road alignment or bad cambers—but everybody knows that these factors can be the cause of accidents. The only thing that happens is that the police come along and make a decision as to whether a person is guilty of dangerous driving or of driving without due car. But, as motorists know, very often the state of the road has to be taken into account, the road camber, visibility at corners, the narrowness of the road, and a wide variety of things. When a motorist is travelling mile after mile behind a vehicle on a narrow road he becomes impatient and tries to overtake at a dangerous point. Where there is a fatal accident I think there should be not only police court proceedings against drivers, but a ministerial inquiry to see whether there are any other contributory causes. I make no apology for pressing this point. I have pressed it for many years. I know I shall "get the bird" so far as the answer is concerned, but I think that the more it is pressed forward the more there will be the ultimate possibility of getting it. In conclusion, may I say that I thoroughly welcome this Bill.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, I think I should begin first by explaining that I have recently been paid the great compliment of being asked by the Institute of Advanced Motorists to express their view in this House. Of course this is a purely unofficial position; but I thought, on the advice of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, that it would be best to announce that fact so that your Lordships may know that when I speak on motoring matters I am voicing not only my own opinion, but theirs. I welcome this Bill so far as it goes. I do not feel that it goes anything like far enough. But anything that we can do to stop this evil of driving under the influence of drink is a move in the right direction.

There has been a good deal of talk about random tests. Some speakers have been very much for them, and some have been against. I was very impressed by the arguments advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill. I think he was quite right when he said that the innocent person would not in the least mind being pulled up to have a spot test. Those who have objected to spot checks, on the ground that they interfere with personal liberty, should remember that our police are not only a very fine force, but human, and they would not conduct tests where it would be offensive or unnecessary to do so.

Regarding the possibility of drivers standing in a queue in a car park outside a public-house at closing time, I am all in favour of that. I cannot see that any measure we could take to stop this eternal evil of driving under the influence of drink could be bad. As I say, the innocent person has nothing to fear. He will be delayed only for a minute, if he is pulled up. I remember the days, many years ago, when one was sometimes pulled up in order that one's driving licence could be checked. What did that matter? It meant that one was stopped for a few moments. The only person who minded was the person whose licence had run out. The only person who will mind about these checks is the person who has had a few drinks.

As to the proportion of alcohol, I feel that 80 mg. is too high a figure. It is all right if a person is an habitually heavy drinker, but we have to remember that heavy drinkers are in the minority, and the average drinker, or a person who drinks a small quantity is likely to feel it considerably. In view of that, I should like to quote from a letter sent by a magistrate to the editor of a monthly bulletin. I will quote only two paragraphs: The driver who shows manifest signs of intoxication is not in fact the chief danger. Such a driver usually draws attention to himself by his manner of driving and is soon arrested by the police. The real danger is the man who has drunk enough to make him overconfident. His judgment is clouded and his reactions are slowed down. He may be all right on an empty road but the slightest emergency finds him out and can involve him in an accident. Later on, the same writer says: Turning to your objection to drivers being stopped by the police for spot checks, I cannot see how a new law could be enforced without doing something of this kind. I think that spot checks are the fairest way of doing it. It may be an infringement of liberty, but we have to balance loss of liberty against the suppression of a social evil. The evil of accidents caused by unwise drinking is so serious that some loss of liberty must he tolerated. My Lords, that is a magistrate's opinion, and I am in wholehearted agreement with it.

Nevertheless, I do not think that drink is a main cause of accidents, and this has been shown in one or two speeches made to-day; in particular, in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who quoted some figures which proved the point. I believe that the chief cause of accidents to-day is not so much drink, as carelessness, selfishness and the sort of "couldn't care less" attitude of those people who are concerned only with their own interests. They do not care what happens to anybody else. They always start off with the feeling that, "It couldn't happen to me." That is the trouble, particularly, I may say, among young people, who are brought up with no sense of responsibility towards others and have no consideration. To show consideration for others is, I know, of course, considered unfashionable nowadays in the education of the young. Some of the driving that I have seen, by young drivers in small open sports cars, is beyond description. But one cannot get away from the fact that drink is a real factor in road accidents, and therefore I welcome the provisions in this Bill.

The Bill includes a whole lot of hypothetical powers of enforcing regulations, but it says nothing about what the regulations are going to be. May I make a few suggestions about those. I think it should be compulsory for every commercial vehicle to have two rear lights, in the same way as ordinary passenger vehicles do; and there should be a mimimum candle power for those lights. The vehicles should also he fitted with amber flashing trafficators, front and rear. Incidentally, I do not think that these lights should necessarily be on the top of the vehicle, as was mentioned by one noble Lord, but rather should be placed at eye-level, which is where they can be noticed. Perhaps there could be other lights on the tops of some very large vehicles. That might not be a bad plan.


Have both!


Yes, my Lords. Another evil which I notice very often is a large amount of flapping canvas on goods vehicles which may obscure the lights and trafficators, and very often makes it impossible even to see any hand signals that may be made by the driver. I think that sort of thing should be eliminated by some regulation. Another point is that headlights on goods vehicles are often placed a good deal higher than those of passenger vehicles, and therefore are more apt to dazzle. I can remember that often when I was driving, I was dazzled by the lights of goods vehicles which passed me. I suppose they may have been dipped, but these lights were absolutely blinding because they were several feet higher from the ground than the lights of a passenger car.

One noble Lord (I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd) said that goods vehicles are becoming larger and faster every year. Sometimes when I see an enormous eight-wheeler vehicle rushing down a road I wonder how it could be stopped if someone suddenly crossed the road in front of it without looking. If we are to have annual vehicle tests, I think that one test should be the distance in which a vehicle, travelling at a given speed, can pull up. Every large vehicle should be fitted with a dual braking system so that if one system failed the other would be available. But a dual braking system would be of no use unless there was something on the dashboard to indicate whether the systems were working, because it is possible for one of the two systems to fail, and even to have failed for months, without the driver knowing it. Therefore there must be some indication on the dashboard for each system. I think that the suggestion of one noble Lord that special licences should be required for driving heavy vehicles is an excellent one. I should not like to try to drive one of these colossal vehicles, in spite of all the ordinary motoring experience I have had.

Finally, I would put in a plea for a consolidation of the law regarding motoring and the roads. I believe that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would approve of this, since he has done so much to consolidate our law in many fields. From time to time, we have these piecemeal bits of legislation, but none of them goes very far, and many motorists are in the dark as to what the law is. As we get one of these Bills every six months or so, it is difficult to keep up to date. Therefore I think that we should have a complete consolidation of the law or put everything into, at most, two Acts.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, my remarks will be mainly concerned with Part II of the Bill. All I have to say on Part I is that, though much has been said about the threat to the liberty of the individual which would be involved if random breath tests or blood tests were to he carried out on motorists, I see little or no difference in principle between the random checking of lorries overloaded with merchandise, which is proposed under Part II, and to which nobody has objected, and the random checking of drivers overloaded with drink, which has been so much opposed.

I should have thought that the principle of spot checks on drivers and vehicles has been well established over many years. I have several times been stopped to have my car licence or my driving licence and insurance checked, and I think that is a perfectly reasonable thing to have to do. I know of lives lost and bodies disfigured, which might not have been if the drivers had thought that they might he stopped for an alcohol test. I have no objection to people killing themselves if they want to, but I do object to their driving around in a condition which is a danger to others and to myself. I consider that that is a threat to my personal liberty. In regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said about maintaining good relations between the public and the police, I would find myself on very good terms with any policeman who checks for drunken drivers. I do not see why such checks should create bad feeling between the police and the public.

Part II, as I understand it, is mainly concerned with enabling the Minister better to put into effect the regulations made under Section 64 of the 1960 Act, plus a new philosophy with regard to overloading of vehicles, which is to be found in the Government's 1965 White Paper, which says: Many lorries at present carry heavier loads than they were designed to do. Overloading has two results. First, it can put undue strain on the vehicle. Second, it reduces the efficiency of the vehicle's brakes, and its power to weight ratio. If the power to weight ratio is reduced the vehicle will climb hills more slowly and obstruct other traffic. What is needed is a new system to fix a maximum safe weight for each individual vehicle, or type of vehicle. To say that a lorry is overloaded is not, under present regulations, to say that it is underpowered. The frame of a lorry may be strong enough to take the load, but the engine may not be man enough to pull it up an ordinary main road hill at a reasonable pace. I know that very well, because I have a lorry which is very strongly built but which, when loaded with the recommended three tons, has such a pathetic performance that uphill it becomes a scarcely moving obstacle to every vehicle behind. Yet at the moment it is quite legal to take it out on the road like that. As my noble friend Lord Shepherd said, there are no regulations stipulating a minimum power of engine for the load carried. I think I am right in saying that it would be legal if I were to remove the engine altogether and get a couple of men to pedal it along.

I am very grateful, therefore, to my noble friend Lord Shepherd for his Written Reply to me on the 1st of this month, which stated that the Government are drawing up a British Standards specification for diesel engines, and that under this Bill a minimum power-weight ratio for lorries is envisaged. But I implore the Government, in their consultations with manufacturers and others, to try to get agreement on a high enough power-weight ratio. The present figure which most hauliers work to is six or seven brake horsepower per ton. I think that this is grossly inadequate.

Last August I had a reply from my noble friend Lord Champion which stated that the Government thought that 15 b.h.p. per ton, which was what I suggested, was too high; but I am not persuaded that it is. Perhaps a lower figure will have to be settled on to start with, because 15 b.h.p. per ton, I know, means big engines. It means 360 h.p. for a 24-ton gross weight, whereas about 150 to 180 b.h.p. is usual at the moment. It means bigger first cost, too, for everything else has to be strengthened to match the engine.

But big and powerful slow-revving engines will not only draw our commercial traffic along at an unobstructive pace, they will give other benefits to the public—a decrease in smoke and in noise. For the haulier, they will mean longer intervals between overhauls and quicker movement of goods. And I guess that the manufacturers will be pleased, too, because they will no longer be encouraged to make engines and chassis which are not man enough for the jobs they are used for. Speaking of smoke and noise, I do not think that a licence to run a vehicle should also be a licence to inflict pain, hardship, and sometimes misery, on others with such a monstrous racketing and belching as goes on now. It seems to me that the Government ought to take a look at the super-charged two-stroke diesel engine. This is a splendidly light and compact engine, but it is also the noisiest and smokiest of them all, and sounds like a mobile battery of pneumatic drills.

As well as the help which bigger engines, better design and better maintenance will contribute towards curing these nuisances, I suggest that there would be further alleviation by requiring the exhaust of lorries to be discharged vertically behind the cab instead of horizontally into the road. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Winter-bottom could tell me, among the many points to which he has to reply, how simple a matter this would be to do in practice and what might be against making a regulation requiring it. Although we might be able, with research, bigger engines and so forth, to get rid of the smoke, we still have the fumes in our faces, which is not healthy.

Finally, agreeing, as I do, with most of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, I think that Part I of the Bill is far from perfect, and probably will not be effective enough, unless we follow what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out happens in Norway, where apparently the public misunderstand the provisions contained in their legislation, which is very similar to ours. I should whole-heartedly support an Amendment to bring in random tests. Part II of the Bill contains excellent and overdue legislation to make our lorries more efficient carriers of goods, and less of a danger to the public: I wish it well.

7.51 p.m.


My Lords, I feel rather a lonely figure standing here with only the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald; we seem to have a minority on these Benches. I also feel as if I have been robbed of almost everything. I do not mean that literally, of course, but being the fifteenth speaker in a list of eighteen, with all the eloquent speeches that have already been made, I feel that there is little left for me to rake up. However, it seems to me that road safety is rapidly becoming a top priority concern for all of us in this country. I therefore welcome this Bill, so far as it goes. I do not agree with everything that has been said this afternoon, but so much has been said that is not dealt with in the Bill that it gives plenty of scope for opposition in certain directions. However, I will not go into that, because it is probably a subject for a much larger debate.

When I think of the appalling annual total of dead and injured on our roads to-day, anything done, no matter how small, to improve this situation is, I feel, a pointer in the right direction. There is a school of thought that is of the opinion that in the majority of accidents one or both of the drivers concerned has had too much to drink. As a magistrate, this has not been my personal experience. It seems—and this has been suggested by more than one of your Lordships—that all this blew up last Christmas, and the assumption was made that all the accidents were due to drunken drivers. I think it would be helpful if statistics could now he published showing accidents attributable to drunken drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Then the public could form their own conclusions. I rather believe from what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said in his opening speech that this will be done; and I think the public will be grateful for it.

I am pleased to see that the Minister of Transport has changed her mind on the proposal to introduce random checks. In this decision, Mrs. Castle has given way to public opinion, which is sometimes a sensible thing for any Minister to do. For the police to stop motorists at random for no apparent cause, or to hold up a line of motor cars on a busy prin- cipal road at a week-end for breath tests, would only antagonise the innocent motorist and would certainly not improve friendly relations between the police and the motorists. And this, in my opinion, is most important. The idea of police setting up traps just around the corner from a pub and waiting to pounce is most unsociable, and I hope I am right in thinking that the police are not receiving instructions to do this. Provided the police powers in this respect are limited to stopping vehicles involved in accidents, or a motor car being driven in a manner likely to cause an accident, and they suspect drink, our well-trained police force, such as we have, is perfectly capable of accurate judgment, and nobody should have any objection.

However, my Lords, I am most concerned with what is left out of the Bill, rather than with the legislation in it. My noble friend Lord Chesham referred to this particular matter, and I should like to endorse entirely the remarks he made when he said (I put it as I think he intended): "Why are these tests limited to motorists?" Surely pedestrians and cyclists are just as capable of having too much to drink, and many accidents and near misses are caused through their irresponsible behaviour on the roads. I think this is most important. And certainly I would suggest far stiffer penalties for all road users found drunk. In this context—I have said this many times, and have written articles about it—we should aim at having more police motor patrols and motor cycle patrols, because their presence is a great deterrent to the aggressive driver, and also I think to a drunken driver.

Now we shall have to see what effect the Bill has in operation. But while we have probably more vehicles per mile of road than any other country in Europe, accidents will continue. The human element cannot always be relied upon to do the right thing, at the right time and in the right place on our heavily congested roads. We have to learn to live with the motor car and all that it entails. But we can improve our standard of driving and sharpen our reactions by taking stiffer driving tests; and all beginners should be taught to drive by a qualified registered driving instructor. I do not believe that nearly enough attention has been paid to this by the Minister of Transport.

It is indeed a sad thought that really no amount of road safety training, by film and education, will ever prevent some children from breaking all the rules and rushing blindly on to the highway, or the pedestrian from crossing the road without looking, or the motorist from the occasional lack of the concentration necessary to drive a motor car skilfully. Not so very long ago, I was driving along a street in London when a child ran from the pavement on my offside into the road. I stopped my motor car, but a small car coming in the opposite direction hit this child and flung her into the air like a rag doll. She fell on the road, and was run over by this car. The car continued past me without stopping. This, I am afraid, is an incident that happens all too frequently. There was no question of drink involved, and the car was going very slowly.

I think we must face the fact that there is, frankly, little that we can do but to press on with road safety training in schools, and other road safety measures. In this respect, I would commend the work of the motoring organisations, the work of ROSPA and county road safety committees, whose work lies mostly in the field of publicity and propaganda. As a member of the R.A.C. Committee, a member of ROSPA and chairman of one of our county road safety committees, I have a particular interest in this matter. I noticed with pleasure that one or two noble Lords suggested that it was important to see that youngsters of school age receive training in road safety. In the particular county from which I come, we pay particular attention to this aspect, and the police regularly visit schools to give training in road safety—and they do it extraordinarily well. It seems to me that the organisations I have just mentioned receive little praise, and much undeserved criticism, for the really great national services that they are performing.

It would, I feel, be outside the terms of reference in this Bill to refer to speed and speed limits. I am sorry that the subject has not been referred to. I would only say, in general terms, that the average British motorist is no fool, and is willing to co-operate in road safety rules provided that he or she is not chivvied about by stupid regulations. This holds any Minister up to ridicule, and eventually leads to frustration and anger, and finally to a refusal to co-operate.

While supporting the measures in this Bill, introduced into your Lordships' House for Second Reading this afternoon, I feel that they do not go far enough. So I am hoping that at some future date the Minister will present us with another Bill, covering a wider field of road safety measures, on which we can work.

8.0 p.m.


My Lords, in rising at this hour, in even greater loneliness than the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, I think the least I can do is to say that I shall be brief. All I wish to do is to draw your Lordships' attention to one particular aspect of road safety which does not seem to me to have been adequately covered in Part II of this Bill, and which I have not heard mentioned here this evening. This concerns the overall size of goods vehicles—the length, the height and the width.

It is my belief that these dimensions are of considerable importance in road safety matters, and that the powers of the Minister in this respect, which are held under Clause 64(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1960, might have been given some prominence through a specific reference in Clause 8 of the present Road Safety Bill. I find it a little surprising that the emphasis in this and subsequent clauses seems to be mainly directed to the weight of the vehicle, whether laden or unladen. I cannot find any particular reference to overall dimensions in any part of the Bill, or indeed in the Government White Paper. Cmnd. 2859, published in December 1965, on which presumably this Bill is based.

I think that most of us who are drivers have experienced frequently the difficulties of passing and overtaking these gigantic juggernauts which hurtle along our narrow roads at high speeds. They are driven by their driver-operators mostly with consummate skill (occasionally otherwise), but they are, by sheer virtue of their size and bulk, a considerable problem to all lesser vehicles; and I really believe that certain types of articulated lorries have reached, and overreached, the limits of length that should be tolerated by our community.

Again, there are certain types of vans, with which your Lordships are undoubtedly familiar, which are now so tall and so wide as to present very dangerous problems of overtaking on winding roads, through total obstruction of vision to the driver of the car behind, and there is something approaching a risk of annihilation when met at speed on some of our narrower 'A' roads, let alone the country lanes where an oncoming motorists may well be presented with the choice of eternity or a quick dive into the hedge or ditch to avoid collision. I believe that frustration, and even anger, are not infrequently aroused in motorists when trying to pass these pantechnicons after many miles, and may be a considerable factor leading to some ill-judged manipulation which may precipitate an accident.

There is another facet to all this, certainly of no less importance, and that is the impact of these over-size vehicles on our townships and the harried pedestrian population. Every day we see giant lorries trying to negotiate narrow streets and sharp corners, at great risk to everyone nearby. Near where I live, for example, on one of our main arterial highways there is a right-angle bend at a road junction in a market town, round which these articulated lorries pass only with the utmost difficulty, and at risk to nearby traffic. These cases are multiplied a thousandfold throughout the country. Yet again, to the pedestrian on the sidewalks, the passage of these modern leviathans at any speed is a considerable danger factor. The volume and weight that hurtles by creates a suction draught that can be quite capable of unbalancing anyone in close proximity, and the air blast can be thoroughly unnerving, particularly to the young and the old.

I have said enough on this subject, which is so well appreciated by your Lordships, but I speak on this in the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, may be able to give some indication in his reply to the debate later on as to whether Her Majesty's Government recognise, or have considered, the implications of the growing size, as distinct from weight, of the goods vehicles on our roads, and their relationship to road safety, and whether it would not be a step in the right direction to lay down maximum dimensions, or to reduce the present dimensions; and whether the Minister's powers to do this could not be incorporated by reference in Clause 8 of Part II of the Bill, so that such future limitations could be marked on each lorry in the same way as the figures for laden weight. I feel embarrassed at asking the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, to incorporate one more point in his reply, but I believe he has had some advance notice of this question.

Finally, my Lords, I am in general agreement with the provisions of this Bill. We are all of us involved in road safety—as individuals, as citizens and, especially, as parents. It is up to all of us to do everything possible to reduce the appalling wastage of life and all the road tragedies which daily are sapping the vitality of the nation. Our traffic police need all the public, as well as the legal, support that we can give them; and the personal freedom of action to drive as we like, which most of us feel we probably ought to have, must, I think, be clearly subordinated to the urgent needs of to-day and the circumstances of our heavily-populated Island, and the present inadequate road facilities.

8.7 p.m.


My Lords, this debate—a fairly long debate which l shall extend only by a few minutes—was opened in great detail, and with distinction, by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to whom we are grateful; and for once I do not think that I shall draw a single snort from him in the course of what I have to say—although it may be that later we shall have a short "snorter" together, after which we shall no doubt drive off in different directions, to the danger of nobody.

It is clear that in this Bill the Government are doing their best, as they see it, and to a large extent as we all see it, to make a reduction in two main categories of accident. It is the plain business of the opposition to help in this endeavour, as has been done to-day in this House and in accordance with the hope expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his opening. Criticism has been concentrated at every point on trying to improve the Bill as it comes to us, about which the noble Lord also expressed a hope. We on these Benches have done—and will continue to do—our best to make this Bill a fine instrument, rather than a blunt instrument. I am not being perjorative about this. We want to make it even finer than it is.

The interest of motorists, more than of anyone else, is vitally served by reducing road accidents to a minimum, but this reduction must be effected through sanctions upon those who are blameworthy and not upon those who are innocent. It has seemed to some of us that some of these provisions could result in interference with the citizen and with his just occasions. One consequence of this, as has been said a number of times to-day, would be to create irritation with the law and with the police officers who have to implement that law. I concede that to a large extent this danger will counterbalance itself, because the police are well aware of the need to persuade the public that their actions are reasonable, and I am sure that they will be careful not to act in such a way as to prejudice their public relations.

Even taking this into account, however, I can foresee instances where such possible action is written into the new obligations of the police, and I can foresee other instances where individual policemen may interpret the new law in such a way as to cause resentment. Every case of such resentment creates a hostility which may impose a disadvantage on the police as a whole. What disturbs some of us is the interpretation of what are reasonable grounds for supposing that an offence under the law-to-be has been committed—the interpretation and to some extent the means of ascertaining guilt.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, by way of reassurance, used a phrase which I hope will now pass into the technical vernacular of the land, "more scientific than a sniff", and I do not doubt that he is right. But he also said something rather more ominous. He referred to the fact that the driver who has been drinking cannot be confident he will not be tested on one account or another; he did not say "drinking too much". I am quoting him, not exactly but I think fairly. I think we have to wonder and ask what might be the pretext for a test if the driver has not been involved in any driving accident whatever, in either blameworthy or innocent capacity.


My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord. Sup- posing a police constable was to see a person enter a car and he may have reason to believe that he had been drinking, and perhaps drinking in excess. Now he will have the power to require the initial screening, and from that screening to take him to the police station for the final test. I think we should give the police this discretion, and I believe—and I hope the noble Lord will share this view with me—that the police will use their discretion well and will not abuse what clearly could be abused in this Bill.


My Lords, I am not at issue at all with the noble Lord on that point and he has cited the sort of instance which I am perfectly sure will be conducted in that way. But other things are not so clear to us. I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, says, that a great deal of it must be left to the police.

It has not emerged at all clearly, at least so far as I have seen or heard, whether and in what circumstances policemen will make it their business to stand outside a public house or dance hall or any place where natural joie de vivre has been assisted to some extent by alcohol. It seems to me that this form of lurking would inevitably cause resentment, and not only among those who had been drinking too much. On the other hand, it does not, I admit, make very much sense for a policeman to wait deliberately till an inebriated driver is already at the wheel of his car and driving off, and here I follow the noble Lord's argument.

However, there is a further intrusive factor here. Is it the case, can the Minister winding up tell us, that no test is reliable if it is taken within 15 minutes of the actual consumption? If that is so, this creates a difficulty. The police will be obliged, it seems to me, to wait till the suspect has emerged from his revelry, walked to his or her car, and set off in a new direction pursued by the police, who will then have to stop the driver, or else to hold the person for a statutory quarter of an hour during which the alcohol can be officially taken to be registering. I should think the police would dislike this requirement as much as the individual detained, and undoubtedly the police are going to require standards of tact and judgment even greater than they have needed before. I am not suggesting that they will fall short of this requirement, but it will impose even greater standards of tact than they have shown before.

In case I appear up to this point grudging and negative towards these proposals, let me say that, in common with all other noble Lords who have spoken, I see notable advantages over the old rudimentary tests of ability to walk down a straight line or speak clearly without slurring the speech, or of a glazed appearance in the eyes. I might almost have to declare an interest here, since due to various traumatic damages, sustained mostly in various wars, it is many years since I have been able to walk down a straight line, though of course at all times impeccably sober. Also a good many people slur their speech from morn till night, and it can even be an attractive characteristic, but it does not denote drunkenness. It could be said of noble Lords opposite that their eyes are permanently glazed in the fog to the realities of the political scene. Nobody has suggested this should be made an offence under the law, and that they should be prosecuted in court, even though—who can doubt it?—great mischief ensues from this pathological condition. It is also a great disadvantage only to be able to look left even when factors and events of interest and significance are to be observed on the right. Even so, I feel it is too much to expect, despite the merits which the noble Lord has described and with most of which I agree, the new system to be as precise and equitable as Ministers no doubt intend.

From a little superficial research, I have learned that the average body contains 15 litres of blood and the normal blood content of the human being is 15 to 17 per cent. of the body weight. I have also discovered that the heaviest man ever recorded was Robert Hughes, an American, who at the age of 27 weighed 67½ stone, and at his heaviest weighed 76 stone 5 lb. At the opposite end of the scale, the lightest man, of normal height, that is leaving midgets aside, was Claud Ambois Seurat, a Frenchman, 5 ft. 8½ in. tall, who weighed only 5 stone 8 lb. One of these men, in other words, weighed 15 times as much as the other. Would it be said, consonant with this Bill, that one could legally drive having taken 15 times more alcohol than the other? If the argument is that capability at the wheel is in direct ratio not to the quantity of alcohol imbibed but its relativity to the blood, this must be so. And this is not an underhand way of trying to force noble Lords to give quantities of drink which are safe. I quite agree it is an unreasonable thing to ask and would serve no particular purpose.

On the face of it, from the figures that I have given, it places women in a rather more vulnerable category than men. I am somewhat surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, who a year or two ago regarded motor cars as an extension of man's ego and therefore to be deplored, has not risen in indignation from the opposite Benches to-day. It would seem, again from my figures, that Mr. Hughes, were he still alive, could knock back considerable quantities of his native Bourbon with relative impunity while poor Claud Ambois, who I believe is still alive, will have to be very careful about taking the wheel in Bishop's Stortford after sipping even the smallest port and lemon, supposing his French palate did not revolt against such a repellant concoction. These are consciously extreme cases, but if we take one man, not 15, but five times heavier than another man or woman, my question has I think a significant bearing.

Therefore, in regard to Part I of the Bill, although I can welcome it, I am somewhat sceptical, not of the intentions it reflects but of the results which it will obtain. It only seeks to solve one of the numerous causes of inexcusable road accidents, as indeed my noble friend Lord Chesham and others have said. It does not deal, for instance, with the taking of drugs. I appreciate this as another matter, and it is difficult to trace drugs, but this is becoming as important—perhaps, thank heavens, not such a widespread danger, but becoming a significant danger, and I think one day this will also have to be faced by this sort of legislation.

It leaves the cyclist and the pedestrian untouched, and without any statutory blame for his condition, or at least for the quantity of alcohol in his blood. I can see that it is difficult to apply such procedures to pedestrians, and I am not going to suggest that the duties of the police should be yet further stretched to the testing of pedestrians. But when motorists who can hold their liquor are involved with pedestrians or cyclists who cannot, there will be room for a great deal of ill-feeling and for some injustice. This is yet another knotty problem—indeed, one might say, a knotty certainty—in which the police will have to be pretty careful if these measures are to be made acceptable to the motoring public.

I cannot agree with the puritanical attitude that nobody who has had a drink at all can be trusted to drive a car. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, objected in advance to this reference to puritanism, and certainly I have always thought of him most affectionately as an epicurean, though not as a hedonist. There has been a kind of innuendo in ministerial speeches in another place that this would have been the Government's criterion if they had thought the country would stand for it. We know that for the same reason they gave up the random test, quite reluctantly; indeed, we have seen powerful support—overwhelming support, I might say—from the Benches opposite for bringing the random test back into the Bill from which it was excluded. I hope that we shall resist any such proposal—and I should say that my noble friend and neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, on that side of the House was a notable and encouraging exception to this view.

I shall refer briefly, in a matter of minutes, to the remaining parts of the Bill, since even the element of disagreement between us on Part I is absent. There is probably a lower proportion of bad driving among lorry drivers than among private motorists, but it tends to be more noticeable. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, has just said, heavy lorries are harder to control, and it is of the essence that they should be designed and maintained with a view to maximum control and safety. I congratulate the Government wholeheartedly on their efforts in this direction.

I am able to speak even more briefly than I had intended, because I need not advance the argument that I had in hand concerning another consequence of the Bill, relating to vicarious liability. This is the principle under which, within the court's discretion, the owner of a vehicle is as liable as the driver who commits an offence, to the extent of having his own licence endorsed; and after three such endorsements, possibly due to the offences of three separate employees, an owner automatically loses his licence. This is fairly rough justice, even when arising from existing driving offences; but when it is extended to take in the provisions of this Bill it means that the owner of a transport concern would have to watch almost constantly the drinking habits of all his employees, before and during their journeys, on pain of his own automatic disqualification after one offence by one driver.

As I say, I should have argued this point at greater length, but I understand that that is now unnecessary since in a Private Member's Bill in another place this morning, the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, the Minister has successfully moved Amendments which take care of this anomaly. I therefore ask whether the Minister can confirm and clarify this, because it is pertinent to this Bill and of considerable importance. In the meantime, believing that he will confirm it, I stand by to congratulate the Government upon moving these Amendments—an exhilarating, not to say dangerously intoxicating, experience.

8.25 p.m.


My Lords, as the motor vehicle dominates our lives to an ever-increasing degree, we are forced to take steps to protect ourselves from it and from its misuse. I would agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in his opening remarks, when he said that our society has not yet adapted itself to living with this new hazard. It is a new factor and we must learn how to live with it.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, who pointed out that a great deal of our legislation would be unnecessary if our population consisted entirely of sensible and responsible human beings, or, to a lesser degree, if those regulations that we have were properly enforced. But we do not, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, live in Utopia, and we must deal with people and things as they are. The lunatic fringe of our society has been given a lethal weapon, and we must do what we can to lessen the casualties caused by it. This is the purpose of the Bill, to strengthen the law relating to drinking drivers and to increase the safety of goods vehicles.

It is a great encouragement to the Government that the Bill has received such a general welcome to-day. But before replying to the points made in this valuable debate, or to as many of them as I can fit into a reasonable time, may I first put to your Lordships my own attitude to the first Part of the Bill, so that I may hang a few points on it. I believe that it is important, not so much because of what it may achieve in the way of deterrents by increased convictions for what in fact is a new offence—in point of fact this of itself may increase the friction between police forces and the public at large with negative results—but for what it may do to change the social attitudes and habits of society as a whole, in order, as Lord Nugent of Guildford has said, to help us to adapt ourselves to a new factor in our social environment.

It is this business of educating society that I think is one of the most important factors which we are considering. As the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, said to many people the word "alcohol" is clouded with moral overtones of disapproval. On the contrary, I would say that many of us would find the world a less tolerable place without it. I think Housman has said the last word on this: Malt does more than Milton can, To justify God's ways to man. To me God's ways and the ways of the world demand a reasonable consumption of whisky; and the pleasures of good company are enhanced by its proper use as the exertions and the tensions of the day are dissolved by it.

This point has been made admirably by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, by my noble friend Lord Popplewell, and one or two other speakers. We are dealing with deep-rooted, social habits, and what we must do if we are to be successful in our aim is not to so change the social habits too rapidly so that friction develops between the average man and his protector, the police force. It is for this reason that I welcome the fact that the somewhat Puritan approach to the problems of drink and driving have been tempered by the discussions that have taken place elsewhere.

I should have argued—this is contrary to the view of my noble friend Lord Royle—that the 80 mg. figure is set sufficiently high to enable one to drink at a party without causing a division in any pleasant social function between the drinkers and the drivers. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, this, I believe, is the case in countries where a very low alcohol level in the blood is laid down and where draconian legislation is introduced to enforce it. I understand that in certain countries parties have almost ceased to be parties, and are nothing more than a rather painful duty. Personally, I welcome, and I think the Government welcome—and I believe this view is shared by the majority of people to-day—the end of the idea of random tests, which must have caused irritation and thus would have been counter-productive. The present approach is to attempt to deal with the problem, which we all agree is great, With the maximum common sense and the greatest possible protection of the individual.

At this stage I shall attempt to answer the various points which have been made on this particular element of the debate, which I found most interesting, and which was introduced in a delightful speech by my noble friend Lord Stow Hill. The picture he painted of English society I found rather entrancing—a picture of reasonable family men pestered by unreasonable policemen before a mocking public. This was a picture of England on a sunny Sunday morning that I almost recognized, but not quite. The situation is roughly this. When this Government started to consider the problem the idea of random tests was the accepted approach; but this idea having been put forward in a Government White Paper, a series of discussions took place, not only in another place, but with various groupings such as the R.A.C., the A.A. and others.

On balance, the Government have decided that the type of testing which is laid down in the Bill is preferable to that of random tests. It is a matter of judgment, but the judgment has now gone away from random tests. I was much encouraged by the interesting speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in which he described how, having studied the Scandinavian scheme, he found that what he thought was achieved by random tests had in fact been achieved by tests similar to those proposed in the present Bill. It might be of interest to the House to know what the position in Norway was during Christmas, 1966. At Christmas of that year not a single life was lost. So it seems as if the acceptance by Norwegian society of this type of testing and this type of discipline has the effect we are hoping to achieve.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Elton, this question and apparently the Norwegians think that their test is a random one—or they are certainly under that impression.


In point of fact at a later moment in my speech I shall try to answer this point. I am trying to define what my noble friend Lord Shepherd said in his opening speech about the random element, because there is a random element in what we are hoping to do. I would not, however, agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, when he recommended more severe penalties at this stage. This again could cause conflict between society as a whole, between the average sensible man and the average policeman who has to enforce social discipline. This is what we want to avoid. We all know the phrase, "I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb". Immediate imprisonment, ruthless suppression of drink, the very rough handling of the individual which is permitted to certain police forces abroad must, I think, increase social irritation.

So although I have listened with respect to my noble friends Lord Stow Hill, Lord Royle and Lady Wootton of Abinger, I feel that the course we have suggested is the better one. I should like to emphasise that by carrying out this system, instead of semi-random tests, considerable economies of manpower will result. What it amounts to is that while the police are going about their normal duties, which include dealing with accidents or stopping motorists for other purposes, such as crime checks, they will have the oportunity of requiring breath tests to be taken. In this category they will be able to test any one when drink has been taken; they will not have to be diverted from their other duties. Nevertheless, no motorist who has taken drink can be certain that he will not be stopped and made to take a test. This will happen during the normal course of police duties, and it will be by chance that this test will be asked of him. This is what my noble friend meant when he said there was that random element in the system of testing which we are proposing.

May I deal with one or two points that struck me as of substantial importance? It has been rightly said that accidents caused by drink are only a minority, although the calculation has been made—and this is set out in the White Paper—that if we could achieve the result that we cut back the maximum amount of alcohol in everybody's blood to 80 mg. we should save a large number of those accidents, but more important, we should reduce the number of casualties from about 18,000 to 32,000. After all, an accident is extremely unpleasant, even if one survives it.


Did the noble Lord say that it would reduce the number of accidents from 18,000 to 32,000?


No. my Lords, by 18,000 to 32,000. This illustrates the parallel drawn by my noble friend Lord Shepherd in his opening speech. We accept this appalling number of casualties, which are of the size of a military operation, without question, whereas if those sort of casualties were happening in Indonesia at the time of confrontation, we know that the figures would be filling the headlines of our newspapers. Many of these accidents can be cut back by administrative actions such as those under Part II of the Bill, or by using existing powers to deal with other causes of accidents. Both the noble Lords, Lord Chesham and Lord Wedgwood, stressed the fact that accidents were caused by drunken walking and by drunken bicycling. This is entirely true, but of course there are powers. I believe under the 1960 Act, to take action against these individuals who can cause accidents although they themselves are not driving a motor car.


My Lords, I am not making an issue of this, but there are no breathalyser tests even if the people are very obviously drunk.


My Lords, the point I was making was that, although they cause accidents, nobody is inquiring into the extent.


My Lords, may I say that in fact research is going on at this moment to try to make a more accurate analysis of our accident statistics. This was a point made by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and clearly it is valid and of importance. We do not as yet know enough about this problem. We may know more, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said, if we are willing to spend money on it, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport will consider this point. After all, compared with the money which we are proposing to spend, another £500,000 on research would probably be well spent.

While we are talking about the question of individual responsibilities and penalties, other than those proposed in this Bill, may I say that my noble friend Lord Royle made a very important point in his speech. He was the only noble Lord who made the point, which cannot be over-emphasised: that this Bill does not, of course, affect existing legislation. All the legislation which has been introduced so far, to try to protect the public from reckless driving, from the drunken character in the Jaguar vomiting over the bonnet who was mentioned by one noble Lord, is still operative. It is not a defence to say, "My blood alcohol is below 80 mg." If a man is not in complete control of a motor car, even if his blood alcohol is 50 mg., it is still an offence, and I think that this is something which should not be forgotten.

To revert shortly to Part II, I hope that noble Lords who have spoken in the technical sense—and I thought there were extremely valuable contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and from my noble friends Lord Popplewell and Lord Raglan—will allow me to answer them later, since we still have work to do this evening, or during the Committee stage of this Bill, which I understand I may myself he taking in this House. I will at a suitable time try to answer all the technical points made by these speakers on Part II of the Bill.

Reverting now to Part I and the question of education, which I think is the other important aspect of the whole matter, we want to create a social atmosphere in which this new legislation is acceptable and, indeed, influences our behaviour. At the same time, we must be prepared to educate our population, and particularly our young people. This point has been made by two or three speakers, and I think it is of the first importance. There should be training at school for a society in which nearly every young person at school will one day or other possess a motor car; education in general, as to the intentions of the Bill; and also, finally, education as to the exact significance of how much alcohol the average individual can consume without finding himself in a situation when he has an undue quantity of alcohol in his blood.

This may be the most difficult element of all, and I think it is incapable of (shall I say?) drafting definition. But I nevertheless feel that it must be tried, and this may be part of the business of social re-education. I think each of us may have to find out for himself what his own capacity is. This may be made easier when these breath testing devices become easily available. I have been playing about with them for some time, and many other noble Lords may have done so. It will not be very difficult for most of us to find that, with our particular body weight, with our particular metabolic rate, we can take, say, three or four double whiskies and still have a due rather than an undue quantity of alcohol in our blood.


My Lords, would the noble Lord ban whisky and solve all the trouble?


No, my Lords. I said in an earlier part of my speech that without whisky I personally should not survive, and I consider that this is a therapeutic substance.

As I say, we have other business to perform this evening. We are grateful to noble Lords for their contribution which I think has covered nearly every aspect of the field. We have reached a very wide measure of agreement. What is most important of all is that what we are laying down is not final. If as a result of experience we find that 80 mg. is too high or too low, or that the penalties are too high or too low, or that the relationship between the police and the public deteriorates because of the way in which the Bill is operated, we shall have a chance to change it.

I would stress that, in so far as Part II is concerned, under Clause 27(6) no action will be taken to issue regulations without consultation and without the mechanism of the Negative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament; and that, Parliament will thus retain control over all regulations issued under this Part of the Bill. This may explain why it is rather difficult to give to noble Lords an exact date when the various regulations will come into force; no one can by down in advance exactly the timetable for negotiation. But we believe that in the years 1968 and 1969 we shall be able to start to operate the regulations, and by 1970 the whole system will be running on a regular, smooth basis. Her Majesty's Government are grateful for the support and advice they have received to-day—


My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is closing. Could he, I wonder, confirm, as I asked him to do, the fact that the problem of vicarious liability has been dealt with in another place this morning? I believe it has.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will excuse me, I am afraid that I have not had any notice of this question. I should like to give the noble Lord a precise answer when the time is ripe. Perhaps he would ask that question on the debate on the Road Traffic Bill, or put down a Question.

Once again, may I thank noble Lords for their constructive contributions? I know that what has been said will be borne in mind by all those authorities responsible for drafting and carrying out the regulations proposed in this Bill, and I hope to see the Bill improved even further during the Committee stage, when I know that we shall all have various points to make.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him something? I put to him three questions to which he has not referred. That is perhaps understandable in some ways. He talked of writing answers to those who have spoken on Part II of the Bill. May I take it that perhaps I shall hear something from him on the questions which I raised?


Most certainly, my Lords. I have a note of them, and I trust that I have not spoken too fast for Hansard. I will satisfy the noble Lord by letter.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.