Motion to Consider
My Lords, this order is makes four amendments to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 in consequence of the introduction of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which inserted a new Section 5A into the Road Traffic Act 1988.
Section 5A creates new drug-driving offences of driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified drug in the body above specified limits. The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014 were made on 24 October 2014. They specified the drugs and their limits, and will come into force in England and Wales on 2 March 2015. Although the new Section 5A applies to Scotland as well, it is for the Scottish Government to make regulations to specify the drugs and their limits. I understand that the Scottish Government are in the process of considering responses to a consultation and hope to publish an analysis report shortly. The views offered in the consultation will inform their decision on the drugs and their limits for the new drug-driving offence in Scotland. This order therefore applies to Great Britain where the amendments extend the penalties already available in relation to similar driving offences connected with drink-driving and drug-driving to the new drug-driving offences. It also provides for the endorsement of an offender’s driving licence counterpart and the driver’s record in relation to the new offences.
As noble Lords are aware, the review of drink and drug-driving law by Sir Peter North concluded that there is,
“a significant drug driving problem”,
and recommended the new offence. Drivers impaired by drugs kill large numbers of people, and there could be as many as 200 drug-driving-related deaths a year in Great Britain. Statistics show that a drug-driver has 1/50th of the chance of being prosecuted compared to a drink-driver. European evidence from the driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol and medicines project—DRUID—suggests that drug-driving is about half as prevalent as drink-driving. We estimate it to be around a third as prevalent in Great Britain, so enforcement related to drugs is disproportionately low. Ensuring we have the full range of penalties and the ability to record offenders fully to support the new offence will thus enable more effective law enforcement and act as a deterrent to those who recklessly risk killing and injuring on the road as a result of taking drugs and driving.
I turn to the detail of the order we are proposing. Section 45 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 provides for the period during which an endorsement remains effective on the counterpart of a driving licence following a conviction where endorsement of the offence has been ordered. This order amends the Act so an endorsement ordered upon a person’s conviction for the new offence remains effective until 11 years have elapsed since the conviction, in line with other drink-driving and drug-driving offences, rather than just four years as it currently stands.
When the relevant part of the Road Safety Act 2006 is brought into force, Section 45, which relates to the endorsement of counterparts, will be repealed and Section 45A, which relates to the endorsement of driving records, will be in force. The amendments made by the Road Safety Act 2006 are part of the legislative changes which abolish the paper driving licence counterpart so that all endorsements will need to be recorded electronically on a person’s driving record only. This order has therefore been drafted so that when these Road Safety Act changes commence, the amendments made by this order to Section 45A will enable the endorsement of a person’s driving record for the Section 5A offences of driving or attempting to drive with a specified drug in the body above specified limits to remain effective until 11 years have elapsed since the conviction.
The order also amends the Road Traffic Offenders Act to provide for the penalties applicable to the offences of failing to provide a specimen for analysis under Section 7 and failing to permit a specimen to be subjected to a laboratory test under Section 7A without reasonable excuse in the course of an investigation into whether a person has committed an offence under Section 5A.
Noble Lords may be wondering why the Government have tabled this order so close to the commencement of the new Section 5A offences on 2 March. It was originally hoped that the abolition of the paper driving licence counterpart would have been completed by the end of October 2014. Our intention was to wait for that legislation to be made and make the amendment to Section 45A—“Effect of endorsement of driving records”—which would come into force instead of amending a revoked Section 45. However, industry asked for more time to get ready for the abolition of the counterpart. To accommodate the needs of industry, and so that Parliament does not have to revisit this piece of legislation in the future, this order has been drafted to refer to Section 45 but also to Section 45A of the Road Traffic Offenders Act, to cover the situation where Section 45 is revoked and Section 45A is commenced.
The Government believe that it is important that those drivers who continue to commit drug-driving offences and put lives at risk have their counterparts or driving records endorsed for a considerable period of time and so are able to feel the full force of the law when prosecuted. With the power of social media, it is also important that potential drug-driving offenders are not incentivised to refuse to provide a specimen or to refuse to allow that specimen to be analysed, in order to get a lesser penalty. I urge Members to agree that we must send a strong message that this House, Parliament and wider society will not tolerate those who persist in drug-driving and the threat they pose to other road users. I therefore recommend that the Committee approves this order. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have come very recently to this debate, but I was interested to come along and listen to it. I am interested in two areas, which are probably old territory—I hope that the Minister will forgive me. This is an important bit of legislation; drug-driving is equally as dangerous and as much of a hazard to fellow citizens as drink-driving. However, I am still unclear how the enforcement of this testing is to be done in a practical way. We always think of drug-driving as being about illegal drugs, but presumably some legal highs or even medicinal pharmaceuticals, particularly tranquilisers, can be equally dangerous. Is that covered in this legislation? I would be interested to hear and understand that context.
I thank the Minister for explaining the purpose and content of this order. As she said, and as the Explanatory Memorandum sets out, the order amends the 1988 Act in consequence of the introduction to the Act, through the Crime and Courts Act 2013, of new drug-related road traffic offences, which make it a criminal offence to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle with a concentration of a specified controlled drug above a laid-down limit. The amendments in the order extend the penalties connected with drink and drugs, including failure to provide a specimen, to the new drug-related road traffic offences and provide for the endorsement of an offender’s counterpart and driving record in relation to the new offences. As the Minister said, the new offence comes into force shortly—at the beginning of next week—in England and Wales. Regulations determined by Parliament last October, I think, specified the controlled drugs and their limits.
I appreciate that the key debate on this issue has already taken place and the decisions have been made, but can the Minister give an up-to-date indication of the number of proceedings per year expected to be brought under the new offence of driving having taken a relevant controlled drug above the specified limit and whether the ability to test for and prove that drugs above the specified limit have been taken is sufficiently robust to expect a proportion of guilty findings similar to that applicable to drink-driving proceedings, namely 96%? Perhaps she could also say something about whether the necessary equipment to undertake these tests on those who it is felt may have been driving with a concentration of a specified controlled drug above a specified limit is now available, so that we are ready to go as far the bringing into force of these new offences is concerned. What is the cost of that equipment? How many police forces already have it? Who has to pay for it? Does it have to be used back at the police station or do we have equipment that can be used at the road side? It would be helpful if the Minister was able to comment on those points.
As I understand the penalties and levels, a zero-tolerance approach is being adopted towards anyone who is found to have a concentration of a specified controlled drug unless they are able to show that it resulted from having taken a drug for medical reasons.
The Explanatory Memorandum states:
“No formal consultation for these amendments has been undertaken as these are consequential amendments upon the creation of new drug driving offences”.
Has consultation taken place previously on what the penalties should be and whether they should be on a par with, lower than or higher than those related to drink-driving, or has it just been assumed that they should be on a similar level? Was a view taken on whether driving having taken drugs is likely to have a lesser or greater impact on driving ability than having consumed alcohol? One assumes, in the light of the comment in the Explanatory Memorandum that the penalties are on a par with those for similar driving offences connected with drink and drugs, that the impact is deemed to be the same. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that point because, if the impact is deemed likely to be greater, one would have thought that that would have been reflected in the penalty; if it was deemed likely to be lower, likewise it might have been thought that that would have been reflected in the penalty the other way.
Finally, the Explanatory Memorandum states in paragraph 12 that a supplier has been selected to evaluate the effect of the new drug-driving offences. Could the Minister say who that supplier is?
I thank noble Lords. I should make it clear to my noble friend Lord Teverson that there is an existing Section 4 offence that is used to deal with driving under the influence of drugs not specified for the purpose of the new offence. That remains in place. The existing drug-impaired driving offence remains, and therefore all drug-impaired drivers can be prosecuted, whatever and how many drugs they have taken. I give him that assurance. There is a process to add drugs to the list of specified drugs. I will write to my noble friend with the details of how drugs can be added in that process. There is both the broad brush and the ability to add new drugs to the list. For a new drug to be covered by the new offence, the following are necessary: the drug has to be recognised and classified by the Home Office under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; a consultation would then need to follow on whether to add it to those specified under the offence of drug-driving and at what level to set the specified limit; and regulations would need to be approved under the affirmative procedure. So there is a procedure in place to add to the list.
I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will correct me if I have misunderstood this, but one of his questions was essentially about whether or not there should be a difference between the sentencing for impairment caused by alcohol and that for impairment caused through drug use. The rationale to me is that identifying the specified drug is step one, and then defining the level above which having that drug in one’s system is the standard of impairment for the offence is step two. That, essentially, is the way in which this legislation works. In other words, first, the drug is identified—I have read out the process that is gone through to get a drug on the list, which obviously involves consultation—and, secondly, the limit above which that drug in the system would be considered an offence is determined. The noble Lord will understand that that is, in many ways, the same as the approach used with alcohol. It is illegal to drive with above a certain limit of alcohol in the system.
The noble Lord also asked about testing equipment. We understand that 12 forces at present have station-based screening devices. Manufacturers are talking widely to various forces, who are obviously considering whether to purchase devices to enhance their capacity to enforce. Mobile screeners are also available. The new mobile screener tests only for cannabis and cocaine, but those are two of the most prevalent types of drugs detected among drug drivers. Again, police forces manage their budgets and so they must decide how to use their budget to acquire equipment for enforcement.
I am sure the noble Baroness will correct me if I am wrong but 12 forces have station-based equipment and the new offence comes in at the beginning of next week. Does that mean that there is a significant number of forces that cannot enforce this offence because they do not have the equipment?
At this point in time, 12 forces have station-based screening devices. We are encouraging forces to talk with manufacturers about the kind of products available. I am sure the noble Lord would not want the introduction of the offence to be delayed until all forces had decided on the kind of equipment they wished to purchase for enforcement.
I hope the noble Baroness will not take this as an attempt at withering criticism but police forces have known for some time that this new offence was likely to come into force. If I understand correctly, it does not look as though many of them have been taking active steps to make sure they have got the equipment to be able to enforce. Is it a question of cost? Does this equipment cost a large sum of money?
I do apologise. I am not being clear. Driving under the influence of drugs, even though it has not been specified, has long been an offence, as the noble Lord is aware, and the method for enforcement has been a blood test. That has been used by all forces over many years and remains in place, so they have that capacity. However, with the new list of specified drugs, many of them are now interested in alternative screening devices, particularly mobile devices, because that puts them in a position, as it were, to issue a fixed penalty on the spot. I think we will see that take-up, given the new opportunities for enforcement that are provided by forces up and down the country. But of course they always have the fallback of using the blood test, which has always been available to them and continues to be.
I hope that I have covered the range of issues. If I have not, I will gladly read through Hansard and provide a letter with more detail. I hope, on that basis, that your Lordships will feel that they can support this order.