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Road Traffic Act 1988 (Alcohol Limits) (Amendment) Bill [HL]

Volume 769: debated on Friday 11 March 2016


Relevant document: 20th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Clause 1: Prescribed limit of alcohol

Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2: Proportion of alcohol for replacement of breath specimen

Debate on whether Clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, on the Second Reading of my amendment Bill on 29 January, I opened by saying that the Bill was precisely in accord with what had been piloted through the Scottish Parliament. As a consequence, it contained a provision in Clause 2 that permitted a person to elect to have a specimen of breath replaced with a specimen of blood or urine. However, as this former statutory option was removed from the Road Traffic Act 1988 by Part 1 of Schedule 11 to the Deregulation Act 2015, which came into force in April 2015, I therefore need to withdraw Clause 2 from my Bill. Therefore, I oppose the question that Clause 2 stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 disagreed.

Clause 3: Extent, commencement and short title

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 3, page 1, line 17, after “regulations” insert “, made by statutory instrument,”

My Lords, this amendment arises from the 20th report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published on 5 February 2016, relating to Clause 3(2) on the powers to appoint the commencement date for enactment. The committee recommended that, additionally, subsection (2) should require the regulations for the commencement date to be made by statutory instrument. I accept this and accordingly move the second amendment, which meets its recommendations and relates to Clause 3.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for bringing the Bill forward and for his subsequent amendments. I am sure he is aware that the Government take the threat of all dangerous drivers, including drink-drivers and drug-drivers, very seriously, and will continue to monitor all the elements that contribute to the number of deaths on our roads. I have previously set out what the Government are doing to reduce all road casualties in England and Wales, but I will re-emphasise the important steps we are taking that will help to tackle drink-driving specifically.

Drink-driving is still responsible for too many deaths and injuries. In order to prevent this, we will continue to take tough action against the small number of drivers who ignore the drink-drive limit. Many drivers killed in drink-drive collisions, or prosecuted for drinking and driving, are significantly over the drink-drive limit. The Government therefore believe that rigorous enforcement and serious penalties for drink-drivers, particularly these dangerous individuals, are a more effective deterrent than changing the drink-drive limit.

As I have previously said, the Deregulation Act 2015 made important changes to the drink-driving laws. First, it removed the so-called statutory option that allowed drivers who were slightly above the breath-alcohol limit to demand a blood or urine test. Secondly, it made it a requirement for high-risk offenders to undertake medical tests before they are allowed to drive again.

I note that we have just removed Clause 2, as the noble Lord proposed, which refers to Section 8(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as it was removed by the Deregulation Act 2015. If the Government were in favour of the Bill, we would have agreed to the removal. However, I want to reiterate that the Government do not support the Bill. We believe that the legislative changes already made are very important steps that will help to reduce drink-drive casualties.

With regard to the lower drink-drive limit, we will, of course, remain interested to see the substantial evidence base from the changes made in Scotland, when it is available. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I have talked about this issue and I am sure he agrees that it is important that the Scottish Government carry out a full evaluation of its impact. It is also important to note that the penalties for drink-driving in England and Wales are more severe than in other countries, and despite the majority of these other countries having lower alcohol limits, they do not have a better record on reducing drink-drive casualties. The Government therefore maintain our position that lowering the limit in itself is not going to change people’s behaviour and would not be the best use of resources to improve safety on our roads at this time.

In thanking the noble Lord for his contribution, I reiterate that this remains a very key and important issue. I assure him that we will continue to support the police in their rigorous enforcement efforts against all dangerous drivers—for example, through the introduction of roadside evidential breath-testing instruments, which are expected next year. I hope the noble Lord is also assured that we continue to enforce strict drug-driving laws with our award-winning THINK! campaigns.

The noble Lord mentioned a similar measure that was introduced in Scotland about a year ago, the results of which the Government are observing. The Scottish licensed catering association has said that the introduction of that measure has been “catastrophic” for the industry. In other words, drinking as a whole has gone down—no one has mentioned that effect of the measure—quite apart from any effect on accidents on the roads. When the prohibition on smoking in public places came in, it reduced the prevalence of heart disease. Heart attacks, for instance, came down measurably as a result of that step. Therefore, small measures such as the one we are discussing will gradually reduce the consumption of alcohol, which, when used excessively, is very harmful, as we all know.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I agree that changes such as these have an impact. As he rightly pointed out, Scotland has introduced changes. We are talking regularly with our counterparts in the Scottish Government, but it is right that we await a more substantial evidence base for these changes. As I said, we are not contemplating any changes at this time.

My Lords, neither of the amendments today is contentious so they should not pose any difficulties for the Government, although I know that the purpose of the Bill does. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out again that the Government are endeavouring to limit the damage done to individuals by drunken drivers. However, I am sorry that they still maintain there is not sufficient cause for embracing this measure, which would, in my opinion, lead to further lives being saved, fewer accidents and fewer people being damaged than is the case at present.

I do not want to repeat all that I said on Second Reading. However, notwithstanding what the Government have done, the numbers of deaths, accidents and injuries have virtually plateaued since 2012. Notwithstanding the minor changes made recently, there does not seem to be any indication of significant change ahead, even though Scotland has shown that very big changes can be effected by moving down to the 50 milligrams limit. While the Government are still digging in, I hope that the many individuals, organisations and members of the public who have supported me—I express my public gratitude to them—and who are in favour of this measure will continue to put pressure on the Government to bring about a change which will be in the best interests of all concerned, other than, perhaps, the drinks and hospitality industry.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at 1.24 pm.