Report (2nd Day) (Continued)
Clause 66: Causing death by dangerous driving or careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs: increased penalties
58: Clause 66, page 65, line 13, at end insert—
“(3A) Section 34 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (disqualification for certain offences) is amended as follows.(3B) In subsection (3), in the words after paragraph (d)—(a) after “the offence” insert “(“the new offence”)”;(b) for “three years” substitute “the period specified in subsection (3A)”.(3C) After subsection (3) insert—“(3A) The period is—(a) six years, where—(i) an offence of which the person was convicted within the ten years mentioned in subsection (3) falls within paragraph (aa) of that subsection, and(ii) the new offence also falls within that paragraph;(b) in any other case (but subject to subsection (4ZA)), three years.”(3D) In subsection (4)—(a) in the words before paragraph (a), after “(3) above” insert “and subsection (4ZA) below”;(b) in paragraph (a)—(i) omit sub-paragraph (ii) (and the “or” after it);(ii) in sub-paragraph (iia), for “that Act” substitute “the Road Traffic Act 1988”;(iii) omit sub-paragraph (iii) (and the “or” before it, but not the “and” after it).(3E) After subsection (4) insert—“(4ZA) Subsection (1) shall apply as if the reference to twelve months were a reference to five years in relation to a person convicted of—(a) an offence under section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (causing death by dangerous driving), or(b) an offence under section 3A of that Act (causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs),but this is subject to subsection (3) in cases within paragraph (a) of subsection (3A).””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment increases minimum disqualification periods for offences under sections 1 and 3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
My Lords, keeping our roads safe is a key priority for the Government. Too many innocent road users are killed or injured by the reckless actions of a minority of selfish and uncaring drivers who simply do not understand or appreciate the responsibility that comes with holding a driving licence. We can and must do more to force home the message that holding a driving licence comes with a serious level of responsibility. If drivers are prepared to ignore their responsibility, we will use the law to ensure that they are removed from the roads.
We listened carefully to the passionate and well-informed opinions voiced by noble Lords during the Committee stage debates on road traffic offences. Against that background, we reflected with great care on what change we might make to the Bill to further the cause of road safety. Our deliberations have resulted in the Government tabling Amendment 58, which I am confident will improve road safety.
The amendment focuses on two of the most serious road traffic offences: causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. These cause untold grief to many families every year. Both involve a degree of recklessness that is completely unacceptable. Elsewhere in this Bill we are increasing the maximum sentence from 14 years to life for these offences.
This amendment reinforces the seriousness with which the Government regard these two offences by increasing the minimum period of disqualification from driving for anyone convicted of them. In the case of causing death by dangerous driving, the amendment increases the minimum period of disqualification from two years to five years. In the case of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, the amendment also increases the minimum period of disqualification from two years to five years. But it also goes a step further in respect of this offence. The amendment maintains the existing principle of having a longer minimum period of disqualification for a repeat offence of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, raising it from three years to six years.
I recognise that depriving a driver of his or her licence for at least five years is a substantial sanction, but when a driver causes the death of another person by driving dangerously or carelessly because of drink or drugs, I think we are fully justified in saying that those drivers should be taken off the road for a substantial period of time. This amendment should act as a serious deterrent for drivers—a warning that driving so dangerously or carelessly as to cause the death of another person is completely unacceptable and will have serious consequences, not only for personal liberty but for the ability to continue driving.
There will remain within the law an element of discretion for judges. They will be permitted to impose a disqualification that is less than the minimum period of five or six years, or not to impose a disqualification at all where there are special reasons for doing so. This allows judges to deal with the unique circumstances of any case before them, which is an important element of our judicial system.
A number of other road traffic-related amendments in this group put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raise important issues, but the nub of it is that the sponsors of these amendments want to see a wider review of road traffic legislation. I can advise noble Lords that the Department for Transport is currently scoping a call for evidence on changes to road traffic offences. I will say more when winding up, but, for now, I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to the various amendments in this group. I first thank the Minister for arranging two meetings with her colleagues, one in Transport and one in her department, which were very helpful in sharing our concerns—I am speaking from briefings from a large number of groups that are concerned about road safety generally. As a result, we reached some quite good conclusions about where things are going.
Amendment 58 is a good start, so I do not need to spend too long speaking to some of the other amendments. Although it is a welcome start, I also welcome the much wider review that the Minister mentioned. The issue with that review, which comes under my Amendment 65, is that it could cover an enormous scope of issues. We can all think of things about road safety that should be improved—the legislation and the penalties—and it covers some of the issues which will probably come up later today in considering other amendments. I am pleased that the review is starting in January, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say a little more about it. How long it will take? Who will be involved? Will the Government welcome input from people outside—from your Lordships’ House, from the other place and from other groups? Will a report be published with all the evidence? One hopes so.
If that is the case, the next thing, of course, is the legislation needed to implement those. Some of it may require primary legislation; some of it could perhaps be done by secondary legislation. But, again, that needs to be looked at. Perhaps when the Minister responds at the end of this grouping, she could give us a bit more detail about that. This is a good start, but there is still a long way to go.
I will speak very briefly, first on Amendment 63. We discussed “exceptional hardship” at some length in Committee. What worries me—it is worth repeating the statistics—is that 8,632 motorists are still permitted to drive despite having 12 or more points on their licence. I will not go into examples, but that indicates to me that something needs to be done. I do not know whether the Minister has considered it, but in advance of and separately from the review, would it be possible for Ministers to look again and consider revising or amending the sentencing advice to magistrates, so that this was tightened up a bit? I think she will agree that 8,000 such people driving around, having decided that having their car is essential to take their dog for a walk, is probably rather more than one would want to see.
Turning now to Amendment 64, on failure to stop and report, we got into quite a significant debate about that and the relationship between the circumstances and the penalties. What worries me is that, since 2017, the number of people convicted of this offence had gone up by 43% in four years. I do not know why that should be—maybe the Minister has some answers to that—but it indicates that failing to stop and report collisions is quite serious. We discussed in Committee whether that was due to more people having mobile phones or whatever, but this is another of those things I would ask her to look at in advance of the review. If she can, what timescale would that entail?
I think I have probably spoken enough about the review itself. We are grateful for the review. The list of issues I put in the amendment is just a sample, and I am sure many people will have many other things to put in. But if the Minister can give us some information about the scope, as well as the timescale and everything else, that would be extremely good.
I will now speak very briefly to the manuscript amendment I tabled this morning. I apologise for the late delivery of this, but it was due to a changed meeting with Network Rail that many of us thought would be a good idea to have before we tabled the amendment—it turned out that it did not happen. I put it to the Minister that she is aware that this is a serious problem. Network Rail’s figure is that there is an average of seven bridge bashes a day—I repeat, seven a day—across the whole network. Some are not serious, but some could derail a train, and I do not want to go into what might happen there.
I have got as far as coming up with a long list of possible solutions, which I will not spend too much time on, and this is something that needs looking at. One of them is to allow local authorities to prosecute lorries for contravening the height regulations. They can prosecute for contravening weight regulations at the moment, so why could they not do height ones as well? I think it just needs a small change to the regulations. Traffic commissioners could be asked to remove the licences of drivers of vehicles that contravene. Obviously, the drivers and shippers could be prosecuted. The Government could require drivers’ apps—or whatever it is we put on our mobiles—to include the height of bridges; it could even include the height of the lorry, and an alarm could sound if it went wrong. You could erect those barriers we talked about last time, with the little electronic eyes.
Would it be useful to set up a quick committee and report to try to come up with some different solutions? Seven collisions a day is too many, and some of them could be fatal. I hope the Minister will agree that this could be taken forward, but I do not have any other amendments tabled to do that.
I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I am saying that I support it before I have heard what she has got to say, but there we are—I look forward to what she has to say.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for that vote of confidence. I wish to speak to the amendments in my name and to the group in general.
I start with Amendment 63, on exceptional hardship. If you Google “exceptional hardship”, the first listing is an advert from a firm of solicitors. I will not give their name; they do not need free publicity from me because they also advertise on the television. They describe themselves as “exceptional hardship” and “totting up” solicitors. They define exceptional hardship as “real hardship”. They say they have covered more than 10,000 cases and have a 98% success rate. No wonder, as a recent FoI request revealed, there are 8,632 drivers driving around with more than 12 penalty points. The firm I have described is not alone; there are dozens of other firms of solicitors advertising similarly. This is an industry: this is not an exceptional situation that we are dealing with.
Amendment 63 seeks to define exceptional hardship as something significantly greater than the definition provided by that firm of solicitors and significantly greater than the hardship that would arise for a large majority of other drivers. The definition takes into account the offender’s economic circumstances, location and family circumstances. I bring this to the attention of the Government, and say that there is no point in putting down amendments for more and more stringent penalties if there is a gigantic loophole which is being exploited in front of our eyes.
Amendment 66AA, on bridge strikes, is the manuscript amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I am grateful to him for persisting with this issue because it is a very serious accident waiting to happen. As he has described, lorries hit bridges all the time. This causes a major impact on train services and on our economy, as well as obviously presenting a road safety issue. There are huge costs to the HGV drivers as well. Clearly, drivers do not do this deliberately, so there must be a problem. The problem is almost certainly in the signage; we have the technology nowadays, and improved signage needs to be implemented. There also needs to be a reappraisal of responsibilities between Network Rail and the highways authorities, where there is an interface.
Clearly, both my Amendment 66A and that of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, present examples of the type of issues that need to be included in a long overdue review of road traffic offences. My amendment is similar to that from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, but I have selected some other features that I think are important. It is unfortunate that all these are lumped together, but it is important that we look at this in a little detail. There is a separate group for pedicabs, which are a very small feature of modern roads and do not exist outside London, but they are one of a large number of new features of our transport system that need to be looked at and reappraised in the context of road traffic overall.
Another example of a new feature is e-scooters. It is reported that at least 11 people have been killed in the last year either on or by e-scooters. The Government’s approach has been to set up lots of pilot projects. Basically, e-scooters have been allowed to spread nationwide as a result of a lack of intervention. In a Written Answer I received from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, when I made inquiries about safety issues associated with e-scooters, she said:
“While trials are running, privately-owned e-scooters will remain illegal to use on the road, cycle lanes or pavements.”
That is fair enough, but no one ever does anything about the fact that thousands of them are being used, and tens of thousands more will be bought this Christmas.
The large number of pilot projects has led people to believe that e-scooters are legal everywhere. The problem is that, because they are illegal, there are so many of them around and the rules not enforced, bad practice is now the norm. Noble Lords have only to walk outside this building to see that bad practice. There are issues such as minimum age—they are often ridden by very young people—maximum speed, wearing helmets, registration, and where you ride: on the pavement or on the road. This week, Transport for London has responded to the latest danger: fires from exploding batteries. There have been several fires on TfL vehicles because people carry those scooters on trains. Transport for London has said that people can no longer do that, but it has had considerable problems and all transport operators will have to consider this issue.
We will come later to the issue of alcohol levels, so I will leave that, but another issue I want to raise is road signage. In 2016, there was a relaxation of the specification and standards for road signs. It appears to be part of a drive to reduce red tape. Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I met the family of a young woman who drowned when she drove at night into a ford in bad weather on a country road. From the coroner’s report, it is obvious that the poor quality of the signage was a key factor because other people had also driven into that ford by mistake—luckily for them, with not such a terrible impact. The depth gauge at that ford was so slim and poorly marked that it was invisible at night. The previous standard for depth gauges, which was abolished in 2016, required a much bigger and clearer structure.
This and others are simply taster issues for the huge range that need to be included in a review. It was promised in 2014, with a public consultation phase. We are still working on the basis of the endlessly amended Road Traffic Act 1988. Our roads have been transformed since then by the number of vehicles, vehicle technology and capability and new sorts of vehicles. The key point I am trying to make with this amendment is that the review must be comprehensive, rather than just addressing a handful of issues that are annoying Ministers at the moment. It needs to be done now, not kicked into the long grass again. It needs specifically to grapple with new technologies and forms of transport such as autonomous vehicles. It must take an overall approach to consistency of sentencing.
The problem with the approach in the Bill is that the Government have plucked out some offences for tighter sentencing, which will inevitably leave them out of kilter with other offences. The Government’s approach is for stiffer sentences with longer jail terms, but many transport campaign groups would prioritise appropriate sentencing, especially disqualification and community sentences. There are many bad drivers out there, but they often lead otherwise law-abiding lives. We have nothing to gain as a society by locking them up, which is costly to the taxpayer in the short term and in the long term, as they become much less employable on release. So, alternatives ought to be considered to simply putting people in prison.
The good thing about disqualification is that it protects the public. The key point of my amendment is that there needs to be full public consultation. In 2016, in a debate in the other place, the Government claimed that there had indeed been a review, as promised in 2014, but there was no public consultation and no published outcome. That makes a mockery of the whole process, so I am very pleased to hear from the Minister that there are plans now for a proper review, and I shall be listening carefully to what she has to tell us. I hope it will be a full and comprehensive review with proper public consultation that will take place in the very near future.
My Lords, it is good that the Government have realised that our road traffic laws are a mess, because the cost—the human cost, the social cost—of the crimes and offences we are talking about is extremely high. When we think of the cost of the deaths and injuries to the NHS, to social services, to the emergency services, we are talking about billions of pounds and we really ought to understand that a lot of the causes are avoidable.
When I first got on to the Met Police authority, I went out a lot with the traffic teams—I have told this story before—and one sergeant said to me, “If I wanted to murder somebody, I would run them over with a car, because nobody could ever prove it was not an accident”. This brings me to the word “accident”, which we really should not use when we are talking about road collisions, road incidents and so on. It offends me and the whole road safety community deeply, because the minute you use the word “accident”, you are judging the cause of whatever happened and that is obviously unfair. You have to look into what really happened.
The most dangerous idea is people who should be disqualified from driving being able to plead exceptional hardship. We have heard a lot about “exceptional hardship”: what a misnomer. People are often allowed to keep on driving and quite honestly, they should feel lucky that they have not gone to prison because a lot of the time, it is complete nonsense. I have read about a lot of cases where the judge or the magistrate allowed someone to get away with—well, not murder, but certainly manslaughter at times. It is obviously a crime against society, not to mention the families themselves.
Any driver who is no longer allowed to drive will experience hardship—that is obvious, but the solution is not to accumulate so many points on your licence that you are a danger to society. Amendment 63 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, helps to close the loophole that lets dangerous drivers stay on the roads. I am not sure whether he will push to a vote. I would vote on every amendment in this group because I think they are extremely important, but, if the Government are going to do a review, it will be worth waiting for that provided that it does not take too long and covers the issues that need sorting.
Amendment 64 will help to ensure that people report road traffic collisions to the police, especially when injuries have been caused. Importantly, it also begins to fix the false assumption in the legislation that people are not necessarily responsible. Again, when you use the word “accident”, you suggest that no one is responsible. We have to change our language; it is incredibly important. We talk all the time about road safety. Road safety is the solution to the problem we have—which is road danger. I am afraid that I completely forgot to say to your Lordships that I am the esteemed president of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, which does an incredible job.
Was that objection to what I am saying or support? I could not work it out. We should be aiming for zero road deaths. They just should not happen. The roads and pavement should be safe spaces. We achieve that by making sure that drivers—and pedestrians as well, of course—obey the law. Legislation must comprehend just how damaging bad and careless driving are.
Finally, Amendments 65 and 66A would require a total review of road traffic offences and penalties. That really is the only sensible way forward, and the only way for society to properly address the damage caused by car culture and start the journey towards zero road deaths. I look forward very much to hearing the details of the review and hope that it happens soon.
My Lords, I most sincerely apologise to the House for not being present at the start of this debate. I strongly support the thrust of the amendment about bridge-bashing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. One day the holes in the cheese will line up and there will be a very serious accident, and the whole world will ask why we did not use technology to avoid such accidents. I strongly support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about “exceptional hardship”; I would not actually vote against the Government on it, but I strongly support it.
We welcome the fact that the Government are committing to a call for evidence on road safety issues next year. Like other noble Lords, I should be interested to know how long this exercise is expected to take. Also, is it purely a DfT matter, or a cross-departmental matter—and, if so, which departments are involved? On the general issue of road safety, I comment briefly on what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, just said. You could always reduce the number of road accidents fairly dramatically if you reduced the speed limit everywhere to 10 miles an hour, but, as a Government, you might not survive very long politically if you did that.
On “exceptional hardship”—the subject of one of the other amendments—maybe there are cases where courts are a bit too lenient. You have to draw the distinction between hardship and inconvenience, because the two are not the same. You do, however, get cases where there could be exceptional hardship and you have to think long and hard. An example would be a single parent who loses access to a car. That could have quite a profound impact on the children, particularly if they do not realistically have anyone else to help them out. You could also end up with a situation where the disqualification of a carer might involve significant impact—hardship perhaps not so much for the carer but for the person being cared for. When you are faced with some of these situations, it is not quite as straightforward as saying “You’ve broken the law, you’ve reached 12 points and you’re off the road”: you may need to look at the consequences. I note with interest the amendment on exceptional hardship. It may well be taken into account in the review what exceptional hardship means and whether it is being applied too leniently and too frequently.
We support Amendment 58—the minimum driving disqualification periods—as we have the increases in sentences for those offences, including causing death by dangerous or careless driving. We welcome the change that the Government propose.
I think that Amendment 64, relating to hit-and-run, mentions a maximum sentence of 14 years in custody. That seems quite a dramatic increase from the current limit. I am not sure whether it is envisaged that if an accident has caused a serious or fatal injury the maximum of 14 years for not stopping is in addition to what you would get for causing the fatal injury—in which case you could get quite a high sentence. I am just commenting on the fact that it seems to be raising the maximum sentence for failing to stop quite considerably. I do not know what the Minister will say about this on behalf of the Government but again, presumably, there is no reason why that should not be considered as part of the review.
With regard to the new amendment on the hitting of bridges, which my noble friend Lord Berkeley has proposed, I have some sympathy with the view that has been expressed that surely there must be a way that technology can reduce the frequency of these events. Perhaps one is a bit too prone to make speeches saying that technology must be able to resolve these issues for us, but one would have thought that this is one area where technology should play a role, and I hope that the Minister will take this issue away and that the Government will reflect on it as part of their general look at road safety issues. I will leave it at that, without commenting on the other amendments in this group.
My Lords, with regard to Amendment 58, I welcome the fact that the Government are taking to task the causing of death through careless driving or being under the influence of drugs or drink. For many families that have lost loved ones to then sit in court as the perpetrator gets a ludicrous sentence for the taking of life while not having the personal responsibility to control their behaviour, especially in terms of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs—that can only be described as insult added to injury. I therefore very much welcome that amendment.
On Amendment 63, can the Minister find some common ground between the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and noble Baroness, Lady Randerson? Both their points seemed to me to carry weight.
Not stopping after a collision can lead to the serious deterioration of an injury where the other party is unable perhaps to summon help. The situation is seriously exacerbated if someone drives away without reporting it.
Finally, I make a small point about e-scooters. This occurred to me only this evening, when driving here, and then listening to the noble Baroness opposite. Somebody pulled out in front of me on an e-scooter, and the real problem was that any light it might have had was below the bonnet or even wheel of the vehicle behind—even if it was there in the first place. There was no lighting or reflective clothing on this person above shoe level, and none on the helmet; it is completely impossible to see somebody like that, and it gave me a terrific start. I could so easily have seriously damaged this person; it would not really have been my fault, but I would have felt profoundly disturbed by it. That is just a small point that the Government might want to look at in due course.
My Lords, I declare my interest, as I am president of RoSPA. I shall make a few quick points. I took my driving test in 1975, and in 2005 I had a job with a brand new shiny car that went with it, which was lovely. The organisation that I worked for insisted that every member of that organisation who had a car had to spend a whole day a year having a lesson with a driving instructor. It was amazing. I had completely forgotten an awful lot, and I learned even more. It made me very much more aware of all these issues that we are talking about now—and I see several heads nodding, so perhaps there is a certain amount of empathy with that.
On the point of bridges and signage, the other issues that we are not including in this measure is that a majority of cars these days have a GPS system incorporated. Why do they not have the height of bridges programmed into the GPS so that, as they drive towards the bridge, the height comes up, and lorry drivers can see that they are not going to get under it and stop? Those are the small points that occurred to me—although this is completely not my field—as noble Lords were debating these issues.
My Lords, I welcome the support for the government amendment. I know that there is a strong appetite to go even further among noble Lords in reforming road traffic offences. Amendments 63, 64, 65 and 66A are directed to this end. I am pleased that many noble Lords who contributed to this debate were able to discuss these issues with my noble friend Lady Vere, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said.
Amendment 63 seeks to introduce a definition for the term “exceptional hardship”, which applies in the context of a court’s decision on whether to impose a driving ban. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for his good analysis of it, and the implications that it might have. We agree that drivers who display poor driving behaviours and reach 12 points should receive an automatic ban to protect themselves and other road users. However, sentencing decisions are properly a matter for our independent courts, based on the facts of the case before them. They have discretion over the length of a driving disqualification to ensure that it is right for the offence and offender before them and, if they are satisfied, they can accept mitigating circumstances justifying a claim of “exceptional hardship”. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, gave some very good examples of what that might mean to some people.
We do not consider the introduction of a definition of this term to be necessary. The amendment would introduce a narrow definition that would not be able to account for all circumstances presented to the courts, and would remove their freedom to use their experience to reach decisions accordingly.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to the recent work undertaken by the independent Sentencing Council to update the guidance on totting up disqualifications. It was updated in October last year, following consultation, to provide greater assistance for the courts when considering whether there were grounds to reduce or avoid disqualification due to exceptional hardship. The updated guidance clarifies that the test should be not inconvenience or hardship but exceptional hardship, for which the court must have evidence. The law on the sentencing guidelines makes it clear that if someone is seeking to persuade the court that there are grounds for not disqualifying when 12 or more penalty points have been amassed, the only type of hardship that can be taken into account is exceptional hardship.
The guidance also sets out how such cases are to be approached and includes a number of matters that the court must have regard to when considering such applications, and some matters that the court must not take into account. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I say that sentencing guidelines are a matter for the Sentencing Council, not the Government. The relevant guidelines on disqualification were, as I said, only reviewed in 2020, so it would be right to give them some time to bed in.
Amendment 64 seeks to amend the current offence of failure to stop and report, and to introduce tougher sentencing options for collisions that involve actual or potential serious or fatal injury. I assure noble Lords that the Government are, of course, aware of the traumatic effects of incidents, however rare, related to the death of or serious injury to another person. However, it is not the intention of this offence to punish individuals where there is no evidence to connect their failure to stop with the death or serious harm. It is designed to deal specifically with the behaviour relating to the failure to stop. There are a range of offences where there is evidence that the driver caused harm. These include causing death or serious injury by dangerous or careless driving and, in these cases, the courts can treat the failure to stop as a factor that adds to the overall seriousness of the offending. The law already imposes severe penalties for vehicle offences that lead to death or serious injury but, when doing so, a clear causal link must be proved between the driver’s behaviour and the outcome.
Amendments 65 and 66A place a requirement on the Government to conduct a full review of the road traffic offences. I understand the desire to conduct a review, but we do not think it necessary or appropriate to set this down in legislation. I am not sure that noble Lords were actually suggesting that; I think that they wanted more detail on what was going into the review. My colleagues in the Department for Transport are currently working on a call for evidence on parts of the Road Traffic Act. The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, together with the Department of Health and Social Care, will be working with them. Details are still being worked up as to its scope, but I am sure that they are paying close attention to the points raised in this debate. I welcome suggestions on what issues could be tackled. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Vere will want to update noble Lords on the scope and timing of the call for evidence once these are settled. Once the call for evidence is launched, we will recommend submissions from all interested parties, including noble Lords and Members in the other place.
Amendment 66AA relates to railway bridge strikes. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that the Government recognise the risk to the travelling public that results from drivers striking and damaging bridges. We view the current offences and penalties with which a driver can be charged in these circumstances as adequate to reflect the seriousness of the offence. These potential offences include dangerous driving, and, where appropriate, drink or drug driving and careless and inconsiderate driving.
Noble Lords will be aware that warning and regulatory signs already exist to indicate low bridges and to ensure that drivers are given information about alternative routes in time to adjust their journeys. That said, a number of noble Lords have talked about insufficient visibility of signage. I will take back that point about prominence. Local authorities are of course responsible for placing traffic signs on their roads, and the DfT provides advice to local authorities on the use of those signs in the Traffic Signs Manual.
I also accept the point about technology. My car beeps away all the time at the different things it sees that I do not. I am sure we are talking about bigger vehicles than my humble car—probably more like lorries—but I will take the point away about technology, because I think it is valid.
Disobeying a regulatory sign indicating a low bridge is already an offence that attracts an endorsable fixed penalty notice and it might lead to the disqualification of the driver. We are satisfied that the existing offences, penalties and routes to claim damages are sufficient, and are not therefore persuaded that it is necessary or appropriate to conduct an inquiry. On the other issues that have been raised, and given the prospect of the DfT-led call for evidence, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, will be content not to press their amendments, and to engage in the process and support the Government’s Amendment 58.
Amendment 58 agreed.
Clause 67: Causing serious injury by careless, or inconsiderate, driving
59: Clause 67, page 65, line 21, after “vehicle” insert “or pedicab”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would include pedicabs within scope of the offence of causing serious injury by careless, or inconsiderate, driving.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 59 I will also speak to the other amendments in my name as part of this group. I will try to take as little time as possible, because I know that there is still much to get through this evening.
These amendments refer to pedicabs, which are also sometimes known as rickshaws. They are loud and sometimes garish, and they hang out at all the tourist hot spots here in London. I will not repeat all that I said in Committee, but let me remind your Lordships of the problem I am seeking to address.
Pedicabs are the only form of public transport in London that is completely unregulated. The vehicles and their drivers are not subject to any kind of checks, they do not need insurance, they can charge passengers whatever they want, and they are exempt from the vast majority of traffic violations. Pedicabs can ply for hire in direct competition with our heavily regulated black cabs on any street or place in Greater London. Knowing that they can act with impunity, the vast majority of them do.
Noble Lords heard me describe in Committee the evidence of careless driving and antisocial behaviour. One of the most unacceptable aspects of pedicabs is the huge disruption they cause through the extremely loud music that many of them play. This unacceptable situation has gone on for well over 20 years. Westminster City’s residents, business owners and tradespeople who have to navigate our congested streets to do an honest day’s or night’s work have had enough and want something done.
My modest amendments to this Bill do not go anywhere near far enough in addressing the unfairness of this situation, never mind limiting the damage and reputational risk of allowing these vehicles to continue unregulated on our roads. I tabled them in part to raise awareness of the problem. These amendments are the best I can do with the legislation in front of us.
I am very grateful for the positive response I received from noble Lords in Committee. I am especially grateful to the Government for their fulsome support, not for these amendments but for the much better solution, which I referred to in Committee, that is currently in the House of Commons. A Private Member’s Bill has been brought forward by Nickie Aiken, the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, which would give Transport for London the powers it needs to introduce a licensing and regulatory regime for pedicabs. It would not ban them outright, because there are one or two reputable businesses which provide this service and want to be properly licensed and regulated.
Before I say any more about why I have retabled my amendments and where we are now with the Private Member’s Bill, I should explain why legislation is needed. Although pedicabs can be covered by local authority licensing and regulatory regimes in the rest of England and Wales, case law has determined that, in London, these vehicles are stagecoaches rather than hackney carriages. Therefore, Transport for London needs to be given the necessary powers to introduce a proper licensing and regulatory regime.
I am pleased to say that Nickie Aiken’s Pedicabs (London) Bill started its Second Reading on Friday 19 November, which was after the Committee stage of this Bill. Getting that far is no mean feat, bearing in mind where she was on the Order Paper that day—she was fifth, and she managed to get her debate under way. She set out her case very powerfully, and the Minister responded, declaring the Government’s full backing for the Bill, which is brilliant news and vital if that Bill is to make it on to the statute book. Sadly, time ran out that day before it could complete its Second Reading. Nickie tried again, unsuccessfully, to complete it on 3 December. It is now scheduled again, for Friday 21 January.
Nickie is not giving up, and neither am I. There is still a real chance that she will get over that hurdle next month. If she does, and with the Government’s declared support, there is every reason to be positive that we will get this on to the statute book this Session—but time in this Session is starting to run out.
I am very grateful to my noble friends Lady Vere, Lady Williams and Lord Sharpe, their officials and the Bill team for the time they have given to meeting me to discuss this matter over the last few weeks. Since Committee, I have explored a range of alternative amendments to this Bill, as stopgaps in case that Private Member’s Bill fails, but these are either deemed out of scope or are detrimental in some other way as to render them unacceptable.
I will not divide the House on these amendments tonight, as I know the Government do not support them; no doubt the Minister will explain why. I remind noble Lords that these amendments would bring pedicabs into scope of careless driving offences and prohibit loudspeakers, which they use to amplify music.
Even though Nickie and I have not given up on her Private Member’s Bill succeeding, I am worried not to lose the faith of the people of Westminster, the black cab drivers and businesspeople who pay their taxes, live by the law of the land and work hard to maintain the reputation of our capital city. Countless times over the years they have had their hopes raised and dashed that this will be sorted out. Indeed, this situation must feel like a real injustice when they face so much regulatory burden and so many hurdles, while the pedicab riders who flout the law without a care in the world do not. This sense of unfairness only gets worse, as yet more road restrictions in the capital are implemented, especially for our black cab drivers.
I am immensely grateful for the Government’s ongoing support of the Private Member’s Bill and all the effort everyone is making to get it over the line. We are not giving up on that; there is still everything to play for. Before I withdraw this amendment at the end of the debate, I ask my noble friend the Minister: what assurance can he give me that the Government will not allow this injustice to drift on if the worst happens and Nickie’s Bill does not pass in this Session? I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments, which are very interesting. I will speak to the amendments as opposed to the Private Member’s Bill, but I will have quite a few comments on that too.
I have nothing at all against pedicabs, though I do not like the noise and they get in the way sometimes—but then so do bicycles, although they do not make noises. My worry is, first of all, with the definition of a pedicab. As I read it, it would also include a tandem bicycle. Who would know whether my passenger on the back was paying me? I think one has to go into a bit more detail than that.
There are more and more pedicabs going around which are actually pulling freight. I am sure the noble Baroness would not want to stop them being an environmentally friendly form of freight. If the vehicle had two seats, and if the driver had a friend on the back and somebody said, “You’re paying for it”, he would come under this regulation. That is before we get into the question of electric assistance, which I think some pedicabs have. Frankly, some of them go very fast and I do not think it is particularly safe, but we have to make sure that the definition is absolutely right.
The noble Baroness spoke a lot about protecting the taxi industry and black cabs—we all love black cabs—but they are in competition with Uber and quite a few others now, and I do not think that one needs to, or should, restrict competition just because one feels that these pedicabs get in the way. Maybe the answer is for them to have parking places as black cabs do. My big worry is whether they are insured, because that is obviously very important if you are carrying passengers. Whether the freight ones should be insured is debatable, because we would then be asking whether bicycles and cyclists should be insured, and that is another can of worms.
The biggest problem is that, in London, as the noble Baroness has said, the legislation goes back to 1869 and the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act, which seems to allow them to go around as they do. But pedicabs are used in many other towns and cities outside London and they have a problem because they are not allowed unless they are registered as a taxi, I believe. The legislation needs to cover the whole country in a similar way so that people can use it. We need to make sure that the vehicles have insurance, and do a few other things, but I do not see the need for having a difference in London just because of a piece of legislation that is 150 years old.
I have quite a few comments on the Private Member’s Bill if it ever comes here. I am happy to talk to the noble Baroness in the meantime, but I thought those comments on her amendment might be helpful. I look forward to other noble Lords’ comments as well.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, moved her amendment extremely clearly and explained the background in a way that I, as a sitting magistrate in the City of Westminster, understand very well. I have indeed dealt with some pedicabs in my time. The noble Baroness said that she will not divide the House, and I understand that.
I will pick up a couple of points made by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. This is a fast-evolving situation with freight pedicabs and electric freight pedicabs. Even in my current sitting pattern over the last few months, I have seen the way the police charge e-scooters changing really quite radically. To give an example, probably less than a year ago, I only ever saw e-scooters charged with traffic offences if there was another offence associated with it, such as robbery or an accident. But now, literally in the last month or so, I see e-scooters charged as a stand-alone traffic incident, if I can put it like that. There is clearly an evolution in the way the police are addressing these issues. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness has tabled an interesting group of amendments, and I look forward to exploring it in more depth if the Private Member’s Bill ever gets here.
My Lords, I will comment briefly on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. This is an evolving situation. The key point is that the noble Baroness has raised the issue of a particular type of pedicab, but there is a crossover with the cargo bikes that are increasingly being used and are increasingly welcome for the delivery of goods, parcels and so on. They are hugely welcome on our streets. It is really important that any legislation deals with those two issues and separates them out, although the vehicles are very similar. To my mind, that underlines the point I was making earlier about my amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley: we need a complete and comprehensive review of the emerging and changing picture of traffic on our streets.
My Lords, I thank again my noble friend Lady Stowell for her work on this issue. I know she feels passionately about the regulation of pedicabs, particularly in the capital. I also thank all noble Lord who took part in this brief debate.
In England outside of London, as my noble friend is aware, pedicabs can be regulated as hackney carriages—that is, as a taxi—so the local licensing authority can require the driver and the vehicle to be licensed. In London, which has separate taxi and private hire vehicle legislation, this is not the case, as my noble friend pointed out. This means that there are not many powers for Transport for London to regulate pedicabs.
The Government agree that there needs to be greater regulation of pedicabs in London. That is why they are fulsomely supporting the Private Member’s Bill being brought forward by Nickie Aiken MP in the other place. I know my noble friend has also been a strong supporter of that Private Member’s Bill. The Government also strongly support that Bill as it would enable Transport for London to put in place a cohesive regulatory framework for the licensing of pedicabs in London. I share my noble friend’s disappointment that it has yet to pass its Second Reading, but, as she noted, that has been rescheduled for 21 January.
Should that Private Member’s Bill be unsuccessful, the Government remain committed to bringing forward the necessary legislation when parliamentary time allows. I assure noble Lords that we will take this commitment seriously. We explored whether the provisions of the Private Member’s Bill could be incorporated into this Bill, but regrettably, as they focus on regulation and licensing, they fall outside its scope.
Once again, I praise my noble friend’s commitment to resolving this issue, but although I note the spirit with which her amendments have been proposed, it is the Government’s view that amendments are not the right method for making these changes. The introduction of a licensing regime for pedicabs, as the Private Member’s Bill would introduce, is the appropriate way forward for this matter. The Government do not believe that a partial way forward would be an appropriate or effective way to deal with this.
On the subjects raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, to go back to the previous group, my noble friend the Minister outlined the call for evidence. I suggest that that would be the appropriate place to raise those points, because they are very good ones. This is probably not the right time to get involved in a debate about what is and is not a tandem, however.
I hope my noble friend is somewhat reassured that the Government share her view and commitment on this. Although I cannot give her the categorical assurance she seeks, I hope she feels able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his and the Government’s ongoing support for resolving this matter, and particularly for the Private Member’s Bill, which remains live in the other place.
I note that my noble friend said that amending this legislation is not the right way to address this issue. That point is very much in response to most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. What I acknowledged in bringing forward these amendments is that there is a well-established regulatory body here in London standing ready to introduce a licensing and regulatory regime that would properly cover pedicabs in a way that would target them and not catch the other vehicles that would not be intended to be included in any kind of regime. The concerns he has would be addressed by the way we want to make sure this matter is dealt with.
The point is that it is possible in the rest of England and Wales for local authorities to license and regulate pedicabs as and when they arrive in cities or different towns, as my noble friend the Minister has already said. It is only in London where we have this legal gap. There is nothing at the moment—apart from any kind of specific laws that get broken—which would cover any unacceptable activity. But it is so unfair because we currently have operators on the street who can quite legally ply for trade and compete with black cabs on an uneven playing field, and in doing so, they rip off tourists and give our capital city a bad name. None the less, I am sure there are a lot of pedicab operators who would provide a fantastic service that would operate alongside black cabs, Uber and everything else if we were able to bring in a professional regime and, at the same time, prevent them operating in a way which would be unacceptable to residents and businesspeople in our capital city.
This issue needs to be addressed, so let us all keep rooting for this Private Member’s Bill. I would be happy to speak to the noble Lord about any specific points he wants to raise about that Bill, in the hope that it is going to come here.
Finally, if I can use the collective noun of “officialdom”, there comes a point when we have to recognise that it is not good enough if the only thing we ever do is legislate in a way which increases the burdens on people, but we never find the time to introduce laws that tackle those who have no intention of ever operating within the law. That is what we need to do. However, on that note, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Amendment 60 not moved.
60A: Clause 67, leave out Clause 67
My Lords, I am moving this amendment to enable the House to continue the discussion which took place in Committee with regard to what was then Clause 66: the new offence of causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving. I should stress that we are dealing here with careless driving pure and simple, with no aggravating factors or other offence being committed—an act of carelessness or a moment of inattention which causes a serious injury.
My objection to the clause relates to the fact that among the penalties that a conviction for this offence will attract is a sentence of imprisonment: two years on indictment and one year if prosecuted summarily. There are also provisions for automatic—or, I should say, obligatory—disqualification and endorsement. I make no complaint about that, nor do I complain about the two-year sentence on indictment. However, I am concerned about the sentence of imprisonment in cases which do not deserve to go to jury trial and are taken summarily before magistrates, or before sheriffs in Scotland.
I recognise that as the law stands, causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving does attract a sentence of imprisonment. On the other hand, causing a very serious life-changing injury, where perhaps the injured party has survived only by the skill of the doctors, does not. I can well understand why the Government see this as a gap which needs to be filled. But the situations to which the wording of this clause will apply extend well beyond those where one can reasonably say that there is a gap in the present law that needs to be filled. The words “careless” and “serious injury” can embrace many situations where to send the careless driver to prison would be wholly disproportionate. That is my concern.
I am grateful to Roger Geffen, the policy director of Cycling UK, for his comments in an email that I received this morning, saying that he shared my concern. Cycling UK represents, I suppose, the other road users who are the most vulnerable to this kind of offence. I have not had quite the same experience as my noble friend Lord Berkeley of Knighton, but I have encountered cyclists in the early hours of the morning when, in Scotland, it is really dark, and they were not wearing much in the way of illumination. If I had been a bit careless, I might have knocked one of them off their bicycle and broken their wrist, for example. There you are: an act of carelessness and an injury that would be classified as serious. Am I then to be facing a prison sentence? That is my concern, and he recognises that point. As he put it, the law should not threaten prison sentences for driving that is deemed to be merely careless. The emphasis that he would like to see is on disqualification as a better way of getting people off the road than sending them to prison. It is a much more acceptable way of dealing with this offence, unless it reaches the very peak of the situations where the injuries are indeed very serious.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for adding her name to this amendment. I am also grateful to the Minister for meeting with us last week to discuss our concerns and the way they might be addressed. I have given some thought to the possibility of changing the wording of the clause, but I have come to view that the words “careless” and “serious injury” are too embedded in the statutory lexicon for that. Adding the word “very” to “careless” or “very” to “serious injury” does not really improve the situation: indeed, it could cause some confusion and more difficulties than are really worth attracting for those who have to make judgments on these things. I decided, therefore, that trying to tinker with the wording is not the solution, which is why I turn to the Minister.
It seems to me that a pragmatic approach to this problem is to accept the wording of the clause, but for the Government to indicate as strongly as they can that it is not their intention that prison sentences should be the norm, even when the injury tends towards the upper end of the scale. Ultimately, the way of dealing with the various gradations of injury and carelessness would be a matter for the Sentencing Council to set out, as it has already done for this kind of offence in various grades. However, all of that will take time, which is why an indication from the Minister would be very important as we encounter this offence coming before magistrates and sheriffs soon after the Bill takes effect. I hope the Minister will be able to assure your Lordships that he has taken on board my concerns about the possibility of prison sentences for this offence by placing that possibility into its proper context. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the opposition of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and my noble friend Lady Randerson to this clause. The clause as it stands is simply wrong in principle and I agree with the noble and learned Lord that this is not a case where you can simply tinker with the language. The problem is that the clause threatens to penalise the outcome of the offence—that is, serious injury—with imprisonment, yet the mental element of the offence of careless driving is no more than negligence. Careless driving involves no more than a driver falling below the standard of care of a prudent driver. All negligence is careless; a simple mistake or inadvertence will suffice. To make such an offence imprisonable because it results in serious injury is not a step that we have taken before. It offends against the principle that the seriousness of the offence should depend not just upon the act done, but on the state of mind of the offender. That is what distinguishes careless driving from dangerous driving, because dangerous driving involves a very serious departure from the normal standard of a careful and sensible driver.
I make one further point. In the absence of mechanical failure or an unexpected event, almost every accident is the result of negligence on the part of at least one of the drivers involved. Sadly, a large number of accidents involve serious injury. A broken limb is a serious injury for this purpose, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out.
The vast majority of accidents arising from negligence —whether they cause serious injury or not—do not currently lead to prosecution. I should be grateful to hear whether the Minister regards the establishment of this new offence as likely to lead to more prosecutions. This clause would leave it to the police and prosecuting authorities to pick out the few accidents which they decided should lead to prosecution. This would expose drivers to the risk of imprisonment for a simple mistake. Leaving this decision to the police and prosecuting authorities to implement in a very few selected cases would be arbitrary and unfair. It would introduce an unwelcome element of lottery into our justice system.
It may well be that the noble and learned Lord does not press this to a vote. I hope that, for the reasons I have outlined, we will get a very clear statement from the Minister as to how prosecuting decisions will be taken in these cases and as to what he regards as the likely approach to sentencing. I suggest that imprisonment for inadvertence is a retrograde step.
My Lords, I was pleased to have the opportunity to join the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on Amendment 60A—whether Clause 67 should stand part of the Bill. I thank the Minister for his time and willingness to try to assist us. I shall listen carefully to what he has to say.
The crux of this is when careless becomes dangerous. My experience in 20 years as a magistrate is that, basically, people are charged with both in the hope that the prosecution manages to make one or the other stick, as they say. I share the concern expressed by my noble friend of exactly what careless means. What should it mean? It should mean exactly what comes into our minds when we use the word. It should not be regarded as just a slightly milder form of dangerous. The thought processes behind it should be significantly different. Careless usually implies without specific intent—often a momentary lack of attention. Most of us sitting here will have suffered from this at some point in our driving careers. Most of us will have been lucky enough not to have caused an accident during that momentary lack of attention. Or, if we did cause an accident, hopefully it did not cause injury. Even the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has struggled with the definition and hence opted to try to remove the clause.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, because he has assured us that he will be able to elucidate sufficiently for us to feel that there will be a clear distinction. We do not want to face a situation in which, for example, a harassed mother with a child or two in the back who backs out of a parking space and inadvertently hits a pedestrian might go to prison, when she was backing out carefully in terms of her own concentration at that moment, was not going fast and was looking in her mirrors, but there were too many things happening at the same time for her to be able to concentrate fully and she made a terrible mistake.
I think we have all been guilty of that sort of momentary inattention or error of judgment and people should not find themselves being sent to prison for something such as that. It is therefore very important that the Minister is able to reassure us that that is not the kind of thing the Government have in mind.
My Lords, it appears that there has been some constructive discussion behind the scenes in preparation for this debate—I can see the Minister nodding his head.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his very clear exposition of the issues he is raising with this. Essentially, his points were that the law should not threaten prison if somebody is careless, when a disqualification is more appropriate, and that adding the word “very” before the words “careless” or “serious injury” is not an appropriate way forward and there should be another approach. I hope we may hear from the Minister on that in due course.
I support the opposition to the clause itself expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and also listened with great interest to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on whether the Minister thinks there may be any possible increase in prosecutions under this new definition of carelessness. I hope that is not what the Minister intends.
I also share the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that in magistrates’ courts you often see dangerousness and carelessness charged in the alternate and it is up to the court to decide which is the more appropriate charge. Having said all that, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, referred a moment ago to constructive discussions. There have indeed been discussions between me, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and, so far as I was concerned, they were constructive. I am grateful to both of them for the time they gave to those conversations. I will set out the Government’s position, and I hope it will reassure them on the various points they raised.
Clause 67 introduces a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. By creating this new offence, the clause fills an admittedly small but, we think, significant gap in the current legislation. We considered the creation of this new offence and the maximum penalty it attracts very carefully during the review of driving offences that cause death or serious injury. We remain of the view that there is a clear gap in the law. That view was supported by the vast majority of people who responded to the consultation and by the other place.
Although I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, says that this clause is wrong in principle, I respectfully disagree. I will explain why we think there is a gap in the law by looking first at the position with regard to dangerous rather than careless driving.
For dangerous driving, there are three main offences. The most serious—causing death by dangerous driving—has a maximum penalty of 14 years, to be increased to life by Clause 66. Secondly, there is causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which has a maximum penalty of five years. Thirdly and finally, there is the basic offence of dangerous driving—for example, where there is no injury. That has a maximum penalty of two years.
There is a clear and we think significant gap between the two, not three, offences that exist for careless driving. On one hand, there is causing death by careless driving, which has a five-year maximum. On the other, there is the basic careless driving offence, which has a maximum penalty of a fine, not imprisonment. We have seen some cases where there was evidence of carelessness leading to very serious and life-changing injuries, and where the only charge that can be brought is for the basic careless driving offence and the only penalty available therefore is a fine. We do not think it is acceptable that, when there is significant injury and some degree of culpability by the driver—carelessness is still a level of culpability—that can result only in a financial penalty. I stress that the level of injury required to commit the offence is serious injury, not just any injury. Serious injury is the equivalent of causing grievous bodily harm.
I shall turn to sentencing, raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in particular, in a moment. First, I should say, in response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, on prosecution that, with respect, I do not accept that it is a lottery, which I think was the word used. Prosecutions are independent of government and, for this offence, prosecutions will happen in the way that they happen for all other offences. The CPS will consider the law once it is passed. A code of practice will be issued for Crown prosecutors, and that will follow normal principles as to whether it is in the public interest to prosecute and whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. As to whether there will be an increase or a decrease in prosecutions overall, it will lie where it falls, so to speak. I do not go into this offence intending to increase or decrease prosecutions. Of course, the fact that there is an offence in the middle, between the two current careless driving offences, may mean that some things will be prosecuted here when they would not have been prosecuted previously elsewhere.
I turn to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. With respect, I accept the point he makes that, while the harm caused may be high, this remains a relatively low-culpability offence. That is why we set the maximum at two years’ imprisonment, to fit proportionately within the existing sentencing framework. Let me try to illustrate what I mean. The new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving must be more serious than the existing offence of driving when disqualified, which has a six-month maximum penalty, and where there is no requirement for either bad driving or indeed any injury. It must, however, be lower in seriousness than causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which has a five-year maximum, as I said earlier. That is why we think a two-year maximum—I underline “maximum”—is the appropriate penalty. I underline that two years is the maximum because the maximum has to take account of the worst imaginable case.
We do not expect that the maximum sentence will be imposed except in extremely serious cases, nor do we assume that a custodial sentence of even the shortest length will be routinely imposed for this offence. Sentencing is clearly a matter for the courts, but they are required by statute to consider, before imposing a custodial term, whether the offence is so serious that custody is the only suitable sentence for the offence, having first considered the alternatives to custody; then, in considering the seriousness, they have to consider both culpability and harm. Courts are, of course, also required to follow any relevant sentencing guidance issued by the independent Sentencing Council. The council is currently developing revised guidelines for motoring offences, including for this new offence, and it plans to consult on them in due course.
Normally, the Sentencing Council produces a guideline that categorises offences according to culpability and the harm caused. It will then set out starting points and ranges for the sentences in each category. It will also highlight aggravating and mitigating factors particular to the offence or the offender which the court may have particular regard to. In that way, we believe there will be full consideration of both the injury caused and the level of the offender’s carelessness in setting the sentences. Because there will be discretion for the courts to carefully consider the sentence following the law and the sentencing guidelines; because we are filling a gap in the law which can lead to injustice, albeit in a small number of cases; and because this proposal attracted overwhelming support both among the public and in the other place, I suggest to your Lordships’ House that this is a carefully considered and proportionate offence.
I hope I have answered the particular point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, but before I sit down I again record, sincerely, my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for the time they spent with me discussing the issues to which Clause 67 gives rise. I therefore suggest that it should stand part of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for his explanation, which is very interesting and largely reassuring. The one aspect of it that worries me is the comparison with the maximum six-month sentence for driving while disqualified, because that goes back to the points my noble friend Lord Marks was making: if I go out and drive while disqualified, I am doing so with a settled determination to do something I know is wrong. I have already been punished for doing something pretty bad, and I am building on that by ignoring the disqualification. Comparing that with the case of someone who goes out with no intention to be careless—because it is at the heart of carelessness that it comes on you unexpectedly—but does something wrong by mistake and someone is injured as a result, it seems to me that the mental state is far worse in the case of the person who goes out to drive while disqualified, however perfectly they manage to drive.
My Lords, of course I understand and to a certain extent accept that point; we have previously helpfully discussed it. What we try to do with the two-year maximum is find the appropriate level. One has to fit it between that six-month point and the five-year point for the reasons I have explained. Even if the noble Baroness does not accept the comparison with six years, it still obviously has to be below five years. The question is where we should put it. The central point is that maximum penalties are there for the worst imaginable case. The two years, therefore, is really for the worst imaginable case. I have sought to set out, in not too great length but clearly, why it is two years and, more importantly, what a maximum sentence means in this context and what the very limited circumstances are in which we would expect a maximum sentence to be imposed—not because the Government are telling the courts what to do but because, given the guidelines under which the courts already operate, it would be a very rare case to have a term of imprisonment or, certainly, a maximum term of two years. That is why I set it out earlier in the terms I did.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate, and in particular to the Minister for his careful attention to the points that I have raised and the carefully worded assurances that he has given us in the past few minutes.
The worst imaginable case is the reason why I accept that there is a gap that needs to be looked at and filled, and this offence obviously addresses that gap. But one is faced with the mental element that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, have drawn attention to. It is that which makes it very difficult to accept that, even for the middle layer, there should be a sentence of imprisonment at all, in comparison with the many offences where there is a distinct mental element and a deliberate intention to flout the law—to disregard it, shrug your shoulders and go ahead anyway. It is not that kind of offence, which is why it is so important to signal, as the Minister has done, that it is only for the most extreme cases that a sentence of imprisonment for this kind of offence would really be appropriate.
Obviously, we must listen and wait for the Sentencing Council to set out the scales, and no doubt it will do so with great care. But, for the time being, what the Minister has said offers some reassurance, and I am extremely grateful for that. For those reasons, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 60A withdrawn.
61: After Clause 77, insert the following new Clause—
(1) In section 11(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (interpretation of sections 4 to 10), the definition of “the prescribed limit” is amended as follows.(2) For paragraph (a) substitute—“(a) 22 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath,”.(3) For paragraph (b) substitute—“(b) 50 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood,”.(4) For paragraph (c) substitute—“(c) 67 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine,”.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 61, I shall speak also to Amendment 62. It is convenient to take the two together.
Since Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, has kindly written, and I am grateful to him for sending a letter in which he set out statistics relating to the deaths and serious injuries arising from drinking and driving and for those drinking excessive alcohol. The numbers that he quoted are broadly similar to those which I ran in Committee. Reference is also made to the later figures which have come out for 2020, on which I shall not comment because they relate, in part, to four months of the year when we were in lockdown, when traffic levels fell and a whole range of other factors were quite different from normal life. I suppose the one saving grace of that period was that pedal cyclist casualty rates fell by 34%; one can only hope that that might continue in future.
What we have had is a decade of broadly the same number of deaths of people who have been killed by drunk drivers and probably a marginally increasing number of people being seriously injured in recent years. Is this to continue? Is the law right? The Government maintain that they want more evidence before they make changes. In his opening remarks in Committee, the Minister said:
“the Government take road safety very seriously and believe that any form of drink-driving is unacceptable and a serious road safety issue”.—[Official Report, 8/11/2021; col. 1535.]
I was surprised, but pleasantly pleased, to hear him say that.
I assume that the provisions are based on science and evidence. If so, could I ask the Government again, as I did way back in 2016, when I moved a Private Member’s Bill, whether they are prepared to present that science and put it in the public domain? As the Government know, clearly, that has relevance to the law of the land.
However, why do the Government continue to permit and give guidance that allows motorists and motorcyclists to drive with quite high levels of alcohol in their blood, especially when other countries now do not? In recent years, many have reduced their levels, but not the UK and Malta. If the Government really believe what I have just quoted from the noble Lord, why do they ignore the science that the more alcohol you drink, the more you risk a collision and possibly maiming or killing people on the scale that continues, as a decade’s data now shows?
Is it not strange that the Government insist that they need more evidence from advocates such as me before they will formally require and advise people to drink less when driving? Surely, in the light of the known statistics on deaths and serious injuries, it is now up to the Government, after a decade, to justify why they continue with the law as it is, with people having advice that permits them to drive with quite high levels of alcohol in their blood. This is contrary to the science, and I argue that the Government’s position should change.
In 2014, Scotland changed from 80 milligrams down to 50 milligrams. Initially, it saw quite a change in public attitude, because there was a good deal of public relations relating to the change. Regrettably, the enforcement from the police was not prevalent or changed and, in the light of that inadequacy, the public at large slipped back—so now we have evidence quoted against us that it is only enforcement that really works and that changing the law and giving advice on what you should and should not drink will not make any difference. As I have argued, in my opinion, it would. People are entitled to know the amount they should or should not drink, and it should be lower than it is at present. Those who have known people killed or seriously injured look to the Government to clarify their position in this respect.
I accept that there is an argument about enforcement, as I did previously. It is inadequate at the moment. I speak now to Amendment 62. I have endeavoured to help the Government with a possible solution in this area, because we cannot continue with the number of deaths and the number of people being so injured. I have tabled Amendment 62, which seeks the introduction of police random breath tests. It does not require additional resources, other than the money spent on a public campaign advising people that, if they drink and drive, they run the risk of being stopped and breath-tested without necessarily committing any other motoring offence, which at present is generally not the position.
This is a deterrent. I think the Government have now seen that there are merits and benefits in using deterrents. I remind the House that, only last week, in the 10-year drugs plan, the Government announced that if people were caught purchasing and using illegal drugs they would face deterrents—the deterrent of having their driving licence or passport taken away from them. I believe this is a move in the right direction in another area, and I hope the Government will be prepared to seriously consider looking for deterrents in this area, given that the existing law has not reduced the number of deaths and the number of people being seriously injured.
I am grateful too for the invitation from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, to a number of us to talk to us about our amendments and how the Government might try to find ways of accommodating us. She reported that the Government intend to call for evidence and to establish a review of road traffic offences. I, like other noble Lords, welcome that but, having been around this House for quite some time, I am very conscious that we have embarked on similar reviews previously. We were promised one in 2014 and we still have not had it. Since then, in the area in which I am interested, 1,500 people have been killed and some thousands have suffered serious injuries.
I believe that the Government have been seeking to persuade me again to withdraw on the basis that this topic will come under the review. I do not believe that I should wait a great deal longer with regard to drink and driving offences, and I hope the House is not prepared to do so. We have been around this so many times previously—there is so much science around and so much evidence.
I hope that the Government will do the right thing—they know in their heart what the right thing is. I hope too that noble Lords will stand by their decision of 2015 on the Private Member’s Bill that I brought before the House, and which was adopted. I hope they will stand by the decision taken then, notwithstanding what their Whips might have said to them today. This House has an independence not seen to the same extent in the other place. I hope tonight that, having listened to me, noble Lords will show their independence and back the amendments that I bring before them.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 61. During the previous debate on alcohol limits, it was suggested that the evidence from Scotland did not support lowering the blood alcohol content limit from 80 to 50 mg per 100 mls.
Scotland changed its law in December 2014, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. I am most grateful to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, for asking her officials to provide me with the raw data on alcohol levels in fatalities year by year. I am particularly grateful to those officials who patiently went through the number of fatalities with me. I have spent some time today looking at this and doing graphs; I am sure that the House will be glad that I cannot project Powerpoint here. Looking at the data, two years before and about two years after Scotland changed the law, I am not convinced that there is not a change. In other words, I think Scotland stayed pretty well static, but the number of deaths in England and Wales went up.
I have not had a statistician go through the data with me, so I put that caveat around it—and O-level maths was a long time ago. However, we know Scotland has an alcohol problem and a problem with a culture of drinking. When I was a GP in a poor area of Glasgow, I certainly found that I almost had to redefine alcoholism, because alcohol was completely endemic; it really was a problem, and I think it still is. The importance of the data that I have been looking at, and for which I am grateful, is that the law change brought a message of not drinking and driving, and the messaging is important.
Last week, a young woman I knew, a superb musician who taught and encouraged many other young people, was killed by being run over by an intoxicated lorry driver. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that people apparently knew that this driver was repeatedly intoxicated on drugs and alcohol. This has been pretty devastating for me and my family in the week before we came to this amendment, but I want to share it with the House, because I want people to understand that this is real. Young, completely innocent, people are being killed by someone with this powerful weapon in their hand: the keys, the steering wheel, the accelerator, et cetera.
In 2019 alone there were 130 fatalities where alcohol was detected on the driver of the car, motorcycle or other vehicle, some at very high levels. The purpose of a threshold is not to say that it is safe to drive below that threshold, because it is not: the threshold is the threshold for prosecution by the police, because that is the level at which the impaired reaction time and co-ordination become indefensible. That impairment, however, is not all or nothing: there is a gradient of deterioration. In some people, that deterioration happens at very low levels of blood alcohol—lower than the limit set in law. I would like to see the threshold set at 10 milligrams per hundred millilitres, but I know that that would not be acceptable to others.
Laws send powerful messages, so I ask the Government: who benefits from leaving intoxicated drivers to kill people? Who loses out if they cannot drink alcohol and hold the car keys? Are the Government in the grip of the alcohol industry? Is that why we have to accept fatalities and life-changing injuries, at enormous cost to health and social care, to education services, which have to cope with the bereaved children, and to our society overall? The current law is indefensible, and it is about time we changed it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and a real responsibility to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and her hugely powerful speech. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for introducing Amendment 61 in particular. I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. She is much more of a lark and I more of an owl—so the timing works for this amendment.
I start by picking up on the account that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, gave the House of one death, and the fact that the Institute of Alcohol Studies estimated a few years ago that if the level was reduced to 50 micrograms, at least 25 deaths would be saved every year. It sounds like a number, and perhaps not an enormous number compared to the total number of deaths on the road. Think, however, about 25 individuals, like the single victim that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, just spoke about—their families, their work colleagues and the people they have helped—and ask yourself why we have the highest level of legal blood alcohol in Europe.
It is also worth picking up a point that the noble Baroness hinted at: the level we have now encourages people to think how much they can drink and still drive. I entered a search, “knowledge drink-drive units UK”, on a popular search engine—one of those that throws up a series of suggested questions based on what lots of other people have asked. The most popular question was “How many drinks can I have and drive in the UK?”, followed by “Can a man drink two pints and drive?”. That is where our current level is set—it invites people to push up to the limit.
Going back to my origins in Australia, in particular my time as a young journalist in rural Australia, I saw a great deal of drink-driving and its effects—the casualties and the families left behind. It is important, however, to stress the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, which is that any level of drinking and driving is drink-driving. Figures from the road safety charity Brake show that in the 50 to 80 microgram range, you are six times more likely to be in a fatal crash than at zero micrograms, and between 20 and 50 micrograms you are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash. It is clear that we should be at zero or at such a low level that it is effectively the same as no drinks. Let us at least improve it.
Prior to this amendment, the Government said in 2018 that they were interested in looking at this issue and were thinking very seriously about it. That was three years ago. They might say that we have had a pandemic et cetera since then, but surely this is the time to take action to get us at least to a better place and to save lives like the one the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, was just speaking about.
I will speak briefly to support my noble friend’s amendments and welcome the support that other noble Lords have given to him. I watched from the sidelines an issue that reminded me that the drink-drive legislation comes from the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. It does not just apply if you are driving on a public road; it applies if you are on a private road, driving along a beach in a 4x4 or driving round a large field or estate that you own. The fact remains that if you are under the influence there and you injure somebody, the penalties are no different from those you would incur if you were on the road.
I reflect that it is a responsibility to drive a vehicle. It is no different to driving a train, piloting an aircraft or operating machinery in a port or a factory. Most companies nowadays are adamant that employees should not have alcohol in their bloodstream. We all accept that and think it is a very good idea—we do not want to be on a plane if the pilot is half drunk. Why, then, do we accept that people can go around with too high a blood-alcohol level when driving a car, which is just as lethal as a plane, a train or a piece of machinery?
I support these amendments. I would go further, as I think the noble Baroness would. This is not about fun. It is about driving safely what can be lethal machinery.
I was very pleased to add my name to Amendment 61. Alcohol has been a factor in road safety for as long as there have been roads, but we know a lot more about it now and there is worldwide evidence of what works. That evidence has been taken up across Europe and, indeed, across the world, by a large number of countries.
In Committee, I was surprised to hear doubt being cast on this issue on the basis of an apparently disappointing impact in Scotland of lowering the limit. However, this is a very misguided approach, casting doubt on the scientific evidence rather than looking to see, if it has not worked in Scotland in the way that was hoped, why. Indeed, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that there are sound grounds for saying that it has had an impact in Scotland.
There are two factors involved in all this: the level at which it is illegal to drive and the enforcement of that level. There is scientific evidence for the former and a debate to be had on the best ways of enforcement, which is why I did not sign the other amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. That does not mean that I do not agree with it, but I think that there is a serious debate to be had about how you enforce it most fairly. The story in Scotland is that enforcement has been weak. All social change requires a combination of legislation, enforcement and social debate. There has been proper legislation in Scotland and some social debate, but also a lack of enforcement.
I want to concentrate on the statistics. In Committee, I made the point that with Scotland remaining at a stable level and things getting worse in England and Wales, you could say that Scotland was a success story. I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has done her maths and confirmed that this speculation is possibly accurate. However, I want to turn to government analysis, because government statistics say that overall, 5% of casualties in reported road accidents in 2019 occurred when at least one driver or rider was over the limit. In Wales, the figure was 6.9%, which is very disturbingly high. In England, the figure was 5.1% and in Scotland it was 4.6%, despite the fact that Scotland has a lower limit, which you would expect to lead to a higher percentage of those involved in accidents being over the limit.
So the difference might be marginal, but at least these statistics show a positive impact in Scotland—and, remember, each percentage point represents lives saved. I can think of no reason why British drivers and riders should be different from those across the world. We need to modernise, and this should be a top priority for the review of road traffic legislation—but I will be supporting the noble Lord if he presses this to a vote.
I well remember the debates that we had on this issue shortly after Scotland decided to reduce the drink-driving limit in 2014. My recollection was that the Government were in effect saying, “We want to wait and see what the outcome is in Scotland”, while others were saying, “Why wait to see what has happened? Why not just proceed and lower the limit to the same level as Scotland has done?”—which, as has already been said, would be in line with most other countries. The Government held their line that they wanted to wait for evidence from Scotland and would then look at the matter. I may be wrong, but I think that there was a general feeling that if it had had an impact on reducing drink driving in Scotland, the pressure would have been quite considerable on the Government to move, as far as this country was concerned.
Not all the suggested difficulties that might have arisen from reducing the limit in Scotland actually materialised. My understanding is that there was not a significant impact on pubs and restaurants, which is one thing that was said. We did not end up, as I understand it, with the police and the courts in Scotland being overloaded. My understanding—although obviously I will stand corrected if I am wrong—is that the lower limit was generally accepted by the public in Scotland. But it did not have the impact that many of us hoped it would have as far as drink-driving in Scotland was concerned. As I understand it—once again I will stand corrected if I am wrong—there have been academic studies by Bath University and Glasgow University that rather confirm that situation.
This is clearly an important issue and it needs looking at. There must be some logic in saying that one would have expected that reducing the drink-drive limit would have an impact on the level of such driving, to the benefit of us all—but it does not seem so far that it has had a great effect on the number or severity of accidents in Scotland. Views have been expressed this evening about lack of enforcement and lack of publicity for the change as far as Scotland was concerned, but certainly Scotland is not providing a particularly robust evidence base at present, subject to further studies and a more robust evidence base—the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred to issues concerning the figures. We need to look at all the factors that might contribute to making people safer, including, although it is only one, the level of enforcement, and the culture.
The Government have said that they are putting out what they describe as a wide call for evidence on a number of road safety issues. It is supposed to be starting in a month’s time. I hope we will be told that this will be a major one, because the question is repeatedly asked why we have a much higher limit than virtually everywhere else, and that surely the logic would show that if you reduce the limit you ought to get a benefit from that in a reduction in drink-driving.
So we welcome the call for evidence that the Government are making. I know that I cannot speak for all my colleagues in saying this, but we accept that the evidence from Scotland is not showing that the change has had the effect many of us thought it would have. There may well be reasons for that and perhaps that needs further investigation and study, but our view is that, as long as the Government commit to look at this seriously in the review that is being undertaken and the call for evidence on a number of road safety issues, we should not vote on this issue immediately but wait for that further review. However, we have heard points raised quite validly about whether this review will go on and on, or whether it will be conducted within a reasonable timescale to enable decisions to be made that could involve further legislation.
The Government need to say what plans they have to bring down the level of drink-driving. One hopes that that will emerge from the review that is being undertaken and that the course of reducing the limit might well be part of it. In the meantime, we will wait for this call for evidence and the outcome of the review. We want some understanding that it will be conducted within a reasonably speedy timescale. In the meantime, we could not support the amendment that my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe has moved if he decided to push it to a vote.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I would have some concerns about Amendment 62 and what that might lead to in terms of random breath testing. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, would have some thoughts about that.
I will say just one thing on the principal amendment. I thought what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said was very enlightening and I do not think we can totally ignore it. The Government’s slogan, on which they have spent a great deal of money, is “Don’t drink and drive”. It is not “Drink less and drive”. So I would have thought that anything that hammers that home could be only a good thing.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for again affording us the opportunity to debate the issue of drink-driving. I commend him for his long association with this particular subject; it well predates my time in this House. I know that, since the debate in Committee, he and other noble Lords have discussed this issue and other matters with the road safety Minister.
Let me again reassure the noble Lord—I fear I am at risk of repeating what I said in Committee—that the Government take road safety very seriously and believe that any form of drink-driving is unacceptable and a serious road safety issue. We are committed to tackling drink-driving and ensuring that those guilty of this offence are detected and appropriately punished. As I explained in Committee, our approach combines tough penalties and rigorous enforcement with our highly respected and effective THINK! campaigns. This approach reinforces the social unacceptability of drink-driving and reminds people of the serious consequences that drinking and driving can have on themselves and others.
Turning to Amendment 61, which seeks to change the prescribed limits, we remain to be persuaded that the proposed lowering of the limits would deliver the desired result. We believe that more work needs to be done to assess whether a reduction in the drink-drive limit would deliver the hoped-for benefits in improved road safety and a reduction in deaths and injuries on our roads. I think every noble Lord involved in this short debate has referenced Scotland. The evidence we have, following the change in the law in Scotland in 2014, does not suggest a material improvement in road safety in that jurisdiction, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, just noted.
Noble Lords will be aware of the findings from the studies by the University of Bath and the University of Glasgow that have also been referenced. The research by the University of Bath established that there has been no change across all types of accidents involving alcohol as a result of the introduction of a stricter drink-drive limit in Scotland. The independent evaluation by the University of Glasgow, published by the Lancet in December 2018, found that lowering the drink-drive limit was not associated with any reduction in total road traffic collision rates or serious and fatal road traffic collision rates, but that the change was associated with a small reduction in per capita alcohol consumption from on-trade alcohol sales.
I obviously cannot comment on enforcement. I have seen the statistics too, but I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is right: each percent represents lives saved, and we should be aware of that. Of course, the personal tragedies movingly mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also bring this debate into sharp relief.
The Government believe that our approach to any proposals for changing the law in this or indeed any other area must be evidence based. As things stand, the evidence does not support the case for lowering the drink-drive limit, although we of course keep this matter under review. But until there is a weight of evidence demonstrating that material enhancements to road safety would result from a lowering of the limit, the Government do not believe that the case for Amendment 61 has been made.
Turning to Amendment 62, which seeks to introduce random breath testing, it is again unclear to the Government if this would deliver the desired result of making the roads safer. As I indicated in response to a similar amendment in Committee, more work needs to be done to see whether there is any benefit resulting from introducing random breath testing. We would also need to examine carefully the equalities and human rights implications of doing so—an issue which I know is of concern to a number of noble Lords. I also take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, made on deterrents, particularly with regard to recent announcements in other topical areas on this subject, and I will take those back.
Having said all of that, I am going to repeat what my noble friend Lady Williams said earlier. My ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport are currently working on a call for evidence on parts of the Road Traffic Act. While details are still being worked up as to its scope, I am sure they are paying close attention to the points raised in this debate and others and will welcome suggestions on what issues could be tackled. Once the call for evidence is concluded, we would welcome submissions from all interested parties, including noble Lords and Members of the other place. I obviously cannot give commitments on how long this will take, but I hope, having heard the debate in this House, that it will be speedy.
In conclusion, we need more evidence to justify the changes to road traffic legislation proposed in these two amendments. To this end, as I mentioned, the department is considering that call for evidence. I would therefore like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, to be patient for a little while longer. In the meantime, I hope he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, can he just confirm, in the light of the comments he has made, that the consultation will consider lowering the limit below 50 down to 10 or 20, which would allow for what is termed “Grandma’s sherry trifle”, served up at a weekend, but would not —I repeat not—allow for a glass of an alcoholic beverage if you are holding the car keys? It may well be that 50 is completely the wrong level because it gives mixed messages.
I cannot give that assurance but, as I say, the scope of the consultation is still being worked up. As I have also said, once the call for evidence is concluded we would welcome submissions from all interested parties, so I am sure that that can be part of the scope.
My Lords, I am grateful to all who have participated in the debate and particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for the work that she has done. I first express my sympathy about the experience that she has had. I am grateful to others who have spoken in support. I will not go on at length at this time of night, but I have two Front Benchers who are not happy about what I am seeking—or are certainly not supporting it.
My real concern is that we have been at this for years. I am offered, along with others, a review. But if the Scottish evidence is no different, we are in a Catch-22 situation where the Government will say, “The evidence from Scotland is not satisfactory from our point of view, and therefore we will make no change”. Personally, I am very much in the camp with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and others who would like to see an even lower limit such as the Swedish one of 20. It cannot be nil, because the body itself generates a degree of alcohol that would always register, so for me personally it would be 20, but I have no evidence—other than going to Sweden and bringing it back—that will persuade the Minister. He is hooked on Scotland and what has happened. Changes need to be made in Scotland to enforce the limit more, given the problems encountered there.
So, I do not see a great deal of hope in withdrawing and waiting for this review, when there is no guarantee that the Government will take a different position—namely, that which I started on: the science is that if you drink, your risk of a collision goes up the more you drink. That is a fact of life and the scientists prove it, yet we go in a different direction and have a lead and guidance from the Government which allows people to drink and drive more than in any country in Europe, bar Malta. I believe it is wrong. I think that many Ministers believe it is wrong, and maybe even our Front Bench think it is wrong. So tonight, although I regret that it is late and I will keep noble Lords longer, I will not withdraw my amendment; I wish to test the mood of the House.
Amendments 62 to 66AA not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.