Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Debated in the House of Lords on Thursday 16th June
Amendments tabled on lowering the legal drink drive limit (not moved).
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Committee (6th Day) (Continued)
Clause 123: Licensing policy statements
Amendment 241ZC
Moved by Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
241ZC: Clause 123, page 86, line 39, at end insert-
“( ) In section 9(1) after “of” insert “not less than”.”
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, during the passage of the Licensing Act 2003, in a gesture that was helpful to local authorities as licensing authorities, the Government introduced in Section 9(1) a provision that:
“A licensing committee may establish one or more sub-committees consisting of three members of the committee”,
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who would then serve as the licensing panel on an application. I do not know if the Government then foresaw the use that local and licensing authorities might make of this provision. A present consequence of Section 9(1) is that, on a particular interpretation, licensing panels can in practice be reduced from three to two. That has the effect of making the chairman, who has a casting vote, decisive, and thus has the effect of single-person decisions. This is habitual in one London borough licensing authority, which I am led to believe is Camden; and I declare an interest as I was once a member of Camden Borough Council. It is used regularly in others and even occasionally in Westminster, where I was a Member of Parliament.
I realise that my amendment to make it “not less than” three members may not be adequate to correct this situation, although I have taken advice. However, I hope that my noble friend the Minister can at least accept the spirit of my amendment. It is a stand-alone amendment, and the others in this group relate to Clause 125. Indeed, my concerns with Clause 125 standing part will follow smoothly on from Amendment 241C of my noble friends Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Astor. I will therefore defer my remarks on Clause 125 to follow on from that amendment, thus now yielding the Floor to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, whose Amendments 241D and 241DA are on a different issue. I beg to move.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 241A in this group and the subsequent amendment, which is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, who is also supporting my amendment. I should make it clear that these two amendments have not been tabled because we disagree on this issue; we agree so totally and fundamentally that these two amendments are almost belt-and-braces measures. I would have liked to add my name to the noble Baroness’s amendment. They are very slightly different but in no way less important.
The Bill constitutes a very important opportunity to address drink-driving and the catalogue of deaths and casualties that occur on the roads because of alcohol consumption. We both would like to bring down the legal blood alcohol level from 80 to 50 milligrams per hundred millilitres of blood; that would bring us in line with many other countries in Europe. However, the best way forward seems to be to see whether all the measures to be implemented under the Bill have an effect on alcohol consumption-hence the concept of their being subject to a review-and for the review to look at legal limits specifically.
What is the size of the problem? It is estimated that nearly 12,000 reported casualties-5 per cent of all road casualties-are the result of someone driving when over the legal limit and that the number of such people who were killed in 2009 was 380 or 17 per cent of all road fatalities. It is important to remember that pedestrians are sometimes knocked over in these incidents and have a much higher risk of being killed than the person who is in the car, who is usually the person who is over the limit. The injuries
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sustained by pedestrians are more likely to be fatal as they suffer head or facial injuries, which tend to be more severe.
The number of hospital admissions due to road accidents in general is enormous. There were 39,000 admissions following road traffic accidents in 2009. Looking just at the drink-driving statistics, an average of 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured each year in drink-driving collisions, and nearly one in six of all deaths on the road involve these drivers, as I said. However, the biggest problem occurs with youngsters. Drink-driving among young men in the 17 to 29 age group is particularly high. Provisional figures from 2004 show that some 590 people were killed in crashes in which a driver was over the legal limit, 2,350 were seriously injured and 14,000 were slightly injured. The key group comprises the 17 to 24 year-olds, of whom 6.3 per cent who were breath tested after an accident failed the test. That compares with an average for all ages of 4.4 per cent. People in this age group seem particularly liable to drive when they have had too much to drink and to have an accident when over the drink-drive limit. Recent data from police checks in England and Wales show that one in 20 of under 25 year-olds who were stopped were over the legal limit. That translates into 1,746 young drivers because more than 27,000 people were stopped by the police in total.
How do we stop this catalogue of deaths and serious injuries, not only of people who are over the limit but among others? How do we stop the carnage of young lives that are wasted because they have been driving while over the limit? They may not even realise that they are over their limit but their ability to drive safely is seriously impaired. Fatalities often result from stupid little things such as not looking properly, having slightly slower reactions and driving a little too fast on a wet road. That is the background to these amendments. We cannot leave a Bill like this, which is trying to tackle a major social problem, without addressing this alcohol-associated carnage on our roads.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse, and as a member of CADD, the Campaign Against Drinking and Driving. As I have already said in the House, four members of that body have lost a relative through drink-driving.
I am happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. I will take his wise words on how to tackle these matters back to Camden. I also support Amendment 241A, standing in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and myself, and Amendment 241B, standing in my name, which would have the effect of reducing the blood alcohol level for young drivers, should the review show a case for further reform action.
Statistics on death as a result of alcohol impairment are well known, if not acted upon. We tend to concentrate on death but life-shattering and painful injuries are also a major issue. Indeed, it is mostly thanks to medical advances practised by people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others, as well as the speed and expertise of rescue crews and paramedics, that many who would otherwise have died following
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these accidents have been saved. However, they are not necessarily saved from a life of pain and impairment. As the Select Committee in another place has emphasised,
“drink driving is a preventable activity … On average, … one person dies every day”,
because drivers were over the limit. The Transport Committee also agreed that,
“medical and statistical evidence supports a reduction in the current drink drive limit of 80mg … per 100ml blood”.
However, as we know, the Government do not support such a reduction, at least for the moment, and nor did the committee, despite the wise recommendation of a reduction to 50 milligrams by Sir Peter North, although the Transport Committee would prefer a 20 rather than 50 milligram limit, which is effectively zero.
Despite the lack of action, I do not give up hope. In particular, it is worth looking within the generality of drivers at the susceptibility of the young to the effects of alcohol. This would also help to achieve the Transport Committee’s aim that the Government should work to achieve a 20 milligram level by first introducing a lower limit for young drivers. New Zealand has recognised that young bodies are more affected by alcohol. It therefore has lower limits for young drivers. As its data show, young people start with a relatively high crash risk. For drivers under 20, even at 50 milligrams their risk of having a crash is six times the level of a driver over 30 years of age with the same alcohol consumption. That is why the drink-drive limit in New Zealand is 20 milligrams per 100 millilitres for those under 20.
The evidence is clear: drink for drink, young drivers are more likely to have accidents than older drivers, quite apart from their level of experience. New Zealand is planning further action to deter young people from drinking and driving, with policies closer to those of America where the drinking age is 21. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that having a drinking age of 21 saves 1,000 young American lives a year, so New Zealand is going to raise the purchase age for alcohol to 20 years. The House will be delighted to hear that that is not where I want to go, but I want to protect our young drivers-and, as the noble Baroness said, their victims, whether they are on the streets or in the cars of those young drivers-from any temptation to drink before getting behind a wheel.
3 pm
It is well recognised that driving impairment and crash risks increase with increasing blood alcohol levels. Even at levels of between 50 and 80 milligrammes, drivers with increased blood alcohol levels are six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than those who have not drunk at all. Among drivers killed or seriously injured in the United Kingdom, 87 per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 were over the limit compared with just 13 per cent who were under it. Looking at the figures for all drink-drive accidents rather than injuries, 900 of the 7,500 drivers were under 20-double the accident rate, in relation to the number of licence holders, of the 30-to-34 age group. In terms of miles driven, accidents are six times more likely to occur among that young age group compared with the number among those aged between 30 and 34.
Tens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries could be prevented by reducing the limit. With this amendment we have a chance to start on the path of
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preventing these deaths and injuries by helping young people to say no to drinking and driving. Eight in 10 people in the United Kingdom already believe that if someone has drunk any alcohol they should not drive. Well over half the members of the AA-by which I mean the Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous-support a lower blood alcohol level. I am sure that the public’s support would increase further if they were asked about young people’s limits, not because we blame the young for their youthful drinking but because we do not want young lives to be lost, and because they are at greater danger to themselves.
Furthermore, because our ages are on all our driving licences-sadly, in the case of some of us-it is very easy to determine who would be covered by the new law. With the new digital roadside reading devices it becomes possible to have the exact reading at the point of testing, which has not been possible before, when later analysis of blood had to be relied on.
I hope that the Minister will in reply indicate the Government’s willingness to look at the possibility of a lower limit for young drivers or new drivers. It would be a sensible step that could save lives.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I can be brief in speaking to Amendment 241C. I very much commend Clause 125, which sets in place a review of the effect of the amendments to the licensing scheme. It is common ground between us, whatever side we may be on, that the proposed amendments are highly significant. The Bill provides for a review to take place after five years. In view of the significance of these amendments, Amendment 241C is designed to make that review occur every two, not five, years. That would be much more appropriate, given the significance of the changes that will have been made by the Bill.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: I support the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. There is a range of issues here that cannot wait five years to be reviewed. The amendment proposing a review after two years would be far more acceptable. I also want to draw the attention of Ministers to reports produced by this House way back in 2002, when the European Union Select Committee reviewed drinking and driving legislation and compared it with that of other European countries. The report pressed the case for the limit to be reduced to 50 milligrammes. The puritan Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe chaired that committee, so I recall it very well indeed. We must keep raising these issues, although time may pass by without speedy implementation.
It was interesting that when I was pulling out my papers on this issue, I came across a press cutting with the headline:
“MPs and peers cast eye on Lords reform”.
The article continued:
“A committee on Lords reform is today expected to seek to allay fears that the issue has been kicked into the long grass by agreeing a timetable to put forward proposals by October”.
That article was dated 9 July, 2002.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, given that Clause 125 is totally composed of reviews, I wanted to add a word on the review of ministerial guidance.
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I do that absolutely in the spirit of Amendment 241C, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, in terms of acceleration.
Much of the way in which the Licensing Act 2003 has been interpreted has been by virtue of ministerial guidance required under Section 182 of that Act. While the currently proposed legislative changes to that Act have been widely welcomed, they will take time to bed down. If the ministerial guidance were immediately to be reviewed and rewritten-it was last reviewed in November 2010; it has been a running process since 2003-subject to public consultation, many of the concerns addressed in the coalition Government’s consultation could be dealt with by providing more balanced guidance to licensing authorities to support them in getting to grips as soon as possible with the adverse effects of licensing.
In terms of involving the community, there should be an explicit statement in the guidance that local people and their representatives have an important locus in formulating policies, and that the invitation to consult on local licensing policy should ideally be simple and jargon-free, backed up by something like a crystal mark. However, the best way to involve the community more is to improve public awareness of licence applications. The Government could help by revising the currently very prescriptive rules for advertising applications that often do not work. I give an example that was, I think, mentioned in our previous debates. There are fewer and fewer local newspapers, and the advertisements in them are usually in tiny print on inside pages. The responsibility for advertising the applications should be passed to licensing authorities that can decide the most effective way to advertise applications, including circulating notices by post, on the basis of full recovery from the applicant of their reasonable costs.
What I am about to say may go beyond the scope of this clause, but it would help greatly if local councils, in response to representations from the public and responsible authorities, were to be allowed to introduce policies controlling the cumulative impact of licensed premises-such a provision was precluded from the 2003 Act-whereby the licensing authority can prevent a build-up of problems, rather than waiting until they have occurred.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, those of us involved in this debate for some time are beginning to recognise there is a risk of Brookes to the right and Brookes to the left addressing us from slightly different perspectives, but with the common cause of improving the legislation. We should be careful to get our Brookes in the right order. We must also be careful, as we debate these issues, not to fall into the camps of the puritans or nannies. Labels are hard to get right on this. This group of amendments is particularly odd. It includes an important technical amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. We should also be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady Hayter for allowing us to debate drink-driving.
When I considered this issue some time ago, the wisdom that emerged from those who were looking at it was that the problem of drink-driving largely affected
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the older generations who had perhaps grown up when social conditions were different, whereas the young had got the message that you did not drink and drive. It was a bit like the success of the seat belt campaigns that resulted, after time and effort put in all round, in everyone, or at least the younger generation, getting the hang of the fact that you had to put your seat belt on as you got into the car.
Certainly, I do not have any problem with that; my children do not seem to either. They do that immediately. We borrow from that in the sense that the younger generations picked up that you do not drink and drive; it was something that you just did not do. They organised who was going to drive when they went out. The problem came with the elderly and retired, who perhaps felt that they could hold their drink and drive. The evidence that we have heard today, especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is that that is not the case: far too much drink-driving is going on among those groups who previously have not done so. The figures are simply horrific. The catalogue of deaths is too much.
It is not just those who are driving. We have heard in this and earlier debates of the collateral damage caused by drinking. Those who drive cars where other people have been drinking find themselves less able to concentrate and drive well. Pedestrians and others who are not involved may also run into trouble.
The evidence is compelling. If you add to that the sense that the younger generation are taking harder drinks, spirits rather than softer drinks such as wines and beers, I wonder whether we have this the right way round. Should we not hear the argument for allowing people to drink and drive, rather than debating whether there is a safe limit at which people can drink and drive?
I realise that I am stepping a little further than my party has previously been on this, but we are in the delightful situation of having a policy review, so I am taking advantage of what I assume is a blank piece of paper. I sense a little support from my Back Benches. The evidence points us in one way, and we should examine the issue more carefully than simply trying to debate the niceties-although I accept that it is a serious point-of whether 80 milligrammes is right or whether it should be lower for younger people. Perhaps the Minister can add that to the list of issues that she will tackle while she remains in post-which in some ways I hope is not a long time, but long enough to allow her to make some progress here. Driving is a social condition to which we have a permissive approach, and we would not want to change that, but we recognise that matters such as the use of seat belts, phones, drugs, cigarettes and drinks all impact on safety. As a licence is issued to people to drive, it should be accompanied by other measures. The Minister is already building up a list, so I look forward to hearing her comments.
3.15 pm
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, Amendment 241ZC would amend Clause 123, which deals with local licensing policy statements, to amend the separate provisions in the Licensing Act 2003 about the composition of a licensing sub-committee. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville for his letter
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to my noble friend Lady Browning giving us advance warning of his contribution today. I understand that he has a specific concern that some sub-committees may be sitting with fewer than three members. We believe that the law is clear on this point, but I assure him that the guidance will clarify that sub-committees with fewer than three members sitting will not be quorate.
Clause 125 imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to review the effect of those clauses in Part 2 that impose a regulatory burden on businesses or civil society organisations. This follows the Government’s commitment in the coalition agreement to,
“impose ‘sunset clauses’ on regulations and regulators to ensure that the need for each regulation is regularly reviewed”.
My noble friend asks when the statutory guidance required under Section 182 will next be reviewed. I hope that he will be reassured when I say that we will be making a substantial revision of the guidance as part of the process of implementing the Bill after Royal Assent. I can also confirm that the statutory review will consider the effects of the measures on the scheme established by the Licensing Act, including consequential amendments to secondary legislation and guidance. We also intend to make regulations requiring licensing authorities to advertise applications on their websites. They must already do so in the case of reviews.
Amendments 241A and 241B would include the effect of drink-driving in the statutory review. They would also commit the Government to changing the law on drink-driving in particular ways if the review demonstrated an increase in drink-driving. I must say at the outset that I appreciate the intention behind these amendments. I assure the Committee that the Government are committed to take further action to tackle drink-driving, building on the long-term reductions we have seen in the toll of road casualties that it causes.
However, the proposed amendment would be difficult to implement in practice. It is not feasible to have an alcohol limit of zero, suggested by paragraph (b) in both Amendments 241A and 241B, for a particular class of drivers, because it is sometimes possible to detect the presence of alcohol in the bodies of people who have not consumed alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, it would be difficult to link any changes to the incidence of drink-driving directly to the provisions of the Bill. Indeed, it is challenging even to measure the incidence of drink-driving. It is not self-reported and offence data are influenced by enforcement practices.
The Government recently responded to an independent review with a package of measures to improve the effectiveness of the existing drink-drive limit. We have decided not to change that limit, for the reasons I have given: that would impose social and economic costs that are not matched by potential benefits. I also point out that other countries may have a lower limit, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned, but even then they do not necessarily have a better record on reducing drink-drive casualties.
However, we consider this to be a very important area. We have announced a range of measures in the new strategic framework for road safety to help the police enforce the law against drink-driving more
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efficiently. These include: removing the option for drivers who fail an evidential breath test by 40 per cent or less to request a blood or urine test; mandating drink-drive rehabilitation courses for disqualified drink-drivers; and developing portable evidential digital breathalysers to make it possible for the police to get evidence at the roadside and other locations.
We do not suggest that any given quantity of alcohol is safe. To some extent, I am in line with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on that point. Our message is clear: do not drink and drive. If motorists do not take that advice and exceed the limit, they deserve stiff penalties.
Amendment 241C, introduced by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, would require the Government to review the effect of the clauses after two years. The review date of five years, for which the Bill provides, fulfils the Government’s commitment to review new primary legislation that imposes a regulatory burden on businesses or civil society organisations. This timescale has been established as a standard period across different review processes, including the post-legislative scrutiny we are addressing here. We have also announced our intention to review the parts of the alcohol measures that are not subject to statutory requirement in the same five-year period.
Furthermore, if there are warning signs that the legislation is having unintended consequences, nothing in the Bill prevents an earlier review on an exceptional basis. Such a review might be triggered, for example, if evidence from the licensed trade or civic society organisations demonstrates that a measure in the Bill is causing significant harm not matched by any benefits in targeting alcohol-related problems.
However, it would be a mistake to impose a two-year review as a statutory requirement. Five years has been established as a guideline supported by the practical justification of the need to gather sufficient information to enable the effect of the regulation to be properly understood. The production of statistics necessarily lags some time behind events, so a review within two years risks having too little information available on which to base its conclusions. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in support of my amendment and remarks. I am never quite sure whether the penultimate “a” in the geographical title of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is a long “a” or a short “a”, so I shall simply refer to him as Lord Stevenson.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: For the avoidance of doubt, I refer the noble Lord to the Companion. He really ought to try it, because there are two Lord Stevensons, and it would be very confusing for me if he were in some way confusing me with the other Lord Stevenson, as the noble Lord did with Lord Brooke earlier.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am grateful for that correction. I shall therefore refer to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, as Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and he can tell me afterwards if I am right.
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The noble Lord alluded to the contributions made by me and my namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. Investing $20 with a particular printer in the midwest gave me the telephone numbers of 18,000 people called Brooke spelt in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and I spell it. I demonstrated that 5,000 of that 18,000-much the largest phalanx-were in West Yorkshire. By definition the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, is much more senior to myself. Only one-eighth of my blood is from West Yorkshire, but three-eighths is from Ulster, which in Gilbertian language passes for Yorkshire in the dusk with the light behind you, and indeed vice versa.
My principal gratitude is to my noble friend the Minister whose answers were entirely satisfactory and I am extremely grateful for them. I feel bad about adding one question to him. I am delighted to hear that the guidance will insist that licensing authorities print the applications on their website. However, that still leaves open the question that I raised with him under Clause 106 last week, on which he very kindly said he would write to me, about the difference between 28 days after the application is received and 28 days after the application is put on the website. I hope that I will get an encouraging answer on that subject between now and when the guidance is issued. I am grateful to him for nodding his head. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 241ZC withdrawn.
Clause 123 agreed.
Clause 124 agreed.
Clause 125 : Review of effect of amendments on licensing scheme
Amendments 241A to 241C not moved.
Clause 125 agreed.
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