The clause of the Scotland Bill regarding the power to prescribe drink-driving limits was debated in the House of Lords on the 28th February.
Clause 24: Power to prescribe drink-driving limits
Moved by The Duke of Montrose
47: Clause 24, page 17, line 6, at end insert-
“( ) Section 89 of the Road Transport Act 1988 (tests of competence to drive) is amended as follows.
( ) After subsection (3) insert-
“(3A) The Secretary of State shall ensure that tests under this section reflect the content of regulations relating to drink driving limits made by Scottish Ministers under section 9(3) or 11(2).””
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, in moving Amendment 47, I shall speak also to Amendment 50 in this group. We are dealing here with two further areas in which the Calman commission has taken up the wishes of the Scottish Executive to exercise more power: the setting of drink-driving limits and the setting of speed limits. Amendment 47 amends the Road Transport Act 1988 and would provide for regulations made by Scottish Ministers on drink-driving limits to be referred to in the regulations made by the Secretary of State with regard to the driving test-which, presumably, should still be the same across the United Kingdom. The amendment was suggested by the Scottish Law Society, among others, and is more or less a tidying-up exercise.
I notice that some of the other amendments have been tabled by noble and learned Lords opposite, and I feel slightly in awe of such learned names as appear attached to them. My amendments are directed solely at the Road Transport Act. It is interesting that none of those noble and learned Lords has objected to the devolution of powers on drink-driving, but some of the amendments in the group concern the devolution of speeding. It will be interesting to see what is brought up on that front. Of course, any variation will immediately bring complications for both learner drivers and visitors. The reason for my amendment is that any regulations made by Scottish Ministers with regard to drink-driving limits should be made known to any person submitting himself to a test of competence to drive.
Amendment 50 would provide that any regulations made by Scottish Ministers with regard to traffic regulation on special roads, general provisions as to traffic signs and temporary speed limits would appear in the driving test in a similar way to the issues I raised under my previous amendment.
Section 38(2) of the Road Traffic Act, which lays down the provisions affecting the Highway Code, gives the Secretary of State sufficient powers on his own to carry out the changes proposed in the amendments tabled by the Opposition Front Bench. I should not have thought that all those details about the Highway Code need to be in the Bill. I have received a briefing that may have emanated from my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench which seems rather to agree with that; he may have a similar view, and I look forward to hearing what that is. I beg to move.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I think it is in order for me to speak to Amendment 48, which is in this group, at this stage.
First, I must comment on the amendment moved by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. There is much talk in Scotland about so-called devo-max, which those talking about it find it almost impossible to define. This seems to me to be pretty close to devo-max. I cannot for the life of me see why we need to have different speed limits or different rules relating to drink-driving between Scotland and England. That will create particular problems for people who live on the border and are driving on roads which do not follow the geographical border. This seems to me to be absolutely devo-max and devo-plus. These proposals have come about because all the parties got together in the Calman commission to try to prevent the nationalists winning a majority in the Scottish elections and thought about everything but the kitchen sink that they could throw into the Bill-which, as usual with legislation these days, was not given great scrutiny in the House of Commons. Here we are in the Lords, looking at this stuff now. The Highway Code and the rules for driving motor cars are complicated enough without there being different rules for different parts of the United Kingdom, which is just plain silly. However, it is in the Bill and the Government appear to be committed to it, so we have to deal with it as it is.
Having said that, I am extremely grateful that the Calman commission, on which a number of my noble friends served, did not in its enthusiasm decide that it should give the Scottish Parliament the right to decide which side of the road we should drive on-I do not know whether it was suggested; perhaps my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas might be able to advise me on that. I make that point not just flippantly, because it is evident that the Bill as drafted gives the Scottish Parliament the power to decide the speed limit for motor cars but not that for HGV lorries. Had it been able to decide which side of the road to drive on, it could have been disastrous, because we would have had cars driving on one side and HGV lorries on the other, and we would have had a head-on collision.
I cannot for the life of me imagine why a Bill, which has been before Parliament now for nearly two years, has been through all its stages and been discussed by the Scottish Parliament, contains an anomaly whereby it makes provision for setting the speed limits for cars but not for HGVs. To give credit where credit is due, the parliamentary committee which looked at the Bill in the Scottish Parliament identified that anomaly. It is absurd that, at a time of great austerity and when local government has had its source of revenue through council tax frozen, we have a proposal that all road signs and speed limits should be able to be changed in Scotland but only in so far as they relate to motor cars but not HGVs.
I received a briefing for this Bill from the Whips’ Office whose contents I suppose I am not allowed to reveal because they are secret. It indicated that if I were to press the amendment my colleagues should resist it because, if we included HGVs as well as motor cars in the Bill, it would result in the road signs having to be changed. We would be in the absurd position where we would have to have road signs that related to the UK regulations for HGVs and road signs which were changed for motor cars, so we would have two sets of road signs. This is good news if you make road signs, but very bad news for the taxpayer.
My guess is that what has happened here is a typical intergovernmental dispute. I suspect that the Department for Transport is digging in its heels to maintain control over HGVs and the Scotland Office is saying, “Well, we’ve made this promise in Calman, so we’ll just leave it in the Bill and hope no one notices”. Amendment 48 establishes a principle which I am sure my noble and learned friend can happily accept because it certainly covers common sense, and I have pleasure in proposing it.
The Duke of Montrose: I do not disagree with my noble friend Lord Forsyth, but is it not true that the speed limit for HGVs is already low enough for the Scottish Executive not to wish to interfere with it? Is not their argument with private vehicles, which have a very much higher speed limit at the moment?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I do not have a clue, but whatever they think, Governments, as I well know, come and go, as do Ministers and Administrations. We are talking about the making of the law here and there should be consistency. It seems to me that when you are driving from London to Glasgow, the amount you are allowed to drink, what you are allowed to do in terms of the speed limit in a built-up area and what you are allowed to do on motorways and dual carriageways should be the same as they were when I learnt the Highway Code. The Highway Code should be clear to everybody and mucking about with it in this way is just plain daft. None the less, that is what we are doing. However, if you are going to give the Scottish Parliament the power to decide on a different speed limit, it seems a bit odd that it should apply not just to motorcars but to all classes of vehicles. That is a very simple point.
With regard to my second amendment, Amendment 49, and taking the point of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, if the speed limit is set at 10 miles per hour in a built-up area and I get done for speeding because I was doing 13 miles per hour, should I receive the same kind of penalty as I would if I were driving at 40 miles per hour with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour? In the same way, if the amount you are allowed to drink is reduced to zero and you have half a glass of wine and fail the breath test, should that carry the same penalty as applies in England? That is what the Bill provides. It is a nonsense.
Lord Maxton: The noble Lord has made a very interesting point. Of course, if his second point about drink-driving is true, the penalty if you are done for drink-driving having had half a glass of wine is losing your licence. Therefore, if you have the half glass of wine in Scotland and your licence is taken off you in Scotland, does that mean that you cannot drive at all in England?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I guess it does, and that is another absurdity but this is what happens when, for political reasons, politicians start mucking around with the powers that relate to Parliaments. The end result is confusion where there should be clarity, and clarity is very important in this area. If there is a case for reducing the speed limit-I think that there is a case for doing so in built-up areas and for increasing it on motorways-it should be done in the United Kingdom as a whole. In all the time that I served as a Scottish Member of Parliament in the other place, nobody ever came to me and argued the case for having a different speed limit in Scotland. People would argue about the regulations that related to where 30 mph speed limits would be but there was no suggestion that there should be differences.
Because I am very constructive when it comes to the Scotland Bill, as my noble and learned friend knows, I am very happy to accept that a decision has been taken on this. However, if you are going to make changes to the law and to the ability to change the law in respect of speeding, drink-driving and so on, the penalties should match the crime, and we are not providing for the Scottish Parliament to be able to produce the whole package. In short, this is a bit of a muddle. I look forward to my noble and learned friend’s answer and to hearing a commitment that he will sort out the muddle in the way that this House is very good at doing.
Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, my name is added to Amendments 47 and 50. However, I should like to focus my thoughts in general on all the amendments in this group, which specifically, following my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, covers the devolvement of drink-driving test thresholds to Scottish Ministers and the decision on speed limits north of the border.
Within the Bill I am broadly supportive of passing decision-making to Scottish Ministers on major issues such as raising taxes. However-and this is where I agree with my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean -my initial reaction to the proposals for potentially different speed limits and alternative breath-test thresholds on either side of the Scottish border was that they were petty, insignificant and unnecessary. Above all, I felt that any such change north of the border must surely be change for change’s sake, with the Scots just wishing to be different and having an implicit mistrust of the English authorities to set correct limits for both.
I regard us as being one nation for these purposes. In case we had not noticed, there is a seamless border between Scotland and England, so any change would necessarily mean increased bureaucracy, together with, as has already been mentioned, changes in the Highway Code, and, in particular, signpost changes everywhere along the border from Gretna to Coldstream and beyond, leading to increased costs. Above all, it would be confusing for the motorist. It has already been pointed out that if, for example, someone driving north is stopped south of Carlisle and breathalysed, and is then let off because of the limit in England, and he then unfortunately gets caught again when he is stopped at Beattock Summit, he could be over the limit there-assuming there is a lower breath test limit north of the border. The moral of the story, of course, is that one should not drink and drive; but the fact of the matter is that we should keep it simple for motorists and it is a very confusing issue.
However, that was my initial reaction and I have come round to thinking more positively about the potential differences north and south of the border. In so doing, I decided to look at the Irish experience-that is, the differences in road laws north and south of the border. Again, it is a seamless border. There are, first of all, broadly similar speed limits, the major difference being that there are kilometres in the south and miles in the north. The implications for that are that drivers have actually got used to the changes and highway codes have been changed without too much bother. The main thing is that rental companies have had to be aware of the changes and have had to, over time, issue new guidelines. Some of their cars have dual kilometres/miles per hour on their speedometers.
When it comes to the breathalyser tests, there are differences between the Republic and Northern Ireland. At present, Northern Ireland is the same as the rest of the UK, which has a limit of 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood: beyond that, you get caught. In October 2011, the Republic’s threshold was lowered to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. In Northern Ireland, there is now talk of changing to the Republic’s levels. It is no bad thing, therefore, if Scotland also goes down this route, given devolved powers.
Why is this? It is because in Scotland, the road casualty rates, some of which inevitably result from drink-driving, are 34 per cent higher per head of population-both for fatalities and for serious injuries. We should bear this in mind. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents fully supports a reduction in breath test limits. It says this is a chance for greater financial benefits for the nation as well as benefits in health and well-being.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am most grateful to my noble friend, but is he not making an argument for the whole of the United Kingdom? Is not the difference in statistics between Scotland and England, which he has highlighted, an argument about enforcement rather than the level of the limit?
Viscount Younger of Leckie: I take my noble friend’s point, which is a good one that should be discussed. It brings up the point about discussions going on north and south of the border concerning that issue. One point to make is that a recent survey highlighted the fact that 79 per cent of Scots were in favour of lowering the limit.
Finally, as has been mentioned, if Scottish Ministers did decide to change either speed limits or breath test levels north of the border, there need to be certain safeguards in place. For example, if an English driver commits a serious offence in Scotland, it is imperative that a disqualification remains in place when he returns home. There is form on this. In 1998, for example, there was an agreement of co-operation between the Republic of Ireland and 13 member states of the European Union over disqualification. I understand that there is also an agreement between Northern Ireland and Great Britain over such recognition. I think, on balance, that devolution of powers to Scottish Ministers on road safety matters is positive only if-as seems possible-there are safer roads.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I just want to raise one little matter about the drafting of Amendments 48 and 49 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Surely it would be better if the provisions to set penalties for drink-driving and for random breath-testing were put in Clause 24, which concerns drink-driving, rather than in Clause 25, which concerns speeding.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, where I disagree with my noble friend Lord Forsyth is in our attitude to devolution as a whole. I would sign up for what is called “devo-plus”. I define that as meaning the greatest amount of devolution consistent with common sense. When we come to debate financial issues I will say more about that, in the light of Prime Minister Cameron’s recent utterances in Scotland. Given that we are likely to come back to the issue in future legislation, if we take a definition of “consistent with common sense”, I say with great respect to my colleagues who served on the Calman commission that I am not certain that different categories of air guns, different drink-driving limits or different speed limits are consistent with common sense, and we would do better to remove them altogether.
My noble friend referred to those who live on the border. When I was first elected to the Commons, my constituency boundary was the English/Scottish border. My nearest railway station is across the border. When I come to your Lordships’ House by train, which I do from time to time, I have to travel across the border. Let us suppose, although it is unlikely, that the Scottish Government decided to keep the drink-driving limit higher than it is in England, and let us suppose that I repaired to that excellent institution, the Cross Keys Inn in Ettrickbridge, before setting out on my journey. I could then find myself within the law for the first part of my journey and then fall foul of the law for the second part. A much more likely scenario would be that I met my noble friend Lord Forsyth on the train going north and we had a meal and a convivial glass of wine. I could then be perfectly legal on leaving the station and suddenly illegal as I neared my home. This is not consistent with common sense. When we come to a future Scotland Bill, I hope that we might drop these issues and deal with more substantial devolution questions that are of greater interest to the Scottish people.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, as I listened to the debate I wondered whether my noble friends had driven through Europe. The exact problems they explained to the House are those that one gets in Europe. Last week I drove through three countries in about an hour and a half. In each of them there was a different speed limit. This was well signposted at the side of the road and I did not cause immense problems.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Is there not a proposal for harmonisation of speed limits and other matters in the European Union for precisely the reasons that the amendment ought to be supported? It goes with the European drift, which I thought my noble friend was very keen on.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, one of the countries was not in the EU.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, three amendments in this group-Amendment 47A, 47B and 50A-are in my name and those of my noble friends. I do not intend to speak to, or in due course move, Amendment 47B. Before I get to the meat of the amendments, perhaps I could make a general point about the Bill and the proposals from the Calman commission. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said-I hope that I do not misquote him-that this was dreamed up by a group of politicians who got together to try to prevent an SNP victory. Perhaps I was slightly naive at the time, but I did not think that that was my task as a member of the Calman commission. I am looking at two of my fellow commissioners across the Chamber and I do not think that it was in their remit, either.
In relation to road traffic, we received and assessed evidence. I have just had a quick look at it. Much of it was received from the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. It is true that we commented that it was unfortunate that we did not receive evidence from major motoring organisations representing a Great Britain-wide viewpoint. We took that into account when we reached the view that we did in relation to both drink-driving and speed limits.
At the moment, enforcement of the drink-driving limit is effectively devolved. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made an important point in relation to enforcement, when he intervened during the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger. Of course, as Lord Advocate I was very close to enforcement issues. I personally did not consider that there was any weakness in the enforcement regime, at either police or prosecution level. That is not to say that we were ever complacent about it, and there were consistent attempts to ensure that enforcement was rigorous-and yet we still see a higher fatality rate in Scotland.
We received evidence from ACPOS, which told us that there was,
“a need for a Scotland-only solution to drink driving but that this need not necessarily mean devolution of powers”,
and it was certainly keen on a “Scotland-only solution”. When we came to view the issue, we were of course aware that the Scottish Parliament had responsibility for it in relation to criminal law.
In relation to speed limits, there is already a considerable degree of flexibility for local variation in Scotland, with local authorities having powers to set their own limits. Of course, I appreciate-and the noble Lord will no doubt say-that this does not affect the national speed limits on country roads and so on. That is undoubtedly true. In relation to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about whether it is right to have differences and that people who live in border areas might find it particularly difficult, judgments have to be made as to where the balance lies and people can disagree over those judgments.
I can quite understand that from the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who has represented a border constituency and still lives in that area and is aware of these issues, that would be a much more important factor than for someone who lives at the other end of the country such as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is not in his place any more, made an important point about the fact that people have experience of driving through different countries on the continent, and the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, in relation to Ireland was also very significant.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I cannot think of an example-perhaps my noble friend Lord Steel could help me-but there are roads in the Borders which go in and out of Scotland and England as you drive along them. If there were differences in the drink-driving limits or the speed limits, would we have signs every 100 yards saying “Now it is 30” or “Now it is 20”, or would we have policemen sitting in a lay-by in England or Scotland, depending on which had the higher limit, and would we have great arguments in the courts as to which part of the road you were on?
My noble friend Lord Caithness, who has now left, talked about driving across Europe. We are not talking about driving across Europe; we are talking about country roads in the Borders. What is the utility that is being achieved here? The arguments that the noble Lord is making, with which I have some sympathy, are arguments about what the limits and rules should be; they are not actually arguments for it being different in different parts of the United Kingdom.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: I am not familiar enough with the borders to say to what extent roads come in and out of Scotland and England. The picture the noble Lord seems to be painting is that every 100 yards it meanders over the border. Of course, I am aware that a river forms at least part of the border. I actually thought that there were more significant difficulties with Northern Ireland and the Republic. I remember reading stories about people having part of their house in the Republic and the other part in Northern Ireland. Of course, you would not drive through a house. Nevertheless, roads probably do meander more over there than they do between Scotland and England. I take the noble Lord’s point; clearly there may be times when there are issues with that. I should think that there will be a common-sense approach between police forces on both sides of the border, as there already is in relation to jurisdictional difficulties, wherever they might arise.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: I may be able to help the noble and learned Lord. The road that I use to go to Berwick-and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Steel, does the same-goes through a small village in Scotland, in which the speed limit is 40 mph. When you go into England, it is 30 mph. I happened to get caught going at 35 mph in the village of Wark, so there are differences at the moment on these roads.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: I am obliged to the noble Lord for that information.
A number of issues are raised by these amendments as a whole. The first is one of road safety. That has already been raised in the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Viscount, Lord Younger. It was also raised in the amendments that we have put down. There are two particular issues here. One relates to the Highway Code, the other to the driving test.
Paragraph 95 of the Highway Codesays:
“You MUST NOT drive with a breath alcohol level higher than 35 microgrammes/100 millilitres of breath or a blood alcohol level of more than 80 milligrammes/100 millilitres of blood”.
It then tells you why you should not do that; alcohol will give,
“a false sense of confidence … reduce co-ordination and slow down reactions … affect judgement of speed, distance and risk”.
Paragraph 124 and the accompanying table in the Highway Code reflect the speed limits, and say:
“You MUST NOT exceed the maximum speed limits for the road and for your vehicle”.
It is of course clear that if Scottish Ministers exercise their powers under the Bill, and vary the limits in either case, that will have a knock-on consequence for the Highway Code and for the driving test. It is important to ensure that people are sufficiently aware of the differences where they exist. It is important that we do not have some kind of Scottish edition of the Highway Code that reflects only the Scottish position but have instead a code that is still a United Kingdom code but that reflects differences in these limits where they exist. On the speed limit, for example, the accompanying table could be quite simply amended to show these differences where they exist.
The Calman commission obviously missed a trick when we decided not to give the power to the Scottish Parliament to change the side on which the traffic moves. Driving on the left seemed to us to remain important.
The other issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was HGVs. The Calman commission did not distinguish between different types of motor vehicles. I am unclear why that distinction is there and why it remains, and I certainly look forward to a good explanation, shall we say, from the noble Lord, of why that should be. It really does not make sense to have that kind of distinction. He may say that long-distance truck drivers are used to driving over the border, but that raises the question as to why we are devolving it at all. In fact, these very people are more likely to be aware of the differences where they exist. Therefore, if he were to advance that argument, it would not be an argument that I would accept.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, also raised an important issue about penalties. The Calman commission simply looked at the offences and the limits on the blood alcohol and breath alcohol levels and the speed limit. I do not think that we mentioned penalties. However, there is an important point here. A reduction in the limit is more important when one talks about the alcohol limit. For example, there has been talk of a reduction to zero. If that happens, the penalty would be an automatic 12-month ban. Even someone with a minute level of alcohol would be subject to that automatic 12-month ban unless the Scottish Parliament had the power to vary not just the alcohol level but the penalty.
While this Bill devolves responsibility to the Scottish Ministers to set the blood alcohol level, that devolution might be constrained. Ministers might take the view that, while they are in favour of a reduction in the blood alcohol level, the penalties that would necessarily be imposed because they did not have the power to vary the penalty would mean that the penalty would be disproportionate.
Perhaps there is an issue about the ability to amend primary legislation, but this is a very real issue that the Minister has to take away and look at seriously. Otherwise, we would not properly devolve this matter at all and would be giving only one part of a solution to the Scottish Ministers. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that issue as well as on HGVs, and I look forward to hearing from him.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord would explain to me what considerations he has in mind that justify the ability to set different blood alcohol levels north and south of the border. It seems to me that the people who live north and south of the border do not have greater sensitivities to these things. The purpose of the law is not to deal with the problem after the event but to prevent people driving with too much alcohol. The commonality of the law north and south of the border makes it clear to drivers what is acceptable. I cannot think that before they set off to cross the border, people are going to check precisely what milligram limits are acceptable on one side or the other. If there is any doubt about the limits of susceptibility, that ought to be discussed by doctors across the United Kingdom before the law is changed.
Lord Lyell: My Lords-
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: Perhaps I could first respond to the noble Lord’s intervention. I have to say with the greatest respect that I do not accept the proposition he is putting. In the first place, the number of cross-border journeys that are taken in relation to the entire number of journeys made in the UK is minuscule. Typically, people are caught drink driving over very short distances because they are driving home either from the pub or after having gone out for a meal. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, is not in his place, but let us say he goes from Ettrick over the border to catch his train, having enjoyed a good meal. Before he catches his train, he gets caught because over the border there is a different limit.
Lord Maxton: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend give way?
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: I will in a moment. The answer is that you should know what the limit is before you set out on your journey, and that should be the case for everyone.
Lord Maxton: There is another problem, if we take the example of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. If the noble Lord has a decent meal in the evening with a few drinks, and gets up the following morning and drives his car, he may then be stopped because increasingly, particularly in holiday periods, the police are stopping drivers early in the morning and breathalysing them. Of course, people are not aware of the dispersal rate of alcohol in their bodies.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: The Highway Code is quite explicit: you should be aware of the amount you have drunk the night before. I had people around for a meal recently. They were not driving, but when I offered them another drink, they said that they could not take it because they would be driving the following morning. That is sufficient for me. With respect, I get the impression that people are more and more aware of both the drink-driving limits nationally and the necessity of ensuring that they do not drink in the evening if they are going to be driving the next day.
Lord Lyell: The noble and learned Lord is making one point. We have heard a great deal about the limits and the penalties. My noble friend Lord Caithness was driving in Europe and went through three countries. In many countries across the Channel, the limit may be 50 milligrams or thereabouts, but often the penalty is either what I would call a light rap over the knuckles or three months. But if the level is 80 or 100 milligrams, which is what we have, quite often it will be one year or even more. Ever since, I think, 1967, the level has been 80 milligrams and 12 months. If we are going to have lower limits as there are in some Scandinavian countries-in Finland, but not Sweden or Norway so far as I am aware, it is zero; I do not know what the penalties are, whether they fluctuate or vary-would my noble and learned friend the Minister put that into the frame when he comes to respond to this?
Lord Sewel:I do not think the real issue in respect of penalties is about proportionality but to do with the type of case we have heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and my noble friend Lord Maxton, of the person living one side of the border who finds himself on the other side and commits what is an offence on that side but not on the other side. The imposition of the penalty then affects him where he is resident-he would lose his licence for the whole of the United Kingdom although he has committed no crime in England. That sort of situation will not enjoy public confidence.
Lord Cameron of Lochbroom: As the debate continues, it seems we are missing something. If I think back to my days in the law, we had a book called Road Traffic Offences, which dealt with the whole substance of road traffic law, which included regulations in respect of licensing and also of course the issue of penalties. Here, we are, in part, trying to add on to a United Kingdom Act-the Road Traffic Act 1988 in one case, and the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 in another-little bits that will apply only to Scotland and which devolve power to make certain changes in the whole structure of road traffic law in that way. As an individual who has to obey the law, I would find it very difficult to find where to go to in order to understand what my obligations are in driving. Leaving aside the issue about licensing and the like raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, the United Kingdom licence is a licence to drive anywhere-yet we are asking individuals throughout the United Kingdom to have regard to regulations made by two separate bodies, each with their own responsibilities, which are giving rise to a whole series of different and very difficult questions that have already been brought to mind in this debate. I wonder whether-
Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan: Before the noble and learned Lord leaves that point about two different jurisdictions, can he perhaps clear up for me the difference in relation to corroboration between Scotland and England? As I understand it, at the moment, because we have UK traffic legislation, only one policeman is required to provide evidence in an arrest. However, were Scottish legislation to apply and there was a different alcohol or speed limit, would that be subject to a different form of corroboration, since it came from Scots law rather than UK law?
Lord Cameron of Lochbroom: The noble Lord raises an interesting point. I would not wish to give any definitive opinion as it is a long time since I have had to deal with these matters. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, is probably better able to do so, as he has a more modern understanding of road traffic law as a recent Lord Advocate in Scotland. However, these questions arise over a whole series of issues apart from road traffic. We are getting into an area where I wonder whether the kind of devolving of powers that is being sought here is in fact creating more problems that it would do if the whole issue of road traffic legislation-instead of being under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 or the Road Traffic Act 1988-were left as a separate Act that applies within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament. That would be much clearer for members of the United Kingdom.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: The noble and learned Lord threw me that one and I will just take it up. It is true that there are a whole range of United Kingdom statutes that nevertheless require different evidential standards on both sides of the border. There is the Misuse of Drugs Act, for example, where corroboration would be required in relation to those offences that were prosecuted in Scotland but not-I think I am right in saying-in England and Wales. The same, of course, is true of the Road Traffic Act. If I may say so, that possibly just reinforces the point that different jurisdictions will have different rules of evidence and in theory, or at least in principle, there is nothing to stop them having different penalties and limits for particular offences.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has given rise to a number of important issues. I share with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, his analysis of how the Calman commission went about its work. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose suggested that we were trying to deliver what the Scottish Executive wanted us to. If only the Scottish Executive had made any connection with the Calman commission-they studiously did not give us any evidence or indication of what they wished-their engagement might have been productive.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, indicated, this was done on the basis of evidence. It was recognised by the commission that there are already different speed limits; there are already powers to set speed limits on local authority roads devolved to local highway authorities through road traffic regulation orders. They are free to use their knowledge and assessment of local roads and may set different speed limits of 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 miles per hour where they think it appropriate.
There was a view on drink-driving that it was part of criminal law, which is already devolved-but perhaps more importantly there are serious alcohol abuse issues in Scotland. I do not think that anyone is running away from them. The view was that this might be one other measure that could be part of how alcohol abuse could be tackled in Scotland.
Before we get on to some of the more specific issues on speeding and drink-driving, I shall take up the important points that have been raised by my noble friends the Duke of Montrose and Lord Younger as well as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, on the highway code and the driving test. The amendments to which they spoke seek to ensure that provisions of the highway code reflect the content of regulations made by the Scottish Ministers on speed limits and the drink-drive limit under the powers devolved to them in the Bill, assuming that those powers are actually used and changes made.
I fully agree that the highway code should reflect any changes made as a result of the powers being devolved, but it is important to note that there is no other legislation on the content of the code, either in the Road Traffic Act 1930 or in the supplementary provisions in Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It would be disproportionate if the only specific statutory requirement on the content of the code were the few provisions in the Scotland Bill when there is no other such requirement to include any specific items of English, Scottish or Great Britain legislation. The code provides guidance, but it is not a comprehensive description of all road traffic legislation. However, I assure my noble friends that the mechanism exists to ensure that the highway code is accurately and adequately updated. It was referred to by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose that Section 38(2) of the 1988 Act gives the Secretary of State the power from time to time to revise the code by revoking, varying, amending or adding to the provisions in the code in such manner as he or she thinks fit.
Section 38(3) places the Secretary of State under a duty to lay proposed alterations to the code, other than those that are merely consequential on the passing of an amendment or repeal of provisions, before both Houses of Parliament at least 40 days before she proposes to make the changes.
Under Section 38(4), if the House resolves that the proposed alteration should not be made, the Secretary of State must not make the proposed revision to the code. Perhaps significantly, Section 38(5) of the 1988 Act states:
“Before revising the Highway Code … the Secretary of State must consult with such representative organisations as he thinks fit”.
That would include the Scottish Government as was the case during the last major revision in 2005 to 2007.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am sorry, I am rather confused. Which Secretary of State are we talking about here? Is it the Secretary of State for Transport?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Yes.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: So the proposition is that the duty lies on the Secretary of State for Transport to make amendments to the Highway Code, which may have been made by the Scottish Parliament.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Yes, it is the Secretary of State for Transport-I hope that I said “she”-and that would be the case. There are regular revisions of the Highway Code. As I might have said or was about to say, Scottish Ministers were consulted during the last revision and it is intended that they will continue to be consulted.
It would not be helpful to have two separate editions of the Highway Code. I think I am right in saying that one contributor to the debate strongly urged that we should not have a tartan edition of it as well. It was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby. There should be one edition of the Highway Code, but of course it should reflect the differences that are there, and there is indeed a mechanism for doing that. The Government are therefore of the view that an amendment providing for an update to the Highway Code in the Scotland Bill is unnecessary.
Again, with regard to driving tests and the content of regulations, changes made to speed limits are somewhat parallel. Section 195 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 already requires consultation with representative organisations prior to making regulations relating to the driving test. This would include the Scottish Government. I understand the point that questions in the driving theory test about speed limits and drink-drive limits should reflect any new Scottish limits. As with the Highway Code, the driving theory test is regularly updated and significant changes to road traffic legislation can be included. Like the Highway Code, currently the content of the test is not a matter for legislation. To start adding specific requirements as to what the test must reflect, which may be subject to change in the future through primary legislation, would be inappropriate.
Nevertheless, I accept that important points have been made about driver awareness of any changes across the United Kingdom. To that end, I confirm that it is standard practice for the Scottish Government to be consulted when changes are proposed to the driving test. The theory elements of British driving assessments are already amended to reflect legal changes with substantial effects on what is covered in the assessments. I confirm that a change to the national road speed limit or the drink-drive limit, whether it were across the remainder of Great Britain after the transfer of power or in Scotland, would be such a change and would be reflected.
Lord Maxton: I have one small question. I take the point about local authorities imposing speed limits as they wish, but motorways of course come under the Highways Agency. If I am I right, and if there is therefore a variation in a motorway speed limit, as there can be-there is, for instance, on the very good new M74 through Glasgow, where a 60 limit goes down to a 50 mile an hour limit-who imposes that? Who is consulted, and who is putting that speed limit on?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, motorway maintenance, for example, is certainly devolved to the Scottish Government. I rather suspect that the motorway speed limit is set under UK legislation. If I am wrong, I will either clarify it before the end of this debate or write to the noble Lord, either to confirm or to clarify. I certainly know that the maintenance of the motorway network is a responsibility of the Scottish Administration.
The amendment which noble Lords opposite also propose would require the Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State to jointly make regulations governing the enforcement of the alcohol limit for driving if the limits in Scotland and England differ.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean:Before we leave the Highway Code, let us say that this legislation has gone ahead and, for the sake of argument, that the Scottish Parliament has decided to make the speed limit 60 miles an hour rather than 70. If I am a youngster taking my driving test in Hampshire and am asked what the speed limit is on country roads and I say, “70 miles an hour”, will I pass the test or do I have to say, “It is 70 miles an hour in England and 60 miles an hour in Scotland.”? Listening to him, I do not know how my noble and learned friend will answer that question. I would like to think that the answer is that you have to give both, but how will that youngster know that and what will the mechanism be by which this will be communicated?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I think the answer is that the noble Lord would fail the test, because in fact it is 60 miles an hour in England. It is 70 miles an hour only on motorways, not on country roads, so with all due respect he might actually have found that he failed the test regardless of whether the country road is in Scotland or England, but I take the more general point that he was making.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: What is the answer?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The answer is that it would be in the Highway Code and the question would stipulate whether it meant the speed for motorways in Scotland or in England. These are not insuperable problems. This reminds me of the days of the Calman commission when some of these issues were being teased out. I thought that if, prior to the union between Scotland and England, there had been no difference in the law on marriage with consent and someone had suggested that in Scotland you could marry without your parents’ consent at 16, people like the noble Lord’s ancestors would have stood up and said, “What about Gretna Green? People will be flooding to Gretna Green to get married!”. Well, so they did, and the heavens did not fall in and the union stayed together; indeed, it has been very good for tourism in that part of the south of Scotland. You can pick up these little points and tease away at them, but they are not going to end the union. The union allows for these differences if they are thought proper and appropriate.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: This is all very amusing, and I take the point that I should have said dual carriageways-motorways, rather-with regard to the speed limit, but amid all that bluster my noble and learned friend gave the answer: it would be in the Highway Code. How will it get into the Highway Code if my noble and learned friend does not accept these amendments? Are we relying on the Secretary of State for Transport finding out what is going on in the Scottish Parliament and communicating that? How will this be achieved?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, my noble friend is building a mountain out of a molehill. These matters are not exactly going to be slipped under the carpet. As I have indicated, Scottish Ministers were fully consulted in the most recent consultation on the revision of the Highway Code, and there is no reason to suggest that that would not happen again. Indeed, there might be even better reasons why that should happen if these powers are devolved. In the course of these debates my noble friend has put his finger on a number of important points, but I sometimes think that he is trying to make difficulties where in practice none would exist. A young person, or indeed an older person, who has not passed their driving test has to learn the Highway Code to take the theory test, and there are a whole host of questions to learn. Reserved matters change, and that is reflected subsequently in the Highway Code, but people are expected to be prepared for the test that they are about to sit.
I pick up my noble friend Lord Steel’s point on people crossing borders. My noble friend Lord Caithness said that he had driven through three countries in Europe where the speed limits changed. I recall driving through different states in the United States where speed limits changed. It was picked up that we are talking not about main roads-the M6 or the M74-but about country roads that could cross borders. I suspect that the same applies to boundaries in some other countries as well. There is certainly a boundary between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and matters are resolved there, just as when you have local speed limits.
I can think of one particular local speed limit on the west side of Shetland. I never understood why there was a 40 mile an hour limit there, in the middle of what was otherwise a 60 mile an hour limit, but you observed it, or tried to, and then when you passed the de-restriction sign you went back up to 60. It did not actually cause any practical difficulties. You can have such a variety of speed limits in local areas and around schools in built-up areas. The limit could be 20 miles an hour, and it does not seem to cause any difficulties. People see what the speed limit is-there have to be signs-and they obey it.
Lord Sewel: There is a fundamental difference between comparing the Scotland/England situation with that of Northern Ireland and the Republic. They are different states; that is the important issue. I am still concerned about someone crossing the border committing an offence on one side that is not an offence on the other side but losing their licence on a UK basis.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I give the example of the United States, which is one country where there are different speed limits in different states as you cross them. The noble Lord also mentioned licences. However, the point is that certain things are crimes in Scotland but not necessarily crimes in England. Just because you commit and are found guilty of a crime in Scotland, it is not a defence to say, “Ah, but in England I wouldn’t have committed a crime and, therefore, wouldn’t have been fined or gone to prison”. You must accept the law in the place where you are. If you go out to drink and drive, you should have regard to what the limits are. For the sake of argument, if the limit in Scotland was lower and you knew that you would be driving in Scotland, you should have proper regard to what the law is there.
As someone who was brought up some eight miles from the English border, when I was 18 we certainly knew the difference between the licensing hours in Gretna on the Scottish side and Longtown on the English side. In fact, there was a pub much closer, just across the border on the other side of the A74 from Gretna Green. Local people know what the different laws are on both sides of the border. As I say, if you are drinking and driving you should have proper regard to what the law is in the country in which you are driving.
Lord Sewel: Is the Minister’s position that if, as in the case that I cited, a person drives across the border and commits a crime in Scotland that is not a crime in England, it is perfectly understandable that, if the situation allowed, he should lose his licence in Scotland but not in England, where he has done nothing wrong?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, at the moment you could be in a position in which you gain penalty points, which could cumulatively lead to you losing your licence, because you have breached a 20 miles per hour speed limit set by a local authority. Just because a local authority in Hampshire would not necessarily have designated a 20 miles per hour limit for a similar area, that in no way means that the penalty points that you have accumulated for speeding-perhaps outside a school in Lanarkshire-should somehow be discounted. The point is that if the decision made by the Scottish Parliament was that the law should reflect the problem of alcohol abuse in Scotland, it follows that people are aware of the penalties.
The Marquess of Lothian: I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. He quite rightly said that there are signs to tell you whether the speed limit is 30, 40 or 50 miles per hour. I live in the borders as well and sometimes, to get from one part of the Scottish borders to another, I go through England. Is he suggesting that there should be signs to tell us what the drink driving limit is on both sides of the border?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am suggesting that the noble Marquess, being a responsible citizen and knowing the circumstances, will know that the law is different in Scotland and England. After all, let us recall that the Scottish Parliament introduced a ban on smoking in public places well ahead of other parts of the United Kingdom, yet there appeared to be no problem with visitors to Scotland not knowing that the ban existed in Scotland, albeit that at the same time it did not exist in England. These matters will not be dealt with clandestinely. You can bet your life that if the change is made it will be well broadcast. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Younger indicated, a change was made in the Republic of Ireland that was well known. I am sure it was well known throughout the island of Ireland. Living in Scotland and working in London, I was certainly conscious that that particular change had been made.
On the question of penalties, there is of course no maximum limit to a disqualification. These matters are best taken into account by the court. I hear what the noble and learned Lord says about the minimum disqualification period, especially if it were to apply in the event of there ever being zero tolerance of alcohol. He makes a point that I certainly wish to reflect on because it is a different point. If there is a maximum limit, no special arrangements need to be made as it is properly a matter for the court to take into account when determining the circumstances of any given offence.
I shall try not to disappoint my noble friend too much on the question of speed limits applying also to HGVs. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, said, the Calman commission made no distinction in that regard. Indeed, I do not think that it was ever invited to do so. I should indicate to the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, that motorway speed limits are set by the Motorways Traffic (Speed Limit) Regulations 1974. They are set by the UK Government but may be subject to exemptions. If there are relevant exemptions, I will certainly write to the noble Lord.
As regards the speed limits, I know that I will hugely disappoint my noble friend and other noble Lords in saying that the explanation that was proffered concerned the development of signage, as he perhaps anticipated. I am aware that that will not satisfy my noble friend. In the light of what he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, have said on this point, it is only proper for me to take that issue away and have
further discussions with officials in the Department for Transport as I can see the force of the argument that he has presented. I hope on that basis of the reassurance that the matter will be further considered, he will be prepared not to press his amendment. I also hope that my noble friend the Duke of Montrose is reassured about some of the points that he made and will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in the debate. As noble Lords are aware, we have explored many avenues, although possibly not all, that could be exhausted on this topic. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, mentioned the main themes that have run through the debate such as road safety and which side of the road we drive on. However, it seems to me that if the alcohol driving limit is reduced to zero, using certain brands of cough mixture might get one into trouble.
I was grateful to my noble and learned friend the Minister for addressing my proposed amendments to the Road Traffic Act 1988. I purposely avoided tabling amendments to do with the Highway Code. It seems to me much more important at least to get the matter clear for people sitting the driving test. I shall read my noble and learned friend’s response, which was very detailed as this matter requires a detailed response. We have all been trying to avoid muddle. That theme seems to run through this group of amendments. My amendments do not seek to gainsay the recommendations of the Calman commission, but it seems to me that if any of these amendments are accepted, the two amendments standing in my name would need to be accepted also to avoid muddle.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace, who did a formidable job of making bricks without straw. I am very disappointed that he did not tell us the Department for Transport’s arguments for having different speed limits for cars and lorries. Despite all the towns and byways that he mentioned on which separate speed limits apply, I am not aware of any town or community in Scotland that can set a speed limit for lorries as well as cars, which is what is proposed in the Bill.
I am most grateful for the assurance that my noble and learned friend will look at this. I take it from what he said that he is also looking at my Amendment 49 on penalties. I shall certainly be happy not to press my amendments and I entirely agree with my noble friend the Duke of Montrose that his amendments are also worthy of further consideration.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Amendments 47A and 47B not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clause 25 : Speed limits
Amendments 48 to 50A not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Clause 26 agreed.