8 January 2004

(S2O-1045) Breath Test Equipment

3. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether portable breath testing equipment used by police forces is calibrated to detect 9 micrograms or more of alcohol in 100ml of breath as well as being able to detect 35 micrograms or more in 100ml. (S2O-1045)

The Minister for Justice (Cathy Jamieson): There is no current requirement for equipment to have that capability. However, steps are being taken to ensure that equipment is calibrated and test approved in time for the implementation of new United Kingdom legislation later this year.

Stewart Stevenson: The minister will be aware of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, which introduces breath testing for pilots. I am sure that she shares my distress that there have been a number of instances where pilots have been unfit for duty because of alcohol. When will the police stationed at Scotland's airports have the necessary equipment to test at 9 micrograms and thus be in a position to enforce the valuable new legislation?

Cathy Jamieson: I share the member's concern. I am aware of the provisions of the 2003 act; although it is on a reserved subject, it relates to a number of issues in Scotland. I am told that all our airports, including the smaller rural airfields, will have access to hand-held, portable breath testing equipment. It should be on site and available in time for when the legislation comes into force. That will mean that people will not be required to be taken away from the premises. Were they to fail the test, that would of course have to be followed up. I am sure that the member will also be interested to know that the 2003 act applies to private as well as commercial aviation personnel.

Maureen Macmillan (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Does the minister share my concern about the increase in drink-driving figures over the Christmas and new year period? I am ashamed to say that the worst part of the country in this regard seems to have been the Northern constabulary area, where the increase was well over 50 per cent. Has she any plans to research why there is a continuing increase in drink-driving cases? Is she considering increasing penalties for drink-driving or employing some other sanction, so that we can stop this worrying upward trend?

Cathy Jamieson: Again, I share the member's concern. It is vital that we continue to adopt a very high profile on drink-driving so as to ensure the safety of people in our communities. I am sure that other members will, like me, have received letters from families whose lives have been devastated because of the consequences of drink-driving. I would want to work with the police, the Minister for Transport and others to consider how we make progress on the matter.

There is a very clear message here: to drink and drive is simply not acceptable. It is far too dangerous, it is far too serious and, tragically, far too many lives have been lost.

Stewart Stevenson
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