Orders of the Day — Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st March 1976.

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Order for Second Reading read.

3.53 p.m.

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a somewhat unusual experience to stand at this Dispatch Box and commend a Bill to the House on a free vote, and no doubt many hon. Members would like this to happen more often. This is a special Bill which would give effect to a policy which has had the support of successive Governments but which touches on a question which this House has always, rightly, considered to be of the highest importance—the duty of the State with respect to the liberty of the individual. That is why we have felt it right to submit our proposals to a free vote of the House.

This is a day for which I have eagerly waited, and I am particularly encouraged by the support from all quarters of the House for the Early-Day Motion recently tabled by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) and others. The terms of that motion remind us forcefully of the hard truth that underlies our debate today. On the outcome of this debate and the vote that will follow it the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens will depend.

Although this is the first opportunity which the House has had to express its view on the question, it has been with us for a number of years. A similar clause was moved by Lord Montague, supported by Lord Avebury and Lord Davies of Leek, at the Report stage of the Road Traffic Bill introduced in 1973 by the Conservative Administration. That Bill was lost with the dissolution of Parliament in February 1974. It was reintroduced in the Lords in similar form, including a clause on seat belts, in May 1974 by the last Labour Administration. On a close vote at Report stage in the Lords, the seat belt clause was removed. At Committee stage in the Commons, the hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) moved its reinstatement, but this was defeated overwhelmingly on Government advice that it was not appropriate to introduce such a controversial measure on a Friday afternoon and that the passage of the Bill might be jeopardised.

The provision was reintroduced as a separate Bill in the new Parliament, but the debate on the Second Reading in the Commons on 21st November 1974 was adjourned at 10 p.m. without a Division. My right hon. Friend the then Minister for Transport and the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) had spoken, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) was addressing the House at the time. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to find time for the completion of that Second Reading debate in the last Session. Consequently, the House is today invited to commence its consideration of the proposition afresh.

There is, however, nothing new in the idea of seat belt-wearing, nor is there anything revolutionary in the idea that wearing should be mandatory for all drivers and front-seat passengers. It has long been recognised that there is a need to give better protection to car occupants who are relatively extremely vulnerable as cars are involved in one-third as many accidents as buses and five times as many deaths occur for every occupant-mile.

Among those instruments which have been tested, air bags, crushable internal structures, lap belts and three-point belts were all under experiment in this country and abroad and three-point belts have been found to be the most effective. In 1967 their value was evident and the decision to introduce compulsory fitting of belts to new cars under Construction and Use Regulations was taken. This was later extended to all post-1965 cars.

Consideration was given at an early stage to whether the wearing as distinct from the installation of belts should be made compulsory. No other country had tried this, so those responsible for road safety decided to try public education and persuasion, first through advertising. The advertising more than paid for itself in casualties saved, increasing the wearing rate to the present average of just over 30 per cent. and to 40 per cent. for private cars on motorways, where, ironically, driving is safer. However, because the funds available for advertising were limited, and because the experience in other countries confirmed the research work which had been done here, the pressure to make wearing compulsory continued.

The Bill is, in reality, a brief enabling Bill of two clauses. With the exception of the omission of the former Clause 2(2) for technical reasons, the present Bill is in precisely the same terms as the Bill which was introduced in 1974.

Clause 2 will not, I suspect, detain the House long. Subsection (1) provides the Short Title of the Bill, and subsection (2) provides that the Bill shall not apply to Northern Ireland, to which the Road Traffic Act 1972 similarly does not extend and which has a separate body of road traffic law from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Clause 1(2) provides the penalty for failing to comply with any Regulations made under the clause, namely, a maximum fine of £50 on summary conviction, which is the same as that for motor cyclists who fail to wear safety helmets. The offence is not endorsable and is not subject to disqualification.

Clause 1(1) is the heart of the Bill. It inserts in Part I of the 1972 Act a new Section 33A to enable the Secretary of State to make Regulations requiring the wearing of seat belts of such a type as may be prescribed. There is also provision to make appropriate exemptions from this requirement for different classes of vehicle, persons and circumstances and to prescribe conditions in which these exemptions will apply. I shall come in a moment to the types of exemption which I have in mind later to recommend to the House.

I assure the House that my intention will be to make Regulations under these powers, if granted, to require the wearing of seat belts only where they are already fitted. I emphasise that point. The intention is that they will relate only to types of belt required to be fitted already in Construction and Use Regulations under Section 40 of the Road Traffic Act 1972. As hon. Members will know, the present requirement to fit belts extends to motor cars registered since 1st January 1965, light vans of up to 30 cwt. registered since 1st April 1967, and certain three-wheeled vehicles first used on or after 1st September 1970—that is to say those specified under Regulation 17 of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1973.

There is thus no question whatever of anyone committing an offence when driving an elderly vehicle to which the fitting of belts is neither mandatory nor practicable. Our estimate is that some 90 per cent. to 95 per cent. of cars and small vans are already fitted with belts, and, of course, this proportion will rise with the passage of time.

I need hardly say that Regulations made under the new Section 33A will be subject to the normal statutory consultation with representative organisations and the negative resolution procedure prescribed in Section 199 of the 1972 Act. I envisage that they will be modified from time to time in the light of experience and of technical developments.

I turn now to the question of exemptions. I know that concern has been expressed that these should run as widely as possible. On the other hand, it could be argued that to keep the number of exemptions to an essential minimum will be desirable so as to keep the law as simple as possible. I have a very open mind on this subject. I am ready to consider any reasonable grounds for exemption, and I take as my starting point the list put forward by my right hon. Friend my predecessor in office in November 1974, namely, driving in reverse, local delivery and collection services, small children, medical cases, taxi drivers and those physically unable either to fasten a belt or to reach the central controls if they do so.

I shall be very ready to be guided by the medical profession regarding exemptions appropriate on medical grounds, and I have no doubt that we shall discuss these matters in detail in Committee if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading today.

Photo of Sir Walter Clegg Sir Walter Clegg , North Fylde

How will the exemptions work? Will those entitled to an exemption be given a certificate, or will they, in defending themselves in court, have to try to bring themselves under an exemption?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

These would all be matters for discussion when we carry out the consultation, but I envisage, for example, that where it is an obvious case of a delivery vehicle there will be no need for a certificate. Again, when someone is driving in reverse, it being a simple matter of observation, the same would be true. For cases on medical grounds, I envisage that people would obtain for themselves medical certificates of exemption.

The fundamental justification for the Bill reposes in the number of deaths and serious injuries which we estimate will be saved by its enactment. I think that it may be helpful for to the House if, before I go into detail, I set out the basis on which our calculations are made. Surveys of seat belt-wearing carried out by the Department of the Environment show that belts are worn for about one-third of the distance travelled in the front seats of cars. Thus, for every mile travelled belted, about two miles are travelled unbelted.

If belt-wearing made no difference, we could expect to find one belted person killed or injured for every two unbelted persons killed or injured, since this is the proportion in which they are exposed to the risk of accident. But we know from police reports whether people killed or injured in the front seats of cars were or were not wearing belts, and we find that serious injuries among belted people are only about half the number which this reasoning would lead us to expect, and deaths are a little less than half. I have simplified the argument, and it makes certain assumptions—in particular, that belted and unbelted travellers are equally at risk of accident.

If that were the only evidence that seat belts save lives and serious injury, we should, of course, be right to treat the evidence with caution. But it is not the only evidence. Apart from experience in Australia, on which I shall give the House some figures in a minute, the French authorities have calculated the savings from compulsory belt-wearing on a method quite different from ours and have reached almost exactly the same conclusions. Moreover, the calculations on the British figures have now been carried out in respect of 1972, 1973 and 1974 and they give closely corresponding results for the reduction in risk of injury conferred by belt-wearing, despite the increase in the proportion of belts actually worn and the change in accident patterns due to the fuel crisis.

Thus, our estimate is that by wearing a seat belt anyone riding in the front seat of a car reduces by at least half the chance that he or she will be killed or seriously injured in an accident.

I emphasise that that is not the opinion of my Department alone or of any single group of experts but is the corroborated conclusion of many careful studies in several countries. It is really no longer debatable, and if those figures are accepted the figures for expected savings in this country which I am about to give follow as night follows day.

We estimate that if the wearing rate rises from its present level of just over 30 per cent. to 90 per cent. in vehicles which are fitted with belts, which is not an unreasonable objective in the light of other countries' experience, we should prevent 1,000 deaths and about 11,000 serious injuries every year—a serious injury being defined as an injury for which the victim has a stay in hospital or suffers a broken limb. Moreover, according to the somewhat gruesome statistics which we are compelled to work on in the Department, we should save some £60 million a year in health service costs, police time and production lost to the national economy.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I think it more than a quibble to invite the hon. Gentleman to accept that, when he refers to a saving of £60 million in the National Health Service, he really means that £60 million-worth of resources would be differently expended within the National Health Service.

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

I think that the right hon. Gentleman did not quite follow what I was saying. The figure of £60 million which I gave embraces not only the National Health Service but lost production and police costs. However, I have no quarrel with the principle which the right hon. Gentleman adumbrates. I accept that.

I can think of no other measure which would produce such a reduction of human misery and pain at no cost but, rather, a saving or reallocation of—

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

If smoking were banned by Parliament, the saving to the National Health Service would be immeasurably higher, would it not?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

There would also be considerable loss to the public purse. But I think that this raises questions of enforcement and of civil liberties, to which I shall come in a moment if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.

That, basically, is the case for the Bill. What are the objections to it?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

The Minister gives statistics and extrapolates them in terms of injuries and deaths. Will he at least put on record the answer which he gave me on 3rd February showing the number of people who died because they were wearing a seat belt?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

I cannot recall offhand that anyone has died as the result of wearing a seat belt, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that. I was coming to it, but I am happy that he made the point then.

The objections to the Bill fall into four main categories: concern about the design of bells, concern about the alleged dangers of being trapped in a car, concern about enforcement, and concern about the issue of personal freedom. I shall address myself to those objections consecutively.

First, as regards the design of seat belts, the argument has been made that some existing seat belts are uncomfortable, difficult to adjust or even dangerous, and that legislation for compulsory wearing should be deferred until these problems have been resolved. It is true that a small number of older seat belts still in use suffer from some of these disadvantages, but in my view this is insufficient reason to defer compulsory wearing.

Thanks to improvements in the design and installation of belts that have been made over the last few years, the vast majority of current seat belts are now both comfortable and convenient to use. However, there is always room for improvement, and in the near future I intend to discuss with seat belt manufacturers possible ways in which improvements might be made.

I am particularly interested in the possibility of a requirement for standardised fastenings—a subject which has been urged upon me by the Automobile Association, whose support I greatly welcome in this matter. An EEC directive now in draft includes provisions for the standardisation of buckles, and I shall consider whether to adopt these provisions when an agreed directive is available.

I turn now to the very emotive subject of the danger of being trapped in a car in an accident, particularly where a car may catch fire or there is a possibility of drowning. In most cases it is far easier to get out of a car that has been involved in an accident if one has not been concussed first. One of the great benefits of wearing a seat belt is that it prevents the forehead, the temple, from striking the windscreen in front, and it makes it much more likely that one will, for a given condition of a car after impact, be able to get out of that vehicle.

The vast majority of serious accidents are as a result of head-on impact. It is often, alas, the case that one cannot get out of a car after being involved in a collision, but this is true whether one is wearing a seat belt or not. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory, in its intensive study of 2,000 accidents, found no evidence that the wearing of seat belts ever reduced one's chances of survival or getting out of a car that had been involved in an accident.

Turning to enforcement, the question whether the law will be widely disregarded has often been raised. How can it be policed? How can it be checked? How can non-wearing be proved? Will it not result in damage to relations between the police and the public? All I can say is that experience in other countries and surveys in this country indicate that this law would be generally obeyed, with wearing rates in excess of 80 per cent. sustained in the countries where it has been introduced, without—I emphasise this—any exceptional enforcement effort beyond normal traffic duties.

I do not, of course, expect 100 per cent. success from the passage of the Bill. I should be happy with a wearing rate of 80 per cent. and I should expect to see a wearing rate in this country of something over 90 per cent. With so much at stake, we should have to pause very long before deciding not to accept that as an acceptable level of enforcement for legislation of this sort.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask whether he means 90 per cent. of those obliged by law to wear belts or 90 per cent. of the total driving population, that total including those who are exempted?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

I meant the former.

I refer now to the question of freedom. I would not attempt to conceal from the House that this proposal involves a reduction in individual liberty. It is, in my view, a very modest reduction, but it is a reduction none the less. But I am quite clear that it is in no way a precedent.

It is many years now since this House first enacted legislation making it mandatory on people to wear protective clothing at work, protective shoes, protective boots, protective shields, protective helmets and protective asbestos clothing in certain circumstances. There are many precedents, going back a great many years, where the State has said that it saw fit to reduce the individual's freedom in a modest respect in order to enhance the individual's safety.

There is the precedent—I know that it is not welcome in all parts of the House—in road traffic law of the enactment a few years ago of compulsory protective headgear for all motor cyclists.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Ashford

On that point, there is a difference between this proposal and the law concerning the wearing of safety helmets by motor cyclists, in that there is clear evidence in certain cases—indeed, in my own family—that, if one is belted up and involved particularly in a collision from the rear, one maintains control of the vehicle and thereby may not run into either pedestrians or motorists, so that third parties and not only the occupants of the car are less involved.

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

I was intending to make that point. It was made in a couple of very thoughtful letters in The Times on Saturday by a distinguished medical personage, Dr. Havard, and by another correspondent. It is not just a question of one's own safety that is involved. If one is wearing a seat belt when involved in an accident, one's ability to control a vehicle is enhanced. I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point.

I do not normally like to pray in aid opinions in the Press in support of my arguments—an argument should stand or fall on its own two feet—but it is noteworthy that no less a range of public journals than The Times, the Daily Mail. The Guardian, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday Times and the Daily Express have all in the last few days—and they are all vigilant defender.; of the liberty of the individual—come forward with articles supporting the Bill.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

My point concerns the liberty and freedom of the individual where a person feels that his safety might be put in jeopardy by wearing a belt. This could well be because of the fixing of the belt. It might be suitable for a person of my size, 6 ft. 2 in., but unsuitable for my wife, who is 5 ft. 5 in., so that the crossover part comes across her throat. Would such a person have any liberty under the Bill, so devised, to wait until the belt has been re-set and adjusted?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. One of the categories of exclusion that I mentioned—I am choosing my words with care in paraphrasing what I said earlier—is where it is physically impossible for the occupant to wear the belt. That takes care of people who are very short or of people who are excessively obese and who may have difficulties in getting belts to fit them.

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Thanet West

What about the limbless, such as myself? I never use a belt, for the very simple reason that it would have to be fixed in the jamb down on the floor between us by the person next to me. It is very difficult to release it, and I should find myself trapped in those circumstances in an accident. Will the limbless be taken care of as a special category?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

I have no difficulty in giving the hon. and learned Gentleman the sort of assurance he seeks. As he will be aware, when it was made mandatory for seat belts to be fixed in tricycles there was a specific wording in the Regulations to exclude the invalid tricycle, simply because of the difficulty that the disabled would have in strapping themselves into their belts and in releasing them.

As I said earlier, we are not dependent only on theoretical research in this country. We can actually see what has happened with the enactment of similar legislation elsewhere. In Australia, where the wearing rate approached 75 per cent. in the first year of compulsion—it has since risen considerably higher—there was a reduction of 17 per cent. in the deaths of vehicle occupants and of about 6·5 per cent. in injuries during the same period. In New Zealand the number of fatal accidents to car occupants remained static while those to other road users rose by 44 per cent. In France it is estimated that compulsory wearing saved about 1,200 lives during 1974 when it applied only on rural roads, and I understand that the French intend to change that in the near future even though at first the law was poorly enforced. The evidence from all these countries confirms the calculation that the wearing of seat belts prevents 50 per cent. of serious injuries to front-seat vehicle occupants and more than 50 per cent. of deaths.

The compulsory wearing of seat belts was first enforced by law in the State of Victoria. It was soon adopted by the other Australian States and by New Zealand and has since spread to many other countries. It is now in force or in the course of implementation in Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and West Germany in Europe alone. In many of these countries the same fears were expressed as have been heard here. Many of them have just as strong a libertarian tradition—in Australia, for example—as we have here. As far as I am aware, in none of them is there any great desire to turn back the clock and repeal the legislation.

Thus, we are not about to engage in any revolutionary new social experiment. We are not blazing a trail through uncharted territory. We know the experience of others. It is not a case of our being the first in the field. We are very much in danger of being the last.

Of all the arguments against this proposal, in my view the libertarian one is the most powerful. But, as I have said, in my view the benefits far outweigh the costs of this really quite marginal reduction in personal liberty. This, of course, is an issue that every hon. Member will have to weigh for himself or herself. However, I should like to address a special appeal to those hon. Members who feel that the wearing of belts is prudent in itself but who shrink from making it compulsory. If we were to adopt that attitude to the Bill, I am sure that the public would conclude that we had spoken against the wearing of belts as such, that wearing rates would fall and that casualty rates would climb.

Since this measure was first proposed to Parliament in 1973, more than 2,000 people have died and 20,000 have been seriously injured in this country because they did not wear their seat belts. The time for decision has at last arrived. I implore hon. Members to be mindful of tomorrow's victims when they cast their votes tonight.

4.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

As with the Government, there is a free vote on this side of the House, and rightly so. It is an issue where on both sides of the argument there are strongly and sincerely held views. Let me make it clear that in this debate I shall be expressing my personal views. Although I shall vote against the Bill, it is right to point out that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who was Minister for Transport Industries in the last Conservative Government, supported legislation to make seat belts compulsory and still remains very firmly of that view.

There are important and fundamental issues at stake in this Bill. But let us first seek the areas on which there is agreement. I hope that we can all agree that the wearing of seat belts makes sense. They do not prevent accidents, but in my view there is no question that the wearing of seat belts reduces substantially the chances of injury or death from accidents. So I hope that, contrary to what the Minister said, it will be recognised, especially outside this House, that nothing said in this debate challenges the basic fact that seat belts save lives and prevent injuries.

I hope that we can also agree that, regardless of whether this Bill becomes law, Government efforts to encourage the proper use of seat belts should continue. This should include further work on better designed seat belts, because I am sure that one of the reasons why motorists do not always wear their belts is that so many cars still have belts which require enormous effort to adjust and fix.

Although I am sure the Minister will agree that, even if the wearing of belts is made compulsory, one of the biggest problems remaining will be to persuade the motorist to wear his belt properly, the 1973 survey of the Australian Department of Transport is significant. It showed that, even after compulsion, only 11 per cent. of motorists were wearing their belts correctly adjusted and buckled. I accept that that is better than no protection at all, but it shows that the passing of an Act is not the end of the road.

I also hope that we can agree on the seriousness of the road casualty position and the human tragedies which lie behind the figures. I remember more than 10 years ago being called late at night to the intensive care unit of a hospital in Essex. There were four patients in the unit. Three were young men in their late teens or early twenties. All three had been unconscious for some time. All three had serious head injuries involving motor cycle or motor car accidents. In all three cases they would either die or face a bleak and cruelly limited future. That is the reality that lies behind this debate.

I understand the position of those who say that that is an end to the argument. I understand it, but I do not support it. I think that we should ask further questions. We should ask whether this proposed rule is a suitable subject for the criminal law. We should ask whether as law it is capable of being enforced and, if so, at what price. These are important questions, but they are most difficult to ask when the legislation proposed seeks to meet an aim which is generally approved, such as the reduction of road injuries. Nevertheless I still argue that the quality of law passed by this House should match our good intentions.

Let us first examine the detail of the Bill. As it happens, it does not take very long to do that, because the Bill is concerned basically with delegating powers to the Secretary of State. We know that the Secretary of State may make Regulations on the compulsory wearing of seat belts, and we know that these Regulations are subject to exceptions. But we do not know what the exceptions are. We know that the Regulations can affect different classes of vehicles and different descriptions of people and take account of different circumstances. But again we know nothing of the details. In short, all we are told is that the driver who contravenes the rules, whatever they are and whoever they apply to, shall be guilty of an offence subject to a fine of up to £50. The detail comes later in the Statutory Instruments to be presented by the Secretary of Slate.

I suggest that the difficulties here are of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is a House of Commons question rather than a party question. Some of the difficulties of this procedure were shown by the crash helmets legislation. Not only was it difficult to get a debate at all but, once obtained, it was impossible to change the proposals. The House was left with the choice of accepting or rejecting the Statutory Instrument but not of amending it. That is a characteristic of the Statutory Instrument approach.

I suggest that that led to a real difficulty. On that occasion, the Statutory Instrument laid down that every person riding a motor cycle should wear a crash helmet, subject to the rather curious exception that the Regulation did not apply to … any person driving or riding on a motor cycle if it is a mowing machine. Being reasonable men and women, right hon. and hon. Members readily agreed to that exception, although I am not sure that many of us understood in what circumstances a motor cycle was a mowing machine. But the crucial point that I make is that, although we had that side issue before us, there was no debate on the much bigger issue of whether Sikhs should wear helmets, for example, for the very good reason that there was no point in debating it since all that could be done in such circumstances was to reject the entire Statutory Instrument. An exception which some of us might have supported to cover the Sikhs' position could not be inserted at that stage.

Surely we should learn from that experience. The question of exceptions to this legislation will clearly be of fundamental importance. I mention but one example—the position of the police. In most circumstances, they wear seat belts, but they do not when, for example, escorting a prisoner. It is not difficult to think of a range of other service situations where a seat belt would be a hindrance rather than a help. Another example is what the hon. Member for Newham, Northwest (Mr. Lewis), whose absence today I regret, referred to as the problem of the man who is "a little obese." The hon. Gentleman was rudely interrupted by the closure of the debate in November 1974 when he was about to address himself to that problem.

I emphasise "November 1974" because it is right to remind ourselves that the seat belt proposal has been with us for several years. The last debate stood adjourned 14 months ago. We must ask why the Government have not carried out their consultations with interested parties in the meantime and put their proposals into the Bill so that they could be fully debated and examined by Parliament and, if it was so decided, amended by Parliament.

Clearly if the Bill goes through the House will want assurances that the eventual Statutory Instruments will be fully debated. However, even with that assurance it will do nothing to correct the inherent fault in the procedure. Therefore, my first criticism is that this is an unsatisfactory way of proceeding on what we are all agreed is an important subject.

My second question is whether this proposed requirement is a proper subject for the criminal law. As a general rule we make criminal only that conduct which affects the rights of other members of society. There are exceptions to this to which I shall refer, but as a general rule the criminal law does not intervene when the individual is harming himself. For example, it is not an offence to attempt suicide.

Personally I do not take an absolute view that the criminal law should be concerned only when other people's individual rights are affected. I recognise that the drugs law, for example, can be argued on the basis that if we allowed drug taking it would encourage crime, thus harming other individuals. However, I am bound to say that in my view there is at any rate an element of preventing the individual from harming himself. Of course, as the Minister has fairly said, that is the whole basis of the crash helmet legislation.

I would argue a much more limited proposition—namely, that the presumption must be against the criminal law punishing actions which harm only the individual himself and that that presumption is shifted only in the most exceptional circumstances. Here I would distinguish between crash helmet and seat belt law. It is a fact that in a small number of cases compliance with the law will lead to harm which might otherwise have been avoided. I would readily concede that the number of cases involved here is small. Nevertheless, it is by those exceptional cases that the criminal law tends to be judged to see whether it is fair.

When the Minister was asked about such cases he rather grandly dismissed the evidence as "anecdotal". It is fair to put to him that at least one of the anecdotes came from his predecessor when he was Minister for Transport. I am referring to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) who in the November 1974 debate described how he was thrown clear after driving a motor cycle at 70 miles per hour into a lorry travelling at the same speed in the opposite direction. His summing up of the position, which I would regard as fair, was as follows: There are people who genuinely feel that it is more dangerous to wear a seat belt than not to wear one. One readily concedes that there have been a few isolated cases in which it might have been better if a seat belt had not been worn. Such cases are extremely rare."—[Official Report, 21st November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 1646.] In my view that is a fair summary of the position. It is not an argument for the public not wearing seat belts, because the balance of probabilities is heavily that seat belts will prevent injury. However, it is in my view, an argument for not getting the criminal law involved. For if one seeks to get the criminal law to enforce the wearing of seat belts generally for all, one also has to face the prospect that in some cases, albeit few in number, compliance with that law will be seen to have harmed the man who is obeying it. That is not in my view a position that we should readily get into.

Those are my two criticisms of the Bill. I fully accept that some of my hon. Friends and some other hon. Gentlemen will take the view that even given those two points both arguments are outweighed by experience abroad and the results that have been achieved there by compulsion.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Wandsworth Battersea North

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that if someone is killed in a motor accident, in many cases other people are affected and injured? For instance, if the parent of some young children was killed, his or her death would injuriously affect other people.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

I am not disputing that that is so. I was making the point that in some exceptional cases compliance with the law would lead to injury to the person who actually complied with the law. That was the point that I was making rather than the point which the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) made.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

The hon. Gentleman has said that my right hon. Friend the Minister has dismissed some cases as being anecdotal instances of such injuries where the belt has been worn. Can the hon. Gentleman give us a single reliable example where the evidence firmly establishes that injuries have occurred as a result of the seat belt being worn? Many of us have scoured all sources to find such a case, but without success.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

I thought that by quoting the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, who was previously the Minister for Transport, I had dealt with that point. He said that there were isolated cases. However, I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) will be intervening in this debate at a latter stage to give an example exactly along that line. As the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) has raised this matter I shall put to him an experience of my own some years ago when I was on the staff of The Times. At that time there was a case where if the reporter concerned had been wearing a seat belt she would have been injured. She was thrown clear of the car when it overturned. That point was made in a letter to The Times today.

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad , Northwich

During his opening speech the Minister did not deal with the question of accidents that take place when a vehicle is hit from the side. Nor, indeed, has my hon. Friend dealt with this matter. The Minister dealt with head-on collisions and collisions from behind. However, I should like to point out that my mother-in-law was travelling in the front passenger seat of a car going round Hyde Park Corner a year or two ago. Her car was hit from the side by a taxi. My mother-in-law, who had seen the taxi coming, with an alacrity that is not always native to mothers-in-law, succeeded in leaping sideways and avoiding what would otherwise have been a very serious accident and very serious injuries.

I hope that the Minister will tell us his view of the large number of accidents that take place from the side and his view of the position of people who are frightened, not perhaps of negligence or contributory negligence on the part of the driver leading to a head-on collision, but of being hit from the side.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

I readily concede that the alternative approach which must rest upon the individual motorist voluntarily taking action which is clearly in his own interest, does not have the apparent guarantee of success offered by supporters of the Bill. However, it is worth pointing out some features of a voluntary policy.

There is the action that can be taken by mechanical warning devices to warn the motorist that he is not wearing his belt. I do not think this matter was dealt with by the Minister. Such devices—either lights or buzzers or even ignition devices—are already fitted on some cars. Both British Leyland and Volvo tell me that the cost of fitting such devices to the new car is negligible—perhaps a pound or two. I recognise that that does not affect existing cars unless conversions are carried out. I also recognise that some devices can be defeated by buckling the belt behind the seat. However, let us not imagine for a moment that even with the law we shall be able to defeat the motorist who wants to drive with, for example, his belt over his shoulder but not clipped in. We must realistically recognise that there is some limit to what we can do.

Of course, we now have the added argument—this point was not mentioned by the Minister—of the Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Froom and Butcher which was given last July and since the House last debated this matter. This case involved a civil action for damages. The court ruled that damages would be reduced where the person involved was not wearing his seat belt and where such an omission had an effect on the injuries inflicted. If, however, the omission did not have an effect, equally clearly the damages were unaffected.

In other words, flexibility is achieved but notice is served on the motorist that if he drives without a seat belt he may lose both physically and financially.

The message that wearing a seat belt makes sense is heavily underlined. As Lord Denning said on that occasion— Everyone is free to wear a seat belt or not, as he pleases…He can do it if he likes without being punished by the law. But it is not a sensible thing to do.If he does it, it is his own fault and he has only himself to thank for the consequences. Those are words which might be used with effect in any future advertising campaign.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Will my hon. Friend comment on the position of the 40 per cent. of car owners who have third party only insurance? How could reduced damages awarded by courts be expected to influence that 40 per cent.?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

The point I was making was that it is an added encouragement to wearing seat belts, for people to take proper care for their own safety. I do not claim that it will cover every situation.

In many ways I find that the deciding point in this argument is the question of enforcement. There is a comforting assumption that somehow enforcement will take care of itself—a view shared more or less by the Minister and certainly by The Times, which managed to produce a leader today without mentioning the question of enforcement.

This has not always been the view. It would have been possible to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory when it became compulsory to fit belts. Indeed, the point was put to the then Minister for Transport in 1967, and according to The Times of 23rd March 1967 Mrs. Castle, Minister of Transport, said yesterday that she did not propose to compel motorists in Britain to wear safety belts, because of the difficulty of enforcement. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the right hon. Lady the Member for Black-bum (Mrs. Castle); and if that does not convince the public that this is a nonparty occasion, nothing will.

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) will be in the Aye Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

I would be interested to know on what basis the right hon. Lady will be in the Aye Lobby. I am sorry to hear that on the one occasion when I thought that I would be able to agree with the right hon. Lady, I gather that in fact I am not to be able to agree with her.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

In the private wing of the Aye Lobby.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

My hon. Friend is taking us on to another debate which I gather is coming shortly.

In any event, views have changed since then. In our last debate the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, said that no one wanted to see the law enforced in a serious regular way."—[Official Report, 21st November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 1645.] He said that the law would be checked in the same way as the police checked whether a driver has a licence or an insurance certificate.

The Department of the Environment was wrong in both respects. The proper comparison is with speed checks, where the police have no option but to enforce the law in a serious regular way. The police can operate only on the assumption that when Parliament passes a criminal law it requires it to be enforced. The policeman will assume that we have not forgotten the reason why an organised police force developed in this country, namely, that the passing of laws did not mean that they were automatically observed. For the criminal law to be observed it has to be enforced.

Nor do I believe that it is realistic to think that seat belt law will be enforced only as a kind of bonus, that when a motorist is stopped by the police for speeding the police will check whether he is wearing his seat belt. That is not the basis on which the police will work, and the logic of it is that if a motorist is not speeding or committing some other road offence he will not be stopped.

Evidence from abroad on this point of enforcement is sketchy, but The Australian newspaper was good enough last week to make inquiries for me. Its report was that apprehension for not wearing a seat belt is considered by the Australian public to be "a very real possibility". I was then given some statistics which, unfortunately, do not distinguish between people charged with the offence alone and those charged with a combination of offences, but the newspaper reports that in New South Wales, in the first nine months of 1973, 24,000 people were cited for seat belt offences.

Therefore, we have to recognise that the law will have to be enforced. Indeed, I can see no other alternative if the Government intend to reach their aim, reiterated by the Minister today, of 90 per cent. of the public wearing belts.

We also have to recognise that this causes concern outside the House. The Magistrates Association is concerned about the extra pressure enforcement will put on the courts, already two-thirds occupied with traffic offences, while many policemen are rightly concerned about the difficulties of enforcement and the possible effect this could have on their relations with the public.

Here again, there is an important distinction between crash helmets and seat belts. Whatever our views, we can agree that the crash helmet law is easily enforced, but not so with seat belts. There is the general difficulty of spotting whether a driver has his seat belt on. There are practically impossible enforcement situations like enforcement at night. There are very difficult enforcement situations such as enforcement on motorways.

It is my argument that these special difficulties should be taken into account, because it is those laws which are most difficult to enforce which most easily lead to conflict with the public. As the 1962 Royal Commission on the police pointed out, nothing is more important in relations between police and public than relations between police and motorist.

Doubtless some will ask, what is so special about Britain in this respect? Over the past three years I have studied on the ground the police in Europe, and particularly in Germany, France and Holland. In all those countries the British police are seen as special, not because they are better equipped, not because they are better paid, but because of the relationship which exists here between the police and the public, which is better than anywhere else in Europe.

At least in part that relationship has been achieved by adopting a deliberately cautious policy in the traffic area. We have taken care with the jobs we have asked the police to undertake and we actually have adopted different policies from other countries even when those policies can be argued as more effective. In this country we do not have spot checks on drink driving. Other countries do. We do not have a separate traffic corps, which would be easier to recruit and mean a bigger presence on the roads. Other countries do. Since the 1962 Royal Commission we have regarded the area of relations between police and motorist as of special difficulty and I do not believe that we should forget that lesson today.

So I quite accept that not all hon. Members will put the same value on the police, or for that matter the criminal law. I regard both areas as of crucial importance. I strongly support the wearing of seat belts. If the House votes for such a law, I will accept that and seek to improve the legislation, but on the principle itself I shall vote against the Bill.

5.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) made a regrettable speech and failed to rise to the occasion. We are faced with a very grave situation. The hon. Gentleman spoke against the Bill but failed to provide a viable alternative. He advanced the kind of argument that can be advanced against practically any kind of legislation.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

It is not rubbish. He said that one cannot defeat the motorist who does not want to wear his safety belt, but if so, equally one cannot defeat the motorist who wants to go speeding. There are motorists who want to break the speed limits, but we have legislation to deal with them. So there was no point in the hon. Gentleman's taking his defeatist attitude.

When the hon. Member says that there should be a presumption against criminal law, he is of course right. But one must look at the present situation before deciding not to invoke the criminal law, and that is exactly what the hon. Gentleman did not do.

I recognise that this highly controversial Bill has aroused very deep emotions, and I respect hon. Members who dislike it and are prepared to speak against it. I disagree with them, however. The stark issue that the House must face is whether to accept the Bill and save lives and prevent thousands of disabilities, or whether we condemn to death 1,000 people every year. It is as simple as that. The bereavement, the sadness, the suffering, the pain and the anguish of the families involved is appalling. It is something that we in this House must deal with. The opponents of the Bill have to take these factors into account when they speak, and certainly when they vote.

Some of them have weighty considerations to bring to bear, but not all of them. In another place a noble Lord advanced the thesis that he would not use a safety belt because he could not reach his cigar lighter or the sweets in a tray in his dashboard. A noble Lady objected to the Bill because she said there were already so many rules and regulations that she could not agree another one—even though this one would save more than a thousand lives a year. This issue is far too important for superficial considerations of that kind. We are discussing a matter of life or death, and it is vital that we tackle the crux of the problem.

The basic issue is that the car is a lethal instrument which can kill its driver with the same ease that kills pedestrians. Its toll since it was invented must be far and away greater than that of all the guns which have ever been manufactured. The car driver is in a position similar to that of a lion tamer. He has only to look away for a few seconds before he is killed or badly mauled. No lion tamer would ever dream of negligently or complacently working inside a lion's cage, but thousands of car drivers and passengers are lulled into a complacent stupor by the unshakable conviction that accidents happen to other people rather to them. This conviction is shattered in thousands of cases every year. Some people swop their conviction for a coffin. Others surrender their assurance for insurance and for a lifetime of pain and disability.

I recognise the serious argument put forward about the restriction of freedom, and that will undoubtedly be the crux of the opposition case. But greater men than ourselves have studied the issue of the liberty of the individual from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle through Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, and that great libertarian, John Stuart Mill. They have all sought to define freedom—or the lack of it. But for all practical purposes, with freedom must go responsibility, and the car driver cannot opt out of that even with the vociferous and typically misguided support of the RAC. So, with John Donne, we have to concede that No man is an Island and that every man is a member of a family or of the community.

Those who say that they favour seat belts because they save lifes and injuries but campaign against making the wearing of them compulsory have to bear a heavy responsibility. Perhaps I may describe the responsibility that those who speak against the Bill will bear. They have to tell us what they would say to children orphaned by a car crash after the parents have been needlessly killed because they were not wearing safety belts. Apart from expressing sympathy, I suggest that all they can say is "Never mind. I fought for your Mum and Dad to retain their freedom of choice, and they enjoyed that right to the end."

What do those hon. Members say to the thousands of people who are needlessly crippled, lying in hospital beds or confined to wheelchairs, because they were not wearing safety belts? They can only say "I am sorry that you have lost your freedom ever to walk again, but you still have your freedom to choose whether or not to wear a safety belt." That is the bitter and inescapable truth which lies at the heart of this debate.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

We are not discussing whether the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish or short. If the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) has read his philosophy and knows his law he will recognise that these basic issues of law and freedom are inextricably intertwined, and the lawyers will not be allowed to get away with trying to befuddle the issue. We are dealing with freedom, but the basic freedom is life. We are not discussing how many angels can dance on the end of a needle. We are discussing basic practical issues. We are deciding matters, of life, death and disability, and we cannot afford to make mistakes based on theoretical prejudice.

We have the practical experience of many other countries, with which I will not deal in detail, since this has been covered by my hon. Friend the Minister. In those countries the enforcement difficulties have not proved insuperable. I hope that we shall follow the example of some of those countries. Trying to enforce the law has been suggested as the main difficulty, and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made a great issue about that. However, a study in Birmingham University has shown that in Australia, where the wearing of safety belts have been compulsory for more than four years, the wearing rate has increased to the present level of between 80 and 90 per cent. In Sweden the rate is 95 per cent. This shows that the law in those countries is enforced. It would be a brave or perhaps a foolhardy man who would claim that we in Britain are less law-abiding than the people of Australia or Sweden.

The success of the legislation in those countries lies not only in the observance of the law but in the social pressures created by a general acceptance of the law. It then becomes no longer a brave thing but a stupid thing not to wear a safety belt. But the element of compulsion is a necessary prerequisite to the creation of that social pressure because of the basic human psychology, which is really human mythology, that accidents happen only to others. That is the basic reason why we must interfere with people's freedom to wear or not to wear safety belts.

If the Bill is accepted, the experts can still work on improving their understanding of crash dynamics and injury mechanisms, the car manufacturers can improve car safety design, and safety belt design can be improved. The Minister will be able to introduce necessary exceptions. I hope that, when considering exceptions, he will consult the Minister for the Disabled about disabled people, who should be exempted.

Today, above all, we need a vote for the principle of the Bill. The principle is that this House elevates human life and practical considerations of pain and disability above pedantic obscurantism based on dubious theory. A vote for the Bill is a vote for sanity, compassion and common sense. It is, in fact, a vote for freedom and for life itself.

5.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I intervene in this debate as one who is a habitual wearer of a seat belt and who commends the same and presses it upon anyone who is unwise enough to accompany him in the passenger seat of his car.

I hope to persuade even the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) that I do not intervene under the pressure of obscurantism or out of any insensitivity to the background of loss and suffering of which we must be aware when we discuss road traffic law.

The Minister, in moving Second Reading of the Bill, candidly pointed out that the central issue was what he called the point of principle of individual liberty. Indeed, he said that was the reason why on the Government side—it is true of both sides of the House—there was to be a free vote. It would be a pity if it were considered that, where issues of principle are involved, the Government and their supporters or the Opposition and their supporters should not be committed as such and committed for that reason. Indeed, I understand that the Bill is backed by the collective responsibility of the Government. I think that Governments are entitled to legislate or to refrain from legislating upon grounds of principle, including principles concerning individual liberty, and to call upon their supporters to sustain their position in doing so.

At all events, there is common agreement that that issue of principle is at the centre of the debate. Yet the nature of the principle at issue has not so far been clearly enough defined. It is not enough to say that we are concerned about individual liberty. I reject the proposition advanced in an intervention by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) that individual liberty is infringed if one takes a different view of the application of the requirements of the law to oneself from their application to others. The law is the law and we are equally bound by it. It can be a bad or unsatisfactory law, but that the law is equally applied to all is not a breach of individual liberty in a society which lives under the rule of law

I am equally doubtful whether the Minister had seized the exact nature of the principle, for he appealed for precedent to the whole range of factory legislation. It is important to get clear at this stage that we are not concerned with law where a second party or person is involved. We are not concerned with the requirements for selling an article or for employing a person. I reflected, when the Minister referred to the use of guards or protectors in a workshop, that it is rightly unlawful for men to be employed in workshops where there are not these safeguards, but that it is not a crime for me in my private workshop in my own house, if I am foolish enough, to use an electric saw without an efficient guard.

The principle at stake is very precise. It is whether it should be a criminal offence for a person to neglect or to risk his safety when, by so doing, he does not involve the physical, personal safety of others.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

It is not entirely true that a driver is not hazarding others if he is involved in an accident and fails to take these precautions. He is involving the lives of others, because he is driving a lethal vehicle. If a man is involved in a collision, his instinct is to put his arm out to protect his passenger instead of concentrating on trying to keep the car on the road.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

The position of the passenger is, to some extent, different from that of the driver. I think that we shall best direct ourselves in this debate in considering the matter of principle if we look to the central issue, which is that of the driver and the additional hazard to which he subjects himself by his neglect to take the normal precaution of using a safety belt.

Every risk to which a person subjects himself has indirect consequences. It has consequences, mental and moral, upon other people. If he is injured, it may involve suffering to his family. It may involve efforts on the part of his fellow citizens in looking after him—perhaps for the rest of his life. The essential distinction in the matter of legislation is between making it a criminal offence to do that which risks others directly and that which has only indirect consequences upon others and on the community.

That was brought out clearly in the intervention by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) who drew attention to the load imposed upon the National Health Service by a road accident casualty which ex post facto might have been avoided if certain precautions had been taken, and to the loss and damage inflicted upon others when an accident takes place.

The importance of this principle is indeed the importance of precedent; for there is hardly any sphere of human activity where decisions taken by the individual may not entail disadvantages to others and where, therefore, the argument cannot be put forward that he ought to be restrained and his actions regulated by the criminal law because of these indirect, social consequences to others. The difference between the direct and the indirect effect of the risk in question is crucial.

There is one precedent, and only one in the strict sense, for what we are doing, and it is a significant one. I am referring to the legislation enacted under the previous Administration which made it a criminal offence to ride a motor cycle without a crash helmet. I believe that that was the first instance, and this proposition has not been shaken, when it was made a criminal offence—

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

—I know some of the other cases the hon. Member may be going to suggest, but I am talking against the clock—to neglect to take precautions where the consequence was not that accidents were rendered more probable or that anyone else might be killed, but that an accident to the person himself might be more serious or fatal. I lay on one side the question of drugs, mentioned by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). Everyone would accept that the social consequences—including the whole question of dealing with the sale and pushing of drugs—are so inseparable from personal taking of drugs that no analogy can be drawn between drug legislation and that which we are considering.

That precedent in the matter of wearing safety helmets, which this House by about 55 votes to 15 decided to establish, is now being promptly followed. It is being followed within a matter of two or three years. But this will not be the end. These are by no means the only circumstances in which the failure of individuals to take certain precautions in their private lives entails all manner of risk to themselves and, indirectly, consequences which may be tragic upon others. There is the whole realm of sporting activity, such as mountaineering, boating, and so on, where there are precautions which ought to be taken, and which any sensible person will take. We shall be told presently that these, too, have to be regulated. It will not stop there, because it cannot logically stop there.

We shall be told, and rightly, that a man's habits in life—smoking, the manner in which he conducts his life, indulges himself—affect materially his prospects of survival, as certainly they do. There will, therefore, be increasingly irresistible pressure, once we break through this barrier of principle, to envelop one area of personal decision after another within the criminal law. I believe, therefore, that it is of outstanding importance that, even though this principle has once been breached, it should be reasserted and upheld.

I fear I shall not carry the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South with me on this, but I should not fear to accept the loss of life which might otherwise, by the breaching of that principle, have been avoided. As I said in the debate on the wearing of crash helmets, many lives have been laid down, and are laid down, in order to maintain the essentials of personal liberty in a society living under the law.

Nevertheless, we ought in this debate not to be carried away with the projections and predictions of the Minister. In this context—I am not straying on to the merits—it is instructive to look back at what we were told on the first occasion when we breached this principle—in the matter of safety helmets.

The then Minister said: Our estimate"— that is the estimate of the Minister's predecessors— taking all these figures into account"— that is taking into account the proportion of people who were already wearing crash helmets— and bearing in mind that there are no longer people of 16 years of age riding the larger motor cycles, is that some 300 to 400 deaths and serious injuries would be saved each year. One half of these casualties would involve teenagers."—[Official Report, 5th April 1973; Vol. 854, c. 771.] It was under that advice, under the impression that the number involved was 300 or 400 a year, that hon. Members, in a thin House, decided in favour of the crash helmet legislation.

We can now apply a fairly rigorous test to the fulfilment of that prediction. On 29th November 1974, the Minister's predecessor gave me the comparison between motor cycle casualties—deaths and serious injuries—in the 12 months before and the 12 months immediately after the wearing of crash helmets became compulsory. It is here that one has about as straight a comparison as one could hope to get, if one bears in mind the growth of traffic and the estimate, which was stated in the answer to my Question, that the number of motor cycle riders rose between those two years by 12 per cent. Having noted that, we can make the comparison of the outcome with the prediction. The number of deaths, all ages, for the year before was 505; for the year after, the figure was 506. Of those under 20 years of age, the figure for the year before was 236, while for the year after it was 235. Let us consider the number seriously injured. The number of seriously injured, all ages, was up by 12'3 per cent., while for those under 20 the figure was up by 24 per cent. comparing the year after with the year before. If one takes both figures together, which I think is statistically objectionable, for the statistic of death is a statistic of a different category from the statistic of serious injury, one finds that the number of killed and seriously injured together was up by 11·6 per cent.

In other words, so far as one can judge the matter at all by the out-turn, the legislation had no effect whatever upon deaths and serious injury among those riding motor cycles. If it be said, however, that there is significance in the fact that the number of deaths remained static instead of rising by 12 per cent., and if we suppose that that effect was due solely to the wearing of crash helmets—which I think is clearly an extreme assumption—the number of deaths and serious injuries saved in a year was not 300 to 400, but 40.

So, with the best will in the world, the calculations which were genuinely intended to give the best possible guidance to the House, the advice which we were offered when we decided to establish this precedent, have turned out to be repudiated and refuted by the outcome, however generously interpreted.

I hear someone ask whether 40 lives are not worth saving. Of course they are; but I want to know what I am losing at the same time. If, to delay those 40 deaths, I have to assent to a proposition being established which can be applied successively in one area after another of personal behaviour, then I say, as hon. Members in this House and in generations gone by have said, that in the end the principle is what we are here to uphold, and we must not be distracted by the appeal to figures of casualties looked at in isolation.

I do not rest upon the statistics, though my own belief is that the estimates which the Minister with entirely proper intentions and entirely sincerely has been advised to give will probably be found to be grossly exaggerated. As legislators we are here considering what will be the cost in the future of legislation which makes it a criminal offence for a person to endanger himself in circumstances in which thereby he directly endangers no other person whatsoever. That is something which I believe the Legislature should not do.

5.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

I begin on a personal note. In November my only child, a girl of five, died as a result of a car accident. She was a passenger and was not wearing a seat belt. But I must add that she might not have been saved if she had been wearing a seat belt. In any case, the Bill in its present form could not have applied to her because she was under 10 and in the back seat of the car.

My experience of the last few months enables me to speak from a particular point of view. I now feel acutely aware of the tragedies that can follow from car crashes. My experience has made me look critically at some of the arguments about personal freedom. Some of those arguments have great weight but others are academic.

Basically the debate is about the conflict between safety and freedom. I suggest that the safety advantage is so great that it is worth a minor infringement and sacrifice of freedom. The Minister's figure of 1,000 lives lost yearly must, by any standards, be seen as substantial. The figure is of the same order as the number of violent deaths in Northern Ireland in the past four years.

It is a custom in the House that when there is a disaster in industry, in a coal mine or in Northern Ireland, when eight, 10 or 12 people are killed, to expect either a Private Notice Question or a ministerial statement and a demand for action to prevent a recurrence. I do not criticise that custom because it is right. Yet every week 120 people are killed on our roads. Some of them are breadwinners, fathers of families, mothers or children. We rarely get statements about them because the deaths mainly occur in ones and twos and do not hit the headlines.

We have it in our power to take action to cut that terrible figure of 1,000 deaths by about one-sixth and save 20 lives a week. To defeat the Bill indirectly means the violent deaths of 1,000 people every year and each year until action is taken—the deaths of people who would otherwise have survived. I do not see how any hon. Members can vote against the Bill unless there are, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said, compelling reasons for doing so. So far, we have not heard any such reasons.

I turn now to the people who are injured on the road. Many of the 11,000 serious injuries are avoidable. Many of them involve long stays in hospital, the taking up of hospital beds and the time and skills of doctors, physiotherapists and nurses who could be caring for the sick. The effects of those injuries are not confined to people who have not worn seat belts. This was borne out in a letter to The Times on Saturday by a man who said: … my car received a glancing blow from an oncoming van … which had the effect of changing the direction of travel towards the wrong side of the road. Fortunately I was held in my seat by the belt and thus maintained sufficient control of the car to steer it back to my own side just in time to avoid a head-on collision with another car, the consequences of which must have been much more serious to my wife and myself, not to mention the occupants of the other car It is not a matter which affects only the wearers of seat belts and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) did not sufficiently allow for that.

The difficulty of enforcement was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). Compulsion seems to have caused no problems in Australia where for four years people have been compelled to wear seat belts. It has worked well in Australia. In most States last year the wearing of seat belts went up from 25 per cent. to 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. Legal sanctions were followed by social sanctions. People began to say, "You are a damned fool for not wearing a seat belt". The rate went up to 90 per cent. as the reason for the reduction in accidents became better understood. In France there are 1,200 fewer deaths, as a result of seat belt legislation.

Only 2 per cent. of motoring prosecutions in Australia related to seat belts. Not many prosecutions are required to achieve a high level of compliance. The main reason for that is that there are no significant disadvantages in wearing a belt. There are enforcement difficulties with the speed limit since there is some advantage in breaking that law because one arrives at one's destination sooner. Therefore, it takes a smaller number of prosecutions to achieve success. But it takes only two seconds to put on a belt—less time than it takes to get into the car. A high level of seat belt wearers can be achieved by a few prosecutions and relatively little police time.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

The hon. Gentleman says that only 2 per cent. of prosecutions in Australia relates to the wearing of seat belts. Is he aware that every prosecution for any motoring offence always includes the offence of not wearing a seat belt if the person concerned is not doing so? When everything else fails, there is always the seat belt law upon which to fall back.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

I do not see anything wrong with that. It has led to the wearing of seat belts and to an enormous reduction in the number of casualties. In Australia the number of deaths dropped by 200 a year. Taking into account that the population of Australia is only about one quarter of ours, that figure indicates the saving of about 1,000 deaths a year in this country.

I turn to the question of freedom and compulsion. Almost everyone who travels by air expects compulsion which is sanctioned by the law under the Air Navigation Order 1974, although that was hardly needed because compulsion imposed by the airlines was already virtually 100 per cent. effective. Everyone obeys the order to fasten a safety belt. A British Airways chief steward who lives in my constituency told me last week that in 20 years' flying experience only one passenger refused to fasten his seat belt. That man was turned off the plane.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

I give way to the right hon. Gentleman although he did not give way to me.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I did not refuse to give way to the hon. Gentleman but he did not persist. The obligation is imposed upon the airlines as a condition of carrying passengers. It is not an obligation imposed upon the individual passenger.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

That is a narrow, theological point. I have a letter from Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, setting out the legal position and the right hon. Gentleman is welcome to look at it. The law is clear. People must put on a seat belt on an aircraft when it is taking off, when it is landing or when there is turbulence.

I raise the question of aircraft not because it has a precise analogy with cars but to illustrate that those who complain that the Bill infringes on their freedom—the right hon. Gentleman referred to the essentials of personal liberty—have overlooked the fact that "freedom", which is a big word, has many shades of meaning. It is not one, indivisible concept. There are the great freedoms of speech, conscience and religion. There are freedom from poverty and fear, freedom to set up independently in business or trade, and perhaps above all national freedom-freedom from foreign rule. I claim to care as much about those great freedoms as any other hon. Member does. Like other hon. Members I have close relatives who risked their lives fighting for those freedoms.

There are also freedoms which we do not have and may not want. We are not free to drive on the wrong side of the road, to drive a car without brakes or lights or to drive when uninsured or drunk. We are not free to buy dangerous drugs without prescription. A pedal cyclist is not free to hold on to a moving vehicle. We are not free to fail to comply with safety rules in factories.

We should have the wisdom and judgment to distinguish between those minor freedoms which are worth sacrificing for health and safety and the major freedoms on which none of us would want to compromise. We should not allow doctrinaire philosophy to prevail over common sense. When it comes to saving large numbers of lives and preventing many serious injuries and all the tragedies involved in them, putting on a seat belt is a tiny loss of freedom.

I believe that in the main people who do not want to put on seat belts are not motivated by love of liberty but simply cannot be bothered, or fear that the belt may be more dangerous on than off. That fear is totally unfounded, on balance. It is based on an incomplete knowledge about the risks. The evidence from Australia, this country, France, Belgium and Spain is that the wearing of belts results in an enormous reduction in the number of deaths and injuries in head-on collisions. Frontal crashes comprise about 70 per cent. of all car crashes in which there are deaths and injuries.

I have heard of only three types of crash in which some people say that belts would increase the risk. One is where people are prevented by the belt from being thrown out of the car. But, according to research in the United States, one is four times more likely to be killed being thrown out of the car as when one is held in it by a belt. The second type is where a person is trapped in a car which catches fire or is submerged in water. The Accident Research Unit at Birmingham University says that accidents involving fire comprise only one car crash in 400, and the proportion of cars submerged in water is even smaller. If one is knocked unconscious, one's chance of escape is much worse, and a person wearing a belt is less likely to be knocked unconscious.

The third type of crash, which is the only one to raise a point that worries me very much, is a collision from the side. Such accidents comprise 20 per cent. of car crashes in which there are injuries. Where the impact is on the other side of the car from where one is sitting, a belt is an advantage, because it prevents one from being thrown towards the impact. Where one is on the same side, there seems to be little difference either way.

We hear of people saying that they were saved because they were not wearing a belt, but they usually do not know. They are not in a position to say whether they would have survived if they had been wearing a belt. There is no convincing evidence that anyone has been saved by not wearing a belt. It is easy to sneer at the use of the word "anecdotal", as someone did, but there is no evidence that not wearing a belt has done any good. It is all hearsay.

There has been talk of the right to choose between different risks, but that makes no sense when we take into account the size of the risks involved. A reasonable person would wish to choose between different risks only if those risks were roughly comparable. No one will say "I do not mind if my wife, my child or I are killed in a head-on collision as long as none of us is killed in a side collision." What people want is that their family shall not be killed at all. When they realise that they are 10 times or a hundred times more likely to be saved by a belt than to be killed as a result of wearing one, the argument for freedom of choice between conflicting risks will be seen to be a bogus, lawyer's argument which will melt away.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

If the argument is so overwhelming for people choosing to wear belts, why does my hon. Friend not think that they can be persuaded, without its having to be made a crime not to do so?

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Because the attempt has already been made to persuade them since it became compulsory under a Conservative Government, in about 1962, to install belts in cars. It is absurd that by law belts must be installed but that we are not compelled to wear them. There have been massive attempts at persuasion, culminating in an advertising campaign two or three years ago that cost £2½ million. After that campaign on television and in the Press the wearing rate rose from about 28 per cent. to 35 per cent., but within a few months of its ending the rate fell to 30 per cent. Attempts at persuasion do not work with more than a small number of people. Only 30 per cent. are wearing belts voluntarily, whereas in Australia, where people care just as much about freedom, the wearing rate is now nearly 90 per cent. Must we go on for another 10 years or more spending millions of pounds on advertising to bring about a tiny increase in the number of people wearing belts? The small success achieved by persuasion is not enough.

When reproached by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), the right hon. Member for Down, South made light of the fact that 60 lives had been saved as a result of the compulsory wearing of crash helmets by motor cyclists.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

It should have been 60. If the use of motor cycles has increased by 12 per cent., as the right hon. Gentleman said, and that is applied to the figure of 500 deaths to which he referred, it will be seen to be about 60. I think that 60 lives are worth saving. Moreover, that was only in the first year after the law was introduced, and experience in Australia and elsewhere suggests that in the second and third years there are better results. Already 80 per cent. of motor cyclists were wearing crash helmets, so there was not so much scope for a large increase in the proportion or the total number wearing them.

We heard the same argument from the freedom fighters three years ago when, under a Conservative Government but with a free vote on both sides of the House, the crash helmet law was introduced. I believe that the right decision was made then. A considerable number of lives have been saved as a result. I pray that today we shall make the right decision again.

5.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bryan Magee Mr Bryan Magee , Leyton

We shall always be faced by some moral or political problems that are not soluble to anybody's entire satisfaction, for the simple reason that moral principles, also basic political ideals, conflict with each other.

This Bill is an example of precisely that situation. On each side of the argument a case can be put which is firmly founded on a principle which every hon. Member would like to be able to support. In favour of the Bill is the central argument based on the preservation and sanctity of human life, the avoidance of unnecessary deaths, mutilation, disabilities of all kinds. On the other side, against the Bill a case can be put based on the argument from personal liberty. What makes it such a difficult dilemma for us is that these two fundamental principles, both of which we wish to support, are in conflict on this issue.

It was characteristic of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to seize on only one of those principles and to pursue an argument based on it, remorselessly, to a logical conclusion—thereby ignoring, or entirely missing, the central feature of the situation, namely that that argument is in conflict with another argument which he scarcely mentioned, but to which many of us would give equal or even greater weight.

In this situation, where we have to balance these conflicting considerations, on whatever side we come down, there are bound to be powerful arguments against us. That is unavoidable. I yield to nobody in my concern for personal freedom. It seems to me in most circumstances to be the most important of the political values. The chief purpose of political activity, why we are all here, should be the maximisation of the freedom of the individual to live his own life as he wishes. But I believe that on this occasion the libertarian argument has been overstated.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and the right hon. Member for Down, South drew comparisons between making seat belts compulsory and outlawing smoking. It seems to me as plain as a pikestaff that if tobacco were discovered now, for the first time, knowing what we now know about it, it would be declared a prohibited drug. I do not think this can be seriously disputed. It kills tens of thousands of people a year—far more people than are killed in motor accidents. But to prohibit it in the situation that actually confronts us, after millions of our people have become addicted to that drug and are dependent on it, would overnight open the door to crime on a scale comparable to what occurred in the United States when the Americans, some decades ago, tried to prohibit the use of alcohol. So that argument has no validity in this context.

A juster comparison would be with the safety regulations governing the use of machinery. Throughout industry it is accepted by everybody that, where dangerous machinery is in use, there must be safety regulations which those who use the machinery, or who are in close contact with it, must be required to observe. No reasonable person regards that as an infringement of personal freedom. And one thing one can certainly say about motor vehicles is that they are dangerous pieces of machinery. Indeed, they are among the most lethal pieces of machinery that exist.

The other libertarian argument, which has been grossly overstated, is the argument that nobody is at risk except the man who is, or is not, free to wear a seat belt, and that if he suffers death or injury it is his own fault. There are many strikes against that argument. The point has already been made that if a driver is wearing a seat belt he is much more likely to remain in control of the vehicle after a collision than if he is not, and therefore is much more likely to be in a position to avert death or injury to others on the road. That is indubitably true.

It is also the case that there is an enormous social cost involved in accidents. The Minister put the figure that would be saved by the enactment of this legislation at £60 million a year. The non-wearer of seat belts who is involved in an avoidable accident makes calls on the many public services that are immediately summoned to the scene—ambulance men, police, firemen and others. Furthermore, thousands of people involved in such accidents find themselves in hospital for weeks or months, where they are an enormous cost on the National Health Service—a cost which everybody in the nation must share, one way or another. Therefore, it is of concern to us all, because we all bear the burden. I do not think it is unreasonable in these circumstances to ask people to take a small, simple, elementary precaution to minimise the chances of those accidents happening, and of the costs thereof being incurred.

The right hon. Member for Down, South, talked as though the rest of the world did not exist. He said that the nearest comparison we could discover in estimating the consequences of this legislation lay in the figures of accidents involving the drivers of motor cycles, as between those who were and were not wearing crash helmets. That is not the nearest comparison at all. The fact is that a large number of countries have instituted legislation of precisely the kind we are now considering. Those countries have made the wearing of seat belts mandatory. I understand that in every single one of those countries deaths and disablements have been dramatically reduced. Experience does not cease to be experience because it is not ours. Evidence does not cease to be evidence because it does not manifest itself within the confines of the United Kingdom. We have all kinds of evidence to go on, evidence which the right hon. Gentleman cavalierly ignored.

For all these reasons, although I share their concern for liberty, I believe that the libertarians have grossly over-stated their case. The infringement of personal liberty involved is slight, trivial. As against that, if we do not enact this Bill into law, thousands of people will die violent deaths who would not otherwise have died. Thousands more will be blinded, disfigured, maimed, disabled for life—people who would not otherwise have so suffered. We in this House have to decide between these two alternatives. It is frivolous to set a tiny infringement of personal freedom against the carnage which we find on the other side of the balance sheet. I believe that we all have a duty, in the free vote this evening, to vote for the Bill.

5.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

I accept the benefits to life and limb provided by the wearing of seat belts. However, I do not accept that this Bill is the best way to bring about such a situation.

We have heard a great deal this afternoon about statistics in other countries related to the wearing of seat belts. However, there has been little mention of the speed limits operating in those same countries. Just as the number of accidents in Britain has been reduced because the speed of driving has been compulsorily reduced, so it has happened in Australia, France, Germany and the other countries involved.

What I am particularly concerned about, however, is that we are about to be deprived of yet another liberty, although a small one, along with the attempt by the Labour Party to prevent a handful of people from killing a few hares now and again by coursing and the other small, petty and pointless prohibitions that they have imposed. I appreciate that this is a more important subject, but this is a bad piece of law, and one which is opposed by the police forces. It is opposed by my chief constable and I am pretty sure that it is opposed by the chief constables of most other hon. Members.

There will be several exemptions under the Bill. First, one will not have to wear a seat belt if one's car or van is old or if one is reversing. Can one imagine someone being approached by policemen under the Bill and having to crash into reverse to avoid being arrested?

Then the Minister made the amazing statement that one will not be liable to wear a seat belt if one is stationary. How will that be enforced? I am talking now of the idiocy of framing unenforceable laws. The policeman says, "You are not wearing a seat belt." The man replies, "I know: I am stationary." Where do we go from there? One will not have to wear a seat belt if one is pregnant. How pregnant? Will one be given a fertility test? Will one be allowed to go home and become pregnant between arrest and appearance in court?

Then there is the question of claustrophobia. I am claustrophobic to the extent that I feel acutely uncomfortable wearing a seat belt and I know that many plump people feel the same. But shall we have to have a certificate stating that we are claustrophobic? Will there be a rash of back-street psychiatrists selling certificates? A taxi driver will not have to wear a seat belt. Why not? Nor will a delivery man. What sort of delivery man? I admit that the exemption of disabled people is a good provision.

But my concern is not only for personal liberty. It is because it seems that the Bill will become plumb bad law. We have heard a great deal of what has been done to date to make people wear seat belts and how unsuccessful that has been. A disc jockey of whom many people take little notice has made television commercials. There have been a fair number of good advertisements and notices on hoardings which have had an effect.

But an important omission is that insurance companies have not threatened to pay very little if an accident is caused because someone failed to wear a seat belt. That would be a better way of enforcing this provision than bringing in the law.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

If someone is not prepared to wear a seat belt to save his life, why should he be prepared to wear one to save money?

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

Anyone has the right to do what he will. If a man is prepared to pay the consequences of not wearing a seat belt, that surely is his own look out.

The main reason that people do not wear seat belts is that they find them uncomfortable. That is where more thought is needed. If cars were designed so that not to wear a seat belt would be more uncomfortable than to wear one—if the clasps of the belt dug into one's back—there would be an incentive to put the belt on. That, too, would be infinitely more sensible than to use the law of the land to make it a crime not to wear a seat belt.

We have always said that a man has the right to do what he will with his own life. I am prepared to accept the argument that although we might be prepared to take our own lives we have no right to hurt others. But before we invoke the law, we have not done nearly enough to persuade and to spread the message of what can be done. That is why I shall be opposing the Bill.

5.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

I first became intrigued by the idea of the compulsory wearing of seat belts as long ago as the spring of 1973, when the first startling results from Australia became apparent. Here was a device which, at no cost to the public purse, could make a substantial contribution to avoiding death and injury on the roads—surely one of the scandals of our civilisation today. Since that time, in parliamentary terms, we have come a fairly long road.

The Minister reminded us of the ambivalence of the other place in introducing a clause and then throwing it out. I had the experience of trying to reintroduce it and finding that the then Minister voted against his own clause. Two of my hon. Friends who are present today will remember that July Friday evening. However, perhaps rightly, the then Minister agreed to reintroduce the matter after the October election. We were rather done out of our time during the debate in November 1974 and it is not a minute too soon that we are now having a full day on this important matter.

I obtained the assistance of the Chief Constable of Essex, who kindly arranged for a demonstration sledge, with which he had been presented by the Ford Motor Company, to be exhibited in the Upper Waiting Hall in the spring of 1975, when it was hoped that the legislation would shortly be introduced. About 120 hon. Members tried that device, including the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). All survived, I am happy to say, because they were wearing an ordinary inertia reel seat belt. That demonstration brought home the fact that a very slight accident—a percussion of as little as 10 m.p.h. or less—can have a major effect on the human frame.

I accept that it is difficult to make new points in a debate like this, particularly when the subject has engaged one's attention as long as this subject has engaged mine. But it is significant that 21 major States have introduced or are to introduce legislation of this kind. Although not all are fully democratic States, most of them are, and they must have debated this matter before they reached what I believe to be the logical and sensible conclusion.

I also detect a substantial change in the public attitude. The Minister read out a list of the newspapers which were quite clear on their position. He left out the Daily Telegraph, which I am happy to note has come around from total, or at least outspoken, opposition to the much more open-minded attitude expressed in a leading article only last week. A survey of public opinion by the Automobile Association as long ago as 1973 showed that 92 per cent. of those questioned accepted that there was benefit in wearing a seat belt and 61 per cent. said that they would readily accept the introduction of a law—yet only 23 per cent. actually wore a seat belt. Those results were published in full and if they were undated today they should show our side of the argument even more favourably.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is in favour because it will be easier for it to design motor cars if it can assume that front seat passengers are restrained, and eventually it will be cheaper also. The Automobile Association has always been quite clear in its support for this proposal, support based on its appreciation of the facts. It has many millions of members, who subscribe to keep it going. Therefore, to some extent, it is democratically inclined to take a sensible line. The Medical Commission on Accident Prevention, a body set up by the medical profession—the present chairman is Lord Porritt, who has great experience as a member of the medical profession and who is an ex-Govenor General of New Zealand—is wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill.

Two arguments against the Bill must be answered. Those hon. Members who have spoken on the subject of freedom, which is the essential issue, acknowledged that they were in favour of the wearing of seat belts and were convinced of the efficacy of the device. However, they stated that they wish to have the freedom to choose. I understand that. I appreciate their fear, but I believe that we are only taking a small bite—in the past we have taken bigger.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), in what was an impressive speech, swept away the drug argument, saying that he did not accept that the same argument applied to drugs. I believe that exactly the same argument applies to drugs, and many people outside the House share my view. They ask why they should not be allowed to take various drugs or to smoke them, or whatever people do with them. Yet only one hon. Member of the "freedom group", if I may use that phrase, to my knowledge voted against the drug legislation—namely my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). He took the view that it was erosion of individual freedom. I also take that view but I believe that it was worth doing in the interests of the individuals concerned. This is an exactly comparable matter.

The subject of crash helmets for motor cyclists has already been discussed. If 300 people a week jumped over Westminster Bridge, 20 of them going to their deaths and the remaining 280 having to spend more than one night in hospital, should we accept that for five minutes in this House before we erected a barrier to stop them? Of course we should not. There would be a public outcry within hours.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

It would be practicable.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

Of course it would be practicable, because it would save the police, the ambulance and the other rescue services just that task which today we are setting out to—

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I mean that it would be easily practicable to erect a barrier. It is less practicable to enforce this Bill.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

Enforcement is not one of the major objections. I shall deal with it shortly.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

Has not my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) illuminated one of the cardinal issues in this debate? To erect a barrier so that people cannot jump off Westminster Bridge is one thing—it is like having safety glass—but it is quite another thing to say that everyone crossing Westminster Bridge must wear a harness.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

I do not accept that. My own analogy was much nearer the truth. As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) in his eloquent remarks reminded us, this matter goes far beyond individual concern. The implications to everyone else are just as important.

My second point is a valid criticism of the Bill. It is possible that some, however few, fatalities or injuries can be caused by seat belts. I have tried to find specific instances but it is extremely hard to get that information.

The Transport and Road Research Laboratory looked at 2,000 accidents in considerable detail. The Minister mentioned this item of research. I understand that not one case was found where death or injury has been caused in the first instance by the belt. A similar investigation in America showed one case where the belt had been deliberately worn loose and, therefore, there was obviously an impact into the belt. It is true that on some death certificates after accidents general practitioners will put: Injuries caused by a seat belt". However, we must remember that in such an accident the chances are that if the person had not worn a seat belt, the injuries would have been at least as great if not much greater. Therefore, I do not accept that seat belts as such cause accidents on their own.

I am not an authority on the matter, but the Department of Transportation and Environmental Planning at the University of Birmingham can be said to be an authority on the matter. I suspect that other hon. Members have received the letter I have received. It says: The decision as to whether a belt helped or not in a given situation requires a considerable understanding of crash dynamics and injury mechanisms and this can only be meaningfully made by those working in the area of crash protection. There are people who have been thrown out of a car and who will claim that they escaped injury because they were thrown out. What would have happened if they had stayed in the car? They cannot be certain. They can say that the car was a mess and caught fire, but they cannot be certain what would have happened. The truth is that it is four times more dangerous to be thrown out than to stay in, which explains why every racing driver on every grand prix track in the world is extremely securely belted into his car.

I accept as a criticism of my argument, however, that there may be a small fraction of 1 per cent. who may suffer injury as a result of wearing seat belts. However, that was true about compulsory vaccination for smallpox. It is true for a lot of medicaments that we take voluntarily, and a lot of other things that we do. There is a fractional risk, but we accept it because the greater good is so overwhelming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) mentioned a survey in Australia where only 11 per cent. of belts were properly used. I have found the survey to which he referred and it says that 13·5 per cent. were correctly used. However, that same survey showed that although only 25 per cent. of the population wore seat belts prior to legislation that figure increased to 75 per cent. in the towns and 64 per cent. in the countryside. The survey was taken only a few months after legislation had been introduced.

My hon. Friend also referred to insurance. In this debate arguments about insurance can be used both ways. They are not of any merit. My hon. Friend referred to enforcement. I do not see the great difficulty. What is so hard about enforcement? What is so hard about enforcing the rules about a double yellow line, the double white line in the middle of the road, or the law about bald tyres? All these matters are complex and take up police time. Whether or not a man wears a belt is obvious. My hon. Friend said that his Australian newspaper friend told him that people in Australia were frightened of being caught, which proves how easy it must be to enforce that legislation. If they were not frightened of being caught, there would be an enforcement problem.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

My hon. Friend is mixing up two arguments. I was replying to the Government's case, which is, basically, that no enforcement is required. I accept entirely that enforcement is required. However, in enforcing the law it may be that the police would come into conflict with the motorist, which is the most delicate area of police public relations.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

I quoted what my hon. Friend said. He said that his contacts with his Australian newspaper colleague had made it clear that those concerned were nervous about going out without wearing a seat belt because the police would catch them. That means that it is easy to enforce the law because the police are able to find out easily. However, when it comes to matters of conflict, I entirely agree that any law which the police have to enforce can lead to conflict between the public and the police.

Why, then, did the official Opposition not vote against the 50 mile per hour speed limit, which is broken every day by 75 per cent. of drivers in this country? Why did we not make a fuss about that? If ever there was an item that was let go through the House to make a conflict between the police and the public, it was the ridiculous legislation about speed limits that was introduced on the pretext of fuel economies and has been carried on for God knows what reason. We have never debated it.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

Does my hon. Friend accept that I totally agree with what he says but that I have held my present position for only four weeks?

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

I accept that. I, too, would much prefer voluntary persuasion. I believe that the "clunk-click" operation has been successful. I do not hold the view that Mr. Saville is not well thought of, and perhaps the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) who expressed that view should have attended some of the live shows and spoken to some of the young people involved. However, it is immensely costly and it is short term.

Professor Kirk of the University of Technology, Loughborough, has been doing a certain amount of research into the psychology of this matter. He has suggested that a law needs to be introduced to resolve some people's ambivalence. Perhaps they feel "cissy" about putting on a belt, or are just idle and cannot be bothered. Who knows? However, once the law says "Thou shalt", the matter is decided for them, and I believe that we shall find, in a law-abiding country, as we are, that 90 per cent. of the Government's aim will be attained.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

The hon. Gentleman has just said that 70 per cent. of drivers in Britain break speed regulations. He is now saying that a law has only got to be made in order to be adhered to by almost everyone.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

First, it is quite a different law. Secondly, one knows that one does not commence a journey with the intention of breaking a law. However, how many hon. Members can honestly say that they never travel at more than 30 mph in a restricted area? The fact is that our speed limit regulations are grossly out of date and need changing, but that has nothing to do with the Bill.

Perhaps I may cite Professor Kirk's very small sample. He asked 61 people whether they thought that it should be made illegal to drive without wearing seat belts, and 67 per cent. agreed that it should be. That is a very small sample, but nevertheless it is significant.

I have never shunned the argument in other fields that individuals should be required to face up to their own responsibilities and that the law should intervene as little as possible in people's private lives. However, here we have a situation in which every opportunity for voluntary action has been taken, even at great cost in money and human lives. Now the time has come for us to act with common sense and in response to overwhelming evidence. There is very little to be lost and a great deal in lives and the prevention of suffering to be gained.

6.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

I am a strong advocate of the wearing of seat belts. I invariably wear a seat belt myself when I enter my own car and when I enter other cars as a front-seat passenger. I think that it is essential to wear a seat belt for safety. The wearing of seat belts has saved hundreds of lives. I appreciate that. Because they were wearing a seat belt, many people have been saved from death or injury from which they would not have been saved had they not been wearing one.

The hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) points to the difficulty of enforcing the law, saying that we ought not to make it a law that it be compulsory to wear a seat belt because it would be difficult to enforce. If the hon. Gentleman approached my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his myriads of income tax inspectors and collectors, he would find that there is great difficulty in enforcing the law regarding income tax, but we have it none the less, and we are all subject to it. Some of us get caught fiddling, but the law is there, even if it is difficult of enforcement.

We are told also that this is an infringement of the liberty of the subject. We have very many of our liberties encroached upon by law. It has been said by a great writer that there can be no liberty except at the expense of liberty.

Nor can I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) when he says that one should not make anything compulsory which merely saves the life or preserves the safety of the person who is under compulsion. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there are many regulations regarding safety in factories and that when men are working on the exterior of buildings, decorating, repairing or window cleaning, they have to wear certain gear for their own safety. Therefore, with great respect, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman's argument.

Having said all that, I ought to inform the House why I shall be going into the "No" Lobby this evening. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is not present. He made a remark upon which I can fasten. He said that this was a conflict between safety and liberty. Were there a conflict between safety and liberty, I should come down without hesitation on the side of safety, despite the fact that we should lose some of our liberty. However, in my view it is not a conflict between safety and liberty. It is a conflict between a probable or possible safety, and liberty. It is an acknowledged fact that a seat belt is not 100 per cent. safe. There have been cases in which people have been saved death or injury because they were not wearing a seat belt.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

It does not matter how many. The fact is that there have been such cases. I can point to one particular case in which the opposite took effect. I have not been able to check the veracity of this, but I understand that in Durham two police officers were killed and the verdict was that had they not been wearing seat belts they would not have died. If we compel people to wear seat belts we may be inadvertently causing their death, by compelling their wearing of a seat belt which they have unwillingly donned.

In those circumstances it is wrong to compel anyone who does not wish to do so to wear a seat belt. I know that wearing seat belts saves thousands of lives. Let us therefore advertise that. Let us have an extensive advertising campaign to persuade people to wear seat belts. But let us not make it compulsory on account of the fact that it is not 100 per cent. safe Regretfully, in those circumstances I shall have to go into the "No" Lobby this evening.

6.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Daniel Awdry Mr Daniel Awdry , Chippenham

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) will not be voting for the Bill. We entirely respect his sincerity, however, and we are glad that at any rate he will continue to wear his seat belt.

After a great deal of hesitation and consideration, I have decided that I should give the Bill my complete support, although I realise that many of my constituents will take a different view. I do not know whether other hon. Members have had a lot of letters on this subject. I have not had a great many letters, but at a recent meeting in Wiltshire a vote was taken on the issue, and opinion was found to be equally divided. It is probably true that that is the current position throughout the country.

However, having said that, I think that probably nearly everyone agrees that seat belts save lives and mitigate the effects of serious road accidents. Every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has said that, and in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) started by saying that.

Many figures have been bandied about. It is always very difficult to get exact figures. There must be a lot of guesswork in this matter. Yet figures indicate that at least 1,000 lives would have been saved this year if all the seat belts already fitted in cars had been worn and 10 times as many serious injuries would have been prevented. These are impressive figures and involve a great deal of loss, not only of human lives but of resources, and they involve massive human misery.

I understand that 44,440 people were either killed or seriously injured in 1972 as occupants of motor cars. There is evidence that nearly 20 per cent. of these casualties would probably have been avoided if only 70 per cent. of the front seat occupants had been wearing the belts which were fitted in the vehicles. We all hoped that persuasion would be successful—persuasion is better than legislation—but, as many hon. Members have said, there have been many attempts at persuasion in the past 10 years or more on the advantages of wearing seat belts, and yet the wearing rate is still less than 30 per cent. It may have increased to 35 per cent. at peak periods during the campaign, but it is below that figure today.

I must admit that I am an offender. I know that I should wear a seat belt, but because I undertake many short journeys I often find myself failing to take the necessary trouble and failing to fit the belt. On my way to the House today I wore the belt—I was thinking about the debate—but it is on the short journeys that many accidents occur. Even on short trips at low speeds accidents happen in which serious injury occurs which the wearing of a belt would have prevented. Forty per cent. of fatal and serious injuries to car occupants occur in built-up areas.

My family is very conscious about the wearing of seat belts. My daughter tells me that she always wears a seat belt, but believes that it should not be made compulsory. I think that the wearing of the belt should be compulsory, but admit that I do not always wear one when driving. Many other people know that they ought to wear the belt but drive without doing so. If it is passed the Bill will make us change our habits, and it is about time.

There has been a good deal of discussion today about experience overseas. It is a little risky to quote other countries, but the experience in Australia and New Zealand is instructive because those countries are, in many ways, like ours. Legislation was introduced five years ago in New South Wales and the wearing rate has increased from 25 per cent. to over 75 per cent. There have been striking benefits in that State since the introduction of the law, because the fatality rate per 1,000 vehicles has dropped by 25 per cent. The wearing of belts became compulsory throughout Australia in January 1972, and legislation followed in New Zealand later in the same year. In the two years after the introduction of legislation in New Zealand, the number of fatal accidents relating to car occupants remained more or less static, while those relating to other road users increased by over 40 per cent.

There has been no sustained opposition in those countries after the introduction of the legislation. No one could accuse the Australians, of all people, of not having strong traditions of individual liberty. We have Australian Members of Parliament. The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), who is present, is an Australian. Australians are capable of speaking up if they think that their liberty may be infringed, yet they appear to have accepted that the legislation is sensible and beneficial. Legislation is in force in at least 20 other countries, and I cannot find any evidence that the public have opposed it after its introduction.

I do not believe that there will be any problem of enforcement. The difficulties of enforcement have been greatly exaggerated in this debate. It is never very easy for the police to enforce any law, particularly motoring laws, but they will get over this problem.

The main objection to the Bill—and it has been raised in every speech made against it—is the fundamental one based on the concept of liberty. I recognise that the right to individual freedom is precious but it must be balanced by the duty of people to exercise that freedom without causing harm to the interests of others. There can be no freedom in any society unless there are some laws and restrictions. I agree that the State should not interfere with freedom without good reason. For example, it would be wrong for Parliament to say that climbing, or skiing, or pot-holing should be illegal simply because it is extremely dangerous. The reason is that climbing or pot-holing may be absolutely central to an individual's idea of a good way of life. I cannot believe that driving without a seat belt falls into that category.

Where a minor restriction, as I believe this Bill to be, offers a substantial benefit and there is no significant interference with a person's personal or material interests, the Government are entitled—indeed, they have the duty—to require people to behave sensibly. It cannot be right to argue that a driver should have the liberty to take unreasonable risks with his own safety on the ground that the result of an accident will merely bring suffering on himself.

The truth is that the effect of accidents places great burdens on society, and particularly on the National Health Service, which is already grossly over-strained. It has been suggested in the debate that accidents in which seat belts were not worn cost £60 million, with part of it applying to the Health Service. An hon. Member said that if we passed the Bill the Health Service will still incur expense. That is so; but it will not incur so much expense on motor accidents.

The Bill involves some infringement of personal liberty, but the benefits which will be gained from its passing are of such magnitude that they outweigh all the opposing arguments. Naturally, I respect hon. Members who take a different view, and I realise that my party is divided on the issue. It is perhaps a pity that both Front Bench spokesmen from my side of the House are against this measure.

It is right that we should have a free vote. I realise that the principles on both sides of the argument are fundamental. I hope that few Members will abstain. It has been said that when we last debated a similar matter, namely, the wearing of crash helmets, there was a thin attendance in the House. I hope that tonight there will be a large vote and that the Bill will obtain a Second Reading with a comfortable majority, because I am absolutely convinced that its passing will save lives and a great deal of unnecessary human suffering.

6.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Ginsburg Mr David Ginsburg , Dewsbury

In his concluding remarks, the Minister effectively claimed that as lives would be saved by the passing of the Bill we were justified in overlooking many of the arguments which could be advanced against it. Neither the House nor the Minister has always taken that view in dealing with problems of this kind.

It is worth going back less than six years, to December 1970, when the House debated a motion to make British Summer Time permanent. It was moved by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), and his advice was rejected by the House. The evidence which the then Government adduced, after the three-year experimental period, was that undoubtedly making British Summer Time permanent had saved lives, and had probably saved many lives, particularly those of young children going home from school or of people going home from work.

The statistical argument was quite powerful. In addition, on the eve of the debate, the Road Research Laboratory issued supplementary statistical information confirming that during the experimental three-year period the accident rate had fallen.

Nevertheless, the House—it was obviously justified in so doing, although I was one in the minority—rejected that advice, and it is interesting to note that the present Minister for Transport and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), who is on the Front Bench at the moment and is assisting in the promotion of the Bill, were among the majority who supported the ending of permanent British Summer Time. There were strong arguments in relation to the social habits of the nation for doing away with British Summer Time as a permanent arrangement, but in coming to its conclusion at that time the House took a conscious decision in the knowledge that the road accident rate would be liable to increase as a result of that decision.

Therefore, although it may sound a harsh doctrine, one cannot go absolutely by statistics, which are also capable of slight error and manipulation. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) showed from the death figures in relation to the wearing of crash helmets that there was an alteration of some 30 to 40 deaths over a year in a population of more than 50 million, and it is doubtful whether that is of itself a sufficiently significant figure on which Parliament would wish to legislate.

I stress that with reference to what the House did in regard to British Summer Time. We were then considering legislation which affected social habits. We were not dealing with legislation which touched the freedom of the individual, and, in my view, the question of freedom is central in the present case. Apart from all the doubts which one may have about the figures and all the uncertainties about the design of seat belts and whether seat belts can guarantee 100 per cent. safety—clearly, there are circumstances in which they cannot—the essential fact remains that for many hon. Members this is not a matter on which one should bring in the sanction of the criminal law.

The police already have far too much to do in coping with the present problems of society. We ought not to burden them with this additional difficulty. I thought it significant that the Minister went out of his way virtually to imply that he did not regard this as a prosecuting matter. He said, in effect—I listened to him carefully—that he would be happy if the wearing of seat belts reached a proportion of 80 per cent. Apparently, the Minister would be happy with that, but what would be the position if a prosecution was launched against someone for not wearing a seat belt? Would he be justified in arguing that the Minister said that he would be happy with 80 per cent. and he happened to be one of the 20 per cent. who was not wearing his belt? I doubt that that would be a valid argument to use. The House is in danger of either making a mockery of the law by bringing in legislation of this kind or—far more serious—of bringing in legislation which will inevitably put the public into greater conflict with the police.

The good from this measure is outweighed by the bad. In my opinion, there is plenty of scope for mechanical improvements in the design of motor cars, for improvements in safety and in other ways, and generally for education. We should pause before involving the sanction of the law in an area where police relations with the public are already sensitive enough.

6.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

In his opening speech, the Minister said—I am sure that I quote him correctly—"I am glad to submit our proposals to the free vote of the House". But that is precisely what he did not do. His proposals do not appear in the Bill. The Bill is purely an enabling measure which will confer upon the Minister power to make regulations not one word of which can be altered by the House of Commons and which, indeed, the House may not even have opportunity to debate. The regulations will be made under the negative resolution procedure, and it often happens that the Government do not give time for Prayers to be debated within the period laid down under the Statutory Instruments Act.

It goes without saying, therefore, that what the Minister proposes, which he says he is glad to submit to the free vote of the House, will not be known until after the House has exercised that free vote. This is the paradox which we face, and we have not such confidence in the way regulations are drafted that we can start from the assumption that we should willingly give such power to the Minister. I should have had more sympathy with him if he had put his major proposals in the Bill instead of saving them for non-amendable regulations, for there are huge sections of the way in which his putative proposals will be applied of which we remain in total ignorance.

I do not believe that many people seriously challenge the advantage both to individuals and to society of people getting into the habit of wearing safety belts. It is not an advantage confined merely to those who wear them. I emphasise that. Some of the rarest facilities in the National Health Service are those for neurosurgery and intracranial surgery, and it is a well known fact that those whose heads are injured in motor accidents have to take priority in these scarce surgical facilities over those waiting for, say, an operation for the removal of a brain tumour, and it is important to those who have a tumour of the brain that they be operated on as early as possible if that is the chosen treatment.

I am not, therefore, numbered among those who say that the effect of a decision to wear or not to wear a seat belt is confined to the person who makes the decision or, indeed, to someone who does not wear it by default merely because he or she has not thought of wearing it. That argument does not stand up to examination. The decision to wear or not to wear a seat belt affects others, as do many other decisions.

There are spheres in which we use the compulsion of the criminal law to protect minors but in which we do not use it to protect adults. For example, there is the requirement to have a fireguard round a fire if there are children present. Yet I understand—not from the Bill, not from anything the Minister said, but from a Press release issued by his Department, not a communication to the House of Commons—that it is not the intention to use the Bill to protect children under 10, that is, those who most need it. The British Medical Journal has stressed the advisability of children travelling in the rear seat of a car, not in the front, and of their wearing restraining harness or sitting in a protective seat. Yet we understand—again, not from anything the Minister said, not from any communication made to the House, but from a Press release, which has no force of law at all—that the Minister will not use the powers granted under the Bill where they are most needed, that is, to protect minors.

We have, therefore, an utterly topsy-turvy state of affairs. Adults will be subject to criminal penalty if they do not wear seat belts, yet they may allow their children, if under 10 years of age, to travel unbelted in the front seat. Thus, that most hazardous single circumstance will not be prohibited under the Bill. I say "under the Bill", but, of course, nothing is prohibited by the Bill. We must look to the regulations at which we are invited by the Minister to guess, and no more than guess, which he will make pursuant to Clause 1.

We have been offered some figures with great confidence, but the expected reduction in casualties will apply only to those wearing seat belts in the front seat. The percentage reduction as between those who wear seat belts and those who do not cannot validly be applied to the accident figures relating to those who travel unbelted in the rear seats and who will, presumably, continue to travel unbelted in the rear seats. That is the first element or probable fallacy in the figures which are offered.

When the right hon. Lady the present Secretary of State for Social Services was Minister of Transport, she introduced the order recommending a 70 mph limit on grounds of safety. One of her columns of figures—allegedly in support of her proposition—added up to more than 120 per cent., although it should not have come to more than 100 per cent. Moreover, on that occasion the Road Research Laboratory had not included in its researches the representative road in Britain—a road with traffic going each way. It was not a three-lane road, a dual carriageway, or a motorway. The representative road was totally excluded from the figures the right hon. Lady offered the House. I mention this in order that we shall not depend on spurious figures for our arguments.

Having said that, I add that I know of no reputable medical authority which does not take the view that the more people who wear crash belts, the lower will be the incidence of injury and the less serious will be the injuries occurring in accidents. It is therefore all more desirable that people should be encouraged in every way. That includes, I should have thought, putting into statutory form what is still slightly in the realm of case law rather than statute law—the policy of courts to reduce damages on the ground of contributory negligence.

But I do not believe that this applies in the case of small children. I am not a lawyer, but I do not believe that the concept of negligence applies with the same force to small children. Since the regulations which the Minister will no doubt make under the Bill do not apply to small children, that incentive, unless put in by statute, will not exist in the case of small children.

Photo of Mr Norman Miscampbell Mr Norman Miscampbell , Blackpool North

Surely my hon. Friend is not suggesting that children being compensated in court for injuries caused by somebody else should be penalised because of the negligence of those driving them?

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

No. What I suggest is that that proportion of the damage which is assessed as being due to the failure to wear a seat belt should be awarded against those who allow the child to be in the car without wearing the belt rather than the other party. I am not suggesting that they should forgo their damages but that that proportion of the damage should be awarded against the person allowing the child to be in a precarious situation.

Photo of Mr Norman Miscampbell Mr Norman Miscampbell , Blackpool North

How does it benefit a child if the money is taken from the father's pocket?

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

It makes the father financially responsible, in the same way that he is legally responsible, because the person in the other vehicle is not in a position to determine whether the child is wearing a belt. The person in a position to determine whether the child is wearing a belt is the driver of the car in which the child is travelling. He is the only person in a position to decide.

I have pointed out that the regulations are not subject to amendment by the House and that they do not apply where they are most needed and where the balance of principles may be in favour. There are, of course, two types of compulsion that we can apply. I endeavoured to bring out this point in an intervention in my hon. Friend's speech. One type is passive and the other type is active.

Years ago, under the Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, it was forbidden to have the petrol tank over the driver's legs, as it once was, with a little brass filler half-way down the bonnet. It was required that safety glass be put in the windscreen, and that there should be a fireproof bulkhead between the engine and the passengers. We have a long way to go in the direction of enforcement of that sort.

Unfortunately, successive Ministers have been badly advised by their own technical advisers in the Department on the subject of glass. It is well established medically and in every way that the safety afforded by high penetration resistant laminated glass windscreens is grossly in excess of that of toughened glass. The Minister shakes his head because he is advised by Mr. Furness, whose ignorance was revealed when he was examined before the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Expenditure.

I have a file full of letters from consultant anaesthetists, consultant ophthalmic surgeons and consultant accident surgeons, every one of whom takes the view that I am quoting. Not one has taken the contrary view. Yet Minister after Minister, depending on uninformed advice from inside the Department, in each case—

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

The object of the Bill is not to touch the glass at all. As in so many instances after an intervention, perhaps I have a better riposte than was given when my speech was interrupted. I was comparing the difficulties with a large number of people jumping over a bridge. My hon. Friend said that instead of putting up a fence, I was suggesting that people should wear a safety harness. Can my hon. Friend suggest any alternative that will reduce accidents by 25 per cent. at no cost to the public?

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

My hon. Friend is completely wrong. To start with, he should acquaint himself with the figures relating to people sitting in the back seat who end up through the windscreen. People in the back seat, including children, will not be affected by the Bill. Children under 10 sitting in the front seat, as we understand from the Press release, will not be obliged to wear safety belts. They will, therefore, be at risk of going through the windscreen in exactly the same way as before.

With a toughened windscreen, there is a very real risk of the glass going into the faces of the people while they are still actually retained by their safety belts. Indeed, there are many examples of cars exchanging toughened windscreen glass. When two cars are in collision, the particles from both toughened windscreens become missiles which pepper the occupants of the opposite car.

Then there is that category of accidents from which safety belts do not protect people and do not save them from the consequences. I refer to accidents due to loss of visibility consequent upon the shattering of a toughened screen. When a toughened screen shatters there is a very real risk of loss of visibility.

The answer I received from the Minister when I questioned him about this was that it was something less than ½ per cent. of accidents. For the information of those who are interested in the total numbers of injuries, I point out that in 1974 this would have amounted to saving 1,625 deaths or injuries—not an insignificant factor. That is without any compulsion from the police at all—merely a requirement that laminated glass should be fitted instead of toughened glass. I am endeavouring to point out the alternatives if we are interested in using compulsion as a way of reducing accidents.

There are many other undesirable aspects of permitting toughened glass still to be used. It has been discovered in the last few years that people can ingest powdered glass into their lungs and develop ulcers of the lungs and the throat, for which there is no known cure. That is from breathing in powdered glass when a windscreen shatters. When a laminated glass windscreen, with a high penetration plastic centre, is struck by a head, it decelerates it comparatively slowly. If the force is beyond all reason, the entire windscreen will come out and go forward.

On the other hand, with toughened glass a serrated ridge tends to be left all the way round the windscreen, so that the person goes forward with his head through it and then, as he comes back again, his throat is badly cut by the glass retained in the edge of the windscreen over which the neck is pulled backwards as the body recoils into the car. There are many solutions of this kind which could be arrived at by changing not the Road Traffic Act but the Construction and Use of Vehicles Regulations.

Let me say that for me this is not a matter of principle. I voted for the compulsory use of helmets by motor cyclists. That is perfectly easy to enforce. It is easy to see whether someone riding a motor cycle is wearing a helmet.

When hon. Members representing South-West constituencies met the chief constable of the Devon and Cornwall force some 14 months ago for a routine meeting, this subject was discussed. He was enthusiastically in favour of drivers wearing crash belts, but he was opposed to its being made compulsory with the police having the duty to enforce it. Incidentally, he was commandant of the Police College before being appointed to the Devon and Cornwall force. I telephoned him this morning to inquire whether his views had altered since then. He told me that they had not. He is in favour of the maximum publicity of the advantages of wearing safety belts, of encouraging people if necessary, and of the police even advising them.

But so much police work depends on the golden thread of good will between the police and the public remaining unbroken. The breathalyser tested this to near its elastic limits. I am very concerned lest we legislate in such a way that, by adding yet one more measure of this kind to the statute book, we stretch the bond of good will between the vast majority of the public and the police beyond its elastic limit. This can easily happen in cases where it is so difficult to tell with certainty whether an offence has been committed.

I ask hon. Members to visualise a situation where a policeman thinks in good faith that a person driving a car is not wearing a belt. It may be that the person inside the car knows that he was not and denies it. It may be that he lies and says "I was wearing it" when he was not. The Australian police have many examples. A policeman is convinced that the car which passes his police car is being driven by someone not wearing a belt. The police car overtakes and flags down the car. By the time the car stops, the driver is wearing his belt. That is a situation which introduces an element of antagonism between the police and the public which I am sure all of us wish to avoid.

Again, we have conflicting opinions from doctors. Only last Saturday, I asked a consultant ophthalmic surgeon in the casualty department of a large hospital for his views, because another consultant ophthalmic surgeon whom I know is strongly in favour of this Bill. The surgeon whom I asked about it on Saturday is strongly in favour of people wearing crash belts but is opposed to compulsion. So we have a division of medical opinion there as well, not about the desirability of wearing crash belts, but about the desirability of compulsion.

When I weigh all these factors, not on principle but on the balance of advantage and of what we can achieve as well under the Construction and Use of Vehicles Regulations, especially in terms of glass, my vote tonight will be in the "No" Lobby.

6.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

I hope that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) will forgive me if I do not follow him too deeply into the issue of enforcement. However, as one of those who have complained vigorously to my right hon. Friend the Lord President about the long delay in bringing this Bill back to the House, I am persuaded by the speeches of the hon. Member for Tiverton and others who previously were more opposed to the measure that the message has gone home about the realities of the statistics and the forecasts which my hon. Friend the Minister is making about the likely saving of life if this Bill, as I hope, soon becomes law. I believe that the statistics are irrefutable and have become more widely accepted by the general public since we last debated this matter.

Nor will I say much about the personal tragedy which I know that a number of hon. Members can speak of with such authority, especially the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who made some very moving remarks in his speech. However, I have had some experience at second hand, being married to a nurse who has worked in the casualty departments of a number of large hospitals and also having knowledge of friends and acquaintances who have been involved in accidents, including one middle-aged lady who, only a few hundred yards from home in a mini-car at a very low speed and not wearing a safety belt, was sadly killed. I am glad, therefore, that the Minister is not adopting the French view that a measure of this kind should apply only outside urban areas. It is very important that it should apply everywhere.

Of the objections which have been made to me by my constituents, I mention two which have been touched on by other hon. Members in this debate—the question of design and that of freedom against compulsion. The subject of design is a matter of great concern to people whom other hon. Members have described as "small". I have had a number of letters from constituents who can give graphic examples of wives and members of their families who are far too small to gain any advantage from the standard type of belt, especially the diagonal type. Obviously, there will have to be some opportunity for designs to be adjusted to suit people of this kind or for them to be included in the Minister's set of exemptions.

I was glad to hear my hon. Friend's remarks on that point. We should bear in mind, however, that if people have these difficulties, it is possible for them to sit in the back of a car, as is recommended for young children. Although there is still valid criticism of many of the design features of a number of existing belts, I think that we can guarantee that the effect of the Bill will be to add considerable impetus to research for even better designs than those we have at present.

A number of hon. Members have answered objections to what is undoubtedly a further limitation of our freedom. But there exists a strange belief—it is persisting among many Opposition Members and it was first voiced in our previous debate—that we are only discussing what the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) described as people "potentially injuring themselves". He said: Here what we are dealing with is not the number of accidents but injuries to people making a decision of their own choice."—[Official Report, 21st November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 1649.] I submit that this is a fiction, and it was repeated by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who said that we were concerned with actions which directly endangered no other person. What is more, although The Times this morning came down in favour of the Bill, it said: But seat belts are unusual among precautions in that nobody else is put at risk by a failure to wear them. The individual bears the consequences of his decision. The point was also made by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), who said that the criminal law did not intervene when an individual was harming only himself.

I submit that all these points of view are wrong. A driver is more likely to remain in control of his car and to prevent further injury either to his passengers or to people outside the car if he is wearing a belt.

What is more, who can say that there is no injury or financial loss to families or to the nation? The Minister said that he estimated that a sum of £60 million represented the resources which would not be lost if this measure became law. Certainly there is considerable pain and suffering for relatives upon which it is impossible to put a price but none the less for which the non-belt wearer must be held accountable if he has an accident.

It is not only the relatives but the doctors, the nurses, the ambulance men, the policemen, and all who have to deal with the distasteful results of accidents who suffer considerable anguish and pain in carrying out their duties. When a nurse spends several hours, as my wife has, carefully sewing back the chin of an otherwise beautiful young girl and joining together scraps of broken flesh on a face, that experience certainly has an effect on the nurse.

One of the worst types of patient that a nurse has to deal with in a casualty department is a drunk who has injured himself, perhaps by putting his arm through a widow, or by being involved in an even more unpleasant occurrence. Drunks frequently behave extremely badly in a casualty department. They often insult the nurses, become extremely aggressive and behave very foolishly in the midst of their vomit and blood.

Of course, a drunk involved in an accident of this kind has only himself to blame, because probably he alone is responsible for his condition. I submit that (he same applies to those who have failed to wear seat belts, and we should regard this matter in a similar light—a case of folly for which some penalty has to be paid.

Freedom is relative and in my view the balance falls firmly on the side of the minor restriction which my hon. Friend the Minister is proposing. From the evidence contained in letters from my constituents it is clear that the majority of people will accept and value this minor restriction. However, the important point made by a number of speakers is the real fear of some people that greater harm can be done by wearing the seat belt.

There is the morbid fear of being trapped in a car which has caught fire or fallen into water. Indeed, in my constituency there are many waterways running alongside the roads and there have been some very unpleasant accidents in which cars have fallen into the water. Nevertheless, throughout the country as a whole the number of accidents involving fire or water is no more than one in 100.

The best evidence we have is that anyone involved in such a situation is more likely to survive if he is wearing a seat belt. What is more, he is more likely to survive to help other people in the car to escape. This is another instance where another person's welfare is involved in the driver's decision about whether to wear a seat belt.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the problem of the side impact. The hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad), who has unfortunately now left the Chamber, referred to his mother-in-law leaping to one side of a taxi as it went round Hyde Park Corner, in order to avoid an accident from which she might otherwise have been hurt. I assume that the lady concerned was sitting in the back of the taxi and therefore a situation of that kind would not be affected in any way by the Bill.

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad , Northwich

I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. My mother-in-law was sitting in the front passenger seat of a car which was, in fact, hit by a taxi coming from the other side. She saw the taxi coming and skilfully leapt to one side and thus avoided being seriously injured. Had she been wearing a seat belt, she would not have been able to leap to the other side and therefore would have been seriously injured or perhaps killed.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

I am sorry if I have misunderstood. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give us an opportunity to hear more details of this incident. I question whether the hon. Gentleman's mother-in-law would have been injured if she had been fixed in her seat by a seat belt. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us more, because the evidence we have from those who have witnessed accidents of this kind is that the supporting mechanism for the belt is carried into the car as part of the side impact and that the person does have some protection from the restraint. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the advantage to elaborate further.

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad , Northwich

If the hon. Gentleman had seen the state of the car after the accident, he would have been in no doubt at all. Whether the taxi would have been more seriously damaged had my mother-in-law remained where she was and not taken evasive action is another matter.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

I am grateful for that intervention because it is an expression of conviction that wearing a seat belt might have made an adverse difference. We have been trying extremely hard to get solid factual evidence from eye-witnesses of incidents where this could have been so. In any event, I submit that even the chance of one in perhaps 1,000, or even greater odds, of an accident of that kind occurring, is totally outweighed by the certainty of injury in the vast majority of accidents if a seat belt is not worn. The majority of side impact accidents cause injury either to the pelvis or to the femur. I do not doubt that, whether in or out of a seat belt, in most cases those injuries would still occur.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that the seat belt is attached to the centre pillar of the car. In the sort of accident to which my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) has referred, perhaps the whole column was actually wrenched out and pulled to the back of the car, or even further than that. In those circumstances what would happen if someone was attached to a seat belt?

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

I shall leave the hon. Gentleman to give the House his opinion of what would happen in that case. I have seen one such accident where a car became out of control at speed and crashed sideways into a telegraph pole. The occupant, wearing a seat belt, was saved from greater injury because, although the impact caused the side of the vehicle to be stoved in, the supporting mechanism for the belt was carried with the impact across the car with the occupant secure. I do not doubt that the hon. Gentleman will give the House the benefit of his own experience, to which he has already referred on television.

The one area where we have heard little from critics of the Bill concerns the overturning accident. I hope that we shall have some information from the Minister on whether he is satisfied that in instances of cars overturning the wearing of a seat belt would be as effective as it is in other forms of accident.

The fracture of the spine is a common injury when cars overturn. In about half of the cases where such fractures occur I understand that the roof of the vehicle is an important element. That would seem to suggest that wearing a seat belt could prevent a large number of spinal injuries, because the person would be restrained from hitting the roof.

It has been said that some accidents are avoidable if a person does not wear a seat belt and therefore it would be wrong to make him do so. There are situations in which taking a safety precaution can lead to an injury.

I do not doubt that if a car obeys a red traffic light and is stationary, it can quite easily be shunted from behind and the driver can be injured because he was observing a proper safety precaution. We must regard the wearing or non-wearing of seat belts in a similar light.

I shall support the Bill and I hope my colleagues will do the same in the knowledge that a number of minor practical points which have been mentioned in the debate can be discussed in Committee and dealt with in the regulations which eventually will be made. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to say something about heavy goods vehicle drivers as a number of accidents involve injury to the driver because the load is carried through the back of the cab when there is a head-on collision. There may well be a case for offering exemptions to drivers of heavy goods vehicles.

7.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I speak against the Bill both as an individual motorist and as President of the National Association of Driving Instructors.

Just as the Devil has some fine tunes, so in this debate the Devil has deployed some very powerful arguments. The voice of apparent reason tempts us to give up—O, so tiny—a parcel of our liberty which will hardly even be noticed amongst all those other much more important parcels of our liberty already surrendered to no harmful effect. He voices the statistic telling us that 1,000 lives would be saved.

I expect that to those of us who believe that seat belts save a very large number of lives, who believe that they should be fitted to all cars, who believe that people should be encouraged to wear them, who believe that insurance companies and courts should apply financial sanctions for not wearing them, the Devil's voice sounds very sweet and reasonable. For all that, it is still the voice of the Devil.

It is important to see precisely what it is he wants of us. He does not want us to accept a limitation on our freedom to prevent a hurt to others. That would be to put him on the side of the good angels and John Stuart Mill. What he wants of us is acceptance of a limitation on our freedom to prevent direct hurt to ourselves, which is a matter that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) has cogently argued, just does not come properly within the field of our criminal law.

Voluntarily accepting a limitation may be one thing, but being made a criminal for not accepting the limitation is quite another. As the Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club has put it: Can it be seriously contended that a driver must be compelled by law to wear something which could, even in a minority of cases, kill him? That is the rub.

I wonder what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) would say to the children of parents who might have lived had they not been wearing a safety belt and had not been crushed or burned to death or drowned because they were prevented from being thrown clear or prevented from escaping from the car?

What is asked of us here is that we take a step along the road of restrictive legislation which has seldom been taken before. It has not been taken in factory legislation, though the Minister sought—wrongly, I think—to use that as a precedent. It has been used, perhaps, only in the case of safety helmets and drugs, to which other considerations apply—that aspect has already been amply dealt with by some of my hon. Friends and by hon. Gentlemen—and possibly aircraft, where the case is different, because in aircraft we are putting ourselves in the hands of somebody else over whom we have no control.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

So it is with a passenger.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

There is some contact between the car passenger and the driver. I am particularly concerned with the liability of the driver. The liability of the passenger is secondary. It is the liability of the driver which is the most immediate infringment upon the liberty of the individual.

What is also asked of us is that we shall do this thing although it will not prevent one accident. It will reduce injury, but it will not reduce the number of accidents. We should bear that in mind when emotive words are being used by those who propose the Bill.

What is involved is not a minor but a major step along the road towards the brave new world of Aldous Huxley. If we here in Parliament do not maintain the vigilance which is the price of liberty, who else in this country will do it? Not the Government, not civil servants, not interested pressure groups, but only we hon. Members on a free vote.

I am astonished that those of my hon. Friends who so often expound the virtues of freedom and who are so often astute to attack hon. Members opposite for any incursion of freedom do not realise just how important even this small step is. Once that barrier is well and truly down, once the thin end of the wedge is in place, what other of our human activities, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), with his customary eloquence, said, will not shortly be the subject of well-meaning legislative interference? My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) called it a small freedom to surrender. I reply that it is all the more precious because we have so few freedoms, big or small, left. I for one do not see why we should not defend the small freedoms just because there are no big ones left to defend.

Hon. Members have argued that, perhaps, a point should be stretched to save 1,000 lives. I ask why those concerned about numbers do not rather prefer to save the 20,000 lives which we now know are lost each year through cigarette smoking.

However, the need to preserve freedom is not the only powerful argument against the Bill. Some hon. Members have been so carried away by their tortuous efforts to show that we are not losing any very important freedom that they have utterly failed to see that the whole thing is likely to be utterly impossible to enforce with any credibility. There will be widespread evasion, and that is accepted by the Minister. Evasion at 20 per cent. or even 10 per cent., when there are about 26 million people driving round the country in cars, means that several million people will evade the law. These people will be irritated. The public will be irritated. The police will be irritated to a considerable extent. Once again, the Bill will advance the process by which the law and the police are brought into disrepute. Shall we in this Parliament never stop doing things which make an ass of our law?

It is no use saying that the police will enforce the law with gentle discretion. The law either ought to be enforced or it ought not to be the law. Do we really want police constables on duty to decide as a matter of discretion when not wearing a seat belt is worthy of prosecution and when it is? Do we want to give the police even more reasons for stopping the motorist? Are our hard-pressed police going to thank us for being taken off their duties in pursuit of the criminal to waste goodness knows how many hours in fruitless pursuit of drivers or passengers who turn out to be one of the exceptions, and who turn out to be too big. or too small, or too pregnant, or too disabled or some other category of exemption?

Have hon. Members any idea of the difficulties the police may encounter at night in seeing whether seat belts are being worn, and the resulting time and money which will be wasted endlessly in magistrates' courts already groaning under an excessive work load?

I cannot bring myself to vote for yet another blow to our liberties when the arguments are more emotional than persuasive and when not sufficient regard has been paid to the great harm which will be done by the Bill to the community.

I conclude with this final request to the Minister, namely, that if the Bill should by some ill fortune become law, he adds driving instructors in the course of instruction to his list of exemptions. I believe that the Minister will see the sense of that without my having to argue it.

7.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

Once again I shall preface my remarks about a Bill by asking why this Bill, like so many others, contains the clause stipulating that the Bill should not apply to Northern Ireland. After the Northern Ireland Convention has deliberated and come to a conclusion tomorrow night, I believe that the Government will have to stop including this clause, which has been used for so long.

I had not intended to speak in the debate, although I recognise that the problem in Northern Ireland is much more serious than that in any other region of the United Kingdom. An examination of the figures will show that Northern Ireland has an appalling history of death and destruction on the roads.

I took it upon myself this evening to contact the police in charge of road safety and traffic in Northern Ireland. I was given an unequivocal assurance that they want this Bill to be made law and to be applicable in Northern Ireland. I emphasise that these were policemen to whom I was speaking. They were senior ranking officers. They were confident that the Bill should be made applicable to Northern Ireland. Who would know more about it than the police who would be applying the law?

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

Did those police officers give any indication that they themselves would wear seat belts?

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

The superintendent to whom I spoke has worn a seat belt since seat belts became known. He has advised others who are not in the police but with whom he comes into contact to wear safety belts.

Reference has been made to the number of deaths from road accidents and the number of deaths from violence in Northern Ireland. I was given figures by the police earlier this evening. In 1974 there were 4,795 accidents in Northern Ireland—that is in a Province of 1·5 million people. The number killed was 316, which was more than the number killed by violence. There were 7,188 injuries, many of them serious. Many of those who were injured will be horribly disfigured for the rest of their lives. In 1975 there were 4,882 accidents, with 313 people killed and 7,340 seriously injured. Many of those injured have lost limbs and suffered serious facial injuries. These injuries could have been prevented by the wearing of seat belts. In 1975 there were 1,067 accidents involving children, and 41 children died. Not all of the deaths could be attributed to the fact that the children were not wearing seat belts, but that factor applied to a substantial number.

We in Northern Ireland who have lived through these troubled years and who have seen many people lose their lives through the campaign of violence perhaps have more feeling for those who lose their lives and who are disfigured in road accidents. That is why I support the Bill. Only last year there was an accident in Northern Ireland in which seat belts were not worn and in which three or four people were killed. There was an accident in County Antrim involving two cars when seven people were killed. Any precaution which can be taken and any legislation which can be evolved to prevent such an unnecessary loss of life should have the support of this House.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Kinross and West Perthshire

In that case is the hon. Member in favour of compelling everyone to travel by train, leaving their cars at home, since that would save a large number of lives?

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

I am not an advocate for British Rail, although some of my hon. Friends might care to follow the logic of that argument. The car is here to stay and it is no good trying to turn the clock back.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argued that the Bill would impose an unnecessary restriction upon freedoms in Northern Ireland. Even with his short experience there he will recognise that many freedoms have already been restricted in the Province and that many people have willingly accepted restrictions because they recognise that in so doing they are possibly preventing an unnecessary loss of innocent life.

I hope that what I have to say next will not sound foolish. I say it in deadly earnest. If this law were made compulsory in Northern Ireland, it could be argued that it would prevent deaths in an unexpected way. During the troubles in Northern Ireland, the car has been a vital factor. Cars have been used in robberies and as car bombs.

To put it at its lowest, it is highly unlikely that a travelling gunman engaged in murder would want to wear a seat belt. Those who are transporting bombs in cars would be unlikely to want to wear seat belts. The application of this legislation could provide a spin-off and indirectly save lives. The police would quickly spot someone who was not wearing a seat belt and this could lead to their apprehending the categories of people I have described. It is all very well for those who do not live in Northern Ireland, who do not see the death and destruction which is witnessed every day in my constituency, to snigger. It is all very well for them not to feel what any Northern Ireland representative feels. This is a serious matter and I put the suggestion forward in earnest.

I intend to support the Bill in the Lobby tonight, because it will prevent a loss of life and the infliction of horrible injuries. That is my motivation, and I hope that motivation will be shared by all other hon. Members.

7.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I have long supported the idea of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Many benefits could accrue from that provision but I had not thought that the prevention of terrorism in Northern Ireland would be one of them, although it is well worth a try and I hope that the Minister will give due weight to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) was the latest hon. Member to describe the Bill as a great limitation of freedom. Those who oppose the legislation have been described, I think, as the champions of liberty. My hon. Friend was surprised that many of his hon. Friends who he had thought would champion the cause of personal liberty were supporting the Bill. Perhaps he and the others who are claiming that it is an invasion of freedom should examine their own case. When they find so many of their hon. Friends who regard themselves equally as champions of liberty saying that the Bill is desirable and could do a great deal of good, it is perhaps time for them to reconsider their position.

If they conceded that they might be wrong and that the statistics should be looked at again, perhaps they would concur that the Bill could achieve a great deal of good for the community and perhaps they would refrain from voting against it tonight.

I have campaigned for this legislation for some years. However, I concede readily that accidents could occur in which a person could suffer from wearing a seat belt. Such instances have been described as anecdotal. I can contribute my anecdote from a high-speed accident in which I was involved which could have resulted in serious injury for me if I had been wearing a seat belt. But such evidence is not significant in view of the other overwhelming evidence that there would be a major net reduction in the loss of life and the number of serious casualties if the Bill were passed.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

Does the hon. Member agree from his own experience that he did not set out that morning believing that he was likely to have a side impact crash in which he might have been injured if he were wearing a seat belt? Did he not start out believing that he was likely to have a frontal impact crash in which he could have been injured when not wearing a seat belt?

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

The hon. Member is making a point that I was planning to deal with.

I believe in wearing seat belts, but I confess to being rather weak in that I do not always do so. I would certainly wear a seat belt after a debate like this or after issuing a Press notice about it. I want the law to remind me to wear my seat belt at all times. I believe that that weakness is shared by the majority of the public. The Automobile Association conducted a survey last year which ascertained that 92 per cent. of the public thought the wearing of seat belts would be beneficial, but only 23 per cent. of them agreed that they wore the seat belts for much of the time. That is the nub of the argument. This is a declaration of our human weakness, and we need the law to encourage us to wear seat belts.

Looking at the statistics, there is ample evidence that we should take this measure to encourage people to wear seat belts to a far greater extent than is done today. This debate must be seen in the overall context of road safety.

In 1974, the last year for which I have statistics, nearly 7,000 people died on our roads, 82,000 were seriously injured and 324,000 suffered injury of one kind or another. Over the five years 1970–74, 37,000 people died on our roads. Despite the arguments which have been presented today, those people did not die in a war defending personal liberty. Had they done so, public outrage, with constant statements required in this House, would have been massive. We have come to accept these appalling statistics, this great loss of human life, this suffering, as an everyday feature of life.

I should have thought that one of the prime responsibilities of any Minister for Transport, or, indeed, any Opposition spokesman on transport matters who sought to wear that mantle, was to try to reduce those figures by seizing any means available to cut down the appalling slaughter on our roads. We should be grateful for this opportunity to make a major impact on the casualty statistics.

This measure involves a small infringement of personal liberty but at virtually no financial cost to the community. We can take a fairly small step here which could cut road casualty figures dramatically. On present estimates, 1,000 deaths and 11,000 serious casualties a year could be averted. Those who doubt the statistics and have put forward the case for personal liberty should examine whether they have not grossly exaggerated their arguments. Of course we champion personal liberty, but to build this vast edifice on the argument about whether or not to pull across a seat belt, which is in the car anyway, and to say that is a great erosion of personal freedom is sheer nonsense.

It is argued that this Bill is different from other measures of protection because the law is saying that the man must protect himself. Some opponents of the Bill have already conceded that drug taking is a fairly exact parallel. Leaving aside the question of the pushers and producers of drugs, it is a criminal offence for an individual to take drugs because of the damage he may inflict on himself. It is a fairly precise parallel, and the wearing of crash helmets is another obvious precedent. Very few Members voted against that. Where were they that night? Perhaps their fondness for personal liberty did not extend to voting against the Whip. Very few hon. Members carried their conviction into the Division Lobby on that night.

I wish to pursue the point about the presumption that the law is entitled to make a person protect others—people at work or in aeroplanes—but not himself. Does that not concede the point that the driver of a car can be compelled to take safety precautions for the safety of his passengers? That point presumably is conceded by the nature of that argument.

If we say that a front seat passenger must compulsorily wear a seat belt, is it not a fine point to say that the driver need not do so? The point has been made that these proposals do not provide for rear seat belts or for the compulsory wearing of seat belts by children. In view of the large number of casualties among young children travelling in the front seats of cars, I hope that, if not in this Bill, the Minister will, as soon as possible, take the logical step of introducing proposals to ensure that children occupy proper children's seats in cars and that it is against the law for them to travel in the front seat.

The statistics have been challenged and queried by many hon. Members. When we first asked for the Bill in 1974, we did not have the statistics which are now available. We had only the Australian figures which, in themselves, were quite convincing. Very few countries then made the wearing of seat belts compulsory. Since that time an increasing number of countries have adopted the compulsory wearing of seat belts. There is now much more evidence than we normally have on which to base legislation, showing that there could be a significant reduction in the number of fatal and serious accidents.

It may be that the Department of the Environment was and still is over-optimistic regarding the wearing of crash helmets. However, if we are talking about 1,000 lives and 11,000 casualties a year being saved, there is scope for error. If the figure were half or even a quarter of that, I should still say that this measure was right.

About 21 countries have now adopted the compulsory wearing of seat belts and others are in the throes of doing so. In Canada, certain Provinces are adopting the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Many countries whose populations do not give up their freedoms lightly have gone through this debate, accepted the evidence, and introduced the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Many of my hon. and particularly hon. and learned Friends are splitting hairs on a legalistic basis when they say that we should not adopt this measure, which could do so much to reduce the appalling slaughter on our roads. The French reckon to have saved 1,200 lives by adopting compulsion and in Australia the figure is 400. It is estimated that we in Britain could save 1,000 lives a year by the introduction of this measure Yet, in the face of these figures, some of my hon. Friends still talk about the problem of enforceability. There are no major problems in that direction.

The vast majority of the British people respect the law and will accept it. If this measure were passed today and the police took no action—that is not what I am advocating—I am sure that we should find that the acceptance and wearing of seat belts would rise to 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. I suggest that if the police took minor action to enforce the law in that respect, the figure would increase rapidly to the 90 per cent. experienced in other countries.

It was argued that the police would have difficulty in individual cases. That is a quibble. I can think of few more important tasks for the police than operating a measure which would save 1,000 lives a year or reduce casualties on the scale that we are contemplating. I do not think that arguments about acceptance or enforceability carry much conviction.

The overwhelming argument is the impact we can make on road casualties. The figures are so great as to justify without any shadow of doubt the small infringement of personal liberty which is involved. Certainly we have lost many freedoms. There are many infringements of and encroachments on personal freedom which I would wish to retrieve. That does not mean that every new rule that we introduce is bad.

This is a welcome measure. It would be a tragedy for this country if it were lost. I hope that it will be carried by an overwhelming majority so that the public will understand that Parliament has accepted it. That being so, the people will also accept it readily.

7.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ronald Lewis Mr Ronald Lewis , Carlisle

As many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, my remarks will certainly be extremely brief.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) was a bit inconsistent. He said that he supported the Bill. Yet he told us that it was only on the odd occasion he wore a seat belt when driving. It may be that when I sit down some hon. Member will say that I have been a little inconsistent in what I have to say.

I have one of the largest manufacturers of seat belts in the country in my constituency. I refer, of course, to Kangol Magnet, which supplies seat belts to numerous firms throughout the country and also has a reasonable export trade. I have from time to time visited that factory and watched the development of seat belts. That company has spent a huge sum of money perfecting imperfect seat belts. The relationship between the company and its work force and the trade unions is of the highest order, and I was delighted to hear the Minister say this afternoon that it was his intention to discuss this matter with seat belt manufacturers with a view, as I understand it, to improving seat belts.

I do not think that seat belts are a burning issue amongst motorists, but I am convinced that if the wearing of them is made compulsory, there will be a lot of discontent and irritation. I am forced by circumstances to travel from my home to my constituency—a matter of 167 miles—every weekend by car. As a railwayman, this saddens me, but I have to use a car because there are only two trains a day—one at midday and one at midnight—by which I can get to and from my constituency.

During my journey over the weekend, out on Friday and back on Saturday, I took note of the cars that passed me, and the cars that I passed, and I think I am correct in saying that the majority of drivers were not wearing seat belts. It would be interesting to know whether the personalities who appear on our television screens advertising "clunk click" wear seat belts on every journey, and I come down on the side of personal freedom and liberty.

I have heard many people say that they use a seat belt on a long journey but not on a short one. What is the difference? There can be an accident on a short journey just as much as there can be on a long one. In fact, it appears that there is more likelihood of an accident on a short journey. That argument is a little inconsistent, because accidents will happen whether or not a seat belt is worn.

One of the finest decisions made by the Government was to make compulsory the provision of seat belts in cars, but the burning issue when someone buys a car is why he has to pay extra for seat belts, for number plates and for delivery. Those considerations are much more important to motorists than is the compulsory wearing of seat belts.

I said that I would be brief, and I want to honour my word. I recall the late Sir Gerald Nabarro conducting a campaign against the Department of Health on the whole subject of smoking. He attempted to introduce a Bill to ban smoking. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who was then the Minister at the Department, conducted negotiations with the tobacco manufacturers, as a result of which a small warning appeared on every packet of cigarettes, and I believe that it is not beyond the wit of man to devise something similar for seat belts.

Rather than the compulsory wearing of seat belts, there should be a notice warning drivers of the dangers of not wearing a seat belt, but leaving them to decide whether to do so. I take the view that it should be compulsory to provide seat belts in every vehicle, together with a notice to the effect that I have just stated, and that it should then be left to the driver to make the final decision, just as the final decision whether to smoke is left with the individual. The warning appears on the packet, and the decision is left to the individual.

7.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I am delighted to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis). I have disagreed with him on several occasions in the past, but today we have three things in common. First, we both propose to vote against the Bill. Secondly, we both have in our constituencies a firm which makes seat belts. Thirdly, I, too, propose to be brief.

I am perhaps the one person in this House who has had the advantage of speaking on this matter before. That was in November 1974, and I suppose that it is an honour to have spoken against a Government Bill and not to have seen it again for 15 months.

I want briefly to restate the views that I expressed on the former occasion and set out why I still propose to vote against the Bill. There is here a simple basic issue, and it is whether we are justified in making the non-wearing of seat bells a crime. That is a totally different question from asking whether it is sensible, wise or desirable to wear them. I think that it is wise and sensible to do so, and I try to wear a seat belt, but, like the hon. Member for Carlisle, I do not always succeed.

I believe that we should do everything that we can to persuade people to wear seat belts. I have no doubt that the statistics given by the Minister will help people to appreciate the importance of wearing them. The Minister referred to the higher percentage chance of a front seat passenger avoiding serious injury if he is wearing a seat belt compared with the chances of someone who is not.

I accept the statistics of the advantages flowing from wearing seat belts and helping to avoid serious injury. This is a sensible form of self-protection, but to say that is different from saying that we should compel people to wear seat belts if they do not choose to do so. Despite the point made by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) and others, I still maintain that whether a driver or a passenger wears a seat belt will not prevent even one accident. Whether a driver or front seat passenger wears a seat belt will not reduce the risk of the number of innocent victims of motor car accidents.

The only real advantage of seat belts is to reduce the risk to the wearer himself of serious consequences flowing from an accident, and that seems to be preeminently a matter for the decision of the individual. So long as there are those—and there are—who, rightly or wrongly, firmly maintain and believe that either their lives were saved or they were less seriously injured than they would have been because they were not wearing a seat belt, I do not believe that we as a Parliament are right to force them to do so.

Indeed, I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) gave the argument away when he said that on balance it was more important to wear a seat belt, although he conceded that in some types of accident someone wearing a seat belt would be worse off than if he was not wearing one. If people firmly believe that they are protecting themselves by not wearing a seat belt, although we may think they are wrong, it would not be right of us to impose the sanction of the criminal law. This is an area in which it is for the individual to decide what is best for his own protection.

We must draw some limitations to the ambit of the criminal law just as we have always drawn a line by making criminal only that conduct of an individual which damages either the interests of society or the property, interests or person of other members of society. We have also always regarded as criminal that behaviour which, although not directly against the interests of others, is, in the view of Parliament, of a nature which causes damage to the fabric of society. Such tests could not be said to apply to this issue. The decision should be left to the individual.

If we make not wearing a belt a crime, wearing must be enforced. The supporters of the measures are unwise to ridicule those who question the difficulty of enforcement. It will not be easy for the police to decide whether a person in a moving vehicle is wearing a seat belt. It will be difficult to tell at night and when the driver is in a car with tinted glass.

In so far as the Bill can be enforced, it will have a damaging effect on the sensitive relationship between the public and the police. Let us consider the situation in which it is to be enforced. Let us instance a man going away on his annual holiday with his wife and children. He travels a mile or two and is the innocent victim of a crash when a car comes across the road and crashes head on. The man's car is written off, his holiday is ruined and he emerges from the crash more severely injured than he would have been had he worn a seat belt. Will it help that man or his relations with the police if he knows that he will be prosecuted when he recovers from his injuries? Let us take the case of a man who is thrown out of his car after a crash and who is told that he was lucky not to be tied in by a seat belt, but who will nevertheless be prosecuted.

The Bill will damage relations between the police and the public. I know that chief police constables are divided on the matter. But individual police officers who will have to implement the law take the view that it would be difficult to enforce and that it will damage relations.

There is a feeling in the country that as a society we are becoming over-governed and over-regulated. People continually ask why there is so much interference, why there are so many regulations, and why they cannot be left to decide for themselves. Surely our responsibility as Members of Parliament is to point out as clearly as we can the advantages and benefits to be gained from wearing seat belts. We should encourage it, but not turn non-wearing into a crime.

7.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

I shall be as brief as I can. I want to put a few questions to the Minister which I hope he will answer to enable me to decide which way to vote, or whether to vote at all.

I am not particularly enarmoured of the Bill but I shall not shield behind the appalling excuse that it will limit personal freedom. That has been the cry of the rapist, the pornographer, the drug-taker and the drug-pusher throughout history. When the House decides on such matters, it generaly makes a correct judgment.

I do not ignore the appalling figures that we have been given. More people not wearing seat belts than the Luftwaffe have been slain on our roads through killed with its bombs. The lamentable nonsense about the inhibition of personal freedom would not persuade me to vote against the Bill. Forty years ago I nearly starved because we could not find a way of improving society. It was my personal freedom to be out of work and not to take any assistance. Many people in the valleys of Wales were destitute, but they were in a free land. I have been a little sickened by the argument about personal freedom.

There are some issues that I want my right hon. Friend to clarify. He must recognise that there are thousands of decent ordinary people who are in some way afflicted, who are crippled or disabled, and that the Bill, which must be carefully examined in Committee, may take a right from them. They are usually people who have never been involved in a road accident, and are usually superb drivers.

There are many other groups who would not benefit from the Bill. For instance, a woman driver in the early stages of pregnancy might find a seat belt an irritation and would be better off without one. Such topics must be carefully examined.

Is the Minister satisfied that all forms of seat belts and anchorages are safe? There would be nothing more ludicrous than for the House to say that any seat belt will do and to mislead people into thinking that they satisfied the law by wearing any kind of seat belt when their car's form of seat belt and anchorage might be of no use whatever.

I hope that the Minister will answer these questions to enable me to decide how to vote. I am not ashamed to say that I can neither support the Bill nor oppose it. I shall sit in the House as long as I can and listen to the arguments. The decision when I make it will be mine.

7.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

The House is sometimes accused of not being representative of people outside, but in the debate today we have heard a wide range of opinions which are shared by our constituents.

I am not convinced that there is any unanimity outside the House about making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. The motoring organisations are by no means united. The Automobile Association recommends one course and the Royal Automobile Club recommends another. The medical profession is not unanimous. The quotations from supporters of the Bill have not been unanimous. In a letter to The Times published on 26th February, Mr. John Primrose wrote: I have been approached, as an eye surgeon, to support campaigns for the compulsory wearing of seat belts, as many serious injuries from car accidents are to the face and eyes from fragments of windscreen glass … but I take the point of view that the enforcement of seat belts, which is not much of a protection against flying glass fragments, is not so important nor so easily enforced as would be the fitting of laminated windscreens. That is an important letter.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) that as long as there is any possible argument that a person is less likely to be seriously injured when he is not wearing a seat belt, the House should not legislate for the compulsory wearing of seat belts.

Many statistics have been given of the number of people injured in road accidents, and there have been passing references to those injured by smoking. But the House would not dream of legislating to ban smoking. Apart from the obvious loss of the revenue raised from that bad habit, such a ban would be unenforceable.

In 1971 I was the victim of a serious road accident. I was not wearing a seat belt, and I am not in a position to say whether my injuries would have been more or less serious if I had been wearing one. However, those much more qualified have assured me that they would unquestionably have been more serious. I had the horrific experience of being trapped under a car for eight hours. Therefore, I have every sympathy with those who have told me that they have a great fear of wearing a seat belt because they are afraid of being trapped, and who are prepared to take the other risks of not wearing a belt.

References have been made to an accident followed by fire. In rural constituencies people also have a fear of death by drowning. In my constituency, for example, there are many stretches of water—rivers and lochs—in remote areas, and many people there believe that the risk of their car going into deep water and their being unable to release themselves from their seat belt is much greater than the risk of a head-on collision.

If the Bill receives it Second Reading, the Minister's worries will only be starting. Several hon. Members have already suggested exemptions, and more and more will be suggested. Hon. Members will be approached by various groups. There may well have to be a difference between a city taxi and a taxi in a rural area, which often has to accept a fare for 15 or 20 miles. There is the problem of the service industries, the milk floats and the Post Office vans collecting from letter boxes. One does not have to think hard to make quite a list. Disabled and semi-disabled people have already been mentioned.

Probably the most serious aspect is that of enforcement. I entirely agree with those who fear that the Bill might put a great additional burden on police forces, many of which are already undermanned and most of which find their work more than they can cope with. The breaking of the 50-mph speed limit was given as an example of people disregarding the law. That may well be because police forces in many parts of the country are too overworked to enforce it to any great extent.

It might be better to implement the Government's wishes through the insurance companies, which could perhaps help to persuade people to wear seat belts by changing the terms of their policies.

The two older members of my family now have driving licences, and I frequently advise them to wear seat belts. But I also warn them of the dangers of wearing belts. I leave the matter to their discretion. I do not like the idea of the House making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. It must be left to the individual.

There is no question of legislation to make motor car manufacturers fit lights warning that the seat belt is not secured, but that could be another way to persuade the public that it might be in their own interests to wear seat belts.

I say no more, because we are well into the second half of the debate, if not approaching injury time, and many other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall not support the Bill, as I believe that everyone must make his own decision on the matter.

8.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Miscampbell Mr Norman Miscampbell , Blackpool North

I shall confine myself to the central issue raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who said that what we were considering was the right of the motorist to neglect his personal safety. As the most persuasive aspect of the law in that regard, he instanced the law that helmets must be worn by those who ride motor cycles. That is by no means the only such law. We have imposed many others affecting people's liberties in many spheres of industrial life. But the wearing of helmets was a unique interference, the right hon. Gentleman said, because it was directed solely to the safety of the rider. No one could suggest that at the moment of impact between the head and the ground one would be able to prevent or mitigate an accident. A helmet does nothing more than to protect a person from injury.

The right hon. Gentleman then gave interesting statistics showing that we should beware of figures put before the House. That is a lesson that we have learnt on other occasions.

I approach the matter simply. I believe that the evidence from abroad is that a substantial saving of lives and a substantial reduction of injuries can be made by making the wearing of seat belts compulsory, though I can envisage a minority of cases where injuries are made worse or death more certain as a result of wearing seat belts.

Let us briefly consider two aspects. First, what we are suggesting today is by no means unique and it is certainly not confined to the imposition of the wearing of helmets on motor cycles for motor cyclists. By Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act we imposed a duty on workers to co-operate with employers. That placed on every employee a duty to take reasonable care in regard to his own safety. Indeed, infringement of that provision amounts not merely to a civil but to a criminal offence. Section 33 makes it a criminal offence and there is no mealy-mouthed nonsense about a £50 fine. That section lays down a swingeing penalty of £400 to begin with, and imprisonment on indictment. Therefore, there are circumstances in which interference by this House has rightly been on a massive scale.

I shall not weary the House by quoting all the other Regulations that are relevant in this respect. We all know that the Regulations governing the coal mines lay clown the rules for the use of miners' lamps, where they are to be kept and so on. Furthermore, the agricultural Regulations lay down safety provisions for the use of tractors. No employee may drive a vehicle if he knows that it is not safe, or even if he has reason to think that it is not safe.

The right hon. Member for Down, South rightly said that a clear distinction must be drawn between Regulations imposed in a corporate work situation and a situation involving an individual. We have only to think of the situation of an individual who, for example, uses a Black and Decker saw to put up shelves in his own home and chooses to use that implement without a guard. That is a situation in which the person concerned takes a risk and is entitled to do so. But is the work situation so different from the situation that faces the driver of a motor car? Is the driving of a motor car analogous to the situation of the man using a drill in his own home where his fingers are at risk or is it more analogous to the industrial situation where people work together in industry? If the work falls in the latter category, there are certain rights and duties imposed on those concerned.

The mistake made by many who adopt the argument based on personal freedom is to believe that the driving of a motor vehicle in today's society merely involves going out for a spin on Sunday. That is not the present situation. The driving of motor vehicles is part and parcel of our industrial life. Travelling down the Ml in a motor car is a co-operative venture, involving cars on the road two or three abreast, dozens of cars ahead and many cars behind. That is a cooperative situation and a situation in which undoubtedly No man is an Island. The driver is not driving alone, but has responsibilities for other drivers alongside, in front of and behind his vehicle. I do not want to dwell on personal experience, but I can only say that having spent a period of 12 years in chambers the great proportion of whose work concerns accident cases, I have come to the conclusion that the simple idea that accidents happen because one car bumps into another is a ludicrous concept. That is not the way accidents happen. In certain circumstances cars slither about, turn round and hit the side of the road as well as each other. In those moments the wearing of a seat belt may allow the driver to retain control of that car, which may save the lives of the driver and his passengers and, even more important, the lives of people outside that car. One cannot put a figure on the argument, but I would hazard a guess that there is a high proportion of accidents in which the extent of a driver's control after impact is extremely important in mitigating the effects of an accident.

If that argument is correct, the question of personal liberty takes on a very different aspect. In those circumstances we are seeking to impose on drivers rules and regulations analogous to the provisions which for many years we have imposed on our industrial processes. I believe that that is the right way to look at the matter. If it is true that a person driving a car is in a co-operaive situation, he owes a clear duty to others. Therefore we are right to ask him to drive in such a manner, and so belted, that he has the greatest possible control of his machine.

Why should the State carry the heavy cost of personal injury and accident, not just in relation to the driver, but of many other unfortunate people? Why should I carry the cost on my insurance of injuries that could have been prevented? Why indeed should my non-driving constituents in Blackpool, and constituents throughout the country, carry the costs in taxation and State expenditure, when those costs could be avoided? I believe that we would be right on balance tonight to agree to these provisions.

I reach that conclusion because I take the view that driving is no longer an individual occupation with no outside responsibilities. Since it is an occupation that in many respects is analogous to an industrial process, I believe that we shall be right to support the Bill.

8.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I tend to agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) in his comparison between driving and the work situation. However, I do not agree with his main conclusion, and I shall vote against the Bill.

It is most disappointing after such a long time to find the Bill in roughly the same form as in November 1974. We cannot tonight debate forthcoming regulations, because we do not know what they will comprise, but we should be doing a much greater service to the case tonight if we could argue the provisions in more detail.

There are three factual points which the Minister clarified adequately in opening. The first related to vintage and veteran cars. The situation in that respect will be clear, because it will relate to cars registered before 1st January 1965. However, since this provision is not contained in the Bill, we do not know the exact situation.

The Minister said that there would be no totting up of endorsements. That is another important matter, but again it is not in the Bill. There is totting up in respect of fuel-saving speed limits, although it may not concern safety in any way. It seems a little unfair in a situation involving a speed limit to have a totting-up system when safety is not involved. Therefore, I hope that the position is made clear in the regulations and that the wearing of seat belts and totting up will be covered when the regulations are laid.

I share the concern about enforcement when the police are hard-pressed and we all want to establish a harmonious relationship between them and the public. This is another matter which might produce confrontation, or at least some doubt about whether an offence was being committed. As one who was once responsible for the National Health Service in Scotland, I know the pressures on doctors, nurses and ambulance men and their feeling that it is more likely that injuries would be less severe or lives saved if seat belts were worn. But I still believe that it should be done voluntarily. I am totally against compulsion or making the non-wearing of belts a criminal offence.

I am never too impressed by statistics. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) brought out the most interesting statistic of the debate. He said that the statement that casualties would be avoided when the wearing of crash helmets on motor cycles was made compulsory was not borne out in the subsequent year. I hope that the Minister and the AA are right when they say that 1,000 lives will be saved and 10,000 injuries avoided in a year, and I shall look forward to statistics to prove that assertion in 18 months. But at the moment I am sceptical.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

Can the hon. Gentleman name one country where the compulsory wearing of seat belts has not produced a dramatic drop in the number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

Yes, I will, in two seconds, If he had been here all day, the hon. and learned Member would have heard many statistics.

My next note is to refer to the AA memorandum, which was recently amplified in a letter in the Glasgow Herald by the Director of the AA in Scotland. It said blandly that there had been a 25 per cent. reduction in the number of fatal accidents in New South Wales as a result of a similar provision. I then discovered that the reduction was from five deaths per 10,000 vehicles to four per 10,000 vehicles. That is not as dramatic a fall as 25 per cent. suggests.

I am glad that the numbers of injuries have fallen in every country where such a law has been applied, but I am not arguing that. I am dealing with the question of whether this should be compulsory or voluntary. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that there will be no reduction in the number of accidents.

Quite the most dramatic accident in my constituency, which led to my asking a Private Notice Question last summer, involved a bus in which 10 people tragically lost their lives. They did not have seat belts on and the Bill would not enforce belts in buses. So the Bill does not deal effectively with the Minister's argument.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the logic of that argument is that buses should be fitted with seat belts, rather like aircraft? My own personal experience, incidentally, is that I should probably be crippled now if I had not been wearing a seat belt when my car overturned on the M1.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

Everyone has a personal experience and I shall come to mine in a moment.

I was, of course, impressed with the compelling letter in The Times last Saturday from Jackie Stewart, who said that, although he had had a number of accidents in his motor racing career, he had never been seriously injured because he wore a full harness. But the point is that he wore it voluntarily. That is the right approach, not compulsion. As for aircraft, if we took safety to its logical conclusion, there would be rearward-facing seats on aircraft, but there is no legislation to that end. When I pilot myself, I always wear a seat belt, but I do so voluntarily.

In an answer on 3rd February, the Minister said that there was only "anecdotal evidence" about anyone avoiding death through not wearing a belt. That is a shallow statement. My own experience is similar to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray). My only accident happened 20 years ago when I was travelling at high speed in an open car. After several somersaults, the car ended up flat on the road upside down. Had I been strapped into the driver's seat, I should certainly have been killed, but I abandoned ship on the first somersault and escaped with a broken wrist. I may have been fortunate not to be killed, but I am now being asked to support legislation which, if it had been in operation then, would have killed me. Had I worn a belt, I should not be here today.

One's own judgment must be allowed free rein in deciding whether to wear a seat belt or to be unstrapped, as I prefer. I accept and warmly support every voluntary method to encourage people to wear belts, but I do not agree that it is essential or should be made compulsory. So I shall not be supporting the Bill.

I have one brief question. Will the Minister consider in Committee exempting open cars with no rollover bars? But I hope that the Bill does not reach that stage.

8.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stanley Thorne Mr Stanley Thorne , Preston South

The contribution that was made by the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) was particularly significant. In his remarks he quoted a few words from a poem of John Donne: No man is an Island. That poem continues: Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. That is relevant to the debate today.

The first question I pose is: does the wearing of seat belts contribute to fewer deaths on our roads? All the evidence that has been produced by other countries which have introduced the compulsory wearing of seat belts suggests that it will contribute to fewer deaths on the roads. I am not a particularly good driver but wearing a seat belt makes me feel a little more secure when I am driving. Therefore, I wear one as frequently as possible. I am satisfied that the wearing of seat belts will contribute to the individual good.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when safer vehicles are designed, which will not cause a passenger so much danger if knocked about, the feeling of security may cause drivers to be careless? One would hate to see more careless drivers because they were wearing seat belts.

Photo of Mr Stanley Thorne Mr Stanley Thorne , Preston South

Yes, that is a reasonable comment. I looked at the various arguments and was satisfied that, on balance, the answer to whether seats belts are good in themselves was "Yes".

Possibly the most difficult question is, will the introduction of legislation to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory interfere with individual liberty? The answer to that question must be "Yes". My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) is somewhat perturbed about the libertarian arguments on this subject, but they are extremely important. I recall the contribution made by John Stuart Mill to the debate about liberty. It was he who referred to "self regarding and other regarding actions." One could argue, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argued, that one should be allowed to retain for oneself a decision about one's personal safety. It is precisely because I question whether the self-regarding concepts, to which John Stuart Mill referred, can apply today that I question that approach.

There is virtually no activity in which, as individuals, we are involved today that does not have some effect on others within society. It is precisely because I believe that if I fail through a wilful decision that I may make to ignore the possibility of a threat—whatever form it may take—and in consequence suffer an accident, like dropping a pebble in a pool, the ripples extend outwards and, likewise, other people are immediately involved. Not only my family are involved or those wth whom I am connected, but the services that society provides are immediately brought into use in order to clear up something that I created by the exercise of my individual liberty.

Time and again we are faced with this problem when we decide questions of individual liberty. To what extent should my liberty be in anyway diminished in terms of the liberty of others? That is the situation almost every time.

Therefore, although I do not consider that the whole Bill, if it becomes law, is completely satisfactory—it is not something that should remain, on the basis of subsequent experience proving that it is no longer relevant—on the grounds that I have indicated and on the basis of trying to assess the various arguments—and I can fail as most hon. Members do from time to time—on balance, I believe that the Bill should have our support. I shall vote for it in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

I should like to indicate to the House that the winding-up speeches are due to begin at 9.10 p.m. and that four or five hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate.

8.35 p.m.

Photo of Sir Walter Clegg Sir Walter Clegg , North Fylde

This has been a very interesting and powerful debate. I have heard many speeches on both sides of the argument which have commanded respect, from people whom I respect on both sides of the House.

This cannot be said to be in any way an easy problem. I should like first to refer to the form which the Bill takes. The Minister was kind enough to write to me after representations I had made indicating my displeasure at the fact that this was simply an enabling Bill. The form which the Bill has taken has already caused many perhaps unnecessary fears, especially among those who are disabled and those whose figures perhaps preclude them from wearing a seat belt with any comfort.

Had these exemptions been spelled out in the legislation and had we been able to debate them today with more knowledge of what was in the Minister's mind, that would have been a plus factor. At this stage of the Bill the least that we should have if we are to adopt this form of legislation are the draft Regulations which the Minister intends to produce.

When we reach the Committee stage we may be able to amend the Bill to compel the Minister to draft the Regulations in a particular way. However, I note that he said to me in his letter, as he said in the House today, that he would be consulting various organisations. I think that statutorily he would have to consult organisations. However, the Minister will not be consulting the House. He will be going outside the House. He will not be consulting individual Members, except those who care to write to him. We have to deal with the individual problems of our constituents.

Having registered by protest against the form which the Bill takes, which would make me vote against it in any event at this stage because I think that this is a dreadful way of carrying on the business of the House, with the inability to amend the Regulations which would be crucial to a considered opinion of the Bill, perhaps I may turn to the main argument which has come to me through my constituents. It has been put very powerfully. If we do not pass the Bill, those who oppose it will be said—as has been said in the House today—to be risking the lives of probably 1,000 people every year and to be risking probably about 15,000 people being injured. It is quite something to vote against an argument which produces those figures, but I intend to vote against the Bill because there is another aspect, the libertarian aspect.

The crucial ground for me is that there are many outside the House, as well as some of those within it, who fear wearing a seat belt because they fear that they will be trapped. They feel that it is less safe to drive when wearing a seat belt than when not wearing one. Those people will be made to do something which they feel to be detrimental to their own safety. Therefore, we are likely to have in court cases brought against them perhaps what I could call a conscientious objection to wearing a seat belt.

Those who obviously take the argument that seat belts save lives—on both sides of the argument—are convinced in themselves. However, if the statistics cannot convince people outside the House and cannot convince my constituents who fear wearing a seat belt, how on earth can I, as their Member of Parliament, convince them, and how can this debate convince them?

It is all very well for us to say here, as the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) has just said—and I accept that it is a perfectly logical argument—that there is no risk in wearing a seat belt. But we are compelling people to take risks which they believe are very real. I think that one hon. Member talked about the psychological part of this argument. If the psychological part of the Bill is to force people to take action which puts them in fear, I believe that this is a Bill that I should vote against. It is just possible that on a Third Reading, if amendments were made to the Bill, I could change my mind.

We do not know what exemptions are to be made for people with disabilities. The method of exemption is important, because people who are exempted by the Bill from driving without seat belts will not want to be constantly tormented by the police when what they are doing is completely legal. Women who are perhaps exempted because they have had a breast operation or other people will not want to have to explain to a constable "I am driving without a seat belt because I have a disability". Such matters as these are sensitive, and the Minister should consider them carefully when he drafts the regulations.

This is a difficult subject, and I could go on speaking for some time on it, but I have made the points that I wished to make and I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me.

8.41 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterten:

I shall heed your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and keep my remarks as brief as possible.

I intend to vote against the Bill because I believe that it is an abuse of the law. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) have deployed the arguments on that score very well and therefore there would be no purpose in my covering the same ground.

The House is constipated by and clogged up with legislation. If there is any common complaint that we get from our constituents, on whatever side of the House we sit, it is that this place passes one measure after another without giving real thought to the people. Under this Socialist Government we have passing through the House at present the Education Bill and the Dock Work Regulation Bill. We have had the Community Land Act and the Race Relations Act, to be followed by another Race Relations Bill this week. We have had the Sex Discrimination Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. All this legislation is inhibiting and restricting the right of the individual, to his disadvantage in my opinion.

There have been several references to the legislation on the wearing of crash helmets and it has been compared with this Bill. Although I oppose the crash helmet legislation, on no occasion can the wearing of a crash helmet be detrimental to the life or well-being of an individual, but the wearing of a seat belt can on some occasions be a severe disadvantage, resulting perhaps in death. I wish briefly to relate to the House a personal experience.

In 1970, when I was returning from a civic service on a Sunday morning, my car was struck by a heavy vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Virtually the whole of the side of my car was torn away, including the centre pillar to which the seat belt was attached. If I had been wearing the belt, I should have been very severely injured, perhaps even killed, but, because I was not doing so, I was able to throw myself on the passenger side of the car and I avoided serious injury. Under this Bill, if I had not been wearing a belt, I could have been prosecuted by the police, who were called, on that occasion. Inevitably, therefore, I am against legislation which would compel me to wear a seat belt.

Is not Parliament legislating a load of nonsense? I believe that it is. If Parliament legislates for the compulsory wearing by normal people of seat belts on all occasions, it will be setting itself up as a public executioner for a small number of people. I make that point particularly to those who have spoken fervently in favour of the compulsory wearing of belts. Hon. Members will be setting themselves up as public executioners condemning a number of people to certain death An accident from the side, an accident coming partly from the front, an accident tearing the side out of a car—all will lead to the death of the driver if he is wearing a seat belt and has no time to undo it and throw himself away from the area of impact.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

If my hon. Friend were satisfied that the Bill would save the lives of a large number of people—perhaps 1.000 a year—but would result in the loss of a small number of lives—perhaps five or 10 a year—would he not be in favour of it?

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

In no circumstances should I favour this legislation I am not saying that people should not wear a seat belt—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

No, I am saying that there should be freedom of choice, and if people wish to wear a seat belt, they should be encouraged and guided to do so, but there are occasions when, perhaps through divine Providence, somebody may say to himself that he will not wear a seat belt and his life may well be saved as a result.

Into what areas of personal liberty will the Government trespass next? Will they stop people smoking?

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I promised to be brief, and I shall not give way.

Will the Government stop people drinking? Smoking and drinking lead to disease, which entails people spending time in a hospital bed. I remind the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) that everyone in this country pays towards a hospital bed, so the fact that people may occupy hospital beds is irrelevant to this debate.

Will the Government say that people should not eat sugar, because sugar intake leads to heart disease and coronary trouble? Will they legislate on how much sugar one should eat? What area of personal liberty will be invaded next—"invade" is the appropriate description—by our Governments?

I have told the House of my personal experience. I have received letters from constituents clearly showing that they do not support this Government's proposal. I have one here from a local solicitor and I quote now from it: You may be interested to know of my experience. Some years ago I was involved in an accident. A lorry collided with the rear of my car, and I suffered a whiplash injury. I saw two specialists and both were of the opinion that, if I had been wearing a seat belt, I should have sustained a broken neck. There is an example of another type of crash—somebody being hit from behind—in which the wearing of the seat belt is a disadvantage, not an advantage.

If this House considers that even in one case someone's life will certainly be lost as a result of the enacting of this proposed legislation, Parliament should throw that legislation out lock, stock and barrel. I urge this House to vote against this measure.

8.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

It is not an invasion of personal liberty to save a person's life. It is not an invasion of personal liberty to take out of a river someone who is drowning and who wishes to drown, because that person, with reasonable good fortune, will recover his health and wish to live. It is not an invasion of a person's liberty to say that we shall pass factories legislation which will require him to act safely and be safe. It is not an invasion of personal liberty to pass the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and to require people to take care for their own safety and that of others. It is not an invasion of personal liberty to have regulations which require people to wear eye protection in factories even if some may say that they do not see as well when wearing that protection as they would without it.

The notion that a law designed to save life is an invasion of liberty is totally misconceived. All the evidence which we can gather from other countries where seat belt wearing has been made compulsory is perfectly clear. In every country there has been a dramatic fall in the number of deaths and the number of serious injuries.

If we give this Bill a Second Reading tonight and later enact it, we shall know that there will be about 1,000 people alive a year hereafter who would otherwise be dead. We know that because in every country where this legislation has been brought in and people have worn seat belts who did not do so before—where, instead of some 30 per cent., the number wearing them has gone up to 70, 80 and 90 per cent.—there has been a drop of 10 to 30 per cent. in the number of deaths.

We can say that it is not right to import into this country industrial relations legislation which will not work here whereas in other countries it does, because our systems are different. But in any country people are driving their cars on the roads. There is no difference between the roads and very little difference nowadays in the cars. Very often they are the same. People are the same and then-bodies get smashed in the same way.

There have been a few freak accidents in which people were fortunate because they were not wearing a seat belt and were thrown out of a car and survived, but in the vast bulk of cases people's lives have been saved by wearing a seat belt. A very close friend of mine was killed in a motorway accident eight days ago. He was thrown out of his car and killed instantaneously. If he had worn a seat belt, he might or might not be alive today. The only certainty is that he now dead. There is at least a reasonable chance that, had he been wearing a seat belt, he would be alive today, and I should not have been dining tonight with his widow and family: he might have been.

We know that over the years vast numbers of lives could be saved, but what is the answer to the case that is made in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts? We are told that it is a question of freedom. The last two speakers in the debate are not against the wearing of seat belts. They are only against its being made compulsory. They advise people to wear seat belts. They recognise that the wearing of seat belts saves lives. All they are saying is that we should not force people to save their lives, that they should be free to kill or injure themselves. We have heard these arguments many times.

Over the years I have had letters, usually from motor cyclists, asking why they should wear safety helmets and arguing that it is their business if they choose not to do so. It is not, for when a person is killed, there are people who sorrow for him. There are families who mourn him. Very often the community has to keep his wife and children. We look after them because legislation has been passed by this House interfering with the freedom of people to starve. We look after the health of people because legislation has ensured that they are entitled to be looked after when ill. We have interfered with their freedom to be ill. It costs money and it uses resources. But this Bill would save lives. It is a compassionate measure. It can operate at little cost in resources.

Some of us have been working very hard to try to bring about changes in the law concerning various aspects of safety. When it is proposed that the MOT test should be changed in order to make vehicles safer, we are told that it would cost £1 million a year to add one minute to the test. But how many lives would it save?

Here we have an opportunity to save an estimated 1,000 lives a year at no cost in resources at all. It may be only 900 lives. It may be—as with the measure concerning motor cycle safety helmets—only 60, as has been suggested, although I do not believe that figure for a moment. But whether it is 60, 600 or 6,000 lives, they are lives saved. It is ridiculous to say that we are turning ourselves into public executioners. We have the means of saving many hundreds of lives each year, and thousands of lives over the course of time.

It would be a very grave error for the House to miss the opportunity to save life and limb, to avoid hardship and suffering, and to preserve the precious liberty of people to be well. The people who are killed are very often not the drivers who decide to wear seat belts but their passengers who will not bother to do so. Perhaps the passenger belt has some defect, is not operative and is not put right because nobody ever bothers to use it. There are people who deliberately do not wear them. There are people who do not wear them because they are not available. It would be a sad night for all of us who use the roads and for our families if this Bill did not receive a Second Reading.

8.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove and Redditch

I shall not take up any of the arguments advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who has not been present for most of the debate.

It is a rare pleasure to be able to congratulate a Minister of Transport on having the courage both to introduce a measure such as this but more importantly to see it through its Second Reading debate to the vote. I hope that I shall be able to congratulate him again when he nerves himself before too long to reintroduce the measure on dipped headlamps. The measure which we are discussing is just one of these measures towards greater road safety which are needed so urgently. Several hon. Members have drawn attention to the need to pay far greater attention, for example, to the Construction and Use Regulations for motor vehicles. We also had a notable contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) on the subject of windscreens.

The arguments in this debate have been rehearsed on a number of occasions. We all have our own pet sets of personal experiences or stories to relate. I am one who has been thrown out of a car which went 203 feet down a cliff. Despite that experience, I am still a firm supporter of the wearing of seat belts and for making their wear compulsory.

From the number of occasions on which this subject has been debated and from the very serious arguments which have been deployed on both sides, it should be apparent that there is a balance, but I do not agree with the view advanced from some quarters that to admit that there is a balance of argument is to detract from one's case. There is a balance and, consequently, we are called to exercise our judgments and not our emotions or prejudices.

This balance is simply between a further encroachment on the freedom of the individual to do as he likes and the need to reduce the number of casualties resulting from road accidents, bearing in mind that they do not involve only drivers themselves.

On the side of liberty are all the consequent arguments about difficulties of enforcement and possible damage to the relations of the motoring public with our overworked police. But the arguments need to be balanced, just as the figures quoted for possible future savings in lives need to be treated with the greatest caution when they are extrapolated into the future on the basis of the present percentage of drivers thought to wear seat belts. There is no certainty in such figures, and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) did us a service in pointing that out.

However, I part company from the right hon. Gentleman when he suggests that those who choose not to wear belts and die as a result are laying down their lives in the cause of individual freedom. Equally, I am suspicious of those Government supporters who profess to be second to none in their defence of liberty when they give Second Readings to such measures as the Dock Work Regulation Bill and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) was right to point out the flaw in the argument of the right hon. Member for Down, South about the person using machinery in his own home. That analogy will hold water only when a car is being driven in the grounds of its owner. When the car is being driven on a public highway and other people are involved, it is not just a matter of a person driving round a race track by oneself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) was right when he reminded us that the Bill would reduce not the number of accidents but only the number of injuries, and that it was not the last word on road safety. Other measures need to be taken urgently, quite apart from the Construction and Use Regulations, in terms of insurance, the improvement of belts and research into other devices.

However, in putting forward the Bill in its present form the Minister has not done the cause a service. We would have all welcomed an opportunity to go further into the exemptions that he has put forward and to have Regulations before us for debate and examination in Committee rather than these very wide enabling powers which give cause for concern to those who support this measure. There is a need for greater clarity and precision than we are likely to get by this method of legislation. This must give great cause for concern to those who are justly worried about the problems of enforcement.

I shall make my remarks short, in response to the request from the Chair. However, I plead with my fellow hon. Members to preserve our sense of balance in this matter. I can see little point in requiring belts to be fitted to cars if there is not to be a requirement to use those belts. The analogy with aircraft is perfectly sound. The Bill as it stands is not the last word. I regret that the Minister has not been convincing in his exposition, but many problems can be sorted out in Committee.

I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and to give the country the example that we owe it on the subject of wearing seat belts.

9.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I shall try to be brief so that other hon. Members may have an opportunity to speak. I do not believe that this matter can be settled on the basis of statistics. I am sure that it cannot be settled on grounds of high principle or on metaphysics. I am certain that it ought not to be settled on the grounds of the many metaphors we have heard. It will be settled on grounds of experience.

My experience is twofold. First of all, in the last Government I was for three and a half years responsible for road safety. Secondly, as the House knows, I have some connection with the police whose views have been expressed at large on both sides of the House by Members who perhaps have somewhat less close connections with the police than I have.

I was entirely against the Bill when I went to the Department of the Environment and became responsible for road safety. This proposal incidentally has been kicking around for a long time. I was against it because I dislike compulsion and over-government and because I was concerned about the practical problems of enforcement by the police, of the many exemptions and exceptions that will have to be introduced. Above all I was worried, about the relatively poor quality of many of the seat belts which are fitted into cars. I opened at least one factory which made seat belts, and I am bound to say that although I shall be supporting the Bill I would be a great deal happier if the belts that are produced worked better.

I became a convert from experience. It was my duty to visit a large number of hospitals and to see for myself the effects on individuals of accidents where seat belts were not worn. I shall not go into the gory details. I shall merely say that if hon. Members had had to face the frontal lobotomies, the cranial injuries, the turning of human beings into vegetables and the effects of all that on a large number of our fellow citizens—nurses, doctors and all those who have to look after such patients—they would have concluded, as I did, despite all my resistance to compulsion, interference and over-government, that it is right to do everything possible to achieve a larger wearing of seat belts in this country. Originally my right hon. Friend and I tried to get that done on a voluntary basis. We embarked on a large-scale programme spending large sums of taxpayers' money. We had the maximum co-operation from television, radio, the police, schools and newspapers and we increased the voluntary wearing of seat belts from, I think, 17 per cent. to about 28 per cent.

During that six-week period the number of accidents and the number of people injured decreased. Then, because the money ran out, we stopped the campaign. Promptly the percentage of people wearing seat belts declined and the number of casualties increased.

That is what convinced me, reluctantly, that we would have to go to compulsion. If my party had been in Government and those of us who were formerly at the Ministry for Transport had still occupied those positions, I believe that we should have had to introduce something not far removed from this Bill.

I do not like the Bill. The House should be given an opportunity to discuss the Regulations. I would prefer the hon. Gentleman to set a vesting date and not to apply this legislation until he is much more satisfied than I am about the quality and efficiency of the belts which are fitted to some cars. Nevertheless, I shall give this measure that support which, in my case at least, comes from hard experience.

9.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

It will be difficult for me to deploy my arguments in four minutes at this late stage after the persuasive arguments which have been advanced by someone under whom I have served when I was chairman of a Conservative Parliamentary committee very concerned with this question.

I have not changed my mind. I am firmly convinced that this is not the Bill to achieve what Ministers have wanted for a long time to achieve, although there has been success in other countries. For some years, particularly in recent years, I have advocated the use of seat belts. I seldom make a motor journey without attaching a seat belt. Even if I start a journey without a belt it is not long before I remember to attach the belt. It is vital that the belt can be attached with one hand, but some of the older type seat belts made it difficult for the driver to do this.

I attempted to speak on this subject in November 1974. I then thought that the Bill was inadequate. We have had time to think about it. I still think that the method of going about this matter is wrong. The approach to the House is wrong, for this Bill is a blank cheque for further regulations the content of which we must discuss in the House. Interested parties must be involved.

I have been involved with the Institute of Advanced Motorists, where opinions are still divided. I have been involved with the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club, which have opposite views. But there is a growing appreciation that seat belts should be worn.

Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), have pointed out that the wearing of seat belts results in a reduction in the number of accidents. I believe that 1,000 lives would be saved each year and 10,000 to 15,000 serious accidents, if belts were worn by all motorists.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

My hon. Friend now and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) have both spoken about the number of accidents being reduced. Does not my hon. Friend mean that the wearing of seat belts results in the number of fatal injuries resulting from road accidents being reduced?

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Yes, I meant the consequences of accidents—in other words, deaths or injuries from accidents.

If this proposal goes ahead as it seems the Government intend, with regulations, the police will have an amazingly difficult confrontation with the public. How am I to be apprehended for not wearing a seat belt? If I stop my car and ask a policeman the way, will he have to say to me "You are not wearing your seat belt. I must charge you", with the result that I shall be taken to court and fined £50? This could be a source of friction all the time.

A driver who sees a traffic block and perhaps a waiting policeman ahead of him could probably put his seat belt on in time. Is this the way to encourage drivers who are ill at ease about seat belts to wear them?

I agree that some drivers would find it difficult to persuade their passengers to wear seat belts without such a law. I offer my passengers a seat belt, but many of them will not wear one. Many women object to wearing a seat belt, as will other categories of passenger who have special reasons. A much more positive approach derives from the case in 1974 when Lord Denning said that there could be a 25 per cent. element of contributory negligence when seat belts were not worn. I believe that a much more sensible approach would be to provide that in cases of injury where the wearing of a seat belt would have limited the extent of the injuries, but where a seat belt was not worn, the injured person should have to pay, say, £300 or even up to £500 towards the cost of his medical treatment. That would drive home the point that it was worth wearing a seat belt. This possible approach has not been discussed. There are other approaches which could be explored, such as have been developed in the USA, and I hope that the House will explore them.

I fear that this Bill and the consequential regulations will make the law look ridiculous, and bring it into contempt but I support the objective of making driving safer and I would support any measure to encourage people to wear their seat belts, but I shall oppose this Bill tonight.

9.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) had to cut his speech short, since his contributions on this subject are very much enjoyed by the House. I am very conscious that there is no hope of getting agreement on this issue among my hon. and right hon. Friends, let alone in the House generally. The Bill and the subject arouse a whole range of intellectual and emotional responses which cut across party lines. It is an issue on which many hon. Members have shown that they feel deeply. That is often the case when the party managers agree on a free vote. That is what makes such a debate interesting. It often shows the House at its best, with discussion free of the inhibitions and responsibilities of office and Opposition. When there is no organised Whip there is often a higher level of interest among hon. Members than otherwise.

The Bill will affect the day-to-day lives and behaviour of millions of our fellow countrymen. Just as emotions run deep on this issue in the House, so, as my postbag shows, many individuals and organisations outside have taken great trouble to make their views known to hon. Members. The two major motoring organisations have gone to great lengths in that respect, and they take opposing views. The contributions to the debate today have shown how wide-ranging are the attitudes in the House. If those who support the Bill think that my comments are too selective it is because I think that some of the speeches in support need a counter-point in order to give the debate some balance.

It would have been far better if the Regulations had been included as part of the Bill. If that is not possible, the very least the Minister should do in Committee is to switch from the negative resolution procedure to the affirmative resolution procedure so that we are guaranteed a proper debate on the Regulations.

The Minister quoted the statistics from Australia where he said there had been a 17 per cent. reduction in fatalities since the compulsory wearing of seat belts was introduced. I was surprised that he quoted that figure because he is implying that the Bill will lead to a 50 per cent. reduction in this country. I do not believe that we shall achieve anything like that kind of reduction in fatalities. The relevant accident statistics for Australia and other countries demonstrate certain factors immediately. In 1969, before people were compelled to wear seat belts, the number of fatalities per 10,000 vehicles was approximately 60 per cent. more in Australia than here. In 1974, after the date for the compulsory wearing of seat belts in Australia, the difference was 50 per cent., which was not a significant change. Furthermore, the statistics for fatalities per 100,000 population, roughly two to one in 1969, were again unchanged by 1974. I make this point because there is a danger that we may bemuse ourselves by statistics. It is obvious that many things can be proved by different figures—sometimes by the same figures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) made a thoughtful contribution to the debate in an excellent speech. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) did not seem to appreciate it. I think that the rest of the House did.

Amongst the other comments which have been made, I think that, whatever we may feel about the Bill, we were all impressed by the sincerity of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). I am sure that the whole House sympathised with him on the points which he put forward in such detail. I should like to take up one or two of the points that he made. For example, he referred to aviation and to the fact that when we fly in commercial airliners we are expected to put on seat belts.

There are differences between flying in an airliner and driving a car. In the first place, for most people who want to travel considerable distances across this planet there is a choice. One can go by air or by ship, although that is much slower. On land one can go by train, but increasingly for many people in this country there is no choice other than to make a journey by private car. A person who is driving a car does at least feel that he has some control over his own destiny. A passenger in an airliner certainly does not have that comfort.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

My point was about compulsion. One is compelled by law when flying in an aircraft to use a seat belt. Virtually anyone, including almost all Members of this House, has accepted that compulsion when flying in an aircraft without regarding it as an interference with freedom.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

My hon. Friend made that point quite vividly this afternoon.

Later we had a contribution by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) who tended to scoff at the idea that smoking or alcohol was in the same category as legislation of this type. I think that the hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that dangerous sports, such as mountaineering and pot-holing, could have the same kind of argument applied to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) gave us a somewhat gory description of the effects of shattered windscreens. That graphic account brought home to the House the serious nature of the matter we are debating.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) made an interesting declaration in his speech. He said that he was making a declaration of a human weakness. That is a refrshing change in this Chamber. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his declaration.

One of the most telling contributions, even though it does not coincide with my views, came from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) who made an effective speech to those who believe entirely in the libertarian argument. It revealed a wide range of views and showed clearly not only that hon. Members have strong views one way or the other, but that this issue is more finely balanced that would at first sight appear. Often one aspect of one argument tips the balance. In passing, I admit that I belong to this category. Such is the nature of this debate that, whilst in due course I shall explain my position, I think it right that the major part of my remarks must relate to balancing the various points for and against the Bill.

It is obvious that this question needs the public debate that it is receiving. There are many details and questions that remain unanswered, and these will need to be dealt with should the Bill obtain a Second Reading. The Minister for his part has made it clear that he has a strong preoccupation with road safety, and there can be no criticism of him for that.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

The hon. Gentleman says that the argument is finely balanced. Does he agree that if the Bill falls tonight 1,000 people will die next year and every year, and that 30,000 people will be seriously injured?

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I think I have said enough to show that there is some doubt about the statistics. I believe that such figures tend to be emotive. Every hon. Member is entitled to draw whatever conclusion he wishes from this debate.

This question has perturbed the Minister for a considerable time, and he has made his main stand on improving road safety. We do not criticise him for that, but if he is over-zealous, disadvantages could result from some of the measures that he brings before us. The Minister has presented strong evidence about the number of lives that will be saved and the number of serious injuries that will be avoided if the Bill becomes law. Examples have been given of other countries, and statistics have been quoted from Australia, New Zealand and France. In all those countries the number of fatalities has been reduced. Everyone would agree that the cost to the State of road casualties, let alone in individual suffering, is high, and we all want to find ways of reducing it.

On the other hand—and this applies to hon. Members on both sides of the House—there are those who argue that the number of accidents will not be reduced by the Bill, and that in any case casualty figures are improving. They argue that the issue is not whether wearing a seat belt is desirable. They accept that it is, and they admit that many lives and injuries can be saved by wearing one. They accept that the statistics show that it is better if seat belts are worn, but they say that whilst every encouragement should be given to the wearing of them, that does not necessarily involve compulsion. In putting forward such views they illustrate that the debate is not just over statistics, or even road safety. It is a matter of the relationship of the State to the individual and the individual's right to choose whether to protect himself against danger or to accept a risk of which he is aware.

A whole range of activities such as mountaineering, pot-holing and even carrying out electrical repairs to the home can be highly dangerous. Reference has been made to the personal habits of individuals, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, being dangerous. All those things can cause death, and they can cost the State dearly in terms of medical treatment, yet so far we have not had any legislation to prevent the adult individual from accepting the risks involved in any of those activities.

To persuade the House and, indeed, the British public to accept the Bill will require a more imaginative approach than the mere recital of facts and figures. I think it is only fair to say that those who are strongly in favour of the Bill have their answers ready. They say that it is all very well to agree to people wearing seat bells but if they choose not to do so some alternative must be found to ensure a higher rate of usage. They point to the compulsory wearing of helmets by motor cyclists—and this was referred to by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—as an infringement of the right of the individual to decide whether to protect himself.

It is clear that objections from individuals in other countries which have brought in a similar law have not survived. Very often, it has been discovered that after a number of years many of those who originally thought that the legislation was a bad idea have come to accept it, and I therefore believe that it is unwise to say that people in this country will not accept this legislation. None the less, there are some who feel strongly about it. Thus, even within the two major grounds of support and opposition to the Bill—on road safety and on individual liberty—it is possible to find arguments to encourage a contrary opinion, and yet for those who are still uncertain about how to vote, fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately—the debate by no means stops there.

Another main area of contention concerns the enforceability of the legislation. Many hon. Members have commented on the relationship between the police and the public. Everyone will agree that the motoring laws are a main source of friction. Many people believe that the Bill will be a further excuse for stopping motorists and for restricting the individual's freedom of movement. Others, including magistrates and police officers, believe that the introduction of the Bill will lead to enforcement difficulties. I believe that problems of enforcement will arise in our discussions in Committee and when the Minister makes Regulations, particularly those concerning exemptions. If drivers making regular deliveries of a local nature are to be excluded, for example milkmen, would members of the WRVS making meals-on-wheels deliveries near their homes in their own cars also be exempt? That could lead to confusion. The situation would be that someone driving the same vehicle would be exempt from the law on one journey and on another be forced to wear a seat belt. That kind of confusion must be settled before the Regulations come into force.

There are doubts about the Bill because the police might be unwilling to accept another intrusion between themselves and the motorist. Police officers are aware of the difficulties that could exist and they are proud of the good relations they have with the public.

There is an answer to those who have such doubts on enforceability. The countries that have adopted the measure have not found any great difficulties. We are told that in Australia 80 per cent. of drivers now wear seat belts and that in Sweden the figure is 75 per cent., without any noticeable increase in police activity. Compulsion in France was at first restricted to rural roads without urban speed limits. It was felt that there was more likelihood of maximum compliance by drivers using motorways and trunk roads than when they were making short town journeys. The question of the law being acceptable to the motorists was in the minds of the legislators when they framed the law. Only later is it to be compulsory to wear seat belts in urban areas. Although that could be confusing to the motorist, there appears to be a certain Gallic logic in proceeding in that manner because it is a means of obtaining the agreement and co-operation of the public.

There is an even wider variety of points made on the technical arguments. Many people believe that some belts are so badly designed and fitted that they cause danger, discomfort and inconvenience and that considerable improvement in them is needed. It is also argued that the danger is greater wearing a seat belt when a car catches a fire or becomes immersed in water. To those arguments the lobby in favour of compulsion would say that one could wait for ever for the perfect seat belt. In the meantime many lives would be lost and it would be many years before a Bill was introduced. They would also point out that less than 1 per cent. of road accidents involve fire or immersion in water and that without a belt, it is more likely that the driver would be knocked unconscious and therefore unable to escape. Finally, they would say that analyses of accidents tend to show that those where the wearing of a belt contribute to injury are very few.

I have no desire to confuse the House any more. Some hon. Members are very clear in their own minds on this issue. Others regard the matter more in grey terms than in black and white. But there is one further area of disagreement to which I should refer—the attitude of the courts in awarding damages to people injured in road accidents. There is already an established practice of deducting 25 per cent. or 15 per cent. from fixed figures when a seat belt has not been worn, depending on whether wearing the belt would have made all the difference or just a considerable difference. But the nature and cause of accidents vary so much that such a rule of thumb is not satisfactory.

If that is the situation before compulsion, what will it be afterwards? The Minister owes it to the courts to try to answer these difficult questions. Let us, for example, take the driver who is innocent of any fault other than not wearing a seat belt, who is proceeding lawfully down the road and is killed by a drunken driver who is wearing a belt. What damages should be awarded to the family of the driver who was not wearing a belt but was otherwise blameless? If adequate damages are not awarded, what is the State's responsibility to the family?

There are good grounds for taking an attitude either for or against the Bill. Into every apparently certain argument an opponent can insert a doubt to make others pause. How, then, should those who do not see the matter in black and white decide the issue?

Here I should try to explain how I have made up my mind how to vote. Of all the conflicting arguments I have heard, one strikes me as most significant. Many of us have had letters from constituents and talks with constituents who are violently against compulsion. They usually feel that they will escape, or that they have escaped, death or injury through not wearing a belt. From my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) we had a personal example. Some people may be mistaken, but some speak from experience. On Saturday I spoke to just such a person who was thrown into the back seat of a car because he was not wearing a belt, and so avoided being crushed by the roof and wheel, which were pushed close together. To such people statistical arguments have little relevance. It does not matter to them that there are only a few accidents of that type.

As legislators, we have a duty to respect the views and thoughts of the minority as well as of the majority. We must decide whether to vote for a measure which would compel the minority to do something which they sincerely believe is prejudicial to their safety. H one person was killed because of the compulsory wearing of seat belts, that section of the community would say that he was killed because of the law. That many lives would be saved by the wearing of belts, or that people should wear them voluntarily, does not detract from that argument.

Although I am ready to wear a seat belt, I am not prepared to disregard the views of that minority. Therefore, I shall vote against the Bill. However, I must make it clear that I am not giving advice from the Front Bench to my hon. Friends. Hon. Members must examine their own consciences as well as the arguments, and vote accordingly. Some of my senior hon. Friends—my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison)—have declared that they will vote for the Bill. Naturally, I respect their views, as I hope the House respects mine.

I end with two hopes. The first is that many hon. Members will take part in the Division tonight to see that the House makes a clear decision. The second is that, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, we can in Committee resolve some of the doubts and uncertainties which have been revealed in this debate.

9.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

As with most debates that end on a free vote in this House, the present debate has been useful and thoughtful. As a comparatively new Minister, I feel that I have a special responsibility tonight in that perhaps my speech will have some effect on how Members will vote. As a new Minister in the Department, I certainly cannot complain about lack of practice at speaking at the Dispatch Box.

Like most others in the House, I wear my seat belt when driving. Indeed, if members of the public wore their seat belts to the same extent as hon. Members say they wear them, this Bill would not be necessary. I always wear a seat belt when in motor vehicles and I tell my passengers to do the same, because they matter, too.

The other week I was asked to meet a United Nations committee conducting discussions on a subject which it termed "occupant restraint systems". It took me a little while before it dawned on me exactly what was being discussed. When I explained this to my wife, she said "Perhaps it will improve your manners. Instead of telling me to 'belt up', you will now tell me to 'restrain yourself' ".

There has been support for the Bill, some opposition and some doubt. I hope that supporters of the Bill will not mind if I reply mainly to the opposers and doubters. I begin by thanking hon. Members on both sides of the House not only for their speeches, but for their campaigning. I do not see among them the interfering, busybody, freedom-hating politicians some letters and articles suggested hon. Members are. Indeed, they are among the more independent and fearless Members of the House.

We have introduced this Bill because we believe that its passing will save money, lives and casualties. Despite the arguments about enforcement and liberty, we believe that the House and the public wanted this measure. I hope that we are right. If the House rejected the Bill tonight, it would certainly not help the campaign to persuade people to wear seat belts.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) asked why the Bill had been introduced in this form so that exemptions would be brought in by negative resolution. I believe that it will be virtually impossible to act in any other way. The necessary exemptions are difficult to foresee. The hon. Gentleman quoted a large number of examples, and undoubtedly the situation will require to be reviewed in the light of experience. That delegated power will make it possible for the Government to be more flexible and rapidly responsive to public opinion. We believe that acting in any other way would make it more difficult to proceed.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

Will the Minister say why this cannot be undertaken by affirmative rather by negative resolution?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

We feel that to bring in an order under the affirmative procedure for the number of times that may be required would take up a great deal of the time of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Hon. Members have admitted that it could happen in a large number of instances even after the Committee stage.

The hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) thought that we should use methods other than compulsion—all the alternatives of publicity, flashing lights and cars that would not go without the safety belts being fastened. We and other countries have tried such alternatives. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said, a good deal of money is spent on publicity, which has only a temporary effect and does not achieve what we want. Financial and insurance adjustments are difficult to operate and costly and do not appear to have a measurable effect. The gadgets that have been suggested are costly and easily foiled, as the American experience showed, and it would take many years to insist that most cars had them.

Experience with some other laws does not suggest that this one would be widely disregarded. The evidence is that people would wear their seat belts, first, because Parliament had said we should and, second, because of the danger of prosecution. It is implausible to say that an appreciable number of drivers will go to great lengths to hoodwink the police by draping belts over their shoulders to suggest that they were being worn. Non-wearing is mainly an act of omission and not of defiance.

The consultations that are to follow the Bill are a statutory requirement. It would be wasteful to duplicate them with consultations beforehand, especially when it is not known how long the Bill will take to reach the statute book. Parliament would probably not have taken a lenient view of consultations which assumed that we would be given this power.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield

Will the Minister give a guarantee on the Government's behalf that, following those consultations, whatever proposals are made, including those for exemptions, will be fully debated?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

That will depend on whether the orders are prayed against and hon. Members want a debate.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

The hon. Member said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) had not agreed to such a provision being inserted in the 1968 Transport Act. Enforcement would have been difficult then when only about 15 per cent. of cars had seat belts. Nowadays, they are fitted in 95 per cent. of cars and police can tell from registration numbers whether compulsion applies.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who, along with the rest of his party, is not here now, made a typical speech—witty and inaccurate.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

My hon. Friend said that the police could tell from a number plate. Is it not true that a number of drivers have personalised number plates, which disguise the true date of registration?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

I am grateful for that question. Having given up some time for the benefit of hon. Members, I hope that they will not mind if I now get on.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely was probably the only person who could make inaccurate statements about both police and pregnancy in the same sentence. We have not suggested that pregnancy should be a reason for exemption. That is a matter for consultation.

Whether the police are against the Bill is doubtful. At our last consultation, the majority of chief constables were in favour of such a Bill. The majority saw no difficulty in enforcement and accepted the proposal. Some oppose it on the grounds that they have enough laws to enforce already, while others are strongly in favour of it, including one of the police trade unions.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister when he wants to get on, but there is no such thing as a police trade union.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

I am grateful to the hon. Member. Now, perhaps, I can get on.

In answer to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) I cannot trace the parliamentary Question to which he referred, but one estimate by the Department was that such a law in a full year would avoid 200 fatal and serious casualties. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the year before enforcement of the wearing of crash helmets and the year after. We should remember that the general public often regard the Second Reading of a Bill as the time of decision. If we pass the Bill tonight, I hope that the publicity that it will gain, which will probably be as much as we gained through previous advertising, will be enough to cause an increase in the use of seat belts. The time of the legislation about crash helmets should have been the point with which comparison was effected.

The right hon. Member for Down, South said that we could not compare the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act with the Bill because the former was a matter for employment. He was effectively answered by the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell). The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act also applies to the self-employed, who have only themselves to think about. It is true that we do not, if we can help it, legislate about what happens in a person's home, for we regard the Englishman's home as his castle. Too many Englishmen regard their cars as tanks.

It would not be possible to apply to Northern Ireland a clause added to an Act which did not apply there. It is likely that the authorities in Northern Ireland will introduce similar regulations imposing the compulsory wearing of seat belts.

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to driving instructors. We shall exempt cars without dual controls. Cars used by instructors will come within the scope of the intended exemption.

The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) referred to eye injuries caused by glass and windscreen damage. The merits of laminated windscreens versus toughened windscreens were discussed. The number of casualties in those examples form a very small percentage of accidents. The seat belt restrains the driver from hitting the screen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) referred to the problems of the disabled. My hon. Friend the Minister has already said that he will consult not only the Under-Secretary of State who deals with the disabled, but organisations for the disabled. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) mentioned licence endorsement. Endorsement cannot be introduced by regulation and does not form part of the Bill.

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), who made a powerful speech against the Bill, accepts that it is sensible to wear a seat belt. He admitted that he often, unwisely, does not wear a belt on short journeys. He accepts the argument that if the Bill becomes law, there will be a considerable reduction in the number of drivers and passengers killed and injured, but he does not believe that the law should be used to save people from themselves. He agrees that some of our laws do just that, for instance, the restrictions on the sale and use of drugs. He agrees that the use of drugs is debilitating to society. Is not the figure of road casualties today debilitating to our society?

Thousands are killed each year on the roads and tens of thousands are similarly injured. We believe that the Bill and its effect will reduce the number of deaths by about 1,000 and the number of those seriously injured by about 10,000 per year. To my mind, those figures justify the Bill. It may be that if the figures were much higher, the hon. and learned Gentleman and others would support us. Perhaps if it were 10,000 deaths and 100,000 casualties they would be in the "Aye" Lobby tonight. But for me the figures are high enough.

The argument that adults should not be required to do something which on mature consideration they do not wish to do is interesting. I suppose that some people sometimes break the law after mature consideration. There may well be adults in our prisons who have defrauded and embezzled after mature consideration.

However, it is not like that with seat belts. People who fail to wear seat belts do so mainly because they cannot be bothered or are in a hurry, or because it is a short journey anyway. Putting on a seat belt sets the standard for the journey we are going to make—a conscious decision not to rush and a recognition that the vehicle we are in can be lethal to those who are in it as well as those outside it. People who have developed the habit of wearing a seat belt do not find it the nuisance and burden that has been suggested.

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn and I are not in agreement tonight. On many non-party issues we are in agreement. Less than two years ago we both sponsored a Bill that is now the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. We were told then by the hon. and learned Gentleman's fellow members of the legal profession that we were legalising lying. Our reply was that even if that were true, we were helping to prevent suffering. I had hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would feel the same about this Bill. I still dare to hope so.

The attitude of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is different from that of almost anyone else who has taken part in the debate. Most accept that it is more sensible to wear a seat belt and that if one is in a car accident, the odds would be that if one were not wearing a seat belt, one would be more likely to be killed or seriously injured than one would be if one were wearing a seat belt. The hon. Gentleman does not believe that. He has his own statistics, his own personal piece of research—his accident.

However, I must tell him that, despite that experience of his and the occasional widely publicised similar accident, the odds are still the same. Independent as well as Government research, in this country and others, is agreed on this point. If the hon. Gentleman has another accident—I hope that he does not—the odds are still that if he is not wearing a seat belt, he is in greater danger of being killed or injured than he is if he is wearing one. The odds do not alter with each accident.

Furthermore, passengers usually follow the driver's example. The point about drivers' decisions not to wear seat belts is that it becomes very embarrassing for the passenger to decide to put on a seat belt. It is almost an insult to the driver's driving. If the hon. Gentleman's passengers follow his example and do not wear a seat belt, again the odds are that if they are involved in an accident, they are more likely to be killed or injured.

I was not in the Chamber when the hon. Gentleman spoke. I heard later that he used the word "executioner" and suggested that if he had another accident, I and my fellow Members who tonight will vote for this Bill would be acting as his executioner. All the information that is available from this country and others, from Government sources and independent sources, indicates that if he has an accident when not wearing his seat belt, he is his own executioner.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman and his family may now have psychological problems about deciding to wear seat belts. But for his sake and theirs I urge him to look at all the facts and to heed what has been said tonight not only by supporters, but by opponents of the Bill who have recognised that wearing seat belts is sensible. I am sure that the passage of the Bill will help him, as a law-abiding citizen, to do just that.

There is another attitude to this matter as well as that of people who agree that to wear a seat belt is sensible but decide to vote against the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) has led a great deal of the opposition to the Bill. I wonder how I can convince him that he should not carry through his opposition. He is a reasonable man in some respects. He sometimes wears a belt. Like many other people, he wears it on the motorway where the likelihood of an accident is far less than it is on other roads. However, he regards the Bill, as many other people do, as an infringement of liberty.

Other hon. Members have talked about the use of seat belts in aircraft, but, like the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, they have not said whether they would refuse to wear a belt in an aircraft. The distance to be travelled has nothing to do with the wearing of a belt. The point of wearing the belt is the same if one crosses the Channel as it is if one crosses the Atlantic.

It is argued that we should live dangerously and that we should not think of safety first. I suppose that if we thought of safety first, we should not travel at all. If we gave safety much higher priority, I suppose that we should cover our concrete roads with railway lines. However, in the Bill we are talking about the need to reduce the number of casualties caused by drivers and passengers failing to wear belts in cars and vans which are equipped with them and are required to have them.

The wearing of belts is the biggest single contribution we can make to saving lives on our roads. We have tried persuasion. There has been some very effective television propaganda. But the greatest propaganda in support of the wearing of belts is the opinion of this House. We feel that the backing of the law should be given to that persuasion.

The debate has ranged widely over many matters, some of them matters of detail about the way in which a seat belt law might apply in practice. That is as it should be. The House is naturally and properly anxious to explore all aspects of the issue, but in the end one simple question stands out from all the rest: should the law be used to compel motorists to protect themselves by wearing the belts which are provided in nearly all cars? I do not believe that it is any longer possible to dispute the substantial saving of life and suffering which would be achieved if all the available seat belts were worn.

In a number of special cases—many of them have been mentioned today—exemption will be justified. We shall examine those cases. But I ask the House to weigh carefully the consequence of rejecting the Bill. I believe that we should support it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 249, Noes 139.

Division No. 73.1AYES10.00 p.m.
Abse, LeoDykes, HughLamborn, Harry
Anderson, DonaldEdge, GeoffLane, David
Archer, PeterEdwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Armstrong, ErnestElliott, Sir WilliamLe Marchant, Spencer
Ashley JackEllis, John (Brigg & Scun)Lipton, Marcus
Ashton, JoeEnnals, DavidLoveridge, John
Atkinson, NormanEvans, John (Newton)Loyden, Eddie
Awdry, DanielEwing, Harry (Stirling)Luard, Evan
Bain, Mrs MargaretEwing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)Luce, Richard
Baker, KennethEyre, ReginaldMcCartney, Hugh
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)McCusker, H.
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodFletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)MacFarquhar, Roderick
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)MacGregor, John
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Fowler Gerald (The Wrekin)Mackenzie, Gregor
Berry, Hon AnthonyFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Maclennan, Robert
Bishop, E. S.Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.Magee, Bryan
Blenkinsop, ArthurGardner, Edward (S Fylde)Marks, Kenneth
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertGarrett, John (Norwich S)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Maynard, Miss Joan
Boscawen, Hon RobertGilbert, Dr JohnMeacher, Michael
Bottomley, PeterGilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Braine, Sir BernardGolding, JohnMendelson, John
Bray, Dr JeremyGoodhart, PhilipMeyer, Sir Anthony
Brotherton, MichaelGould, BryanMikardo, Ian
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Graham, TedMillan, Bruce
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Grant, John (Islington C)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Grhfiths, EldonMiller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Canavan, DennisHall-Davis, A. G. F.Mills, Peter
Carmichael, NeilHamilton, James (Bothwell)Miscampbell, Norman
Carter-Jones, LewisHamilton, w. W. (Central Fife)Moonman, Eric
Cartwright, JohnHannam, JohnMorrison, Charles (Devizes)
Castle, Rt Hon BarbaraHardy, PeterMulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHarper, JosephNeave, Airey
Channon, PaulHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Newens, Stanley
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Normanton, Tom
Clemitson, IvorHayhoe, BarneyOgden, Eric
Cohen, StanleyHayman, Mrs HeleneO'Halloran, Michael
Coleman, DonaldHeffer, Eric S.O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
Concannon, J. D.Higgins, Terence L.Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Cope, JohnHooley, FrankOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Corbett, RobinHoram, JohnOvenden, John
Corrie, JohnHordern, PeterOwen, Dr David
Costain, A. P.Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Palmer, Arthur
Crawford, DouglasHunter, AdamPark, George
Crawshaw, RichardHurd, DouglasParker, John
Crosland, Rt Hon AnthonyIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Pavitt, Laurie
Crouch, DavidJackson, Colin (Brighouse)Perry, Ernest
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)James, DavidPeyton, Rt Hon John
Davidson, ArthurJanner, GrevillePhipps, Dr Colin
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Jay, Rt Hon DouglasPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Price, William (Rugby)
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Raison, Timothy
Deakins, EricJessel, TobyRathbone, Tim
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)John, BrynmorRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)Reid, George
Delargy, HughJones, Alec (Rhondda)Ronton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Dell, Rt Hon EdmundJones, Barry (East Flint)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Dodsworth, GeoffreyJudd, FrankRoberts, Gwilym(Cannock)
Dormand, J. D.Kaufman, GeraldRodgers, George (Chorley)
Douglas-Mann, BruceKerr, RussellRodgers, Wiliam (Stockton)
Duffy, A. E. P.Kershaw, AnthonyRooker, J. W.
Dunnett, JackKilroy-Sllk, RobertRoss, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKinnock, NeilRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Durant, TonyKnox, DavidSainsbury, Tim
Scott, NicholasStanley, JohnWard, Michael
Scott-Hopkins, JamesSteel, David (Roxburgh)Watkins, David
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)Watkinson, John
Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)Wellbeloved, James
Shepherd, ColinStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)White, James (Pollock)
Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)Stoddart, DavidWhitlock, William
Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)Strang, GavinWiggin, Jerry
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Strauss, Rt Hon G. R,Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwlch)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Silverman, JuliusThompson, GeorgeWilliams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Sims, RogerThorne, Stan (Preston South)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Sinclair, Sir GeorgeTinn, JamesWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Small, WilliamTomlinson, JohnWise, Mrs Audrey
Smith, Dudley (Warwick)Tugendhat, ChristopherWriggiesworth, Ian
Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Speed, KeithVaughan, Dr GerardTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)Mr. James A, Dunn and
Stainton, KeithWalker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)Mr. Roger Moate.
Stallard, A. W.
Alison, MichaelGray, HamishPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Arnold, TomGrist, IanPym, Rt Hon Francis
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Grylls, MichaelRawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bagier, Gordon A, T.Hall, Sir JohnRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Banks, RobertHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bell, RonaldHastings, StephenRidley, Hon Nicholas
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Hicks, RobertRidsdale, Julian
Benyon, W.Holland, PhilipRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Bidwell, SydneyHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Biffen, JohnIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Biggs-Davison, JohnJones, Arthur (Daventry)Ross, William (Londonderry)
Blaker, PeterJopling, MichaelRoyle, Sir Anthony
Body, RichardJoseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Bradford, Rev RobertKaberry, Sir DonaldShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Brittan, LeonLangford-Holt, Sir JohnShelton, William (Streatham)
Budgen, NickLawrence, IvanShersby, Michael
Carlisle, MarkLawson, NigelSilvester, Fred
Clark, William (Croydon S)Leadbitter, TedSkeet, T. H. H.
Clegg, WalterLester, Jim (Beeston)Skinner, Dennis
Cockcroft, JohnLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Spriggs, Leslie
Conlan, BernardLloyd, IanSproat, Iain
Cormack, PatrickLyon, Alexander (York)Stanbrook, Ivor
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)McElhone, FrankSteen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Cryer, BobMacfarlane, NeilStonehouse, Rt Hon John
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Stradling Thomas, J.
Drayson, BurnabyMadden, MaxTaylor, R. (Croydon NW)
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardMadel, DavidTebbit, Norman
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnMarten, NeilTemple-Morris, Peter
Emery, PeterMaude, AngusThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
English, MichaelMawby, RayThorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Fairbairn, NicholasMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinTorney, Tom
Fell, AnthonyMayhew, PatrickTuck, Raphael
Finsberg, GeoffreyMitchell, Davild (Basingstoke)Viggers, Peter
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMitchell, R. C. (Soton, ltchen)Wakeham, John
Fookes, Miss JanetMolloy, WilliamWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ford, BenMolyneaux, JamesWall, Patrick
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)Monro, HectorWalters, Dennis
Fox, MarcusMontgomery, FergusWeatherill, Bernard
Freud, ClementMorgan, GeraintWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Fry, PeterMorrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)Nelson, AnthonyWood, Rt Hon Richard
Glnsburg DavidNeubert, MichaelWoof, Robert
Glyn, Dr AlanNewton, Tony
Goodhew, VictorOsborn, JohnTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Goodlad AlastairParry, RobertMr. Nicholas Winterton and
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)Pattie, GeoffreyMr. John Wells.
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Percival, Ian

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).