Orders of the Day — Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th June 1976.

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'This Act shall expire at the end of one year after its entry into force unless before then it shall have been continued in force for a further period of one year by a resolution of each House of Parliament or by an Act passed for the continuance in force of expiring laws'.—[Mr. Ronald Bell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's full explanation. That is a sign of the good will that we have on this side of the House. In view of that further concession, I do not think there is any point in pressing the amendments to a Division.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

Amendment proposed: (a) leave out first "first".—[Mr. Ronald Bell.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 36, Noes 48.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Am I right in assuming, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that although we are debating the new clause and the two amendments together, we shall be able to have a separate vote on Amendment No. 10 or Amendment No. 11? Although they can be conveniently debated together, the points raised are different. The new clause relates to the expiry of the legislation and its renewal and Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 relate to its entry into force one month or two months after Royal Assent, so a Division on the new clause would not in fact decide the issue on the other matters. I wonder whether I may have your guidance on that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

The only difficulty is that Mr. Speaker has not specifically selected Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 for separate Divisions, but perhaps we can see how the debate develops.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it will be clear that these are two separate proposals. Though they raise matters that are perhaps cognate and can be debated together, I submit that it would be right to record our view on each of the proposals. I do not necessarily say that both amendments should be voted upon. It is not for me to say that, because only one amendment stands in my name.

The new clause proposes that the Bill should expire at the end of one year after receiving Royal Assent and then be renewable by resolution or by being included in the schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. I have to confess that I have slightly lost track of what happens to that Act these days. I have not seen one for some time, but I suppose we still have one because it perhaps renews the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965.

I think that my proposal is in practicable form, as well as having merits. The reason I suggest that we should have the option of renewal after a year is that this is a new procedure in Britain. I know that we have the crash helmets legislation, which was the first breach of the general principle that one does not force people to do things that are solely for their own benefit. I say "solely for their own benefit". I know that when someone said that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) intervened and talked about the social consequences of personal injury, but once we admit into consideration the social consequences of acts or omissions, freedom has gone altogether, because one may say that a person who is idle or misdirected in his activities imposes detriment upon his family, those who are dependent upon him, and, by failing to realise the full potential that is in him, to that extent impoverishes the community.

There is no limit to the ramifications of social implications. We are all members of one national society, and everything that we do or do not do has its implications for the whole of that society. Thus, when one is defining the boundaries of freedom one has to take a different criterion from that, and the criterion that one ought to take is whether someone's action directly and significantly affects other people, and not whether it affects them indirectly.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Yes, whether it affects them detrimentally; whether it injures them.

In that sense, this is a first major encroachment upon that definition of freedom.

The crash helmets legislation was a clear breach, but it affected a limited number of people and one could say—I did not say it—in favour of that measure that it was at any rate dealing primarily with the young and immature for whom prescription has always been recognised as suitable. I thought that the prescription went too far in that instance, but still that argument was available. In the matter of seat belts that argument is not available.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Will my hon. and learned Friend admit that there are many precedents for this? One can quote the example of cyclists not being allowed to hang on to moving vehicles, of people not being free to buy dangerous drugs without prescription, of people having to comply with safety regulations in factories, and of people having to wear seat belts when travelling in aircraft. All those are compulsory requirements.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

My hon. Friend has managed to compile a list that is wrong in every respect. A cyclist hanging on to the back of a vehicle is interfering with the safety of other people in a material way. It is not a matter of injury to himself. That is his business, but he can endanger other people.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Which other people?

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Other people on the road. A bicycle swerving into the road because the cyclist has lost his balance can be extremely dangerous.

The point about the factory legislation was dealt with on Second Reading. People subject to the penalties of the factories legislation are the employers and occupiers of the factory, not the individual who is struck. One does not mind the makers of electric fires being compelled to fit guards. That is different. What I am objecting to is an individual being forced to take precautions for his own safety—and exclusively for his own safety—because some fussy people think they want to run his life for him and safeguard him against his own folly. I beg to be left to the consequences of my own folly in this and all other matters.

In moving the new clause I am seeking to say why this measure should be renewable annually, and it is only to that extent that I point out the novelty of this encroachment upon the proper freedom of the individual in this country. That freedom is a matter to which I attach great importance.

We are weakening our society by looking after people too much and taking precautions for them in all sorts of ways. We are accumulating a sort of "coroner's jury's rider society" in which every time something bad happens, somebody says "Somebody ought to do something about it". Something is done, and the whole thing builds up until there is a rule book either for society as a whole or for particular occupations or sections of society. We end with a rule book which, by this gross accumulation, becomes a caricature of the law.

It has reached the point where working to rule is a form of industrial obstruction, because all these rules, like the Bill, are based on the interests of personal safety, and because they accumulate the thing becomes impossible and anyone who keeps them is guilty of malpractice. That is the absurd state at which we have arrived.

That being so, I propose to the House that we should have this provision—if we are to have it at all—for one year from Royal Assent, and we should then assess the position in the light of the sort of thing that I have been saying—the accumulation of restrictions upon personal freedom that is so debilitating to the individual, and through him to society. If it be the case that at the end of a year the House wants to renew the Bill for another year, be it so. The machinery will be there. We shall not have to go through the whole legislative process again. It will be possible to renew the measure by a simple resolution of each House. But if either House should, in the light of a year's experience, take the view that this has been a tiresome encroachment—and that could still be found to be the case—the Bill may lapse.

2.0 p.m.

Is not enforcing this prescription likely to be a tiresome requirement? Can one imagine motorists being stopped by a sort of maiden aunt policeman who says "You are not wearing your seat belt?" Gracious me ! We are the children of a great imperial Power that subjugated a quarter of the world, yet we are to be stopped by a policeman and told that we should be wearing our safety belts. We shall be told that we are not wearing our bibs next ! This is footling legislation.

The Government say that this is safety legislation, but in political terms the most worthless concept is equality and the next most worthless concept is safety. This country is becoming obsessed with safety. We are becoming not just a second-rate nation, but a third- or fourth-rate nation because we are obsessed with safety—the second most worthless quality in the political vocabulary. It is just not worthy of this country in its more splendid days.

Our Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related to the new clause because they suggest that after the passing of the Bill, if it does pass, there should be a period of one month, as I have suggested, or two months, as my hon. Friends have suggested, before the Bill actually comes into force. The way in which we are approaching this has already been tried in Australia. If we are to learn from Australian experience, as the Minister of Transport has said, maybe first he should learn that Australians drive on the same side of the road as we do.

The Australians had a period of non-enforcement when the police stopped people and warned them that they were not wearing their seat belts and there was now a law on this matter. So the element of compulsion was faded in gradually over a period of about one month.

My amendment is not quite the same as the Australian practice because I am proposing that after the Royal Assent the Act should not come into force until a day prescribed by the Secretary of State, which shall be not less than one month after Royal Assent. That is common practice in other legislation. We often pass Bills and say that the day on which they shall come into force shall be prescribed by Order. In this case, the purpose of having a prescribed date is to give a period after the passing of the Act during which people can become accustomed progressively to the thought that they will be prosecuted if they do not wear a seat belt. Psychologically it is better if the Bill is actually in force and the police do not enforce it for a month, but generally speaking we do not do things in this way in this country.

The Minister has circulated to us some documents giving some outlines of his concluding paragraph of the Minister's intention to make regulations. The memorandum says that he believes in a combination of tight rules and flexible enforcement. That is rather an odd phrase—"Tight rules and flexible enforcement". It is particularly so as in the last debate the Minister resisted the affirmative procedure. It is not the traditional British practice to pass a law and allow its application to be a matter of administrative discretion. This is not a good change and we should not add explicitly to the occasions on which it is done.

We have too many laws. Too much prescription is going into too many aspects of our lives. In one sense this is mitigated by lax enforcement, but in another sense it is encouraged. It is the very laxity and irregularity of enforcement that prevent the citizen from actively rebelling against this prescription.

The two are linked. We all break the law every day. My hon. Friend quoted the instance of the 50 mph speed limit, but the 30 mph speed limit is broken more often by everyone. One only has to go out into Whitehall and in five minutes one will see at least 100 vehicles breaking the speed limit, and no one does anything about it.

When these matters were debated in another place some years ago, the then Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Goddard, commented that he had realised how often the law was broken when he was driven by his chauffeur to the Law Courts every day. He drove past Buckingham Palace and down the Mall where the speed limit is 20 m.p.h. This chauffeur drove every morning at 30 m.p.h., which was 50 per cent. above the speed limit, yet he was still passed by every car on the road.

There is the Lord Chief Justice of England telling the Upper House of Parliament that he or his chauffeur breaks the speed limit every morning, yet everyone else is doing it more. This is relevant to my argument. This unreal prescription is made acceptable by "a nod and a wink" in enforcement which in fact brings the law into contempt.

That is what the Minister of Transport said in the document he circulated to us for the purpose of this debate. That is the sort of thing he is going in for. It is very bad indeed. It is this experiment in minute and closely applied prescriptions to the personal practice of habits of the individual subject that we should think about again after a year. From the moment the law is passed, we should have an opportunity to get used to it by establishing a penumbral period, as suggested in Amendments Nos. 10 and 11.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will give this proposal some thought. The trouble with these debates is that the Under-Secretary has been given his instructions. He cannot take any notice of what I say, because he has been told by the Minister what line to take. The Minister is no doubt taking refreshment at the moment, and that is reasonable. I have probably won the heart and swayed the mind of the Under-Secretary, but it avails me nothing. He has his Whip sitting beside him to see that in the Minister's absence he does not do anything he should not do. I almost feel that we should come back a year after Royal Assent in the hope that more Labour Members will be present and we can thoroughly argue that subject.

I cannot help the absence of authority from the mind of the Under-Secretary. I can only hope that he is more of a lion than a mouse and that he will tell the Minister, when the latter returns, that he has been entirely persuaded by what has been said and that he advises him to accept these proposals. If not, we shall want some good reasons why not. Unless I get some good reasons, I shall ask my hon. Friends, who are present in reasonable numbers, to support me in the Lobby.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) is right to distinguish between New Clause 2 and Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. New Clause 2 makes the Act renewable annually, but the amendments would allow a period of grace before the Bill comes into effect. I should therefore like to move Amendment No. 11.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know what my hon. Friend is doing, but I think that I am right in saying that he cannot at the moment formally move the amendment, although we are debating it and I imagine that he will be allowed to move it later.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

The correct procedure, if the amendment is selected for a Division, is that it be moved after the new clause has received its Second Reading, if it should do so.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend's ever-ready advice. I am pleased that he is here to correct me from time to time.

Photo of Sir John Langford-Holt Sir John Langford-Holt , Shrewsbury

My hon. Friend said that the amendment proposes that the Act should be renewed annually. But the new clause says: This Act shall expire at the end of one year after its entry". The Act will enter only once, so it will come under review one year after it has come into effect, but not annually thereafter.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is the best person to answer that. I am primarily concerned not with New Clause 2 but with Amendment No. 11, which seeks to delay implementation of the Bill following Royal Assent by two months.

This is supposed to be a helpful amendment to enable the Government to introduce the measure in an orderly and acceptable way. The Government will have to mount a considerable publicity campaign to alert people to their obligations and it would not be right to do so before the Bill received Royal Assent. So that campaign must commence on a later date and the delay will give the Government the necessary time to alert and educate the public.

This will also be of considerable help to the police because it will enable them during the run-up period to stop and caution motorists who are not wearing their seat belts and to give some warning to drivers of when the law will come into force. It would be a courtesy campaign. I favour two months rather than one because people who are on holiday might not have time to assimilate what is going on. One month would give barely enough time to enable them to inform themselves of the law. There may be other, more practical, things to do, like repairing defective seat belts.

2.15 p.m.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

One of the charming peculiarities of the document circulated to us is that it says that if a seat belt is out of order one need not wear it. Perhaps what my hon. Friend means is that these people will want to wreck their seat belts so they need not wear them.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I have also noticed that statement in the document but I think that the unfortunate motorist in that position will be caught under some other provision. One cannot therefore advise the use of defective seat belts. A seat belt in my car is in a grotty state, having been trapped in the door several times. This raises the whole question of what is an effective seat belt. Many motorists will spend a great deal of time examining their seat belts, deciding whether they are any good and probably fitting more modern ones. If the Bill becomes law I shall consider fitting an inertia belt in my car as opposed to an ordinary fixed belt. A considerable load will be imposed on garages and local mechanics who fit seat belts so I should have thought that there was every advantage in a short delay before the Bill became law.

This is strongly borne out by one of the documents which the Government have given us—rather late in the day. I received mine only this morning. It makes some comparisons with other countries. We pressed for these comparisons in Committee. We were told that such a law had been successful in many other countries but we had not had the evidence.

The document is headed Compulsory Wearing of Scat Belts: Practice in Other Countries. In paragraph 4 it says that in most Australian States a month was allowed after the introduction of the law when only cautions were given. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said that he believed that a month was allowed, and that is confirmed here. Presumably the purpose of this document is to show how it is done in other countries. Therefore, it might be wise for the Government to follow this example from the practice in Australia, where a month's delay was given before the law was introduced.

It is axiomatic that if the Bill were to be renewed each year there would have to be an annual report for hon. Members to be able to assess its effects. I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Mr. Speaker has not selected New Clause 3, which deals with the question of an annual report, but I am sure that you would feel that it was in order to touch upon the matter briefly, because my hon. and learned Friend's new clause could not work without that provision. In any case, whether or not my hon. and learned Friend's clause were carried, a report would greatly assist enforcement of the law.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. I am possibly being over-indulgent in allowing the hon. Gentleman to mention New Clause 3 at all. He suggested that he would refer to it briefly. I should agree to that, but he should not make a large proportion of his speech on a clause which has not been selected.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

Perhaps it would be in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I did not actually mention New Clause 3 but touched on the problem of how my hon. and learned Friend's new clause could operate if we did not have some information to go on.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Am I not right in thinking that the Minister recognised that problem and said that he would make some sort of report annually on how the matter was working out? I had that in mind in framing my new clause, because without some such report it would be difficult. Was not something said about that?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

There was indeed. I look it up before today's proceedings began. If I remember rightly, the Minister said that he did not think it necessary to produce an annual report but that he would consider a report of some kind. I think at the end of two years. It was not an undertaking to give an annual report.

It is necessary to have an assessment of how the introduction of the law is going and how the police can cope with enforcement of it on top of all the other regulations that they already have to enforce, which are becoming a great burden on them. I have here a large book from a particular county constabulary. The Minister can see from its size the number of regulations a police constable must master before he can do his job properly. This side of the matter will not be easy. Therefore, I urge the hon. Gentleman to accept our moderate amendment, which can only assist him.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

In an earlier debate I urged that there should be the greatest possible parliamentary scrutiny of subsequent regulations and the operation of the Bill. My enthusiasm for that does not extend to allowing my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) the opportunity to scrutinise this legislation once a year and exercise his personal influence over it. I cannot help thinking that such a scrutiny would not be constructive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] The answer to the question whether there is a constructive or destructive approach to this legislation has already been made amply clear by my hon. and learned Friend, whose purposes are honourably and openly destructive.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

"Obstructive" would perhaps be a better word.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I suspect that obstruction has a destructive purpose, though a quite honourable purpose in the context of argument in this House.

It would be inconsistent for those of us who have argued that this legislation should be on the statute book to suggest that it should have a life of only one year, with a possible extension of another year. Nevertheless, my hon. and learned Friend raises one important point, that there should be an opportunity later to review it, even if only with a view to making it more effective. My hon. and learned Friend may have had that in mind.

We can learn from the French experience. When the French introduced their legislation about three years ago the wearing rate as a result was initially very high—up to 80 per cent. But because of the lack of enforcement procedures it rapidly dropped to 50 per cent. It would be regrettable if that happened here. It would undermine the object of the legislation. It became necessary for the French to tighten up their enforcement procedures, and the wearing rate then rose to 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. Perhaps when he urged that we should re-examine the legislation next year my hon. and learned Friend had in mind ensuring that it was being properly enforced and had encouraged a high wearing rate.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

If my hon. Friend believes that, he will believe anything.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

My main object in speaking now is to support Amendment No. 11, which urges that in effect there should be a two-month waiting period between the Act's coming into force and the time when penalties are applied. That is an important and constructive suggestion which I hope that the Government will accept.

In Committee I moved an amendment calling for a six-month waiting period, or running-in period as I then described it. On reflection, I think that six months is far too long, but the one month proposed in Amendment No. 10 is too short. It does not give much time for advertising on television and for the adjustment of seats and seat belts. It does not give enough time for the public to be made aware of the impact of this legislation and their need to conform to it.

A two-month period is just about right. If the Government used the two months profitably, with a sort of courtesy campaign during which the public would receive courtesy warnings about the impending legislation, that would help to gain public acceptance of the legislation and would consequently increase the wearing rate.

Photo of Dr Alan Glyn Dr Alan Glyn , Windsor and Maidenhead

Most garages are very busy and in some parts of the country it is not easy to have seat belts fitted. Therefore, an interim period is necessary. Does my hon. Friend think that two months is long enough for reasonable people to have their seat belts fitted?

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I suspect that the vast majority of people already have seat belts compulsorily fitted by law. Some people may need to have them adjusted, and that can be done fairly conveniently within the time scale we are talking about. They could be adjusted in time even without the amendment, because there is bound to be an interval between the passing of the legislation and the coming into effect of the regulations. But the amendment would be a helpful method by which the Government could encourage maximum public good will and the maximum wearing rate. I hope that they will accept the proposal.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

I oppose the clause because I believe that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) is trying to weaken the basic effect of the Bill, which is to achieve a high wearing rate of seat belts compulsorily.

On Second Reading on 1st March, the House gave a clear and definite decision in favour of the principle of compulsory wearing of seat belts. That happened on a free vote, with nearly 400 hon. Members voting, by a majority of two to one. Eighty Opposition Members voted in favour.

The experience in other countries where the wearing of seat belts has been made compulsory is that the wearing rate goes up from about 30 per cent. to 80 per cent. I believe that a decision to review the legislation after a year would be taken by the public as a sign of weakening of resolve or half-heartedness. That would probably result in a lower wearing rate in the intervening year. This would mean that there would be a larger number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads.

The statistics were broadly accepted, although they may have been questioned in detail. According to the figures given on Second Reading, of the 6,000 fatal casualties per year on roads in this country, approximately 1,000—one-sixth—would be saved by the compulsory wearing of seat belts, on the assumption that the number of people wearing them in cars would roughly treble, and 10,000 or 11,000 serious injuries would be prevented.

2.30 p.m.

If as a result of the proposed clause the wearing rate went up to, say, 70 per cent. rather than 80 per cent. in the immediate future following the enactment of the legislation, over a full year perhaps an additional 150 to 200 people would die and an additional 1,000 or 2,000 people would be severely injured. The House would then have to take the responsibility and take the necessary action, because a sane man must be presumed to be responsible for the consequences of his actions.

I hope the House will see the clause for what it is. It is an attempt to weaken the effectiveness of the Bill, and I hope that we shall reject it decisively.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I had not intended to speak on this new clause as I did not hear what I am sure was an eloquent speech in support of it delivered by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). I am drawn to my feet by the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). We have been told time and time again by the supporters of the Bill that it will save 1,000 lives a year.

We have been told so again by my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham and for Faversham. If they are so certain that it will save 1,000 lives a year why are they nervous of Parliament having the opportunity to look at it after a period of 12 months? If I am persuaded that the Bill will succeed in doing what is claimed for it, I shall reconsider my own position. But those who have taken an active interest in this legislation have all agreed that it is really an argument about how far one can go in interferring with the individual's right to use his own judgment to preserve himself. That must be dependent upon what is the real risk.

What are the supporters of the Bill worried about if, in a year's time, we can come back here and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham is able to say to me "I told you so. Road deaths have come down enormously as a result of this legislation and the wearing of seat belts. Therefore, you must withdraw your objection? "I am sure that even my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, although true to his principles throughout, would reconsider his position if that sort of evidence were available. I get the impression that the fact that the supporters of the Bill are so adamant means that they cannot be so sure that the implementation of the Bill would save 1,000 lives a year as they say it would.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Is my hon. and learned Friend saying that if it can be shown that this rate of life saving can be achieved by the Bill, he will alter his views about it?

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I am being invited to make the speech that I made on Second Reading. I believe that there is a limitation to the criminal law. I said on Second Reading that I accept that there are circumstances in which Parliament is entitled to legislate to extend the barriers of the criminal law if it can be shown totally that this is necessary for a substantial saving of life, even if it interferes with individual judgment. I am saying that with this Bill that is not the situation. So long as there are people who maintain that they believe that they can save their lives or themselves from serious injury by not wearing seat belts, even though the statistics may be against them, it is wrong for Parliament to say "We shall make it a criminal offence if you do not do what we say you should do, even though your judgment tells you not to do so."

Of course, I would look at the statistics If the figures showed a major reduction in accidents and if I could be persuaded that this was due to the compulsion in the Bill that requires the wearing of seat belts, and that that is what caused that major reduction, obviously I should have to reconsider my objection to the Bill. I am surprised that the supporters of the Bill, admirable and sincere as they are, should want to deny Parliament the opportunity to look at this measure in a year's time, which is all the clause requires.

I should like to know whether my hon. and learned Friend is right when he says that the effect of the amendment is to allow a period of two months to elapse between the Bill coming into force and people being prosecuted. As I understand the position, it is nothing like that. We want a gap between the time when the regulations are laid before Parliament and the time when they come into force. So far as I am concerned, the Bill may come into force tomorrow. What we want to know is when the regulations are to be laid. The regulations should not be laid until there has been plenty of publicity, whatever one's view of the proposal.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) argues alone on the ground that he thinks that 1,000 out of 6,000 road deaths will be saved by the Bill becoming law. I believe that there are other considerations. I remember our debates on capital punishment when I think that there was a clear indication that the murder rate increased with its abolition.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

What has that got to do with it?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I shall tell my hon. Friend. That did not in any sense cause the supporters of the abolition of capital punishment to change their view that there were strong grounds for abolishing capital punishment. If my hon. Friend's point were taken to its logical conclusion, he would be supporting a Bill making it illegal to put an engine into a motor car because without an engine 6,000 lives would be saved.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

That is not logical.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Is my hon. Friend's argument logical? We are talking about the public acceptance of a degree of restriction of freedom and of inconvenience, balanced on the other hand by the chances of saving life. I utterly reject, incidentally, the argument of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that fewer accidents on the roads would be an economy to the National Health Service as a sort of bogus way of saving expenditure by keeping the casualties out of our hospitals. I find that a repulsive argument. The Government insisted that the health service should be free. If they felt that people should pay for the consequences of their intemperance or folly on the roads, that would be one thing, but to use the sort of argument advanced by the hon. Member for Swansea, East as an argument in favour of the Bill I can never believe to be right.

The Bill will become quite unpopular when it is first brought into effect. It is not only the inconvenience of always having to wear a seat belt that will make it unpopular. There is the prospect of policemen looking in every car window, stopping those who have not got their seat belts fastened and taking them to court, and then those nasty brown envelopes arriving from the court with peremptory wording about the seriousness of the offence that has been committed. That will be a cause of irritation.

Admirable and excellent though our police are in all matters to do with serious crime, on the motorways they are becoming overbearing, too numerous and too arrogant. I do not like those little places that are being built every few miles at public expense for the police to spy on us. I do not like the new motor cycle police and the way in which they officiously drive up and down our roads far in excess of the speed limit without doing any good and frightening the public.

There has been a distinct change for the worse in the attitude of the road police in the past few years. I hope that they will realise that most citizens travelling in cars are trying to earn a living and to get on with their legitimate business. They should not be treated as potential criminals because they are rash enough to go on to the public road or motorway.

The Bill will make worse the relationship between the motorist and the motoring police and for that reason I want to see the matter reconsidered after one year. We could then see the new figures for road deaths. We should also have the temperature of the public, which is vital before we decide whether to proceed with the legislation on a permanent basis.

A sentence in the consultative document alarms me. Under the heading "Emergency services", it says: There are likely to be certain occasions when it will be inadvisable for the officers of the police and fire services, when responding to an emergency, to put on scat belts. Such officers will therefore be exempt where the use of a seat belt would interfere with their performance of their duty. That sounds reasonable enough, but I wonder how many policemen will wear seat belts. They will always be able to ride out on the claim that it will interfere with the performance of their duty. It will be an added irritation to the motorist when he has to wear a scat belt when the policeman never seems to.

The irritation is also symbolised by the large blue flashing lights which all of those in authority have on their cars. All kinds of people in their motoring lives are able to use such lights. Even the county surveyor is allowed to have a light on the top of his car, and I suppose that Ministers will soon have flashing lights on their cars. That smacks of the increase in the privilege of authority. The whole build-up is in that direction. Because certain people are in authority, they will be excused the tiresome business of wearing seat belts.

If we are to maintain the relations between the motorist and the police, it will be as well to consider the reaction in a year or two. I am worried that we might find a general lack of co-operation and a general distrust developing between the two.

We might also be engaging in excessive public expenditure on our policemen on the roads and motorways. The Conservative Party has been asked where it would cut public expenditure. We are spending large sums of money on Range-Rovers and Jaguars for police to ride on motorways. We could economise on the excessive standard of enforcement on our roads.

2.45 p.m.

I support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) in his plea for the matter to be considered again. Legislation often finds itself on the statute book and remains there simply because no opportunity is presented for us to take it off again. There are all sorts of examples of laws which were either temporary or introduced for some other purpose which remain on the statute book out of inertia or lack of opportunity.

For example, the parking meters and traffic wardens were introduced to enable enough money to be raised to fill London with car parks so that there would be plenty of parking space in the city. But not one car park has been built and parking meters are being taken away. The law in that case is being used for a purpose contrary to that for which it was passed.

The Government hate the private motorist and their private cars. They do everything they can to tax, and cause harassment and hardship to the private car driver. I thought that they were shrewd and know where their interests lay. Maybe there were some car drivers in Rotherham who were influenced by the Government's hate of the private car owner.

It would be wise and prudent to give the House another chance to look at the Bill and to consider whether relations between the police and the motorist are still satisfactory and whether the burdens and difficulties of those who are forced to use motor cars for business are such that they are becoming too onerous. We should consider the exact effect that the legislation has on safety and on the numbers killed and injured so that we can reconsider the proposal. That is what happened when we abolished capital punishment. A further opportunity was provided to see what was the effect. No one wants to take up a position on what they might think one year after the regulations have been enforced.

It would be overcertain for the Minister to say now that he is sure that in a year's time there will be no question of anyone wanting to reconsider the imposition of this law. That would be straining credulity too far. The House must be careful. It has passed so many laws that citizens are not ony highly suspicious but highly resentful of the ever-increasing productivity of this place. It is our duty to make provision to look again in a year's time.

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

There will be an opportunity to debate the emergency services on a later amendment. I deny the accusation by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) that the Government are against the car driver and owner. Hon. Members on both sides are anxious to see the Bill passed because it will protect the car owner, his passengers and his family. I am sure that no hon. Members would agree with the assertion that we should tell our great empire race to live dangerously.

The message to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) is that if this legislation were passed, it would be a disaster. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has a printed slip that he uses when he receives letters from constituents about the need for a new bypass to protect them or for improvements on a road, perhaps by the installation of a pedestrian crossing, or speed limits, or whatever it may be, saying "Live dangerously".

This Bill was brought forward because of the probability that it would save many lives and many serious injuries. It is nonsense to suggest that we should live dangerously at a time when more than 6,000 people are killed on our roads every year and when over 60,000 people are seriously injured. The wearing of seat belts not only affects persons covered by this legislation, but we must remember that a person who is not wearing a seat belt and who is involved in an accident will not be in a position to control his vehicle to avoid a further collision. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield recognises that point in a later amendment. He does not include a phrase in those later amendments saying "This is purely for the safety of the individual". He realises that this is a prime factor because it is the crux of the matter. In other words, it means that if a person is wearing a seat belt, he is more likely to be able to control his vehicle after an accident.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport have stressed the argument relating to the number of deaths and accidents of one kind or another that will result if the Bill is delayed. Has he any figures to show how many people now wear seat belts?

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

These matters were dealt with fully on Second Reading and figures were produced both in the House and outside.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

Then surely the hon. Gentleman can give those figures to the House.

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

Yes, I can give the figures. Approximately 30 per cent. of drivers and passengers wear seat belts. Our estimate is that, with compulsion, this figure would reach 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. That is based on the experience in other countries.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Since the hon. Gentleman referred to me, I wish to make a brief intervention merely to point out that I do not hold the views that he has attributed to me. Because I have a subsequent amendment on this topic, I shall then take the opportunity of expressing my views more fully.

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

Let me say how delighted I am to hear that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not telling the people of this country to live dangerously in respect of use of the roads. I have heard him both in the House and on television say things of that sort, and that is what I was getting at.

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) mentioned the large number of regulations now in existence and waved a book of them as being those which the police have to enforce. I must point out that the vast number of those regulations, particularly those relating to traffic, were introduced by a Conservative Government via the negative procedure.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse]) summed up the reason for the clause by saying that his hon. Friends were trying to reduce the effects of the Bill. He suggested that its opponents were taking the view that we need not worry too much about seat belts because the whole thing could be thrown out next year if we were to have a new Government.

Annual renewal would be desirable only if there were a possibility that the seat belt powers would be a source of serious and continuing problems and controversy, such that they must be kept under virtually continuous review. If there were a large increase in the number of casualties as a result of the Bill and there were a need for urgent legislation, the Government would recognise that fact. But that is not likely to be the case. Whether the provisions are generally obeyed and thereby save thousands of unnecessary injuries, or fail because of widespread non-compliance, after a year or two they will cease to be of general interest to Parliament or the public. Failure would be deeply regrettable in human terms, but would not be an event that would make new legislation imperative.

My right hon. Friend the Minister gave an undertaking in the Sixth Sitting of the Standing Committee—column 272—to make a written report to Parliament covering the first year of operation of the regulations and again in respect of the second year. Whatever party was in power, I am sure that action would be taken far sooner if serious and fundamental problems were to arise following the introduction of regulations.

We believe that the new clause is defective. As for the two amendments that are associated with it, I appreciate the obvious sincerity of hon. Members in tabling such provisions relating to delay after the Royal Assent. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) pointed out that there would be a delay after Royal Assent.

I can give an undertaking that consultations will not be rushed. Although publication this week of the draft consultation letter should help interested organisations to formulate their views in advance of the Royal Assent, it would be appropriate to allow the usual period of three months to receive and consider representations to ensure so far as possible that no case for exemption is overlooked.

After the regulations have been made, we intend to give wide publicity to the legislation and the exemptions. I hope that with that assurance, hon. Gentlement will be satisfied with the situation.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

I am sorry that I was not here for the earlier part of the debate, but I was detained elsewhere. I am concerned about the situation of some of my constituents who are physically incapable of wearing seat belts. Indeed, such a practice may well cause them considerable pain and might well endanger their lives. Could the Minister give some idea whether exemptions will be made in those circumstances, so that those people will not break the law because they are not wearing seat belts?

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

Perhaps I may help the hon. Gentleman by saying that we shall be making exemptions and that there will be certification in this respect.

3.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston

The Minister is usually very persuasive, but he fell below his normal standard in his reply and did not persuade me that there was anything defective in the new clause. I was also sorry that he rebuked my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) in such unfortunate language and claimed that my hon. and learned Friend wanted us to live dangerously and recklessly on the roads. My hon. and learned Friend was merely suggesting that we should not be so obsessed with safety in this House.

I think that the Minister will agree that this is one more encroachment into personal liberty. Once the Bill gets on the statute book, it will be almost impossible to get it off again. Ministers are loth to strip themselves of statutory powers acquired by their predecessors. Indeed, I can think of no occasion in recent history when that has happened.

An average of 50 Bills averaging 20 pages in length—are passed by the House every year. About 1,000 pages of statute law are thus added every year. We have to add several thousand pages of Statutory Instruments and several thousand more pages of the so-called secondary legislation which emanates from Brussels and is law directly applicable to this country. For sheer weight of verbiage, there is no branch of the human race more burdened with legislation than the British people.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) on practically every other subject, so I am sorry that he is one of those who believe that the British people should have another burden imposed on them. Those who persist in advocating legislation to prevent us from hurting ourselves or other people should ask what characteristics and perversities the British people have that make it necessary for them to become the most over-legislated people of all 130 self-governing nations in the world.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

My hon. Friend would probably agree wholeheartedly with the proposition that we should abolish vast amounts of our law and happily exchange much of the excessive burden to which he has referred for this one beneficial piece of legislation.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston

I should be tempted to dismiss from the statute book several hundred pages of thoroughly bad law introduced in recent years—especially the agree with my hon. Friend if he could regulations emanating from across the water.

The case for the new clause has been argued admirably by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. We need a mechanism to check this flood of legislation. If the legislation is seen to be desirable and effective, only a simple resolution would be required to enable it to continue as the law of the land. But unless we have such a mechanism, people will become disrespectful and disdainful of the gathering mass of legislation, and that would be a very sad day for this country.

Photo of Dr Alan Glyn Dr Alan Glyn , Windsor and Maidenhead

I support the new clause. There is a case for seeing at the end of the year the reaction of the police and the public. We should know how the public feel about this further interference with their liberty. At the moment, people have a right to wear a seat belt. We want to know their reaction to being compelled to wear a belt. There is also the possibility that this legislation might be extended—to rear seats, for example. I cannot see why the Government should object to the new clause. It would give people the chance to see how the legislation works. Further, the Government would have the opportunity to reframe the legislation as necesary.

We did not get the affirmative procedure which we sought earlier. This amendment will give us the chance to change the situation at the end of a year If this measure goes on to the statute book, let it be for a year and then let us see how well the police are able to operate it. Let us see what the public reaction is to enforcement of this measure. The police have a difficult job to do. This is placing a burden upon them which might lead to a deterioration in relations between them and the public, who might regard the measure as an unwaranted interference with their freedom.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

I apologise for not being present earlier. I find it difficult to support this new clause. It seems that if, at the end of a year, there were clear evidence that seat belt wearing could not be properly enforced, or that it increased the number of accidents, any sensible Government would wish to review the situation. I find it difficult to believe that the evidence could be accumulated in a sufficiently precise form over that period.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

My hon. Friend is not following my line of thought. What are we to do when we do not have a sensible Government?

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Although we may not have a very sensible Government at the moment it is possible that we may be in power soon and there would then be a sensible Government which would have to reach a decision. All Governments are sensible on some things. It is difficult to say that any Government will not do some things that are wise and sensible.

I heard the argument put forward earlier that it should be up to an individual to decide whether to hurt himself or other people or, indeed, to kill himself or other people. I find that a difficult piece of logic to follow. If it is thought that a person is endangering the safety or health of another person through his actions, it is right to impose some restrictions. If, in the present stretched financial situation, when our health services are under great strain, we feel that this measure will bring about a fall in the number of injuries and hospital cases, it will be wise to introduce it. Car accidents can also involve innocent bystanders. I find, therefore, that I cannot agree with the new clause.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston

My hon. Friend is advancing an interesting principle. How far would be push the principle that if a person does something to himself he should be punished in a court?

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

I do not push it to the extent of saying that because cars can cause injury and death they should be banned. It is sensible to impose some restrictions. We already have speed limits, which are meant to save lives. If this measure will also prevent injuries and save lives, it would be sensible to enact it.

Two points concern me. First, I hope that the Police Federation has been consulted about how to enforce the measure. Unless there are very substantial fines, and a major effort by the police to enforce the wearing of seat belts, many people will not wear seat belts.

Secondly, most vehicles will be moving at the time that the police would have to consider whether a person was wearing a seat belt and whether that person should be subject to prosecution. How would the police be able to tell, other than by driving up alongside and looking into the vehicle? What does the Police Federation think about this and about the problems of enforcement?

People who by reason of physical disability cannot wear seat belts, ought to be able to go to a general practitioner and obtain a certificate to that effect. It should be sufficient for such people to obtain a certificate to that effect. It would also be useful for them to have some indication which could be fixed to the windscreen, to that they would not be stopped unnecessarily by the police.

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

The Government are proposing to do precisely what the hon. Gentleman suggests, although not in relation to the windscreen. That aspect is coming up for debate later. But medical exemption and certification is the Government's aim. The regulations will be concerned with exemption rather than compulsion. That is what the regulations are about.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I support the new clause, wearing my hat as the President of the National Association of Driving Instructors, but I shall be interested to see what answer the Minister will give to the next amendment, concerning exemptions.

As I understand the position, the Minister is not at present minded to give an exemption to driving instructors where dual controls are available and inertia reel belts are fitted. In due course, if given the opportunity, I shall attempt to persuade the Minister otherwise. If I should be unsuccessful, driving instructors will face the question whether it is conducive to safety to have inertia reel safety belts fitted, as this will oblige people to conform to the regulations, since they do not come within the exemptions.

The National Association of Driving Instructors is unhappy at the position concerning inertia reel seat belts. It considers that the movement of any instructor wearing them is very restricted. A member of the Association has written to me stating: I use these myself on tuition and it is impossible to reach over for the starter switch when an emergency situation caused by an engine stall arises. If driving instructors are not to be made an exemption where duel controls and inertia reels are flitted, they at least want some assurance that there will be an improvement in the efficiency of inertia reel seat belts. As they apply at present, they do not consider them to be efficient enough. It may be that, after a year of research and development, an efficient system will be devised to which the driving instructors have no objection. But, until that arises, they oppose the failure to exempt them. That being so, it seems to me that Parliament should have an opportunity in a year to reconsider this matter so that the driving instructors have an opportunity through me, or through other hon. Members who represent constituencies where they are a force to be reckoned with, of again trying to persuade the Minister to make exemptions in their regard.

3.15 p.m.

It is for that reason, which is a reason of special pleading but nevertheless a reason of special importance, that I support the new clause. The safety of our future drivers on the roads depends on the excellence of the tuition which they receive and that, in turn, depends very much on the freedom of driving instructors to teach according to their own very high standards. Their wishes in this matter should not be disregarded.

If the Minister is still disinclined to make exemptions in this sort of situation, I ask him seriously to reconsider his opposition to this very fine new clause which I support, I must confess, for all sorts of reasons other than those that I have just advanced and which I do not

Question accordingly negatived.