On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
May I raise a point of order on procedure that is similar to the issue that I raised yesterday with Mr. Speaker? Yesterday seven Privy Councillors were called to speak in the main debate of the day. Of all those who spoke there was a 10 to 1 imbalance in favour of Privy Councillors. I notice that today few Privy Councillors are present. Privy Councillors do not have a prescriptive right to be called in preference to Back Benchers and I ask that as far as possible hon. Members are called in rotation, for and against.
It is a long tradition in the House that Privy Councillors are called early in a debate. During today's debate, I shall certainly bear in mind what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) has said. It will be helpful for me to know which hon. Members are for the Bill and which are against. I am afraid that I do not know unless they are good enough to tell me.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I do not know what the odds are against a Beck-Bench Member getting a good enough position in the ballot for Private Members' Bill to have a reasonable chance of seeing his Bill ultimately take its place on the statute book. However, to secure second place in the ballot when Parliament is to have a long Session is particularly fortunate. Therefore, the responsibility not to waste the opportunity is all the greater.
I must confess to some surprise at my sudden popularity when the result of the ballot was announced. Well over 20 Bills were proposed to me and one organisation alone suggested the introduction of another 10 Bills.
Most of the Bills put before me were admirable. Some of them are very much needed, at least by minority groups in the community. That made me realise that although we hear a great deal about us being over-governed, there still seem to be a great many gaps in our legislation. It may be that we involve ourselves in the wrong sort of law-making.
A decision had to be made, and after much thought I reduced my short list to three possibles and ultimately to one, the Bill before us, designed to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory for persons driving and riding in motor vehicles. The House has debated the subject on a number of occasions over the past few years. It has given Second Readings to previous Bills with good, convincing majorities. My Bill is exactly the measure introduced in the previous Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) when he was Secretary of State for Transport. On 22 March the majority for my right hon. Friend's Bill was almost 100. Naturally I have high hopes of a comfortable majority today.
I realise that many hon. Members cannot avoid returning to their constituencies today. I fully appreciate the many arrangements that are traditionally made for a Friday. I have received many apologies from hon. Members who promise support as the Bill passes through the House.
There is one special difference between the circumstances of the introduction of the Bill and the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend was acting as the Secretary of State for Transport. Had the passage of his Bill not been interrupted by the general election, it would have been his responsibility ultimately to introduce regulations and to implement the Act. I have no power to do that. I must rely on the Minister of Transport to implement the Bill from Royal Assent—if it is the will of Parliament that it gets that far—and to introduce the required regulations.
The Minister of Transport has been clear and honest in his opposition to legal compulsion. However, I am sure that he will accept the will of the House. Apart from my acceptance of the Minister's integrity, I am sure that the fact that there is to be a genuine free vote will cause him to act in the spirit of the Bill. I am aware that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends will vote in favour of giving the Bill a Second Reading. That should further persuade him to implement the regulations if and when that moment arrives.
My right hon. Friend the previous Secretary of State for Transport was positive in his speech on 22 March on Second Reading that that was not the appropriate time to discuss exemptions in any detail. That is a reasonable point of view. As my right hon. Friend said in March, we could get bogged down with arguments over lists of omissions from and additions to the exemptions. He also said that he wanted to provide as much parliamentary time as possible to debate proposals for exemptions on the basis of a draft of the regulations. Of course, I am in no position to allocate parliamentary time. However, the Minister of Transport can use his influence with the Government and the Leader of the House, who was in the Chamber only a few minutes ago. A good vote in favour of the Bill's Second Reading will help to ensure that the will of the House is carried out and will help the Minister to obtain the necessary time.
I am aware that this is a controversial subject. In my postbag there has been plenty of evidence of how the public take sides. I do not think that I suffer from a particular bias in my interpretation of the correspondence and the newspaper articles that I have read and the opinions of journalists to whom I have spoken when I conclude that, uncharacteristically, I am on the side of the majority, especially the majority view of the informed and the experienced, who are almost unanimous in believing in the advantages of seat belt wearing.
There are those who know the facts and who wear seat belts themselves. I am sure that we shall hear some hon. Members saying that they encourage others to do likewise but strongly oppose any suggestion of compulsion by law. Among the organisations which take that view is the Royal Automobile Club. It is a view that is taken by many right hon. and hon. Members. I shall try to deal with that argument, as I believe that it is the only real argument left to those who oppose the Bill.
I shall spend a few minutes trying to rebut the commonly held view that the use of seat belts can frequently be the cause of injury and even death. It must be conceded that there are freak accidents. Of the scores of thousands of accidents that occur every year, there will be some in which the wearing of a seat belt could have been the cause of serious injury. However, none of those who have contacted me, who have real experience collectively of thousands of crashes is willing to concede that there is very much in that argument. I am thinking of representatives of the Automobile Association and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, who through their patrols know what has happened in an accident. They are often on the spot within minutes. I have in mind that the special medical teams that have been set up specifically to deal with road accidents, the traffic police who see so much of the carnage on our roads and the entire medical profession are almost unanimous in asking that the Bill be given a clear passage.
I do not have a particularly low boiling point, but I find myself more than a little exasperated when people recount to me saloon bar stories of miraculous escapes which would not have been possible had seat belts been worn. I do not know whether it is the same story told time and time again. However, I am convinced that the story—or the stories if they are different—is or are almost certainly folk-lore. Those at the sharp end, those who cannot pass by on the other side when there is an accident and who, because of their job or vocation have to become involved, do not believe that many are able to walk away from serious accidents if they have not been restrained and belted in.
The physical facts are clear. A head-on collision at 30 mph means that an unrestrained body hits the windscreen or the steering wheel with a force equivalent to falling from a second storey window. Anyone who thinks that they can brace themselves to take such a shock is obviously talking nonsense.
Another presumption is that a person has reactions good enough to give him time to brace himself to take the impast, or even to throw himself clear of his vehicle. That is silly. At 30 mph somebody with good reflexes will have travelled about 20ft. in his vehicle before he has even mobilised his thought process, far less started to take action. That is assuming that he is expecting some incident to occur. There is no way in which someone not confined by some sort of harness can lessen the effect of a collision.
Seat belts will provide the necessary harness but, of course, only if they are worn. Too often they are left to hang on the side of the car where they do no good. The Bill will ensure that a high proportion of them are worn and that many deaths, serious injuries and horrid disfigurements will be avoided.
In the past few weeks I have received a great deal of lobbying, mostly from those who are in favour of the Bill. One of the most important groups in the country went to a great deal of trouble to stress its support. I refer to the conference of Medical Royal Colleges and its faculties, which this week issued on the authority of its chairman, Sir Douglas Black, a strongly-worded appeal for support for the Bill. I refer to the 12 Royal colleges and all the medical disciplines within the United Kingdom. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow telegraphed its support. The AA give unqualified support. The RAC urges everyone to belt up, but finds the hurdle of legal compulsion just a bit too high. I confidently expect that in the reasonably near future the RAC will find the courage to make the jump already taken by the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, which about 18 months ago, after a great deal of heart-searching, debate and argument—it is a body of experienced and enthusiastic motorists—decided that there was no way of reducing the accident death rate other than by compulsion. Since then it has been an active campaigner for the statutory wearing of seat belts.
Some anxiety was expressed in earlier debates—we have the benefit of them to look back on—about the work load that would be put on the police. The experience of other countries suggests that this is not a serious objection. So far I have received no representations from any police authority mentioning that doubt. It would be more appropriate for the police to make their views known to the Minister. I should be pleased if he would let us know whether the police have a point of view in this matter, as it is obviously important. I suspect that, on balance, the police would find that they had considerably less work if there were fewer road deaths and serious personal injury accidents than they would otherwise have, in court or by hospital beds.
The experience of other countries, especially Australia—which no one could cite as being composed of a docile citizenry—seems to be that there is almost no friction with the police. I understand that the Australian police question seat belt use only when the motorist is stopped for some other purpose.
A prominent Glasgow neuro-surgeon, who has just returned from Australia, telephoned me yesterday to say that belting up was so automatic there that he had to make a conscious effort to take note of and register the actions of his Australian hosts. He is keen on seat belt wearing, as is practically every neurosurgeon. He was rather worried about how compulsion would work in practice. Now he is greatly relieved and more positive than ever that there is no way other than compulsion. I have heard this point frequently from medical people. They are becoming frustrated at the enormous amount of valuable medical time that must be spent on what they firmly believe is unnecessary work. They are also painfully aware that all their abilities cannot restore a once-pretty face which has been through a windscreen. The highly-trained and skilled experts feel that so much of this work, pain, misery and expense is avoidable. A growing number of responsible people, including myself, inside and outside Parliament agree with them.
Few national or local newspapers that have discussed the subject have not supported the objects of the Bill—compulsion and all. That brings me to the only case that there can possibly be against compulsion. I refer to the individual's fundamental right to risk his life or his well-being if he so chooses. The first flaw in that argument is that his bravado may not end in his death. Therefore, he may be a burden on the rest of us for the remainder of his life. That is a brutal way to put the matter, but it is no more selfish than the thoughtless, antisocial, personal indulgence in which he participated.
My hon. Friend may well be right. I believe that some hon. Members smoke. We are told that smoking and, indeed, over-eating are damaging. If one is too fat one can die or cause hospital trouble. That does not mean to say that there should be a law to stop people over-eating or smoking.
That is a familiar argument. I urge my hon. Friend not to think that as we cannot get rid of all dangers—even if that were desirable—we should not get rid of some. This is a possible way of saving a great many lives with little inconvenience and trouble to most people. That is a brutal way in which to put my point, but it is no more selfish than thoughtless and anti-social personal indulgence.
We want to remain a caring, compassionate society. I should be horrified if we treated individuals as a result of an evaluation of their personal complicity in their misfortune. Nevertheless, we are entitled to point out to such strong-headed people just how irresponsible they have been. I want to go even further and say that they must take the minimum precautions and wear a seat belt.
There is an additional argument for compulsion. Having had personal experience, and having spoken to people with wide knowledge of motoring matters, there is no doubt that to be anchored in one's seat increases the chances—to put it no higher than that—of retaining or regaining control of the vehicle. I am told that there is more than one collision in one accident in ten. To hold on to the wheel in such circumstances is easier if one is held in one's seat. The only way in which that can be reasonably assured is by being anchored by a seat belt. Not only has the driver a better chance of saving his passenger but he has a better chance of avoiding subsequent injury to third parties who could be occupants of other vehicles or even innocent third parties in a queue.
I shall be told that we must be watchful about each new infringement of personal choice, however slight. But at the same time we must weigh the loss of this freedom of choice against positive gains. Some of our present laws, especially those dealing with roads, are so long-established that we do not think of them as restrictive. There is a strong argument for realising that by obeying them we increase our personal freedom, given the fact that we are not alone on the roads and that others obey the same laws.
The House is familiar with the arguments. There are speed limits, motorway laws, no stopping and no U-turn regulations, parking restrictions, and limits on headlights at night that have the potential to blind other drivers. But the benefits obviously outweigh the disadvantages. There are regulations about traffic lights and the example of motor cyclists' helmets that is always cited in these debates. I doubt whether there are any areas of activity in our complex society in which we can act truly independently wherein whatever we do does not infringe or impinge upon the rights of others. In other words, we are an interdependent society. We depend on each other. That is part of the strength of our society. It is also a part of the penalty we pay for civilised living.
If we accept that seat belts are a safety instrument, the compulsory wearing of them is simply an extension of the other demands that are placed on drivers. That especially applies when there is no significant interference with citizens' material interests.
Other examples have been given of seat belt wearing and no smoking restrictions in aircraft, and safety regulations in factories. I remember the day when no working man on the Clyde would dream of wearing a helmet or gloves. Now that is completely accepted. Previously they thought that that was an infringement of freedom, but they would now laugh at that idea.
Does my hon. Friend accept that some of the commonplace safety practices in industry are made mandatory under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act? Parliament imposed an obligation on the individual for the first time ever to look after his own safety. Therefore, Parliament itself laid down that employees had an obligation—it was not just from the employers' side—to look after themselves. We were responsible for that major initiative that led to increasing safety consciousness in industry.
That is a good point. When those regulations were introduced there was talk among people in work places who felt that it was an impediment to, or a reduction in their freedom. However, very few of them would go back to the old days when there was neither protective clothing nor proper guards on machinery. There is no doubt that Parliament has already made some decisions which affect the individual in this sort of way.
In the other place, when the last Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill was being considered, there was an interesting legal argument. It was suggested that the law relating to the compulsory wearing of seat belts would be different from other such laws because it would be a " Thou shalt do " law as opposed to a " Thou shalt not do " law. I am not sure where the line is drawn in transport matters, because there are many laws which say " Thou shalt do " and which are really saying to people " You must do this, and because of it you are not allowed to do certain other things." I think that there is a connection—perhaps some other hon. Members may fail to see it—between that type of thinking and saying to people that they may not make a U-turn in a road. When people are told that they may not make a U-turn on a motorway, they are really being told that they have no alternative but to go straight on. With a little casuistry it could be argued that one is imposing a " Thou shalt do " law and not a " Thou shalt not do " law.
The argument about the infringement of personal freedom is a perfectly valid one, but it tends to ignore completely the cost and danger to other individuals and to society. There is also a reluctance to accept that the compulsory wearing of seat belts is not central or even peripheral to any way of life. We, with Italy, are about the last country in Europe not to have some compulsion in the wearing of seat belts. It is time that we followed the example of the many other countries which have compulsion.
I should like to summarise very briefly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the case for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Britain has a higher concentration of motor vehicles per mile of metal road than any other country in the world. In Britain today, road accidents are the leading cause of death between the ages of 15 and 34, and half of all road deaths are in this age group. Forty per cent. of all motoring deaths occur in 30 mph areas. This demonstrates the need for the wearing of seat belts. Non-belt wearers are nearly twice as likely to suffer major injuries to the neck, the head, the chest, the abdomen and the spine. As a modest estimate, the compulsory wearing of seat belts would save about 800 deaths and up to 10,000 serious injury accidents each year. It takes only about three seconds to put on a seat belt and it costs nothing.
As one who, as a Minister, became converted to the necessity of wearing seat belts, and will vote accordingly, may I ask the hon. Gentleman, in the light of his own recent experience in government, whether he is satisfied that the types of seat belts made available by our motor manufacturers are in all circumstances the best? Many of them, I believe, are not very good. They are difficult to put on. I should like the hon. Gentleman to give the House some indication that he would expect there to be an improvement in some of the very poor and cumbersome seat belts available today.
A great deal needs to be done about the design of seat belts. There should be some common way of fastening them. People often have difficulty with seat belts when they are of a different type from that to which they are accustomed in their own vehicle. There is also some concern whether the inertia reel type of seat belt is sufficiently safe. However, I would take a chance on that. The degree of failure with that type of seat belt is very small and the comfort of the passenger is much greater than with other types of seat belt. Obviously, a racing driver would be concerned with every possible aspect of the seat belt. The ordinary driver needs to have something that is safe, can be put on easily, and worn with comfort.
A great deal of work needs to be done in standardising the fittings. This argument applies not only to seat belts but to other aspects of driving. I know that in some forces the police, who are very competent drivers, have been objecting to the types of cars they have been getting. The different types of windscreen wipers and indicators can be very confusing when people change from one type of car to another. Obviously, a great deal of standardisation is needed, and I would do everything possible to encourage it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, when he was Secretary of State for Transport, summed up the seat belt argument extremely well when speaking during the Second Reading debate on the last Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill. He said:
There is no other single step that Parliament could so easily take that would save the lives of so many people. Whatever votes are cast today, I believe that future generations will be deeply puzzled that we failed to take such steps at an earlier date. I say that without disrespect to those who have taken—and may still take—a contrary view of this Bill. Of course, there are arguments the other way, as there are on every great issue. The fact remains that in the perspective of time our hesitations—the hesitations of Parliament—will be difficult to understand."—[Official Report, 22 March 1979; Vol. 964, c. 1720.]
I hope that Parliament today will not hesitate any longer, and will give a very—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I appreciate that the Bill raises a question of principle, but in effect it gives the Minister the power to make regulations would involve the making of exceptions. It would be of assistance to the House if the hon. Gentleman were to give some indication of his own thoughts about exceptions. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am the president of the National Association of Approved Driving Instructors. It is impossible to require driving instructors to be belted in with seat belts with inertia reels, because at the very moment when they are most in need of coming to the assistance of a struggling pupil, they are locked in and are unable to help. It would seem to be a matter of supreme common sense that there should be an exception in the Bill relating to driving insructors while in the course of their tuition. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would pass some observation upon that.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention, and for giving me a few moments in which to consider the point. Having decided that the wearing of seat belts is fundamentally a good thing, I would be reluctant to start handing out too many concessions. Most of the concessions will be on medical grounds. The question of driving instructors is an interesting one. I am not sure that, when we discuss the mechanics of the matter in Committee, the hon. Gentleman's argument concerning driving instructors will hold up all that well. I have a fair understanding of the job of a driving instructor. He has his dual controls and he has his hand free to touch the wheel. [Interruption.] He should have his dual control. I would not go to a driving instructor who did not have dual control. But this is a matter for discussion in Committee. I should not like to mislead the hon. Member into thinking that I would be enthusiastic for the exception he suggests. I should want to examine exactly the circumstances in which a driving instructor might want to help a pupil. I do not know why a driving instructor cannot be expected to stop the car, declutch, or hold the steering wheel, while wearing a seat belt.
I point out to the House that one right hon. Member and 21 hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. There may be other hon. Members who have not yet indicated that they wish to speak. In order that there may be as many speakers as possible in the debate, may I ask that speeches be kept as short as possible?
For some three months now I have pondered upon the wisdom of Disraeli's advice to a young hon. Member:
It is better that people should wonder why you do not speak than why you do ".
The time has come, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for me to throw caution to the winds, and I am most grateful to you for calling me so early in the debate to make my maiden contribution.
I have the honour to represent a constituency which, over the past 40 years, has been served devotedly by two Members of Parliament. Sir Hugh Linstead, who represented the constituency from 1941 to 1964, will be well remembered by some of the older hon. Members in this House. He has remained a resident of Putney, taking an extremely active and diligent part in local affairs. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for the help and support he has given to me, enabling me to be where I am today.
I should also like to pay a genuine tribute to my immediate predecessor, Mr. Hugh Jenkins. By his own choice, Hugh Jenkins was politically a very controversial figure, not merely as perceived from the Conservative Benches. One matter on which there is no room for controversy is Hugh Jenkins' diligence in serving the interests of his constituents. He is well remembered in all parts of the constituency of Putney, and will be well remembered for many years. I wish him a long and happy retirement in Putney, where he still lives.
Putney has long been one of London's most pleasant residential areas. The modern constituency of Putney consists of the communities of Southfields, Roehampton and Putney itself. It is small in area but substantial in population, and particularly diverse in the type of accommodation to be found within its very limited boundaries. Large detached villas, neat terraces, large, modern, private blocks of flats and some of London's most impressive postwar council estates make up this fascinating constituency. Putney is fascinating but it can present difficulties on issues such as the one we are debating, or abortion or hanging, where there is not the common ground in constituents' letters as I understand is the case with certain hon. Members. One must take one's courage in both hands on this, as on other issues, and state firmly where one stands, though, I hope, always remaining open to sensible and intelligent argument.
Putney is a challenging constituency and I express the hope, at the outset of my parliamentary career, that I can rise to the challenge as effectively as both my predecessors did in their different ways. I hope that I, in my turn, will enjoy as long a stay in this place as they did. Turning to today's Bill, which was so effectively proposed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael), it saddens me to say that I am unable to be persuaded into the Lobby in his support. This Bill is a well-meaning attempt to compel people to do what others decree to be in their best interests, and as such I am opposed to it.
This argument should not revolve around whether it is a good things to wear seat belts. If I may be forgiven the pun, it is not such an open and shut argument as one or two hon. Members might try to persuade us that it is. I entirely support the motoring organisations which seek to persuade motorists of the common sense of the measure, and I admire the extraordinary skill displayed by the television and cinema advertising of the organisations which propose the wearing of seat belts.
It is on the point of compulsion that I, with perhaps more strength and vigour as a practising lawyer, oppose this measure. This is not a question of wider public interest or concern than the safety of the individual himself. It is not the same as drunken driving or speeding where the lives of others can be endangered. The only person who suffers is the individual who chooses whether or not to wear a seat belt.
I hear various hon. Members tutting, no doubt regretting that this is a maiden speech. If it were not, no doubt they would sail into me at full force at this point. However, perhaps I might be allowed at least one calm voyage in my career.
Perhaps I can advance the argument that many hon. Members might wish to put; a lot of public money is spent on repairing the damage caused to people who do not wear seat belts. But where, in the end, does that argument take us? A number of people are injured crossing the roads without using pedestrian crossings. Are we to make it compulsory, and have people hauled before the magistrates' court for not obeying the green cross code? That is every bit as logical as some of the arguments put forward in favour of compulsion.
The libertarian argument is not the only one. I may be forgiven if I draw on some of my experience of personal injury litigation to make one or two detailed points. Yesterday, I think we were all agreed that statistics, in terms of the capital punishment debate, proved very little. I am inclined to wonder whether we should not carry some of that scepticism into this debate. There is a certain glibness about saying that X thousand accidents or injuries would not have taken place if people had been wearing seat belts.
The High Court has decreed, as hon. Members will be aware, that if someone who fails to wear a seat belt is injured and it can be established on the balance of probabilities that, but for failing to wear a seat belt the individual would not have been injured, his damages are reduced by 25 per cent. If it can be shown that the individual would have been injured, but not so seriously, had he been wearing a seat belt, his damages can be reduced by 15 per cent. I should have thought that that was a formidable disincentive and might be enough.
Taking that argument a stage further, it is commonplace, in personal injury cases, for the defence to advance the argument of contributory negligence. It is not so commonplace that contributory negligence is established in those cases that do go to court. Indeed, it is the exception, rather than the rule, when medical evidence is advanced in the witness box, to say that someone would not have been so gravely injured. It is by no means as easy a proposition to prove on the evidence as some of those who advance that argument seem to think.
The other point that hon. Members should seriously consider before supporting this Bill is the safety of the seat belts that we shall make it compulsory for people to wear. I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said when he interjected during the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove. The design of seat belts fitted in British cars leaves a great deal to be desired. The question is whether we are right to compel people, against their will, to wear seat belts over which hangs any shadow of doubt. I hope that those hon. Members who propose to support this Bill will at least look at the answer to my parliamentary question yesterday to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. That related to the transport and road research laboratory's report on inertia seat belts. That report establishes that the two types of belt are subject to a slight, but significant, risk of malfunction and that there is a lesser risk of malfunction in another type of belt due to the possibility of incorrect assembly. Is it not, to say the least, a little premature to advance the argument of compulsion while any question mark hangs over the safety of the seat belts which we shall make it mandatory for people to wear?
I do not want to dwell at length on the question of exemptions. I accept the argument that wiser heads than mine have advanced that this is a matter of detail for Committee stage should we, unhappily, reach that point. However, it was argued very cogently against my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that it was no good giving someone a blank cheque on capital punishment. It was necessary to know the practicalities of the circumstances in which it could be introduced. Whilst I was grateful to the hon. Member for Kelvingrove for his candour when he said that he did not think that many exemptions should be allowed, I wonder whether that is not a proposition that we should look at with some care.
If we look at the cases in the High Court on this subject, we see that the Court of Appeal has already allowed exemptions, based on the facts, in the cases of a heavily pregnant woman and an obese man. Recently in the High Court an exemption was granted to someone who suffered from a phobia about wearing seat belts. Are those to be embraced within the terms of the regulations? I sincerely hope so, otherwise some of the arguments about the saving of public money advanced by hon. Members today are likely to rebound on them. What is the point of saving public money in hospitals if we add gratuitously to the expenditure of public money arguing these issues before highly expensive British courts of law? The costs involved in a magistrates' hearing to determine whether someone had a legitimate reason for not wearing a seat belt will amount to a substantial and significant increase in the public expenditure in our courts.
I turn briefly to the subject of enforcement. No doubt if this legislation is passed people will have to be brought before the courts for being in breach of it. How many hon. Members are prepared to countenance that when considering the present situation in our magistrates' courts? The number of people who came before the British criminal courts last year was 1½ million. One million of those cases—2 per cent. of our citizens—were concerned solely with road traffic offences. The lists at many urban and suburban magistrates' courts are enormous. Delays are almost a public scandal. Are we gratuitously to add to that pressure on court space by bringing these cases before the courts? It may be that the object is not to have many prosecutions, but a law not enforced is a law ignored. A law ignored is a law brought into disrepute, and a law brought into disrepute is the entire law brought into disrepute, because the law of England is one and indivisible.
We should also consider the strain upon the police forces of this country. Police forces are undermanned, and already cannot cope with the workload thrust upon them. Even if they could, are hon. Members not persuaded of the force of the observations that have so often been made by the police and others about the enormous damage done to police-public relations by the intervention of the police in motoring offences, which causes enormous resentment among members of the public? We should be looking, as I know my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is, at cutting down the intervention of the police in this area, rather than seeking gratuitously to increase it. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend nod assent.
It is to the libertarian argument that I return. In essence, the Bill is fatally flawed by " big brotherism ". Just because it is well meaning " big brotherism " does not make it any less pernicious. If passed into law, it will be another—perhaps not vast—step away from individual freedom. Those who value a free society must willingly embrace situations where some of our fellow citizens, some of the time, are entitled to behave foolishly if they so wish. It is on that basis that I urge hon. Members, I hope at not too intolerable a length, to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
It is my pleasant duty to be able to be first to congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) on his maiden speech. Far from keeping us too long, we could well have listened to him for much longer. He is by profession a barrister. In Scotland, we call such a person an advocate. The hon. Gentleman is clearly a very good advocate of the cause that he espoused today.
Notwithstanding that, I am afraid that I cannot join the hon. Members on the same side of the argument. However, an old Scottish Member of Parliament told me when I first entered the House " It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think that you may be wise, rather than open it and prove beyond peradventure that you are not." Quite clearly, the hon. Member for Putney is not one of those to whom that hon. Member was referring. He has opened his mouth, and has proved that he is wise. However, I am afraid that he has not convinced me, in spite of his eloquence and wisdom.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael)—having been so lucky as to come second in the ballot—on introducing this Bill. Road accidents are now the fourth largest killer in this country. They come after only cancer, heart disease and bronchial diseases. All of us would support any measure, and do support measures, to try to reduce deaths from cancer, heart disease, bronchial diseases and other diseases. In the last Parliament, it seemed to a large majority of hon. Members that there was an overwhelming argument in favour of the Bill that is now before us. I cannot understand the delay and the opposition to it.
I should like to look at some of the opposition. First, it is argued that wearing seat belts can increase the risk of death. It is suggested that the risk is increased because the car may catch fire, and the seat belt wearer may be unable to escape. It is also suggested that wearing a seat belt when a car plunges into water may increase the risk of death by drowning. Yet all the statistics and facts are totally against those arguments. No doubt, the Minister and other hon. Members are aware of the large survey in France, in which over 3,000 accidents were studied. It was published by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In no case was any case of burning, or of being killed, in any way related to wearing a seat belt.
The hon. Member for Putney said that by not wearing a seat belt one is harming only oneself, or is in danger of harming only oneself. I am afraid that that is not the case according to the statistics. One is in danger of losing control of a car by not wearing a seat belt, thereby harming others in one's car, as well as pedestrians who may be hit by the car. Therefore, we are thinking of third parties and not just the driver himself.
The argument that is most often put forward—the hon. Member for Putney did so—relates to the freedom of the individual. That is something about which Labour Members are concerned. We are as concerned about the freedom of the individual as any Conservative Member. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove, said, the freedom of the individual must be balanced against the greater good of society as a whole.
Let us look at the precedents. Mention has been made of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. In other countries, there are gun laws to stop people carrying loaded guns. There have been the Factories Acts. They restricted the freedom of Victorian employers from exploiting the working people, but they greatly enhanced the freedom of those working people who previously had been exploited. Even in the area of seat belts, there are already two examples. Article 33(2) of the Air Navigation Order 1976 makes it compulsory for all pilots, both private and commercial, to wear a seat belt. There are also heavy fines for those air companies not adhering to the law on passengers wearing seat belts on take-off and landing. That is why the air hostesses on British Airways airlines—who will now be able to buy their way into British Airways according to the statement earlier—are so assiduous in coming around and telling us to " belt up " when an aeroplane either takes off or lands. Therefore, there are many precedents for saying that in some cases the freedom of the individual can be subservient to the greater good of society as a whole.
0 I also ask hon. Members to consider that there is no freedom for the police, the ambulancemen and the firemen who must race up motorways day after day in order to cut bodies free from tangled wreckage. That is no freedom. There is no freedom for the wife of someone who may be permanently injured, who may have to look after a crippled husband for the rest of her life. I believe that those two arguments should convince those who are as concerned about freedom as I am.
I would also have thought that some Conservative Members might be convinced by the saving of money argument. The Tory Government seem hellbent on saving money one way or the other. I have opposed all of their proposals so far. This is one proposal which, it is estimated, could save £100 million a year—something which Labour Members would strongly support. That is a public expenditure saving which I hope would get the support of most hon. Members. We are tying up hospital beds needlessly because we are delaying the introduction of this legislation. I am told that a week in the Royal infirmary in Edinburgh costs nearly £500. That is the kind of public expenditure that we might be saving if this measure were to be passed.
However, this is far more important than just expenditure. It is a question of saving lives. We must ask ourselves whether the voluntary approach has succeeded. That voluntary approach costs a great deal of money. I think the Minister will confirm that it costs about £1 million a year. But even that effective advertising, supported by notable and power advocates such as Jimmy Saville, has succeeded only in getting seat belt wearing up to about 30 per cent. That is the most powerful and expensive advertising that one could have. On the other hand, experience in other countries has shown that the introduction of legislation at once increases the wearing of seat belts to well over 80 per cent.
I turn now to the question of enforcement, and here I take up what was said by the hon. Member for Putney. It does not seem to be difficult in the 23 countries —I believe that to be the number—which have seat belt legislation. I understand that the Police Federation in England and Wales is in favour of the legislation proposed.
In the light of his comments about enforcement, will the hon. Gentleman explain what he would do about members of the Armed Forces, for example? Are they to be exempted or covered by the legislation, and if they are to be included, how is one to enforce it in their case?
I think that these are important points. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove said earlier, when the legislation proceeds to further stages, as I hope it will, the whole question of exemptions must be considered carefully. I am not in favour of any blanket exemptions, but we have to consider very carefully all arguments put forward for any sort of exemption.
There is an added bonus that will come from this legislation. The general climate of conduct and opinion about safety in motor cars will be improved, not only in this instance but in many other ways. Driving in the streets of Glasgow recently, I saw two adults in the front of a car, wearing no seat belts, smoking while driving, and with a small child on the lap of the passenger. That, to me, is criminal irresponsibility. If we can improve the general climate by having this legislation, we shall see less of that sort of thing. We should attempt any measure whatsoever to reduce casualties from road accidents. We have been asked why we are not looking at other measures. If there are others I shall be happy to look at the possibility of supporting them.
If there were an epidemic illness affecting 200 people a week there would be a great clamour asking the medical profession and the Health Service to do something about it. If, every week, 200 people jumped off Westminster bridge, there would be a clamour to do something about it. If there was a preventable air crash of, say, a DC10—to take a random example—involving only a fraction of the number of casualties that we are talking about today, that air crash would lie on the consciences of those who failed to prevent it.
If the Bill had been passed three years ago, 3,000 fewer would be in their graves today, and there would be 30,000 people playing football, tennis or whatever is their inclination who are in wheelchairs or permanently disabled today. I hope that the House will speed the passage of the Bill, because every day that we delay two or three more people die needlessly.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) on what I thought was the most effective and distinguished maiden speech that I have had the privilege of hearing in the House since I have been here. It was a most effective piece of advocacy and I am almost lost for words, but not quite. [HON. MEMBERS: " A family failing?"] It is not a family failing; it is unique to myself.
The first and, I suggest, essential question that the House must determine is whether the Bill, if passed, will result in a substantial reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries arising from road accidents. The answer to that crucial question is, I think, quite clear. Many other countries, including all the EEC countries other than Italy and ourselves, have already introduced legislation that makes the wearing of seat belts compulsory.
In every instance of which I am aware, the passage of such legislation has resulted in a substantial increase in the wearing of seat belts and a substantial reduction in the number of fatalities and serious injuries. That is so, despite the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney that in many cases, or at least in some, the belts themselves are defective.
It is probably pointless to try to quantify in any precise way the number of fatalities that would be saved by the passage of the Bill. In my view, it is quite sufficient for the House to recognise as a fact that the passage of the Bill into law will bring about a substantial reduction in the number of fatalities and serious injuries. It is against that important background that we must examine the arguments advanced against the Bill, and I shall briefly examine two of them now.
Many, if not most, hon. Members who oppose the Bill do so on the fundamentalist line that it is an unacceptable intrusion into the private lives of ordinary people. In short, the argument is that it removes choice from precisely the sort of area in which there should be choice. While I disagree with the conclusions so eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, I am in no way seeking to critcise or to denigrate the principles that underlie those conclusions.
No man is more reluctant than I to impose additional restrictions upon individual liberty. No man is more reluctant than I to increase the discretionary powers of Ministers, even when the Minister concerned is as compassionate, humane and civilised as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport—and if those kind words do not get me an invitation to dinner in the near future, I do not suppose any will.
Although the principles underlying that argument are of great importance and must be heeded at all times, they are not absolute, in the sense that they do not necessarily defeat the case for legislation which involves some restriction in personal liberty. In the course of our history, both recent and long established, we have as a House passed many pieces of legislation that restrict individual liberty to some degree. Recently the House passed the Motor Cycles (Wearing of Helmets) Regulations. The principle of these regulations is quite indistinguishable from the Bill now before us.
They applied only to some. A large group were excluded. We still do not know to this day to what extent those excluded have or have not suffered because they still do not wear crash helmets.
And quite right, too. They are in a wholly different position in that they have a well established religious tradition and observance against the wearing of garments on their heads. I know of no such religious observance, not even by the hon. Gentleman, that would preclude the wearing of seat belts.
No, I have given way enough. There may be other reasons that would prevent the hon. Gentleman from wearing a seat belt, but I do not fancy that religious observance is among them.
I was suggesting that there was good precedent, and I reminded the House about the passage of the helmet regulations. There are, of course, other regulations which set a good precedent in this matter. As hon. Members will know—we were reminded by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)—the Factories Act and the regulations passed thereunder and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 impose upon employees a positive duty to comply with regulations the sole purpose of which is to ensure their own safety.
Even on the question of seat belts itself the law has already intervened. Since the important decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Froom v. Butcher failure to wear a seat belt will, in the majority of cases, justify a finding of contributory negligence and thus reduce the damages awarded. That itself is a form of constraint imposed by law.
I turn to the argument put by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes). Let us not forget that the failure to wear a beat belt is not a decision which affects only the person who is not wearing it. The wearing or non-wearing of a seat belt also affects the person's family, his dependants, the National Health Service, the police and many other institutions. Therefore, society as a whole has a legitimate interest in the passage of the Bill.
In each case involving individual liberty the House has to make a judgment. It has to weigh the degree of personal liberty being lost against the undoubted benefits accruing to society. Having gone through that process, I do not in all conscience believe that the price is too high.
I turn briefly to the second of the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney. He said that the Bill will be difficult to enforce. We are dealing with two contradictory arguments. The first is that the Bill will not be enforced because far too many breaches will go undetected and thus unprosecuted. The second, but different argument, is that the Bill will be enforced but in an oppressive manner.
I draw on my experience of a number of years practising in the criminal courts and as a special constable in the Metropolitan special constabulary. The obligation to wear a seat belt is neither more nor less difficult to enforce than the regulations governing speed. It is neither more nor less difficult to enforce than the duty to ensure that a motor vehicle complies with the construction and use regulations.
I do not expect the Bill to give rise to an avalanche of summonses. Police officers have much better things to do with their time. Even if they did not, senior police officers or the courts would soon intervene to prevent the oppressive implementation of the Bill. It is proper to use the law—even the criminal law—to fashion and mould public opinion.
I remind the House that all the evidence suggests that the passage of the Bill will result in a substantial reduction in the number of fatalities and serious injuries. The House must consider the Bill against that background. I am wholly resolved to defend and entrench personal liberty. I am extremely reluctant to extend ministerial power. I am wholly determined to oppose unenforceable laws.
Having said that, I ask the House to pass the Bill. The price in terms of lost liberty would be small and the benefit to society substantial. I therefore ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I thank the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) for giving way to me. However, when I wanted to intervene for the third time I did not wish to argue whether Sikhs should or should not be excluded from the Bill's provisions. There is no proof that there is any more or less damage to the Sikhs because they are not obliged to wear crash helmets.
Of course that is true. I was trying to explain that the Sikhs were excluded from that legislation on religious grounds, and then the hon. Member made a facetious remark about my religion The Sikhs had good reason not to wear crash helmets. There is no evidence that more Sikhs get killed because of that. The same argument applies to seat belts. Why should a person be compelled to that which he does not want to do if he does not cause harm to others?
I have been in the House for nearly 35 years and I have never had the opportunity to congratulate an hon. Member on his maiden speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) on his witty and fearless speech. He paid handsome tributes to Sir Hugh Linstead and Hugh Jenkins, with whom I had the pleasure to work. I do not congratulate the hon. Member out of custom and courtesy alone because he made an excellent speech—and I do not say that merely because he agrees with me on this issue.
We must look at this matter from several angles. Obviously it is right that people should wear seat belts. Without doubt it is right that people should not smoke, not necessarily because it may cause cancer but because anyone in his right senses must know that to take smoke into one's lungs cannot do any good. I speak as a cigar smoker and I take smoke into my lungs.
Everyone knows that it cannot be good to have too much to drink. Many people drink too much, whether it is Scotch whisky or some other spirit. We do not introduce laws which say that people must not drink too much, that they should not drink too much, or that they should stop drinking and smoking.
The experts say that one should not eat too much. I do not always believe the experts, particularly those at the Treasury. They have one idea one week, another the next and then return to the original. The experts can be wrong. However, the experts say that every fat person eats too much. If that is so, I confess that I probably eat too much. Perhaps there should be a law to stop me eating too much.
The hon. Member agrees with me, but he is a slim person. Perhaps it would be a good law, but it would be unenforceable, as this Bill would be unenforceable. Those who want to dodge it will dodge it.
I was one of those in the House who started the campaign against the road fund licence dodgers when there were only a few dozen doing it. It grew to a few hundred, then a few thousand, and Ministers in various Governments who encouraged the practice by doing nothing now say that it has got so far out of hand that they cannot do anything about it.
The hon. Member for Grantham is a lawyer. I am not, but I have driven vehicles on the road for 46 years and I speak from a motorist's point of view. There are over 2,000 rules and regulations connected with vehicles on the road, and there is not a policeman in the country who can quote more than a dozen of them, so how can they enforce them? There is a regulation that one must not have a protruding mascot on a car, but if the hon. Gentleman goes out into the yard of the Palace of Westminster he will find a most marvellous Rolls-Royce with a protruding mascot. It goes in and out of this House every day. It is illegal and dangerous, but I do not suppose that the policemen know about it. There are rules and regulations affecting every vehicle on the road and at some time most of those vehicles have something wrong with them.
I say that a seat belt law would be unenforceable. I shall refuse to wear a seat belt, law or no law. I am one of those chaps who will deliberately break the law—and there are hundreds of us. If I do not have my seat belt on and a policeman pulls me up he may not charge me, but let us assume that he does and I tell him that he can do what he likes. That sort of thing happens, as the hon. Member for Grantham will know because he is a lawyer. There are over £3½ million worth of fines outstanding. In the City of London and Holborn there are hundreds of vehicles with tickets stuck on them because the fines cannot be enforced. There are hundreds and hundreds of these cases going before the courts. If people refuse to pay fines, does one send them to prison? It costs £150 a week to keep a man in prison, and all for a £20 fine. Six months in prison would cost the ratepayer and taxpayer a great deal of money.
The man who has not paid his road fund licence for years on end, who has not had an MOT certificate for years on end and who has not had vehicle insurance for years on end will not wear a seat belt. He probably does not even have one in his vehicle. If the police pull him up he will ignore the fine, but the law-abiding citizen who has conscientious reasons for not wearing a seat belt will feel compelled to wear one.
No. I am in favour of laws and regulations to protect the lives and well-being of others, but I believe I am entitled to say and do anything that I want at any time of the day or night in any part of the country, provided that in the process I do not harm or cause pain or suffering to others or break the law laid down for that purpose. That is different. I do not see why I should be compelled not to eat, drink or do anything else because I am told that it is bad for my health.
Will my hon. Friend tell us why he will not wear his seat belt other than that he does not like to? Does he believe that not wearing a seat belt will improve his chances in an accident?
By the way, I was one of those who originally opposed the first Bill, and I have two reasons for not wanting to wear a seat belt. First, people should not be compelled to do anything that they do not want to do if in the process they are not harming or causing pain and suffering to others. Secondly, I do not believe that there should be a law that is enforced against the law-abiding citizen who will obey it even though he does not like it, when a person who is a law breaker will carry on evading the law. The police cannot enforce the law.
If I am pulled up by the police and I am wearing a belt, they will not know whether I had it done up or whether I had just put it on. They cannot tell, when I am going along, whether I have it on. I have seat belts in my car, but in my case I believe that I have good reasons for exemption. That is not my point. I believe there are a number of exemptions. The previous Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers), who introduced a similar Bill in the last Parliament, agreed that milkmen, bakers' roundsmen, midwives and policemen have to be exempted. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) shakes his head, the Minister said in the previous debate that we should have to look at that. Pregnant women, obese persons, people with asthma, or people who have only one lung or contraction of a lung might all legitimately claim exemption.
If a policeman pulls me up because I am not wearing a seat belt, possibly ignoring the fact that I have a bald tyre or the brakes are not working because he cannot see that, I could say that I had an exemption certificate, possibly from a doctor, for my heart, lungs or chest. He may say he wants to see the certificate and I have not got it. He will then say that I have 48 hours to produce it at a police station, and that is a farce.
I am much obliged. The hon. Member is kindly helping my case. That is quite right. If I were pulled up, I could say that I had had it on and had just taken it off, and the policeman would not be able to prove different. It would be his word against mine. Every person is innocent until proven guilty. The policeman will have to say in court that I did not have my seat belt on, and I will say that I did or that I took it off just before he spoke to me and was within the law because I was stationary.
It has been said that the speeding law is unenforceable, but that is not so. There are instruments to measure speed and the police have two witnesses, and they time speed over a certain distance. That is provable. But it is not provable whether I had a seat belt on. Even if it could be proved, no one but no one—Parliament or anyone else—will make me do things that I do not want to do, if I am not causing harm, pain or suffering to others.
I ask hon. Members not to bring up the argument of accident victims being in hospital and causing trouble and expense. Cancer patients go to hospital and cause trouble and cost money, God bless them. People who have accidents climbing mountains do the same. It is not fair or logical to raise that matter. It is not a legitimate argument.
I shall therefore not only vigorously oppose the Second Reading but do everything that I can to oppose the Bill in Committee. It is a farce. It proposes a law that cannot be enforced and the usual dodgers will dodge it. It will put further strain on the police and will add to the more than 2,000 regulations that are little known. We are wasting the time of Parliament. The civil servants in the Ministry of Transport tried to force this through, and the previous Government carried out whatever the civil servants told them.
Yes, they did. Apparently, the hon. Gentleman does not listen to the dictates of his civil servants. But some thought it a good idea to draw up this Bill and earn their very high salaries. I hope that we shall kill the the Bill today, but if we do not I hope that we shall kill it in Committee.
It is with some trepidation that I rise to make my maiden speech following the very powerful speeches that we have heard in the debate on both sides of the argument. The past few days have been notable in that we have debated the great moral issues of abortion and capital punishment. As far as many right hon. and hon. Members are concerned, this Bill also involves important moral considerations, and the question whether it eventually becomes law should not, in my opinion, depend on bare statistics alone.
Many other countries already have legislation making the wearing of seat belts compulsory, although at least one, Switzerland, has subsequently gone back to the voluntary wearing of seat belts. The fact that Britain has so far resisted compulsion and that so many people are against it is perhaps a reflection of the strong feeling of independenec and the desire for choice that are characteristic of the British people.
Independence of thought, represented, for instance, in the strength of nonconformist religion, is strongly evident in my constituency of Brighouse and Spenborough. Although surrounded by several industrial cities, such as Leeds and Bradford, the area has retained a sense of local identity. Even those born only a few miles away have been surprised to find themselves regarded as " corners-in ", for many years in some cases. Within the constituency there are significant and notable differences between the three towns of Brighouse, Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton, and the many other towns and villages within it. The area is rich in local history and is notable for having given birth to the Luddite uprising. More recently, the decline of traditional industries such as textiles has given rise to new activities, very many of them based on small businesses.
Adaptability and innovation have enabled many firms to survive when other similar ones in other areas have failed. Economic recession at home has required companies to discover new export markets, a factor which will prove to be of great long-term benefit when economic recovery comes.
The former local authorities were small but well run. People could go to the local town hall and could get things done. Local decisions were taken locally and a strong sense of community and self-help persisted. I am afraid that however hard our councillors and officers of the new authorities of Calderdale and Kirklees may work, they will have great difficulty in persuading the people that local government reorganisation was a change for the better.
Among the many notable representatives of the area in the past was Sir John Simon, still well remembered as the Member for Spen Valley. My immediate predecessor, Colin Jackson, suffered from ill health during his latter years in the House, but by then he had already built a solid reputation as a good constituency Mem ber and one who, furthermore, had an outstanding grasp of foreign affairs, particularly those of the Middle East. Although he and I often disagreed on issues before his decision to retire, I am glad to say that personal attacks were notably absent on both sides. I would like to think that that is how the public prefer to see political argument conducted. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will, I know, wish Colin Jackson well in future.
The people of these islands are overwhelming law-abiding, but that law depends completely on one thing—consent. Nearly everybody agrees that there should be laws to deter those so minded from physically assaulting one. Few people would argue that one should not be punished for evading taxes, even though no one likes paying them. Nearly everyone even agrees that there should be penalties for dropping litter in the streets. But this situation manifestly does not apply to the compulsory wearing of seat belts.
As the Department of Transport acknowledged in papers distributed at a road safety conference in June 1978, a recent survey of a sample of drivers showed a split of about three to two against compulsion. This information has been published in a report by the transport and road research laboratory. Furthermore, although it is difficult to prove, I am convinced, from my own experience, that the intensity of feeling exhibited by those who disagree with compulsion is much greater than that of those favouring legislation, whose mood could perhaps best be described as passive acceptance.
What worries me, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), is not so much the fact that a law on seat belts would be brought into disrepute but that the existence of a law which was not accepted by a significant proportion of drivers would tend to bring all our laws into disrepute. Those who favour this Bill, or Bills like it, have tried to overcome the argument that such a law would be unenforceable by saying that the police would not go to great lengths to enforce it. For instance, they would not stop drivers specifically for committing this offence but would enforce the law only when they stopped drivers for another reason. Can one really justify a law which is defended by saying that it will not normally be enforced? I do not think that one can. I found rather extraordinary the interjection by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who said that the question of enforcing the law against moving drivers would not come into question because when the driver was stopped he would no longer be moving. The same thing could, of course, be said about any offence, for example, speeding. But I do not think that the policeman in question would take very much notice of that argument.
The criminal law should be a sanction against actions that are generally regarded as wrong. It should not be employed by Governments, or anyone else for that matter, to try to persuade people to do things which are supposed to be good for them. That is the most important reason why I shall be voting against the Bill.
I have already stated that there is an enforcement problem. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) spoke about the attitude of the police. Very many of the police who, I know, recognise the paramount importance of good relations with the public, are against legislation which would make their job more difficult. It would be ironic if the Bill were to go through at a time when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is considering legislation to create more fixed penalty offences, very largely in the interest of better relations between the police and the public.
I fully accept that the wearing of a seat belt is something which can protect one from serious injury in many accidents, but the fact that I happen to think that is irrelevant. Others think differently or find seat belt wearing so restrictive that they would prefer to accept the small risk of being in an accident. So be it. A new report by the transport and road research laboratory, published only two days ago, states that there is a slight but significant risk of malfunction in some designs of inertia belts. In the words of the report:
Such failures could add to the severity of the injury for a very small minority of those wearers involved in severe crashes.
The AA favours legislation, the RAC opposes it. It is a matter on which there
is disagreement, and everyone should have the right to make up his own mind without the law intervening.
It is said that accidents impose heavy costs on the community in terms of hospital beds, disability payments and so forth, and therefore the State, it is argued, has a right to prevent people from doing things which cause those costs to be imposed. Acceptance of that argument would mean that we should instantly ban dangerous sports such as mountaineering, and we should certainly stop people smoking. Governments rightly require cigarette manufacturers to warn the public about the danger to health and to provide information about the tar content.
Our present approach to the wearing of seat belts is roughly similar. Car manufacturers are obliged to fit belts in order to give all front seat occupants the option of wearing them. Information about the consequences of not wearing belts is made available, and I agree that the publicity campaign should be intensified. But that is as far as we should go.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) referred to precedents, particularly in the work place. I agree that in the work place there are enormous pressures on employees not to wear protective footwear and headwear, but now that the wearing of seat belts in motor cars is generally acceptable, there are not the same pressures as exist in the work place.
I recognise the great human cost of road accidents, but if we argue that this is a matter of the ends justifying the means, we are surely wrong. If the immediate preservation of life were the only consideration to be taken into account, we would never have fought the Second World War, in which countless numbers of people died. If preservation of life were the only consideration, we could scrap all expenditure on defence immediately.
I respect those who hold contrary views to mine, just as I hope they will respect my views on this matter. The great issues on which we have voted in recent days have in some cases divided colleagues and strained friendships. In many ways, I should like to support those who believe that legislation could reduce the large number of casualties each year. One is in something of a dilemma in this matter. However, because I believe in the importance of the law and in the right of an individual in possession of the facts to make up his own mind, and not be told by the Government what is good for him, I must go into the No Lobby today.
I am glad to be the first to have the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) on his maiden speech. I am sure that I shall be only the first of many to offer him congratulations. He put his case fairly and persuasively, and I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing him speak on a great many other occasions and on a great many other issues.
I wish to join those who have already congratulated the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) on his maiden speech. His argument, given the premise which it contained, was also persuasive. Both he and the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough paid a number of fine compliments to their predecessors, both of whom brought to this House a number of interesting and controversial views during their period of membership, as I am sure their successors.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) on three grounds: first, on his great success in drawing a high place in the ballot in what will be a long Session; second, on his good judgment in choosing to use that place in the ballot to bring this measure before the House—and, incidentally, on his judgment of the intentions of the Minister of Transport—and, third, on the admirable way in which he introduced the Bill.
Although no contributor to this debate has yet claimed that seat belts do not reduce injuries—and the tendency of the debate has been to suggest that we are arguing about individual freedom—nevertheless, a number of reflections have been made on the degree to which the wearing of seat belts will reduce injuries and on the effectiveness of seat belts in certain circumstances. I believe that problem should be properly considered in this debate. We cannot necessarily be guided by what has happened in other countries where the wearing of belts has been introduced.
Possibly the best guidance we have lies in the work undertaken by the transport and road research laboratory. The report issued by the laboratory deals with accidents which took place in this country, and shows what happened in circumstances which are as near comparable as we are likely to find between those who wear seat belts and those who do not. The parameters chosen by the report's researchers inevitably underestimate the benefits of the seat belt. The researchers chose to examine only accidents which resulted in people attending hospital for treatment. Therefore, those cases where accidents took place in which people did not suffer injuries as the result of the wearing of seat belts, or did not suffer such injuries as would require them to attend hospital, are left completely out of the survey. Even with that loading of the case against the seat belt wearer, the report drew the conclusion that 42 per cent. of belted car occupants in accidents escaped injury, whereas only 20 per cent. of those who were not belted escaped injury.
Therefore, based on a most impartial survey, conducted in strict conditions, it is still the case that there is an enormous advantage in the reduction of injury to be derived from wearing seat belts. But when dealing with the most serious injuries, including fatalities, the report showed that we could expect a reduction of 73 per cent. in the number of fatal injuries to car occupants if seat belts were worn generally.
It is also significant that, despite all this evidence, only 30 per cent. of people in this country wear seat belts. I conducted a little personal survey this morning as I came into the House. I paused to watch hon. Members and staff driving into the point in New Palace Yard at which cars are examined for security reasons. We do not compare too favourably with the figure of 30 per cent. relating to the general public. On the basis of my personal survey—which I accept was somewhat partial and not particularly scientific—it appears that there is a tendency not to follow the best safety practice until some legislation is enacted. The public, either consciously or subconsciously, appear to be guided by legislation as to what is good safety practice.
It is not fair for opponents of the Bill to say that we can draw a distinction between the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act and other safety legislation and legislation on this topic. Both are bound to impinge on personal liberty. These matters also affect other people. Decisions can be taken at work which affect only one's own safety as a workman. Such situations arose in the mines, but miners were forced by legislation to engage in certain practices in the interests of their own safety. If that is the case, one is forced into considering the even narrower distinction whether it is right to force a person to protect his own individual safety when at work, but not at other times. If we went down that narrow line of logic, we would end up by drawing a distinction between the person who drives for a living and the person who drives on the roads privately. That surely would not make sense.
Has the right hon. Gentleman observed that in regard to factory legislation and the legislation to which he referred, enforcement is always against the employer, because that is practicable, and never against the employee, because that is not practicable?
I disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. In the case of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, a liability is placed upon work people and their representatives. The House decided to draw that distinction, having carefully debated the factors that influence people in complying with legislation. Having considered the fact that there were Factories Acts and mining employees Acts which had been ignored to some extent, the House decided to place the responsibility on the shoulders of the working people and their representatives. I was fully in support of that measure which was introduced in the previous Parliament by a Minister in my former Department.
The House should take into account the enormous cost to the National Health Service. That is not a conclusive argument. I believe that the nation should provide health services for those who do silly things from personal choice and become injured as a result. However, when the costs reach the enormous level that they have reached it becomes a legitimate matter of public concern. In an overall survey in 1977 the Department of the Environment estimated that road accidents cost the National Health Service £44 million. A Government who are concerned to save money could usefully turn their attention to saving money in that area. There is a case for compulsion that is based on our observations of the way in which we and our fellow citizens behave.
I am interested in the issue of the quality and design of seat belts. It is an important issue and there may be considerable scope for improving the manufacture and design of seat belts in the interest of safety. However, that will not be advanced if the Bill is rejected. The passing of the legislation requiring motor cyclists to wear crash helmets did not diminish the work that was done on improving the design of crash helmets. The reverse applied. Once there is a legal requirement to use a piece of safety equipment there are crucial pressures brought to bear to improve its design and effectiveness. That is a case for going ahead with the Bill.
If the Bill were defeated it would be held that the House was establishing a principle that people should be free to choose whether they protect themselves in particular circumstances. If that were so, it would not be long before there was a major lobby mounted on the question of crash helmets. There would be a huge campaign to free motor cyclists from that compulsion. I declare a personal interest. My two sons ride motor bicycles and I have ridden one in the past. Probably, my life has been saved by the wearing of a crash helmet. In the light of the overwhelming evidence that motor cyclists were desperately at risk if they did not wear crash helmets we would be irresponsible if we made easier the task of the lobbying that would inevitably follow if the Bill were defeated.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that even a half-blind policeman can see whether a motor cyclist is wearing his crash helmet? A policeman with binoculars would have trouble seeing whether a car driver travelling at 30 or 40 miles per hour was wearing his seat belt.
I accept fully the point that my hon. Friend makes. It is much more difficult to enforce seat belt legislation than crash helmet legislation. That does not aid the case of those who say that the basic issue is one of individual liberty. If that is to be the test it cannot be argued whether or not the matter is enforceable. I believe that we should consider the matter on a wider range of factors. After all, driving a car on the public highway is not a personal act that is conducted in a private place. By definition, the public highway cannot be a private place. The various factors which may injure a person there and cause him to be in a position where he cannot control his vehicle must have a wider public interest.
The opponents of the Bill are seeking to erect a defence of human freedom in an area where the freedom that they are talking about is the freedom to do something that is both silly and dangerous. I shall not be party to defending the right of people to choose to have a greater risk of being thrown through a windscreen, being killed, being seriously injured or being disfigured. It imposes upon the National Health Service and those who work in it a difficult task which is costly to the nation.
To raise the matter as being one of individual freedom in a Chamber which has a long, proud and historic record of defending individual freedom is to diminish the importance of the Chamber in protecting that individual freedom. Therefore, I hope that the issue will not be pressed in that way and that a Second Reading for the Bill will be obtained today.
I shall intervene briefly in the debate, because I realise that many hon. Members wish to speak.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) on the thorough and fair way that he proposed the Bill. I also congratulate the two maiden speakers. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) made a courageous speech that will have won him a great deal of respect. The House looks forward with anticipation to his next contribution. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) on his con- tribution. In his powerful speech he made the important point that the law is based on consent. That is a crucial question that is central to the question of enforcement.
Since 1974 a seat belts Bill has become almost an annual feature of parliamentary life. This debate is the fifth major debate on the proposition in that time. I spoke in the 1976 Second Reading debate and in the debate in March this year. I intervene today as the Minister responsible for road safety to outline the position of the Government and to try to offer some guidance on the issues that are before us.
The hon. Member for Kelvingrove said that there is an important difference between today's Bill and the 1976 Bill and the Bill introduced earlier this year. The two previous Bills were introduced by the Government. In spite of the free vote, they represented the policy of that Government. This Bill is a Private Member's Bill and the attitude of the Government is one of neutrality. Therefore, I shall express a personal view.
The matter is for the House to decide, although I recognise that if it becomes law it will place responsibilities upon myself as Minister of Transport, in particular the responsibility to set out regulations for the exemptions to the law. In making those exemptions, I would need to consult widely. I know from experience the strong views of hon. Members and, above all, it would be important for the House to have the opportunity to consider the exemptions.
The form of the Bill asks for a decision on the principle of compulsion. I do not complain about that. The exemptions are not set out. Nevertheless, it is common ground that the question of exemptions would need proper scrutiny on the Floor of the House. I warn the House that the more exemptions that we may make, the more difficult the law becomes to enforce. There is a whole range of matters to be examined—medical grounds, drivers reversing, short-stopping journeys and the other issues of exemption with which the House is familiar.
I will give that matter urgent consideration in light of what the House decides later. It may be for the benefit of the Committee that will have to consider the Bill if it is given a Second Reading and the sponsors if the Government considered producing a list of exemptions. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to think about that.
I should like to add to the common ground between the two sides of the argument. I believe that it is a matter of agreement that wearing a seat belt makes sense and that seat belts save lives and prevent injuries. On average, they can be expected to reduce casualties by half. Evidence from this country and overseas is too overwhelming to admit any dispute on that point. The transport and road research laboratory has published a survey showing that nearly one-half of injuries more severe than minor were saved by the wearing of a seat belt and that the proportion of those escaping injury altogether rose from 28 per cent. among those who did not wear a seat belt to 42 per cent. of those who wore a belt.
I think that it is also a matter of agreement that the wearing rate of just over 30 per cent. in this country is too low for such a proven safety measure. Other things being equal, it would be much better if people wore belts voluntarily rather than because they were compelled by law to do so. I hope that that is also common ground.
Many of us take the view that there are too many legal restrictions in this country, particularly in motoring law. Magistrates' courts deal with more than 2 million traffic offences a year. I think that most hon. Members take the view that compulsion should be contemplated only when there is no other option.
That is the point at which views divide. Those who support compulsion say that a voluntary policy has achieved as much as it is going to achieve. They say that compulsion works effectively in many other countries and conclude that if it is the only way to prevent thousands of casualties, the saving of life outweighs the other issues involved.
They point, as they are entitled to do, to organisations such as the British Medi- cal Association and the Royal College of Surgeons which support that view. The view is also shared by the Royal Commission on the Health Service which reported this week.
We could argue about the organisations supporting and opposing the Bill. The AA is in favour of it and the RAC is against it. The wisest course is to take the common sense view that outside the House, as inside the House, opinion is split. That is true of motorists, the police and other interested bodies.
Against the argument of compulsion, the opponents of the Bill advance a number of objections. One of their most common arguments—and we have heard it in the debate—is put by those who, although often supporting the wearing of seat belts, believe that it is wrong to make it a criminal offence for a person not to do something that essentially affects only his own safety. It is further argued that enforcement provides great difficulties for the police and that in some circumstances—at night, for example—such a law would be virtually unenforceable.
It is also stressed that, although the loss of personal freedom in the case of seat belt wearing may be small, the principle is important and the precedent could be used in other cases.
We face a major difficulty in evaluating those arguments. We have attempted persuasion and the voluntary approach. It has raised the rate of seat belt wearing. The average is only 30 per cent., but on motorways it reaches almost 50 per cent. and that has been achieved without compulsion.
It is a matter of judgment how far we can go in persuading motorists to take care of their own safety. I feel that we might have achieved more in the past few years but for the temptation to believe that compulsion is the only answer. We have tended to wait for a law that never came. As a result, we have perhaps lost a number of opportunities to hammer home the message and to make improvements in, for example, the design of seat belts.
In particular, not enough publicity has been given to the insurance position, which has been raised by two hon. Members—both lawyers. Motorists will have compensation for personal injury reduced on the grounds of contributory negligence if a seat belt is not worn. That fact may be well known to lawyers, but I hope that the public will take it on board.
If someone is not prepared to wear a seat belt to save his life, why on earth does my right hon. Friend think that that person would be prepared to do so merely to save money?
It is a matter of judgment. Whatever our division of views, I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that it is right for the Government to make clear the legal position. So far, that position has not been made clear. I respect my hon. Friend's views. If he reads our previous debate on seat belts Bills he will find no mention of the insurance aspect. It is right that I should tell the public about that matter.
Those who fail to take precautions for their own security risk having their damages reduced by up to 25 per cent. because of their own contributory negligence. Lord Denning has made that clear in the Court of Appeal.
I hope that I shall take both the supporters and opponents of compulsion with me when I say that I intend to do all that I can to persuade drivers and passengers to use seat belts. Obviously, that will be necessary if the Bill fails, but I hope that the supporters of compulsion will agree that, irrespective of the outcome of the debate, the more that can be done by persuasion, the better from everyone's point of view. I am examining our programme and I hope that a new campaign of persuasion will start in the autumn and that it will have the support of the whole House.
I recognise that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), take the view that compulsion has succeeded in securing high wearing rates in many other countries. The argument is that what can be achieved there can also be achieved in this country. One of the most frequently quoted countries is Australia, which has a wearing rate of well over 80 per cent. I take leave, however, to doubt the claim of Queensland to a wearing rate of 100 per cent. It is extremely difficult to be exact about the precise effect in this country of such legislation.
Not every country that has a law has achieved the wearing rate claimed in Australia. The latest figures obtained by my Department from countries that have such laws show that in Belgium the wearing rate is 63 per cent. in urban areas, in West Germany it is just over 50 per cent. overall, and in Holland it is estimated to be about 48 per cent.
We should therefore beware of making too many assumptions about the wearing rate. We should also perhaps take into account that a surprisingly high proportion of motorists—perhaps as many as 20 per cent., or even more—positively and actively dislike seat belts on the ground that they do as much harm as good. We may say that that dislike is irrational and is not supported by the evidence. That is certainly my view. It is noticeable that opposition to compulsion, as measured by the opinion polls, has remained remarkably steady throughout the 1970s. The average is about 40 per cent., although the last three opinion polls have shown a small, but significant majority of the country as appearing to be in favour of compulsion.
The House has to judge whether there is a basis of public acceptability of a new law which is so important for road safety. I do not think that there would be much dispute between the sides that acceptability and consent are the most important factors in road safety law.
My right hon. Friend quoted the Belgian statistics for the wearing rate. This issue is highly relevant to the whole question of enforceability and the effectiveness of the Bill. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents the wearing rate in Belgium rose to 92 per cent. after the law took effect. That contrasts sharply with my right hon. Friend's figures.
I can say only that I have had the figures checked. The figure I have been provided with is a 63 per cent. wearing rate in urban areas. Perhaps my figure is later and more specific than my hon. Friend's, but if I am wrong I shall write to him.
I come now to the area to which I attach most importance. We are being asked basically to create a new criminal offence. For the law to be effective it will have to be enforced. It is not a self-enforcing law, unlike, for example, the motor cycle helmets law, which is as near as one can get to a self-enforcing road safety law. Enforcement will be necessary, as has been demonstrated by experience in other countries.
In the state of New South Wales, for the last year for which I have figures, there were 10,000 offences concerning the non-wearing of seat-belts. The figure for South Australia is 7,000 offences, for Queensland, 10,700, and for Western Australia, 7,900. Of course, if one were to apply that on a pro rata basis to this country that would imply a very high total.
The point, however, is not the specific one, but the more general one that we cannot assume that the law is self-enforcing. The whole reason for having a police service is that laws were found not to be self-enforcing. We must face the consequences of what we are doing here, which is that clearly there will be prosecutions.
We should take account of the consequences of making this new criminal offence. That in itself will place a burden both upon the police and the magistrates' courts, and that is one of the reasons why the Magistrates' Association is opposed to the change.
I fully understand those who say that this is still a price worth paying. What matters to many hon. Members on both sides is the saving of lives and injuries. I respect that view and am even more conscious of it now, having taken over my post at the Department of Transport. I hope, however, that the House will accept the sincerity of those of us who argue the alternative.
Nothing is more important today than good relations between police and public, and relations between the police and the motorist are one of the crucial elements here—some would say the most crucial. It is as a motorist that the average member of the public is most likely to come into contact with the police. For that reason, we have adopted a deliberately cautious approach to the creation of new offences, including new motoring offences. That seems to me to be a wise course and a wise policy. Many countries that have far more regulations than we do experience much worse relations between police and public.
I have just completed a study on the police in Europe which enables me to say that I believe that relations between police and public in Great Britain are probably the best in Western Europe. That is due in part at any rate to the deliberately cautious policy that we have pursued in areas such as this.
I am therefore essentially concerned about the creation of an offence which it will be difficult and, at times, near impossible for the police to enforce. No one seriously denies the enforcement difficulties, whether they support or oppose this Bill. However, at this time we should think very carefully before we add to the burden of the police a law that is difficult to enforce, and add to the work of the courts.
I appreciate, however, that this is a balanced argument. I entirely support the motives of the hon. Member for Kelvingrove in introducing the Bill. I pay tribute to the consistent work that has been carried out by a number of my hon. Friends in this cause—notably my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham and Faversham (Mr. Moate).
However, for the reasons I have stated, I am not persuaded of the case of compulsion and I shall vote against the Bill. I am totally persuaded of the case for seat-belts and I shall continue to advocate their more widespread wearing. If, on the other hand, the Bill is given a Second Reading, I certainly will not stand in the way of the will of the House.
I offer my unequivocal support to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin-grove (Mr. Carmichael). Those many Members of Parliament who support him and those organisations like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that have been campaigning for over 18 years to get seat belts widely worn also welcome the Bill. As the Minister stated, the argument is one of persuasion versus compulsion. After many years of persuasion, involving expensive advertising, it has regrettably been shown to be a failure.
Just to verify this my research assistant went into Whitehall a few days ago to check the cars going by. It was not impossible to see who was wearing a seat belt. My assistant found the wearing rate was 24 per cent.—61 out of 254 people. After many years of persuasion we are faced with the problem that the figure will probably never rise beyond 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. Are we to go on endorsing the continuing loss of life, injury and maiming, or are we to do something that not all of us relish, namely, inject an element of compulsion into the matter? I am persuaded, unlike the Minister but probably on the same evidence, that on balance we should now move towards compulsion, but I do so with profound regret.
I am not a seat belt fanatic in the sense of using a seat belt permanently. I probably clunk-clink about 50 per cent. of the time. Therefore, I need to be protected against my lethargy and self-destructive tendencies.
I have listened to seat belt arguments in this debate and in many others. We have had a veritable fusilade of what I regard as dubious arguments, the thrust of which is that personal liberty is being undermined, infringed, or whatever emotive word one wishes to use, if we are compelled to participate in the three-second process of clunking and clicking. That logic, if it is logic, tends to reformulate the entire provision of British political thinking.
It is being argued that the rights of individualism are such that society must tolerate someone whose self-destructive desires will logically produce his death. There are very few political writers within the tradition of English political philosophy who have ever argued that an individual has the right to commit suicide or to endanger his life or that society has no right to intervene in personal matters. There have been those such as Bentham, and political philosophers, mainly Continental, who have argued for the destructive individualism, and there are some adherents here, on the Conservative side of the House, to writers such as Hayek. However, it was the view of writers such as Hobbes, Locke and John Stuart Mill—the founding fathers of our political traditions—and epoch-making writers who said that society has a right to interfere in what John Stuart Mill called " other-regarding acts "—namely, my acts that infringe upon others—and a right to interfere in my " self-regarding acts "—namely, those acts that might appear only to concern me but in reality do not. In our society there are few acts that do not impinge upon our fellow man. That gives society the right and the duty to interfere in our behaviour.
The logic of those who argue against the Bill flies in the face of British political traditions and undermines many of the constitutional principles, including that of parliamentary sovereignty. We are told that these principles are being infringed, and that I deny. The arguments of the Bill's opponents totally flout accident statistics and defy logic. In my view their arguments collapse under close examination.
It is my regrettable conclusion that persuasion has failed. If the Bill is enacted, we shall have to tell our constituents—50 per cent. to 75 per cent. of whom may not agree, but that depends on the figures and they are dubious—that in future they will be obliged to wear seat belts.
We have heard the argument that the thinner the statute book the greater the area of freedom. To my mind that is nonsense. The notion that the State has no right to interfere in areas of personal activity is fallacious. There are very few islands of separateness that we may enjoy.
In the nineteenth century Parliament saw fit to curtail the rights of employers to injure their employees. It was Charles Dickens who condemned what he called the National Association for the Protection of the Right to Mangle Operators. It was not squeamish about a few spots of split brain or a leg or an arm more or less from a poor man's body.
It was in the heyday of individualism that Parliament said that it could not allow people to exploit, damage and injure others. What is more, it determined that it would not allow people to put themselves in the position of being exploited. For example, if we asked the boat people whether they would be prepared to work for £20 a week, perhaps they would be prepared to do so. It is not always a matter of preventing the strong from abusing their position. It is often a matter of preventing the weak putting themselves into a position in which their rights may be curtailed.
Why should we protect the person in his place of work by means of health and safety at work legislation but cringe from any suggestion of interfering with his activities inside his motor vehicle? We must bear in mind that his motor vehicle may weigh one ton, 20 tons, or even 50 tons.
It is not difficult to argue, as a Labour Member, from the position of supporting a strong State and the right of society to intervene. It has done so for 100 years. We have seen the creation of the Welfare State, public health legislation, health and safety at work legislation and transport legislation. Are those measures infringements of personal liberty? The ability to do anything one wishes is not liberty but licence. Liberty is the creation of laws—often a vast body of laws—that may restrict partially my freedom but create an environment within which I may enjoy another element of freedom. That is what we are arguing.
Thankfully, we are not all taking the view that restrictions—the taking away of freedom—will necessarily materialise if the Bill is enacted. I advise people to re-read Hobbes, Locke and Mill. If they do, I think they will realise that their conception of political philosophy may require reformulating. We all know what Hobbes was referring to—no doubt it was the non-wearing of seat belts that would result in man's life being
Solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short.
Some may want to take issue with me on that interpretation.
Mill argued that society has a right to interfere in " other-regarding acts " but not " self-regarding acts ". I argue that if Mill, a famous MP, were alive today and sitting on either side of the House he would say, as he said about public health legislation and the sale of alcohol and as he argued for the extension of the right to regulate business activity, that society has that right.
We have heard about Big Brother. We have heard how he will be fastened to the waist of the English motorist if the Bill is enacted. I refer to an organisation that is often to be seen in the vanguard of State expansionism. It is a group whose agents ride around the country spreading insurrection and subversion, veritable motorised Mick McGaheys—namely, the AA. From the Politburo at Basingstoke they are arguing logically and coherently that no major principle of the British constitution is being undermined by this proposed legislation. The AA can hardly be described as committed Labour supporters. or as a body dedicated to undermining the rights of motorists or individuals. The association obtained liberty of the subject in this way offends any constitutional principle. The conclusion reached by Queen's Counsel was legal opinion on whether to restrict the that:
to say that the proposed legislation … is unconstitutional or not a proper exercise of parliamentary sovereignty since it infringes upon the liberty of the subject is to make a statement which is without foundation and completely contrary to the sovereignty which Parliament has exercised for many centuries.
The association published a lengthy list of Acts of Parliament over the past 400 years verifying that argument.
I believe that compulsion is essential. We can hardly describe countries such as Australia and New Zealand as hot on powerful central Government. In addition, many American States have gone through the process and have not regarded the fundamental rights of individuals as being curtailed. All our EEC partners, with the exception of Ireland and Italy—an impressive collection of countries—have said that they must be prepared to sacrifice a modicum of personal liberty for a wider societal advantage. They have gone through that process and we must go through it too.
If no seat belt legislation emanates from the House in this Session, we shall have to share the responsibility—whether we like it or not and whether or not we agree with the statistics—of up to 5,000 additional deaths. It is argued that there are 1,000 avoidable deaths as a result of not wearing seat belts. Please do not misconstrue my remarks. I am not trying to be over-dramatic, but I say that I do not want the responsibility for 5,000 deaths on my shoulders. This is what we are arguing—not just 5,000 deaths but probably 10 times as many serious injuries. When I sat on the Select Committee that dealt with violence in the family, it was said that the cost to society, excluding capital and administrative costs, of looking after one brain-damaged child for its life was £100,000. The cost to society and families in suffering, in every sense, is prohibitively high.
Some argue that driving a motor vehicle is a purely personal act. How can that be true if, when driving a one-ton vehicle, one loses control and hits a motorway barrier? The chances are that without a seat belt the occupant will be propelled all over the car. I attended a meeting earlier in the week with the hon. Member for Kelvingrove. I was addressed by Jackie Stewart, who has more experience than we have of what happens inside a motor vehicle when the driver loses control and it crashes. He said clearly that the vehicle goes exactly where Providence directs it to go and that the driver has no control whatsoever over the vehicle. Can we say that somebody who loses control could not hit another motor vehicle, strike people in a crowd, and do damage to himself and to others? We are therefore justified in involving ourselves. When a driver is not wearing a seat belt he is potentially killing somebody else. If an hon. Member is not wearing a seat belt and is injured, we must all pay. The constituency loses a Member of Parliament and must go through the process of a by-election, the parliamentary pension fund will be raided, and we must make a payment to his family. How can he say, in all honesty, that any act made in a vehicle is purely a personal decision affecting the occupant and has no effect on anybody else?
The same could be said because I eat, drink or smoke too much. I might be in hospital for three or four years suffering from cancer as a result of smoking too much. My hon. Friend is not bringing in a Bill to stop me smoking. Nor does he want to stop the hundreds of thousands who are now in hospital because they have been eating, drinking, and smoking too much and doing other things that resulted in their being in hospital.
If as a result of overeating—we are both guilty of that—we lose control and smash into someone in the corridor, the damage that we might inflict on others might possibly be less than that we might do when driving a vehicle.
The West Midlands county council performed the—in many ways—rational and calculating but necessary activity of working out the cost to society of a fatal injury, which was £69,500. A serious injury costs £5,000 and a slight injury costs £720. Simply in terms of cost-benefit analysis—disregarding personal suffering—surely that argument must be accepted.
I have not mentioned the consequences on young children. I should like to have seen in the Bill provision for the compulsory strapping-in of children. Certainly young children should not be allowed to travel in the front seats of vehicles. I have seen many medical articles dealing with the consequences to young children of being carried in cars by their mothers in the front of vehicles. In an accident, they are crushed by the weight of their mothers up against the dashboard, if they are not thrown through the windscreen. Even the young child sitting behind is a projectile to be fired at the back of the driver's head if there is a crash. It is not only a question of protecting the child. It is often a question of additionally protecting the driver. However, I am not the sponsor of the Bill, although I am an active supporter of it. I hope that in forthcoming legislation we shall include provision to protect young children. It is argued that the reduction of risk can be as high as 30 per cent. In 1974, 1,300 children were killed or seriously injured riding inside motor vehicles. That is a disaster.
If the use of seat belts were made compulsory in this country this year, we could expect 13,000 fewer deaths or serious injuries. No other country has been able to discover an alternative means of persuading the majority of motorists to wear belts. Nor has any of the other countries with legislation any reason to give us fear that implementation will be impossible. We are not discussing a matter of momentous consequence. Neither are we discussing an enormous encroachment on individual liberties. There must be exemptions, I hope mainly on medical grounds. We are talking about the personal right to clunk-click or not. The other side of the equation is 1,000 lives lost every year. There are probably 100 people in this Chamber. Imagine an annual loss of 10 times that number—doctors, teachers, Members of Parliament, labourers, secretaries, children and mothers. We as a nation cannot afford that price. I am tired of the unnecessary pain that is being endured. I am tired of acquiescing in the waste of human potential. I am indeed, politically antagonistic—although in a friendly way, if that is not incompatible—to those who would seek to allow this carnage to continue in the name of false logic and false analysis of contemporary society and political philosophy.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) urged that in the interests of democracy you should, as far as possible, call alternately those who were for and those who were against the Bill. I speak as a supporter of the Bill who hopes to catch your eye later. May I express the hope that you have made certain inquiries and that you will next call an opponent of the Bill?
I have made inquiries. More Members are in favour of the Bill than against it. I am endeavouring to be as fair as possible and to call as many Members as possible in the debate.
Like my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, whose speech I listened to with great interest, I took part in previous Second Readings of similar Bills in March this year and March 1976. This Bill and others like it are normally depicted as representing a conflict between safety and freedom. But the balance between those two aspects is far from equal, because the public benefit, in terms of safety, is enormous, while, as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said, there is no enormous encroachment on personal liberty. I go further and say that the encroachment on personal liberty is extremely small. It hardly exists. I want to explain why.
If one is made to put on a seat belt in a car, one is not stopped from doing any- thing that one wants to do. One is not stopped from getting into a car and driving to where one wants to go. That makes it completely different, philosophically, from any attempt, for example, to stop mountaineering or motor racing because they might be dangerous, or smoking, or overeating because they might be unhealthy. If we prevent those activities, we shall stop or curtail the activity itself. However, if one is made to wear a seat belt one is not stopped from doing basically what one wants to do. The advantage of wearing seat belts, in safety terms, is enormous.
Yesterday we debated capital punishment, which affects 10, 20, or perhaps 25 lives a year. Today we are debating seat belts. We may argue about what the wearing rate will be and whether compulsory seat belts will save 400, 700 or 800 lives a year. No one disputes that it will save several hundred lives a year. Therefore, in terms of life and death, what we are debating is perhaps 10, 20 or 40 times as important as what we debated yesterday, although public interest in today's debate does not reflect that fact. People are killed in accidents in ones and twos. These cases do not hit the headlines, but they amount to 120 lives lost every week in this country—6,000 a year—and every time it means a tragedy to the families affected, as I happen to know.
This House has it in its power to take an action that will substantially cut both the number of deaths and the number of serious injuries. The serious injuries that we could prevent by enacting this legislation would result in a substantial saving in National Health Service costs, because the injuries that people get in car crashes often result in long stays in hospital. They take up the time of many doctors, nurses, and physiotherapists and hamper the admission of other people needing operations or hospital treatment.
These avoidable deaths and avoidable injuries are not confined to people who might have been wearing seat belts. Third parties can also be affected. I should like to quote from a letter that I saw some time ago in a newspaper from a man who wrote saying
my car received a glancing blow from an oncoming van
I hope that the House will allow me to mention an anecdote. I was driving home on Wednesday of last week, after the proceedings of the House had finished, at about 11.30 p.m., through a London suburb, when a lorry stopped abruptly just in front of me to avoid running over a dog which had run out into the road. My natural instinct was to brake as sharply as possible. I happened to be wearing a seat belt, so that I did not, when braking, move forward a foot or so. This enabled me to see, with a quick glance in my mirror, a motor cyclist just behind me, so I adjusted my braking in order to go as far as possible up to the lorry, short of going into its back. I believe that there is a considerable chance that this saved the motor cyclist from coming off his motor cycle and perhaps being seriously injured. That is yet another illustration that wearing a seat belt is not just for the protection of the wearer but can benefit third parties.
We have heard two hon. Members use the word " criminal ", suggesting that the measure would establish a new criminal offence. Technically, the use of that word is correct, but I hope that no one will mind if I say that the use of that word is emotive in this context, because " criminal " puts into the minds of most people the notion of something seriously morally wrong, a serious felony, a wicked act of some sort.
It is an offence to park on a yellow line, and technically that is a criminal offence, but no one parking on a yellow line thinks of himself as a criminal—at least, I do not—and I do not think it is right to use the word " criminal " in order to stir up opposition to the Bill.
We have heard a great deal about the problem of enforcement. Is there any enforcement problem in Australia, where people are just as freedom-minded—or one might say bloody-minded—as are people in this country. There is a very high wearing rate of seat belts in Australia, where it has been compulsory in most states since 1971, 1972 or 1973. The reason why there is no problem over enforcement in Australia, where there is such a high wearing rate, is that there is no disadvantage to the wearer in complying with the law.
There can be a disadvantage in complying with most laws, and I will take parking as an example. Anyone who complies with the law concerning the yellow line, and does not park on it, may have the inconvenience of spending five or ten minutes looking for somewhere else to park. There is, therefore a positive temptation to break that law. But there would be no temptation to break the law on seat belts—or, at least, no significant temptation. If we had such a law, the only disadvantage would arise from the two or three seconds that it takes to put on the belt. In most cases that would be beneficial to car owners, because it is a good thing, even in these days of expensive petrol, to take a few seconds in warming up one's car. People would therefore have no incentive to disobey a law on seat belts. That is why there would be such a small problem of enforcement. It would take only a tiny handful of exemplary prosecutions—which might be widely publicised—to increase the wearing rate very substantially, as in most other countries.
Seven years ago I voted for the compulsory wearing of crash helmets. That has saved a considerable number of lives of motor cyclists. I believe the figure is about 60 per year. At that time we had the same cries from the same opponents, about a monstrous interference with individual freedom. The Bill went through. The law is widely accepted by motor cyclists, except for the Sikhs. I do not regret that law at all, and I hope that we shall have the wisdom to make a similar decision today and to see the measure through to the statute book.
Those who take political decisions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know how very limited the options often are. It is not as often as we would like that we are able to debate a measure which would have a massive effect on the total of human happiness. We are discussing such a measure today, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin-grove (Mr. Carmichael) on moving it.
We have before us a measure which could spare hundreds of wasted lives—as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) has just said—great physical suffering, and tragic family bereavement. I do not believe that that has been seriously challenged. But I respect the hesitation of those who are concerned with human liberty. It was an argument put with characteristic moderation by the Minister. It was argued very forcefully but very fairly in two excellent maiden speeches. It has been argued with his characteristic clarity by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis).
I am bound to say that I wish that all those who see politicians as power-hungry tyrants, intent on pushing people around, could have heard some of the anxieties which have been expressed in the debate. I appreciate that it is not simply that this legislation will inhibit people's freedom. Most legislation does that. It is always true that the freedom of one may conflict with the freedom of another. I appreciate that what is being argued here is that we are seeking to inhibit people's freedom not in order to protect others but in the interests of those who are inhibited. What is said is that we claim the right to know better than they do what is good for them.
John Stuart Mill was quite clear about this. He wrote:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others.
I used to believe that, and I will assume for the moment that that is the issue which arises on the Bill, although, for reasons which have been given, I take leave to doubt it. Should we ever use the criminal law to protect people from themselves? It is the criminal law that we are proposing to use, although the term " criminal " does not necessarily evoke the same emotive reactions as perhaps it would have done some years ago.
There was a time when some of us argued that suicide ought not to be a criminal offence so that, for example, attempted suicide was a punishable offence. We managed to convince people that that was right and it is no longer a criminal offence. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West. I would not make smoking a criminal offence. But with some activities the consequences are so tragic and so immediate that I cannot find it in my heart to pursue that argument to its logical conclusion. Hard drugs strike me as one example. I have seen the consequences that hard drugs have had on people. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West is, very fairly, nodding in agreement, so he, too, appreciates that we must draw a distinction here.
There are two separate objections which have been advanced to this Bill. One is the libertarian argument and the other is the enforcement argument. For the moment I am dealing with the libertarian argument.
We have already had examples of how we impose obligations upon people in industry to wear safety equipment. We had the example of the imposition on pilots of private aircraft of the obligation to wear seat belts. Clearly what we do is to make some kind of distinction between two categories within what John Stuart Mill would have designated one category. I think that we do it by balancing two factors.
First, there is the seriousness and immediacy of the consequences. I agree with the Minister that if there were another way of avoiding those consequences we might have to think again. I do not believe that education campaigns alone are sufficient. Against that, I think that we have to balance the hardship which the inhibition imposes. The hon. Member for Twickenham put his finger on the nub of this debate. What we are considering is not the deprivation of some fundamental pleasure. We are not insisting on some obligation which would cause great discomfort or fear. What we are talking about is the difference between wearing a seat belt and not wearing a seat belt.
Clause 1 makes it clear that there is power to exempt people for good reason. We have heard the Minister say, very fairly, that he will listen to representations on this. Speaking personally, and disagreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), I hope that the exemptions are fairly wide. I hope that there will be exemptions for those who, for physical reasons, experience any particular discomfort, and for those who, for psychological reasons, experience some distress when wearing a seat belt. I hope that there will be exemptions for those who have a genuine, conscientious objection to wearing seat belts, though I have never met anyone who confessed to having a conscientious objection to wearing a seat belt. I am not sure that I can envisage the kind of argument which would lead to that conclusion.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not agree with the Motor Cycles (Wearing of Helmet) Regulations any more that I do, but so far as I can see they are based on a conscientious, philosophical or religious objection to wearing crash helmets. Presumably, as a matter of logic, one would have to accept a similar exemption in respect of seat belts.
I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). It is true that there was what I believe—I said so before we debated it—a genuine conscientious objection to the wearing of crash helmets. I thought that that objection should be respected and we decided that it should. I quite agree that if some similar conscientious objection is advanced here that should also be respected. However, I cannot at the moment see what that objection would be.
I do not propose to be drawn into a theological argument with the hon. and learned Gentleman. No, I shall not support his amendment.
If I did not believe that those exemptions I have mentioned would be made, I would have serious reservations about the Bill.
What we are left with after those exemptions are made, are those who cannot point to any particular discomfort or hardship when wearing a seat belt. That was the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Twickenham. We compel people in industry to wear safety helmets which they sometimes find uncomfortable, and to wear eye protection which sometimes steams up. Here we do not go as far as that. We say that where someone can point to a reason for exemption that exemption should be available.
For that reason, among others, I am not troubled about the problems of enforcement. I think that the people of this country are basically law-abiding and when something actually becomes law they will normally observe it. Even those who would otherwise be minded to infringe the law are troubled, not that policemen will be peering into their cars every moment, but that at the moment when there is an incident which attracts the attention of the police it will be seen that they are infringing the law.
But there is a stronger reason why I am not troubled about enforcement. It is the reason which was advanced by the hon. Member for Twickenham, that this will not be a battle by those who are clinging on to something which they regard as particularly cherished or dear. People are not resisting the requirement because they experience some kind of horror. It really will not matter. What will happen is that they will be required to wear a seat belt. So I do not foresee the kind of battle which troubles my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West. People are not being asked to make some kind of sacrifice in order to comply with the law.
If I follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument, he is saying that he would be proposing no enforcement at all. Would he not accept that while the result of immediately introducing the Bill would be to raise the number of people who wore seat belts, after a time, if we did not enforce the law, the law would not be observed at all and we should be back to where we are now?
I am not proposing that there should be no enforcement. I said that I did not think that there would be the massive kind of enforcement to which some hon. Members have pointed. I do not think that there would be 100 per cent. enforcement of this law. It does not follow that because every law is not enforced 100 per cent. all law falls into disrepute. What it would do would be to increase the number of people who wear seat belts, and that is the purpose that my hon. Friend and Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) had in mind when he introduced the Bill.
It is a possible argument to say that there may be an injury which arises from the fact that one is wearing a seat belt, an injury which otherwise might have been avoided. Therefore, it might be argued that an individual is entitled to choose which of the two risks he is prepared to take.
I will give one free example to the opponents of the Bill. Once, when hitchhiking as a student, I was involved in an accident where the car in which I was travelling as a front-seat passenger was struck by another vehicle. The car veered across the road, struck a tree, the side was ripped off and the car overturned. In the process I was thrown out. I got up and walked away without a scratch. Probably, if I had been wearing a seat belt, I would have been killed or injured because the car was quite badly damaged.
But we must look at the prospect of that happening again. The prospect of that sequence of events is so remote that we have to bear in mind that we are balancing a virtual certainty of increasing the safety factor with the very remote possibility that on some occasions we may actually endanger people. This is not balancing two factors. It is a decision which virtually makes itself.
So, what is the freedom which we are discussing? It is not an argument between those who care about liberty and those who do not. Many of us have spent our adult lives arguing for liberty. I have visited countries where freedom was about jobs, about careers, about separation from one's family, about the right to worship as a person feels called to worship, about making home where one's heart is. Sometimes freedom is the difference between life and death. Next week I hope to visit a country where, for some people, freedom will mean the possibility of being confined to a political prison for the next three, five or 10 years. In this country freedom matters to human beings in this way, and long may we fight for liberty in all such circumstances. But in this case we are talking of the liberty to drive without a seat belt, where, by definition, there are no special circumstances rendering it harmful or contrary to one's conscience or even uncomfortable. To speak of that freedom in the same breath as freedoms that can affect the whole course of people's lives is to debase the currency.
That would be a mistake for those who care about freedom. Freedom is a precious thing, and we should be on our guard against trivialising it. We must keep a sense of proportion. Here, I suspect that we are balancing what is little more than a slogan against the danger of very real tragedy. I respect the anxieties of those who would not deprive their fellow human beings of even a trivial freedom. But I would prefer to save them from the much greater likelihood of injury or death.
Once again, we have this dreary, preposterous piece of legislation brought before the House. I think that this is the third occasion that I have seen it. It may be that at some time or other it will get on to the statute book, and it may be that at some time or other it will be used, along with the crash helmets, drug and factories legislation, as yet another precedent for freedom being interfered with by the legislation of this House. For as long as I can delay it going on to the statute book, I shall do so.
The debate has been enlivened for me only by the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller)—although I heard only a short part of his speech—and for Putney (Mr. Mellor), who quoted Disraeli and reminded me of his great words that it was better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. That is a word of advice that could not be applied to my hon. Friend, who made a brilliant speech, and I hope that it is a word of advice that does not apply to me.
Although I am the president of the National Association of Approved Driving Instructors, which is not greatly enamoured with this legislation, I speak as an individual. I believe in seat belts. I believe that they save lives. I believe that we should all wear them. I believe that the insurance companies and the courts should use whatever coercion they can reasonably apply to try to get people to wear them. I think that cars ought to be fitted with devices that make it difficult to forget that we ought to " clunk-click ". I agree with all of those things, but I am afraid that I agree even more with the need to defend freedom.
As on other occasions, I have listened to the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House who always claim to speak for freedom. I have listened to them trying to excuse this interference with freedom, because that is what it is. Some argue that it is only a little freedom, or that there are precedents for it, and that in some way we are protected by such a small infringement of freedom. I even heard my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse]) argue that somehow this freedom is philosophically different from the other sorts of freedom. But whatever the excuse, when one looks at it fairly and squarely, one is taking another step towards interfering with people's freedom. They are no longer free to drive their vehicle in a way that might do themselves injury.
I think that we are all agreed about the argument that one's freedom needs to be curtailed in order to protect others. I do not agree with my hon. Friend or with other hon. Members who say that this Bill is predominantly concerned with an interference in the freedom to protect others, and that to protect the freedom of others we must legislate against our own freedom. That is not predominantly what this is all about.
If it is being said that if one is forced to be strapped in one is somehow avoiding damage to others, it is my personal experience, and the experience of a number of others to whom I have spoken, that sometimes being strapped in causes one to do something dangerous, whereas if one is not strapped in at a particular moment one may not do that dangerous thing. Very often, those of us who drive long distances along the motorway feel that we are closer to an accident because we are strapped in than we would be if we were not. We can all be anecdotal about this.
The hon. Gentleman said that he would speak personally. In doing so he seems to ignore completely all the evidence that has been produced by organisations with far greater background knowledge than he seems willing to produce, which suggests that a driver who is unbelted is a danger to others on the road in most of the situations that can be envisaged. On Monday, Mr. Jackie Stewart, a driver of no mean experience, said that he was convinced that that was true. What evidence can the hon. Gentleman produce, apart from his own anecdotal evidence, to show that what he says confounds what these authorities have said?
It is certainly true that I can give my own anecdotal evidence. The hon. Gentleman implies that all these great organisations are on his side. I am a member of the RAC. I have no brief to speak for the RAC, but like other hon. Members I have received its advice on this matter. The RAC is not an inconsequential organisation in this country, yet it is against the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I seem to recall on an earlier occasion quoting what the chairman of the RAC said. I shall quote it again:
Can it be seriously contented that a driver must be compelled by law to wear something which could, even in a minority of cases, kill him? "—[Official Report, 1 March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 992.]
I am talking about another aspect, which is that there is a minority of cases when accidents are caused because one is constrained in a seat belt, which might not be caused if one were free to look behind, perhaps when one goes into reverse. All sorts of situations arise when, if one were
not wearing a seat belt, it might be safer to other people. There is evidence on both sides as to whether this restraint would protect or harm someone else.
My hon. Friend referred to the advice given by the RAC. I take it that he is aware of that part of the brief issued by the RAC, which says
The RAC acknowledges that any arrangements which will increase the wearing of seat belts must be expected to reduce the numbers of deaths and serious injuries".
I do not know where my hon. Friend was just now, but I began by saying that I believed in seat belts and that I believed in measures short of compulsion that would encourage their use. That is no different from what the RAC is suggesting, but the RAC, which is one of the great organisations in the land, has fallen short of supporting the compulsory wearing of seat belts.
When it is said in criticism of the point that I am making that there is other legislation that has been an interference, I should like—though I shall not take up the time of the House—to speak longer about those pieces of legislation. The drug laws protect others more than they protect the individual, because what happens with the free circulation of drugs is that people are encouraged to trade in them and to spread them to others who otherwise would not be affected by drugs
The example is given of the safety at work legislation. That is a different sort of legislation. Apart from anything else, it is a joke. I go round factories where it is not being enforced, which is another point to be remembered in this context. But, that apart, it is the employer who has to face up to the responsibility in the safety at work legislation.
Yes, it is in reality and practice. It is a bad example as a a precedent.
It is the same with the aircraft belt rules. One is talking there mainly about passengers, and one has to be preoccupied here first with the position of the driver.
Different considerations apply to the flying of passenger aircraft. I would not argue that a public service vehicle driver, a bus driver or such should not be obliged to wear a seat belt. It is a different sort of argument in a different sort of situation.
The only legislation that comes close to applying with any similarity is the legislation on the wearing of crash helmets.
Because I think that if I were to have a job as an airline pilot or public service vehicle driver I should have to accept the limitations of the job, for the safety of all the passengers. Driving a bus or flying an aeroplane is different from driving one's own vehicle, and I would naturally accept the limitations that apply. But that is different from driving one's own car, perhaps with one's own passengers.
I recognise that the safety helmets legislation is a precedent which is on all fours with this, and I am bound to make two observations about it. First, it is a lot more enforceable than this proposed legislation will ever be. If a police officer sees somebody driving a motor cycle without a helmet, there is little or no dispute about it.
My second observation is that, because we have made what I consider to be a mistake by infringing freedom once, we do not have to go on and on doing it and using it as a precedent to take away yet more freedoms.
There is a third distinction that my hon. Friend has not mentioned, that the safety helmet legislation—not that I approved of it—overwhelmingly applies to very young people, and a proscription in respect of children has always been accepted by society. Here, of course, we are dealing primarily with adults.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who, as always, has his eye directly on the point. He strengthens the argument that I am making with a third observation.
I remind the House that on the question of safety helmets the last time this matter was debated the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), whom we all admire for his skill of analysis of a problem when it comes before him, went in great detail into the operation of the safety helmet legislation. The right hon. Gentleman reminded the House that at the beginning, when the legislation was being promoted, it was said by the Minister that its implementation would save some 300 or 400 deaths and countless serious injuries. That is much the same sort of argument that we have here. I heard the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) say that the Bill would save some thousands of lives.
When the safety helmet legislation had been in operation for some time, the conclusion of the right hon. Member for Down, South was:
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."—[Official Report, 1 March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 953.]
We must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the siren voices of those who say " Of course, we cannot prove it now but we have the strongest statistical reasons for thinking that if this Bill were passed hundreds or thousands of lives would be aved." Even if it were quite a good argument on it own, it is an argument which is not good set beside the more valuable thing we would be doing in Britain if we were legislating against smoking cigarettes, which takes not 1,000 lives a year but 20,000, or if we were legislating against drink, which is not something that I would recommend but on which people feel strongly that that would save a large number of lives
What worries me about this one " small ", " insignificant ", " really not very important ", " well precedented " infringement of the liberty of the individual for perhaps the protection of some others is: where will it stop? Once one gets on this slippery slope, and we are there on safety helmets, we will be there on seat belts, and we will be there on hang-gliders, on pot-holers and on everybody else who involves the State in some kind of financial cost because in the end they die or get some sort of illness and their wives and children are a burden on the State. The freedom is more important than the cost, and once we lose sight of that we become blind to the true realities of the whole situation. When we are blinded we cannot see the practical objections to the Bill. The practical objections did not seem to bother the former Solicitor-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). He did not seem to be troubled by enforcement.
Let us think of what enforcement means. I know that the law-abiding citizenry of Britain would feel, by and large, obliged to put on a seat belt. But it was estimated that there would be some 20 per cent. who would not respond to the legislation. Twenty per cent. of 26 million car drivers is 5 million law breakers, for whom we are legislating. Honourable Gentlemen appear not to be too concerned if 5 million people feel obliged to offend in some way the necessary requirements.
Let us think what it would be like for a policeman. He sees a car going by and his impression is that somebody is not wearing a seat belt. We have to give that policeman a discretion as to whether he should go after the car. If he goes after the car, what does he find? Was the person inside wearing a seat belt —or, if he was not wearing a seat belt, is he now? Perhaps he is a person who is too fat and therefore is exempted—I am not looking particularly at the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis)—
It may indeed not be properly done up. It may be somebody who is pregnant or is too ill or for some reason is exempted from wearing a seat belt. It may be at night, when a policeman cannot see properly.
We have had enough trouble with the drunk driving legislation. Court after court has heard the objection that there has been an indiscriminate stopping without lawful justification. Police officers have had to explain why they stopped a driver to breathalyse them. There are difficulties.
Even if the effect is no more than countless drivers becoming more irritated than ever by being stopped by policemen who are carrying out their duties perfectly properly, the amount of aggravation that will build up between the motorist and the police should be a positive and substantial disincentive to any such legislation. Irritation with the police is a root cause of the breakdown in respect for law and order. That may not be justified, but it happens. Legislation such as this will ensure that that irritation is caused more often.
The Bill is an infringement of the liberty of the subject which is not justified. The compulsion in the Bill cannot be justified by precedent merely because it is not that great or because some benefit may come out of it. I do not know whether the police are for or against this Bill. At one time they were strongly against such legislation because of the burden that it would place upon them in the administration of justice.
The arguments in favour of the Bill are emotional, anti-freedom, impracticable and thoroughly undesirable. I shall go into the Lobby against the Bill.
I am the only hon. Member from Northern Ireland in the Chamber today. On behalf of my hon. Friends I congratulate the two new hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today. They were lucid and eloquent. Hon. Members from Ulster are not noted for their lucidity or eloquence. Indeed, there are times when their IQ is questioned. However, the people of Northern Ireland insist upon sending us here. We have a job to do.
Northern Ireland is the blackest spot, not only in the United Kingdom but probably in the whole of Western Europe, for car accidents and deaths and injuries caused by those accidents. It is not far short of the mark to say that all the efforts of the terrorist organisations to decimate our population do not match the number of deaths and injuries caused by road accidents.
At each holiday period a senior police officer with responsibility for traffic appears on television, speaks on the radio and is reported in the newspapers appealing for an end to the carnage on our roads. The number of accidents is still increasing. That is one of the reasons why I wish to take part in the debate.
I am not troubled about quoting John Stuart Mill, Lord Carson, Churchill, Wolfe Tone or anybody else. I am here to talk practically of the results of the carnage on Ulster's roads.
We have heard today about freedom. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) said that he sometimes relishes the freedom to do what is foolish and not to be inhibited by laws. I wonder how he and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) would fare if they started out for Heathrow airport in a car and, for the hell of it, drove on the right-hand side of the road. It would be interesting to see what happened at the Chiswick flyover. Their freedom would be short-lived because the police would intervene and restrict them. Such a journey could have nothing but disastrous consequences, not only for the two hon. Members but for others using the road.
By-elections are not my problem today.
Last winter, which was one of the most ferocious for a number of years, my wife returned home after leaving me at the airport. She was driving safely and conforming with the rules. About two miles from my home the road undulates. When she went over the crest of one of those short hills, she found a farm vehicle parked on her side of the road. Coming towards her was another driver on his side of the road, perfectly within the law. She touched the brake in order to let the other driver past, but had to cope with the pernicious enemy of drivers in the wintertime, black ice, and away went the car out of control.
My wife is a good driver. She is a better driver than I am. She is insistent —and so am I from what she told me and having seen the car—that the fact that she was wearing her seat belt made the difference between life and death or serious injury. She got out of the car suffering no doubt from shock but physically preserved by the fact that she was wearing a seat belt. That weighs heavily with me. I shall not go into the analytical arguments about personal freedom and motivation. I have seen the car. It cost over £800 to repair, as did the other vehicle involved, so one can guess at the damage and the state of my wife had she not been wearing a seat belt.
The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) talked of the " dreary and preposterous Bill that is brought periodically before the House. I have had personal contact with some of the most eminent surgeons in Northern Ireland, particularly from the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast, which deals with the victims of terrorism and the many, many victims of road accidents. If the hon. Gentleman had talked to some of those surgeons and heard their descriptions of the injuries that they tend he might not describe the Bill in that way. Some of them have written to me personally, in their own handwriting imploring me to support the measures for the wearing of seat belts. From their experience and investigations, even in our Province, with a population of 1½ million, the wearing of seat belts saves 60 to 70 lives a year and several hundred serious and terrible injuries. At the height of terrorist activity, there were times when it was a toss-up whether to deal first with the victims of bomb blast, flying glass or fire or with somebody who had gone head first through a windscreen with resulting terrible injuries. Those surgeons are insistent that the measure is necessary.
The talk of personal freedom is specious and does not directly impinge on the problem. If the measure for a start will save 60 or 70 lives a year in Northern Ireland and several hundred injuries, it is worth this responsible House passing the Bill and making the legislation effective throughout the country.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was responsible for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland for a number of years, and I back every word that he says. Every organisation and individual of repute in Northern Ireland is insistent on the measure. We introduced our own Bill in Northern Ireland, which was not put before the House three or four years ago because of constitutional factors. In Northern Ireland more people are consistently killed on the roads than by terrorist activity.
I agree with every word that the right hon. Gentleman said. I know him personally, and he was one of the most useful and effective Ministers that we have had, without casting aspersions on the present team handling our affairs. I do not think that this is a measure merely related to driving on motorways or travelling the distance—perhaps 200 miles—which I drive in my constituency when I make the rounds to my surgeries. I put on my seat belt when merely going up the road to collect a newspaper or the mail or to get petrol. I accept that only a couple of yards from my gateway I could be involved in a fatal accident.
There is yet another factor. The slight inhibition of wearing a seat belt and the pressure exerted by it constantly remind one that one is handling a vehicle that has neither mind nor will and which is potentially a lethal weapon unless it receives the fullest care and attention. In that sense, the seat belt is a useful piece of equipment for the driver.
The question of insurance rates and the decisions which have been made is a sore point with me because, in Northern Ireland, we have higher rates for car insurance than any other part of the United Kingdom and most countries in Europe. A few days ago I received a note from my insurance company stating that there would be a 25 per cent. increase in my premium, although I have been driving accident-free for 35 years.
It is well know that many prominent insurance companies have withdrawn from Northern Ireland because they could not carry on a viable business—not only because of the number of accidents but because of the high awards which are made in the courts as a result of those accidents. It has been brought out many times that in awarding damages the courts have been influenced by whether the victims have been wearing seat belts. Those who have not been wearing them have had lower awards, since they have been considered as not having taken reasonable care for their own safety.
I trust that the Bill will get its Second Reading. It will have my wholehearted support, without reservation.
I intend to be very brief, which is not a great difficulty for someone who has spoken in all the previous debates on this issue. When the debate was announced, a colleague of mine said " It will not need much imagination to think what to say ". I take the contrary view. I think that it takes a great deal of imagination to think what to say, having heard it all so many times.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on negotiating what he said he would—a neutral force. I prefer his neutrality on the Government Front Bench to what we heard from him when he was leading us in opposition on the issue. I hope that there will be at least a reasonably fair wind even from that direction, even if he feels that on this occasion he has to cast what I hope will be the final vote that he has to cast against a Bill of this sort.
I welcome the emphasis that my right hon. Friend laid on the question of exemptions, pointing out that we would certainly have to discuss them on the Floor of the House. It is right that that statement should go out from the debate, because it is a matter about which many people are concerned, and they will be reassured if they know that there will be a wide consultation and a proper debate on the Floor of the House before the exemptions are listed.
It may well be that 25 per cent. is being knocked off insurance claims where seat belts were not worn, and it may be that that will encourage more people to wear seat belts. But a simplistic notice stating 25 per cent. off insurance claims " will not be an appealing or perhaps even a very true statement of the present position.
When I came to this House, I was practising in the law on industrial and motor accidents, and continued to do so for many years. My experience, unlike that of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), was such as to drive me inevitably into support for such a measure as this Bill. One has only to sit in a lawyer's chambers and interview young women of 25 or 26, whose lives have been permanently ruined by scarred faces or damaged brains, to realise that the argument between the possibility of such injuries and the fact that in some way we are impinging on personal freedom does not hold very much water. That is a personal judgment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) mentioned the law compelling the use of helmets for motor cyclists and said that it was analogous to the provisions of this Bill. However, that law goes further than the provisions of the present Bill. It affects the rider of the motor cycle personally. If he falls off his machine and is injured his family may suffer but his injuries are personal. However, I do not have the least doubt that the wearing of seat belts in many accident conditions contributes materially to the prevention of injury to passengers and third parties.
It was argued that the wearing of crash helmets does not contribute greatly to the safety of motor cyclists. Surely the simple answer is that one must use one's common sense. The wearing of seat belts and the wearing of helmets most certainly saves lives. I do not believe any statistic to the contrary.
I wish to draw attention to the enormous cost incurred by the State because of the present situation. Why should the State pay out large sums—estimated at a cumulative cost of £61,000 per injury resulting in death—because people will not take the precaution of carrying out the simple act of wearing their seat belts? The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) mentioned the effects of alcohol and tobacco, and I appreciate his argument. Those matters affect the individual. I merely make the point that by the time a person has killed himself by the use of either commodity he has made a pretty good contribution to his funeral expenses.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) mentioned the 25 per cent. increase in the insurance premium on his private car. That may be a personal deterrent, but it applies not only to the person who has suffered injury, but to his or her family, who may not have the wherewithal to provide for the nursing that is necessary for the person who may be permanently injured or to fill the breach after a bread-winner has been killed.
Of course, the provisions of the Bill do not envisage policemen running round the country spying on motorists to see whether they and their passengers are wearing seat belts. I envisage the police undertaking this task only if they stop a motor car for some reason or other. Police officers would then quite legitimately note whether the motorist was wearing his seat belt. There will be no purge by the police, but the process will be incidental to other matters. Who are we to say that the police are not prepared to take on that burden? Both the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association willingly accept this task because in the coming years it will save the lives of hundreds of citizens.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) on his choice of Bill. I am a cosponsor of the Bill. The Bill should not have to rely on luck, but I wish it all the fairest wind that it can have. I believe that this one small Bill will do more to help prevent deaths on the road than any other step that can be taken.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin-grove (Mr. Carmichael) on his success in the ballot and for choosing such a worthwhile Bill. The Bill underlines the deep compassion of my hon. Friend and his concern for human life.
If the debate is about anything, it is about the vital importance of cutting road casualties and lessening the carnage that takes place every day on our roads. Road safety is a crucial life and death problem which has been tackled on many different fronts—improved roads, safer vehicles, better traffic management, and so on. Progress continues to be made in those areas. We have legislated on vehicle fitness, tyres and driving test standards but, in the end, accident prevention depends on the co-operation of the individual motorist and his willingness to accept road safety measures. The one crucial road safety measure of which the driver and his passenger seem least conscious is the most important of all —the wearing of a seat belt.
Seat belts offer the biggest single way of reducing death and serious injury on the road. That may seem a simple statement, but it is abundantly true. No subject throws up more new ideas for consideration than road safety. Successive Governments, through the transport and road research laboratory, have ex- amined carefully many hundreds of such ideas, but none has offered such a big return as that of seat belts. This offers the biggest prize of all—the cutting of the tragic toll of deaths and injuries on our roads.
I shall not weary the House with statistics, but studies both at home and abroad concur that the wearing of a seat belt reduces the chance of serious injury by half or, in other words, that it doubles the chance of arriving alive at the journey's end. Unfortunately, the advantages of wearing seat belts have been obscured by folklore that has grown up about the gruesome injuries that seat belts can produce. The most common injury caused by a seat belt is bruising across the chest. That is not a serious injury by any stretch of the imagination. In any event, in such cases the injuries that are likely to be caused by not wearing a belt would be much more serious.
Another fear that is often expressed is that a belt can trap the motorist if his car catches fire or falls into water. However, less than 1 per cent. of serious accidents involve fire or water. If such a case should arise, a motorist would stand a much better chance of getting out of his car if he was wearing a seat belt than if he was not. If he was not wearing one he would probably be knocked unconscious and, therefore, be incapable of escaping. To anyone who challenged me on that last point, let me relate the experience of a friend of mine.
Sydney Foxcroft is a journalist who is employed by the Sunday People. He was travelling from Newcastle to Millom in Cumbria on a greasy, unfamiliar road when he skidded on a sharp bend, crashed through some railings and finished up with his car upside down in a stream suspended by his seat belt. Yet, he was able to release his seat belt, turn off the ignition wind down the window and crawl along the chassis of the car to the safety of the river bank. To this day, Sydney Foxcroft would be happy to put right any doubting Thomas about the value of seat belts. He is convinced that but for his seat belt the Sunday People today would be without one of its most experienced reporters.
I do not claim that seat belts will prevent all road casualties. If someone drives at a motorist at 60 mph, that motorist will be hurt, whether or not he he is wearing a seat belt. However, nobody but an idiot would deny that seat belts make a difference in most accidents. Somehow we must get people to feel that they are not properly dressed in a car unless they are wearing a seat belt. Putting on a seat belt should be as natural as making sure that one has a handkerchief before leaving home. Quite often, one does not use a handkerchief, but one feels uncomfortable without a handkerchief.
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman.
Confession is good for the soul and I wish to quote what I, as a junior Minister responsible for road safety, said in reply to my hon. Friend the then Member for Putney, Mr. Hugh Jenkins, 10 years ago. My hon. Friend asked:
Has my hon. Friend considered the possibility of making the use of seat belts obligatory?
clearly there is not a great deal of wisdom in introducing unenforceable legislation."— [Official Report, 21 April 1969; Vol. 782, c. 19]
I thought that I had better quote those remarks since, if I did not, another hon. Member might do so. Hon. Members may ask why I now support the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The answer is that in the past 10 years I have seen such an appalling increase in the amount of traffic and carnage on the roads that I have come round to the view that we have tried exhortation for long enough. We must now move to compulsion.
If the hon. Gentleman's view that the legislation was unenforceable in 1969 was valid, what has changed in the intervening 10 years to make the legislation more enforceable?
What has changed is my opinion of the law-abiding nature of the British people. I believe that our people are so law abiding that the law will, to all intents and purposes, enforce itself. I support the Bill.
This is not the first time that the wearing of seat belts has been debated by the House or the first time that I have taken part in such debates.
However, I have not before had the pleasure of congratulating two of my hon. Friends on outstanding maiden speeches. I have the greatest pleasure in doing that today. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) deployed his arguments against the Bill with a clarity and force which I may have appreciated more than most since I agree with every word he said. However, even his opponents must have felt the force and influence of his arguments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) advanced arguments which I have long entertained as valid and he did so with a vigour and clarity of exposition which showed—as did my hon. Friend the member for Putney—that our new Members are much better than those of 20 years ago.
The arguments on the matter are complex. I remember that during the Second Reading of the previous Bill an hon. Member who supported the measure said that it ought to go to a Select Committee. That was an opinion with which I emphatically agreed. We are arguing about the balance between personal freedom and the alleged detriment that may flow from people exercising that freedom by not wearing seat belts. One can take the absolute view—to which I am attracted, in a way—that one has to defend freedom and pay its price whatever it may be.
There are, after all, a great many people in the middle who are prepared to pay a certain price for freedom, but not to go beyond it. For all of them some quantification of the price is an essential part of the argument. When one starts to quantify the price one has to examine the statistics and the arguments derived from the statistics which the supporters of a Bill such as this produce.
It is very difficult, when hon. Members are asked to limit their speeches—this applies on this occasion but it applied even more so on the last occasion when hon. Members were asked to limit their speeches if possible to six minutes —because one is faced with the utter impossibility of analysing the statistics and questioning the validity of the conclusions that are drawn from them, or even examining the very nature of those conclusions.
I therefore find this a most unsatisfactory procedure. If this Bill gets a Second Reading and goes to Standing Committee there will be a somewhat adversarial approach to the subject there by people who are fairly strongly committed on each side.
I take this Bill fairly seriously. My concern with personal freedom I take very seriously indeed, as hon. Members will know, in every context in which it arises. However, I do not brush aside the feelings of hon. Members such as my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and Faversham (Mr. Moate) or the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael), who are appalled by what they believe to be avoidable deaths and injuries which result from people not wearing seat belts. We are, therefore, in this unsatisfactory state of affairs.
This issue has always been based, at least chronologically, upon the Australian experience, especially the Victorian experience. That is a good point at which to start one's examination because it illustrates most strikingly the bogus nature of some of the statistics from which conclusions have been drawn. It was said that there was a tremendous saving of life and avoidance of injury when Victoria made the wearing of seat belts compulsory in 1971. In fact, the wearing rate in Victoria before that happened was 15 per cent. It was reputed to go up to about 85 or 90 per cent. It would not therefore in any case be a typical example because in this country the wearing rate is already 30 per cent. However, the interesting feature is this—and one does not hear about it from those who argue for the Bill—that there was not a diminution in deaths or serious injuries in Victoria or Australia when the wearing of seat belts was made compulsory.
In some of the following years more people were killed and injured in relevant accidents. What is alleged is that if one attached a straight line to certain selected points on the pre-existing experience, and extrapolated from that, one could claim that more people would have been killed and injured than were. That is a different proposition. It is based upon an assumption that trends for the past two, three or four years may be treated as permanent and that if the line is extrapolated we may say that anything falling below it is a saving and may be attributable to a certain piece of legislation that we happen to like. That is statistically an unsound operation.
At the same time as introducing compulsory seat belt wearing in Victoria a speed limit was introduced. I think that the limit was 60 mph but it may have been 50 mph. It was some such figure. Our experience in 1973, when we had the oil crisis and we introduced 50 mph and 60 mph limits, was that there was a sharp reduction in road accidents. I think that the number of deaths resulting from road accidents fell by about 1,200. That is because speed is an important factor in road accidents.
What are we to say of the Victorian figures when they are, first, an extrapolation and, secondly, they coincide with the imposition of a speed limit? Lastly, the death rate from road accidents in Victoria was twice as high as in the United Kingdom, in spite of the much sparser population. In the same period, from 1971 to 1976, from which the arguments that we hear about Australia are derived, the accident rate in Britain decreased by 15 per cent. In Victoria after the seat belt law had been put into effect the rate decreased by 0.2 per cent. How can anyone mount elaborate arguments about the importance of seat belts against that statistical background?
I shall continue. If my hon. Friend still wants to interrupt, I shall give way.
The advocates of the wearing of seat belts say " Never mind what happened abroad ", having first relied on events outside the United Kingdom. Let us consider our own statistics. We have the transport and road research laboratory calculations. There are a number of ways of producing statistics. One methtod is to take 100 corpses and examine their injuries. That method was used in the analysis in the British Medical Journal. Medical experts may examine 100 corpses and arrive at conclusions whether the wearing or non-wearing of seat belts caused their injuries. From that 100 an extrapolation is made to embrace the entire population and it is said that the saving in deaths and serious injuries would be X.
Another method is to take the history or the description ex post facto of a number of road accidents and to apply an examination similar to that carried out by the transport and road research laboratory staff, again from a small sample, arrive at an opinion, and extrapolate from that tiny base to an enormous total.
My hon. and learned Friend said that he was anxious to be brief. I was trying to assist him. On the last occasion when he made this speech—it was as good as his speeches always are and I am sure that it will be equally good this time—he concluded that the maximum number of lives that could be saved would be 250. If he is coming to the same conclusion, will he tell us so? We can settle on that figure and he can tell us whether he is prepared to see 250 lives lost each year for the retention of the freedom that he cherishes so dearly.
I shall not delay the hon. and learned Gentleman long. I was against the previous Bill because it would have been applied exclusively to Northern Ireland. It would have made a guinea pig out of our Province. I was against it on principle. But now that this is a United Kingdom measure, covering both Northern Ireland and this country, I am most definitely for it.
I realised that there was some misapprehension behind the hon. Gentleman's views. The previous Bill did not apply exclusively to Northern Ireland. Never mind.
The defect in these arguments is that a figure is snatched out of the air. Different panels of medical people examining the same 100 corpses would arrive at different conclusions. Extrapolating from the results we might arrive at different figures. Formerly, the figure of 1,000 deaths a year was used. It was said that by the next election 5,000 people would have been killed because we had opposed the measure. Then the figure came down to 800. Today it is 600. The figure of 250 will be reached quite soon. I said that the most one could imagine would perhaps be 250.
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive my interrupting his speech. I am sorry if I was absent when he made this point. However, if he has not made the point, I expect that he is shortly to draw attention to the fact that in making it a criminal act not to wear a safety helmet the estimates put out by those who proposed that measure proved to be totally wrong. There is no evidence whatsoever of any reduction of casualties having followed from that measure.
I did not make that point. It was made a short while ago. It is highly relevant. We heard about the appalling figures of casualties among motor cyclists, the guilt that would lie upon the heads of all who opposed the Bill and the tremendous savings that would ensue from its passage. We passed the measure. Motor cyclists wear crash helmets. That Act is in force.
The situation is even more outrageous. We did not even pass an Act in order to create that crime. A regulation, subject to negative procedure, created that crime. The House was denied the opportunity to debate that regulation while it could still have been annulled. That was the disgraceful fact.
The right hon. Gentleman is right on the procedural point. The measure to which he referred is now subordinate legislation, however it was passed. It seems not to have saved many lives. Today it was claimed that 60 lives had been saved as a result of it. That is the nature of the statistical claim being put forward in support of the Bill.
Having attempted to quantify the matter in a negative way, one should next look at the nature of the risk in its overall context. The average motorist probably does about 8,500 miles a year. Forgetting about seat belts altogether, wearing or not wearing them, his chance of being killed as a driver of a motor car, if he does about 8,500 miles a year, is once in 11,000 years. That is the sort of risk we are talking about. He will not live so long. He is twice as likely to commit suicide as to be killed as a driver. He is more than three times as likely to be killed in an accident in the home. That is the overall figure, and it has nothing to do with wearing or not wearing a seat belt. When we come to the possible difference in risk between wearing and not wearing a seat belt, we see that the annual risk is altered to something like one in 500 million.
I respect the views of those who say that that is enough, and seek to brush freedom aside on that basis. Let us be quite clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is the balance that we are talking about. If we brush freedom aside on that basis, when shall we stand and defend it? There must be very few occasions on which one can defend freedom if it is to be sacrificed upon that flimsy consideration. It has to be remembered that freedom is never lost to dictators. It is lost always to pressure groups—certainly in democracies—and that is what is happening today. They go on from one thing to another, using each case as a precedent for the next.
Let me assure hon. Members—the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster among them—that the medical pressure for compulsory crash helmets for pedal cyclists is building up. A far stronger case can be made for it than for seat belts, and certainly a far stronger case than for crash helmets for motor cyclists. Head injuries never were the main injury for motor cyclists but they are for pedal cyclists.
Pressure is beginning to be organised for crash helmets for pedestrians in urban areas. Far more pedestrians than drivers are killed, and in the case of pedestrians the overwhelming cause of death is head injuries. A vast number of lives could be saved by the compulsory wearing of crash helmets by pedestrians in urban areas. What we are talking about today is chicken-feed compared to that. Once we start on this ridiculous road, that is the sort of destination that we find ourselves approaching. I wish that I had time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to analyse some of the other statistical evidence that has been put before the House. I have it all here and I have been through it many times. Not one bit of it can stand up to decent, astringent scrutiny. That is why I started by saying that I would hardly oppose the Second Reading of a Bill such as this if I knew that it would go to a Select Committee which could take evidence, ask questions, cross-examine, and sort out all this nonsense to which we have had to listen—all this cloudy armoury at the service of just one more pressure group to push the citizen around on the basis of some highly optimistic description of advantages that will be gained. It is one more example of the tangible—even if it is a false tangible—being preferred to the intangible quality of personal freedom.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said that we should not cheapen freedom, and that there are more important freedoms. There are not. There is only one freedom. We heard a lot of nonsense about freedom in the last debate. Somebody talked about the freedom not to scrape corpses off the road. There is only one kind of freedom, and that is the freedom from compulsion and coercion. It is an indivisible freedom, and if we let it go in one place we have weakened its defence in another. For that reason, I shall vote against the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). I was almost certain that he would carry on talking until four o'clock. At one stage, his speech reminded me of the advice given to a minister who was taking the Adjournment debate. The civil servants had written on the brief " We do not have much on this. We advise the Minister to speak slowly."
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) on gaining second place in the ballot and for choosing this subject for a Bill. I congratulate the hon. Members for Putney (Mr. Mellor) and Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) on their maiden speeches, both of which I believe were of a very high calibre. There were two other speeches which I thought were outstanding. They were those by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) and the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). I am grateful that the hon. Member for Grantham was on my side on this occasion. There were certain mannerisms and intonations which seemed familiar to me. I am sure that to some older Members of the House some of the expressions must have put them in mind of another person.
In 1976, at about half-past six on a Friday evening in June the Minister of Transport stopped progress on the seat belts Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield had been speaking even more slowly than he did this afternoon, using all his skill as a parliamentary tactician to hold up progress on the Bill. Those of us who supported that Bill must blame not the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield but ourselves for not being present in sufficient numbers, because there was no doubt that on every occasion when the House has had an opportunity to debate and vote on a Second Reading of the Bill, there has been an outstanding majority.
No, I think that the Bill failed because the business manager of the House brought the Report stage forward on a Friday instead of bringing it up during normal Government time.
That is simply not true. I remember very well. I did not say a word on the Bill on that occasion. I was very interested in the previous Bill, I agree. But the time when the business managers threw in their hands may have been because of my entrance to the debate on the previous Bill. But it was about two o'clock in the morning and not on a Friday.
I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Minister of Transport withdrew the Bill at six o'clock on a Friday, but I take his word that he did not intervene in that debate.
It is interesting that in 1967, also on a Friday, I made my maiden speech in a debate initiated by the present Leader of the House on the liberties of the subject. It was surprising to hear what liberties Members felt were threatened at the time. The suggested abolition of the House of Lords was one and the breathalyser was another. I believe that the breathalyser was part of an Act which did a great deal to cut down heavy casualties.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) quoted John Stuart Mill. That gentleman also said
The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.
The person who does not wear a seat belt and who is involved in an accident does become a nuisance to a much greater extent than those who do. Any hon. Member who has talked to the police, nurses and ambulance drivers—those who have had to deal with accidents where people have gone through the windscreen—must know that the injured do not just cause nuisance to themselves but great horror and tragedy to their families and a great many other people. After yesterday, I do not think that the House will need reminding that the Royal Commission on health has pointed out the enormous cost to the NHS of road accidents generally, and is urging that the wearing of seat belts must be made compulsory.
The hon. Member for Putney said that seat belt wearing would not prevent accidents. He is probably right. But it is possible that those who take the trouble to carry out the two-second job of putting on a seat belt start their journey with a little more care than those who cannot be bothered to do so. A great many accidents happen during the first few minutes of a journey, particularly in urban areas.
Exemptions have been mentioned. My own view is that a medical certificate stating that the wearing of a seat belt is harmful, or even impossible, for certain disabled people, would be acceptable. Of course, it is not advisable to wear a seat belt when reversing, and I do not think that would be enforced in any regulations. We should say that the wearing of seat belts should be made compulsory only where the fitting of seat belts is already compulsory, and that does not apply to a number of vehicles.
During previous debates on this subject, some strange amendments have been tabled. There was one, I think it was from the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), to the effect that parsons should be exempted, on the grounds that they made only short journeys within their parishes. When I declined to support him, the hon. Gentleman suggested that I take further guidance, although he did not say from where. There was also the argument that Members of Parliament and candidates at election time should not have to wear seat belts, because they were nipping in and out of their cars.
But the whole aim of the propaganda that the Minister of Transport has said he will increase is precisely to persuade people to wear seat belts on short journeys, because that is where a great many accidents happen. I do not believe that any hon. Member would advise people not to wear a seat belt. I am sure that the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who is president of the instructors' association, would not do so, and I am sure that none of the associations' members would say to a learner driver " Do not bother about the seat belt. It is not advisable." I do not believe that any hon. Member would argue
If we pass a law that makes the wearing of seat belts compulsory, the odds are that many more people will wear seat belts. If that happens, the odds are that fewer people will be killed, and that many thousands of people will not suffer the severe disfigurement and dreadful accidents that occur today. This means a certain loss of liberty, but on balance it is something that we should support.
I believe that many lives would be saved and that there will be far fewer injuries if we support the Second Reading of the Bill. A great deal of work will have to be done by my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove and others who support the Bill. They will also require a great deal of determination if the Bill is to proceed any further.
|Division No. 72]||AYES||[4.00 p.m.|
|Anderson, Donald||Dykes, Hugh||Lamborn, Harry|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Eastham, Ken||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gay, Tott'ham)||Falrgrieve, Russell||Loverldge, John|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Fitt, Gerard||McCartney, Hugh|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MacGregor, John|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Foulkes, George||McKelvey, William|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Maclennan, Robert|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)||McNally, Thomas|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||McNamara, Kevin|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||McQuarrle, Albert|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Gardiner, George (Relgate)||Magee, Bryan|
|Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)||Garel-Jones, Tristan||Major, John|
|Buchan, Norman||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||George, Bruce||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Carmichael, Nell||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Milan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Chapman, Sydney||Goodhart, Philip||Mills, lain (Meriden)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|Cook, Robin F.||Hampson, Dr Keith||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Corrie, John||Hayhoe, Barney||Morton, George|
|Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)||Higgins, Terence L.||Moyle, Rt Hon Ronald|
|Crouch, David||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Crowther, J. S.||Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Newens, Stanley|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)||Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Newton, Tony|
|Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)||Ogden, Eric|
|Deakins, Eric||Horam, John||Onslow, Cranley|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hordern, Peter||Page, Rt Hon R Graham (Crosby)|
|Dobson, Frank||Huckfleld, Les||Park, George|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Janner, Hon Greville||Pavltt, Laurie|
|Dubs, Alfred||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Pawsey, James|
|Dunlop, John||Jessel, Toby||Penhaligon, David|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Prescott, John|
|Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)||Speed, Keith||Warren, Kenneth|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Stainton, Keith||Whitney, Raymond|
|Rathbone, Tim||Stallard, A. W.||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)||Wilkinson, John|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)||Stoddart, David||Wolfson, Mark|
|Robertson, George||Strang, Gavin||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Rodgers, Rt Hon William||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Rooker, J. W.||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)||Wright, Miss Shella|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Temple Morris, Peter||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Tilley, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Sims, Roger||Tinn, James||Mr. James Wellbeloved and|
|Skinner, Dennis||Trotter, Neville||Mr. Roger Moate.|
|Snape, Peter||Ward, John|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Greenway, Harry||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Bell, Ronald||Grieve, Percy||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Bendall, Vivian||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Kilfedder, James A.||Stevens, Martin|
|Body, Richard||Lawson, Nigel||Tebbit, Norman|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Thorne, Nell (liford South)|
|Bradley, Tom||Mather, Carol||Trippier, David|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Mayhew, Patrick||Waddington, David|
|Brotherton, Michael||Mellor, David||Wakeham, John|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Wall, Patrick|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Murphy, Christopher||Waller, Gary|
|English, Michael||Nelson, Anthony||Wheeler, John|
|Fell, Anthony||Neubert, Michael||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Page, John (Harrow,West)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Parris, Matthew||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Fry, Peter||Percival, Sir Ian||Mr. Ivan Lawrence and|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)||Mr. Robert Atkins.|
|Division No. 73]||AYES||[4.10 p.m.|
|Anderson, Donald||Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|Ashton, Joe||Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gay, Tott'ham)||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Morton, George|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Garel-Jones, Tristan||Moyle, Rt Hon Ronald|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||George, Bruce||Newens, Stanley|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Goodhart, Philip||Newton, Tony|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Ogden, Eric|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hannam, John||Page, Rt Hon R Graham (Crosby)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Hayhoe, Barney||Park, George|
|Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)||Higgins, Terence L.||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Buchan, Norman||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Pawsey, James|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Penhaligon, David|
|Carmichael, Neil||Horam, John||Prescott, John|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hordern, Peter||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Huckfleld, Les||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Janner, Hon Greville||Rathbone, Tim|
|Cook, Robin F.||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Corrie, John||Jessel Toby||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)|
|Crouch, David||Lamborn, Harry||Robertson, George|
|Crowther, J. S.||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)||Lovsridge, John||Rooker, J. W.|
|Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||McCartney,Hugh||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Deakins, Eric||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||MacGregor, John||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dobson, Frank||McKelvey, William||Sims, Roger|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Maclennan, Robert||Snape, Peter|
|Dubs, Alfred||McNally, Thomas||Soley, Clive|
|Dunlop, John||Speed, Keith|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McNamara, Kevin||Stainton, Keith|
|Dykes, Hugh||McQuarrie, Albert||Stallard, A. W.|
|Eastham, Ken||Magee, Bryan||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)|
|Faith, Mrs Shella||Major, John||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Fitt, Gerard||Marks, Kenneth||Stoddart, David|
|Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)||Maynard, Miss Joan||Strang, Gavin|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Milan, Rt Hon Bruce||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Foulkes, George||Mills, lain (Meriden)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Whitlock, William||Wright, Miss Sheila|
|Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)||Wiggin, Jerry||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Tilley, John||Wilkinson, John|
|Tinn, James||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Trotter, Neville||Wolfson, Mark||Mr. James Wellbeloved and|
|Ward, John||Woolmer, Kenneth||Mr. Roger Moate|
|Warren, Kenneth||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Grieve, Percy||Rees-Davles, W.R.|
|Bell, Ronald||Holland, Philip (Carlton)||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman|
|Bendall, Vivian||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Body, Richard||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Kilfedder, James A.||Stevens, Martin|
|Bradley, Tom||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Lawaon, Nigel||Tebbit, Norman|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Mather, Carol||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Trippier, David|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)||Mayhew, Patrick||Waddington, David|
|Dodsworlh, Geoffrey||Mellor, David||Wakeham, John|
|English, Michael||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Wall, Patrick|
|Fell, Anthony||Murphy, Christopher||Waller, Gary|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Nelson, Anthony||Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd&Slev'nage)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Neubert, Michael||Wheeler, John|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Page, John (Harrow.West)||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Parris, Matthew|
|Fry, Peter||Percival, Sir Ian||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)||Mr. Ivan Lawrence and|
|Greenway, Harry||Proctor, K. Harvey||Mr. Robert Atkins|