Commencement of Regulations

Part of Orders of the Day — Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd February 1980.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport) 11:30 am, 22nd February 1980

I am tempted to go into statistics which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would immediately point out would be better used in a Second Reading debate. While there was a drop in accident figures when the speed limit was reduced, there was a dramatic drop when the breathalyser laws were first brought into effect. Personally, I accept that there would be a substantial drop in deaths and personal injuries if seat belt wearing increased.

The Bill contemplates compulsion and is based on regulations being introduced by the Government. The new clause touches on the Government role of bringing in the regulations and moving towards enforcement of the law thereafter. The Government have an unenviable role in placing regulations before the House. It would be extremely difficult to put forward regulations—prescribing classes of vehicle, seating positions in vehicles and classes of persons—which would command widespread support.

For that reason, the Government have not at this stage brought forward any consultative document on regulations. We should wish to consult as widely as possible and would set out on this difficult task not only discussing them with the police, the motoring bodies, and so on, but trying to consult the general public in order to get as good a consensus as possible about those categories of people who should be exempted. Then the regulations would be placed before the House, and the first regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, for the reasons given by my hon. and learned Friend.

I was also asked whether the decision on those regulations would itself be the subject matter of a free vote, I have no responsibility for these matters, of course. That would be decided at the time. But there is no party political or Government philosophy in this kind of measure, and I would be extremely surprised if any Government tried to impose any kind of Whip on their supporters when seeking approval of regulations of this kind. What is more, there would be little chance of many hon. Members taking much notice of any Whip imposed on such regulations if the Government had failed to achieve the necessary consensus.