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Report on the Operation of the Act

Orders of the Day — Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:15 pm on 22nd February 1980.

Alert me about debates like this

'The Minister shall within two years of the coming into operation of this Act and thereafter annually lay before Parliament a report on the operation of the Act.'.—[Mr. Waller.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

As I count myself among those who believe that politicians are too ready to govern human activity with more and more bureaucracy, it may be a little surprising that I should seek to impose upon the Minister of Transport a duty to produce yet more pieces of paper. However, I hope that I shall be able to show that in seeking to put the Bill on the statute book its sponsors are embarking upon new ground which makes my additional requirement modest. I go further—the new clause is the least that might reasonably be expected.

Throughout the proceedings my hon. Friends and I have urged all mororists to heed the excellent arguments in favour of wearing seat belts. In the unfortunate event of being involved in a car accident, undoubtedly one gives oneself a better chance of escaping serious injury if one is belted up. However, we believe that individuals, possessed of the relevant facts, should be allowed to exercise responsibility for themselves in relation to a matter which primarily affects them. I suspect that I should be in harmony with the presenters of the Bill—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine):

Order. New clause 4 appears to deal with an annual report.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

If I may continue, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will understand that I am speaking to new clause 4. I am in harmony with the presenters of the Bill if they feel that its success should be judged not by the number of prosecutions but by the way that it encourages a change of attitude towards seat belts. I fully accept that Parliament should endeavour to lead public opinion rather than be its slave. The new clause might be seen as a reasonable desire to assess whether the objective of leading public opinion has been attained.

In seeking to lead public opinion, one may become totally out of touch with it. There lies the danger. I wonder how many hon. Members have seriously sought to canvass opinion in their constituencies. If they have done so, they will have found that a high proportion have strong objections to this type of legislation.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Perhaps my hon. Friend would be interested to know that public opinion in my constituency is in the ratio of 80 against to 20 in favour. Perhaps that is a good reason for enacting the new clause. My hon. Friend is undertaking a public service in bringing it forward.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Kelvingrove

As a sponsor of the Bill, perhaps I can save the House time by saying that I am happy to accept the new clause. There is some validity and purpose to having statistics available after the Bill has been enacted.

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's assurance. We seek to put an important clause in the Bill. I am seeking to make this a four-clause Bill. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that my speech will be briefer than others have been.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that different points of view are held in different parts of the country. We both represent constituencies in the North, where there is great resistance to the Bill. I spoke at a meeting of driving instructors that was held in my constituency. Eighteen instructors were present and all but two of them—without any prompting—declared themselves to be against the principle behind the Bill.

The new clause seeks information. Information would be helpful, because we often hear conflicting reports. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) mentioned a public opinion survey. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) mentioned another public opinion survey. One tends to listen to the public opinion survey that most supports one's case.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

From my hon. Friend's knowledge and experience, can he tell us of any organisation that has sponsored a public opinion survey that has not come out in favour of the organisation's views?

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

That is an interesting point. The survey to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield referred was carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I have had access to that survey. It is carried out by an organisation for which the Ministry of Transport is responsible. It is therefore right to pay attention to that survey, as it is somewhat official. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield pointed out that the survey showed that 59 per cent. of the population were against the Bill. The survey asked, Should all drivers be made to wear safety belts by law? Nothing could be clearer than that. In reply, 59 per cent. said "No" and only 39 per cent. said "Yes". The organisers of the survey said that of the 1,400 drivers who were canvassed by post, 81 per cent. replied. That was a high response rate. The organisers said that it was a very good response for a postal survey. The survey is therefore fairly reputable.

Other surveys may produce slightly different results. However, a large proportion of the population—drivers in particular—are opposed to compulsion.

12.45 pm

I have had more limited discussions, but the majority in my area oppose the Bill. Those who are opposed to the legislation oppose it with greater conviction than those who accept it. The latter tend to do so with a certain amount of apathy. This legislation is out of touch with the views of many ordinary people. As a result, it is not only the law that is undermined but the basis of law in general. Ultimately, law depends on consent. Laws introduced without such consent will fail. Indeed, many have failed in the past. We should therefore know how the position will be altered if the Bill is passed. If the presenters of the Bill accept the clause, we shall be able to understand the position more easily.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about seat belts. In Committee there was much discussion about the different types of seat belt, such as static and inertia reel belts. We discussed the problems that certain groups of people experienced and the situations in which it would be unreasonable to expect seat belts to be worn. Such matters would be dealt with by the regulations laid down by the Minister of Transport. It would be helpful to have information about how the regulations had worked in practice. They may need to be amended after a period of time. That is another reason why I would welcome an annual report. I am happy that this new clause has already been accepted.

Whether or not the Bill is enacted, there is much to be said for the Minister producing a regular report on the use of seat belts and on technical aspects. That would provide the motorist with authoritative information. One of last week's Sunday newspapers revealed situations in which seat belt buckles had failed. Such occasions may be rare, but the public are entitled to know the circumstances involved. On the front page of yesterday's Evening Standard there was a photograph of an overturned car. The passenger compartment had been completely crushed. The caption stated that the driver had been thrown into the road by the impact and had been taken to Edgware Hospital for X-ray examination. He was found to have escaped with cuts and bruises. That man was undoubtedly extremely lucky. In the majority of accidents, one stands a worse chance if one is thrown out of the vehicle. However, it would be better if people did not speculate upon such things in public bars throughout London, as they did last night. They may come to the wrong conclusion. Surely it would be preferable if the Minister produced information in a popular form, that we could all rely on. If such information does not come from the Ministry, someone may produce conflicting information. We shall not know who to believe.

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

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the period of time stipulated in the new clause? Will it allow Ministry officials to conduct an inquiry similar to the one the report of which was published in the middle of last year? Would he not agree that a longer period than two years might be advisable?

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

The new clause stipulates a period of two years from the point at which the Bill comes into force. After the Bill is enacted, there will presumably be a period before it is enforced. I think that all hon. Members will accept that point. In those circumstances, I do not think that two years is too short a period. I suggested two years rather than one year, and an annual report after the first one. It is so that we should have a reasonable period before trying to assess the new situation that I have suggested a period of two years in the first instance.

There are some cases, however rare, in which people have been worse off wearing a belt. It is conceivable that the passing of the Bill could cause some deaths, in the way that the hon. Members for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) and Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) have suggested in their references to fire and to vehicles falling into water. I think that there would probably be more lives saved, but surely we should not deal with that aspect as if it were just a balance sheet. The only safe solution is to give people information, as I propose, and let them make up their own minds.

I would have no objection to regulations requiring that babies and small children should be restrained in vehicles. Children often need protecting by law from unthinking adults, but adults have a right to make up their own minds. Ironically, one of the exemptions that the Minister would presumably have to make under the Bill are children of such an age that they cannot safely use conventional seat belts.

I am sorry to say that there have been cases, about which the Committee was told, where drivers have attempted to fasten a seat belt when a vehicle was in motion and the resulting lack of control has caused an accident. A report from the Minister could explain what a dangerous practice that is, so that drivers would avoid it in future. The need for publicity and education would not become any less with the passing of the Bill. Indeed it might become greater. One notices immediately how little the Bill says. The key words are: The Minister of Transport may make regulations". That is not quite a blank cheque, because the Minister will have to obtain Parliament's assent, presumably by means of the affirmative resolution procedure, but many of us are not happy, to say the least, at the prospect of precise details being dealt with either late at night, when many hon. Members would be absent, or upstairs in Committee. That is another reason for having a regular report.

The Minister is likely from time to time to want to alter the regulations, and it would be vital for Parliament to have information on which to work. Without that, the number of hon. Members participating in these important decisions might be even smaller than it would otherwise be.

I imagine that some regulations would relate to the construction and use regulations involving categories of vehicles to which seat belts must be fitted and the positioning of seat belts. At present, anchorages must be fitted in the rear of cars, but seat belts do not need to be fitted. Perhaps they will have to be fitted some time in the future and, by reference to the construction and use regulations, it may automatically become compulsory to wear one.

I understand that the construction and use regulations are normally subject only to the negative resolution procedure, so the safeguards may be even less. It is a great pity that such important legislation could be put on the statute book with Parliament knowing so little about what is involved. Perhaps some other hon. Member can point to other legislation which says so little but means so much. I cannot think of any.

If Parliament is jealous of its powers it should not give so much away to any Minister. The new clause at least requires that the Minister shall have a duty to keep Parliament informed and surely that must be a good thing in all circumstances.

There remains the important matter of enforcement, which was dealt with only briefly in Committee, but which would obviously be an essential part of any report to Parliament. When we discussed inertia reel and static seat belts in Committee, I mentioned that where seat belt wearing is compulsory drivers often drape their belt, especially a static belt, over their shoulder to give the impression that it is being used. One of my hon. Friends intervened to point out that that was the practice of a close relative of his who was spending some time in Spain where the wearing of seat belts is compulsory.

There is no doubt that enforcement presents particular problems and the police have serious doubts about the ability to enforce the law while retaining good relations with the general public. I am not saying that all police officers have doubts. Some are happy, but others have doubts and individual policemen often express such doubts.

Chief constables are divided in the orders that they give to their officers. Some require the wearing of belts in most circumstances while others do not. If the Bill becomes law it would obviously be undesirable for the police not to set an example and we would therefore be imposing on chief constables something which many of them presumably oppose.

It would be interesting to hear how the Act has operated, what degree of enforcement was involved and whether the police had come to accept the new situation. That is another good reason for an annual report.

It may be thought that the Bill is not of particularly great moment. After all, it is being considered on a Friday and is not a Government Bill. Some people may not regard the change that is advocated as significant, but from my limited experience in the House it seems that Friday is becoming the day when we deal with legislation about which there is as much concern as any outside the House.

If the Bill becomes law, it will affect everyone who drives or rides in a car every day that he does so. Few will note the distinction between Government legislation and a Private Member's Bill. I am afraid that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport would be seen for ever as the man who presided over the introduction of compulsion in the wearing of seat belts.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that it would be better if this were a Government Bill and were dealt with in Government time?

Photo of Mr Gary Waller Mr Gary Waller , Brighouse and Spenborough

I am not suggesting anything of the sort and I do not know how my hon. Friend could have come to such a conclusion.

Many people outside will have difficulty in distinguishing a Private Member's Bill from Government legislation. I am happy to say to my right hon. Friend, who is perhaps opening that new bypass at this moment, that he need not worry too much about a graffito appearing on a bridge over that motorway saying "Fowler must go", because we hope to defeat the Bill.

The new clause deals with an important matter, especially in view of the little information that we have before us. It is vital that if the Bill becomes law we should have as much information as possible at a later date.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I support the new clause. One of the problems facing us is that circumstances are changing daily with regard to road vehicles. Some time ago I visited the motor industry's research establishment at Nuneaton, where I was told that work had been taking place for some years on the development of a new seat belt which would make it impossible for a car to be driven unless the belt was being worn.

I thought that it seemed a good idea. It would meet the fear of some people, to which the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) referred, of being locked in their car, because once the seat belt was released the car door would be unlocked.

If the industry perfects that new belt, everyone may have to wear it. The Government always talk about saving expenditure—

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. The hon. Gentleman is speaking to a new clause that deals with an annual report.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assume that if the Nuneaton research establishment perfected a new seat belt that is the sort of information that would be included in the report proposed by the new clause. If it were reported to the Minister I assume that the Minister would say that the belt was an improvement on all previous types and should be introduced. If it had to be introduced on all vehicles it would involve a great deal of expenditure. Everyone would have to change to the new belt. Yet we have a Government who talk about saving expenditure.

Public vehicles would be involved. Ministers' own cars would be affected. I would welcome such a report. But it would be contrary to the Government's philosophy.

1 pm

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about a new development that was brought to his notice when he visited the motor industry research establishment at Nuneaton. The hon. Gentleman said that this development would be welcomed and highlighted in any report to the Minister and through the Minister to this House and the people of this country. The hon. Gentleman welcomed the link between the opening of the car door and the wearing of the seat belt. What would happen if one stuck and a person was unable either to get the belt undone or the door open? That would be a worse situation than exists at present. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the number of instances on which this unfortunate experience occurred should be reported to the Minister and through the Minister, to the House?

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I agree. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to me instead of talking to his hon. Friends he would have heard me say that I assumed that this would eventually prove successful and that none of the unfortunate eventualities that the hon. Gentleman has described would happen. It would be proved perfect. The Minister would not accept it unless the report stated that it was completely satisfactory.

Other reports could be provided under the new clause. It is indisputable today that the police are undermanned and overstretched. It is impossible for them to carry out their normal criminal duties—

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

I am sure my hon. Friend means anti-criminal.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I cannot get, in my constituency, policemen on the beat. There is vandalism. Old people have been knocked down. The police might say that they cannot enforce the seatbelts law because they are over-stretched and under-manned They will say that they have to cope with vandals, muggers, football crowds, pickets and wedding parties.

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

The hon. Gentleman represents an urban seat with streets marked with double yellow lines to prevent parking. It is difficult for the police, with their existing manpower, to enforce the regulations. As a result, this has become an optional law in many urban areas. Some hon. Members, who object to this Bill, fear that the same thing will happen over seat belts.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

The hon. Gentleman has stolen my thunder. That was in my line of vision. I shall deal with it now. It is not only a question of motorists parking on double and, in some cases, treble yellow lines where the police ask what they can do when so many people are involved. The police argue that if such parking offences are reported, there are so many cases in court—this is relevant to the report—that the courts cannot deal with them. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in this matter he should go to Mecklenburgh Square, where he will see a car with about 55 parking tickets stuck on the windscreen.

I could perhaps take the Minister there one day. I spoke to the driver one day and asked him why there were so many parking tickets on the windscreen. He replied "I leave them on there to show how stupid it is". He claimed that no one ever worried. He had been told to go to court but had not turned up. Nothing happened. He was fined but never paid.

I, therefore, put down a question in the House to ask how many fines were outstanding. Do you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there are about £10 million-worth outstanding? When one asks how long this has been happening, one is told that the answer cannot be found. The reason that the answer cannot be found is that those responsible do not want to find it. If there was a report, some research could be carried out.

The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) talks about parking. He would not have to go far to see what is happening. There are parking bays for disabled people. The hon. Gentleman would be surprised to find the number of people who are not disabled who park in those bays. The hon. Gentleman need only to go to Star Court, where there are seven reserved spaces, and see how many are occupied by people who are not Members of Parliament. The police do not take any action. I am not blaming the police. They have more important work to do. But this is another issue on which a report would be useful.

The police are to be one of the exempted classes.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

We have not decided any exemptions. I think that many policemen and senior officers would be reluctant to seek exemption from a Bill when they have to enforce this provision against members of the public. I know that some who represent the police want an exemption. Opinion is divided within the police force.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I shall not argue with the Minister. I happen to park my car in Old Scotland Yard—the Norman Shaw building—where I have an office. Hon. Members should count the number of cars in which police are voluntarily wearing seat belts. This is a case where there could be a report. Hon. Members might be able to give the Minister a report showing how many police officers are using seat belts. They will be lucky if they find one in 10. I do not complain. It is up to them.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I am not sure that the Metropolitan Police are responsible for the parking in Star Court. I believe that that is the responsibility of either the Lord Chancellor or Mr. Speaker and the officials of the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that. Does he not agree that it is extraordinary that it should have just come to light from the intervention of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government would appear, despite the late stage of this Bill, not yet to have given consideration to those groups of people who might or might not be exempted?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. If progress is made there will be the opportunity for a great many exemptions to be discussed in detail. We should now confine ourselves to the new clause.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that the report to which my hon. Friend referred should be laid before the House every year, should include the details of those who have been granted exemptions, the reasons why, and details of requests that have been submitted?

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Perhaps for the purposes of this debate I may refer to the hon. Gentleman as my hon. Friend, because we are hon. Friends on this issue. I was not seeking to blame anyone about parking in the Palace of Westminister. My point is simply that that sort of thing happens, both here in the Palace of West-minister and in the streets of London. People simply ignore the rules and regulations.

For 15 years I conducted a single-handed battle against the evasion of road tax. When I first raised the matter with a Labour Minister I was told that only a few people were guilty. The number increased and Ministers agreed that the problem was getting out of hand. It is now completely out of hand. About 20 per cent. of motorists in London are driving without road tax.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

I can give the hon. Gentleman good news. We are beginning to take steps to tighten up on this problem—

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

We have been in office only since last May and we are now proposing to tighten up on the widespread evasion of road tax to which the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention. We are to consult about ways of making it easier to enforce the road tax provisions and to improve the display of road fund licences. We have announced a campaign in Nottingham, where there will be a drive to bring proceedings against those who are not paying their road tax. We hope that the publicity for that campaign will induce a large number of people to pay their road tax without the need for enforcement proceedings.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) will not pursue that matter. It hardly comes within the sphere of a report about seat belts.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I believe that it does. The Minister is right. He now tells me that after 15 years of campaigning by me, the Government are to take action.

There should be an annual report, because it will enable me to recall when the report comes before us for debate, that on 22 February 1980—the day after my birthday; I should hardly forget that—the Minister said that the Government were to deal with road tax evasion. I shall be able to say that they have not dealt with it and point out that if that problem cannot be tackled there is little chance of dealing satisfactorily with the problem of seat belts.

1.15 pm

It is necessary to have an annual report. Let it deal with the rumours that we heard many years ago that a Minister was connected indirectly with Kangol seat belts and that he was interested in getting seat belts—

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

If my hon. Friend wants to mention dubious activity by any hon. Member, should he not turn his attention to the activities of the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and the other hon. Members who have been trying today to talk out the Bill. Their activities have been an absolute disgrace and they have brought the House into disrepute—

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

The people want us to vote on this issue.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

My hon. Friend is quite wrongly, because if he attempted to do to realise that no hon. Member can act wrongly because if he attempted to do so the Chair would bring him to order. As soon as I slide a little over the red line, Mr. Deputy Speaker pulls me up.

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

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) referred to Kangol in somewhat disparaging terms—

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

Has the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to study the report by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in which it examined different kinds of seat belts, three manufactured by Britax and three by Kangol? The belts are the Britax Autolok Mk. III, the Britax Autolok Mk. IIIA, the Britax Surelok, the Kangol Reflex, the Kangol Euroflex and the Kangol Series 12. According to the report, the Kangol belts come out slightly better, so if the hon. Gentleman is critical of any manufacturer, perhaps it would be right for him to criticise Britax instead.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I did not seek to cast aspersions on Kangol. I said only that there were rumours years ago that a certain person was associated with Kangol and that he wanted legislation on seat belts. If the proposal now before us were accepted we could deal with that sort of issue. It would enable us to determine whether Kangol was better than Britax, or even whether a Russian seat belt, for example, might be the best of all. I know that that is a terrible thing to say, given the trouble in Afghanistan. I am told that one of the toughest and most secure cars on the road is a Moskvitch. If a Moskvitch owner told me that the seat belts in it were better than Britax, Kangol or any other make, I could raise that matter with the Minister when the report came before us for debate.

There will be exemptions, and I should think that the police will be among the first to apply for them. Without an annual report and a debate upon it, I should be unable to determine whether they had so applied. Other people may also apply. Many people wear pacemakers. One such person might go to his doctor and ask for an exemption on the ground that the belt would interfere with the device. The doctor might agree. Another such person might go to another doctor and draw the opposite response. The debate on the report would enable us to see whether such anomalies were arising.

Photo of Mr Percy Grieve Mr Percy Grieve , Solihull

For that reason does the hon. Member not accept that it is essential that, if there is to be a medical judgment on whether exemptions should be granted, there should be an appellate procedure in respect of that judgment?

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I am much obliged. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, however, that if I were to discuss an appellate procedure on this clause I should be out of order. But what I can say within the bounds of order at this point is that if we had a system of reports we could debate on each report such suggestions as the hon. and learned Gentleman has made, among others. This arises not only on the medical side. One could give a hundred and one reasons showing why the list of exemptions should be extended or reduced.

I support the new clause, since it raises a matter of principle, apart from anything else. We should be as open as we can and have as much information as possible. Statistics and figures are trotted out by all Departments under all Governments, and from one month to the next they contradict themselves. I said a little earlier that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) had not been here long enough fully to understand our procedures. I have been here too long. I know what happens. Every six months we get a report from the Treasury saying that it has things right, although it is doing the opposite of what it told us six months previously. How many times do we find that the Treasury gets things wrong?

I could go on all day, if necessary, reminding the House of the way in which Government Departments get things wrong. What about the Crown Agents for the Colonies? They got it wrong, but no one knew. We were not allowed to know until the affair was all over. Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money were involved.

What about the Swansea centre? I believe that the estimate was £4 million, but the ultimate cost was £40 million, and now it is being shut down. We were told that the system there was essential, but everyone knows that it was a flop and a waste of time and money. I am not blaming the Minister personally, because it was done under another Government.

If we had reports as proposed in the clause, we could ask why things were not as we had been led to believe. We have been told that if everyone wore a seat belt there would be no serious accidents, the number of deaths would fall, and so on. We could find out that that was not so and examine the reasons why.

We ought to have as much information as possible, not only for the purpose covered by the clause but for everything else. Why should we not have as much information as possible to allow us to make up our minds?

The Parliamentary Secretary was probably out of the Chamber at the time when the point was raised, but he is a member of the legal profession and will know that learned judges disagree with one another. I shall not cite recent cases, but we all remember occasions when one legal luminary said that the result of a case should be one thing and the next week another legal luminary said that he had got it absolutely wrong and the case went to the House of Lords.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

My hon. Friend—if I may so call the hon. Gentleman on this occasion—has spoken of the importance of our having these reports brought before Parliament so that we may look into the progress of the Bill, if it is enacted. There are two aspects which I should like him to develop as he continues his argument. I have to say that I have not as yet received any satisfactory information from the Ministry on them.

First, we have no information on the incidence of accidents among those who wear seat belts as opposed to those who do not. I think it at least possible that the wearing of a seat belt can cause an accident, especially if it is uncomfortable or is the sort of belt which we know as the fixed lap and diagonal belt, not the inertia reel belt. It may be that at a crucial moment someone is struggling with the controls, perhaps trying to switch on the lights and not being able to reach the switch, thus giving rise to an accident.

I should like my hon. Friend—

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I think that on this occasion the hon. Gentleman will be happy to accept that appellation—and perhaps on others later, too. I should like him to develop his argument on that matter.

The second matter about which no research has been done arises in this way. It is closely relevant to the new clause, which I regard as one of the most important matters coming before us. I refer to the circumstances of driving down a motorway. Sometimes people become tired in such a situation. If a driver is feeling somewhat soporific—

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. Is the hon. Getleman intending to make a speech or is this an intervention?

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I was hoping to come to a swift conclusion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the circumstances which I have described, a lot of people will find that if they undo the seat belt—which they would not be allowed to do under the Bill—they will in some way feel more lively, thus becoming more awake and better able to drive their vehicle safely.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Before I reply, may I add a further comment in connection with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman), who has now left the Chamber. I think that it has relevance at this point. It is the Chair who keeps order. Until the Chair stops an hon. Member—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was not here when I replied on that matter to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East, so I wish that he would keep quiet. If he wants to intervene, I shall give way to him. Hon. Members who were present know the point, and I am sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker accepts that it was relevant.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

One is becoming increasingly disturbed about this so-called debate. My hon. Friend is quite right to assume that others wish to intervene. There are hon. Members who want to take part in a debate, but if we are to have speeches as long as those delivered by the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and now by my hon. Friend himself, very few others will be able to contribute to the discussion.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I wish that my hon. Friend had been here, or had paid more attention if he was, when my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East made much the same comment on a point of order. I had to tell him, with all respect —knowing that he is a new Member—that he does not understand our procedures as well as he should. Neither does my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), with respect. No one is out of order unless the Chair says so. If an hon. Member wants to start teaching his grandmother how to suck eggs, he ought to learn the rules first. It is the occupant of the Chair who controls these matters. No hon. Member has been out of order. If anyone goes out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker immediately pulls him up, as we have recently seen. So I ask my hon. Friend not to say that any hon. Member has been out of order.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

All right. As soon as I go out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker will pull me up. I have to give way to him, he tells me where I have gone wrong, and I have to come back into order. Therefore, it should not be imagined that hon. Members who have spoken for an hour or an hour and a half have been out of order. There has been nothing of the kind.

I have now forgotten the question which the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) put to me.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West

The hon. Gentleman is probably right on the question of order, but his speech has not added much to the debate and many hon. Members do not particularly want to go on listening to him.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

This is a democratic assembly. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view, as I am entitled to mine. I am entitled to express it, and that is what I am doing. He may not like it, just as I may not like his view, but that is what democracy is all about.

I have now remembered the points raised by the hon. Member for Northampton, North.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Although I acknowledge my hon. Friend's right to talk—and I always enjoy listening to him—I hope that he will realise that I have already accepted the new clause. Although he is in order in what he is saying, since the Chair is in control of the debate, would it not facilitate progress if my hon. Friend made some of his remarks on one of the later amendments? With his ingenuity and long experience in the House, he could relate the same remarks to a number of other amendments.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West 1:30 pm, 22nd February 1980

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I also like to listen to his voice, with his Scottish accent. I enjoy hearing his advice. As he knows, I accept the new clause and I want to give my reasons for accepting it.

There are two reasons why I do not wish to finish my speech now. The other amendments may not be reached, or if they are reached, I may not be here [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] There are many reasons why I may not be here. Therefore, I want to say now why I accept the new clause even though I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) has accepted it. I believe that the amendment is a good amendment. Why then was it not included in the Bill originally?

I am against the concept of the Bill, because it takes away the liberty of the individual. I may be wrong, but nevertheless I am entitled to express my views. If I feel that the liberty of the individual is being taken away, I am entitled to say so. If I think that the new clause will restore some of that liberty, again I am entitled to say so.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I shall give way in a moment.

I have no objection to any legislation, provided that it does not harm people and prevent them from doing things that do not cause harm or suffering to others.

If we are to introduce legislation, say, to prevent people from keeping a dog why should I agree to that? I am not entitled to do so. I am entitled to say that if the dog bites someone there should be legislation to prevent a person from keeping that dog. I am entitled to say that it is wrong to tell people that they must do something simply because it is good for them.

I am in favour of seat belts being worn. I am in favour of the police wearing seat belts, and setting an example. I am in favour of Ministers doing so. When they were not Ministers they did not do so, but now that they are Ministers they are doing so. I am not in favour of telling any man that he must do something because I think that it is good for him. I do not think that it is right for me to tell people that they should eat a big steak because it makes them good, fat and strong like me. Why should I?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is as willing as ever to give way to interventions. I hope that he is not trying to suggest that my right hon. Friend and I have worn seat belts only since we became Ministers. I have worn my seat belt for as long as I have been driving. I believe that most people with any common sense wear seat belts, whatever their job.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

If the Minister thought that I had referred to him personally, he is wrong. I did not. But if he thought so, I withdraw my remarks. I said that there are Ministers who, when they were not Ministers, did not wear seat belts. My remarks were directed towards both major parties and, indeed, to some members of the Liberal Party. I do not blame them. They are entitled to please them- selves. I am worried. I tried to persuade my wife to wear a seat belt. She said that she does not want to do so, because of claustrophobia, and because she is scared that she will be locked in the car if there is a fire.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)—

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I shall give way in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) must learn that an hon. Member gives way when he wants to do so. I shall give way in my own time. I was referring to the interjection of the hon. Member for Northampton, North—

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Would not the hon. Member accept, in the light of his statement, that this is a free and democratic assembly? But the House and the country have to take decisions. The public expect Parliament in its wisdom, to draw conclusions and to make decisions. While this filibuster continues it firmly discredits the House. Everyone watching and listening to the debate will wonder what we do in Parliament. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen to allow the House to take decisions now so that the country can see the wisdom of parliament.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. When the Chair rises the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

I have only just taken the Chair. I have no reason to suspect, either from the previous occupant of the Chair or anyone else, that filibustering has been taking place. As soon as I think that there is filibustering I shall intervene. I understand that there have been indications that the new clause will be accepted. I must take that into account in deciding how much debate I shall allow on it.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I am very glad that you said that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I said exactly the same as you have just said when the previous occupant of the Chair was here. If my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) had been here, he would have heard me say it. No one can filibuster in this House. I wish that my hon. Friend would learn the rules. Let him learn to sit down when Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy Speaker rises. Let him learn that he cannot keep making sedentary interventions. Let him learn that an hon. Member cannot be out of order—

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. The Chair appreciates any protection, but I think that it will need some protection from the hon. Gentleman in a few moments.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I am much obliged for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to say that until you rise I am in order.

I return to the question of reporting. It is essential that we have reports on a number of matters, because we have not yet perfected the proper type of seat belt. There are dangers in some seat belts. People need to be able to make up their minds. Here I deal with the valid part of my hon. Friend's intervention, about the people outside. They have not yet had an opportunity to know whether they will be harmed when the wearing of seat belts is made compulsory.

New clause 2 provided for a six-month delay in the implementation of regulations. If there were a report the public could ask for the facts and details. I am not in favour of loaded statistics and loaded reports. Every hon. Member contacts his constituents in one way or another. While our constituents may not put the point succinctly or clearly, we often say "I wish to God you had told me that before. You have hit the nail on the head. This is far better than the Civil Service jargon." Very often hon. Members say "I shall make that point when the report comes up for debate", because it was not generally understood.

I have heard from my hon. Friend the sponsor of the Bill that he will accept the clause, and I now hear that the Minister also agrees to it. We are making progress.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Baker Mr Nicholas Baker , North Dorset

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the clause is good because of the lack of preparedness and the paucity of information and research? I come to this debate relatively fresh, but I think that on the matter of the cost of implementing the Bill and the manpower needed to enforce it, which we shall discuss later, there has not been enough research. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me about the desirability of the clause for that reason?

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

The hon. Gentleman is right. He will find that I am not a friend of the Ministry of Transport or the Department of the Environment—DoE, which is a very appropriate name for it. It is the most maladministered and neglected Department that I know. It is strange that two of the main sponsors of the Bill were in that Department. I know that they have had the Bill pigeonholed for a long time. All that time no one, including the present Minister, has done enough research. Let us have some research.

Yesterday I received a letter from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, including words to the effect "in view of your support of this Bill". It should have had a look at the records. I spoke on the original Bill about 10 year ago and was violently against it. Now RoSPA writes to me saying that it is glad that I am in favour. Then it gives all the facts and figures to show why this is a good Bill. It does not even know who is for it and who is against it.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Does the hon. Gentleman relate this matter to new clause 4?

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because one of the bodies to make a report might be RoSPA. It might give us the facts, and it might check up first, so that when it writes to an hon. Member who started the opposition to the Bill it does not thank him for supporting the Bill.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

While my hon. Friend is checking records, will he also check on his own and see whether he voted for the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which actually introduced this concept?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. We have enough to do today without going into safety regulations. That cannot be in order on this clause. It may be in order later in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I was about to say that in that report there might be information about how far this matter would be relevant, but I would be out of order. New Members should really—

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

I am not a new Member.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton is a new Member. It is not until one has been in the House for 25 years that one is even recognised, so we are all new Members to that extent. However, I did not mean to be rude or offensive. Let us try to get this into perspective. We must have a proper system for checking, and the Ministry of Transport is the worst of the lot in this matter. My record can be traced back to the days of Alf Barnes, if anyone ever remembers Alf Barnes.

Through the new clause we will have an opportunity to make a check and discover whether seat belts are in order, are good belts or are the right ones. We do not know about the manufacture of them. There might be something wrong with the manufacturing of them. Checking this would be possible if there was a report. Therefore, I support the new clause.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). He has given some valuable information to the House. He is well known to the House and the country for campaigning for freedom of information. He is therefore well qualified to speak from the Opposition Benches on this new clause.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) on introducing the clause. It is strange that on Report both the Government and the original sponsor of the Bill should say that they accept it. If they believe it is so important to have the clause in the Bill, why was it not in the original Bill? To some extent that clearly indicates that this sort of debate on Report is valuable. Unfortunately, the House has a bad reputation because of the badly drafted legislation that it has passed—not least the trade union and labour relations legislation of 1974 and 1976, which has caused many of the problems that face us today.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough on the extremely articulate and detailed case that he presented to the House. My hon. Friend left the sponsor of the Bill with no alternative but to accept the clause. The responsible nature of the new clause, and the additional information that it solicits for the House and for the people of this country, will be beneficial should this misconceived piece of legislation ever reach the statute book.

It was a great shame that the hon Member for Newham, North-West was attacked so viciously and unjustifiably by one of his hon. Friends. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not consider it out of order if I ask whether some of those who have attacked hon. Members on both the Government and Opposition Benches who seek to question this legislation remember how they be haved during the earlier stages of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. I wonder whether those who have sought to accuse both Government and Opposition Members of delaying tactics themselves participated in delaying tactics on that Bill.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Then why make accusations?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

The hon. Gentleman should realise that he must ask to intervene. He cannot just start shouting across the Chamber.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not give way at this stage because I was making no specific accusations. I was putting a rhetorical question, and if there are Opposition Members who feel guilty, so be it. If they are innocent, so be it also.

1.45 pm

I say to my hon. Friend—this is where I may part company with him—that I am not so sure that it should not be within a year of the Act coming into operation that a report should be made. I believe that the House should be kept very much up to date with the progress of this legislation should it, by some mischance, reach the statute book. I intend to give my reasons for that belief.

I come, first, to types of accidents. It was interesting that two Opposition Members raised the problem of how those who were forced to wear a seat belt would react and might be restricted in the action that they could take in the event of the vehicle in which they were travelling catching fire. That is a very important question. It has not been answered adequately. Likewise, there are the dangers that might be experienced by someone compulsorily wearing a seat belt when his car plunges into water, be it a fast-flowing river, a lake or whatever, and how he would be affected.

The report could very clearly document such matters. Obviously, police forces would feed information into the Ministry of Transport, and in due course the Minister could present a full report to the House. He could indicate the number of accidents that had occurred in which cars had caught fire when the occupants, particularly the driver and front seat passenger, were forced to wear a seat belt and had been killed, and the incidents in which they had escaped; and likewise, where a vehicle fell into or ran into water, again with statistics showing whether people had been trapped and could not get out of the vehicle because of their seat belts, and where, fortunately, they were able to escape.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

My hon. Friend is voicing some very popular fears about seat belt wearing when he talks about vehicles catching fire or plunging into water. I suggest that the report about which we are talking might reveal that wearing a set belt greatly reduces the incidence of concussion and serious injury, and that if drivers are concussed or seriously injured in an accident, it is that which is most likely to prevent them getting out of a vehicle in the case of fire or going into water. It may well turn out to be a popular myth that somehow one is better prepared for a really serious accident in which fire might ensue by driving along happily not wearing a seat belt, believing that one will be able to jump out if one has a serious accident.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the view that he expressed. He made his view clear in an earlier intervention on a new clause—which unfortunately and incorrectly, I think, and sadly, was not passed. His view was that he was basically behind this legislation and that he personally wore a seat belt. He has every right to express his view, although the Government are not taking sides.

I have been consistently against the compulsory wearing of seat belts and against any such legislation. However, like many hon. Members, I believe that we should certainly encourage people to wear seat belts and, if necessary, have an insurance waiver in favour of those who wear seat belts, rather than taking a negative line on insurance. Every encouragement should be given to having the advantages and benefits of wearing seat belts explained.

I should like to relate two personal incidents. The first was when I was travelling home on a Sunday morning, shortly after the 1970 general election, from a civic service in Coleshill, in Warwickshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), now the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, who was then the hon. Member for Meriden, was also in attendance at the service. I was involved in a very serious motor accident, in which I was a completely innocent party. A heavy vehicle coming from Manchester to Abingdon market to collect strawberries on a Sunday to take back to the early market in Manchester for the Monday morning came around a sharp corner on the A446. It was coming too fast and the driver braked suddenly so that he was unable to control the vehicle. It came across the road and took away the whole driver's side of my vehicle. If I had been wearing a seat belt I would have been unable to throw myself laterally into the passenger seat of the car, onto my wife who was sitting on that seat. I should have been restricted by my static seat belt.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman a great deal of latitude. We are discussing what would be contained in a report. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said for the last 10 minutes would not have been said by him in a Second Reading debate as to whether or not we should wear seat belts. If he is going to give instances, I hope that he will not go into individual cases but will state what he thinks the report should include.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Obviously, I shall heed your advice and instruction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall bring the story to a quick end as you do not wish Members to be specific. However, this is the sort of incident upon which information should be contained in the report to indicate how effective or otherwise the Bill will be if it becomes an Act.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I shall just conclude this matter. If I had not been able to throw myself into the passenger side of the car because I had been wearing a seat belt, I would have been seriously injured or killed. Therefore, there are a number of instances where the wearing of a seat belt can be a sentence of death. In any monitoring of the effect of the Bill, the sort of tale that I have related—a true story in which I was involved—should be included in the statistics in the report that my hon. Friend wishes the Minister to present to the House on an annual basis.

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

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has a pyschological problem about putting on a seat belt. However, he started by saying that he would urge people to wear seat belts and he accepted that insurance companies should charge a lower premium for those who regularly wear them.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Indeed, I did say that and I need make no further comment. However, statistics need to be included in the report, which does not necessarily show that the wearing of seat belts is always an advantage. It is a valid point that should be included in the report.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Does my hon. Friend feel that it is important for the report that will be produced to the House on regular occasions to contain evidence about the incidence of accidents among those wearing seat belts and those not wearing seat belts? We do not have that information at the moment. It is possible for seat belts to cause accidents in three ways: first, by someone not releasing his belt through tiredness, secondly, by being unable to control the vehicle and, thirdly, because some people may feel that because they are wearing seat belts they are safer and, therefore they drive more rapidly and dangerously and cause an accident in that way. Will my hon. Friend comment on that matter? I believe that it is one of the vital ingredients that should be contained in the report.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I am happy to respond to my hon. Friend. On the first question that he put to me as to whether the report should contain statistics and details of both those wearing seat belts and those not wearing them who are injured and severely maimed in accidents, I believe that that is just the sort of information that should be contained in the report. The other point is also a valid one. People could have a sense of false security from wearing a seat belt and believe that it enabled them to drive faster and more recklessly without danger. However, that is merely a personal opinion, and I have no doubt that hon. Members will have differing points of view.

The report should also contain details of the various types of seat belts fitted to vehicles which are involved in accidents. The number of accidents in which people are severely injured when wearing static belts should be included in the statistics. Likewise, the number of accidents in which people are severely injured or killed when wearing inertia reel belts should also be in the report.

I suggest also that the reports should give details of the number of accidents in which people are severely injured or killed because of the faulty operation of their belts or because their belts refused to loose themselves when the people concerned attempted to release them. All these statistics are very important.

I move on to the enforcement issue. In this connection, considerable information should be provided in the proposed report. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said so cogently, our hard-pressed police are already unable, even with the assistance of traffic wardens, adequately to deal with parking offences. The number of occasions when traffic in London and other big cities cannot flow freely because of illegal parking is such that it seems a little strange to foist upon the police an additional responsibility. I agree that some police officers would welcome this measure, but many others would not.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I have been told by a deputy commissioner of police at Scotland Yard that there are more than 2,000 rules and regulations affecting vehicles on the roads and that no policeman in the country could tell an inquirer half of them. How can a policeman enforce them if he does not even know them? Yet now we contemplate adding another bunch. It is ridiculous.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I do not think that I need respond to that intervention, save to say that the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to an important and valid argument.

If we are to pass legislation, it must be enforceable, otherwise it is useless, and this House will do itself and the country no service by putting it on the statute book.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I appreciate my hon. Friend's tolerance in giving way yet again. Can he say how the enforcement should take place? Would a police officer look to see whether someone had a strap over his shoulder, bearing in mind that some seat belts are worn only round the waist? Should we, have the random stopping of cars in order for the police to ask people whether they were wearing their belts? What sort of public reaction does my hon. Friend think that would produce? Perhaps he would care to look at this problem.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

It is not for me to look at the problem. It is the sponsor of the Bill who should look at it, together with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the implementation of any legislation, no doubt in liaison with the police.

It is vital that statistics about the number of people taken to court and convicted for not wearing their seat belts, if this legislation gets on the statute book, should appear in a report placed before this House on an annual basis, together with the number of people found without seat belts who were taken to court and not convicted, with details of the grounds for their not being convicted. All these statistics should be presented to the House so that, in the first instance, at the end of the first year of putting this legislation on the statute book, the information may be available to hon. Members and, through this House, to people outside. It is the people outside not just right hon. and hon. Members, who wil be affected by the legislation that we are debating.

2 pm

It is important to know what is the most effective seat belt. If this legislation gets on to the statute book, people will inevitably want to buy the most effective seat belts. It is important that a report should come to this House at an early date no matter upon how little information it is based. In this context a little information is better than no information, and such a report would help people decide what kind of seat belts to fit to an old car that they do not intend to replace.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the report that he calls for should contain a section dealing specifically with the exceptions granted by the Minister? The aspect of the Bill that worries me is the power given to the Minister to make exceptions. I would have thought that exceptions, as a matter of constitutional propriety, would be much better debated here than included in the Bill. The operation of the Act will create a variety of exceptions as people submit strong cases for exemption. I would have thought that that aspect should be dealt with in the report.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. He has been present during most of the debate but has had to leave the Chamber on one or two occasions to attend to other important matters. It might well have been during one of those absences that he missed an intervention that I made earlier on the non-specific nature of exemptions and exceptions.

My hon. Friend says that it is a bad Bill, and I entirely agree with him. It is an excessively bad Bill, and I shall do everything in my power to ensure that it does not reach the statute book. My hon. Friend raised an important issue, but I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would rule me out of order if I discussed the exceptions, because you would rightly point out that if my hon. Friend looked at the Amendment Paper he would see that there will be opportunities later in the debate for hon. Members to raise the issue of exemptions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough referred to a survey that indicated that 59 per cent. of those questioned said that they were against this legislation. Further research done by my hon. Friend in his own area of Yorkshire and the North of England showed that driving instructors were overwhelmingly against this legislation.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. This cannot be relevant to the question whether a report should be made or not. I have allowed the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) considerable latitude, but he is going into great detail on issues that are not relevant to this particular amendment.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I apologise once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was led marginally astray by my hon. Friend, the Member for Woolwich, West. I conclude my remarks—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

If the hon. Member would like me to discuss inertia reels, I shall be happy to do so, but I am not sure how much latitude you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If I may relate the remarks that you considered to be out of order very much to the new clause that we are debating, I believe that the objections that the police are receiving to the legislation—should it reach the statute book—might also very usefully be recorded in the report that is part of the—

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. The hon. Gentleman has said something that I was ruling out of order. It would be in order for the hon. Gentleman to speak of objections made after the legislation had been passed, but not before. It cannot be relevant to the time.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

That is exactly what I said. Objections to the legislation, once it has reached the statute book, could be reported in the annual report by the Minister to the House.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. The hon. Member and I might be misunderstanding each other. I was referring to the hon. Gentleman's reference to driving instructors giving a present opinion. That cannot be relevant to a new clause proposing that a report be made after the act is in force.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

We are now on the same frequency, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was referring to remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough, who made his speech when your colleague was in the chair. My hon. Friend was not pulled up by the Chair. Driving instructors and those who teach people to drive might feel that their ability to act in a crisis is adversely affected by the wearing of a seat belt. That information could be included in the Minister's report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough presented an excellent case. I am delighted that the Government and the Bill's sponsor have accepted it. I have only one reservation. I shall wait until the end of the debate before deciding which way to vote. My hon. Friend might have served the House better if his new clause had provided that the Minister should, within one year of the Act being passed, present a report to Parliament on the operation of the Act. With that reservation, I welcome the clause.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

This has been a sad debate. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) moved a reasoned new clause. Within five minutes he was told by the sponsor of the Bill that he would accept the provision. The sponsor accepted that a report should be made. However, the hon. Member continued with his speech and was followed by other hon. Members who went on at inordinate length about the ins and outs of reports, here, there and everywhere.

One would be forgiven for thinking that we are discussing a minute and technical statutory instrument of no consequence. In reality we are discussing a matter of enormous consequence which many experts believe could save thousands of lives—yet hon. Members treat the matter frivolously. That is a scandal.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order I have allowed the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) to get off his chest what he had in mind. He must now discuss the amendment.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

The new clause provides that a report be published. Few people believe that a report of that nature could include anything but the most devastating evidence that the compulsory use of seat belts is desirable and necessary. The idaa of such a report is acceptable to the sponsors. It is tragic that the House insists upon discussing the minute details of such a report. We are being diverted from the basis of the legislation. A decision should be made in the Lobbies instead of talking out the Bill. The evidence is overwhelming and it would be included in any report that was published after the Bill had been enacted. It would confirm the view already expressed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Royal College of Surgeons and—

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. I have already had cause to call the hon. Gentleman to order. We are discussing what will be in the report if the Bill is enacted. We are not discussing what people are saying now.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton

I appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker that the even-handedness that you have shown should apply equally to me. The point of view expressed has been accepted. We should now enshrine that point of view in the Bill. We should go on to discuss the important issues. We must come to a decision about this vital piece of legislation.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

I intervene briefly to say that the Second Reading of the new clause has been eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller). I do not disagree with the opinion that has been expressed by the sponsor of the Bill. However, in accepting the new clause, the sponsor was understandably moved by the remarks of my hon. Friend and by considerations of time. There was an understandable desire to get on with the discussion.

The Bill has evolved over a number of years as a result of similar parliamentary proceedings. Sponsors have tended to accept amendments or to frame the Bill in such a way as to reduce the amount of debate possible. I hope that no one thinks that that process produces an ideal form of legislation. Those of my hon. Friends who have spoken at length may change their minds. If a clear majority were in favour of the Bill, a better form could be drafted. Most of us feel that the wide regulation-making powers in the Bill are unsatisfactory. A better piece of legislation would contain more specific exemptions that could be criticised individually by hon. Members. The type of debate that we have had over the years has driven sponsors to go for this form of Bill. However, I hope it will not be taken as an ideal precedent for drafting.

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

Is there not a principle involved? Friday after Friday is wasted on such Bills as the seat belts Bill and the abortion Bill. They hold up other Bills upstairs, simply as a result of the procedure that my hon. Friend has mentioned,

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

I sponsored a Bill that suffered a similar fate. Any Private Member's Bill that is passionately opposed by more than 12 hon. Members has no prospect of being enacted. It holds up other legislation. It is probably right that that should be so.

Although the new clause has been accepted, on another occasion I might have cast doubt on the wisdom of putting a statutory obligation on the Government to keep producing an annual report to the House. It would become an onerous obligation upon the Ministry. It would also waste the manpower needed to produce it. After a while we would have enough experience and the report would not be necessary. I therefore hope that any future draftsmen of a Bill on this subject will not think that an ideal seat belt Bill should contain such clauses. Quite rightly—from the point of view of the sponsors—tactical considerations have prevailed today. However, if one were starting again, one would need to look afresh at the question of whether the House needs a statutory report about road traffic legislation.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston 2:15 pm, 22nd February 1980

I am grateful to you for having called me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been seeking to catch your eye since 9.30 a.m. However, as a result of the many weighty arguments that have been deployed, it has been difficult for anyone to speak.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Surely my hon. Friend should blame not the general interest in the debate but the fact that a number of hon. Members who support his point of view, including one of my hon. Friends who spoke for 77 minutes, have blatantly filibustered on the Bill. Surely that is what has wasted the time.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take that statement by my hon. Friend to be a rather serious aspersion on those of us who have been motivated only by the public good and the desire to make sure that matters that were not fully debated on Second Reading or in Committee are properly aired and ventilated today.

Accusing an hon. Gentleman, let alone an hon. Friend, of a filibuster in such circumstances is not only outrageous, but casts aspersion on the Chair. I am sure that if there had been a filibuster, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would have been the first to stop it. May I ask for your protection and suggest that you should invite my hon. Friend to withdraw his outrageous and offensive suggestion?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Such suggestions are often made in the House. Sometimes there is truth in them and sometimes there is not. It is something that hon. Members have to get used to, and I do not believe that there is anything of which the Chair should take note.

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

I hate to see two of my favourite hon. Friends falling out. I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) give the impression that we ought not to discuss these matters in detail, but should go into the Lobby with great speed, because that is what the public expects of us. The hon. Gentleman may take a different view if he has strong feelings against a future Bill.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Is the hon. Gentle-aware that the deputy leader of my party, God bless him, and I did exactly what is being done today when the House considered the House of Lords reform Bill. We are accompanied—

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. That is well outside the discussion of the new clause.

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

I oppose the new clause, even though it was moved cogently and persuasively by my hon. Friend the member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller), and I shall seek to divide the House on it.

As this is my first contribution in any debate on the Bill, I should say that I have a warm personal regard for the promoter and regret having to take precisely the opposite view about the measure.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), I always wear a seat belt and I do my best to persuade my passengers to wear one. It is only sensible to do so, but I resile from the compulsory element. As legislators, we should hold fast to the view of John Stuart Mill that when we are creating a crime it should be an act against someone else and not against ourselves.

Those of us who have practised at the criminal Bar over the years—

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman always tries to keep in order, but his remarks cannot possibly relate to the new clause. Even his feeling about the legislation have nothing to do with the new clause.

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

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I turn at once to my objections to the new clause. First, I think that it will be unnecessary. Obviously we shall need a great deal more information about how the Bill is to work if it gets on to the statute book.

I have great faith in my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I write him letters almost every day. I always get a charming letter back. We have had a long line of excellent Parliamentary Secretaries. The only trouble is that they all get bitten by this compulsory seat belts Bill. Apart from that, the occupants of that office have looked after the interests of my constituents very well. I am grateful for all they done over the years. I am willing to trust that the House and the nation will be given the information that is needed. It is known perfectly well that the public will not accept this legislation or abide by it unless they feel it is necessary.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I agree with the hon. Gentleman 100 per cent. about the Parliamentary Secretary. Is he not aware, however, that we have civil servants who like to cover up their misdeeds and mistakes? If this were voluntary, does he think that it would come out? The matter of the Crown Agents came out only by accident.

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

I am not disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman. If officials can produce reports that are meaningless, leaving out parts that would be unfavourable to their arguments, I do not believe that the compulsory element imposed on the Minister will be a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter. In the same way as I believe in the voluntary use of seat belts, I believe that the Minister would voluntarily submit to Parliament, or report to the public, the evidence and information that should be available. It is not sensible to require the Minister or, if the point of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) is valid, his officials to produce this information.

I am concerned about the cost. This is especially relevant if hon. Members are to insist on an annual report. There will be, perhaps, hundreds of these reports. This, of course, will not happen, because the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will be repealed. Until it is repealed these reports will be churned out year after year, and, I suspect, become more meaningless and more a waste of public money.

I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary is studying ways to save public money in the Ministry of Transport. My fear is that money that could have been spent on two bypass schemes in my constituency could be lost. This applies throughout the country. I do not wish to see public money wasted. I fear that this proposal will mean incurring unnecessary public expenditure.

It needs to be repeated that a budget of £9,000 million works out at £200 per man, woman and child. That is an enormous deficit. By taking this step we are adding to public expenditure unnecessarily. The cost of publishing all the documents issued by the Ministry of Transport is considerable. It is not only the printing. That is only a small item. It is the amount of research that has to go into these reports and documents. The cost of those published in the course of a year must be considerable.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

If my hon. Friend is so concerned about public expenditure and, indeed, more concerned about that expenditure than, perhaps, the saving of life and the avoidance of injury, would he like to put in the balance the enormous saving in public expenditure, in terms of saving life, hospital resources and the immense cost of the National Health Service to the taxpayer that would result from the passing of the Bill? That far outweighs the trivial point that he makes.

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

I accept that entirely, but it will prove a waste of money to have the information regurgitated year after year by the Minister simply because the House wants annual reports. We could trust the Minister of the day to publish reports from time to time and that would be administratively a more sensible way of proceeding. I accept that seat belts save lives. I believe in wearing a seat belt. I always do so.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

As good as the Parliamentary Secretary may be, and as much as the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) may love him, he will not be in his present post for all time. Another Minister will supersede him. We cannot trust all Ministers. They even avoid answering questions if they can get away with it.

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

I understand that, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that I am doling out the syrup in the Parliamentary Secretary's direction this afternoon because I want to press ahead with urgent decisions about two bypasses, one for Long Sutton and the other for Spalding.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for my hon. Friend to raise the question of these bypasses?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I was considering the next business. Bypasses do not come within the terms of the new clause.

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

They are important bypasses and I do not want them to be delayed.

Photo of Mr Percy Grieve Mr Percy Grieve , Solihull

I share entirely my hon. Friend's views about the expediency and desirability of wearing seat belts. That issue does not arise under this Bill. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that in this regard society does not make suicide a criminal offence, although once it did.

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

I am disappointed in my hon. and learned Friend, because he was for many years—we remember him fondly for this—deputy chairman of Holland quarter sessions. In his capacity on the Bench he was concerned with numerous prosecutions for dangerous driving in the county. I thought that he would endorse the importance of having the two bypasses because of the numerous cases of bad driving that arose.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

Perhaps my hon. Friend will encourage the Department of Transport to look with particular favour on the Long Sutton bypass by giving an indication of the likely incidence of seat belt wearing that his constituents might indulge in while using that road.

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

My hon. Friend has received photographs from me of shop property and houses that have been demolished by lorries that have collided with them. Those incidents would never have happened if the bypass had been built.

The clause is unnecessary. We have an open system of Government. Ministers are, as a whole, much more open-minded in giving information—

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

I do not accept everything said by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West on this issue. Ministries are more forthcoming now than they were 35 years ago when he first came to the House. In those days very few questions were tabled for written answer, and the questions were not answered in the way that they are now.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

There was much more openness then, because there were more oral questions. Ministers answered questions, which they do not do today.

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

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary always answers questions very well. I repeat that there is far more open government now on many matters. There is far more access to information. If one goes into the Library one sees quantities of reports, documents and the rest issued out of Whitehall on a scale never experienced 20 or 30 years ago—

It being half-past two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 7 March.