Children to Wear Seat Belts

Orders of the Day — Transport Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 28th July 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Lords amendment: No. 13, leave out clause 27 and insert the following new Clause B—Restrictions on carrying children in the front of motor vehicles— B.—(1) After section 33 of the 1972 Act there is inserted, after the section inserted by section A, the following section—

"Restrictions on carrying children in the front of motor vehicles.

33B.—(1) Except as provided by regulations a person shall not, without reasonable excuse, drive a motor vehicle on a road when there is in the front of the vehicle a child under the age of fourteen years who is not wearing a seat belt in conformity with regulations.

(2) It is an offence for a person to drive a motor vehicle in contravention of subsection (1) above.

(3) Provision may be made by regulations—

  1. (a) excepting from the prohibition in subsection (1) above children of any prescribed description, vehicles of a prescribed class or the driving of vehicles in such circumstances as may be prescribed;
  2. (b) defining in relation to any class of vehicle what part of the vehicle is to be regarded as the front of the vehicle for the purposes of that subsection;
  3. (c) prescribing for the purposes of that subsection the descriptions of seat belt to be worn by children of any prescribed description and the manner in which such a belt is to be fixed and used.

(4) In this section— regulations" means regulations made by the. Secretary of State under this section; andseat belt" includes any description of restraining device for a child and any reference to wearing a seat belt shall be construed accordingly

(2) In Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the 1972 Act (prosecution and punishment of offences) after the entry relating to section 33A there is inserted—

"33B. Driving motor vehicle with child in the front not wearing seat beltSummarily. £50Sections 181 and 183 apply"."

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This amendment also concerns safety. In parenthesis, I should like to refer briefly to the general vote on seat belts now that the House has decided the issue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who have campaigned for many years on the issue. In particular I should like to mention my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), and the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals). They have won a decisive victory and I congratulate them.

It may be helpful if I say that the next stage will be the preparation of the statement which I am required to lay before Parliament. I hope to do that as soon as possible in the new Session. There will follow a statutory period of three months during which there will be consultation with the public and interested organisations generally. The regulations will probably be laid early in the new year.

It is difficult to be specific on when the law will come into operation, but I visualise it as being some time in the middle of next year. After the making of the regulations, a period has to be allowed for those who wish to apply to obtain medical certificates or exemptions. I also hope that the House will agree that it would be sensible to accompany, and if possible precede, the introduction of the legislaton with a major publicity effort. I give a firm assurance that now that the House has decided the issue, there will be no delay in implementation.

The new clause concerns children in cars. It is for consideration whether the same timetable should apply to the new clause which we are now considering. The clause which is the subject of amendment No. 13 differs from the previous amendment in that the matter was considered by the House at earlier stages in the passage of the Bill, having been introduced in Committee by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman). It may, however, be helpful if I remind the House of some of the main considerations.

9.15 pm

First, I believe there was general agreement that, whatever our views on legislation on the safety of adults, the safety of our children raises wholly different considerations. Parliament has a right and, indeed, a duty to ensure their protection. That was why the Government felt able positively to support the clause on children.

Secondly, the way the clause is framed is based on careful consideration of the best available advice. This advice was contained in a report by the Child Accident Prevention Committee, which is an independent body of medical and safety experts. In short, it is proposed that children should sit in the back unless restrained in the front.

Following our earlier decision, concern was expressed in The Sunday Times that children wearing adult seat belts could be at risk. I therefore considered the results of its tests very carefully. I gave my conclusions in a reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) on 5 June. In it I said that I saw no reason to dissent from the view of the Child Accident Prevention Committee that a child was less at risk when restrained by any approved form of restraint, including an adult seat belt, than when travelling unrestrained. Thus, what is proposed is more sensible and more practicable than the commonly suggested alternative of banning children from the front seats.

But I went on to say—this brings me to my third point—that the ideal is, of course, the use of a restraint appropriate to the characteristics of each particular child. I pointed out that this was not something that could be achieved by legislation, which could only set a minimum acceptable standard of safety. For the benefit of those parents who want to improve the safety of their children above this minimum level—and I hope as many as possible will want to do so—I shall be issuing guidance on the types of restraint which offer the best protection to children of various ages and sizes.

Fourthly, we are venturing into a new area of road safety law. It is, therefore, essential that we should be prepared to learn from experience. The adult seat belt clause provides for a review at the end of three years. As I have said, I think that that is a sensible way of proceeding. The clause on children does not contain the same statutory provision. Nevertheless, I believe that, whatever the statutory position, a similar review in three years' time would also be a reasonable way of proceeding to check that the intent has been translated into practical law which is working to the benefit of children. Here I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East.

There are some differences between the clause as it left this House and as it has now been amended in the other place, but I suggest that those differences are of detail rather than of principle. I therefore ask the House to accept the clause as now proposed.

Question put and agreed to.