New clause 25 - Seat belts: delivery drivers

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 11th March 2003.

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'The following shall be substituted for section 14(2)(b)(i) of the Road Traffic Act {**em**}1988 (c.52) (seat belts: exceptions: delivery drivers)—

''(i) the driver of or a passenger in a motor vehicle constructed or adapted for carrying goods, while on a journey which does not exceed the prescribed distance and which is undertaken for the purpose of delivering or collecting any thing,''.'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing new clause 24—Requirement for adults to wear adult seat belts—

'.—A person driving or riding in the front or rear seat of a vehicle constructed or adapted for the delivery of goods or mail to consumer addressees, as the case may be, while engaged in making local rounds or deliveries or collections shall wear an adult seat belt.'.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge 2:30 pm, 11th March 2003

Just before we adjourned, I was declaring an interest. I do not know whether it is necessary, but it is always wise to err on the side of caution. The family business in which I am still a shareholder uses delivery vehicles to supply the fine merchandise that we purvey. It is a free delivery service.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Does the firm stretch to an internet service?

Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge

We are an old, established company. We are just getting the hang of decimal coinage.

I have worked for the company from an early age and spent a lot of time on delivery vans. I understand the culture of delivery vehicles and the problem that many people have with taking seat belts on and off. I am especially interested to hear, therefore, about the time scale and distances involved.

I have a dilemma with the two new clauses. Initially, I was taken by the Liberal Democrats' idea that seat belts should be worn on all occasions. Hon. Members will know that, when the wearing of seat belts was first made compulsory and, latterly, when a good friend and former colleague passed a private Member's Bill making the wearing of seat belts in the rear of vehicles compulsory, many people found it difficult to adapt. Lorry and van drivers large and small do not always put on their seat belts and would probably welcome an excuse not to comply. For obvious reasons, it can be a major cause of fatal injury not to wear one.

Having been teased by the Liberal Democrats' new clause, however, I now believe that the Government's new clause might be nearer the mark, but only as I

heard exactly what the Government understand by the time and distances involved. For example, the Minister mentioned dust-carts. The person having to go in and out of the passenger side could be excused for not wearing a seat belt, but the driver should wear one because he is not continually going in and out of the cab, although the driver may be a ''she'' for all that I know.

My particular interest may become relevant in the case of a driver who was not wearing a seat belt sustaining serious injury in an accident. Would the company be held liable for not putting a large notice on the van's dashboard saying, ''You must wear your seat belt at all times''? Is it a matter of law that the company would not be responsible? If there is a grey area, what will the employer's liability be?

With the freedom that I now enjoy to pick and choose between Government and Liberal Democrat new clauses, I wait with bated breath the answers to my questions and will then decide which option to choose.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip

Clearly, the Liberal Democrats can claim a partial victory. The press release has now been written and the presses will be printing the ''Focus'' leaflets so that they can be sent across the country to proclaim the partial victory that has been achieved.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that the Liberal Democrats will have a single position on the same issue throughout the entire country? History should record whether that is the case.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip

I do not know why that should surprise the hon. Gentleman so much. We have a clear and consistent position on all issues throughout the country, as does the Labour party if one looks at Scotland and Westminster.

We will be claiming a partial victory. However, we have some reservations about new clause 25. The advantage of our new clause is that it is much easier to enforce and administer. How will the police monitor the prescribed distance and how will the measuring be carried out to ensure that it is not exceeded?

If a more stringent requirement had been introduced for the use of safety belts in vans, manufacturers would have swiftly found technological fixes to ensure that quick release mechanisms were available so that van drivers and their passengers would be inconvenienced as little as possible by having to use them. Unfortunately, the Government's proposal will not create the impetus to come up with technological developments.

We need to take action with regard to van drivers. The Under-Secretary of State answered a parliamentary question that I posed a few months ago on seat belt-wearing rates for cars and vans. In April 2002, 91 per cent. of car drivers and 93 per cent. of their front-seat passengers wore safety belts. For van drivers, the figures were 64 per cent. and 51 per cent. respectively. Only about half of the front-seat passengers in vans were wearing their safety belts, and for both van drivers and front-seat passengers, there

has been a reduction in the use of seat belts over the past few years.

In addition to the measures proposed by us and the Government, there is a need for more publicity campaigns to encourage van drivers and passengers to use their seat belts. By how much does the Minister expect that the statistics will improve if the new clause is adopted? For drivers who travel further than the prescribed distance, the aim should be to match the current figures for car drivers and their front-seat passengers.

If the Government launch a campaign to encourage van drivers and their passengers to use safety belts, it should encompass adult rear-seat passengers in cars because they are also irregular users of safety belts. A campaign is needed to encourage them to use them.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any restrictions that apply to young people in the front of vans? I have often seen youngsters in vans with their father, perhaps during half-term, and I am not sure that they should be doing it. I wonder whether allowances would be made for young people. That could be quite serious.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip

I do not have the answer but perhaps the Minister—or his officials, if he does not know—can assist and clarify the matter. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many van drivers think, for whatever reason, that it is appropriate to have their children sitting on the dashboard without any restraint. It would be useful to have confirmation on the current legal position, and to know whether the Minister believes that new clause 25 would assist in relation to children.

Clearly, we welcome the Government's conversion to our cause. We would have preferred for new clause 24 to be adopted, but if that is not the Government's wish, we will support their proposal.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have some sympathy with the comments of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), and I think that the Committee shares his surprise. For the first time in recorded history the Liberal Democrats are claiming to be saying the same thing across the country.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

The hon. Lady may be interested to know that, on Luton borough council, the Liberals Democrats have abstained on all budget decisions just before they are to fight the local elections. They are at least consistent.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

Order. I call Miss McIntosh.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

What the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) says is not surprising.

We are slightly disappointed that the Under-Secretary has not seen fit to support any of our amendments, including the change to the title, but there is still time. Perhaps we can discuss that on the chain ferry in Plymouth in the summer. I hope that the Minister will agree that we have raised some issues that he would wish to endorse.

On the fitting of seat belts, a momentous anniversary was reached just this month. That is worthy of note. When the Minister spoke to new clause 25, he referred to the prescribed distance. It would be helpful to know how short that distance would be. There are other issues relating to delivery vehicles. I am mindful of the interests of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). Delivery vans are never far from the minds of those on the Conservative Benches for obvious reasons.

I gather that one does not have to wear a seat belt if the engine is running but the car is stationary or technically deemed to be parked. I wonder why the Government—or, indeed, the Liberal Democrats—have not covered that scenario. Clearly, it could cause some embarrassment if a person did not have to wear a seat belt because they had stopped or were travelling a short distance—we will learn later what those distances might be—but were prosecuted for other things, such as illegally keeping the engine running. It would be helpful to have some guidance from the Minister on that.

My concern, to which the Minister alluded, relates to the additional responsibility and duties on the police should either new clauses 25 or 24 be accepted by the Committee. Can he tell us how the police force will monitor all aspects, including the distance that is being travelled? The point about young persons travelling in delivery vans has already been raised.

I record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge for all the help and assistance that he has given me. He has moved to the Back Benches, but I hope that that is only temporary. I am sure that that does not reflect on the companionship that we have enjoyed on the Front Bench, or on the lengths to which I have gone to move some of the amendments and new clauses. He has supported me not just during the Bill, but on many other occasions. I am sure that his sojourn on the Back Bench will be short lived and that he will return to the Front Bench soon.

On how police will enforce the new legislation, my hon. Friend suggested that the issue of delivery vans in London and other towns would be problematic. It would be helpful to know how much time and additional resources the police will be given. I am mindful of the fact that the Minister has seen fit to move the new clause, but how will the police perform their duties under it?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 2:45 pm, 11th March 2003

An exemption was made in the Transport Act 1981 to satisfy industry concerns that those making frequent stops in delivery vehicles would be inconvenienced without any particular casualty reduction. The difficulty is that many delivery drivers believe that they are totally exempt from wearing a seat belt. The amendment, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and the Liberal Democrats, would address that.

I am interested to hear from the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about the

new concept of Liberal Democrats saying the same thing in all parts of the country. I look forward to that spreading to the west country—I would be pleased if it happened between wards in my constituency. I heard him say that he has had a partial victory, and, as we reach the final knockings of the Bill, we shall allow a Liberal Democrat to say that.

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked about monitoring and measuring. New clause 25 clarifies the law. We monitor the rates of seat belt wearing and look for any increases and decreases in vans. The police will continue to enforce the law, but they will have a clearer law to enforce. I have been asked to say what the distance will be, but it would not right for me to say that because it is a matter for consultation. It would not be right to pre-empt consultation, and if I did the hon. Lady would be the first on her feet to accuse me of doing so.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Can the Minister, in the spirit of good will that accompanies this stage of proceedings, give us an inkling—a soup¢on of an answer—with regard to the distance that will be suggested in the consultation document?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I would say that 100 miles was inappropriate but that 1 yd would be rather short. Somewhere in between those distances might be appropriate.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about better publicity. There is a good to case to be made for better publicity, and my Department has tried to achieve that through the trade journals and magazines, often quite successfully.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

It transpires that my hon. Friend and I have some statistical knowledge. The thought occurs to me that deaths from accidents rise more than proportionately to speed. Speed is critical. If a speed limit were built into the provision, so that seat belts had to be worn if the vehicle were travelling at more than 30 mph, the problem would be overcome. In such circumstances, long distances would, of course, be outside built-up areas and relevant speed limits. A speed limit of 30 mph would be appropriate for deliveries in built-up areas; indeed, the limit might even be lower. That might be a useful addition to the Bill.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Delivery drivers who stop and start during very short distances may not get any speed up at all. In fact, they may be travelling at 10 mph to 15 mph and would probably have a low risk of creating a casualty, or injuring themselves. The idea is useful for consultation, but it would depend on the speed on particular roads. If the speed limit were 30 mph, drivers would be committing an offence if they went above it.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about young people and adults. The position would be the same for adults as for young people; they must wear a restraint if one is available and is applicable for the vehicle.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge—

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I was just coming to the hon. Gentleman's points.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge

On restraints, would the new clauses apply to children even if they were technically passengers and not working?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

To be clear about that, and about the issue of engines running raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York, it is probably best if I drop a note to Committee members, rather than try to deal with it on the hoof. It is a good point, but it is often easy to be wrong on such fine details because different seat belt laws apply to different categories of vehicle.

I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Uxbridge. I heard that he had moved from his present position. One wishes that the hon. Lady had only seen his face; I thought that he had given up the will to live on a couple of occasions, especially during her contributions. She needs a rear-view mirror to see what is going on around her in Committee.

I think that I have answered most of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. I thought that his insights into the purveying of furniture were very interesting. Sometimes, I look at the hon. Gentleman and think, ''Would I buy a second hand wardrobe from this man?'' And the answer is that, indeed, I would—he is a decent, honest man.

Employer liability comes under general company law; perhaps I could include that matter in the note that I will write to Committee members. Some tricky issues are involved, and I want to be correct in what I say. Of course, companies have to provide a safe system for their employees to work in. There is, however, a difference between the driver's responsibility on the road—being responsible for his or her own safety—and the employer's responsibility to ensure that that person is safe. There is a narrow line between the two things and I would not want to say anything that might cross that line.

The debate has been useful, but I hope on balance that I have persuaded the Committee that my right hon. Friend's amendment will prevail.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip

No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and I could muster many superior arguments to support our amendment. However, the numbers are not on our side. If the new clause is not successful in the months to come and if it does not reduce the number who do not wear safety belts, will the Minister reconsider our proposal?

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.