With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 22—Breach of requirement relating to seat belts—
‘In part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 in the entry relating to section 14 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act, insert in column (6) (Endorsement) “obligatory” and in column (7) (Penalty points) “3”.’.
The effect of new clause 22 would be to add penalty points for a contravention of the law, the imposition of which would be obligatory. I was one of those who were not comfortable with the idea of compulsory seat belts when they were introduced. There may be others present who were of a similar mind. Given what we now tolerate by way of the nanny state, it seems pretty small beer in comparison.
However, where children are concerned, different standards apply and a nanny state or an alternative provision is often a good idea. That is why it would be appropriate to send the message that whatever someone wants to do with their own welfare and safety is a matter for them as an adult, but that the law takes a different view about the treatment and safety of children. For that reason, there is a compelling case to associate penalty points with the failure to secure children properly in the back seat of a car.
This is one of those issues that reasonable people can dispute reasonably. There is no ethical or philosophical reason why the offence should not be endorseable, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but it is my view and the Government’s view that the financial penalties are adequate. Faced with those penalties, people will want to obey the rules. The important thing is not so much that we make the offence endorseable, but that we continue to work with the police to encourage them to prosecute people who do not wear seat belts or who allow passengers not to wear them. I am pleased to say that in 2003, the police took action against 145,000 people for such offences, but we must keep up the pressure to achieve that.
Given that the hon. Gentleman is not going to convince me to make the offence endorseable, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment. In any event, it would have made carrying children without a seat belt an endorseable offence in the rear of the car, but not in the front, which I suspect is not what he intended when he drafted his probing amendment.
My understanding was that carrying children in the front of the car would have been covered by other provisions. The Minister makes a fair point, and as I said, they are probing amendments. He is right: an horrific number of people are caught by the police for the offence every year. I know that because I have prosecuted an horrific number of them over the years. A significant number attend court personally or say by letter that they are prepared to take the financial hit—the financial penalty. For a person to take that view for themselves is a matter for themselves. Children should be treated differently, and the only way in which people are going to take the offence seriously is if they receive points on their licence, rather than a mere financial penalty.
The matter will not go away, and I think that eventually we will have our way. For today, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
We on the Conservative Benches believe that it is anomalous that the fine for someone who does not wear their seat belt in the front is different from that for someone in the back. Anyone who has seen safety videos showing a child or person on the back seat being catapulted over the front seat will know that that does not make sense. The Minister has struck the right balance with clause 24 and we support it.