HC Deb 12 March 1958 vol 584 cc418-9
46. Mr. Beswick

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what advice he has received from the Air Registration Board with regard to the installation of rearward-facing seats in civil aircraft; and what action he is now taking in this matter.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

The Air Registration Board has advised me that on present evidence there are insufficient grounds for making rearward-facing seats compulsory. It has, however, recommended that, where practicable, such seats should be provided. This reflects current international opinion and I agree with it.

Mr. Beswick

The question now arises as to what the right hon. Gentleman is doing about it. Here we have a situation in which the Air Registration Board says that it would be safer if passengers were seated in rearward-facing seats, and the Royal Air Force have already adopted this suggestion. Is it not difficult to explain why, as the Minister responsible for safety, he is not acting upon this recommendation?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not find it at all difficult to explain. The answer is that all modern aircraft will be so constructed—and this is my responsibility—that seats can face either forward or rearward as the operating companies so desire. The Air Registration Board has said that there was not a clear case, on safety grounds, for making rearward-facing seats mandatory, and I agree.

Mr. Beswick

But is it not a fact that the Board said that the reason why this should not be made mandatory was not on grounds of safety but for commercial considerations? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied to leave this matter to be settled upon commercial considerations and not on safety grounds?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not think that that reflects the advice which the Board has given me. If it were to give firm advice that this must be done and that the safety differential was so great that it should be done, it would be a different matter.

Mr. Langford-Holt

It may be that my right hon. Friend and the Board are not satisfied that rearward-facing seats should be mandatory, but will he bear in mind that many people are so satisfied? Will he consider making it compulsory that at any rate a proportion of seats face in a rearward direction?

Mr. Watkinson

As my hon. Friend knows, in most modern British aircraft that is so.

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