HC Deb 17 July 1962 vol 663 cc253-83

(1) The Minister may make regulations requiring, subject to such exceptions as may be specified in the regulations, persons driving or riding (otherwise than in side-cars) on motor cycles of any class or description specified in the regulations to wear protective headgear of such description as may be so specified.

(2) Regulations under this section may make different provision in relation to different circumstances.

(3) Any person who drives or rides on a motor cycle in contravention of regulations under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds. —[Mr. Marples.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

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

This new Clause has been introduced as the result of an undertaking I gave to the Committee after the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) had made an impassioned and, I thought, a very reasonable and logical speech. He said that safety helmets should be worn by motor cyclists, and that the Government should take power, if necessary, to provide for that by regulation. After the reception that has been given to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in trying to be helpful to the House and to meet hon. Members' wishes, I confess that I feel a little nervous because, when one tries to help the House, one often runs into great difficulty. However, I hope that I shall have hon. Members with me on this new Clause.

This provision would enable the Minister to make regulations requiring the drivers or pillion passengers of motor cycles to wear safety helmets. It would not give him powers to require sidecar passengers to wear them. The Minister could require, first, both driver and pillion passenger—or only the driver, or only the pillion passenger—to wear helmets. Secondly, he could exempt from the requirements certain types of riders; for example, children under 14, whom it might be difficult to fit with helmets because their heads were either too small, or too big, for the standard size. Thirdly, he could exempt riders of certain types of machine—mopeds, for example.

I should refer to one legal difficulty in prescribing by reference to Section 221 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, the type of helmet to be worn. I underline the word "worn", because that Section governs the type of helmet to be sold, which is different from the type to be worn. The Section embodies a warranty concept that cannot be appropriate when it is the wearing of a helmet that is in question. The types of helmet to be worn would, therefore, be specified in the regulations made under the new Clause. It is highly probable that the types would be the same as those prescribed in Regulations under Section 221, because they would be to the standard of British Standard 2001 for the ordinary motor cyclist, or British Standard 1869 for helmets intended for use in motor cycle racing.

It would probably be necessary to prescribe slightly different types for other classes of riders; for example, the policeman on his scooter—not the police traffic patrol—wears a conventional style of police helmet, and the helmets worn by the Metropolitan Police, are I understand, up to the British Standard which is likely to be prescribed. If the regulations are made, a maximum fine of £50 would be imposed for not wearing a helmet.

The Clause moved in Committee by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, which he withdrew, would have had the effect of requiring all drivers and pillion passengers of motor cycles other than mopeds to wear safety helmets. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) supported that argument in Committee. I think that what both right hon. Gentlemen had in mind was that, in 1956, 40 per cent. of the male riders wore helmets, and in 1962 the figure had risen to 66 per cent., but, in Chair view, that advance was not sufficiently fast, and they felt that regulations should be made to get the hard core of, possibly, about 30 per cent. of male riders of motor cycles to wear helmets.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall said in Committee that he would be satisfied if the Minister, whoever he was —and I survived, too—had powers to impose compulsory regulations when he thought fit. He also said that if the Minister indicated that he did not intend to make the regulations for two or three years to come, he would be content as long as the residual power was there for the Minister of the day to use if he thought it necessary.

I accept that argument and, therefore, we have agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in principle, and I am grateful to him. We have put down this new Clause so that the Minister of the day will have power, if he thinks that it is night, to make the regulations. The arguments for the new Clause are very strong, but there are arguments against it, and I think that the House Should listen to their recital, because this move will not be popular with the motor cyclists, although popular with others. When one tries to help people, one sometimes gets an unexpected repercussion from them.

The arguments for the new Clause are, first, that motor cyclists are extremely vulnerable, and we have to recognise that. One of my colleagues on this side has told me that when he was the com- manding officer of a unit more of his men were killed on motor cycles through not wearing helmets than Hitler killed. That is true, I think, because it is the head injuries to the motor cyclist that cause the damage. In 1961, in the 17 to 19 age group, one out of every 260 of the population was killed or seriously injured on a motor cycle or scooter.

The country should always have in mind the high risk of head injuries to motor cyclists in accidents. Studies made by the Road Research Laboratory have revealed that the wearing of a helmet reduces by 30 or 40 per cent. the risk of injury to that part of the head covered by the helmet. It is, therefore, obvious that the helmet plays a great part in reducing the risk of injury to the head when an accident occurs.

The third point in favour of the Clause is this. I assure the House that there has been a great deal of propaganda on this subject. We have made the helmet glamorous. We have tried to get the girl friends of riders to wear them. We have done everything possible. In spite of all this propaganda, 30 per cent. of male motor cyclists are still not weaning safety helmets.

The fourth argument is that powers to make the wearing of helmets compulsory need not be taken straight away. We are not dictating to motor cyclists that they should wear them tomorrow, or when the Bill has received the Royal Assent. We are reserving to the Minister the right to decide when these regulations should be brought in and we are reserving the right of the House to criticise the Minister for bringing them in too late or too early, as the House may think. It is not dictatorship in that sense.

I am glad to say that motor cyclists have a great deal of spirit. Some of the letters I have received from them have revealed this spirit. They are very fierce individuals. They do not like being dictated to about wearing helmets. They do not wish the wearing of helmets to be made compulsory. I respect their wishes, but we are going to try by propaganda to persuade them to increase the 66 per cent. to very near 100 per cent. If by propaganda we are successful, there will be no need for the regulations. On the other hand, if the persuasive quality of the Minister of the day, whoever he may be, fails, the regulations will have to be brought in, because we want to protect the motor cyclists, in spite of their stubbornness in wishing not to wear helmets.

The last argument in favour of the Clause is that I think that the requirement will command a wide measure of support from the parents of motor cyclists, from the relations of motor cyclists, and from the girl friends of motor cyclists—but not from the motor cyclists themselves. That is the unpopularity which the Minister of the day will have to bear and hope that he can survive.

The main arguments against the Clause are these. The first is that this is legislation designed solely to protect the individual from the consequences of his own actions and as such is very unusual. I agree with that.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Marples

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire South, (Mr. Ronald Ball) says "Hear, hear", but it is not only his own actions. If he is injured he is taken to hospital. A large amount of medical attention, which has to be paid for, is given to him which might be better devoted to some other people. He would not have been hurt if he had been wearing a helmet. Therefore, it affects the community as a whole and not only the motor cyclist.

We all have to bear in mind the skill of the doctors who attend an injured motor cyclist who has hurt his head. Skull injuries to motor cyclists are terrifying. The skill of the surgeons could be better devoted to someone else, because if the motor cyclist had been wearing a steel helmet the surgeons would have been free to attend to someone else. Therefore, although I agree in principle that legislation designed to protect an individual from the consequences of his own action is unusual, I think It is justified in this case.

The second argument against the Clause is that compulsion will be unpopular with motor cyclists. I hope that the whole House will support me in this so that when I do receive complaints from motor cyclists I can say that the House of Commons was unanimous that it is in the public interest that it should be done. I hope that no one will either speak against it or divide against it, but will help me to sustain my argument when I reply to the motor cyclists.

The third argument against the Clause is that propaganda so far has been successful. In 1960, about 60 per cent. of male riders and about 70 par cent. of female riders wore safety helmets. In the first half of 1962 nearly 66 per cent. of male riders and 78 per cent. of female riders wore them. So we have been fairly successful.

Another argument against the Clause is that the law may be difficult to enforce. It seems likely that only motor cyclists not wearing helmets will be charged with committing an offence. This will be resented by the expert motor cyclist travelling a short distance over a main road. However, there it is. We shall have to face that unpopularity.

4.45 p.m.

The last argument against the Clause is that, if the law is enforced, there is a possibility that relations between the police and very young daring motor cyclists will be damaged. Again, I think that, on balance, the arguments are in favour of the Clause.

A man on a motor cycle is about eighteen times more likely to be injured than a man inside a car. That by itself shows how dangerous it is on a motor cycle. It is not that a motor cycle of itself is dangerous, because I personally think that it is much easier to control a motor cycle than it is to control a motor car, since the rider is astride the motor cycle. However, if anything hits a motor cyclist the damage is far greater than that which occurs when a car is hit. That is why the casualty rate is so high amongst motor cyclists.

In 1954, 1,148 motor cyclists were killed. In 1961, 1,544 were killed, an increase of 37.9 per cent. In 1954, 15,847 were seriously injured. In 1961, 26,085 were seriously injured, an increase of 64.6 per cent. In 1954, 35,536 were slightly injured. In 1961, 67,673 were slightly injured, an increase of 90.4 per cent. The overall total of killed, seriously injured and slightly injured was 52,531 in 1954. In 1961, the figure was 95,302, an increase of 80.1 per cent.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea of the breakdown? How many of those killed and seriously injured sustained head injuries?

Mr. Marples

I had intended to come to that point later but I will deal with it immediately.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Before dealing with that, may I ask my right hon. Friend how the figures compare with the increase in the number of motor cycles on the roads, because without those figures they are meaningless?

Mr. Marples

My hon. Friend has not allowed me to make the point. He interrupted me half way through my argument. I would have made it in the ordinary course of events. I shall always be logical when my hon. Friend is present.

The rate of increase in the number of casualties is considerably higher than the rate of increase in motor cycle mileage. The rate of increase in the number of deaths is considerably less than the rate of increase in the numbers of seriously and slightly injured. It may be, though it cannot be stated as a fact, that the reason for this lower rate of increase is that many who were seriously or slightly injured would have been killed had not many more people been wearing safety helmets in 1961 than in 1954. We cannot analyse this precisely. However, if they all wore safety helmets there would be fewer casualties than there are now. That is what the House should aim at.

Head injuries were the cause of deaths of riders of or passengers on motor cycles as follows: in 1955, 80 per cent. of deaths; in 1958, 73.7 per cent. of deaths; in 1959, 76.6 per cent. of deaths; in 1960, 70.8 per cent. of deaths. There was a reduction between 1955 and 1960, but there has been an increase in the wearing of helmets between 1955 and 1960 because of propaganda. If propaganda does not succeed in still further increasing the wearing of safety helmets, the regulations are designed to make motor cyclists wear them for their own protection.

We shall continue to press ahead with propaganda. I promise the House that I will do my best by propaganda to persuade motor cyclists voluntarily to wear safety helmets. It is abhorrent to my nature to make the wearing of safety helmets compulsory. However, if I fail in propaganda I think that the House would like the Government to have in reserve the final sanction of being able to make the regulations in the interests not only of motor cyclists, but of the community as a whole.

Mr. Strauss

I hope that the House will agree that the Minister has made a powerful and convincing speech in favour of the Clause. I certainly think so, as he used all the arguments which I put forward in Committee. On that occasion my arguments were apparently not so conclusive, as my proposal was then turned down.

The Parliamemtary Secretary then gave good reasons why it should not be accepted. I do not intend to repeat those reasons which, no doubt, were in his brief. It was only later the Minister stated that in view of the sustained appeal made to him by hon. Members he would consider the matter further to see if something could be done on Report. He has done that and I am grateful to him for meeting us. I am sure that he is doing the right thing.

In Committee, I suggested that the right hon. Gentleman should have the power to impose the obligatory wearing of crash helmets at such a time as he thought necessary. I did not propose that that power should be used immediately and I hoped that the reasonably successful propaganda campaign that had been conducted would be continued. I urged that should the right hon. Gentleman find that the propaganda was not being so successful, he should, by regulations, impose an obligation to wear crash helmets. The Minister has adopted my suggestion. He has been right to do so and I warmly support him.

When this matter was discussed in 1956 I recall that a number of hon. Members—lead, I believe, by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence)—thought it wrong that Parliament should impose on individuals by legislation the type of clothing they should or should not wear.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Strauss

I see that my hon. Friend does not recolleot what happened on that occasion.

Mr. Ronald Bell

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) was not present on the occasion to which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) is referring. The hon. Member he has in mind is actually his hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater).

Mr. Strauss

Nevertheless, that opposition was supported by many hon. Members. It is now reasonable to say, following the lapse of time since then and the propaganda that has been conducted, that we should consider afresh the accident rate to motor cyclists and the serious number of them who are killed and injured as a result of head injuries. As the Minister said, this is beyond a personal matter. It is a social matter in which society generally is involved in many ways—the hospitals, the witnesses of accidents, and so on.

I agree that it is unusual for a Government to impose by law on the individual the type of clothing he must wear under certain conditions. The Minister said that the proposal may be unpopular, but it will only be unpopular among the minority of motor cyclists who refuse to wear crash helmets. I do not believe that that matters very much.

The right hon. Gentleman has, no doubt, received many letters, as I have, protesting against the proposal. He may suffer a little unpopularity as a result of it, but if he wishes he can spread that unpopularity and involve my hon. Friends and myself. Whatever the unpopularity may be, we will have the compensating satisfaction of knowing that by taking this action we have saved the lives of many young men and have prevented very many others suffering serious injuries.

If propaganda during the next year or two proves to be unsatisfactory, the necessary regulations will be put into operation. I still hope that it will not be necessary to make this an obligatory matter. The House should feel that the power being sought by the Minister may prove to be a significant step towards reducing the number of fatalities on our roads.

The best way to deal with the accident problem is to concentrate action at the points where the largest numbers of them occur and there apply drastic and perhaps unorthodox methods. While I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on almost every other aspect of his administration where I consider that he is acting wrongly and contrary to the best interests of the nation, on road safety and the taking of action to keep down the number of casualties I willingly pay tribute to his endeavours.

Brigadier Sir Otho Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

I rise only because I have little faith in Ministers' assurances that the powers they are seeking will not be used. During the time I have been in the House I have rarely seen that happen. I am aware of the necessity to protect people against themselves in certain circumstances—one must do that with lunatics—but this is one occasion on which I do not think it is suitable to act by legislation.

The figures show that the Ministry's propaganda has increased the wearing of tin hats. I may be at fault, but it has appeared to me—when keeping my eyes on the road, at 30 m.p.h. limit signs and so on—that there are no posters advocating the wearing of crash helmets.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

This propaganda is mainly conducted inside motor cycle clubs, works and similar places where the literature will be read by the people it is aimed at.

Sir O. Prior-Palmer

I do not happen to ride a motor cycle and perhaps that is why I have not seen the literature. But I do drive motor cars and I know the effect posters have on people. I should have thought that a poster campaign would have been an admirable way of conducting this propaganda. I hope that, as he has said, my right hon. Friend will not consider introducing regulations until there has been a fairly intensive campaign. The only thing I like about this whole matter is that the threat of making the wearing of crash helmets compulsory may result in more people feeling inclined to wear them.

Parliament must be careful about the way in which it exercises its power over the liberty of the subject regarding his own particular choice. Precisely the same arguments which the Minister has adduced in support of the regulations could be applied to safety belts in cars. Does he intend to make the fixing or wearing of safety belts compulsory? If not, why not?

One cannot possibly do better than read the Committee speech of the Parliamentary Secretary fully to appreciate the position. On that occasion some excellent reasons were put forward why this proposal should not be accepted. For the life of me I do not know why the Minister has changed his mind. After all, this is not the British way of doing things and I appeal to my right hon. Friend either to withdraw the Clause or not to attempt to introduce its compulsory powers until after the next General Election.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I regret that the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer) made the sort of speech he did. It was rather out of character, and I say that having known the hon. and gallant Member for many years. I have an enormous respect for him and for his views and I tell him without offence that had he examined the facts fully he would know that crash helmets not only save lives now but that if the wearing of them were obligatory many more lives would be saved. I am talking about young adventurous lives, some of the most important we should endeavour to save.

If these lives were saved many parents would be pleased. It would be a worthwhile thing to do for the well-being of the public at large. I have received many letters, probably not as many as the Minister or my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), but the burden of some of them is that a man should have the right to kill himself on a motor cycle if he likes. I have had to write back and to say that, in my view, that is not correct. One is a member of the community, and if one meets with an accident it costs the community money. Hospital beds have to be kept. The amount of money spent in this direction because of accidents and deaths on the road runs into many millions.

5.0 p.m.

I am delighted that the Minister has implemented his promise to consider this matter again and has found it possible to introduce the new Clause. I hope that it will not be long before he puts it into operation. I do not know how many of the 30 per cent. not covered by it will be covered before he takes action.

When we deal with motor cars and motor traffic, we step into a different world, and our conception of what is right and proper in the way of liberty and freedom has to be curtailed. We have to allow many things in restraining the liberty and general freedom of the community. Although this may be a curtailment of the liberty of some young fellow, he may live to thank us for having curtailed his liberty. It is proper from the community point of view that his liberty should be curtailed by asking him to save himself should he meet with an accident.

Mr. Ronald Bell

If I had any doubt about the merit of this proposal, the speech of the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) would have resolved me against it. I can imagine no more flagitious doctrine than that we are entitled to interfere with the freedom of young men or, indeed, with that of men of any age beyond childhood in order to keep them alive by limiting the risks to which they expose themselves. I cannot see how the right hon. Gentleman's doctrine would fall short of stopping young men going mountaineering. Of course, their doing so involves danger for the rest of the community. If they get lost on a mountain through bad luck, inexperience or faulty equipment, others go out to rescue them. It has always been thought, at any rate in the circles with which I have any acquaintance, that this is a proper risk of living in the world—the risk of having to rescue, treat or mend those who have injured themselves as a result of exposing themselves to danger.

I have never until today heard that argued as a reason for restraining the freedom of the individual. If we admitted that for one moment as a valid reason, then life would be a very miserable, emaciated, desiccated sort of operation, and I hope that the House will utterly turn aside from what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Bence

I recognise the validity of some of the points which the hon. Gentleman has made, but only recently I was on a beach where there was a big sign saying, "Bathing is forbidden in this corner because it is dangerous."

Mr. Bell

I do not know what conclusion one should draw from that.

Mr. Bence

It was an infringement of liberty.

Mr. Bell

We are not talking about infringements of liberty in general, but infringements of liberty of a particular kind. If the hon. Gentleman disagrees with me or wants to modify a point which I have made, it is obvious that he will have to amplify it, in which case it is better that he makes a separate speech. I do not want to be discourteous, but it is often a good idea if we put forward our own arguments. I do not suppose that everything I say will be flawless, and that will help the hon. Gentleman when he speaks.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) used very much the same argument as my right hon. Friend, who indicated that if people are seriously injured because they are not wearing crash helmets, that might impose a heavy burden on the National Health Service and that therefore it is legitimate to bring in a proposal limiting their freedom because they should not impose a burden on the National Health Service. That would be using the National Health Service as an instrument of tyranny. I think that that argument would apply to almost any kind of conduct. I suppose that if a man fails to develop to the best advantage the gifts in him, he impoverishes the community to that extent. Are we then to impose on him by law obligations to make the best advantage of what is implanted in him lest he should detrimentally affect those who are his contemporaries in the world?

I do not see how liberty could survive some of the definitions to which I have listened this afternoon. I point out to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall that we should not avoid any accidents by doing what is suggested in the new Clause. The right hon. Gentleman spoke persuasively of a technique of concentrating on eliminating a particular source of accidents as a good way of gradually reducing the number of accidents. But to make people wear crash helmets will not reduce accidents but only the gravity of the consequences.

Mr. Bence

That is worth doing.

Mr. Bell

It may be, but it was not the point which the right hon. Gentleman was making.

Mr. Strauss

It was.

Mr. Bell

It was not. He was saying that this was a way to tackle the frequency of road accidents.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall found the speech of the Minister very agreeable, because he used the same arguments as the right hon. Gentleman had used in Committee. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman will find my speech equally agreeable, because I propose to use the same arguments which the right hon. Gentleman used the last time that this subject came before the House.

Mr. Strauss

Six years ago.

Mr. Bell

General principles do not change an awful lot in six years.

Mr. Strauss

I do not mind the hon. Gentleman quoting what I said then, but perhaps he will also quote the speech that I made in Committee explaining why I had changed my mind after six years.

Mr. Bell

I will try to do full justice to the right hon. Gentleman, but let us be quite clear why he opposed this suggestion when it last came before the House on 31st May, 1956. He said: … if a motor cyclist chooses not to wear a helmet, in spite of all the propaganda and all the pressure which has been put upon him, he will not in fact be causing the death or injury of anybody else but himself. That is a point to bear in mind. Therefore, by insisting on everybody wearing crash helmets, we shall not be reducing casualties on the roads except those of motor cyclists themselves. It is different introducing regulations providing that the motor cycle must conform to certain mechanical principles "— one might compare that with equipping a car with safety belts. All sorts of regulations can be made insisting on conditions pertaining to the motor cycle, because "— and this is the point— if something goes wrong with the motor cycle and an accident is caused, it will involve other cars and other people on the road, but if an injury takes place as a result of the motor cyclist not wearing some particular clothing, it is only the motor cyclist who is involved. Therefore, I would consider that this proposal is the last step which the Government ought to take. It may be that the time will come when they will have to take that step, but I would much rather wait a little longer before incorporating in the Bill a proposal which offends deeply our general feelings about interference with personal liberty. That was the point put forward very effectively by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater)."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st May, 1956; Vol 553, c. 501–2.] The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to say in 1956 that he would rather have the voluntary system of education, propaganda, and so on.

These were arguments of principle. It was not a case of the night hon. Gentleman saying that not enough people were being killed and that not enough motor cyclists received serious injury to justify this. He referred to it as something which injured our deep feelings about personal liberty. He instanced the fact that motor cyclists only were affected. I entirely agree. It was the point put forward by the hon. Member for Sedge-field and by the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), to whom the Minister referred in his speech. He said that one of my hon. Friends had told him—

Mr. Marples

I must get this right for the record. On that occasion, I was not referring to the Parliamentary Secretary. I was referring to somebody on the back benches who had told me that. My hon. and gallant Friend was in the Navy, and they do not use many motor cycles there.

Mr. Bell

The Minister's hon. and gallant Friend who is now the Parliamentary Secretary was on the back benches then. He was than, and for all I know still is, a most enthusiastic motor cyclist and a member of a motor cyclists' club. What he does not know about motor cycling is very little. He has been with these boys for years. On 31st May, the hon. and gallant Member for Croy-don, North-East, who is now the Parliamentary Secretary, made a most vigorous attack on this proposal, as did other hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman says "Yes, but now there are more motor cyclists being injured." That is the argument. I do not see how that links up with the question of principle at all. What the right hon. Gentleman seemed to me to be saying in the Standing Committee was actually this. He was not saying thai more people were being injured, but that more people were wearing crash helmets. He was saying that they are fairly generally accepted now, and, therefore, a law about them would be more acceptable than it was seven years ago. That is the argument which the right hon. Gentleman put forward, together with the argument about the National Health Service representing a charge on the community.

I find it a little difficult to deal with arguments put forward in the alternative in this way. If the propaganda is not successful, so that few motor cyclists are wearing crash helmets, then, it is said, "We must have compulsion, because the propaganda is failing." If, on the other hand, the propaganda enjoys the outstanding success which it has enjoyed, so that by far the greater part of the motor cyclists now wear crash helmets, then, it is said, "This has been so successful that we can now have compulsion." It is very difficult indeed to know which is the head and which are the feet of that argument.

Let us look at the figures. When the debate took place in the House six years ago, approximately 40 per cent. of the motor cyclists were wearing crash helmets. Now, six years later, 70 per cent. are wearing crash helmets. The figures are for male motor cyclists 66 per cent., and for female motor cyclists 78 per cent. I am quoting from the figures given by the Department in the debate in Standing Committee. I have them here, showing 66 per cent. for men and 78 per cent. for women. I am being moderate, as I always am, in taking 70 per cent. as the mean, assuming, of course, that there are more male motor cyclists than female—

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

That is not a fair average, because there are very many fewer women motor cyclists than men.

Mr. Bell

I do not think we need to quibble about half per cent. I think that the introduction of the "mopeds", or whatever one calls these things which the girls ride, has greatly altered the proportions. I am not talking about the power-assisted machines, but the rather larger product. These are the figures—66 per cent. for men and 78 per cent. for women, compared with about 40 per cent. six years ago. Nor has the rate of progress slowed down. The Parliamentary Secretary gave the figures in the debate in the Standing Committee a fortnight ago. He said, referring to the figures: They indicate that in 1960… about 60 per cent. of male riders and about 70 per cent. of female riders wore safety helmets. Another survey was done in the first half of this year. It showed that the figures have risen to 66 per cent. of male riders"— that is, from 60 per cent.— nd nearly 78 per cent. of female riders."— that is, from 70 per cent., so that the figures for the last year, or, it may be for nine months, have risen by at least 6 per cent. and probably by about 7 per cent.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

Has my hon. Friend any information as to the number of pillion passengers who wear these helmets?

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Bell

I think that the word used in the official statistics is "riders", and whether "riders" includes those who travel on a pillion or not I do not know. I gather that it probably does, because I see an hon. Member opposite nodding his head. I suppose it includes everybody, and I imagine that it is a fairly representative figure. I quote it because it shows that the impetus is not slowing down. It is going on. It is a magnificent performance, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon it. I think that he would agree that the R.A.C., the A.A., and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents all played a part in this, and that it was a wonderful success. I do not think that we would have hoped six years ago that by purely voluntary effort we could have had this remarkable increase, so that now it is really a small minority who are left.

Then, it is said, "We must introduce compulsion ". I ask the House to bear in mind that this proposal was put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in the Standing Committee on 5th July, and the Parliamentary Secretary, in asking the Committee to reject it, gave the figures, and said this: I suggest that the success of the propaganda to date is encouraging. The figures show that more and more motor cyclists, without compulsion, are wearing crash helmets. Before we make it compulsory to wear crash helmets as the new Clause would require, I think we ought to give that propaganda and that effort a further chance. He went on—and this is more important, because this survives any question of figures: There are certain other reasons I must advance against making this change compulsory. In a society like ours, Parliament must be somewhat chary of intervening to require people to be protected against the consequences of their individual acts. The public as a whole resent as grandmotherly and fussy legislation which appears to them not to be really necessary. In this connection, a great many motor cyclists who at the moment do not wear crash helmets but who through example and propaganda might well come to wear them, would resent very much fussy legislation which ordered them to wear crash helmets. I have tried to give our general view on this. We do not think that the time has come when compulsion should be written into the law. We feel that the success of propaganda and example has been so great since 1956, and the figures are going on rising all the time, that before we intervene in this situation and make it compulsory, with all the evident disadvantages that I have explained, more time should elapse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 5th July, 1962; c. 796–8] Then, my hon. Friend said that if the figures should level off, that would be quite a different matter.

But there is the question of principle. This was said on 5th July, and the new Clause with which we are dealing was put down on 11th July, six and a half days later. How do general principles change in this way?

Mr. Popplewell

The Tory Party should know that.

An Hon. Member

There must have been a by-election.

Mr. Bell

I am not surprised that I do not see the Parliamentary Secretary on the Front Bench. How, to quote his own words, has "a society like ours" changed in six and a half days?

Mr. Steele

The Government have changed.

Mr. Bell

How is it that what, on 5th July, was "grandmotherly and fussy" is now so desirable that my right hon. Friend appeals to us emotionally that no voice should be raised against it, so that this should be the ethos and undivided spirit of the House of Commons?

I remember that when questions were asked about this in the latter part of 1956, the noble Lord Lord Molson, who was at that time Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, said that he thought that the hon. Member who asked the question could not have read the debate in the House, when it was clear that opinion on both sides was strongly against this proposal.

There it is. One does not want to labour a matter like this, but in conclusion I will deal with the specific point put forward by my right horn. Friend. In a way, he conceded the arguments of principle and said, "Well, yes, but sometimes one reaches a point when this sort of thing must be done. We have not reached it yet, but we might, and I should like to have the powers."

This is my answer. I agree that questions of general principle are not always and for all time and in every circumstance appropriate. Special circumstances can arise when one should do things which are repugnant to one's general approach to public affairs. When, however, the House of Commons is asked to do that, it should be done on a rather special occasion. First, it should not be done by a new Clause on the Report stage of a Bill brought from the Lords, because the real control of this House over legislation is in Standing Committee upstairs.

We all know what happens on the Floor of the House. There are Government Whips, as there are Opposition Whips. An hon. Member may speak. I do not suppose that I have persuaded any hon. Member today. Suppose, however, that I had persuaded every hon. Member in the Chamber except the Minister. It really would not matter, because it would be passed on a Division anyway, that being the nature of things on Report.

A matter like this, which was generally condemned six years ago and was condemned in clear terms upon principle six days before it was put down, ought not to be introduced as a new Clause on the Report stage of a Bill brought from the Lords. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was discussed in Committee."] It is wrong to say that it was discussed. It was raised at the last meeting of the Committee, but it was turned down in clear language by the Parliamentary Secretary. All that my right hon. Friend said when hard pressed was that he would look at the matter. The Committee had no chance whatever of dealing with it, nor can one say that it will be dealt with in another place. This is not the right sort of thing to be done in that way.

My second comment is this. If a Minister comes to the House and says, "I have a special set of circumstances. I can produce figures and I can marshal considerations which, I think, will persuade even hon. Members who have the sternest principles on the matter that an exception should be made", of course one listens and often enough, guided as one must be by those who hold executive responsibility, one says, "Very well, this must be done."

It is, however, wrong to come to the House and ask for a gap in an important general principle and to say, "The circumstances which would justify it do not exist. I hope that they never will, but they might. Therefore, I should like to have this power in case I think it right to use it." That is not right.

If the circumstances should arise— and I hope that they will not—then let the Minister come and make his case and ask for a dispensation. The House is always reasonable and may well grant it. Things being as they are, however, I make my protest against this procedure in both its aspects—the stage of the Bill at which it comes and the nature of the request which is made to us. Probably it is useless to make it on Report, but I make it for what good it may be and I earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend will withdraw his new Clause.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

It is not my intention to follow the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). On one occasion many years ago, I followed the hon. Member pleading for compensation to be paid to injured miners. On this occasion, I plead to have the Clause inserted in the Bill to prevent death, compensation and injury. I welcome the Clause sincerely because I realise what it will do.

I also welcome the persuasive method and attitude adopted by the Minister. He was more persuasive today than ever I have seen him when he persuaded this House to give him its wholehearted support, which we do—at least, I for one give him that support.

The Minister talked about propaganda. I should like briefly to relate the effect of propaganda when rightly applied. Many years ago, we argued that miners in the pits should wear safety helmets. One of the strong arguments that we had to refute was that miners could not wear safety helmets in the pits because of the excessive temperatures under which they worked. They work in a temperature of between 90 and 120 degrees, so they suffer great discomfort. We overcame that argument.

The motor cyclist cannot advance that argument. The only argument he can advance in objecting to wearing a safety helmet on his motor cycle is one born of stupidity. I say with all frankness that a motor cyclist who refuses to wear a safety helmet when travelling on his motor cycle is stupid.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) was right when he said that this is a great social and human problem. It has its effect directly and indirectly upon our social services. It has its effect directly upon the man or woman who rides a motor cycle. I beg the Minister to continue his persuasive methods and I hope that when he introduces the regulations which the Clause will enable him to do, he will still continue to be persuasive with these men and women.

We all know from experience that youth is an age of bravado. People of that age take risks unnecessarily. We want to tell them that those risks involve them in accidents which have various unfortunate consequences if they refuse to wear safety helmets. I hope that the Minister continues with his work of propaganda. To use compulsion would be the last resort.

There is one respect in which I should like the new Clause to be more precise. If the Minister cannot do what I ask at this stage, I ask him to do it in the regulations. I call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the words "persons driving or riding". I wish he would refer to pillion riders. I have had reference to this when I have been advocating the wearing of safety helmets by motor cyclists and pillion riders. The motor cyclist says that he is fulfilling his duty as a rider on the highway if he himself is wearing a safety helmet. I hope that in the regulations the Minister will specifically mention the pillion rider, who should wear a safety helmet just as the driver should.

I welcome the new Clause wholeheartedly, I wish the Minister luck with his persuasive methods, and I plead with him to continue them, not indefinitely but as long as is reasonable. If at the end of that time those concerned do not yield to persuasive methods, there is nothing else that we can do but make is compulsory for them to wear safety helmets.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I was glad to hear the bon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) introduce some common sense into the debate. In industry, in works, there are a great many regulations for the protection of men—helmets for miners in the pits, industrial boots for steelworkers, goggles for welders, and so on. There is nothing wrong in English law about having regulations for the protection of men.

Mr. Ronald Bell

My hon. Friend is slightly wrong about this. What is compulsory is the provision of these things by the employer. The wearing of them is not compulsory, not even, I think, in the case of the miner's safety helmet.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I am not certain about that, but certainly employers make the wearing of protective gear compulsory or a condition of employment.

The debate illustrates a fissure in the Conservative Panty. There is the liberalistic Whiggish side, the freedom of the individual and so on, and the paternalistic, benevolent authoritarian on the other side. I am glad that my hon. Friend has joined the authoritarian Tory side today in the draft regulations.

An example was brought to my mind by the local newspaper in my constituency the other day. At the weekend a Fleet Street dispatch rider was killed on the Great West Road when riding a motor cycle without a hairnet. In his work he would wear a helmet because it was part of his job, but at the weekends he did not wear one. The coroner said that he would have been alive today bad he been wearing a helmet that weekend as he normally did during the week.

We owe something to the community. A great deal of money is invested in young men, in their education. Parents are surely entitled to tell their children, "You must wear a helmet", and I think that the community is entitled to tell young men, just as is said to them in works, "You must wear a helmet." We do not want to lose valuable lives at the age of 21 after a great deal has been invested in education and the acquisition of skills. I have intervened to make clear that, besides the Liberalistic opinion, there is a body of opinion in the Tory Party which believes in protecting lives.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

I should like to add a few words to what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has just described as a commonsense point of view. I speak as a member of the Committee of the Royal Automobile Club. Tribute has been paid to it for the great work that it has done in trying to persuade motor cyclists and pillion riders to do something for their own benefit.

I agree with the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) that this is a surprising volte face on the part of the Ministry of Transport and particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, but I do not think we should castigate the hon. Gentleman too severely for that. After all, he has listened to arguments put very cogently and plausibly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and has changed his mind, or the Minister has. What is wrong with that? I wish that Parliament could listen to arguments and treat matters on their merits rather than take a rigid point of view on an academic argument, as I think the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South did.

I hope that the Minister will do all he can, short of regulation, to encourage the voluntary organisations which are doing their best, with considerable success, to induce young people to wear crash helmets for their own safety. What is wrong, incidentally, with Parliament being grandmotherly? After all, a grandmother knows quite a number of things from long experience. Consequently, I do not think it is right to criticise, as the Parliamentary Secretary did, doing something which Parliament ought to consider doing on occasion if it thinks fit and if the arguments warrant it. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South will know that circumstances alter cases, even in the law. Therefore, his arguments about principle, although very interesting, are not necessarily like the laws of the Medes and Persians—unchangeable. Surely we have to move with the times.

Therefore, I congratulate the Minister upon having listened to the point of view expressed from these benches. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, as the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South said, has changed his point of view. I am glad to hear that. I am glad to say that in the quotation which the hon. Member gave from my right hon. Friend's speech and the quotation from the Parliamentary Secretary's speech there were certain things which were too rigid and would have been better not said. After all, if the principle of safety is right, we should do everything we can to augment it and carry it to its logical conclusion in reducing road casualties unless it imposes severe hardship, which this proposal does not do. Parliament should use a good deal of commonsense and be aware of its responsibility to the public, because road accidents are simply terrible, and if they can be avoided by young men, we ought to try to ensure that they are avoided.

I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will do everything he possibly can to encourage organisations like the Royal Automobile Club and the A.A. in the training of motor cyclists. We have put this point of view to the right hon. Gentleman time and time again. Generally speaking, the Ministry of Transport has been sympathetic in providing grants and so forth to enable such organisations to instil into young drivers right at the start a sense of safety and care on the road. If the right hon. Gentleman can still further help us in these measures, I feel that he may avoid more road accidents than by making compulsory regulations about the wearing of crash helmets.

After all, what does a crash helmet do? It merely reduces the possibility of a serious accident. As my grandmother used to teach us, "Prevention is better than cure". Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman will do a little more to help us in the training of motor cyclists, I think we may go much farther towards reducing the necessity for the wearing of crash helmets.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

There is no doubt that the habit of wearing crash helmets has caused a reduction in the ratio of fatal accidents to the total number of accidents to motor cyclists, but I do not think that we ought to kid ourselves that crash helmets will reduce the number of accidents to motor cyclists.

My right hon. Friend used a false argument when he said that if we enforce this provision, if we persuade motor cyclists more and more to wear crash helmets, fewer will be taken to hospital. Last week I was studying the accident service of a hospital with which I am concerned, and the figures showed a very heavy increase in the use of that accident service over the past 12 months and in its call on the beds of the hospital. When I studied the figures I found that the number of motor cyclists admitted had increased very substantially. I said, "This is rather extraordinary. I thought that the number of accidents to motor cyclists had gone down slightly in the last 12 months." I was told, "Yes, that is so, but in the old days they were killing themselves on the roads and they were brought not into the hospital but into the mortuary. Now that more of them are wearing crash helmets we are getting more injured in the accident service and they are taking up more beds." So I do not Chink my right hon. Friend should use that argument.

The moral that I draw from this is that there may well be a false sense of security on the part of pillion riders and motor cyclists with regard to the wearing of safety clothing. I think that my right hon. Friend is right in taking power to apply this measure compulsorily and thereby prevent deaths, but at the same time I am worried that the false sense of security may lead to an increase in the total number of accidents. If that is the case, we must be ready to enforce the law on the roads with greater severity, particularly the law with regard to careless driving and safety matters. I fear that the more we go in for safety clothing, the greater may be the number of risks taken, and, possibly, the greater may be the number of injuries.

Mr. C. Royle

I do not think I should have been drawn to my feet if it had not been for the speeches by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer) and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). I found them appallingly dangerous.

I was amazed at the equanimity of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South in addressing the House in the manner he did when we are concerned with matters of life and death on the roads. It seems that he is brushing aside the great problem with which we are faced. In passing, I hope that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is not advocating increasing the population of the mortuaries on purpose, to avoid an increase in the population of hospital beds. I did not quite follow the horn. Gentleman's argument.

This is an old subject, and an old argument. The question is where does freedom end and licence begin? That is what we are concerned about in this debate. I suggest that everything that has been said on the question of the freedom of the individual has drifted into the sphere of licence rather than the sphere of freedom. When the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South was speaking one of my hon. Friends interrupted him to say that he was at the seaside a few days ago and saw a notice which prohibited bathing because of the danger. The hon. Gentleman's "comeback" to that intervention was, "Well, that is an interference of a particular kind." In every one of these cases we are dealing with interference of a particular kind.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I do not think that it matters, but I said that I was discussing interference of a particular kind and I did not want to get drawn into beaches. I thought that the hon. Gentleman might like to develop that in his speech.

Mr. Royle

I accept that correction, but we cannot separate what we are discussing this afternoon about interference by Parliament from the other things that we have done. If we take this to its logical conclusion, we find that we have put on the Statute Book many Acts which, although opposed at the time, are today regarded as necessary and desirable.

At one time the Plimsoll line was regarded as an interference with the freedom of some individuals who were sending unsafe ships to sea. Mr. Plimsoll fought for this principle in the House session after session until he was successful. Would anyone today today question the wisdom of his interference with individual freedom?

My Hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) quoted instances of Parliament having interfered with individual freedom. It is all very well to take note of public opinion. In fact, we have a duty to do so, but there are occasions when this House must lead, and sometimes we must be ahead of public opinion on matters of great importance. I regard the preservation of the lives of our young people as of vital importance.

One could also quote the outcry among people who use cycles when Parliament decided to make it compulsory for cyclists to show rear dights. There was a terrific outcry. Does anyone, particularly the motorist who is following a cyclist in the dark, now doubt the wisdom of the action which Parliament took to interfere with the freedom of cyclists?

I do not want to speak at length. I think that the case can be made briefly and forcibly. There is one acid test. Ask the mother, the wife, or the girl friend of any man who has been killed because he was not wearing a protective helmet whether this is a wise decision for this House to make. I have no doubt what the reply will be, and I hope that the House will unanimously give the Minister the power which he seeks in this new Clause and wild let it be known that these helmets should be worn to preserve the lives of our young people.

5.45 p.m.

The hon. Member for Buckingham, South took to task my right hon. Friend for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and the Parliamentary Secretary for changing their minds. I do not know whether this cap will fit, but the great Duke of Wellington once said that wise men sometimes change their minds, but fools never. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to take that to himself.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

After mature reflection I take the view that this is a useful power for the Minister to have, for three reasons. First, the exercise of this power may cause there to be fewer deaths on the roads. This point has been fully dealt with, and I leave it there. Secondly, it is a power which does not really conflict with individual freedom to any substantial degree. One has to look at the realities of the situation. It cannot be said to be a burden that a person should have to wear a crash helmet. It is rather akin to the regulations that apply to motorists with regard to safety belts. It cannot be said to be a grave infringement of individual freedom that a person, when he gets on a motor cycle, should have to equip himself with a "skid-lid".

Thirdly, the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) does not apply in all its purity when one is considering the highways. If people wish to commit suicide by the use of a motor cycle, they can well do it in private. They can ride round their gardens without wearing helmets, but there has always been interference with a person's behaviour on the Queen's highway. It is not true that it is only a question of the individual's safety. No one has a right to cause a nuisance on the highway, and a person who has suffered a crushed head presents a terrifying sight. Throughout our history there has been interference with a person's rights on the highways to see Chat the highways are properly conducted.

For those reasons I feel that this is a useful power for the Minister to have.

Mr. Marples

It might be courteous if I answered some of the points which have been made. Perhaps I might summarise by saying that with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer) and some other hon. Members who may have had qualifications, the House is with me on this issue. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck). It is all very well for hon. Members to talk about interference with the liberty of the subject, but the Minister of Transport has a grave responsibility for the deaths and injuries which occur on the roads, and I tell the House quite freely that this is the most; difficult task I have ever undertaken. With nearly 7,000 people a year being killed, and hundreds of thousands being injured, it is not nice to be Minister of Transport and know that one is practically powerless to prevent a lot of the accidents. But those accidents which I can prevent I intend to prevent by all the means in my power. I take this side of my Ministry seriously, and in the last 12 or 18 months we have had some limited success. This does not give grounds for complacency, but it does give ground for guarded optimism that we are making inroads into the problem.

I looked at the war record of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing and found that he was a brigadier. Did he have any regulations about the wearing of safety helmets when he was a brigadier? The answer is that he did. Is my hon. and gallant Friend saying that he did something in the Army which he did not want to do? In the circumstances he should have resigned his brigadiership. He could have become a private. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The Navy do not use motor-cycles, so he does not have the intimate knowledge possessed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing. I ask my hon. and gallant Friend to communicate with me privately and let me know how many men in his unit would have been saved if they had been using helmets. He should have obtained that information before making the sort of speech he made today.

Hon. Members have asked why my hon. Friend changed his mind, and why the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) changed his. What is the use of having a House of Commons, or the Committee stage of a Bill, if we all come in with rigid minds from the word "go"? There is no point in it.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has inscribed over his doorway the legend: I never mind listening to reason when I have made up my mind, because then it can do me no harm. In this connection, my hon. Friend and I are the most reasonable couple in the House. We have survived everything. [HON. MEMBERS: "So far."] My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South asked if we should stop people from going mountaineering. I do not know whether he goes, but I do— and I wear a steal helmet. I am prepared to take him rock climbing. He need not wear a steel helmet, and then he will not be a trouble to me for very long. Mountaineers have various safety equipment—helmets, running belays, pitons, karabines, and so on—which is not compulsory, but which most sensible climbers use. My hon. Friend may not wish to be one of the sensible people.

Mr. Ronald Bell

My right hon. Friend is getting a little wide of the argument. I approve of people wearing safety helmets when riding motor cycles. I approve of every sensible type of equipment for mountaineering or for anything else, but what we are now discussing is the question whether the use of such equipment should be made compulsory by law.

Mr. Marples

I say that on the roads it should be. If a man wants to go climbing over rocks I do not say that he should have to wear certain equipment, because he is not then interfering with third parties. But when he is on the roads he is in contact with other people. A motor cyclist may be injured if a motor car hits him, and the motorist may think that if the motor cyclist had been wearing a helmet he would not have been injured. Third parties are liable to be involved.

I am afraid that I must honestly part company with my hon. Friend in this matter. I disagree with him entirely, and I hope the whole House will be with me in this matter. It is right that men working on the Medway Bridge and in civil engineering and building should be obliged to wear safety equipment, and it is also right that motor cyclists should have to do so. I shall try, with all the power at my command, to persuade motor cyclists to wear these helmets, rather than order them to do so. The Clause does not order them to do so; it merely gives me reserve powers if propaganda fails. I am sure that the House would not wish to deny a Minister that right. I feel very deeply on the matter, and I hope that the House will unanimously agree that the Clause should be added to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

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