HC Deb 18 April 1973 vol 855 cc473-5
7. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the adequacy and effectiveness of existing controls on the safety of car seat belts that are sold and fitted expressly for use by children.

26. Mr. Wiggin

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking to make the public aware of the legal requirement only to install in cars children's seats and belts that are of a design and standard approved by the British Standards Institute.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

I am satisfied that child seat belts approved to the British Standard are effective and that the law is right in permitting only such belts to be installed for safety purposes in cars. I am considering how best to supplement recent publicity about the sale and use of belts not so approved.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is a matter of the utmost gravity, in which many traders are unwittingly in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act by attributing safety properties to these harnesses which they do not have, and that parents are lulled into what turns out to be a false sense of security about their children by using belts which are not adequately fitted, as has been proved in recent tragic accidents? Will my right hon. Friend please reconsider this question very urgently, as a matter concerning the health and safety of thousands of children?

Mr. Peyton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter, and hope that further publicity will result from what she has just said. The difficulty is that we are dealing with two kinds of appliance—one to restrain the child, to keep it from moving about in the car, and the other to protect it. The standards applied to the latter are those which are intended for the purposes of safety, and those which have a British Standard are safe and reliable. The other ones are the traps, when it is represented by retailers that they fulfil a purpose for which they were not made.

Mr. Sandelson

Does the Minister see any sense in the extremely expensive campaign which has been mounted to encourage people to use safety belts, while, as the same time, an additional tax is imposed on their purchase? I refer to value added tax.

Mr. Peyton

The last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is one for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Wiggin

Is it not an absurd state of affairs that it is legal to sell harnesses and children's seats which, once fitted in a car, break the law? Will my right hon. Friend have consultations with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs to see whether the sale of non-standard belts and seats can be prohibited? Will he give publicity to the regulation about the illegality of fitting non-standard seats and belts?

Mr. Peyton

I shall certainly consider the point my hon. Friend has made. It would be difficult to take overall action to restrain people from employing useful devices which simply keep a child anchored in a car. It is important that parents should be aware when buying these seats that only a limited number— and those are particularly the ones that conform to British Standards—are designed for safety purposes.