HC Deb 14 February 1973 vol 850 cc1261-2
4. Mr. Wiggin

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, in view of the significant reduction in injuries in those countries where the wearing of seat belts is compulsory, he will now introduce similar legislation.

Mr. Peyton

As I stated in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend on 18th October, I prefer to see what can be done by persuasion. Seat belt wearing, therefore, forms a major element of this year's road safety publicity.—[Vol. 843, c. 84.]

Mr. Wiggin

Does my right hon. Friend realise that persuasion is not enough? In answer to an earlier Question he admitted that his advertising campaign, costing £750,000, is achieving only a 30 per cent. response. Can he continue to justify about 300 fatal and serious accidents a week? Ought he not now to introduce legislation?

Mr. Peyton

This is an important matter. I have never taken it lightly. I have always wanted to see what could be done by persuasion, though I have said that one must be free to consider compulsion if necessary, since, in the light of the Australian experience, it is almost certain that a considerable number of lives and serious casualties could be saved by a high rate of seat belt wearing.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that all advertising campaigns, including the present Jimmy Savile's "Clunk, click" and scarred faces campaign, are doomed to failure because people will always go back to not wearing their safety belts afterwards? As it is likely that about 15,000 serious injuries and deaths every year could be saved if people wore their safety belts, does the Minister not think that the time has come to force people to wear them?

Mr. Peyton

I note with interest the hon. Gentleman's concern. One of the factors which would influence my thinking and that of the Government would be opinion in Parliament on this matter, because no one would wish lightly to resort to compulsion.

Mr. Mulley

I appreciate the Minister's difficulties in relation to a law which might be difficult to enforce, but in his publicity will he take fully into account the recent court decision which meant that a person's damages were reduced because seat belts were not worn? Will the right hon. Gentleman, in conjunction with the insurance companies, see that this is brought fully to the attention of all motorists?

Mr. Peyton

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. When the courts press the public in the direction of common sense and prudence —as they have done in that case—I greatly appreciate it.