HC Deb 21 July 1977 vol 935 cc1840-1
16. Mr. McCusker

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied that all possible steps are being taken to reduce the high level of road casualties in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Carter

While measures being adopted in Northern Ireland to combat road accidents are in broad parity with those in Great Britain, the level of casualties remains unacceptably high. For this reason, last November I formed a study group drawn from interested organisations to make recommendations designed to reduce road casualties. I have now received its report and am considering its 10 major recommendations. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library of this House.

I have under consideration how many recommendations can be adopted for a draft order.

Mr. McCusker

Does the Minister recall that that report suggested that he could immediately introduce compulsory seat belt legislation in Northern Ireland? Why cannot he do that immediately? Also, what does he hope to do to combat drunken driving and accidents caused by speeding?

Mr. Carter

I cannot do anything immediately, because I received the report only on Monday. There are 10 fairly major recommendations in the report, which we shall have to consider. They have quite serious implications legislatively and in many other respects for Northern Ireland. I attach great importance to the report. As soon as we can get down to discussing how to implement its proposals we shall do so. I shall keep the hon. Gentleman informed of the progress that is made.

Mr. Craig

Can the Minister do anything to step up the inspection of the roadworthiness of vehicles? From casual observation, there would seem to be many unfit vehicles on the road.

Mr. Carter

If a comparative judgment were made of the level of inspection in Northern Ireland and that in the rest of the United Kingdom, I think that the right hon. Gentleman would find that the level in Northern Ireland is significantly better than in the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not think that we can be criticised on any front in that respect.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend agree that road casualties in Northern Ireland are almost twice as high as in the rest of the United Kingdom? Can he give us some idea why that is so? I had a conversation the other day with my right hon. Friend, who was most interested to know.

Mr. Carter

I have a report that goes into this matter in detail, which I will let my hon. Friend have afterwards. There are certain peculiarities in the situation in Northern Ireland that are not dissimilar to those in similar rural communities in Western Europe. The fact is that Northern Ireland has the worst road casualty figures in the whole of Western Europe, and we must do something about the matter.

Mr. Goodhart

As the number of casualties from traffic accidents in Northern Ireland has always exceeded the number of casualties from terrorism, even in the worst years, will the Minister pay particular attention to the recommendation about compulsory seat belts, which could do an enormous amount of good?

Mr. Carter

I am well aware of that factor, but I am equally concerned with the effects of drinking on driving standards in Northern Ireland. That probably has a more significant impact on casualty figures than does any other factor.