HC Deb 09 February 1978 vol 943 cc1658-9
14. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further representations he has received about the Government's proposal to introduce legislation, by Statutory Instrument, for the compulsory wearing of seat belts in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Carter

Since receiving support for the proposal for a draft order from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and a group of Northern Ireland surgeons, I have received a favourable response from representatives of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Liberal Party. I have also received representations from the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party, three district councils, a Back-Bench Member of Parliament and four private individuals.

Mr. Gow

Does the Minister understand that legislation by Statutory Instrument in Northern Ireland is unsatisfactory in any event but is doubly unsatisfactory in regard to legislation of this kind? What possible justification can there be for imposing in Northern Ireland a system of law which does not apply to the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Carter

It may be unsatisfactory, but that would have been known to the hon. Member's party when in Government when it abolished Stormont. The current system of government is unsatisfactory. Until we can have a devolved system of government in Northern Ireland, we shall have to try to balance the demands of the community of Northern Ireland against the parliamentary system.

Mr. Fitt

Will the Minister take it that, so far as I can ascertain, the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland favour seat-belt legislation? Any experience of casualty departments in the main hospitals in Belfast and further afield is totally in support of the legislation, and it is the appalling driving record in Northern Ireland which has brought about this situation.

Mr. Carter

The hon. Gentleman is right and I am pleased to have his support on this issue. As for driving in Northern Ireland and the appalling accident figures, that is what propelled us towards some form of solution. The accident rate in Northern Ireland is double that which exists anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Neave

Does the Minister recollect that, on the last occasion when Questions were asked on this topic, he was asked to separate the part of the order relating to seat belts from the rest of the order, which is non-controversial? Will he give reasons why there cannot be a separate order on seat belts so that the matter can be fully debated in the House?

Mr. Carter

There are good reasons. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?"]. If the hon. Gentleman had followed other political parties in responding to my invitation when the draft order was in being and if he had discussed this matter with me in my office, he might well have been given an answer. This is not a suitable matter for discussion across the Dispatch Box. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] The hon. Gentleman should have come to that meeting.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the Minister agree that the accident rate in Northern Ireland is attributed by the RUC to excessive drink and not to the non-wearing of seat belts?

Mr. Carter

That is true, but the interesting point is that, if I were to bring forward legislation to deal with the problem of drink, it would be unique to Northern Ireland and would be met with the same criticisms as hon. Gentlemens direct at us on the wearing of seat belts.