HC Deb 15 June 1978 vol 951 cc1156-8
2. Mr. Tierney

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people were killed in road accidents and how many road accidents there were in each of the last five years for which figures are available.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter)

The number of persons killed in road accidents in each of the last five years, 1973 to 1977, were 335, 316, 313, 300 and 355. The number of road accidents in each of those years was 5,000, 4,795, 4,882, 4,943 and 5,352 respectively.

Mr. Tierney

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures are disturbing? They appear to represent about double the average figure for the rest of the United Kingdom. What does my hon. Friend propose to do about this problem in a country where many other lives are lost unnecessarily?

Mr. Carter

My hon. Friend is right in his last point. It is true that more people have died on the roads than have died in any single year through violence, the troubles, and so forth. In the near future I shall be introducing an order relating to the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Within the Department we are examining proposals to increase penalties for drunken driving, or drinking and driving. These two measures should make an impact on the deplorable level of fatalities and accidents on the roads in Northern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the Minister agree with the head of traffic control in the RUC that accident rates are at their present high level because of excessive drinking and driving? Is the Minister taking immedate steps to do something about the large number of people who are drinking in all areas, both in licensed clubs and in licensed premises?

Mr. Carter

The hon. Gentleman is right. Drinking asociated with driving is the major factor in the loss of life through road accidents. An urgent review is currently taking place in my Department and we hope to bring forward proposals in the autumn.

Mr. Fitt

In view of the appalling carnage on the roads of Northern Ireland and the representations that have been made to my hon. Friend by those in authority in the hospitals, such as the consultant surgeons, does he agree that it is grossly irresponsible for Northern Ireland Opposition Members to attempt to stop the compulsory wearing of seat belts in the Province? Does my hon. Friend not agree that this is necessary in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Carter

My hon. Friend is right on the first point. Virtually all responsible and professional opinion in North- ern Ireland favours the compulsory wearing of seat belts. On my hon. Friend's last point, I have not given up hope that the vast majority of Unionist Members—indeed, all Northern Ireland Members of Parliament—will vote in support of the proposition when it comes before the House.

Mr. McCusker

Does the Minister agree that there is little point in stiffening the legislation on drunken driving if it cannot be enforced? What is being done to ensure more rigorous enforcement of the existing law?

Mr. Carter

There are difficulties in Northern Ireland in that respect. I should be foolish to deny it. However, the RUC has assured me in my consultations with it that it can go about its job of detecting drinking and driving in a normal way. I do not think that the RUC lacks the ability to co-operate with the Government in the implementation of the law.