HC Deb 22 February 1980 vol 979 cc816-71

A period of six months shall elapse between the approval by both Houses of Parliament of the regulations made under section 1 and their coming into effect'.—[Sir Ronald Bell.]

Brought up, and read the First Time.

9.40 am
Sir Ronald Bell

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Perhaps at the outset it would be right to invite hon. Members' attention to the kind of regulations to which the new clause would apply. By clause 2 of the Bill it is provided that what I might call amending regulations will be made by the negative procedure, but that regulations introducing what I might describe as a new restriction, in respect, say, of a place in a vehicle that has not hitherto been subject to restriction, regulations of that innovative kind, shall be subject to the affirmative procedure and require a resolution of each House of Parliament. It is, of course, only to that category of regulation that the new clause would apply.

I think that there are three basic considerations that should underlie our examination of this proposal. First, there is the nature of the Bill itself—that is, the nature of the change in the law that it would introduce: and of course, it could introduce a change in the law only by the making of regulations of the kind that I have been describing. Secondly, there is the probable nature of the regulations in themselves. Thirdly, there are the general political considerations that are raised by the impact on the public of such regulations, with the consequent desirability of a pause before their enforcement through the criminal law. It is, of course, the very purport of the new clause.

It has to be borne in mind at the outset that on consideration of a Bill on Report, whether from the Standing Committee or Committee of the whole House, new clauses are taken first. Therefore, one is moving a new clause to the Bill as it left the Standing Committee. It could, I suppose, be argued—I dare say that some hon. Members supporting the Bill will argue it—that if the amendments before us today are passed—that is, the amendments that have been selected by you, Mr. Speaker, either for debate or for vote—and the principal exemptions and exclusions were thus embodied in the Bill as distinct from being incorporated in regulations made under the Bill, the public would in all probability have more time for consideration and adaptation—and psychological adaptation—than the six months that I seek in my clause.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Is the hon. and learned Member aware of the fact that if this were agreed to it would mean that, as with the Sikhs, a public campaign would he built up and therefore, probably the whole of the Bill would be defeated and the public would then demand that the Bill be dropped. How would he deal with that?

Sir R. Bell

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that I intend to deal with that matter, but in a later compartment of my speech. I am not sure whether he was present when I began my speech, but I said that there were three principal underlying considerations. I am now dealing with the first—that is, the nature of the change in the law that such regulations would make. I shall be dealing, secondly, with the inherent characteristics of the regulations and the requirements for delay. Lastly, embracing the point that the hon Member has raised, I shall be dealing with the impact on the public of such regulations and the desirability, therefore, of a pause for six months.

Mr. Freud

Further to that intervention, may I ask whether the hon. and learned Member agrees that if there were a public campaign that was all out to defeat the Bill, it might well be because the Bill deserved to be defeated? I have always felt that we are here to represent the public.

Sir R. Bell

The hon. Member will not expect me to disagree with that contention, but I am also rather aware of the rules of order under which we operate in this House; indeed, in a way, the hon. Gentleman has anticipated something that I was about to say, which is that at this stage of the Bill one must accept the principle of the Bill and set about improving it, even though, as we know—there is no point in pretending otherwise —some improvements are not as constructive as others. That may be what the hon. Member has in mind. However, I return to the line of argument that I was pursuing.

I was saying that if the amendments before us today were passed—inevitably, they come after the debate on the new clause—to that degree, I suppose, they would weaken the argument for my new clause. But I have to assume that the Bill is as it left the Standing Committee and that the amendments that we propose have not been made.

I suppose that one could go further and say that if regulations were not made at all the public would obviously have years in which to consider these matters, and there is no compulsion on the Minister to make any regulations. It is sometimes suggested that if the Minister did not make regulations it would in some way be a contemptuous brushing aside of Parliament's opinion. I cannot agree with that.

I see that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is listening. Perhaps he will bear in mind that on the statute book there are plenty of Acts of Parliament empowering a Minister to make regulations or statutory orders, which regulations or orders have never been made. There is an empowering Act entitling the Secretary of State to fix the date of Easter, but that has never been done—or at least, not for about 80 years—and no one has ever suggested that that was a contempt of Parliament. It has just not been done. I am very glad that it has not been done. I rather like these movable feasts. Their agreeable unpredictability reminds me of private Members' days in this House.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is the hon. and learned Member aware that the Ministry of Transport has introduced 2,000 regulations on vehicles and road transport and that about 90 per cent. of them are never enforced, because they cannot be enforced?

Sir R. Bell

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), but the matter comes up in the third part of my speech, when I shall deal with the difficulties that will arise from the enforcement of the regulations and the consequent argument for a six-month breathing space. I promise that I shall come to that matter and that the journey will not be too long.

Even if some of the amendments are passed, there remains the likelihood, not just the possibility, that they would not cover the whole ground and that, therefore, we would have a hybrid situation —that is a word I hardly dare to use in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). We would have a hybrid situation in which there would still he the necessity for a breathing space after approval of the regulations by both Houses of Parliament.

We have to bear in mind that a foolish Minister might make the regulations immediately after Royal Assent, but for the new clause. He could bring them into force at once. Statutory regulations come into force the moment that they are made, unless it is expressly provided to the contrary. It is so extreme a doctrine that they enter into force when the Minister makes them and signs them. If he leaves them in a drawer in his desk by mistake, and forgets to put them out, they are still in force and anyone who acts in contravention of them is guilty of a criminal offence. The present Minister would not do that. I am sure that he would not make the regulations immediately, but would have a period of consultation.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there have been cases where Ministers have said that they have made regulations when they have not? My hon. and learned Friend may remember Mr. Ernest Marples announcing that he had introduced a 50 m.p.h. speed limit regulation one Easter when he had not. The public were conned into complying with a regulation that had not been made.

Sir R. Bell

Perhaps that was because the Government had forgotten to fix Easter. However, I am more concerned with the position where the Minister has made regulations and has not said so or, indeed, where he has said so but where the regulations come into force in accordance with the ordinary law of the land the moment that they are made. I realise that the present Minister would not do that, but the continuance of Ministers cannot be taken for granted. I do not wish to say that the Parliamentary Secretary is foolish. Any extended reference to that might be out of order, even upon Second Reading of a new clause when reference is permitted to matters that are not in the clause. On the provisions of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is thoroughly unsound, however wise he may be. I hope that today he is firmly paired with his Minister.

In drafting and amending legislation we must guard against the worst and we must not sun ourselves on the western slopes of a languid optimism. That is the reason for the new clause. Therefore, it is in a spirit of prudent duty and earnest endeavour that I turn, and invite the House to turn with me, to a consideration of the purpose of my new clause and the advantages that its adoption would confer upon the public, to whose interests we must ever be attentive. The first consideration is the nature of the Bill itself and the change in the law that it would introduce. There have been changes in the law of deep and wide import, which have produced surprisingly little emotional upheaval.

We might instance the introduction of decimal currency as one such change. That was a most important innovation for the public, but so far as I know it produced no martyrs. However many people liked or disliked it—they certainly indulged certain nostalgic regrets, and blamed it as an element of inflation—there was no emotional upheaval. On the other hand, there was a small provision of the law that required motor cyclists to wear crash helmets. We all know what an eruption that caused, and it still rambles on. Later on, I shall come to the implications in public relations of the enforcement of this law, and I shall take an illustration from that case.

All hon. Members should be in no doubt which of those two examples the basic proposal of the Bill more closely resembles. I believe that it is a wicked, evil and horrific Bill, which offends against the very ark of the covenant of a free society. I have always put aside as an irrelevance the Pharisaic claptrap about lives saved and injuries avoided. Were it all true and multiplied by 10 I would see it as no counterpoise to the objection of principle. That sentiment gives me a better judgment than that of the promoters of the Bill of how the public would feel if Parliament were so misguided as to pass the Bill and the Minister, under section 1, to make the sort of regulations that I envisage would be made.

Let there be no doubt that there would follow a period of acute public resentment. There would be much more resistance to the provisions of this Bill than there has been to the crash helmets Bill. Let there be no misunderstanding about my moving of the new clause. It does not mean in the slightest degree that I have come to terms with the purpose of the Bill or that I am formulating a compromise—not at all. The Bill is here, it has got thus far, and at this parliamentary stage one has to assume—perhaps "pretend" is the better word—that it may pass into law. On that grievous assumption, one must do what one can to diminish, appropriately enough by regulating, the harm that it may do.

I turn to the second of my two considerations—the inherent charcter of the reservations that might be made.

10 am

We have had this Bill more or less twice before—once as a Private Member's Bill and once as a Government Bill in 1976. Therefore we know quite well the sort of regulations that we are discussing. Last time round, the then Secretary of State for Transport circulated to those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill the probable exemptions that he would make by regulation—in effect, what regulations he would make to enforce the Bill. They were not merely complicated; in some degree, they were hilarious.

Of course, the regulations are unpredictable. The first time that the Bill was introduced the Minister said that the exemptions and exclusions that he would propose by regulation would be very generous. That was the then right hon. Member for Dudley, East, Dr. Gilbert. Last time round we had a different Minister, who said that he would want practically no exclusions. This time round, again we have a sensible Minister. He would undoubtedly have reasonably sensible exclusions. But they are purely a matter of guesswork, and the House has to bear in mind that if we start with one lot of exclusions and exemptions another Minister may come along with more restrictive ideas.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Since the hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer perhaps he can help me. I am assuming that these exclusion clauses would be on a voluntary basis and that the person concerned would have the right to please himself whether to opt for an exclusion. I have in mind a big man like me. If there were exclusion for people who were excessively large, would it be in order for them to use their freedom of choice, even though exempted? In other words, could they either put on belts or take them off? If that is the case, does not it go against the whole principle of the Bill?

Sir R. Bell

I think that I can assure the hon. Gentleman. He could decide whether or not to avail himself of the exemption on the ground of his size. If the exemption did not exist, of course, there would be no exemption for the hon. Gentleman to avail himself of if he wanted to. There are really two stages of voluntarism. First, there has to be the exclusion before anyone can avail himself of it.

I was making the point that someone like the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers), who was the Secretary of State last time, could come along, in which case the House, having passed the Bill on one set of assumptions, might find a totally different animal in operation. Therefore, we have at this stage to guard against the worst and not to make any relaxed and cheerful assumptions about what the shape of the legislation will be if we do nothing about it on Report.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

There is the further point that while the Bill is being considered by the House as a Private Member's Bill the Whips are not on, but when the Minister makes an order, that is an act by the Government and the Whips are on.

Sir R. Bell

Of course, and that is where the voluntary principle breaks down. What is more—I am sure this argument has been deployed in the past on this Bill, although not today—it is not possible to amend regulations made under an Act of Parliament. That is why we have to give attention to this question of the incorporation of exclusions in the Bill and not in the regulations. However, I must not anticipate a later debate when the House will be considering that.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

My hon. and learned Friend has been very generous in giving way, and I appreciate his courtesy to the House. However, is he altogether right in saying that the Whips would necessarily be on if the Government introduced these regulations?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Yes, they would.

Mr. Body

I do not wish to join issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) about this, but surely there have been occasions when the Government have introduced legislation and allowed a free vote. I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend, with his many years of experience in the House, can think of occasions when the Government have allowed a free vote in introducing their own legislation. If there is a precedent for that it might not be unreasonable for the present Government, if they are driven to introducing these regulations, to allow a free vote so that we can all express our views once more on this very important subject.

Sir R. Bell

The answer is that in 1976 a Bill similar to this was introduced by the last Labour Government, and they allowed their supporters a free vote on it, but that is quite a different matter from statutory regulations being introduced. I do not imagine that any Government would allow a free vote on those, because they are not amendable.

Governments are usually willing to strike bargains with the House if they run into serious difficulty. It makes sense then to yield to the will of the House. But the whole point about the statutory regulations that would be made under clause 1 of the Bill and section 33A of the Road Traffic Act is that they would not be amendable. That is why the debates on the exemptions that will follow later today are so important.

I return to the relevant point, which is that this is a new clause coming at the beginning of our consideration of the Bill on Report and, therefore, I have to assume throughout my argument that the Bill is as it left the Standing Committee.

I do not know what will happen later today. It cannot, therefore, form more than a passing reference in my line of argument, so I return to the nature of the regulations that I must expect to be made.

On previous occasions, we were circularised—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Is not the question that we are discussing whether or not the period should be six months? Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will relate his argument to that.

Sir R. Bell

I am doing that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you will agree that I am limited to arguing not whether it should be five months or seven months but why there should be a period at all, and why the regulations should not come into force when they are made, as regulations normally do. It is the need for a pause about which I am arguing. As one has to in drafting a new clause such as this, I have proposed a period of six months. Some hon. Members may say that it is the wrong period. I am not arguing about the period, although six months is about the period that I want.

I wish to say why I believe this period to be necessary. It is necessary on this second round because the regulations that are most likely to be introduced will be highly complicated. We have already had one draft from a Department of State indicating what they are likely to be. We have also been circulated by the Government with a comparative schedule showing what the regulations are in those countries that already have this legislation. Therefore we know, first, because we know what the last Government intended, and, secondly, because we have been told what every other Government where this legislation exists have thought fit to do. If one puts those together one surely cannot be far wrong in assessing what we are talking about as the necessary benefits of delay.

The regulations will require people to wear seat-belts unless they are exempted. Such exemptions are in operation in other countries and they appear in the Government's draft. They refer to physical size, and medical exemptions are sometimes specified and sometimes not. Other exemptions are made for children under 8 years of age and in some countries for people over 70, and there are exemptions by category of employment. The police are exempt, as are military and fire service personnel, and there is an extraordinary range of exemptions by character of journey.

One is exempt on a work journey with frequent stops. That reminds me of my speech today. I would be happy to enlighten any hon. Member who wishes to interrupt, since my speech is like a work journey with frequent stops. Such journeys, by one definition or another, are exempted in those countries that have seat belt legislation.

I imagine that such regulations have been made after a period of consultation, not with the public but with the RAC—which is totally opposed to the bill—and with the AA. There have been consultations with the police, and that is all. The police have the job of enforcing these regulations and they will need a period of reflection and mental adaptation. We know that the police are equally divided on this issue. The chief constable of Sussex has said that he does not like the beastly things and that they should not be compulsory. He is right, but we must not go into that. Apparently half the police forces are against having to perform this task and half accept it. Recently a relevant public opinion poll showed that the public is 3 to 2 against the Bill.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham

Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

Sir R. Bell

My hon. Friend says that that it is absolute rubbish. That is because they did not ask him, I suppose. We all have the vexatious experience of not being asked by the opinion polls, and we do not accept the verdict of any poll in which we do not figure as partici- pants. However, the poll was conducted by a reputable organisation, and it shows that the public is 3 to 2 against the Bill.

Mr. Tom Benyon (Abingdon)

I have here the results of a MORI poll which says that 50 per cent. of the public are in favour of the Bill, 46 per cent. are against it and 4 per cent. have no firm view. I suspect that statistics simply prove that we can make of them what we will.

Sir R. Bell

I agree. To some extent the answers given in opinion polls depend on the questions that are asked. That is always true. But if the poll that I quoted shows that the public are 3 to 2 against the Bill, and the one quoted by my hon. Friend for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) shows that the public are approximately equally divided—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must surely be straying from the principle, which is whether the new clause will apply in six months.

Sir R. Bell

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is absolutely on the main line of my argument. It is the public resentment of the Bill that requires the six-month interval during which the criminal law will not be enforced but during which the regulations will be known to the public. My point, which has been reinforced rather than diminished by the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham, is that there will be considerable public resistance to the enforcement of these measures. The idea that they should be made and come into force on the same day is absurd.

10.15 am
Mr. Lawrence

Is it not the case that the Department estimated that there would be a 20 per cent. rejection rate amongst the public? Twenty per cent. of 25 million drivers means that 5 million people will be opposed to the legislation. They would be so strongly opposed to it that they might very well be tempted not to allow the enforcement of the regulations.

Sir R. Bell

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).

As a result of interruptions I have found myself sliding into the third part of my argument, which concerns the impact of these regulations on the public. I propounded that at the beginning of my speech as one of the main considerations to be taken into account in discussing the new clause. The impact will be great. We will have a lot—

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North

My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) mentioned the MORI poll. I do not wish to mislead anyone or to cast aspersions, but I understand that investigations are proceeding into some of the polls that have been conducted by that organisation. If that is the case—I do not say that any conclusions have yet been reached—I wonder whether the poll mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend would indicate more precisely the strength of public opinion. Public opinion on this issue is very important.

Sir R. Bell

I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) about the importance of public opinion. However, I mentioned the public opinion poll only in passing, because a bald assertion by me that the public is deeply concerned about the Bill might not be accepted. It might be felt that though I was not exactly a tainted source I might be labelled an interested source. I quoted one poll, and another one was quoted back, as always happens.

The point is that the public are deeply concerned and even with the six-month delay—Make no mistake about it—there will be martyrs and there will be resistance. That resistance would be much less after a six-month gap than without such a period, though the resistance will be considerable in any case. We need only to consider the operation of the Road Traffic Act 1972 to realise that.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) has a constituent about whom we all know. He is a Mr. Hill, a respectable citizen who is in and out of prison—we shall have the same with the seat belts Bill—for refusing to pay fines as a result of not wearing a crash helmet. There are many decent, hard-working citizens who are opposed to the Bill in principle, as I am.

I would not have wasted my time over the years opposing the Bill if I did not feel strongly about it. One does not come here on Fridays for the sheer joy of it. One does not go through this business for nothing. There are many people in this country who feel strongly against this Bill. My post tells me that. I have had any number of letters from reasonable people—people who would be known to hon. Members—who are intensely indignant at the suggestion that they should be subected to this kind of legislation.

Do we want our people—not just a handful, as in the case of crash helmets —going to prison over and over again for refusal to pay fines under this legislation? Do we want to see them taken into the dock in handcuffs, unshaven and unnwashed, as was Mr. Hill, in my constituency, recently? Are we going to subject large numbers of respectable citizens to that kind of treatment in the interests of instant legislation?

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman leaves the issue of correspondence, I have to say that his experience is totally contrary to mine. The correspondence that I have received, without exception—I emphasise that—has been from people who suggested that I should stay here today to support the Bill to enforce the compulsory wearing of seat belts.

Sir R. Bell

I do not suggest that no people in the community welcome the Bill. They are entitled to feel strongly. But many people resent the Bill. An Act forbidding people to hit old ladies on the head causes no resentment. However, a Bill of this character, under which some people interfere with other people because they believe that it is for their own good, causes much resentment, and people object on principle.

I have to accept the Bill as it is at this stage. I can only suggest ways of diminishing the harm that it will do. A six-month stay after the regulations are made will be of benefit. The regulations will be published in the newspapers and discussed in public houses. People will be able to blow their tops and show their indignation. The six-month period will allow the police to warn instead of prosecute. That will reduce high-principled resentment. That is my argument, and it should not be brushed aside.

I do not want the Bill to be passed. It is wrong in principle, and it represents a dangerous trend. However, if it is passed, for heaven's sake let us recognise that it is an innovation. It will create fierce public resentment. Martyrs will be made of respectable people. It is our duty to diminish the harm to the minimum. That is the purpose of my new clause. I hope that the House will approve it. Nevertheless, I still hope that the Bill fails.

Mr. Freud

The new clause which was so ably moved by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) seeks to establish a six-month buffer period during which the Minister may examine representations about the implementation of the legislation. Exemptions have been discussed during debates on the Bill. Some of those exemptions are frivolous. Some of them are more caring of the comfort of the person in the car than his safety. The exemptions include the fat, the thin, the tall, the small, those reversing and those who are stationary, driving instructors and those who intend to stop a number of times in a number of yards.

I request the Minister to give thought to another matter. In a democracy one should examine how minorities will be affected by new legislation. For that reason a person who suffers from claustrophobia or who produces a medical certificate stating that he should not wear a seat belt for some reason should be exempt from wearing a seat belt.

Mr. Toby Jessell (Twickenham)

What has that to do with a six-month delay?

Mr. Freud

The period between a Bill being passed and its being implemented is a good time to instruct chief constables, as the Secretary of State for Employment recently instructed chief constables on the picketing laws. It is a valuable period and I am arguing in favour of the new clause.

There are many canals and riverbeds in my constituency, as there are hedges and ditches elsewhere. The Ouse, Nene and Lark run through my constituency and 16 ft. and 40 ft. drains abound. It is dangerous to drive along an unfenced road, especially in a high wind.

Mr. Moate

On a point of order, Mr. Deupty Speaker. I appreciate that you cannot oblige hon. Members to be succinct or interesting. We have to put up with that. Surely the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) is not in order when he discusses exemptions. The delay proposed in the new clause is to take place after the regulations come into force and they will have already covered exemptions. Is it suggested that there will be no need to debate exemptions later?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is correct. I was waiting to see how the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) related his arguments to the new clause.

Sir Ronald Bell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you incautiously agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), but the purpose of the new clause is to impose a delay between when the regulations are made and when they come into force.

Mr Percy Grieve (Solihull)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the whole purpose of the period of delay is to give time for reflection and consultation. That is relevant to the argument of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud).

Mr. Freud

The six-month period will enable the Minister and the police to examine the question of unfenced roads running alongside canals and rivers and to decide whether there should be an exemption for those driving along such roads or whether fences should be built.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I do not doubt that there will be much consultation with local authorities, chief constables and motoring organisations and that it will take all of six months. However, that consultation will take place after the Bill becomes an Act and the regulations will then be brought to the House.

Mr. Freud

It is up to us to make the legislation as good as possible. My constituency has a vast mileage of unfenced roadway along canals and rivers. Many accidents in Cambridgeshire involve cars being blown or pushed into canals or rivers. When occupants of such cars wear seatbelts it is hard, if not impossible, for the fire services to extract them from the water. In addition, occupants wearing seatbelts cannot take advantage of the air pocket which is often established in the top of the car.

Mr. Body

Is the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) aware that to the north of Cambridgeshire is an area which is almost identical to his constituency? Deaths have been caused in the way in which he describes. I hope that he will not limit his argument to Cambridgeshire since it is also important in Lincolnshire.

Mr. Freud

I had been reluctant to give a geographical rundown of the case that I wish to draw to the Minister's attention. However, I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman represents a constituency that neighbours mine to the north. I understand why he feels as he does. I also understand the feelings of those who represent other East Anglian constituencies or constituencies in the Lake District.

10.30 am
Mr. Marlow

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sorry to intervene just when he was building up an interesting flow of argument. I should like to make two points. First, the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), said that after this Bill becomes an Act—and some of us hope that it will not—the Minister will consult all the interested parties before laying the regulations down. However, I suggest that many people will not be aware of the regulations. They will not make representation to the Minister until they are put down. Therefore, although the hon. Gentleman feels in theory that the consultations will take place before the regulations are made, many people will agree that the great weight of argument and of lobbying will take place after they have been made. Until everyone has seen what the Minister has in mind, it will be difficult to pick an argument. It will be difficult to say that this is nonsense. If we go about this in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman, we shall cause a lot of disaffection, a lot of upset and a lot of problems between the public and the police.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. An intervention should be brief.

Mr. Marlow

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to be as brief as possible. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the report produced by the Ministry of Transport gives an instance of a car that drove into the water? The person was not injured at the time, but because he was in a seat belt, and because he inhaled dirty water, he died some time later from a dreadful disease. That is a perfectly valid point.

Mr. Freud

I am grateful for brief interventions, even if they are, perhaps, directed at someone else. However, we are discussing new clause 2. I support it because there are laws in this land that are applied and others that remain on the statute book but are not applied. The Town Clauses Act 1894 makes it illegal to fly a kite in a main thoroughfare. It is also illegal to clean windows from the outside. Those actions were probably considered villainous when the Town Clauses Act appeared on the statute book. Over a period that was perhaps longer than the six months now suggested, it was decided not to prosecute for that sort of transgression. If the six month moratorium receives the consent of the House, we shall be able to investigate constituencies such as mine, which have unfenced roads. In East Anglia anglers often park their cars on the side of the road. They are hard to see in the early morning. They cause a substantially greater percentage of accidents per mile of road than occurs on roads which do not run beside waterways.

Mr. Moate

I wish to make a serious point. The hon. Gentleman seems to give the impression—although I am sure that he does not wish to do so—that it is dangerous to wear a seat belt when driving along such roads. There is general agreement that whatever one may think about compulsion, we wish to see people wearing seat belts. Many hon. Members have said that they wear seat belts. Does the hon. Gentleman want a message to go out to his constituents, to the effect that they should not wear seat belts when driving along such roads?

Mr. Freud

I have looked into this issue very carefully and I am grateful for a valid intervention. Anyone driving alongside a waterway will be afraid of slipping into it, especially in high winds. Many cars land in the water and the fear of that happening is exacerbated by an even greater fear of being unable to get out. I have talked to the Anglian water authority, to the Health Service, ambulance service and fire service. They all said that there is a genuine fear that is inherent to the consideration of what might happen if one was caught wearing a seat belt in a car that was upside down in the water.

I have never said that people must wear seat belts. However, there are certain circumstances in which some people will drive better if some of their fears are removed. Many have a genuine fear when driving alongside an unfenced road that one slip will land them in the water. The greater their mobility and the less they are constricted by a seat belt, the greater will be their chance of getting out of that accident. They will have a greater chance of floating upwards and availing themselves of the air pocket. That air pocket could make the difference between life and death. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman's question. The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but I have answered it to the best of my ability.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

Although I do not oppose the Bill, many people outside the House have a genuine fear of fire in their car, lorry or van. Such people probably drive many thousands of miles each year. They may have seen multiple crashes of all types where fire has been the main danger. They fear that, if we impose the wearing of seat belts, we shall enforce a law that will be responsible for people being killed by fire. Has the hon. Gentleman done any research on that? Has he found out how we can overcome that fear?

Mr. Freud

I have not done any research on that point. However, if new clause 2 is adopted, the period of six months will give the Government time to rethink. They should rethink whether, if seat belts become compulsory, a possible exemption could be made for unfenced roads. Perhaps the exemption could be indicated by a sign showing, for example, an open seat belt buckle. Perhaps it should be left to the discretion of the local police force. Perhaps they should not press for prosecution when there is a good defence that can be backed up by the accident and death rate. I am not concerned about the mechanics. I am deeply concerned about the principle. I support new clause 2.

Mr. Lawrence

I support the new clause. I have not come to terms with the bill, but the Report stage is open to discussion only on the basis that the principle has been accepted by the House. My view is well known to anyone who is in the least interested. I believe that seat belts are a very important item in the insurance of road safety. I believe in them. Insurance companies and courts should do what they can to encourage the wearing of seat belts. When cars come off the production line, they should be equipped with devices that remind the driver and passenger to wear the seat belt. I have no objection to some cars coming off the assembly line with a device that ensures that the car cannot be driven unless the seat belt is worn.

But, when all that is said, I believe that freedom is even more important than the safety aspect that would result from the wearing of seat belts. The argument in favour of forcing people, against their will and on pain of criminal conviction, to wear seat belts is an emotional and impractical argument and such a dangerous infringement of freedom as to be thoroughly undesirable.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I imagine that the principle would last six months, at least.

Mr. Lawrence

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my speech will not last six months. I shall endeavour to make the points that I feel it necessary to make with as much despatch as I can. Lest it be even remotely thought that it is any part of my intention to lengthen the proceedings on the Bill, even though I am strongly opposed to it, by advancing arguments that are not capable of rational support, I must make clear that it is not my intention. The sooner that we can get on to debate the various parts of the opposition to the Bill, the sooner the difficulties facing the enforcement of the legislation will become apparent. That was my approach in Committee and will continue to be my approach.

I declare an interest as president of the National Association of Approved Driving Instructors. It is a worthy body which is utterly and completely committed to road safety, but its members are not in favour of forcing everyone, on pain of criminal conviction to wear a seat belt.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the association in favour of new clause 2?

Mr. Lawrence

I am sure that because a substantial number—in my opinion a majority—are opposed to the principle of the Bill they will naturally be in favour of a clause that is directed to improving the Bill in the sense that unless time is given for proper consideration by the public, the Bill will lack that essential requirement without which it cannot hope to be effective, namely public acceptability.

Mr. Jessel

Can my hon. Friend say whether the driving instructors and, indeed, he are in favour of the 400 extra deaths and the 4,000 to 5,000 extra serious injuries which would result from a six-month delay in the implementation of the Bill?

Mr. Lawrence

That is a preposterous oversimplification of the issues involved. My hon. Friend cannot prove that more people will die if the Bill is not passed than if it is passed. He underlines the emotional and irrational attitude of those who are promoting the legislation.

Sir Ronald Bell

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the intervention of our hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) shows clearly that the desire of the promoters of the Bill is that regulations should come into force on the day that they are made, in order, as they would put it, to avoid deaths and injuries?

10.45 am
Mr. Lawrence

Indeed, and the intervention also demonstrated the attitude of absolute intolerance that is shown to those of us who are raising legitimate and reasonable objections to the enforcement of the Bill.

In five sittings of the Standing Committee, however narrow we may have thought the issue was when the debate began, when we went into the details of what is physically required of the people of this country the complications proliferated and the difficulties of enforcement and implementation became obvious.

Unless we are to put on the statute book a piece of rubbish that will be rejected by the overwhelming majority of people, we must consider the objections and see whether they have value and whether there is sufficient evidence to support at every stage the substantial infringement of the liberty of the subject that the legislation requires.

I support the new clause, because if ever there were legislation that must have the approval of the people, this Bill, because of the difficulty of its enforcement, is it. In order for people to give their support they will need time to get to know and understand what the Bill requires of them. It became evident in Committee that there will also have to be time for a large range of technical improvements to be introduced.

I shall develop and put some clothing around the bones of the arguments that I have briefly outlined.

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

My hon. Friend has much experience in the practice of law and can therefore give the House the benefit of his opinion in a comparison between the enforcement of the Bill and its implications and the difficulties or otherwise of enforcing the offence of listening to pirate radio stations, which became impossible to enforce because no one could find those who were listening and no one would admit to doing so. Does my hon. Friend believe that there is any comparison between the enforcement of that rather six-month delay in the implementation of of the Bill?

Mr. Lawrence

Any examples of where Parliament has passed laws that have not had the widespread acceptance of the British people are useful in underlining that we must consider the practicality of the proposed legislation.

We are here primarily to produce legislation, and the temptation is to go on churning it out regardless of whether it will be the slightest use to the people of this country. There are countless examples of legislation that has not been enforced and where effective dates have not been introduced. We have evidence in some branches of the law, particularly domestic proceedings of divorce where legislation has been passed and regulations made, but before the date of implementation the mood of the country or the legislature has changed so that the law has been repealed.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

The doctrine of promiscuous legislation is not a duty that the whole House recognises. I should have said that we were here primarily to scrutinise carefully legislation that others, namely Governments, wish to promote, rather than to churn out legislation.

Mr. Lawrence

I accept that the main purpose of Parliament is to act as a sounding board of the nation, but we are a legislative assembly and the temptation to legislate is sometimes irresistible. However, we must resist it and must take the attitude that my hon. Friend has indicated, particularly when the Government, as, I am pleased to say, in this case, are not proposing the legislation.

I turn to the difficulty of enforcement. In summary, the law will place a great strain on the relationship between the police and the public—a strain which the police could well do without. When one calls for evidence of the way in which the law may not be enforced, one finds a good example from France where the compulsory wearing of seat belts, which was confined to rural areas, was introduced when the wearing rate was 80 per cent. In due course, the police did not actively enforce the law, no doubt for the same reasons that it would be difficult or impossible to enforce, and the wearing rate dropped to about 50 per cent. Half the drivers did not bother to wear seat belts, because they did not think that they would suffer any penalty and that the law could not be enforced.

We must try to avoid that sort of situation arising in this country. We must not pass laws that cannot be enforced.

Mr. Jessel

How about Australia?

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend talks about Australia as if that is the answer to everything. Australia has one of the worst driving records of any country whether or not seat belts are compulsory. Australia has speed limits. Some of the evidence put forward is highly selective. It comes from a state in Australia over a given period. It would take hours if not days—I do not propose to take that time —to examine precisely the effects in Australia.

It does not behove my hon. Friend to say, by way of sedentary interruption, "What about Australia?" as if Australia is the end of the argument. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, whom I admire and respect and whom I followed as candidate for Peckham, he is showing his intolerance with the views of those of us who are opposed to the Bill and who, in respect of this matter, are opposed to the implementation of regulations until a period of six months has passed.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

The hon. Gentleman and the House may be interested to know that the statistical evidence from Australia is, at best, inconclusive and in no sense supports the contrary point of view that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is trying to suggest.

Mr. Lawrence

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose views do not normally accord with my own. In this matter, however, he is fortified by the fact that he speaks with an antipodean accent and, therefore, must be taken to have some deeper knowledge and understanding of that part of the world than those of us who lack that accent.

Mr. Spriggs

I am not bothered about about the Australians or the Australian case. I am bothered about what happens in Great Britain. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has visited hospital accident units and discussed the reasons for the insufficiency of beds in National Health Service hospitals due to the number taken by patients who have been badly mangled or injured in road accidents.

If the hon. Gentleman had had any contact with surgeons whose job is trying to save lives after serious car accidents where seat belts have not been used, I feel that he would not support new clause 2. The main object of that new clause is to restrain the Minister from bringing into operation the enforcement of the wearing of seat belts for a further six months. During that period, hundreds, or perhaps, thousands, of lives could be saved. I shall oppose new clause 2 on those grounds.

Mr. Arthur Lewis


Mr. Lawrence

I am in a difficulty, Mr Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you would advise me what course I should take when two hon. Members wish to contribute on a particular point.

Mr. Lewis

I should like to give the hon. Gentleman some help.

Mr. Lawrence

I should like the hon. Gentleman's assistance if it is in order for me to sit down and take a second suplementary intervention.

Mr. Lewis

I had intended to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) says is legitimate. But hospitals are also filled by fat men and fat women who are overweight, by people with cancer, who smoke too much, and by alcoholics who drink too much. I have not heard of the House bringing in a law to stop people from eating, drinking or smoking. It would be very difficult to enforce.

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman says that he has not heard of the House bringing in a law to stop drinking, overeating and smoking. But the danger is that if we continue to introduce legislation of the type we are discussing, it will not be long before gentlemen like the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), such is his depth of feeling on the matter, start to argue that as a thousand lives would be saved if people were stopped from driving without scat belts, a further 20,000 lives would be saved if they stopped smoking and goodness knows how many lives saved if they stopped drinking. I do not know whether a statistical assessment has been made of the number of hon. Members, let alone people in the country, who possess a greater than natural average girth. The danger of this legislation is knowing where it will end.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

Is my hon. Friend aware of the body known as ASH—Action on Smoking and Health —which is dedicated to trying to stop everyone in the country from smoking? A vast amount of public funds is already spent on trying to prevent people from smoking. There is no end to what these do-gooders are trying to do to our freedoms.

Sir Ronald Bell

My hon. Friend will perhaps not mind if I bring him back to new clause 2 following that last intervention. The point put to my hon. Friend by the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) about the six months' delay causing extra congestion in hospitals through accident injuries is nonsense. One of the biggest occupiers of hospital beds is mental illness and mental stress. Surely, the whole purpose of new clause 2 is to diminish, as far as possible, the neurosis and mental stress that would be caused by the introduction of this legislation.

Mr. Lawrence

I should like to try to summarise the interventions made about this part of my speech so that I can make a genuine effort to reply. I accept what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) has said without further discussion and argument. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) says. I would quote Mr. Justice Brandeis, a great American judge, who said, in a famous case in the United States: Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when governments' purposes are beneficent. The greatest damages to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding". That is the position here. I do not impugn the zeal of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) or the zeal of Opposition Members who get angry and worked up, and continue exaggerating the number of lives that would be saved far beyond what the statisticians and Government advisers suggest.

I agree with the hon. Member for St. Helens that our hospitals are full of people who might not be there if they wore seat belts. I am in favour of the wearing of seat belts. The more encouragement that can be given for people to wear seat belts, the fewer lives will be lost and the less damage will be incurred and the better it will be for our society.

Mr. Marks

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman supports the wearing of seat belts. In an intervention in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell), the hon. Gentleman argued that only 80 per cent. would wear seat belts and 20 per cent. would refuse. That is double what it is now. Does he accept that there would be a doubling as a result of the Act?

Mr. Lawrence

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when I gave an example—

Mr. Marks

I was.

Mr. Lawrence

If the hon. Gentleman was, he was probably not paying the closest of attention to my speech. This delays the passage of the Bill. I have to repeat myself. I was giving the example of France where, following the compulsory implementation of seat belts but because the police were not enforcing the law for reasons that I hope I shall have an opportunity to develop, the wearing rate fell from 80 per cent. to 50 per cent. There is no guarantee that because one passes a law forcing people, on pain of criminal conviction, to wear a seat belt the rate of use will rise. The rate of use is very difficult to assess.

One can test the number of people who are wearing seat belts at the time of an accident or the number wearing them when a vehicle is stopped in the commission of a criminal offence. I suppose that one could ask people in a public opinion poll whether they were wearing seat belts. However, all that is a long way from proving a wearing rate of 50 or 80 per cent. throughout the population.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

If and when the Bill becomes law will the hon. Gentleman be vocal in advising his constituents to obey the law?

11 am

Mr. Lawrence

I say without wishing to cause any offence that the hon. Gentleman has not been here as long as I have —I have not been here that long—and will not know that one repeated theme I have adopted whenever I have been able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in any debate is that the rule of law is supreme and must always be enforced, because otherwise there is no future for our society. I have sometimes been led to the observation that if only Labour Members had as much respect for the rule of law as we Conservatives have, there might be a lot less lawlessness in society.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) was a Mem- ber when a law was passed to compel the wearing of crash helmets by motorcyclists. Does he recall that there was a big campaign to exempt certain people? It took a little longer than six months, but eventually the exemption was granted. My right hon. and hon. Friends voted for that exemption, so perhaps under this Bill the need for other similar exemptions will arise and lead to a campaign in which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) will join us.

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) makes a valid point on this subject, as I would expect. He underlines the need for the new clause.

I was referring to the difficulty of enforcement and I gave an example of what happened in France when wearing seat belts became compulsory and the police could not enforce the law. I envisage a number of situations which illustrate the strain that will develop between the police and the public here over enforcement.

Suppose that a policeman stops a vehicle believing that an occupant is not wearing a seat belt and finds that he was wrong, perhaps because of the speed of the vehicle or the poor light. That gives rise to conflict between the policeman—who will be prepared, if challenged, to defend his right to stop the vehicle even though he was wrong—and the driver or passenger who has the freedom to drive along the highway unimpeded by a policeman or anyone else but is stopped and made to give an explanation. That is the simplest case.

There is then a further case where the policeman would be right to stop the vehicle because a seat belt was not being worn. There could be an argument. The person, knowing that he was in the wrong and about to be stopped by a policeman might clip on the seat belt or pretend that the seat belt had been fastened but that he had at the moment unclipped it. Again friction occurs between the police officer and the occupant of the car.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order. I am listening closely and it seems that the hon. Gentleman's argument would apply whether or not there was a delay in the Act coming into effect. Will he therefore relate his argument to why the delay should occur?

Mr. Lawrence

Of course I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but since you took the Chair after I began speaking perhaps I should offer an explanation. My point was that it is necessary to impose the delay because the Bill would not work without public acceptability. That acceptability will not be achieved where the law cannot be enforced. I am therefore showing that there will be difficulty over enforcement. I shall move on to explain, if I have the time, why it is important to have a delay during which the public can be made aware of the law so that they will support it.

I come next to the third possibility where a police officer is right to stop a vehicle when a seat belt is not worn but where the person concerned is entitled to exemption. There are two possibilities here. The first is that the passenger, although qualified for exemption, has not got round to obtaining an exemption certificate. The driver or passenger could be pregnant. The Minister may make regulations exempting someone who is over a certain weight in the course of pregnancy, either because of that weight and the fact that seat belts cannot easily be adjusted to different girths, or because it is medical opinion that women who are in a state of great sensitivity because they are pregnant are emotionally incapable of—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have tried to indicate to the hon. Gentleman what I feel falls within the confines of this new clause. He is advancing a good argument, but not on this new clause. He is going into a general debate of whether seat belts should be worn. I hope he will give clear reasons why there should be a delay.

Mr. Robert Atkins

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely if we are discussing a delay in the implementation of the regulations of six months, that discussion must cover the whole area of the wearing of seat belts. Surely, therefore, my hon. Friend is within the bounds of order in what he is saying.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I say to the hon. Gentleman with the greatest respect that the debate is about a delay. If the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) can relate his remarks to the delay and not to the general arguments which have been expressed repeatedly on the Bill—and I am saying this in a completely neutral capacity—he will be in order. He must explain why there should be a delay in order for people to be educated, not go into the details of that education.

Mr. Lawrence

Of course, I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry that I was unable to persuade you of the relevance of my remarks the first time you called me to order. This law will not be enforceable unless it is accepted by the people. It will not be accepted unless there is such a delay in its implementation as to enable the people not only to understand what is required of them but to become sympathetic to the law. The people will not accept the law if they think that it can be broken with impunity, if they think they can simply brush aside the fact that a policeman is trying to enforce it.

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not seek to make irrelevant remarks. As I said earlier, there is enough meat in our opposition to the Bill for us not to have to waste time on matters that are unnecessarily drawn out. There is so much ground for objection that I am perfectly happy to move on from point to point as quickly as I can. However, public acceptability is at the root of the argument about enforcement of the Bill—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Of course that is so with any Bill. The argument that the hon. Gentleman is making is relevant to other amendments and new clauses, but not to this. The hon. Gentleman could go in depth into the exemptions, but we are not discussing who should be exempted. If the Bill becomes an Act the public accept it in the manner in which it comes before them. If exemptions are allowed the people will know of them and I say again with the greatest respect that the hon. Gentleman's argument is related to the general principle. We are not debating that. We are debating whether there should be a delay.

Sir Ronald Bell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I moved the Second Reading of the clause, I concentrated—with, I believe, the concurrence of the Chair at the time—on the complications of the regulations likely to be made and the problem that the public would have in learning about them from reading the newspapers, hearing them discussed in broadcasts and so forth, if the regulations came into force on the day they were made. That, it seems to me, is why a pause is desirable.

Would my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) therefore be in order if he directed his attention to the complication of the regulations which will be made—we know roughly what they will be—and the impossibility of the public knowing about them if they come into force the day they are made?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to speak about the difficulties of enforcement, but not to go into whether, for example, pregnant women will be exempted. That is completely different. The question of general principle as to what the Bill would provide in giving exemptions and the time necessary for that to be made known to the public is in order, but it is not in order to go into detail about what the exemptions will be.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not becoming obvious to the House —and probably soon to the country at large—that the delay here in question is not the delay referred to in the new clause but delay in the passage of the Bill itself, a delay which will be a disgrace to those hon. Members who are taking up the time of the House?

Mr. Body

Certainly not.

Mr. Robertson

Is it not a fact that they are delaying the passage of legislation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have made no suggestion that the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is delaying the House. It is the task of the Chair to keep hon. Members within the confines of a new clause or amendment under debate, and I seek to do that without any feeling whatever about the Bill itself.

But what the hon. Gentleman has been saying since I took the Chair would be completely relevant to a Second Reading debate on seat belts and, with the greatest respect, I hope that he will confine his argument briefly to why there should be a delay.

Mr. Lawrence

I hope that the House will not expect me to comment upon the arrogant and intolerant intervention of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), which fills those of us, both here and in the country, who are concerned about the Bill with utter despair.

May I say in response to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in the spirit of conciliation and compromise for which I am well known, I accept, of course, your indication that I should move to the next stage of my argument, and I shall at once do so. I merely summarise the point thus far. It is inevitable that in enforcement there will be an element of police discretion, which will be challenged by the public. There will be an element of aggravation and hostility between police and public. There will be temptation for people not to do anything to accord with the legislation unless there is an accident or they are committing some other offence. Unless there is public acceptability there is no hope of the law being useful, and unless there is a delay of six months between the passing of the regulations and their implementation there cannot be public acceptability. I move, therefore, to the question of public awareness.

The public must have time to fit into the provisions of the Bill. That does not mean merely that they must have time to consider whether they are capable of qualifying for one of the exemptions which the regulations may in due course provide. Where the regulations require the securing of a certificate, whether a medical certificate or some other, it would be ridiculous for us not to contemplate some time lag. We are speaking here about 25 million drivers, and probably more passengers, all of whom must consider—perhaps they will consider it in only a moment or two with the view to rejecting it—whether they are eligible for an exemption.

A substantial number of people would be covered by the list of exemptions which we may later debate. There has already been some debate on that matter. One has merely to think of the thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of women who become pregnant or the thousands of people who suffer, say, from some phobia.

11.15 am

Looking at the matter from the point of view of practicalities, one cannot expect every driver to stop driving and every passenger to stop being a passenger the moment that the law and the regulations are known until such time as they manage to run to ground whoever it is who will produce for them an exemption certificate.

As a matter of bureaucratic common sense, there must be a delay. The certificates will have to be printed. A Minister might say that before the regulations were debated the Stationery Office would start printing the certificates, but I think that Governments have recently been bitten by preparation, at great public expense, for legislation which they fondly expected to be passed but which was not passed. One has only to cite the example of that wonderful building in Edinburgh which was redeveloped to be the centre of the Scottish devolution Assembly. The House threw that out, and millions of pounds of public money were wasted. I do not believe, therefore, that a Minister would begin printing exemption certificates before he had the approval of the House to the making of exemptions.

If there be any merit in the argument adduced hitherto that the House will have plenty of time to discuss whether exemptions—and which exemptions—should be a matter for regulation, it will be remembered that that will arise on the negative or affirmative resolution procedure at an hour in the morning when the House does not normally sit. Moreover, that must presuppose that hon. Members will have some say and perhaps be able to reject an exemption or ask for an exemption to be interposed contrary to the Minister's wish.

If that occasion arises, as those who sponsor the Bill expect it to arise, it will be sheer madness to assume that all the bureaucratic machinery will be ready for the individual in our society to take advantage of it at one minute past midnight, even if everyone wanted to start queuing up outside sub-post offices or wherever one will have to go to claim an exemption certificate.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

My hon. Friend is a lawyer, which I am not, and I seek his help. As I read the new clause, the six months' delay applies only to regulations made by the Minister subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It does not apply to those subject to the negative resolution procedure.

I intervene on this point only because it seems to me that some of the examples which my hon. Friend has been using—for instance, pregnant women—would come under the negative resolution procedure as the Bill stands, not the affirmative resolution procedure, so that the new clause would not apply to them.

Sir Ronald Bell

I think that I can—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member who has the Floor must indicate whether he is giving way to another hon. Member.

Mr. Lawrence

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that I had done that. I give way to my hon. and learned Friend.

Sir R. Bell

I think that the broad distinction is that the original new regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and amending regulations would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. That is why I thought it sufficient to confine the new clause to the new regulations which will come into force when the Bill is passed, giving a delay of six months before the law begins to operate, instead of referring to amending regulations which could come later.

Mr. Lawrence

I am much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for that clarification. The point which I make is valid in that connection. We cannot stop people driving until the wheels of the bureaucratic machinery and the whim of the printers, to say nothing of the availability of doctors, give the citizenry the necessary cover.

Mr. George Robertson


Mr. Lawrence

I hesitate to give way to the hon. Gentleman in view of the utter intolerance of his previous intervention. If he can undertake that his intervention will be reasonable, I shall of course, give way.

Mr. Robertson

I hesitate to intervene and therefore prolong the hon. Gentleman's speech. However, for the sake of consistency in the argument I should like to make a point about his previous statement on devolution. He has got the wrong end of the stick. Parliament passed the legislation authorising expenditure for and the creation of a structure for Scottish devolution. The Scottish people voted in a referendum. The reason why the Scotland Act was repealed was that a provision brought in by Parliament was not satisfied. In the referendum 40 per cent. of the electorate did not vote in favour of devolution. Judging from the statistical evidence and the opinion polls, if a referendum were held on seat belts, it is not certain that the people would vote in favour. Therefore, what on earth is the point of raising the issue of devolution?

Mr. Lawrence

That was a more temperate intervention. However, I am not sure that I fully understand its direct relevance. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene in my speeches again, I shall be happy to give way. He underlines my point that it is all very well for a Minister to agree to start the bureaucratic process whereby the citizenry can take advantage of the legislation if, in due course, that legislation does not come to pass and the taxpayer is involved in providing a large sum of public money.

In order to be specific, I wish to identify two spheres in which the possibility of delay in the implementation of the Bill would have the harmful effect of forcing people not to drive or travel as passengers in cars unless they broke the law.

The first sphere is the time that might elapse in the printing of the various certificates. I shall not dwell on that aspect, but hon. Members have a better claim to a divine right to get material printed and presented to them as legislators than does anyone in the land. But, time and time again, for industrial dispute reasons or whatever, we cannot get material printed. There is a possibility that even though the Bill, including the exemptions, is passed and implemented it still may be days, weeks or months before the certificates become available.

A better example is that of medical exemption. Unless every doctor gives up the first three-quarters of every surgery for the next six months, seeing people who ask for medical exemptions—which I think is a riduculous supposition—there will be people who want to drive or to be passengers who are not able to get medical exemptions from their doctors in time. They will be left with the choice of not driving or not becoming passengers until the doctor can see them, or of breaking the law and running the risk of being stopped by a policeman. It is inevitable that there will be time delays. The doctors are complaining now about pressures put upon them by insurance companies. In Committee we had a short discussion about who will be able to give a certificate, in what circumstances, and what the fee will be. Who will pay? Will it be the State or the private individual?

In Committee I read a letter that I had received from the RAC saying that its attention had been drawn to a case in which a doctor had refused to grant an exemption certificate unless a certain sum of money was paid to him. The Minister said that there would be an agreement with the BMA on such matters. Such matters should be clarified, so that either the BMA has an agreement with all doctors that anyone claiming an exemption certificate will pay a fee, or it should be agreed that the State will pay.

If the matter is left to the medical profession to decide whether it should interrupt the essential treatment of a patient in order to give a certificate to a person who may want to drive or who may want to be a passenger, the delay in the implementation of the Bill will be substantial, harmful and unacceptable to the majority of drivers.

Mr. Grieve

My hon. Friend has touched upon an important aspect of the enforcement of the Bill, if it is enacted. Surely, if there is to be a medical decision on the question whether an exemption is appropriate under regulations named by the Minister, there must be an appellate procedure. The six months' delay between the making of the regulations and their coming into force should be considered. We must decide what is the best way of protecting the rights of the individual.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful for that intervention, which strengthens my point. In case hon. Members think that I am putting forward a spurious argument, for which I have no evidence, I should like to read part of the letter from the RAC, which underlines the difficulty that may arise over the immediate implementation of the Bill. The letter says: We recently received a complaint about a fee of £10 demanded by a doctor for a certificate confirming that a driver over the age of 70 was fit to continue driving—as required by the DVLC and his insurance company. It was mentioned that the only task performed by the doctor was signing the certificate since he was fully aware of the medical condition of his patient. In answer to the patient's protest, it was said that the fee was imposed in accordance with the requirements of the British Medical Association. When inquiries were made, it was ascertained that the BMA had not fixed or recommended a fee but regarded £10 as not a large sum to be paid by an individual who could afford to run a motor car! That is the sort of difficulty that will arise unless there is a reasonable, sensible delay between the passing and the implementation of the law. I should have thought that most hon. Members would consider six months to be reasonable.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I do not think that my hon. Friend has grasped the point that the powers exercisable by the Minister on medical conditions do not fall into the classes mentioned in clause 2. Therefore, they do not fall into the class that, pursuant to the Bill, will be required to be made by affirmative resolution. If they do not fall into that class, the new clause and the delay that it will involve does not apply to them. I do not think that my hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) have fully grasped this legal point.

Mr. Lawrence

It may be that I have not grasped that point. There are many points—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When we are dealing with a legal point, and when we need legal advice, I feel that the Attorney-General and the other Law Officers should be present. I do not mean to be disrespectful to any of the lawyers present, but we have a number of different opinions and I think that we should have a Law Officer here.

11.30 am
Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that although that is a very interesting observation it is not a point of order.

Mr. Lewis

Will the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman on another point of order?

Mr. Lewis

I am asking the hon. Gentleman to give way, and he has given way to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As there is controversy between the lawyers here—I accept their views in preference to the views of some of the Law Officers that I have known—do not they think that the Government should bring the Law Officers here? Then we could hear from them who is right—whether it is the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell), the hon. Member for Burton, or the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), who I do not think is learned, though he seems to me to put the matter much better than the lawyers. The hon. Gentleman might care to ask for the Law Officers to come. I agree that the Chair cannot do it.

Mr. Lawrence

I am anxious that we should get on with the Bill, if only to be able to ventilate as many of the objections to it as possible. I am not sure that there would be any great advantage to anybody if, this being private Members' time, we asked the Chair to adjourn until my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General could be brought here from wherever he is, explaining the law on picketing or whatever else, probably to greater advantage to the country.

If there is merit in the point—and there usually is merit in the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)—it will probably have to be referred to a Select Committee to consider its possible hybridity and legal complications. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not taking up his tempting suggestion and that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not opinionate or pontificate upon the validity of this point. In any event, it is not the central issue that we are debating, although it may have substantial importance.

Perhaps I may continue as I seem to be doing, rather like a yachtsman tacking consistently against the wind. I seem to be going backwards rather than forwards, although I am trying to get to the end of this race.

Mr. Lewis

The hon. Gentleman used an analogy with yachting and tacking. I know that he did so extemporaneously. All those who go yachting should wear life jackets, but there is no law requiring them to do so. Shall we not find that a law is introduced that everyone who goes yachting, boating and rowing must wear a life jacket, because that would save a number of lives?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) even tries to answer that question, I can say that we may be having a Bill on that matter, and I ask him to save his observations for that.

Mr. Lawrence

If there were a Bill on that matter, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield would move a similar new clause, because there would doubtless be a substantial delay before yachtsman could carry on yachting if they were subject to any exemptions.

My third point has been raised consistently over the years. It is that the state of technological achievement in the provision of safety devices in vehicles, particularly seat belts, leaves a great deal to be desired. Some time will be needed to develop and improve the existing system.

In earlier debates we have discussed what sort of seat belt we are thinking of requiring people to wear, on pain of criminal conviction. In the end it comes down to the inertia reel seat belt. Most of us are beginning to have experience of that type in our cars, if we have not already had experience over the years. But there is ample evidence that the inertia reel seat belt is potentially very dangerous in some cars and in some circumstances, for all sorts of reasons.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman can tell us how he is relating this matter to a six months' delay. We are not discussing types of seat belt.

Mr. Lawrence

I relate the matter in this way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, quite easily. On the presumption that necessity is the mother of invention, and that when the Bill is passed there will be a necessity to have a properly safe and completely acceptable form of restraint, a reasonable delay may make it possible that a motor manufacturer will introduce a seat belt that is acceptable and takes away the criticism expressed by some people.

The critics, who include the RAC, say that people are being forced to do something that in some circumstances may injure or kill them.

It has been said that if only we had a little more time we should have a safe form of seat belt or restraint, yet years have gone by and the examinations have gone on slowly, without a great deal of enthusiasm, because it has not been the law that there is a requirement, on pain of a criminal offence, to have a seat belt. Technological improvement has been relatively slow. On the passing of a regulation there would be a necessity to speed up the technical development. If there were a reasonable time—say, six months—it might be possible to introduce forms of restraint that were more reliable and less open to criticism than the inertia reel seat belt.

Mr. Marlow

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because I know that he wants to get on with his argument with all dispatch.

My hon. Friend mentioned inertia reel seat belts in connection with the six-month delay. Many people have such belts. If the legislation is passed most people, being law-abiding, will want to make sure that they are obeying not simply the letter of the law but its spirit.

Many of those with inertia reel seat belts never know whether the belts work unless they are involved in an accident. That concerns me greatly. Like most hon. Members, I always wear my seat belt. If one slows down in a car or brakes, one finds that the belt runs out of the reel. Only if one is in an accident does one know whether it is working. If we have a six months' delay, many people will want to make sure that the belts are working. I do not know how they would do it, but it would take time—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not see how what the hon. Gentleman is saying relates to a six months' delay. It applies now. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that such belts should be tried out by people beforehand. We are not discussing that matter under the new clause. It would be completely out of order to go into it.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must now put to you as a point of order the points that I tried to make by way of intervention.

The debate on the new clause is going right outside the scope of the clause. New clause 2 restricts the period of six months' delay to such measures as have been approved by both Houses of Parliament…under section 1". Clause 1, as clause 2 says, comes into effect as a result of section 199 of the Road Traffic Act 1972. As subsection (3) of that section makes clear, that is done by the negative resolution procedure, and nothing subject to the negative resolution procedure can be affected by new clause 2.

In clause 2 of the Bill two exemptions to the negative resolution procedure that are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure appear in lines 42 and 43:

  1. "(a) a class of vehicle, or
  2. (b) a seating position in a vehicle or class of vehicle,"
I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if the new clause is accepted by the House, the only regulations that will be affected by the six-month regulation, and therefore the subject of legitimate debate, are those that appear in lines 42 and 43, on page 2 of the Bill, which I have just read. They do not and cannot apply to whether somebody is pregnant, a Calvinist or anything else, that is not included in lines 42 and 43.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It may well be that the hon. Gentleman is right. What we are discussing here is a specific amendment, and that is all I am concerned with at the moment. I am not concerned with the other implications that the hon. Gentleman has put forward. If the House accepts what the hon. Gentleman has said it can either accept or reject the amendment. That is all that I am concerned about.

Sir Ronald Bell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has overlooked the fact that the initial regulations will clearly apply to some class of vehicle or other—they are bound to. Therefore, they are caught by clause 3. They will also apply to classes of persons who are not at present subject to this restriction and therefore they will be caught by clause 3.

The initial regulations must apply the controls to certain classes of vehicle and person. That is why I said that the first regulations must be caught by my new clause and subject to the six-month delay. Subsequent regulations would have to be looked at to see whether they came within lines 42 and 43 of the Bill. It is quite true that they might not do so, but the first regulations are bound to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have been in the law too long to give an off-the-cuff answer. It is not for the Chair to answer the point made by the hon. Member. The new clause is quite specific in what it says. It may well be that it is wrongly drafted. If it is, the House may wish to reject it. But it is not for the Chair to enter into this discussion.

Mr. Lawrence

If this new clause were drafted wrongly it would be the first lapse in such a matter that I have ever detected in my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. Those of us who have some experience of the law would have detected it, drawn it to his attention and have had no part in advancing before the House a new clause that we knew to be defective. I do not think that it is defective. Although what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton said may be of the highest interest in academic circles, I am not sure that it affects what I am saying. We are discussing whether, from the time that a regulation becomes law by negative or affirmative resolution, there should be a delay in its implementation to give the public time to do what is necessary to enable them to drive vehicles that are subject to those exemptions.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I did not allege that the amendment was defective. It clearly is not. The new clause could not have been selected if it had been defective. My point is that its effect is different from what my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) believes it to be. It is substantially different.

Mr. Lawrence

That may be, but to allay the voices of doubt I make absolutely clear what I believe to be the effect of the new clause. For whatever reason and by whatever means a regulation becomes law, thereafter there should be a delay of six months to give time for the practical, realistic and material procedures to be followed to enable the citizen to take advantage of the legislation without oppression.

I will move on to the point that I began to make about five minutes ago. It is my third point and it is about the need for a delay so that technological improvements can be made to remove the aggression, irritation and hostility that might otherwise be felt by people who are forced to wear seat belts that are to some degree defective.

11.45 am

In case hon. Members think that I am making a point without evidence to substantiate it—it might even be said that I am scaremongering—I shall read part of an article written in The Times on this subject on 11 September 1975. The article is headed Failure shown in inertia seatbelts and begins: An alarming incidence of failure of inertia seatbelts to lock, resulting in serious in juries to the wearer, is disclosed today in a report from the accident research unit of Birmingham university. The report studied accidents in which 108 passengers wearing seat belts were seriously hurt. In 18 cases excessive forward movement resulted in their injuries and eight were associated with the failure of the inertia reel system to lock, or to lock soon enough, to prevent the wearer from hitting the side of the vehicle As only 28 of the 108 passengers were wearing inertia belts, the conclusion can be drawn that excessive forward movement is a dominant characteristic of the inertia reel system. The article continues: The report prepared by Dr. Murray Mackay and Dr. Peter Gloyns, two leading authorities on traffic accidents, is published in Antocar magazine. It is the first authoritative challenge to the generally held view that inertia belts are more effective than the static type. The Department of the Environment—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how this relates in any way to the six-month delay? He is discussing types of seat belt—a subject that is completely outside the amendment that we are discussing. He has been speaking for one hour and 10 minutes, and there are other hon. Members waiting to speak.

Mr. Lawrence

I concede that there are other hon. Members in the House—principally on the Government Benches—who wish to bring before the attention of the House the numerous objections to the implementation of the Bill. I try to give substance to the arguments I advance in order to be helpful. The importance of what I am saying and its relation to the new clause was, I should have thought, quite obvious, but I shall repeat it in case I am deluding myself. If people are to be forced, on pain of a criminal offence being committed, to wear a seat belt that can be harmful and has been shown to be harmful—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is an argument about whether people should wear seat belts. It has nothing to do with the question whether there should be a delay in implementing it.

Mr. Marks

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have been debating this amendment for two hours and 10 minutes. The whole of that time, except for occasional interventions has been taken up by supporters of the amendment. I give notice that I intend to move, That the Question be now put, but the House should have the opportunity to hear the sponsor and the Minister before I do that. If the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) goes on much longer there will not be much time for them to say anything.

Mr. Lawrence

The implication of what the hon. Member has said is a little unfair. I have been interrupted on numerous occasions by hon. Members on both sides of the House who had important things to say which have considerably developed and strengthened the argument. Had I been left to my own devices, my speech would have been at least half as long. The impatience of those who wish to get this intolerant and illiberal piece of legislation on the statute book deprives them of the objective view of properly expressed arguments with conviction behind them.

The fact remains that if I am to be interrupted during the course of making a point, the point I am making will be lost upon the House, perhaps with consequent disadvantage. Perhaps I may just be allowed to complete—

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to advance arguments that he advanced on other amendments during five long sittings of the Committee?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is certainly within order for an hon. Member to advance an argument that is relevant to the amendment. The reason why I have been on my feet so often—I hate doing it—is that in my view much of the argument is outside the terms of what we are debating.

Mr. Lawrence

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) wishes to intervene.

Mr. Body

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having given way; otherwise I would probably have been precluded from making a point that no one else has made. This is an important issue. There are some in the House who would wish to exclude some of the arguments. However, does my hon. Friend agree that quite a large number of people, of whom I am one, own rather elderly cars and have fitted static belts, and would wish to go over to the modern type of belt? It is quite unrealistic to expect to have these new and safer belts fitted within the six months.

That is a very cogent reason for the delay. It needs to be argued and heard by the House. We ought to have a delay of a minimum of six months to enable us to have these belts fitted to our cars.

Mr. Lawrence My hon. Friend is making, perhaps more effectively than I have been able to do, the point that I was seeking to make. For all sorts of technical reasons—reasons of technical improvement or of technical change of the seat belts that are at present in cars—it is necessary—nay, it is vital, if one is to be realistic—to have a delay. If one is to get acceptability of this legislation on the part of the public, so that they are prepared to go along with the law, notwithstanding the acute difficulties of enforcement, they must be persuaded that the seat belts that they are being forced to put in their cars and wear will be utterly safe.

In the present state of technological development it is quite clear—I could have gone on reading the article had you not intervened to stop me, Mr. Deputy Speaker—from the highest authorities concerned with the safety of seat belts, that there is a lot wrong with the existing technology.

What I am saying is that there must be a delay so that the scientists can continue their work with perhaps a lot more application than they have otherwise been moved to do, because this has not been a Bill that has become law. They will have to be encouraged to continue their work to make seat belts so safe that every member of the public, who will have to be a partner to the enforcement of this law—because the police do not have the power to do it unless the public accept it and are partners to it—will be able to feel that what he or she is wearing is safe enough to wear.

I shall rush to the end of my speech in order to give opportunities for my hon. Friends to make their contribution to this very important debate. I am not merely repeating matters that have been aired in Committee. This is a new clause, which throws a completely new light upon the operation of the Bill. Therefore, it is most important that the House should know that at any rate one hon. Member on the Government Benches—I do not claim to have every one with me, although I may have—appreciates that if the Bill is passed and the regulation is made, whether by affirmative or negative procedure, at midnight on I January, it is completely unrealistic and hopeless to expect the British people immediately to clip themselves into their seat belts and to accord immediately with the legislation unless a reasonable time limit has expired for them to get their certificates of exemption, to have their seat belts modernised, and to acquire the sort of feelings that are necessary for conformity with this legislation.

If we do not do that, what we shall be doing is deliberately putting on to the statute book a piece of law that we know will be broken and rejected by the overwhelming majority of people because it is impractical and unreasonable. To do that sort of thing would be an absolute abuse of what we in this place are here for.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I hope that the House will bear with me, because my voice is rather thick and I shall be somewhat brief. I am recovering—I hope—from a heavy cold.

The new clause is extremely simple. It merely asks for a simple delay of six months after the regulations are made. We have spent two and a half hours discussing it. That has been largely because of the parliamentary skills of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconfield (Sir R. Bell) and the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), to which I have always paid great tribute If it is possible to listen with exasperated enjoyment, that is what I have been doing for the last two and a half hours.

However, a number of points have been raised on which I should like to comment briefly. The important matter was put by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield when he began his speech. My note of what he said was that, in terms of lives saved, if it were all true and multiplied by 10, he would still oppose the Bill. I think that that is a fair indication of his feeling. I accept his honesty about it. Some of us take a different view, but the hon. and learned Member believes that this gives him carte blanche, in his opinion and according to his conscience, to do everything possible within the rules of the House to stop the Bill from becoming law. On that basis, we understand each other.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

If the hon. Member's criterion for passing legislation or not doing so is the saving of life, why, when he was a Minister concerned with transport, did he not accede to the request to make laminated windscreens compulsory?

Mr. Carmichael

I have frequently discussed that matter with the hon. Member, both officially and off the record. It is a very wide argument, as he knows very well, and I am sure that I should be pulled up by the Chair if I went into it. The hon. Member and I have discussed it at great length. Many suggestions can be made about the saving of lives. In the Bill I am putting forward one that is obvious and simple. It is inexpensive. It is practically a no-cost method of saving what is generally considered to be about 1,000 lives and about 10,000 serious injuries from accidents per year. That is what we are discussing today.

Of course, it is a change in the law, and as such, the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield and the hon. Member for Burton take great exception to it on the question of freedom of the individual. I believe that that is really the only question that is raised by the Bill.

I return to the question of the six-month period. The Bill has had a great deal of publicity. I have received a very large amount of mail about it, it has had very wide publicity in newspapers and magazines. I do not believe that if the Bill were passed and the regulations were made, it would take the British public six months to become familiar with them.

Mr. Grieve

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Carmichael

I want to get on.

Mr. Grieve

I know that, and I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Surely the six-month period is necessary to give people who may have medical objections, among other people, time to adjust and to take advice. In my experience, many old people have a rooted objection to tying themselves up in seat belts.

Mr. Carmichael

I hope to be able to say something about that matter, because it is the one point of substance in relation to the new clause.

The problem that I see in the hard line of the six-month period is that if we pass the Bill today the public would begin to think that seat belts were already compulsory, then the regulations would come in later and they would then think that belts were compulsory; but then there would be total confusion. This would be bad.

On the other hand, the hon. Member for Burton raised a valid point about the medical aspects and the need to give some consideration and time for people to get certificates and to have discussions with their doctors. There is some substance in that point but I would not wish it to be put into the Act. However, I hope that the Minister will incorporate into the regulations, as a once-and-for-all measure, something that would give time for people to get certificates of exemption. I hope that the Minister will give the House some guidance on that matter.

12 noon

The hon. Member for Burton also raised a point about scientists and the improvement of the techniques of seat belts. I am sure that he does not take that point seriously, for seat belts will continue to be improved. It is a continuous process of new improvements and new designs. I am sure he hopes, as I do, that the passing of the Act will give an impetus to that work. It will not suddenly happen in six months. All the seat belt manfufacturers are competing with each other for a better belt. We are all aware of the Birmingham experiments. Incidentally, I do not believe that the inertia belt is safer than the static belt. I believe that there is more likelihood of people wearing the inertia belts than the static ones and, therefore, the market is better for the inertia belt.

I hope that the House will come to a decision on the new clause with the proviso that I hope the Minister will make some sort of codicil to the regulations to allow some time between the laying and the passing of the regulations. I believe that six months would be too long and to insert that time limit into the Bill would be wrong.

I should like to refer to many other points that hon. Members have made, but the subject has been knocked about pretty well today. In fact, I wonder what else of relevance is left to discuss on the other amendments. None the less, having been in Committee with the hon. Member for Burton, I realise that that was a silly thing to say because I am sure that he will find something to say. I hope that the House will make a quick decision and then—

Mr. Body

In the discussions that the hon. Gentleman has had with seat belt manufacturers, has he received an assurance that they are in a position to supply the new sorts of seat belts for those who own elderly cars which are fitted with less satisfactory and less safe seat belts?

Mr. Carmichael

I have not had discussions with the manufacturers, for a number of reasons. I thought that it was better not to have too close an association with the manufacturers while the Bill was going through. However, I have read widely on the subject and I have had the benefit of the experience of numerous hon. Members who have been in close touch with the manufacturers. I know that they are concerned with experiments and investigations that show faults in seat belt design, and they are doing everything possible to improve the design. There is competition among them to rectify the faults.

I hope that, having heard the Minister explain the position of the Department on the matter, the House will come to a quick decision on the new clause and progress to the fairly long list of selected amendments.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I am glad to accept the invitation to make a brief intervention in the debate. Perhaps I should make clear the ministerial role in a debate of this sort on a Private Member's Bill. It is, as ever, to seek to spread enlightenment but, more specifically, to bring factual information to the House which might assist in reaching a decision and to give advice on any drafting problems that might arise in the enforcement of the legislation that the House is contemplating passing. Other than that, any personal views that might slip into my speeches are my own and any votes are my own and are not to be taken as an indication of Government policy. The Government are wholly neutral towards the Bill.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) asked whether I was paired with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the purpose of the debate on his new clause. We are not paired on a free vote but we have sought to achieve the balance which we try to achieve in the management of transport matters in the House. When the Second Reading was debated I was opening a road in Humberside and my right hon. Friend spoke in the debate. Today, my right hon. Friend has the honour of opening the Cambridge western bypass and I am here to answer my hon. and learned Friend's debate. One thing that I am sure of is that when my right hon. Friend takes the first ride along the new Cambridge western bypass he will be wearing his seat belt. From personal experience I know that he always does—as, indeed, do I.

My hon. Friend, the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made one particular remark in his speech that I endorse. Most of us in the House are agreed that, whatever the strong feelings one way or another about the issue of compulsion, a great increase in the wearing of seat belts by car drivers and front seat passengers would be a major contribution to road safety. I can think of nothing which would produce a more dramatic fall in the number of deaths and serious injuries on the road.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

A whole succession of Ministers in the Department have refused to grasp the nettle of the requirement for laminated glass windscreens rather than toughened ones. My hon. Friend is in no position to make the statement that he has just made unless he has conducted research in depth into the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities that would be saved by universalising laminated glass windscreens with high penetration resistance.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that has nothing to do with this clause.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If it was in order for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to express the view that no other measure would result in the same quantum of lives or accidents saved, it must be in order to ascertain whether he has done the necessary research to put forward that proposition to the House.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend has brought in a note of controversy. I said that, whether voluntarily or compulsory, I trust that we are all agreed—I expect that he agrees as well—that an increase in the wearing of seat belts would be the biggest single factor that would improve road safety in this country. Whether it is voluntary or compulsory is a matter for the House and is the subject matter of the Bill.

Sir Ronald Bell

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is wrong in his assertion, as his Department's statistics show. Nothing brought about a greater reduction in fatalities and accidents than the 50 miles an hour speed limit which was imposed during the oil crisis. Any possible and arguable saving of accidents and fatalities by the wearing of seatbelts would be mere chickenfeed. I hope my hon. Friend will bear in mind the magnitude of what we are talking about today, which is small in comparison.

Mr. Clarke

I am tempted to go into statistics which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would immediately point out would be better used in a Second Reading debate. While there was a drop in accident figures when the speed limit was reduced, there was a dramatic drop when the breathalyser laws were first brought into effect. Personally, I accept that there would be a substantial drop in deaths and personal injuries if seat belt wearing increased.

The Bill contemplates compulsion and is based on regulations being introduced by the Government. The new clause touches on the Government role of bringing in the regulations and moving towards enforcement of the law thereafter. The Government have an unenviable role in placing regulations before the House. It would be extremely difficult to put forward regulations—prescribing classes of vehicle, seating positions in vehicles and classes of persons—which would command widespread support.

For that reason, the Government have not at this stage brought forward any consultative document on regulations. We should wish to consult as widely as possible and would set out on this difficult task not only discussing them with the police, the motoring bodies, and so on, but trying to consult the general public in order to get as good a consensus as possible about those categories of people who should be exempted. Then the regulations would be placed before the House, and the first regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, for the reasons given by my hon. and learned Friend.

I was also asked whether the decision on those regulations would itself be the subject matter of a free vote, I have no responsibility for these matters, of course. That would be decided at the time. But there is no party political or Government philosophy in this kind of measure, and I would be extremely surprised if any Government tried to impose any kind of Whip on their supporters when seeking approval of regulations of this kind. What is more, there would be little chance of many hon. Members taking much notice of any Whip imposed on such regulations if the Government had failed to achieve the necessary consensus.

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for repeating the assurance which he gave in Committee. Should the Bill become law, Britain will probably be the last, or perhaps the second last, member of the European Community to fall into line and to have legislation in respect of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. When we all have legislation. it will not be long before there is a European regime on the wearing of seat belts. It is an obvious candidate for that sort of regime.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please get to the point of his intervention?

Mr. Parris

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government Whip will also be withdrawn in the event of an order in respect of EEC regulations?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The problem of drafting the necessary British regulations is a daunting one, and I think that we would do better to cross that bridge before contemplating the even more daunting possibility of attempting to get a European directive accepted in this country.

The necessary delay for consultation, discussion and consideration of both categories of people and classes of vehicle that should be exempted would come before the regulations were made by this House, so all the arguments which have been directed to precisely what the exemptions should be are slightly beside the point. There would be no question of regulations being approved, I hope, until all those matters had been examined carefully.

There may be some case for a gap, following the regulations being made, before enforcement is brought in. Before attempting to enforce any kind of dramatic new traffic regulation, it is necessary that the public should have the widest possible understanding of the new obligations that Parliament has decided to impose upon them. The spirit of my hon. and learned Friend's clause has a lot to commend it, because it may be necessary to consider how best to phase in the implementation of the new regulations.

Mr. Grieve

My hon. Friend has touched upon a vital reason for supporting the new clause. Is not a further one the fact that at a time when, in traffic offences especially, relations between the police and the public may have become strained, it is vitally important that there should be time for the police to consider their position and how matters of this kind are to be enforced, if they ever are?

12.15 pm
Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, because we would wish to consult the police especially about their judgment of the best way to implement any new regulations upon which this House decided.

Other countries have gone about it in slightly different ways. In France, there was a six-month period of consultation prior to the introduction of compulsion. That was followed by a two-month period in which the police warned but did not prosecute offenders. In Sweden, compulsion came after an extensive information campaign and, although there was no formal period of delay, during the initial stages the police tended to warn only. In Holland, there was an extensive publicity campaign prior to the introduction of compulsion, and in the following two months warnings only were given. In the Australian State of Victoria, six months before the introduction of compulsion extensive publicity was given to the new law in newspapers and editorials, and there was a short period of grace before full-scale enforcement.

Those examples illustrate various ways in which we might consider in this country how best to move from the enactment of regulations to their enforcement by the police against individual motorists. They show a wide variety of methods which might be adopted.

The Government would have to decide and the House would have to advise whether a period of publicity was adequate. There is quite a lot of information generally among the public already about the issues involved in the wearing of seat belts. We would have to decide whether a formal period of this kind was necessary and, if so, whether it should be six months or any other period, and whether the opinion of the police was that they should begin normally by giving warnings and issue prosecutions only after a necessary period of months. But I ask the House to leave a certain flexibility in this because the Government would contemplate the problems, and I doubt whether a statutory six months would necessarily be required or necessarily be the advice and view of the police and others concerned.

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend did not mention Spain. The experience there was that they legislated and implemented it immediately, with the result that after a few weeks the police gave up entirely.

Mr. Clarke

I know from my hon. Friend's interest in this subject that there is no piece of information of which he would deprive the House. I am grateful for yet another piece. I hope that I have illustrated the variety of ways of going about it and the desire of the Government to consult the police and others

Division No. 193] AYES [12.17 p.m.
Anderson, Donald Gardiner, George (Reigate) Newton, Tony
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Garrett, John (Norwich S) Park, George
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Pavitt, Laurie
Berry, Hon Anthony Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Price, Christopher (Lewishem West)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Golding, John Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Goodhart, Philip Rhodes James, Robert
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hannam, John Richardson, Jo
Brooke, Hon Peter Haynes, Frank Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Brown, Hugh 0. (Provan) Heffer, Eric S. Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Holland, Stuart (L'beth. Vauxhall) Rooker, J. W.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Huckfield, Les Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Canavan, Dennis Janner, Hon Greville Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sandelson, Neville
Carmichael, Nell Jessel, Toby Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Chaiker, Mrs Lynda Johnson, James (Hull West) Sheerman, Barry
Chapman, Sydney Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Le Marchant, Spencer Sims, Roger
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Loveridge, John Soley, Clive
Cohen, Stanley McCartney, Hugh Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Cook, Robin F. McCrindle, Robert Spriggs, Leslie
Corrie, John McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stallard, A. W.
Cowans, Harry MacGrego, John Strang, Gavin
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) MacKay, John (Argyll) Wellbeloved, James
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) McKelvey William Welsh, Michael
Deakins, Eric McNally, Thomas Whitehead, Phillip
Dobson, Frank Marks, Kenneth Whitlock, William
Dormand, Jack Mikardo, Ian Wilkinson, John
Dubs, Alfred Mills, Iain (Meriden) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Dunnett, Jack Mitcnell, Austin (Grimsby)
Dykes, Hugh Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Faith, Mrs Sheila Morton, George Mr. George Robertson ant
Foulkes, George Needham, Richard Mr. Roger Moate
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Newens, Stanley
Banks, Robert Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Marlow, Tony
Bell, Sir Ronald Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mather, Carol
Body, Richard Grieve, Percy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Brotherton, Michael Grimond, Rt Hon J. Mellor, David
Buck, Antony Henderson, Barry Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditche
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Lawrence, Ivan Molyneaux, James
English, Michael Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Nelson, Anthony
Finsberg, Geoffrey Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Parris, Matthew

further about how best to implement any legislation.

For that reason, I shall vote against the new clause if it is pressed to a Division although it is not necessarily fatal to the Bill or to its proper implementation. The point is well taken, and I believe that if the House were to give a Second Reading to the clause and eventually approved regulations, it would be necessary to come to a decision about how to get proper acceptance by the public and implement the legislation in a fair and proper manner.

Mr. Marks rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 100, Noes34.

Powell Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S) Winterton, Nicholas
Proctor, K. Harvey Thompson, Donald
Rees-Davies, W. R. Trippier, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Waller, Gary Mr. George Robertson and
Stevens, Martin Wheeler, John Mr. Roger Moate.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Question put accordingly, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 41, Noes 98.
Division No. 194] AYES [12.27 pm
Bell, Sir Ronald Kerr, Russell Proctor, K. Harvey
Berry, Hon Anthony Lawrence, Ivan Rees-Davies, W. R.
Body, Richard Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Brotherton, Michael Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stevens, Martin
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Marlow, Tony Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Cormack, Patrick Mather, Carol Thompson, Donald
Corrie, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Trippier, David
English, Michael Mellor, David Wakeham, John
Finsberg, Geoffrey Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Waller, Gary
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Molyneaux, James Wheeler, John
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Cheater) Winterton, Nicholas
Grieve, Percy Nelson, Anthony
Grimond, Rt Hon J, Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Henderson, Barry Parris, Matthew Sir Walter Clegg and
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down) Mr. Robert Atkins.
Anderson, Donald Gardiner, George (Reigate) Newens, Stanley
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan Newton, Tony
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Garrett, John (Norwich S) Park, George
Banks, Robert Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Pavitt, Laurie
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Golding, John Rees, Rt Hon Meriyn (Leeds South)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Goodhart, Philip Rhodes James, Robert
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Hannam, John Richardson, Jo
Bray, Dr Jeremy Haynes, Frank Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Heffer, Eric S. Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Rooker, J. W.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Huckfield, Les Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Canavan, Dennis Janner, Hon Greville Sandelson, Neville
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Jessel, Toby Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Carmichael, Neil Johnson, James (Hull West) Sheerman, Barry
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Chapman, Sydney Le Marchant, Spencer Sims, Roger
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Loveridge, John Soley, Clive
Cohen, Stanley McCartney, Hugh Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Cook, Robin F. McCrindle, Robert Spriggs, Leslie
Cowans, Harry McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stainton, Keith
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) MacGregor, John Stallard, A. W.
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) MacKay, John (Argyll) Strang, Gavin
Deakins, Eric McKelvey, William Wellbeloved, James
Dobson, Frank McNally, Thomas Welsh, Michael
Dormand, Jack Marks, Kenneth Whitehead, Phillip
Dubs, Alfred Mates, Michael Whitlock, William
Dunnett, Jack Mikardo, Ian Wilkinson, John
Dykes, Hugh Mills, Iain (Meriden) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Foulkes, George Morton, George Sir Walter Clegg and
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Needham, Richard Mr. Robert Atkins

Question accordingly negatived.

Forward to