HC Deb 14 July 1982 vol 27 cc1017-8
1. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to introduce regulations on wearing seat belts.

2. Mr. Sheerman

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will give details of the type of information which he intends to give the public concerning seat belt wearing; when it will be published; and how it will be distributed.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid the wearing of seat belt regulations before Parliament in draft on 6 July. They had to be relaid due to a minor correction on 13 July.

After the regulations have been approved, we shall use press and leaflets to inform the public about the starting date of the new law, whom it will cover, how to apply for medical exemption and how to improve the comfort and fit of seat belts. We shall then have further publicity shortly before the day when seat belt wearing becomes compulsory.

Mr. Jessel

As for timing, is my hon. Friend aware that every week's delay in putting the regulations into force costs 14 lives and about 200 serious injuries? It is now almost a year since the House, by a majority of 77, voted for the law—the House of Lords having done so earlier by a majority of 40. Will the Department of Transport hasten to comply with the clear will of both Houses of Parliament and bring forward the day from the twenty-third Monday after the regulations have been voted on, which has been suggested, and put the rules into action as quickly as possible?

Mrs. Chalker

Nobody regrets more than I the loss of life, but people do not need compulsion to wear seat belts. The provisions of the Transport Act 1981 require us to lay a statement of proposals before Parliament three months before the regulations are laid for approval. We issued a consultative document last December, which went to all representative organisations and the general public. It is important to get this matter right. Seat belt wearing has been more effective in those countries, such as Australia and Sweden, which took their time, rather than in those countries that rushed their introduction. We shall speed the matter as soon as Parliament completes its necessary consultation and approval procedure.

Mr. Sheerman

Does the Minister agree that it was anticipated by her predecessors in the Department that compulsory wearing of seat belts would be introduced by late this summer? That seems to be getting further and further away, and perhaps dangerously near to a general election. That would worry many of us, because this type of measure has been put off by that kind of event before. Is there any possibility that measures to improve protection for children in cars could be brought in earlier? Seventy children lose their lives every year in cars. That would be an improvement—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not really fair, because we had a preamble as well as an argument after the question.

Mrs. Chalker

I shall see whether the provisions for the protection for children, which I had intended to introduce at the same time as compulsory seat belt wearing, can be brought forward. We have not sought to delay bringing forward this measure. We want to get it right. I believe that that is the sensible way to proceed.

Mr. Lawrence

Before my hon. Friend introduces the regulations will she consider the unfairness of allowing an exemption for driving examiners—half of whose passengers are competent drivers—and refusing an exemption for driving instructors, nearly all of whose passengers in the earlier stages are incompetent?

Mrs. Chalker

Because an examiner should not intervene during a test until the last moment, to see whether the provisional driver has corrected the fault, we thought it necessary to give examiners the right not to wear seat belts if they felt that there could be a hazard. It is a different matter for instructors. They should be setting an example. The British School of Motoring has advised that seat belts must be worn at all times during tuition by pupils and instructors. I believe that is right.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Minister consider exempting taxi drivers from having to wear seat belts? Is she aware that taxi drivers are frightened of being attacked and robbed while wearing seat belts and not being able to protect themselves?

Mrs. Chalker

We have already included that among the exemptions in the regulations, for the reason the hon. Gentleman cites.

Mr. Stott

The Minister will be aware that it is right and proper to allow sufficient time for adequate and appropriate consultation on these matters, but she will recall what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said earlier. It is almost a year since I stood at the Dispatch Box and asked the House to approve the seat belt regulations. I accept that the hon. Lady is not responsible for the business of the House, but will the regulations be debated in the House before the Summer Recess?

Mrs. Chalker

That is not a matter for me. I should like the regulations to be debated soon and I am using my best endeavours of persuasion to ensure that that happens.