HC Deb 10 March 1982 vol 19 cc827-8
1. Mr. Greville Janner

Secretary of State for Transport what is his estimate of the likely reduction of fatal accidents on the road as a result of the forthcoming introduction of the compulsory wearing of seat belts.

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

While seat belts undoubtedly save lives, I do not believe that it is possible to estimate what the effect of compulsory wearing would be. Too much depends not only on the level of wearing but on other factors such as the relative propensity to accidents of wearers and non-wearers.

Mr. Janner

When does the Minister expect the lifesaving measure, which will make front seat belt wearing compulsory, to come into effect? Who will be exempted? Will she consider extending the protection and rules to rear seat passengers?

Mrs. Chalker

I believe that it will be possible to consider regulations later in the year, I hope as quickly as possible, but I do not wish to give an exact date. I hope that that will be shortly after Easter. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked about extending the use of belts to passengers in rear seats. Unbelted rear seat occupants can cause injury to those in the front. Therefore, the Government are keeping the question of rear seat belts under careful consideration. Most new cars are provided with rear seat anchorage points, and all cars manufactured after 1 October 1981 are required to provide them. Medical exemptions will be for the doctors to decide.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Is the hon. Lady aware how wise she was to avoid the error of her predecessors in that office when they gave exaggerated estimates of the reduction in casualties that would be consequent upon the compulsory wearing of crash helmets?

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remark.

Mr. Lawrence

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her new appointment, but is she yet aware that the medical commission has recommended so few exemptions on medical grounds that the public in Britain will be so infuriated that it is highly probable that those against compulsion will win when this matter is reconsidered in 1984? Will she give urgent reconsideration to an exemption for driving instructors while they are instructing?

Mrs. Chalker

I shall certainly consider my hon. and learned Friend's last point. I thank him for his kind remarks. I am aware of the guidelines that have been brought forward by the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention, but these are guidelines produced by doctors for doctors, and we must abide by that professional advice. I note carefully my hon. and learned Friend's comments and will watch what reactions come forward.

Mr. Sheerman

Is the Minister aware that the main body of opinion in the medical world is that exemptions should be very few, and that if someone is so ill as to be unable to wear a seat belt there is some question about whether he should be driving?

Mrs. Chalker

I understand that there are some diseases and temporary conditions, such as cracked ribs, which might mean that a person would be wiser to stay at home and recover before getting into a car. We have to achieve a balance in all these matters.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I hope that my hon. Friend will not be a promoter of the extension of the nanny Stale. I congratulate her most warmly on her change of position. Can she say how many people will be killed as a result of the decision of the House that people should be compelled to wear seat belts when travelling in the front seats of a car? Many people have been involved in accidents in which, if they had been wearing a seat belt, they would have been killed.

Mr. Sheerman

Prove it.

Mr. Winterton

It happened to me.

Mrs. Chalker

I must tell my hon. Friend, despite his kind remarks, that I should not be here today but for the wearing of a seat belt. Only 18 per cent. of the fatalities are people wearing front seat belts. About 30 per cent. of passengers and drivers wear them voluntarily at the moment. I do not believe in nannying anyone, but measures taken in the futherance of safety and a reduction of accidents and deaths are, to me, an important preventive measure.