HL Deb 10 November 1955 vol 194 cc474-90

3.9 p.m.

LORD HAMPTON rose to call attention to the effect of purchase tax on the more general wearing of crash helmets by motor-cyclists; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, since I put this Motion down and began to prepare my notes a welcome change has occurred with regard to purchase tax on crash helmets. I am it now informed by the Customs and Excise authorities that these helmets come under the heading of "industrial hats" arid the tax upon them has therefore been reduced from 25 per cent. to 10 per cent. This change is good, so far as it goes, but to those of us who are particularly interested it does not go quite far enough. We shall not be satisfied until the tax reaches "the point of no return," so Ear as the Treasury is concerned, and is abolished altogether; for I consider that, besides a financial question, there is a matter of principle involved. On the one hand, we have our Service motor-cyclists, despatch riders and the police, wearing these helmets. We do all we can to suggest to civilian motorcyclists that they should do likewise. Yet by this tax we make it so much the more difficult for them to do so.

I am fortified in my view by a resolution passed at a British Medical Association meeting in Jane last to the effect that they considered that motor-cyclists' crash helmets should be free of this purchase tax. The report of the British Medical Association meeting drew comment in all newspapers, including The Times on June 4; and that was followed, on June 14, by a series of Questions in another place. To one of these, the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied that he was not yet convinced that motor-cyclists were deterred from using these articles by the few shillings' tax involved. I do not know upon what grounds the Chancellor of the Exchequer based his opinion, but I imagine that it was on the advice of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, as that same reply was given to a deputation of the British Medical Association who visited King's Beam House in June last year. The deputation was led by Mr. Lawrence Abel. Many of your Lordships will know that he is a member of the Council of the B.M.A. and of the Royal College of Surgeons. He is senior surgeon at three hospitals and holds other important medical appointments. He tells me that, while he does not claim to have any greater experience of motor-cycle accidents than most general surgeons, he has made a close study of this subject for many years; and he has been good enough to make available to me some of his notes.

A few weeks ago I visited the secretary of one of the largest retailers of motorcycles in London, and probably in the country. This firm sells on the average something like one hundred machines a week—and I include in the general term "motor-cycle" the various forms of motor-assisted pedal cycles and so-called "scooters." The secretary does not share the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He told me that a large proportion of the firm's machines are sold on hire-purchase terms, and many of their customers, having saved sufficient for the initial deposit, cannot afford to pay for a comprehensive insurance policy. They have, of course, to be insured against third party risks. Then they have to pay for registration of the machine, and when it comes to the question of a crash helmet all too often they say: "Oh, that will have to wait." That is what frequently happens in the case of young men buying their first machines—the one time when it is especially important that they should be protected in this way. As supplied by this firm, these helmets cost from 47s. to 65s., according to quality.

Your Lordships may have noticed a few weeks ago that there were reported in the Press some strictures made by two coroners in cases where motor-cyclists had received fatal injuries although they had been wearing helmets. The helmets in question were stigmatized as "rubbish." I understand that these were early types of helmet, brought out, possibly, before much experience had been gained with them. They were made by a reputable firm, and they have now been withdrawn from sale. I have been in touch with the British Standards Institute and the Road Accidents Department of the Road Research Laboratory who have been very much concerned with the testing of these helmets. I understand from the latter that the best of the present helmets are good and that they measure up to what is wanted of them. It is probable that, if carefully made and tested, these helmets can never be cheap, unless, of course, our manufacturers manage to find some new way by which far cheaper and yet efficient helmets can be produced.

About the protection afforded by a good helmet there can be no doubt, and I have here a rather interesting little extract from the Road Accidents Statistical Review issued by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In 1951, the approximate percentage of motor-cyclists wearing crash helmets was nil. The expected number of deaths per 100 casualties involving motor-cyclists was 2.88. The number of deaths which occurred was actually the same—that is 2.88. In 1952 it was reckoned that 5 per cent. of motor-cyclists were wearing crash helmets and the expected number of deaths per 100 casualties was 2.81. Actually it was 2.80.


Would the noble Lord say whether he means "per annum"?


During the year in question. In 1953, the approximate proportion wearing helmets was 10 per cent. The number of deaths expected fell to 2.74 per 100 casualties, and it was actually 2.70. In the last year under review, 1954, when about 20 per cent. of the motorcyclists were reckoned to be wearing crash helmets, the expected number of deaths per 100 casualties was 2.59 and the actual figure fell to 2.37. Those figures, if they do not show a very great decline, at any rate show a gradual and steady decline in the number of fatal accidents to those wearing these helmets. Your Lordships may remember that the importance of this form of protection was first emphasised by the late Sir Hugh Cairns, a well-known brain specialist and Professor of Surgery at Oxford. In his conclusions, published in 1946, he stated: there can be little doubt that the adoption of a crash helmet as standard wear by all civilian motor-cyclists would result in considerable saving of life, working time and the time of the hospitals. It was largely as a result of his work that the wearing of these helmets in the Armed Forces was made compulsory.

A point that I wish particularly to emphasise this afternoon is that a large number of protective articles, such as anti-gas clothing, asbestos suits, rubber gloves, and so on, which are taxed, have to be supplied to employees by managements. The individual workman does not pay a penny, whereas the motor-cyclist bears the whole cost himself. The members of the deputation from the B.M.A. were asked by the Commissioners two questions; first, would the exemption of crash helmets from purchase tax result in considerably more motor-cyclists buying them, and, second, even if it was agreed that it would, should crash helmets be exempted from purchase tax to the exclusion of all other forms of protective clothing? Mr. Abel replied that there was evidence that the payment of purchase tax was resented, and that the extra cost did, in fact, deter people from buying them; thus agreeing with the opinion expressed to me by the secretary of the firm I interviewed.

I am not asking for a precedent to be set up in this matter, because the precedent is already there. Both miners' helmets and quarrymen's helmets are exempt from tax. We all realise the importance of miners and quarrymen. But do we realise the very important place in our industrial economy which is taken by the motor-cyclist to-day? We have only to visit any large factory during working hours to see rows of motor-cycles outside the factory walls. Of course, in a way this is a great advantage, because a workman who rides a motor-cycle is able to live some distance away from his factory area, thus relieving congestion in that area. In other ways, it is not so good, because it means that he has to ride his machine in all the stages of visibility, and on all kinds of road surface, and is therefore, naturally, more prone to accidents.

It is, of course, the fact that the wearing of these helmets has been growing during the last two or three years—I hope partly as a result of the publicity given here and in another place. Partly, no doubt, it is due to the pressure of parents and relatives, but most of all I think it is due to the excellent example set in this matter by the traffic police. These men are known to be experienced and carefully trained drivers, and they ride first-class machines kept in good running order. But it is also a fact that there are still far too many motor-cyclists who do not avail themselves of this protection. I gave some figures just now, but I think that probably the percentage of wearers is nearer 30 per cent. than 20 per cent. I have noted that many of those who do not wear helmets have "L" plates on the back of their machines and therefore, one assumes, are not in the experienced rider class. We all know to our cost that day by day the congestion in our inadequate roads is increasing. Day by day more of our young men and women are using motor-cycles, not only for pleasure but also to get about their ordinary business. I should like to see the time come when that proved lifesaver, the crash helmet, is considered as necessary as brakes and lamps. It is obvious that the cheaper they are, the more likely it is they will be bought and worn.

Exact figures as to the cost to the national health of motor-cycle accidents are not available, but I should like to quote here some notes supplied to me by Mr. Abel, culled from his own experience. He notes that most fatalities to motor-cyclists involve men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. One-third of road deaths occur among motorcyclists, of whom the great majority die of head injuries. Serious head injuries are very much less among those who wear crash helmets. Those who sustain head injuries but recover spend several weeks in hospital. The value to the nation of the now nearly 1,300 lives lost per annum cannot be estimated, says Mr. Abel. They are almost all fit young men, of whom one dies at breakfast, lunch, tea and supper every day of the year. The majority of these die of head injuries, which virtually would not occur if a good crash helmet were worn. He also points out that 50,000 people are seriously injured on the roads every year, and of these, nearly 18,000 are motor-cyclists. If we exclude the slightly injured and consider that the average time in hospital for each of the seriously injured is over two months, the cost to the nation of their treatment alone is something over £3 million. In addition to this, there is the cost of unemployment insurance, disablement benefits and pensions.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell us the relative figures? He said that the percentage of fatal accidents was 2.7 at first and that it went down to 2.3: would the absolute figure of fatal injuries be of the order of 1,300 a year?


I take it so, but I am afraid that it is rather more now: the figures 1 quoted were for 1952. Of course I realise that Her Majesty's Government are as anxious as we all are to do all in their power to lessen the appalling toll of our roads. I suggest to them that the further remission of this tax would be a welcome gesture signifying that anxiety. It might be the means of encouraging a more general use of these helmets and of saving valuable lives. In conclusion, as I said at the beginning of my speech, this tax has been more than halved—if I have been correctly informed. For this we should be grateful, as I certainly am. I realise that for the present, at any rate, it may be too much to expect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see his way to a still further reduction; but small as the tax now is, I believe that a matter of principle is involved. May I hope, therefore, that it will be kept in mind against the day when the small but, I believe, real burden of this tax can be still further eased. I beg to move for Papers.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, it will be within the recollection of some of your Lordships that I raised this matter in your Lordships' House about two years ago, when I suggested that the wearing of crash helmets should be compulsory. I am delighted to see, perhaps as a result of the debate that took place on that occasion, that there has been a change of attitude about crash helmets. I used to be told that it would be looked upon as rather cowardly to wear one. Now I see that the bulk of those on motor-cycles, including those who ride behind, are wearing crash helmets. Some of these helmets have very artistic pictures painted on them and I think the girls look very nice in them. Some of them have now become quite proud of wearing a crash helmet.

I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Hampton on the able exposition of this subject which he has just conveyed to your Lordships. The purchase tax is now only 10 per cent. and I understand from my noble friend that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's view is that the few shillings does not matter to anybody who is going to buy a helmet. If it is such an infinitesimal sum, cannot the Treasury, for once in a way, come out and take a bold line, and wash out the tax altogether? That is the thing to do. I believe that it would be an incentive to motor-cyclists to buy crash helmets. They would feel that the Treasury considered that they ought to have them. I think that would be a bold, a wise and appreciated gesture.

It is necessary, however, to make sure that crash helmets really serve their purpose. As my noble friend has said, there is no doubt that at one time there were a certain number of helmets which were not efficient. I see no reason why there should not be some registration of crash helmets, so that purchasers can be sure that they are of the same efficiency as those worn by the police and the Forces. We have had evidence from magistrates' and coroners' courts in all parts of the country that many terrible accidents, where there have been not only deaths but serious injuries, from which few have escaped without some permanent damage to their health and their nerves, could have been avoided by the wearing of crash helmets. My noble friend has done so well in his speech in presenting every angle of this subject, that there is little I can add. I hope that the Treasury will take the bold line I suggest and wash out this 10 per cent. tax on crash helmets, thereby giving an incentive to their purchase. As I travel along the road and see motor-cyclists coming along, I often say to myself, "Helmet or no helmet?" and I find that the number of those who are wearing them is increasing very materially. I wholeheartedly support the Motion of my noble friend.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved the Motion has covered the field so completely that there is little more for anyone else to presume to say. However, I should like to give one or two figures, rather in support of what he said. What I am going to quote comes from the Road Research Laboratory's Report, which gives an analysis of the number of people killed and the number of motor-cyclists in the Army who were involved in accidents. They find that of the 16 people killed, 9 of whom medical details are recorded all died with fractured skulls. There were 44 with head injuries out of the 106 people who were seriously injured, whereas of the 199 people who suffered minor injuries only 40 were injured in the head. Army motor-cyclists wear crash helmets by compulsion, and that would seem to show that people with minor injuries do not suffer from head injuries to anything like the same extent, and it leads one to think that crash helmets stop injuries to the skull. I understand that when Army personnel began to wear crash helmets the number of fatal motor-cycle accidents fell substantially. One cannot attribute that entirely to the use of crash helmets, because at the same time more care was taken in the choice of people riding the motor-cycles and also over their training. But I think the crash helmet must have had something to do with that.

The point has been raised, too, about the standard of the crash helmet to be sold. At present the British Standards Institute have drawn up a standard—I think it came out about eighteen months ago—for a crash helmet which was to be of maximum sufficiency, although not, of course, a total protection. Obviously one could not possibly hope to get total protection from death by wearing a crash helmet of any sort. One would need to wear some kind of complete armoured covering, and even then one would not be protected entirely. But if the aim is to be the maximum standard of protection possible, then I believe that the British Standards Institute will achieve that. They are at present considering certain modifications in that standard, and that is bound to take some time because it is not possible to change a standard too frequently. I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said about getting the remaining small purchase tax abolished. If that were clone, I think it should be done with a certain amount of propaganda and a flourish of some sort, so that people may realise that the Government regard it as so important to get crash helmets worn that they have decided to do away with these last few shillings. If that were done, I believe that more young people—and most of these deaths occur among young people—would be encouraged to wear crash helmets.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to say just a few words. In the many years that I have sat in this House I have seldom heard a more forcible speech—just because it was so moderate—than that made by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. I am afraid that I know little about this subject, and I rise on the spur of the moment just to tell your Lordships the impression the debate has made on me. I have not attended previous debates on this subject, but I understand the position to be this: that as year has followed year from 1950 onwards the proportion of motor cyclists who wear crash helmets has risen, and the number of fatal accidents—and this is a remarkable fact, having regard to the increase in accidents altogether—has gone down. Therefore, there seems to be some connection between the wearing of a crash helmet and the number of fatal accidents.

Then I understand from the noble Lord, if I have it correctly, that the absolute number of fatal accidents per year amounted to the appalling figure of something of the order of 1,300; and I understand, from what Lord Amulree said, that of those accidents more than 50 per cent. would probably have not been fatal—though there would still have been an accident—had the rider been wearing an efficient crash helmet. I feel that this matter should be checked still further by other particulars and statistics. I should like to know, for instance, the proportion of the accidents where people wear crash helmets that prove fatal, as compared with the number of accidents that prove fatal when people are not wearing crash helmets. I have no doubt that those figures are available, and it may be that the noble Lord has them. Subject to verification of points like that, I believe that a formidable case has been made here by the mover of the Motion and those who have supported him.

It also occurred to me as I listened—I do not know whether there is anything in this—that it might be said that the wearing of these crash helmets might make those wearing them more reckless than they are to-day. I can conceive an argument being advanced that a young man might say: "Now I have got this crash helmet on my head I am safe, and I will go even faster than I normally do." I should think that is rather fanciful, but it is a matter upon which I should like to hear expert views.

Subject to that, and to verification on the statistical points, the conclusion I should come to, having listened to this debate, is that the major solution foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, ought to be accepted. The wearing of crash helmets of an approved and competent design (obviously, it is no good making people wear them if they are made of cardboard, or something like that) ought to be made compulsory, both in their interests and in the interests of the taxpayer, who, after all, has to pay a large sum of money every year (I believe something like £3 million was mentioned) in respect of hospital expenses and the like. But if we cannot go as far as that, I should have thought there was a strong case for encouraging the use of crash helmets in every possible way. It is manifest that the way to encourage their being worn is not to make them more expensive—it is always the last straw that breaks the camel's back. If a fellow has the money to buy a motor-cycle, and all the things that go with it, one would suppose that he had the money to buy the crash helmet; but it may be that he is buying the machine on hire purchase and is in straitened circumstances for that very reason. Nevertheless, in the interests of the community as a whole, and in the interests of the young men who ride these dangerous machines, I should have thought the wearing of a crash helmet ought to be made compulsory, and that, failing that, we ought to do everything we can to encourage its use. It follows from that that we ought not to subject these helmets to purchase tax.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I think the country is indebted, and has been for a long time, to those who have for quite a few years now actively espoused this cause of persuading people to wear these safety helmets, and in that direction they have our entire support. When we come to matters of tax, however, they may not have quite so much of our sympathy. I should like to answer straight away one point of the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition, and that is on the question of compulsion. Successive Governments have rejected compulsion for what I think are good reasons. Those reasons are numerous and complex, and among them are the difficulty of distinguishing the headgear at night; the complication of the pillion passenger—ladies with varying heads and varying coiffures; the question whether the driver provides the hat, or whether the lady has to provide a hat in case she rides, and so on. There are great difficulties in the matter of compulsion, and successive Governments have rejected it.

When we come to figures of accidents, we enter a veritable jungle of statistics, because they can be looked at from innumerable different directions and every one will come to a different figure. I am not going to delve deeply into statistics, except to say that my figures show that the deaths of motor cyclists are under 1,000, rather than the figure of 1,300 which has been mentioned. I also have a figure which shows that the injured drivers of and passengers on these motor cycles per 100 registered vehicles are of the order of 3¾, whereas of the other types of vehicles they are of the order of 2-. Therefore, the motor cycle is the more dangerous vehicle, irrespective of the probability that the other vehicle does a greater mileage in the year. There has been a slight improvement, and we find that the figure of proportion of death to other injuries seems to be declining in the case of motor cyclists. One can only conclude from that that the campaign to wear these helmets is producing results.

As my noble friend tended to do, people sometimes try to reckon these things in terms of economic consequences and money. I reject such calculations. I think it is impossible. The loss is in terms of bereavement and misery—the breadwinner who does not come home one evening, or the boy who has been brought up so many years and does not return from a journey. That is the price of accidents, and not the cost of hospital treatment and so on. As one who was in a motor bicycling family, I have seen my mother tense and anxious sometimes when one of us was late returning. That is the price of accidents.

We have no accurate figure of the use of crash helmets, but there are two rough estimates drawn from completely different angles which tend to tie up. The first comes from the Road Research Laboratory, which from a sample check reckons that about one in three uses these helmets; and we believe that there are in existence about one helmet for every three motor cycle registrations. I personally thought that the rates would have been higher, but they appear to be going up. Of the British Standard Specification mark, the kite mark, from November, 1953, to November, 1954, 167,000 helmets were sold, and I believe that production is increasing. I may say that we have the fullest confidence in the design, and so on, of every helmet that conforms to that specification.


Is it a fact that the motor cyclist is bound to buy one of these particular helmets, or can he get any pattern? Is there a standard pattern which he must buy?


No, this pattern is merely on the lines of the old utility scheme. It is an approved pattern, and although I have not made personal inquiries, I have every reason to believe that helmets of other types would be available in the shops. I have no doubt that the greater demand is for this type. Why is there not a higher proportion? My noble friend thinks it is the purchase tax, which was recently 25 per cent., which is to blame. The purchase tax is a most unpopular tax. It has something slightly "anti-British way of life" about it. We have always been accustomed to the idea of free trade internally, and we do not like purchase tax. But we do need revenue, and it 'is now a good revenue producer. Purchase tax, I am sorry to say, is used as a whipping boy for numerous other delinquents, and when anybody waits to find a reason for something which he does not quite know, he invariably picks on purchase tax, and nobody wants to quarrel with him. I have looked at the position of purchase tax in relation to the retail price of these helmets, and at the old rate one might say it was approximately one-sixth of the retail price. In other words, a £3 helmet would carry a tax of 10s., and a two guinea helmet one of 7s. It is not a low tax, of course; but how strong a deterrent was that? Large numbers of people have not found it a deterrent: they have duly bought their helmet—over 300.000 of them.

Now in the new Budget proposals we have given precisely the incentive that my noble friend Lord Teviot has asked us to give—a substantial reduction in the tax, which is now reduced to 10 per cent. on these helmets along with other forms of headgear. The tax element in the retail price will now go clown to something in the neighbourhood of one-fifteenth of the retail price. One should note that in some cases the retail price should decline by more than the decline in the tax, because there are cases where the retailer adds his percentage of profit on the tax as well as on the wholesale price. This tax is now going to he 3s. or 4s. Surely, that is riot going to be any real deterrent to buying. I quite appreciate the point of principle which my noble friend enunciated, that he does not like the idea of there being tax on anything to do with road safety, and he would like us to scrap it altogether. But we are in great difliculty here, because every time we are pressed to remove a particular item from purchase tax one hundred other items are pressed, for equally good, if not better, reasons.

Purchase tax is levied at the moment on all sorts of articles of a safety nature, including a great many whose use is compulsory. First of all, all protective clothing is taxed: rubber aprons, rubber gloves, rubber boots and so on, fire clothing, fire helmets, police helmets and riding hats, to give but a few. If one wants something closer to the home, the safety gates we put at the top of the stairs to stop our children falling down are taxed; and children's reins which, I can assure your Lordships, are a very necessary safety device, are also taxed. If we once start making exceptions on the ground of safety we make a grave breach in the whole purchase tax position. We might even open a breach to infiltration on quasi safety ground—and when one comes to quasi safety devices there is really no end to them, because one could describe a patent medicine as a quasi safety device, also disinfectant and a host of things. We should indeed find ourselves on a slippery path. In the interests of the Revenue, we should certainly not be prepared to exempt all these safety devices from purchase tax. But because we levy some tax on helmets it does not mean to say that we do not approve of them. In fact, a stranger at our debates to-day might for one moment have thought that we were stopping people from buying these helmets. But they are all freely there at a moderate tax.


May I interrupt for a moment? The noble Lord says that there has been a reduction of this tax from 25 to 10 per cent. He seemed to go over that rather as if it meant nothing. Could the noble Lord tell us the reason why this steep reduction has been made in the purchase tax on this particular helmet?


I should like to think that at the back of the mind of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the desire to please my noble friend, but I confess that the more likely reason is the fact that the whole category of industrial and protective headgear into which these helmets fall was reduced in the Budget, along with other forms of garments and clothing. I have said that we are distinctly dubious about this deterrent of the 25 per cent. tax, the 10s. tax. We are quite certain that the lower rate will not have any deterrent effect. After all, to view it in its background, the buyer of a motor bicycle is laying out, if it is a new machine, between £150 and £160. He has then to get an expensive licence; there is insurance, as my noble friend mentioned. Surely it is unreasonable to say that just because there is a tax of a few shillings on the helmet he has to leave out one of, or the most important of, his accessories, just because he has run out of money at the last minute. I do not believe that this really is, as the noble and learned Earl suggested, a "last straw," although "last straws" do sometimes have effect.

Another point is this. I am doubtful whether a buyer ever knows anything about the purchase tax unless his attention is particularly called to it. How many times have your Lordships heard buyers in shops asking the purchase tax on a particular article? It happens sometimes, but not often. If his attention is particularly called to the purchase tax because he has seen a campaign on the subject, that is possibly a different matter. We think that any deterrent there is in the buying of these helmets lies much more in the very nature of, and the price of, the helmet itself than in the tax, because nobody can deny that these helmets are unwieldy. They may not be very comfortable. I myself have not worn one. They are annoying things to have to carry about with one. They are still not very beautiful and nobody can pretend that they are cheap; but under the new tax, at all events, nobody can maintain that any dearness is a result of the half-a-crown to four shillings tax that they will bear.

There is another aspect. There is the aspect of hire purchase which may have a bearing on this problem. Many motor bicycles are sold on hire purchase terms but I understand that it is not usual for a retailer to offer hire purchase terms for what surely should be regarded as a vital necessity. Perhaps I may mention one further angle. if one wants people to buy an article for their own good and that article is taxed, one may increase their reluctance to buy it if, by a wide dissemination of the idea that the tax is iniquitous, one makes them think that the tax may come off. There may be people who say: "If we wait a little longer, the tax will go. Let us wait." In any case, they probably exaggerate the idea of the tax. To that extent, the campaign against the tax may even be the enemy of the greater campaign to make people buy these helmets.

I think that, by making their opinions clear, Her Majesty's Government are doing their duty towards road safety because it would be clearly wrong to encourage anybody to think that any further reduction of the tax is under consideration. I have a suggestion to make to those noble Lords who periodically campaign against the tax—I hope they will not think it is an impertinent one. Now that the tax is so light, they should switch their efforts from campaigning against the tax to persuading the retail trade to exercise their salesmanship towards assuring themselves, as a matter of conscience, before selling a machine, that the buyer has a helmet. I expect a good many retailers do this already. I am perfectly certain that there must be some who do not do so. There are, of course, many accessories that they can sell to a buyer—fittings, gadgets and so on. Let the helmet be regarded as an accessory and let that have the first priority.


Would not it be advisable also to lay down a standard of safety, because some helmets can be in a crushed condition. I have seen one myself. It was simply cardboard and nothing else. It was useless as a crash helmet: it was not really a crash helmet; it did not protect the rider.


I thought I had made myself clear that the British Standards specification with the kite mark is the approved design of this crash helmet. Any other make that is on the market sells at its own risk. We are satisfied that anything with the kite mark on it conforms to these proper standards.


But it is the rider's risk; it is his death or his serious injury.


In many walks of life there must be an element of caveat emptor. It is impossible for a Government to control everything that is sold, so that the buyer can always get everything which is satisfactory. I think that, if the buyer knows that he has to go for the kite mark, he has a guarantee. I was saying, let the helmet be the first priority. Hire purchase on clothing is not a very popular risk but let us regard the helmet not as clothing, as it tends to he in the trade, but as an accessory; and let us stretch a point in its favour for the hire purchase contract.

In conclusion, I hope that the noble Lord and his friends may continue to urge upon motor-cyclists the vital necessity to wear a helmet. I hope that they will agree to cease arguing against the tax now that we have so substantially reduced the tax. I hope, in fact, that they will now accept this big reduction in the tax as a consolation prize in the lottery of life and will concentrate on the other angles of the problem, which we believe to be sales propaganda, price and terms of purchase; for we firmly believe that it is in them, and. not in the tax, that lies the key to success in what is our mutual effort to ensure one helmet, one rider.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his full reply. I do not agree entirely with its terms, but of course I agree with him about the need for more publicity to the man who may be contemplating going in for a motor-cycle. I should certainly like to see it understood in the trade that a helmet is invariably offered, and in fact that the purchaser is persuaded in the strongest terms to buy a helmet when the machine is sold. No doubt some firms already do that—the firm with whom I was dealing most certainly do; they had the helmets on display and riders choose what they wish. I agree, too, that what is most distressing about this business is not the financial cost to the nation but the intense distress that is caused throughout the country—there is no doubt about that at all. I should like to thank those noble Lords who have been good enough to support me. I hope that one result of this debate, at any rate, will be more publicity to the riders of motor-cycles and that, through it, a few of them will be persuaded to go in for this necessary protection. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.