HL Deb 24 May 1977 vol 383 cc1207-43

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is set out in the Long Title: … to confer power to make regulations requiring the wearing of seat belts in motor vehicles on motorways. Clause 1 of the Bill makes it an offence to drive or ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle without wearing a seat belt, subject to exceptions which will be prescribed by the Secretary of State. This offence will be a summary one, punishable by a maximum fine of £50 or a fixed penalty of £6 which may be imposed under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967. Clause 2 provides for the regulations first mentioned to be subject to the Affirmative Resolution Procedure, as would be any further regulations which extend compulsion to the back seats, for instance, or to classes of vehicle in which the wearing of seat belts has been voluntary up to that point.

A similar Bill was debated in this House two or three weeks ago and was lost by a quite narrow majority. I listened to almost every speech that was made in the course of that debate, and I have read Hansard since that time. I found myself at the time, and since, in almost complete agreement with the main point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who perhaps I may describe complimentarily as the principal opponent of the Bill inasmuch as he moved the Amendment. What he said on 26th April at column 420 was: I am not against seat belts. I use one myself on an open road; but let me confess that I do not use one when travelling from my house to your Lordships' House. I confess that I am in exactly the same category. I use my seat belt, and insist upon a passenger, if I carry one, using the seat belt, when I go up the M1 or M6 to my home.

I have had three accidents which involve me and the use of seat belts. The first occasion was when I was going to Haydock Park races on a very foggy day. I was bumped into by a car which hit the rear of my car, threw me forward and I bumped my head. That accident convinced me that on the motorway the danger is the multiple accident where one car hits another, and so on. This comes about very often in foggy conditions, or perhaps even as a result of a major accident in which people are perhaps travelling too fast and they cannot stop. That was lesson number one. I realised that if I had had a seat belt I should not have been injured.

The second occasion was outside your Lordships' House. I came to the "In" sign to turn left, stopped because the traffic warden was stopping me, and I was hit again in my exhaust pipe by a bus, which did considerable damage to my car. It knocked me out, and I remained semiconscious until I was attended by a noble Lord who sits on the Liberal Benches, Lord Amulree, and after a glass of water and in a short time I was all right, but I realised that it had made me lose control of the car. On the third occasion I had a passenger. This was not in London and it was not on a motorway. There was a slight skid, I hit the back of another car, and my passenger got badly knocked about, and would not have been knocked about had she been wearing a seat belt.

I beg Lord Balfour's pardon; I referred to him earlier on when I thought he was here and he was not, but I referred to him in complimentary terms. As I understood it, he was not against seat belts, and he wore a seat belt on the open road, but in coming from his home to the House (which is my position) he did not, and his objection to the Bill was the principle of compulsion. It was put very well by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. He said that what he wanted was the right of decision. He called it his personal right to make a decision.

In thinking about what could happen after Lord Balfour's Amendment was carried, I thought the situation should not remain there and that the House should further consider it, albeit on a somewhat narrow basis in terms of principle; that is to say, to face up squarely to the fact that there were those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, were not against seat belts, used them themselves, but the noble Lord thought, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the decision ought to be left to the individual, and the individual ought to be free from compulsion.

The first point I make is that the Bill I am introducing today deals only with motorways, special roads, so you can please yourself whether or not you go on the motorway. That is the first choice you have. You can go on the motorway. If anyone argues that there is any compulsion if you go on the motorway, of course there is. You cannot stop on a motorway; you cannot make a U-turn on a motorway; if you are driving a heavy vehicle you cannot drive in the fast lane. This is part of the price paid for the privilege of travelling at high speed on a road specially constructed for the convenience of motorists.

Surely in the age in which we live those who, as it were, march under the banner of liberty, or I should prefer the Saxon term "freedom", know that it also carries with it the obligation of paying something for the privilege that one has. Privilege and obligation must surely be balanced. Therefore, if one has the privilege of going on a motorway, of driving unrestricted at a speed of 70 miles an hour, surely this is not a high price to pay. It is not, as some of the opponents to Lord Avebury's Bill seemed to think, that it was the individual who was free to say "Yes, I will wear a seat belt" or, "No, I will not wear a seat belt", and the consequences would be borne by that individual, or that individual's passenger. That is only part of the story. I can only assume that those who say that, do not drive a motor car, or do not drive very often on a motorway. Obviously the slightest accident on a motorway, the bump in the back which drives a driver's head on to a windscreen if only for a split second, puts into danger the cars by which he is surrounded.

It is clear that one of the great dangers on a motorway is not only the danger that may come because your own tyre may blow, or that you may make an error of judgment; if the other fellow even on the opposite track loses consciousness, or makes a mistake, a whole host of people (not merely the individual who has made a decision not to wear a seat belt) whom he does not even know, or know about, will pay the price of that failure to face up to a duty which all of us owe to our fellow men if we have the very special privilege of travelling on a motorway.

I tried to think about this and to see how it was possible to get round the objection in principle on the issue of compulsion. I thought if it was confined only to the motorway, then in fact we should be able to let people have the choice. For example, those who travelled on M1 need not go on M1; they could go on the A5, a perfectly good road, if they wanted to. But when they got on the A5, they would not be free from restrictions. They would run into innumerable restrictions as regards speed; they would have to stop at innumerable traffic lights; and they would go through built-up areas. All this is as much a restriction on the right of the individual to do what the heck he likes with his own, as it would be if you say to him, "You must not go on the motorway unless you and your front seat passenger wear seat belts". Just as you have that restriction, so you have comparable restrictions; if you get on the motorway, you must not stop, or you must not make a U-turn.

I do not think I can usefully carry the argument much further than that. Everything to be said for or against was said during the course of that debate, and the only supplement I would make to what was said then or to any thoughts in my mind appears this morning in The Times. In an article which was obviously specially commissioned because of the issues involved, The Times medical correspondent, under the heading— Why Britain cannot afford not to use seat belts writes: Are the British really more pig-headed than the Germans?…If the use of seat belts were made compulsory in Britain next year we could expect 13,000 fewer deaths and serious injuries. No other country has found an alternative way of persuading a majority of motorists to wear belts; no other country has encountered real difficulties from legal compulsion, and all that have tried it have found it effective. The time has passed when theoretical objections can claim respectability: the Britiah are not unique. We cannot afford this continuing, avoidable waste of human potential from each generation as it reaches adult life Obviously, if this Bill is passed, confined as it is to motorways, the lives it will save and the injuries it will prevent will fall short of 13,000. On the other hand, if this limited Bill compared with what was enshrined in the measure proposed by Lord Avebury, becomes law, we could see after a period of a year what the position is. We should have some reliable statistics from which to discover, for the first time and beyond a shadow of doubt, what really is the effect of wearing seat belts.

I appreciate that there can be two objections. One is that concerning the power of enforcement. Those who use motorways, particularly the M1, would see from time to time raised platforms on the side of the road for the use only of the police. Two policemen perched in a car could observe vehicles passing in both directions, and if they saw some body driving or his passenger not wearing a seat belt the car number would be taken. I hope the policy to be followed would, in the first instance, be to issue a warning, because we are sensible people, even though some of us pretend we are not. If the power of persuasion were used, as the police use the power of persuasion in connection with road traffic offences, slowly and gradually we would find out the exact position. If, at the end of a year, it was found that the claims which had been made, both in the debates in this House and in the Press, were wrong then one would hope that the Government would put the matter right, because nobody wants to encumber the Statute Book with unnecessary legislation.

We must face the fact that in almost every other civilised country that has introduced the compulsory wearing of seat belts, starting with Sweden, the results have been to push the argument beyond any shadow of doubt; that is, that the wearing of seat belts saves lives and prevents injuries. I concede that it will happen that the wearing of a seat belt will cause an injury that would otherwise not have occurred, but the balance of the argument—I claim no special knowledge —points irresistibly to the conclusion that the House would be wise to take this very limited step of introducing the compulsory wearing of seat belts on motorways, in the hope that, if the problems are handled gently and carefully, the results could be properly ascertained and we should be bringing ourselves into line with every other civilised country. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Wigg.)

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, a month ago everybody in this House assumed that the seat belts issue had lapsed, at least for this Session. That view was also taken by the newspapers, which headlined their reports with the words "Clunk-click Bill dead" or similar phrases. However, we all reckoned without the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who is to be congratulated very much on his ingenuity in resurrecting the matter and bringing it forward once again for our attention.

We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, during the previous debate that while she and her honourable friend sympathised with the measure, it was unlikely, given the pressure of Parliamentary business, that it would become law this Session. A month having elapsed, presumably that applies a fortiori to Lord Wigg's Bill. I hope not. Despite that, I feel that the noble Lord is to be congratulated on raising a most important issue of great social concern. I also believe that the form of his Bill may provide the opportunity for a compromise measure in that the more limited proposals he is putting forward may prove less contentious and more generally acceptable than the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Though I gave Lord Avebury my full support and though I regret deeply that your Lordships decided not to proceed with his Bill, I feel it is certainly desirable to seek the maximum degree of consensus on this measure, and it may be that, given the deeply divided feelings on this issue, Lord Wigg is offering us an easier way forward. But before coming to discuss Lord Wigg's Bill in detail, I would ask your Lordships' indulgence while I consider the various arguments that have been raised in our debates on this issue.

We do not often have the opportunity to discuss the esprit d'escalier of such matters, but Lord Wigg has given us this opportunity. It seems to me that on the last occasion three main arguments were adduced against these proposals. The first was that it was an instrusion on personal liberty; the second was that it would be unenforceable; and the third was that in a significant number of cases the wearing of seat belts could aggravate the consequences of an accident. Now, as regards enforcement, the problems here are much less under the present Bill. I shall deal with them when I come to consider the Bill in detail but I do not think that they require much general treatment.

On the vexed question of personal liberty, as I said in our previous debate, most noble Lords will already have reached a conclusion. Philosophical discussion is always stimulating and enjoyable but rarely produces a change of mind on fundamental issues. I do not think that the Queen's highway is a suitable theatre for the indulgence of self-expression. I believe that there are more urgent aspects to the issue of individual freedom than the road traffic law. There are many areas where the power of the State has increased and is increasing and, as we all know, should and must be diminished. To roll back bureaucracy and free private citizens from Government gloom brought about by State interference and direction is a most urgent political task which faces us all today. However, I believe that driving is an activity that must be carried out within a very tight framework of rules and regulations. Previous statements that I made about personal liberty do not apply in this case. The appalling casualty rates on our roads are such a blot on our claim to be a civilised society that we must do everything possible to reduce them. It would seem to me that cutting road casualties is the most urgent task we face in the whole field of transport policy.

In our previous debate, I dilated on my experience at the Ministry of Transport and on the view of my right honourable friend Mr. John Peyton. I can absolutely assure your Lordships again that he, who had ministerial responsibility for road accidents, was really oppressed by the weight of the responsibility involved in this measure. It is also my conviction, based on the evidence from every country that has compulsion, that there is no single measure in the field of road traffic law which would have so immediate and dramatic an effect on the casualty figures as the introduction of compulsory seat-belt wearing. I cannot see beyond that argument.

I imagine that, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, mentioned, we shall all have been impressed by Dr. Tony Smith's article in The Times today. He asks whether we are really more pig-headed than the Germans, more emotional than the French and more bloody-minded than the Australians that we should disregard such a law. I feel that we can all answer that question for ourselves.

The question of statistics brings me to the other main argument used against the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The contention is that, in a significant number of cases, the wearing of seat belts can lead to more serious injuries. Everyone who heard the previous debate must have been impressed by the width of anecdote called into play on either side. Of course, nearly all those anecdotes dealt with hypothetical circumstances: a man might be trapped in a car through wearing a seat belt, but had he not been wearing a belt he might have been killed outright or have lost consciousness and thus remained trapped in the car. I believe that we have to take a statistical view of this matter, and all the statistics show overwhelmingly and without any ambiguity that one is safer with a seat belt than without one.

I know that many noble Lords are exceedingly unhappy about this cold, statistical view of personal safety. I believe that there is an explanation for their unhappiness. One of the most horrifying things about air travel which I think is at the root of many people's uneasiness regarding it is the sense of complete powerlessness. There is nothing whatsoever that the pasenger can do in an air crash. He must give himself absolutely entirely to fortune and the skill of others. We none of us like to think of ourselves as tossed hopelessly on the sea of chance and circumstance. A passenger in a motor car is at least close to the action. He can see and understand everything that is going on and he harbours the illusion that he will be able to exercise some influence over events. I believe that it is for this reason that some of your Lordships reacted with such aversion to a solely statistical view of road safety.

I can only repeat that all the evidence in the countries which have introduced this measure is so overwhelming as to the latter's beneficial effect that there can be no doubt that one is in all circumstances safer in a seat belt. After all, a road accident happens in a flash. There is absolutely no time for the driver and the front seat passenger to take a decision whether or not to wear a scat belt according to the specific circumstances of the accident.

One other matter was raised during the debate on the previous Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, seemed at times to be saying that we should abbreviate our discussion on this matter in the light of debates in another place during the previous Parliamentary Session. I am afraid that this is the one matter on which I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord. There is some resistance among noble Lords to making seat belt wearing a measure of compulsion. There is also resistance in another place to compulsion, but this only mirrors deeply held feelings among large numbers of people throughout the country. If the Bill is introduced, its success will depend upon the co-operation of the motorist. The law and the penalties for breach of the law will not, of themselves, be sufficient to produce that co-operation. I believe that we shall only ensure maximum cooperation if it is widely understood that we passed this Bill into law only after the fullest debate and discussion.

To turn to the Bill itself, it seems to me that there are two reasons which make it an entirely satisfactory and acceptable measure and one which I hope will commend itself to those of your Lordships who would not support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. First, it is already the case that levels of seat belt wearing are higher on motorways than on other roads. Undoubtedly, the noble Lord's Bill would raise those rates still further. I believe that every motorist sees the sense of wearing a seat belt on the motorway. The objection that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and I do not like the idea of putting on a seat belt to go from Warwick Square to the House of Lords will not apply—in case your Lordships do not know, that is where we both live. Secondly, no one is forced to travel on a motorway. Indeed, many drivers positively seek out attractive side roads in preference to the more soulless stretches of motorways. The motorist who steadily and conscientiously refuses to wear a seat belt will always have an alternative route, and, therefore, a further source of conflict between the motorist and the police will be avoided.

In our previous debate, I spoke enthusiastically about the French system, in which seat belt wearing is compulsory only outside built-up areas. I believe that the noble Lord's Bill is a step in this direction and I commend it heartily to your Lordships.

As always, I was impressed by the eloquence of my noble friend Lady Macleod the other day, but nothing she said shook me in my view that a measure to bring about seat belt wearing is the single most beneficial piece of legislation that we in this House could pass. The Bill will, I hope, become the thin edge of the wedge. I hope it will command general acceptance. I know that if it is passed into law, the effect on the casualty statistics would be so valuable as to convince all but the most diehard sceptics, and I believe that it will lead the motorist a long way towards the full acceptance of the seat belt as an integral part of his driving. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend for a small piece of clarification before he sits down. I refer to what he said about the enormous reduction in accidents on motorways which would be brought about by the wearing of seat belts. I thought that he said earlier that on motorways practically everybody already wears seat belts. How, therefore, could the accident statistics be so greatly reduced?


My Lords, where accidents on motorways occur, if seat belts were worn those accidents would not be greatly reduced. Let me also make quite clear what I expressed in the debate a few weeks ago. I have the firm belief—it is a personal belief, I hasten to add—that most of the accidents caused through not wearing seat belts involve people on journeys that are not merely within built-up areas. This is a matter of personal belief. If you knew that you were going on to a motorway you would put on your seat belt when leaving your house, before you get to the other area. This Bill will make many people wear seat belts in other areas than motorways because they know that they are going on to a motorway. I think that that is really the simple answer.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I have to begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and to the Minister because a long-standing engagement prevents me staying to the end of the debate. I warmly support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has said in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will see fit to continue with a measure that, as the noble Lord explained, is rather more limited than the one I introduced a few weeks ago, but nevertheless will be of great value in starting a reduction in the carnage on our roads. I think that noble Lords should take note of the comment made by Dr. Tony Smith in the article which has already been quoted twice, that doctors and nurses who see the results of road accidents are left in no doubt as to the protection given by belts.

I wish that some noble Lords and noble Baronesses who opposed the Bill which I moved a few weeks ago would take the trouble to go into the casualty departments of some of our major hospitals and discuss this matter with the staff there. I wish that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, and my noble friend Lord Kimberley, would talk to casualty officers, would discuss the matter with the sisters who have to cope with accident victims who are being brought in every day, not only from motorways, but from trunk roads and ordinary roads all over the country. I have in mind, for instance, people with bones sticking out of their legs, or with appalling scars all over their faces. The noble Baroness and my noble friend could then reflect that on many occasions the consequences of the accidents which are visited in such a dreadful way on the victims are a direct result of their failure to wear seat belts. My noble friend and the noble Baroness know this perfectly well. The evidence is absolutely overwhelming, and I was glad to note in the previous debate that very few of your Lordships denied the validity of the statistical evidence which has accumulated in vast quantities from Australia, New Zealand, France and many other countries where seat belt wearing has been made compulsory.

There is very little new to be said on the subject this afternoon, and we cannot, I suggest, derive any great benefit from rehashing the debate we had last time. I would say only that the vote on it was so small that it was probably unrepresentative. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, suggested we want to obtain the maximum degree of consensus on the subject, we should refer back to the public opinion poll which was conducted by an extremely reputable organisation on behalf of the AA and which found that the majority of the citizens of this country were in fact pro a measure of compulsory seat belt wearing. I think that with the passage of time and with the accumulation of the additional evidence to which I have referred, one would probably find, if that exercise were repeated, that an even larger majority of people would be in favour of legislation on even broader lines than that introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg.

Of course, there are some people who would always be opposed to any legislation, particularly to safety legislation, on the grounds that it is an infringement of individual liberty. They will say that, in accordance with the principle enunciated by John Stuart Mill, no interference is warranted by the State in the conduct of an individual where he is going to cause harm only to himself and not to others. But the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in his speech has answered that. He has shown that the loss of control of a vehicle by the driver is very frequently a factor which causes serious danger to other people on the roads; that when a person lets go of the steering wheel as a result of loss of consciousness, perhaps through a blow on the head, his vehicle may continue onwards and cause many further casualties, whereas if he were wearing a seat belt he would be able to arrest the vehicle and prevent that occurring.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, has summarised the objections which were raised last time, and I do not intend to repeat everything he said. I say only, in connection with the anecdotes, of which we heard so many last time, that I sincerely hope that people will not take refuge in that kind of argument. Anecdotes are, in fact, a substitute used by people who are incapable of reasoning and of looking at the evidence as it stands. They must produce stories which they generalise, and then pretend that there is an inferential connection between an incident which happened to them, and which may have been wholly exceptional, and the circumstances of road accidents as a whole.

Indeed, even my noble friend was guilty of this in referring to a conversation he had with his son, who happens to be a policeman. He said that his son told him that he was against legislation of this kind because the police already have enough to do. The police may have enough to do, and we know that they are under-staffed, but with great respect to my noble friend, I think that it is not a very good argument to produce to your Lordships' House that because on policeman says he does not believe that a certain Bill would be enforceable this is the attitude of the police force as a whole. I should myself prefer to consult a recognised body, such as the Police Federation, and from the evidence we have I must repeat that the Association of Chief Constables, though not formally on record, has a majority in favour of legislation, that the Police Federation believes that it is a good idea; and that is certainly the view of a majority of the police forces.

There are still some people who say, "Where is it all going to end?", as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, did; if we once accept a Bill of this kind, which involves some minor reduction of individual liberty, albeit in the interests of safety and health, then there will be further examples of infringement which Governments may introduce. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, regaled us with a list, which as I saw it. was completely unconnected with the subject matter of the Bill. I believe that if we are to have a self-denying ordinance on legislation, and limit the extent to which Governments impose fresh rules and regulations on the people. such rules and regulations as they still have to impose should be designed to benefit the welfare of people as a whole, should be designed to improve health and safety and that if Governments were to concentrate on things of that kind they would become more popular in the eyes of the people.

This brings me to the last point I want to make, my Lords. I am still in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, in the argument about whether we should give another place the chance to continue with the Bill which was interrupted by the timetable in 1976. I specifically said last time that I did not make any constitutional point on the need for this House to vote for a Bill which had some fairly close resemblance to the one which was interrupted in 1976 because of the pressure on Parliamentary time, but I do believe that if there is to be talk about the representation of the views of the public on a matter of this kind we are not the ones who should have the last word. So I hope that, in spite of the fact that your Lordships rejected a Bill very similar to this by a small majority a few weeks ago, your Lordships will now allow the elected Chamber the opportunity to express an opinion on a matter which is of great interest to the whole of the British public.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, it is only 16 sitting days since a Bill embracing the principle of compulsion for everybody on all roads was refused a Second Reading in this House. The noble Lord who has introduced this Bill is known for his derision of this House, and I submit that to bring such a Bill as this before your Lordships again degrades the procedure of the decision of the House on the Second Reading of a Bill. Of the many reasons for not agreeing to this measure, that of compulsion has in the past won the most support, and it was principally for that reason that noble Lords rejected it on Second Reading on 26th April and previously rejected, at Report stage, an Amendment to the Road Traffic Act in 1973.

My Lords, nothing has changed in the last 16 days, except that there was a report in The Times on 9th May which stated that there were 10 fatal or serious accidents on the motorways for every 100 million miles travelled in 1975, compared with 32 fatal or serious accidents on other roads outside built-up areas. It has always been known that there are fewer accidents on motorways and more within a few miles of the destination. I also submit that, on motorways, this law will he practically impossible to enforce. I have never yet seen, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, apparently has, police parked on the raised parts of a motorway. Although I am perfectly well aware that there are many such raised parts, I have never yet seen a police car watching road vehicles. Noble Lords have previously given their views on the principle of compulsion, and have voted against it. Many of them are here now, and do not propose to reiterate all the arguments this evening. Neither do I, my Lords. The hour is late. I hope that this House will reject this Bill overwhelmingly.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, given the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, deplored the use of anecdotal examples as arguments against this Bill, and indeed against his own, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, should in the early part of his speech introducing this Second Reading resort to this tactic. In fact, of course, Lord Wigg's speech was not really very realistic, in the narrowness within which he attempted to introduce his Bill; because, as my noble friend Lady Macleod says, the statistics show—and, if we are to believe my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, the statistics are allimportant—that there are more accidents on suburban and urban roadways than on motorways. The dangers and the eye-catching headlines on motorway accidents arise out of the enormity of individual accidents, and it is my belief that these accidents could be vastly reduced by totally different measures, notably engineering; and the recently-publicised accident at Newport Pagnell strengthens this point of view.


My Lords, may I—


My Lords, there is little time and I can see that if I an not careful I am going to be drawn into precisely the same argument as that into which I was drawn only 16 working days ago. So, if I may continue, I am sure that my noble friend, with his experience, will find—


But, my Lords, my noble friend used my name. My noble friend introduced a false argument which I never made. My noble friend said that I had complained that there were more accidents on the suburban roads. This is a line which I have been deploring, and I really do object to the noble Lord Lord Lucas, who is a very great friend of mine, using this argument. I have been asking, and I go on asking, the Road Research Laboratory, the Government, to try to get the answer. The question is: is the fact that accidents take place in built-up areas really because they are local journeys, or are they part of longer journeys; people going out of a built-up areas on longer journeys, or people coming from outside areas into built-up areas? I do object, my Lords, to having my words twisted like this, because the view I have been advocating—and my noble friend knows perfectly well that I have been saying this—is the French system; that is, seat belts outside built-up areas, and not t'other way round. So when I hear my noble friend saying this, he must accept from me that I do not want to upset his speech but neither do I want to have my words twisted.


My Lords, I should like to mention that speeches are supposed to be addressed to the House, and that individual Members are not supposed to have private conversations together. It seems a most extraordinary way to conduct our business, and I hope Members will not continue in that kind of way.


My Lords, I think that, if my noble friend reads very carefully what I said, he will see that, in reference to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, talking about the number of accidents on motorways, what I said was, "The statistical evidence—and it was my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton who introduced statistical evidence—will show that there are more accidents on suburban and urban roads than on motorways" That is what I said, and that is what I mean. My noble friend introduced the statistical evidence, not I.

I was referring to the Newport Pagnell accident, and was saying that there are other ways of reducing the toll on motorways. There is no doubt, of course, that Lord Wigg's Bill is accepted by my noble friend on the Front Bench as the thin end of a wedge; so we then enter, at some future time, the whole realm of argument and discussion that we had 16 working days ago, when we rejected Lord Avebury's Bill. So really it is quite wrong to say that this is something new. Indeed, this is not something new: this is something old, dressed differently. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, said, "But there is no compulsion"—and he said that I was one of those who argued against this compulsion—" because if you do not want to go on the M1 you can go on the A5". The answer to that, of course, is purely and simply that you can jump out of the frying pan into the fire. Again, the statistical evidence proves the volume of accidents per passenger mile travelled in each of the two types of road. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has a point here.

I am saddened also that, at this late stage in discussing this matter, we should use such terms as "the appalling casualty rates". Our casualty rates have lessened year by year by year on all classes of motorway, in all classes of motor vehicles. Again, may I remind the House that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, referred to heavy commercial vehicles travelling down the fast lane of a motorway. I am not trying to nitpick on this, but there is no fast lane on a motorway; there is an overtaking lane; and commercial vehicles have the safest (and increasingly safer) accident record as the years go by. Again, statistical evidence will prove it and it is in the recently published transport statistics.

These arguments can go on and on. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded me that I asked where it is going to end. My Lords, where is it going to end? This Bill is a device to circumvent the wish of your Lordships' House 16 working days ago. I trust that noble Lords will resist the blandishments of such an exponent of the art of Parliamentary procedure as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and of my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton—to whom I would not wish to cause any offence whatever in my arguing with him as to what he and I said.

Obviously, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has a tremendous interest in this. He quoted, for the third time in three speeches, the article in The Times. If your Lordships are going to be misled by an article of this nature quoted out of context and put into a different context in that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, specifically mentioned the 13,000 deaths and serious accidents which would be saved as a result of wearing seat belts, how can he bring out this argument when his Bill and his proposals—presumably, as the Bill is currently written—are contained only in the narrow sector of the motorway roadways and the reduced number of accidents in those roadways. I urge your Lordships to resist the temptation to give this long drawn out business yet another Second Reading.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in introducing his Bill is ingenious and even seductive, but I urge you not to succumb to temptation. The noble Lord maintains that under the Bill as drafted the wearing of seat belts would effectively be voluntary and that compulsion will not be involved at all. This is rather like an official in the South of Ireland banning a novel, and defending himself against the charge of unacceptable censorship by explaining blandly that anyone who wanted to read the book in question could always take the night ferry to Liverpool, or the train to Belfast. The fact is that motorways nowadays, whatever may have been the case 10 or 15 years ago, are an integral part of the road network of Britain. If you are heading towards certain major destinations and hope for proper direction signs, and want to have a meal. and to buy petrol—and I wonder whether noble Lords are aware of how many petrol stations have closed on those roads which have been superseded by motorways—there is no alternative to motorway travel. Many journeys, and specifically those on the Great North Road, are almost impossible to undertake (unless you are accompanied by a navigator who is a skilled map reader) without travelling on a section of motorway for at least part of the journey. Some of us have the suspicion, and I am sure it is an unworthy one, that the supporters of this Bill do not visualise that compulsion will he confined to motorways for ever. If that is the case, then this relatively innocuous-seeming and only semi-restrictive Bill, if enacted, would be a springboard for something far more coercive.

My Lords, there are three fatal flaws in this Bill: I use the term "fatal" after due deliberation. The first is self-evident. When we last debated this matter four weeks ago, examples were given by a number of noble Lords of a total of no fewer than 16 people whose lives were saved specifically because they were not wearing seat belts or who were killed because they were wearing seat belts. When I use the figure of 16, I exclude all the cases mentioned in which there were any doubts, or where the evidence was at third-hand, or where inadequate chapter and verse was given. I also exclude cases mentioned in the Commons from both the Labour and Conservative Benches last year, as well as those cases cited by many of us in this House during the two debates in 1974. The total of 16 therefore is all the more impressive when you consider, in view of this small sample, how many such cases there must be in the country as a whole.

I do not know how many of the incidents then cited here took place on motorways: I have not asked the noble Lords who cited them originally. But I know that if a law such as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, proposes had been in force in August 1966, I should not be in a position to brandish again today a letter from a lady who was thrown, together with her husband into the back of an estate car when it was struck by another car travelling on the M6 motorway near Birmingham, so that they escaped with minor cuts and bruises; because if they had been wearing seat belts as the result of compulsion, they would have both been killed, according to the testimony of motorway police—given that the front portion of the passenger compartment of their car was crushed flat. Merciful escapes like this must run into hundreds or thousands.

Notwithstanding this, I would not disagree with the noble Lord's contention that more lives would be saved than lost by the more universal wearing of seat belts; but with one proviso. The proviso is that the frequency of accidents remains static. Unfortunately, I believe that under compulsion they would not remain static. And this brings me to the next fatal flaw. This relates to those long stretches of ordinary dual carriageway interspersed or punctuated intermittently by short stretches of road built to motorway standards, as on the Great North Road near Doncaster and between Biggleswade and Hatfield, travelling South.

Unlike the M1, where access points are clearly marked, it is all too easy to find oneself on a stretch of motorway without realising it. What is the hitherto legally un-belted driver to do in the circumstances? He has four choices. First, he may remain in. the outer lane, or central lane, travelling at 70 miles an hour, steering the car with his right hand and struggling with his left hand to pull the belt across his shoulder and slot it into the centre slot. His second option is to swerve as quickly as possible into the slow lane in order to try to execute the same manoeuvre at 50 mph. His third option is to pull on to the hard shoulder and fix his seat belt while the car is stationary. But it is illegal to stop oil the hard shoulder. The fourth option is the one which I suspect would be adopted in practice by most drivers. It is to drive at the maximum legal speed, even though that speed may be well above the speed at which the motorist in question normally drives, so as to minimise the statistical chance of a policeman spotting he was not wearing a seat belt. Each and every one of these courses is fraught with danger.

The final and most serious flaw is this. Four weeks ago, on April 26th, when this was last discussed here, the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, suggested (in column 435) that the non-wearing of belts was caused by, "indolence and inertia". There may be a little truth in this where town driving is concerned, where the total journey time is short. But it certainly does not apply to motorways where much longer journey time are involved and the time spent in buckling on a seat belt is not so time-consuming in relative terms. If a person chooses not to wear a seat belt on a motorway, there is good reason for his action (or inaction). I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Wigg, Lord Mowbray and Stourton and Lord Avebury, will realise that I am doing them the credit of arguing on their ground. I am not, on this occasion, talking about personal freedom, but the practical objections to this Bill.

I accept that for millions of drivers buckling on a seat belt either makes no difference to their standard of driving or positively improves it. Those of us who are opposed to this Bill wish them well and perhaps some of us secretly wish that we were like them—but we are not. All we ask of them is that they in turn acknowledge that there are equally millions of drivers for whom buckling on the belt has the opposite effect. At the risk of being accused of being anecdotal—though there is nothing wrong with anecdotes providing they are accurate and truthful—I always buckle on my belt when travelling as a passenger on a long journey, whether on motorways or otherwise. The moment I do so, I feel suitably safe and secure. Accordingly, my eyelids droop and I sink into a pleasant doze. These are precisely the opposite reactions to those one needs if sitting in a driver's seat of the very same car, where it is vital to be alert, observant, comfortably and properly seated (without being overconfident) and, above all, free from the distracting emotions of irritation or anger.

There is unfortunately a tendency among the bureaucratically-minded to suppose that all human beings are simply part of one great statistical entity. The fact is human beings are infinitely variable in shape, size, temperament and psychology. Only the individual himself is capable of knowing, from his intuition, common sense and, above all, own experience, what suits him best regarding his driving.

Motorways, safe though they may be statistically, require very much more application and care on the part of motorists than do minor roads, where one can potter along at 30 or 40 miles an hour, or even pull into the side if one feels fatigued or sleepy. In order to drive really safely on a motorway, the maximum degree of alterness, anticipation and calmness, combined with an equable temper and good judgment of distance, together with quick reaction, are needed. A law which however well-intentioned it may be—and I accept that it is wellintentioned—would in practice bring out the reverse qualities in a sizable proportion of drivers, accentuating discomfort, bad temper, slow reactions, drowsiness, overconfidence or all of these in combination, must be throughly misconceived. For that reason, I urge your Lordships not to give this Bill a Second Reading.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, last year we debated whether the Sikhs should be compelled to wear crash helmets when riding their motor-bikes. I felt so sorry for the Sikhs who had sat in the Public Gallery until 3.45 a.m. patiently waiting the verdict, that I decided in the name of freedom to speak up on their behalf. The verdict on that occasion was, No. This year, as other noble Lords have reminded us, we have already debated at length the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The answer again was, No. Yet, within no time at all we have this Bill prematurely thrown at our heads.

Today I am not necessarily concerned with seat belts, but I am concerned with how we go about our business. It is not so much what we do as the way that we do it. If it can be shown that the contents of this Bill are worth your Lordships' further consideration, we should not allow ourselves to be hustled in this untimely way. I do not agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down who said he was sure that the intention of this Bill was good. I doubt it. Until I feel happier about the true purpose behind this Bill, and am convinced of the wisdom of the content of the Bill, I will vote against its Second Reading.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, when your Lordships threw out the last seat belts Bill, I hoped, as did many other noble Lords, that would be the end of the whole charade for a certain time, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird said. Alas! the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has seen fit to present us with a Bill on very similar lines, and all the same arguments can be advanced in its favour, and all the same arguments can be put against it—and one can now add a few more against it. I must make one remark to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg: if your car gets hit in the rear, you go backwards and not forwards through the windscreen. The most important reason, as your Lordships know, why this Bill differs is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said that there are far fewer accidents on motorways than on other roads. Secondly—and this does not need repeating, but I am going to do so—it is a law which, as a result of applying to motorways is even less workable than it would have been before, because there are fewer police on motorways than there are in towns.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has every right to introduce a Bill, but it seems to me a great pity, with so many other matters of much greater importance to be debated, that we have to consider this matter again within 16 days. If one wants to go into statistics, there are three times as many people who die of lung cancer in a year than are killed on the roads, but no Government would dare to make smoking illegal. As I said last time, and in a paper the other day, there are too many people today claiming some divine right to try to order our lives about by telling us what is and what is not good for us. Practically every day a small piece of the freedom of choice of the private citizen and of his liberty is removed either by bureaucracy or through these so-called "do-gooders".


My Lords, would the noble Earl give way? I should be very grateful if the House would consider one piece of legislation which was accepted and has been almost universally praised; that is, that which cut down speed; people accepted the need to have speed limits reduced and there was an immediate improvement in all accident figures as a result. Is it fair to impute to the people who are supporting this Bill this afternoon any improper intention when such evidence is available?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was not trying to impute bad intentions; but experiments, as we have known, with speed limits have a horrible habit of not remaining experiments but becoming permanent. I ask noble Lords whether it is right that one person should be condemned to death as a result of wearing a seat belt if that person, through not wearing it, would have lived? It is voluntary for people to do what they choose. The anecdotes which my noble friend Lord Avebury said about me and other noble Lords were not anecdotes. I know three people who are alive today through not wearing a seat belt. All three would be dead today if they had been wearing one. We would have medical exemptions by the hundred thousand. I would get one for claustrophobia. People would get one for fear of fire. We have already an overworked and underpaid police force and it is not right that the police should be burdened with another useless and unworkable piece of legislation.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, when a very young man, long before the days of seat belts, I took part in some motor racing. I know of two people who would not be alive today if they had been wearing seat belts, this was during racing. I do not want to boast, but I have driven over a million miles and, apart from scraped mudguards, I have never had an accident. I admit that many times I have had to take some extremely fast avoiding action. I have nothing against seat belts. I agree that in frontal collisions they may often save serious injury. What I do not like is a Government order which may result in somebody being killed: for instance, when wearing a seat belt in a car which catches fire or which crashes into a river. My Lords, if you are making a Government order, you must be as sure as is possible not to kill people by so doing.

That is my first point. When seat belts can be made with an instant release mechanism I should certainly like them made compulsory. Until that is done, I shall vote against their use. However, it is rather doubtful that I shall be here to take part in the Division this evening: it depends how quickly we get on, and my speech will be fairly short. If you are involved in a frontal collision and are not in a seat belt, you can hurl yourself out of the way of the steering wheel and so avoid serious injury.

I should like to make a remark about the freedom of the individual. I am all for the individual having his freedom curbed if, by so doing, you avoid inconveniencing or damaging other people—for example, the MOT tests for cars, driving tests and so on, and of course speed limits. My noble friend Lord Kinnaird talked about the use of crash helmets. But one cannot compare them to seat belts, because to wear a crash helmet is completely for your own good and, by wearing one, you may not necessarily be burned or drowned. Indeed, to wear one could actually save your life. So I do not see the noble Lord's argument there. It is quite another matter when we come to the compulsory wearing of seat belts; you may be killed because you are wearing one. As my noble friend Lord Kimberley said—he is a Liberal but I can still call him my noble friend, despite the Lib-Lab pact—there are three times as many people killed through smoking as die on the roads, but the Government do not forbid us to smoke. One might as well talk about the numbers of people who die after falling downstairs —I am told that thousands do, but the Government do not compel us all to live in bungalows! I could quote your Lordships many similar instances, but I shall not do so.

I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. His Bill is far milder, of course, than that of Lord Avebury; it does allow certain types of individual to opt out of the wearing of seat belts, and it is restricted to certain roads. So I agree that he has a point there. But I am rather afraid of "thin end of the wedge" Bills. I have always been highly suspicious of them and I am rather afraid that this is one such Bill. I end by saying that I cannot vote for this Bill. Until we get an instant release seat belt I would not vote for making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. However, when we do get such a belt, I shall vote accordingly.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I always wear a seat belt, particularly on motorways, but this Bill appals me. I did not take part in the earlier debate because I had another engagement and I thought it was obvious that sense would prevail. I was appalled at the way the voting went on that Bill. Perhaps one or two other people may have thought the same as I did; and that was why the Bill was lost.

I shall not bore your Lordships with all the details because we have not a great deal of time, and most noble Lords who have already spoken have made the points that I had intended to make. However, I should like to mention two or three. The first is that people have said the Bill is unenforceable. Of course, that is not true; but it is not enforceable fairly. That is the problem. A great deal of the trouble behind an enactment of this type, which tries to impose a restriction or tries to force people to do certain things on a countrywide basis without the resources to back it up—and God help us if we had enough policemen to make this enforceable fairly!—is that it does not become fair. So I would suggest to your Lordships that it is most important to identify the kind of Acts of Parliament or regulations which try to do too much with, as we have heard from many noble Lords, a rather minimal return.

The next point I should like to mention, is one which has been very ably expressed by my noble friend Lady Macleod; namely, the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has chosen for applying these suggested regulations the one section of roadway in the country where accidents are lowest in number. It would seem to me there are two implications about this. One is—dare I put it in this way?—that there is a certain lack of sincerity here; and the other is that you are forcing people such as the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley,—and I know of others who would share that view—who would not find himself able to comply because of claustrophobia. I may say that the same would apply to my elderly mother. You would be forcing those people to motor off the safe motorways and on to other, less safe, roads. It seems to me that this is an absolute negation of what the Promoters of this Bill really want to achieve.

Above all, my Lords, this is a question of attitudes. As I say, I always use a seat belt, except possibly for very short journeys which would not be affected by this Bill. Certainly I always wear a seat belt on motorways. My attitude has been changed over a period of about ten years, since the mid-1960s, because that is the period for which the system has been going. I am sure that if statistics were to be produced—though they might be difficult to find now—it would be shown that increasingly, year by year, more and more people use seat belts. I think it is wholly good that it is now compulsory for every car to be fitted with seat belts and a car cannot pass an MOT test unless they are fitted. But the point is that one must let attitudes change at a reasonable rate. I was director of the Distributive Industry Training. Board for many years. I had the major task of persuading the retailers of this country that there was some good for them in systematic training. I could see, and all my colleagues and friends agreed. including the retailers themselves, that this was a 15–20-year task, because one was dealing with an attitude of mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, brought in the question of crash helmets for Sikhs. Forgetting the Sikhs for the moment, I remember that in 1940 it was compulsory in the Royal Navy for a dispatch rider to have a crash helmet. I suspect it was the same for the other Services and, indeed, for the public service generally. Crash helmets did not become nationally compulsory until 25 or more years later. I suggest to your Lordships that what we are talking about is roughly the first ten years of this cycle and that we have a period ahead of getting people used to it. When we get to the stage when the numbers of people who are not using scat belts because they find it sensible are what you might call "the unreasoning fringe", then is the time to introduce this sort of legislation, but not before.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, batting No. 11 on the list of speakers before us, it is my duty to the House to be brief, and that I shall certainly be. I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard refer to his motor racing activities. I think I am right in saying that he finished in third place in a British car at Le Mans. He therefore speaks, at least in part, with some knowledge and authority.

This Bill is an unsatisfactory compromise to try to squeeze through some kind of compulsion. I have said more than once that compulsion in this instance is ugly, offensive and, in my opinion, unenforceable. I cannot see many drivers of heavy goods vehicles and articulated vehicles wearing seat belts. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, intends them to come into the category that should wear seat belts on motorways, but I cannot see them doing so. A large percentage of drivers of vehicles involved in shunts in fog on motorways realise the danger of being crushed in the cockpit. If they are to be exempt, then the whole point of compulsion for drivers seems to collapse at once.

In any case, research has shown, through publicity and propaganda, that more drivers and passengers are wearing seat belts on motorways at this very moment, without being compelled to do so. Cannot the noble Lord understand that the non-motorway road by its very narrowness, in comparison with our motorways where there is far more room to manoeuvre, carries a far greater risk of injury and accident? I said that I would be brief and I fully intend to be so. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will reject this ill-considered Bill, and wisely leave to the individual driver and passenger the choice whether or not to be strapped into a motor vehicle.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, I also will be extremely brief. I cannot support this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, will probably understand. But I should like to raise a voice in protest at the fact that this House should be asked within 16 days to consider this matter again. This is the third time that the principle of this Bill has been produced, but to have it produced again within 16 days is rather making a mockery of your Lordships' House. I cannot think that it would be right to make motorways the place to introduce the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I have always understood them to be the safest roads in the country and, although I personally use them to an absolute minimum, I believe that it is the wrong place and the wrong time to introduce compulsion.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I detain the House for three or four minutes, because, after all, I was the mover of the Amendment in 1974, and of the one 16 days ago, which defeated the principle of compulsion. I was unable to put my name down on the list today, but I feel that I am entitled to speak, and I think that perhaps the House is entitled to know my views.

My view remains as it was. I do not think it is the function of a Government or of Parliament to commit people to safety or to condemn people to death. That must be an essential decision of the individual, as it has remained in the greatest motoring country in the world, America, which has not been mentioned by any of the advocates of compulsion.

There is one further constitutional aspect of this Bill, which I would submit to your Lordships. I admire very much the political subtlety of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in encircling the principle of compulsion. But if this Bill was given a Second Reading and went to Committee, it would be possible for some enthusiastic adherent to the principle of compulsion to "pussy foot" up the back stairs, as I would term it, with an Amendment to omit "motorways" and to substitute "all other roads." We should therefore be back voting in Committee on what we have rejected on Second Reading, which I do not consider politically right or just for this House to contemplate.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him to reconsider those extraordinary, emotive and stupid words which he has just used. He talked about condemning people to death through wearing seat belts. I have never, in all my born days, heard anything so unrealistic as what the noble Lord has just said.


My Lords, the noble Lord ought to cultivate not quite so serious a view. I used the expression "quietly going up the back stairs to move an Amendment", and it is not illogical to do that. The House is being faced with an issue which it has already rejected. I repeat that I would hate to see somebody—maybe someone already has it in mind—"pussy footing" up the backstairs to put down an Amendment which would nullify what we did 16 days ago.


My Lords, may I put this to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour? There is a simple way out of the difficulty. If he thinks that—and other speakers on the other side have hastened to impute motive—I do not mind. I have had all that is coming and I can still deal with it. If the noble Lord will put down an Amendment to this Bill, assuming that it gets a Second Reading, to limit it for what period he chooses, I will support that Amendment.

6.5 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, it was exactly a month ago that we debated a Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory on all roads in this country. That Bill was denied a Second Reading by the narrow margin of two votes. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Wigg on introducing this Bill, while we are still warm on the subject, that would enable compulsory wearing to be introduced on special roads only. Special roads are roads which are subject to motorway regulations; that is, roads which are designated as motorways or A(M) roads.

I do not propose this afternoon to repeat all the arguments I advanced a month ago in support of the principle of compulsion. The Government supported the principle of that Bill and the Government support this one. I said then that the compulsory wearing of seat belts on all roads would save about 1,000 lives and over 11,000 serious injuries each year. If compulsion is confined to special roads only—as this Bill proposes—the direct casualty savings would be very much reduced. The Department of Transport estimates that if all drivers and front seat passengers in cars and light vans wore their belts on motorways, about 50 deaths and 300 serious injuries would be avoided. You will see therefore, my Lords, that compared with the total potential savings from compulsory seat belt wearing this Bill would generate only a small part.

This is for two main reasons. First, as has been said by many of your Lordships this afternoon, motorways are relatively very safe roads. They account for about 8 per cent. of the total vehicle mileage on all roads, but for only a little over 1 per cent. of all accidents. The percentage of accidents on motorways that are fatal or serious is higher, as your Lordships would expect, than in the case of accidents on other roads. However, putting these two factors together, the fatal accident rate on special roads, measured in terms of vehicle distance travelled, is only about 40 per cent. of the rate of all roads. So we start with the fact that special roads are relatively safe roads. The second reason why we should not expect dramatic results from the proposals contained in this Bill is that the rate of voluntary wearing of seat belts on special roads is already higher than on other roads. It is estimated that nearly 50 per cent, of drivers on special roads already wear their belts voluntarily, as compared with an average of about 30 per cent. on all roads. Nevertheless, my Lords, every life saved is worth while and I believe that we should not deny ourselves the opportunity that this Bill offers us. I have already said that I do not intend to repeat all the arguments on the principle of compulsion, but I should like for a moment to consider some of the practical implications of this Bill.

Like its predecessor Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, this Bill seeks to create a power under which regulations could be made to introduce compulsion. The first regulations—applying the power to the occupants of the front seats of cars and light vans—and any subsequent amendments extending their application to other seating positions or other vehicles, would be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. This House would thus have an opportunity to debate them, and there would be no "pussy-footing" up back staircases. Subsequent amendments which did not extend the application of the regulations would be subject to Negative Resolution. Compulsion would apply only where the fitting of seat belts is already compulsory which, at the moment, is most cars registered since 1965, light vans registered since 1967 and some three-wheelers.

Provision would be made for exemptions—for example, where a doctor thought the wearing of a belt by a patient was undesirable, or where a driver's short stature gave rise to difficulty in operating controls if a belt was worn. Exemptions for reversing and for delivery roundsmen, which would be necessary if compulsion were applied on all roads, will not be necessary if it is confined to special roads. The Government would consult widely before settling any details about exemptions.

The direct effect of the Bill would be a saving of perhaps 50 lives and 300 serious injuries on motorways each year. However, it may also encourage those who set out on journeys, only part of which are on motorways, to wear their belts on the whole of their journeys where otherwise they would not, and thereby have a wider beneficial effect. If enacted, the Bill would also serve to demonstrate that compulsory seat belt wearing law can be made to work in practice.

There are some small deficiencies in the Bill as drafted, but I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading. As I have indicated, for their part the Government support the principle of the Bill. However, I cannot guarantee that for a measure of this kind, introduced at this stage in the Session, time will be found for it to complete its passage through Parliament without the complete co-operation of the Members of both Houses and of both sides of both Houses. Nevertheless, I commend the Bill to your Lordships and hope that it will be given a Second Reading.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but one or two points must be made. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, who suggested that the Bill had been hurled and thrust at noble Lords and that they were being hustled into making a decision. A number of noble Lords who are opposed to the Bill, and everything connected with it, regard it as a constitutional outrage. It is very odd that it should be regarded as a constitutional outrage to move the Second Reading of a Bill for which I have not attempted to do any canvassing. I have not asked any noble Lord to vote for it. I have simply discussed the Bill with those who wanted to discuss it with me. Although I had some practice in that art in another place, over the years I have been singularly unsuccessful in canvassing, because the speakers today, except for those on the Front Bench, have been opposed to the Bill. However, I cannot congratulate them upon the logic of their arguments.

Apart from the question of it being a constitutional outrage, it is not the same Bill. Indeed, there was some disagreement, and it looks as though the lobbying was not quite so effective as it might have been. While some speakers said that it is the same Bill, others said that it is milder. It is a different Bill. I have used the same wording, where appropriate, but the principle is quite different. The principle of compulsion applies in only one case.

If anybody inspired me, I should turn to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and say that he did. When I listened to his speech and read it, I came to the conclusion that his practice is very similar to my own. The noble Lord may remember that in his earlier speech he said he would get a van to take him to the Carlton Club so that he would not have to use a seat belt. The noble Lord also said that he used his seat belt on the open road but not going to and from the House. Like other speakers, if I intend to drive on the M1, invariably I put on my seat belt when I leave my flat in the middle of London so that gradually I acquire the art of wearing the belt before reaching the motorway.

I regard this Bill as part of an educational process. It will encourage British people to do what every other civilised country in Europe has done. One of the reasons why the United States has made no progress is their federal system of Government, because it is not easy to get a measure of this kind through Congress. It was difficult also in Australia, but once they had the cake and had bitten into it they found that it worked and the opposition has dwindled. This is exactly what I believe would happen here.

I know perfectly well that motorways are safer. They are roads which have been specially built for motor traffic. On the motorway you still have to obey some rules—as, indeed, you have to obey rules on any other road. However, you can clearly please yourself whether or not you drive on the motorway. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who used a most extraordinary argument. If one of my children had used it when he was younger, I should have slapped his bottom and sent him to bed. The noble Lord suggested that if anyone were persuaded to drive on the A5 as opposed to the M1 it would be an adverse mark against the propositions of the Bill. If anybody chose to go on to the A5 instead of on to the M1, that would be his deliberate decision. When he got on to the A5 he would very quickly find that he was subject to much more restriction than on the M1. There is only one speed limit on the M1, whereas there are goodness knows how many speed limits on the A5—certainly between London and Stafford. Therefore, regarding the argument that one increases the danger by putting a choice in front of people. I put that choice in front of people because I understood that this was the major objection which ran through the earlier debate. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, "Away with statistics"—


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way, since he has attacked me directly. I am intrigued that the noble Lord would smack his daughters on the bottom for arguing with him, but perhaps that can be taken as it goes. I wonder whether the noble Lord will accept the fact that if his Bill goes through, effectively he will be saying to people, who for some reason do not want to wear a seat belt or will not wear one, "You are not allowed to drive on motorways". In saying that, the noble Lord is condemning them to go on to more unsafe roads. That is a fact.


My Lords, in the first instance, I shall not be saying anything. The Secretary of State, after consultation, will be saying that. This is an effective safeguard. Powers are being given to the Minister to bring in orders which require an Affirmative Resolution and, later on, a Negative Resolution. The Minister will consult all kinds of people and say to them—just as he says to them now— "If you want to stop and start, you must not go on to the motorway. You must go on to the A5. If you want to go on to the motorway you must wear a seat belt." There are restrictions, whatever you do, so you can make your choice. If you wish to go up the A5 and stop here and there, you can do so, but if you go on to the M1 you cannot make a "U" turn and stop. Also, by these regulations you will have to wear a seat belt.

If certain Members of the House believe that there is a sinister purpose behind the Bill—that this is the thin edge of the wedge, or up the hack stairs, or some cosy way to deal with it—please may I ask them to disillusion themselves, because that is not my intention—far from it. Because of the increase in motor traffic, I believe that the case for the wearing of seat belts is absolutely irresistible. I cannot get away from the fact that the decision which we take will be on the conscience of each and every one of us. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that if noble Lords vote for this Bill there will be a risk. The noble Lord made the point perfectly fairly. It was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, although quite how you defeat a general case by taking one individual case out of the blue I do not know.

Without any shadow of doubt there is a risk that if people wear seat belts which are difficult to release, as my own is, they may find themselves involved in an accident in which they would not otherwise be involved. I entirely agree on that point. But the overwhelming mass of evidence points to the fact, repeated in The Times this morning and repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, tonight, that if the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, had received a Second Reading and had found its way on to the Statute Book, within the next 12 months some 12,000 to 13,000 people would either be alive or would have escaped major injury. That fact must be faced fairly and squarely.

On the other hand, if this Bill gets on to the Statute Book those of us who voted for it must accept what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, have said, that people will be injured and others will die who would not be injured or would not die if the Bill had not been passed. It must always be a question of balance. Traffic is increasing; it goes faster; it is more and more difficult to drive and it requires greater and greater skill, but if a person driving on the M1 loses consciousness for a split second there will be a pile-up. In my view, the pile-up on

the motorway is wholly and solely due to people losing consciousness through damage to their heads caused by hitting the windscreen. That is why, having listened to the previous debate, I have introduced this Bill, which is less severe and which gives people a choice and removed the essential element of compulsion.

I repeat the offer which I made to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour; if your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, or anyone else, cares to table an Amendment limiting the duration of the measure to whatever period they choose—a period during which we may have a trial—I will certainly support it. But I think we must now face up to the consequences of not passing a measure of this kind, because inevitably if your Lordships reject the Second Reading tonight it is absolutely certain that a considerable number of additional people will die or will be severely injured and I, for one, cannot face that. I thank your Lordships for staying for this excellent debate and I hope very much that you will give the Bill a Second Reading.

6.23 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 86.

Ardwick, L. Halsbury, E. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Auckland, L. Hanworth, V. Rochester, L.
Aylestone, L. Harris of Greenwich, L. Rusholme, L.
Bacon, B. Hill of Luton, L. Shackleton, L.
Banks, L. Jacques, L. Shinwell, L.
Blyton, L. Killearn, L. Stamp, L.
Bradford, E. Lee of Newton, L. Stedman, B.
Brockway, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stone, L.
Brown, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Strabolgi, L.
Byers, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Strang, L.
Champion, L. Masham of Ilton, B. Swansea, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Meston, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Collison, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Trefgarne, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Noel-Buxton, L. Vaizey, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Norwich, Bp. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Parry, L. [Teller.] Wells-Pestell, L.
Falkland, V. Phillips, B. White, B.
Gisborough, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Wigg, L. [Teller.]
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Popplewell, L. Wigoder, L.
Hacking, L. Porritt, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Hall, V. Rhodes, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Glenkinglas, L. Rankeillour, L.
Allerton, L. Grey, E. Rochdale, V.
Amory, V. Hale, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Amulree, L. Hood, V. Saint Oswald, L.
Avon, E. Hornsby-Smith, B. Salisbury, M.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Howe, E. Sandys, L.
Barrington, V. Hylton-Foster, B. Segal, L.
Belstead, L. Kimberley, E. [Teller.] Sempill, Ly.
Berkeley, B. Kinloss, Ly. Sharples, B.
Bledisloe, V. Kinnaird, L. Somers, L.
Boothby, L. Long, V. Spens, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lothian, M. Strathclyde, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Loudoun, C. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller.] Strathspey, L.
Cottesloe, L. Lyell, L. Swinton, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lytton, E. Terrington, L.
Daventry, V. Mackie of Benshie, L. Teviot, L.
de Clifford, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Thomas, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Tryon, L.
Eccles, V. Maybray-King, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Merrivale, L. Vivian, L.
Elton, L. Monson, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Morris, L. Walston, L.
Exeter, M. Mottistone, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Faithfull, B. Mountgarret, V. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Ferrers, E. Napier and Ettrick, L. Wise, L.
Feversham, L. Newall, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Foot, L. Nunburnholme, L. Young, B.
Gainford, L. Platt, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion for Second Reading disagreed to accordingly.