§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I wish to both thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on bringing forward this Bill and therefore again enabling your Lordships to debate this important issue. On the previous occasions when this matter has been debated by your Lordships the issue has been very finely balanced, albeit that on one occasion, as the House has been reminded, the principle was approved by your Lordships. This is the first opportunity I have had of speaking in this House on this issue, but I have had the opportunity of reading all the previous debates, and it is clear that opinion on both sides on this issue is held with great sincerity. That is clear from the two opening speeches we have heard in this debate this afternoon. Nevertheless, I hope that at the end of the day your Lordships will decide to support the Bill and give it a Second Reading. It is a view which I express on behalf of this Front Bench, but I wish to make it absolutely clear that this is a non-political issue on which, so far as these Benches are concerned, there will be an entirely free vote; it is a personal issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, referred to the responsible organisations which have lent their support to the principle behind this Bill: RoSPA, the AA, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. It is not without significance that the principle has the support of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Surgeons. I shall be listening, and I am certain noble Lords will be listening, to the medical opinion to justify their support for the principle behind this Bill. It would seem that the only relevant organisation which is opposed to the principle of the Bill is the RAC, and even that body is fully behind the principle of the wearing of seat belts; they are opposed to the compulsion.
The BMA have stated that they are convinced that there is no alternative to the introduction of legislation to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory, as all attempts at persuading the public voluntarily to wear seat belts have been unsuccessful. Although the costly publicity campaign to encourage the wearing of seat belts resulted in doubling the number of wearers, it is still currently only at the level of one-third of the possible wearers. The BMA has added in its statement that if lives are to be saved and valuable medical 906 resources not wasted on the treatment of preventable injuries, legislation involving a degree of compulsion is essential. The views of these responsible medical authorities just cannot be set on one side as if they are unimportant.
Nor can we dismiss the researches carried through by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I have read all their reports on this issue. Report LR 811 published in 1978 covers a detailed investigation of over 1,800 accidents which were representative of all severities. This has shown that car occupants wearing set belts sustained substantially fewer injuries than those who were not. Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, to the fact that statistics can always prove anything. But this in-depth investigation carried out by the laboratory was so intensive that for each of the 2,879 occupants over 800 pieces of data were coded and fed into the computer. That sort of research cannot be disregarded. It is not just a hunch; it is a finding based on real detailed research. The conclusions of that research were that nearly half of the expected injuries more severe than minor were saved by the wearing of seat belts. This is a conclusion of the researchers, not my conclusion.
Reference was made to the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. No cases were identified in this detailed research where the occupant would have been safer if not wearing a belt.
In view of the apprehensions which, I noticed, were voiced in previous debates—and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred to them this afternoon—fire and drowning were seen to occur but rarely, and the researchers say that there was no evidence that belt wearers were at any greater risk than non-wearers. Indeed, a seat belt should improve the wearer's chance of surviving the impact so that he is more capable of escaping from the vehicle. If there were achieved a seat belt wearing rate of 100 per cent., there would be a further saving of over 12,000 fatal and serious casualties each year, and it would reduce the cost of medical attention for those accidents by £75 million, based on 1976 prices. If the wearing rate were only 85 per cent. there would still be a considerable saving all round.
The Transport and Road Research Laboratory's latest report, SR 449, was published in 1979. That gave summaries of eight selected European and American papers on accidents and their relation to seat belts. In those surveys the estimated reductions in serious accidents by wearing seat belts varied from 45 per cent. to 70 per cent. All the researches show, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has said, that the passing of this legislation would save between 600 and 700 lives each year, and 11,000 serious injuries. Those figures just cannot be set on one side.
Surely there can be no argument—and I do not think that there is any argument—against the protection that is afforded by the wearing of seat belts. As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said, other countries have introduced the compulsory wearing of seat belts. As the main argument against the Bill is the question of compulsion, surely it is not to be argued that those other countries are less concerned with individual freedom than we are in this country. I think that those other countries would take offence if that suggestion were made. Incidentally, there are European countries which have a further prohibition on freedom—they 907 prohibit children of certain ages riding on front seats, and that is freely accepted by those other countries, many of them in Europe.
The case against the compulsory wearing of seat belts has been set out in a memorandum by the Royal Automobile Club, and no doubt we shall hear reference to that memorandum later in the debate. It is suggested in that memorandum that many seat belts are ill-designed and badly fitted. By the way, the memorandum was issued in 1976, although the RAC says that it still upholds these particular views. I think that noble Lords who do a fair amount of motoring will agree that generally the inertia belt is both efficient and comfortable. Surely there should be no difficulty whatever in laying down adequate regulations for the standards of seat belts and their correct fitting.
But surely the RAC must be wrong in expressing the view that the present minority wearing seat belts will reach majority proportions when design problems are rectified. There are no grounds for such an assertion—it is just an opinion held by the RAC. There is no proof of that matter at all. All we know is that costly publicity campaigns have not achieved anything beyond one-third. Moreover, there are motorists who take the view that, "This could never happen to me" —the same attitude that is seen in what is called "motorway madness" during fog and in bad wet weather. Others mistakenly believe that serious accidents do not occur so much in urban roads. However, the researches have shown that over half of all injuries to car occupants occur in built up areas at relatively low speeds. Other drivers have said, "I just don't bother"; but if seat belts were made compulsory they would readily wear them. In other words, some car occupants and some drivers are waiting for the legislation to make them wear seat belts, which they realise they ought to do but which they just cannot be bothered to do at present.
The RAC also raises the arguments of exemptions and enforcements which were put forward quite fairly by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour. I have no time to go into those in detail, but neither of those problems seems to have concerned the other countries which have adopted compulsion. They seem to have overcome those two issues without a great deal of difficulty. I am certain that intelligent consideration of those two points could surmount any problems, if there are any.
There would appear to be little opposition to the desirability of wearing seat belts and little disagreement as regards the value that is to be obtained by the wearing of seat belts. The main opposition is the principle of compulsion, and that is evident from the previous debates and also from the moving of the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour.
The argument against the principle takes various forms—for example, it is argued that compulsion is an infringement of individual liberty. It is also argued that should a person not wear a seat belt he will only kill or injure himself. Thirdly, it is argued that in the event of a car being overturned or involved in burning or submersion, the wearing of a seat belt could be a danger. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, referred to quite a number of other instances in connection with motoring where there are already what might be 908 regarded as infringements of personal liberty. I shall not weary your Lordships with all of those except to remind you again of the legal necessity for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets.
There are many motorists who regard the speed limit as an infringement of their liberty because they are competent drivers. Your Lordships will have read the other day of a famous cricketer, whom we all admire, who was doing, I think, 120 mph on a motorway—nearly double the permitted limit—and it took a 17-mile police chase to catch him up. I have not the slightest doubt that that noble Lord regards the speed limit as an infringement, because he is a competent driver. But we must all accept that we can frighten other people not by our own bad driving but because of the speed at which we might pass them. So there are many other infringements of liberty in connection with motoring.
I must also refer to the provisions in the factory safety legislation. We do not take the view that the worker only injures himself and therefore he can please himself. A worker is compelled to observe regulations which may require safety guards on certain machinery. He is compelled to wear protective clothing, compelled to wear eye shields and compelled to wear a helmet if engaged on construction work. We do not say that we should leave it up to him and that it is up to him even though he is the one who will be injured if he does not carry out these requirements.
Is it true that a driver or other car occupant endangers only himself? Apart from the effect on the family, I would remind your Lordships of the figure which has already been quoted, namely, that the cost of National Health Service provision in dealing with accidents is estimated, at 1976 prices, to be £75 million a year and, on top of that, there is the cost of police time and the cost of lost production.
In the previous debates that I have read noble Lords have recounted many personal experiences of involvement in road accidents. Some were exceedingly gruesome. Those arguments were put forward to prove one side; other arguments were put to prove the other side. I can only say that I was involved in an accident some 17 years ago. I was a passenger and I went through the windscreen. I was concussed and my nose is still broken as a result of it. I received severe lacerations. That taught me that had I been wearing a seat belt I would not have suffered on that particular occasion.
Moreover, it is difficult to say with any assurance what may have happened if a person was wearing a seat belt in those cases when a car may have overturned. We have only a hunch, a belief, as regards what may have happened. We have the medical opinion—and that is a very important opinion—of those who have been concerned with handling serious accident cases. And we have, as I have already mentioned, the exhaustive surveys of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I have referred already to the conclusion of their Report 811, that after a detailed investigation of 1,100 serious accidents there was not one case where the occupant would have been safer if he or she was not wearing a seat belt.
We all know that to be belted helps to keep a person anchored; that being anchored helps us to keep better control of the car, and that being anchored invariably 909 avoids a possibility of concussion and, therefore, there is a greater possibility of getting out of a car that may be overturned. I wonder how many other noble Lords have been in the same position as myself, when I have wished to belt up as a passenger, but have been inhibited from doing so because the driver obviously does not want to. That is not a good position for anyone who realises the importance of seat belts to place themselves in.
In conclusion, I respect that on this issue many noble Lords hold sincere views of personal freedom. In the 1930s I was a keen cyclist. I joined in a mass demonstration at Speakers' Corner and in a mass protest ride down Western Avenue. What against? Against cycle paths and against compulsory rear lights for cyclists. Thousands of us had sincere views on this. In the years ahead I wonder whether we shall look at the concern over compulsory wearing of seat belts, which we are debating this afternoon, in the same way as we regarded that protest in the early 1930s. I should like to leave this observation with your Lordships; that the House will reject the amendment and give support to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I could correct something he said, for I am sure that he would not wish to mislead the House. He alleged that the RAC memorandum could not be taken seriously because it dates from 1966. In fact, the memorandum refers specifically to the Bill before us this afternoon, and was produced within the last seven days.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I hope that I never mentioned the year 1966; I referred to 1976. I did not say that the memorandum should not be taken seriously. I simply said that this was a view-point which the RAC says in its memorandum was expressed by it in 1976, and a view which it still holds. I intended to make that quite clear.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Amulree
My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour and the very large number of people who want to speak, I propose to cut my remarks down as much as possible; but, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, I should like to say that we are in general agreement with the Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has put forward. It will obviously save a great many injuries to people. I agree that it is difficult to remember to use a seat belt. When I reach the end of a journey I very rarely find that I have been wearing my seat belt. It is beside me; I do not wear it not because I disapprove of it but simply because it has not crossed my mind to do so. I believe that if the wearing of seat belts were made compulsory, that would be a better way of getting people to wear them.
I remember that when the French introduced compulsory wearing of seat belts some time ago—I cannot remember how many years ago—everybody belted up quite firmly, but going back in about a year's time, I found that no one was wearing seat belts, which was rather worrying. One of the problems will be to ensure that we have enough people on the roads to enforce the law, if this becomes law. It would involve 910 quite a considerable increase in the number of police, wardens, or whoever was employed to enforce this. That is a point which should be thought about a great deal before we finish discussing this. It is very easy for Parliament to make laws to reduce a crime, but it is not so easy or so proper for Parliament to make a crime and then reduce it by laws. I think we can get it the wrong way round sometimes. However, that is not very applicable to our present discussions.
In conclusion—and there is a great deal more that I could say, but I shall not—one would much rather that this were done by education than by law, but I gather that the educational side of it has not worked very well, so I am afraid that we shall be reduced to a legal remedy. Whether that will be effective, I simply do not know, because if a motorist is driving down, say, a main road at 40 miles an hour or 50 miles per hour, how can the policeman, warden or guardian come out of the hedge to see that he is not wearing a seat belt, and what will he do? It possibly may be easier in a built-up area. However, these are matters which the department will have to work out if this House gives the Bill a Second Reading and if we can get it through another place.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Porritt
My Lords, even as early as this in the debate I get a feeling of déjà vu, or perhaps I should say, "déjà dit". It is three and a half years since we discussed in this House the question of the compulsory use of seat belts. Judging by the long list of willing speakers, it is apparently still both an emotive and a contentious subject. Personally, I have always had some difficulty in deciding why this should be so.
In that interval of three and a half years, time has only served to emphasise the cogent need for urgent legislation and the extent to which we are falling behind almost all developed, and a good many undeveloped, countries in instituting, or not instituting in this country, this vitally—and I should like to underline vitally—important method of saving life and preventing major injuries.
For those two simple reasons alone I would wholeheartedly wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. In so doing, may I express my admiration for his courage and pertinacity in bringing this matter yet again to our notice. Equally, it is indeed sad that one with such an extraordinary and outstanding record of bravery in war and service in peace as has the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, should see fit to table an amendment which to all intents and purposes negatives an attempt to save the lives of up to 1,000 of our citizens each year, to say nothing of the almost equally tragic maiming of 10 times that number.
During his, as ever, potent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, seemed to keep his eyes riveted on me. Immediately I would plead not guilty to sins either of omission or commission for which he half suggested that I and my colleagues were responsible. Equally, I am not intimidated, because from our point of view this Bill is quite simple. It is a simple, humane Bill to achieve a worthwhile object which has not yet been achieved by any other means. That is how simple the problem is.
I find many of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, untenable, and quite a number of them 911 illogical. Some of my noble friends—other noble Lords with a medical background, including the noble Lords, Lord Richardson, and Lord Hill of Luton—are going to deal in slightly more detail with some of the points he raised, and of this I am glad. Suffice it for me in passing to ask him whether in times past when he locked himself into the claustrophobic cockpit of his aircraft, or even now when he shuts the door of his car, especially if in either case he had a passenger or passengers with him, he was not limiting, and very definitely limiting, the freedom of individuals?
I quite realise that these were voluntary acts, but, as has been pointed out already by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, there are many limitations on freedom which are already compulsory. Driving on the left has already been mentioned, and when the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, compulsorily insures his car, when he compulsorily purchases his driving licence and his road licence, and when he obtains, if perchance he has to, an MOT certificate, are not all and every one of these requirements restrictions and limitations of individual freedom?
Is not such a restriction that will save many lives and prevent even more countless major injuries a very small price to pay in the way of individual freedom?
On a wider canvas, is it not true that everything we do in this noble House, and everthing that is done in the other House, is limiting the freedom of the individual? Always, we hope, it will be to his great benefit and for his protection. Surely that is the purpose of legislation. The last time we debated compulsory seat belts I attracted a certain amount of opprobrium by suggesting that if we did not pass this legislation we should, at least indirectly, be morally responsible for the unnecessary loss of 1,000 lives a year, and the ruination of the lives of many more who survive accidents but who are damaged or defaced or deformed—and that for the rest of their lives.
I would suggest that, in view of the knowledge and the information which has been made available in this last three years—and this is an important point—we have advanced in the knowledge and the arguments in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. In view of the fact that that information has become available, the responsibility of this House not only still exists but is a great deal heavier than it was three and a half years ago.
I wish today to speak as an erstwhile surgeon who had over many years first-hand personal experiences of the tragedies of which we are talking. I also speak as President of the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention; as a past President of the Royal College of Surgeons; of the British Medical Association; and of the Company of Veteran Motorists. You have already heard that bodies like RoSPA, the AA and the medical branch of the Ministry of Transport, all bodies well acquainted with the problems and who have studied them in depth and, I would suggest, impartially, are 100 per cent. in favour of the compulsory use of seat belts.
I hope that this will not be too much of a shock to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, but I think the classical example of conversion to this belief occurred in Australia about 10 years ago, after a very 912 successful, poweful and persistent campaign by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Our Australasian friends are perhaps less amenable to legislatian and to discipline in general than the inhabitant of a good many other countries. But, rather amazingly, they took to compulsory seat belt wearing without much complaint and without any trouble. And now the death and major accident rates from car accidents have decreased dramatically. I too do not want to deal in statistics to any extent, but there is no doubt—and these are very recent figures—that the fall has been very marked.
Another interesting point in Australia is that the use of seat belts has become reflex. This is something that I want to point out. If compulsion lasts long enough—and long enough may be as short as a year—the reflex use of seat belts becomes automatic. This has been proved in many other countries as well as Australia. The last point I should like to make about Australia is that the Australian Police have issued a statement saying that they have found very little difficulty indeed in dealing with the relatively few transgressors of the Act. New Zealand went through a similar period of temporary reluctance but now they too are confirmed seat belt wearers with greatly improved accident figures.
I do not wish to over-dramatise an already emotive subject, but, as one who dealt with many of these accidents years ago in which seat belts had not been used, I feel it is only right to stress that apart from the obvious outright tragedy of death, the injuries from such accidents are horrendous. Most occur to head, face, and neck, and to a lesser extent to arms and to chests as a result of a head-on impact with some other object. Sadly most of them too occur in young people; people who have most of their lives yet to live.
Concussion, with its varying effect on mental function, some of it permanent; the horrible scalp and facial lacerations; the fractured noses and jaws; the torn eyelids and ears and lips; the ruined and blinded eyes: these things have to be seen to be believed, and, my Lords, you would not like to see them. Those seriously injured casualties are marked and incapacitated for life. May I point out that not only are they physically incapacitated but they are also injured psychologically, because the loss of one's natural facial expression is something which is hard to define but has a definite effect on the persona of any patient. Of course, if sight goes as well then this is an indelible scar.
I do not apologise for painting this lurid and awful picture, because it serves to underline the very simple fact that we could today relatively painlessly avoid the majority of these awful tragedies which I have described and which, let it be remembered, affect not only the individual himself or herself, but also to a major extent affect their families and their friends and relatives.
Another aspect of the problem, admittedly of secondary importance compared to the human one but nevertheless a highly significant one, and which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill is the economic one. Grief has no price, but the degree to which the resources of our National Health Service are called upon in hospitalisation, facilities, the time and experience of specialised personnel, drugs, surgical dressings, and so on, is again quite beyond 913 the realisation of the majority of people, but it amounts to a colossal sum—and here I am going to update the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—of approximately £100 million a year. This figure I quote from the words of the Chief Medical Officer of the DHSS himself: £100 million. Add to this the cost of millions of workdays lost over the years to partially disabled people, to say nothing of the millions of pounds spent on educational campaigns that have so far served only to produce roughly a 35 per cent. response.
Can we any longer really avoid our moral responsibility? I really do not think that my morals differ from those of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, although as we speak they would seem to. Can we any longer deny the massive support we have had from so many reputable bodies which have unreservedly given their opinion that seat belts are necessary? Can we allow our basic principle of humanity any longer to perpetuate the unnecessary and preventable toll on life and the infliction of severe disablement, even if it involves a minor loss of what is vaguely called the freedom of the individual? During my years in this House I have never ceased to be impressed by the temperate, wide-ranging, humane and wise view your Lordships take on difficult problems. I sincerely hope that today your Lordships will see fit to deny the amendment and proceed with what is a long overdue and literally life-saving Bill.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Earl Howe
My Lords, my own experience, and my view from what I have been told by my friends, make me take the very opposite view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Porritt. Frankly, I cannot understand why my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has tabled the Motion at all; we have debated this subject on several occasions and in my opinion we have come to a sensible decision against compulsion on each. My noble friend Lord Nugent is the recently elected president of RoSPA, an association which wants to have all motorists strapped to their motor-cars. I have great respect for my noble friend, but he is also a vice-president of the RAC, whose clearly stated policy is opposed to compulsion until further research is carried out. He must have had some difficulty in making up his mind to oppose the policy of his own club. I feel he has been bulldozed by the propaganda, which has been fairly heavy, from RoSPA and the TRRL. They are by no means the deciding factor, and incidentally, I believe they were keen on the horrible humps to go with the potholes on our roads, a subject we debated recently.
I speak as vice-chairman of the RAC and I will always support a policy of education and persuasion rather than legislation. The public policy committee of the RAC, the body which makes these decisions, is composed of men of great motoring and motor-cycling experience. Their professions are connected with all kinds of motoring interests, from road safety and engineering to motor racing. I believe we could all do with more research and education into road safety matters, especially into seat belts. There are many points which need to be considered and I ask noble Lords to ponder some of them which I shall raise.
For instance, the buckle of the lap strap—in some ways noble Lords may think this sounds rather strange 914 —should be worn at the side, not in the centre of the stomach. Believe it or not, many people wear it straight in the middle of the tummy. After some use, the belt is subject to such strain that it could need to be replaced entirely. Belts are not fully effective if the back rests of the seats are inclined too far to the rear. A seatbelt should be worn in conjunction with a head restraint. The belt must not be worn twisted. It must always be fitted very tightly. Belts are beneficial only if they are worn at all times, not just on motorways but also in town traffic at speeds of less than 30 mph. Loose bulky clothing affects the fit and function of seat belts. Belts should never be worn over hard or breakable articles such as glasses, ball pens, key rings, pipes and so on because these can cause injury to the body. Road safety officers with whom I have worked closely for many years and police to whom I have both taken and given advice can themselves do a great deal to educate and persuade the motoring public.
Motorists come in all sizes—short, tall, fat and thin—but all the fixing points for the shoulder strap are at the same height on the door pillar. To cater for everyone, it would be far more sensible to have three points at different heights. The other day I was talking to a surgeon from a hospital in Windsor who told me that a young woman came in very nearly strangled by her shoulder strap. There are many who, for medical reasons, could never wear a seat belt, and they include those with a very real fear of being strapped in a box of a motor-car. Even the much-quoted inertia seat belt is not all that infallible. A percentage of seat belt wearers have been seriously hurt resulting from excessive forward movement associated with some form of failure of the inertia locking system of an automatic belt. In fact, the TRRL themselves have stated that automatic belts show a small but significant risk of malfunction.
Not much thought seems to have been given to rear seat passengers by seat belt fanatics. There is really much to be learnt before seat belt wearing is made compulsory. Even many people who today wear seat belts are opposed to any form of compulsion; no one likes force, which in my opinion is an ugly word. I will, with permission, quote from a letter written by a friend of mine to the Daily Express in February of last year. Entitled "Peril in the name of safety", he wrote:I hope that Parliament in its mad rush to over-govern us will not be so unwise as to attempt to enforce potential suicide on those of us who have a sufficient knowledge of the facts to avoid this particular danger".It was signed Air Vice-Marshall Donald Bennett, who noble Lords may remember was a war-time pilot and competition motorist, racing his own motor-cars. RoSPA talks about Formula racing drivers wearing seat belts, and so they do, but it is a very different harness from that worn by the ordinary motorist, ordinary mortals like you and me; it has a six point harness and is worn to counterbalance the extreme G forces in cornering, among other things, very different from the single shoulder and lap strap that some of us wear.
I have seat belts in my car. If I wish to use them, or have to use them, I shall do so, but I have no wish whatever to be forced to be strapped to my motor-car. No one really likes pressure group legislation; this 915 Motion is an example of that. In my view, patience is the key word, and there is still a great deal to be learnt. There must be millions of road users in all kinds of vehicles who have no wish to be forced to be strapped into them for various important reasons, some of which I have suggested. They will wear their seat belts if they want to. I often wonder what would be the result of a referendum on this subject of compulsion.
While this is probably not within my terms of reference in this debate, I can well remember the opposition to the introduction of the 70 mph speed limit on motorways from people of all professions. I handed a petition containing over a quarter of a million signatures to the then Minister of Transport. That had been signed by men and women of all professions—doctors, firemen, policemen and nurses, to name but a few. We must always remember that there is the other side to the coin which should not be ignored. I fully support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Lord Gardiner
My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I rise to say anything on a subject on which I have not spoken before. In any case, I shall be brief, speaking only for myself. I must first declare any prejudices. One I have is certainly a prejudice in favour of people being allowed to do what they want to do for themselves. Locke and Hobbes and other moral philosophers have discussed this at great length and it has never seemed to me to be a question one could answer in black and white; it must of course depend on the circumstances of the case.
I entirely agree of course with our law, which aims to prevent people from injecting themselves with heroin and so on, because of the appalling effects of injecting with hard drugs about which we all know. I am much more doubtful about the moral position in relation to soft drugs, and as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, knows, I do not agree with him in his attempts to stop adults reading obscene literature if they want to; and, anyway, it does not come off and most sensible countries have now given up any attempt to do so. I have a considerable bias therefore for people being allowed to do what they want to do, and some scepticism about trying to save them for their own good.
Next, I suppose I have a bias for the motorist. I have driven mechanically-propelled vehicles for 60 years. I must confess to two convictions for exceeding the speed limit and three for parking in the wrong place, the first of which was then called obstruction because it was in 1922. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, looking in my direction. I would say at once that in my opinion that was a wrong conviction, and I do not think it would at all be a bad plan that any judge or magistrate, before being allowed to sit, should in the first instance have been at least once wrongly convicted.
Bearing all that in mind, as a motorist I usually wear a seat belt on long drives, but these days most of my drives are short ones, and on those I do not wear a seat belt because I consider it an awful nuisance; neither does my wife, and she thinks the same. But the question is, whether there should be what is called com- 916 pulsion. I did not follow everything that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said about compulsion. In the first place, I cannot see any difference between what one might call positive compulsion and negative compulsion. What difference does it make if one says, "I shall make a law to punish you because you must not drive on the right-hand side", or whether one says, "You must drive on the left-hand side"? Some of the matters that I have mentioned are positive and some are negative. One is not allowed to go up in an aeroplane unless one is wearing a seat belt, because otherwise the pilot will not take off. No one suggests that there is anything awful about that because it involves compulsion. No one says, "How awful! Fancy compelling people!" What would happen if a fire broke out? In those circumstances the wearing of a seat belt might cause someone's death, but no one objects to wearing a seat belt. No one denies that compulsory wearing of helmets by motor-cyclists has reduced loss of life.
In coming rather new as a whole to the subject, and in having thought about it considerably for the first time, my difficulty has been to understand how in a House so able, so intelligent, and so expert there can be so many speeches containing strong views on each side of the argument. As I heard the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, speaking I thought, how on earth can anyone answer that? At the end of the day it all comes down to the prospect that if this proposal were passed into law, and there was a seat belting rate of 90 per cent., as I understand about 1,000 or more lives would be saved each year and about 11,000 people would be saved from serious injury. Well, if that is so, while I am all for freedom, I fear that I must agree that it would be in the public interest if I were jolly well made to wear a seat belt.
§ 5.43 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, I am among those who are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for his having the courage and pertinacity to introduce the Bill again, and I very much hope that the amendment will be defeated and that the noble Lord's Bill will be given a second reading. I have been interested and involved in road safety for a number of years, and for a time I was president of the Pedestrians' Association for Road Safety. I have read all the literature on this subject. I have sought not to be bulldozed, as my former shipmate the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has observed has possibly been the fate of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. I have sought to bring an unprejudiced mind to the evidence that is before us, and I am utterly convinced that without any possibility of contradiction the case has been made out that, if the wearing of seat belts was made compulsory, a great many lives would be saved, a great many injuries would be avoided, and much sadness would in fact never occur.
I cannot help being influenced by the fact that not only RoSPA, the Pedestrians' Association, and bodies such as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Automobile Association and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders have all given support to the Bill, and the evidence that is produced by such people as the scientists at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory bears out 917 all these contentions. In listening to the debate it seems to me that that point is generally accepted, and therefore the main crux of the opposition to the Bill is the argument that such a law would not work or that it would be an unwarrantable intrusion into the freedom of the individual.
As regards the first matter, it is said that no one will take any notice of it, and that we ought not to make laws which from the first will be disregarded. I share the view of those who think that it would be wrong to put on the statute book a law which dealt with minutiae which did not matter and which people would therefore avoid, with the result that it would be generally disregarded. But I do not believe that that is the case with this Bill; I do not share the pessimism of those who think that such a law would be disregarded.
We have been reminded, for instance, that those who are compelled to wear head helmets when riding motor-bicycles have done so almost universally. We have been reminded that if one boards an aeroplane, one is required to wear a seat belt on taking off and landing, and I have never known anyone take any objection to that. Therefore, I believe that if this proposal were made mandatory, most people would observe it. If they did not, probably their attention could very severely be concentrated if, in deciding upon the question of guilt in regard to an accident, the magistrates or the police were to take into consideration the fact of whether or not a seat belt was being worn. I imagine that if the proposal became law, the insurance companies, when assessing damage, would also take into account whether or not the people involved were wearing seat belts. Therefore, I do not think it likely that such a law would be universally disregarded.
But what of the question of the imposition upon the freedom of the individual? There are those who hold that if we choose to take the risk, it is our own business and no one else's business whether we are killed or inflict grave injury upon ourselves. But that, though, I understand, the law of our land, is by no means a universal rule. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has reminded us, the Factories Acts require people to wear protective clothing and provide that machinery be guarded, even though only an individual might be involved in the danger. However, I very much doubt whether in fact it is only an individual, because as noble Lords will know, one of the great deans of St. Paul's, John Donne, said:No man is an island to himself".Even though it seems that the injury is done to only one person, in point of fact the consequences are nearly always much wider in their implications. When one thinks of the cost to the nation, through the National Health Service, of people who have been gravely injured, and of the sorrow that is imposed on families when accidents occur, one quickly realises that it is not merely a matter concerning the individual when one person is injured in this way.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, sought to persuade the House that this single requirement to wear seat belts was a gross and improper intrusion upon the liberty of the individual. My Lords, this is only a very small intrusion compared with the many other restrictions that are placed upon us when driving our motor-cars. A motor-car is not merely a vehicle which gets us from one place to another. It is a highly 918 dangerous machine, capable of inflicting death and injury on people who are perfectly innocent. Therefore, in driving a motor-car we are hedged around by a number of restrictions.
I am not allowed to drive my motor-car unless I have a licence, and unless the car has been licensed and I have paid the insurance. When I take it out on the road I am not allowed to drive on the right-hand side. I have to stop when the lights change to red. I am not allowed to go the wrong way up a one-way street. The car must pass an MOT test, and so on and so on. All those requirements are designed to protect both drivers and society, and to me it seems to be a very small, a tiny, insignificant addition to those restrictions, which are required by the demands of safety, that those who drive should wear seat belts. Therefore, I fully support the Bill, for surely one of the great slurs on our society is the appalling carnage on our roads—the numbers of people who are killed, who are maimed, who are injured, who are made sad by losses and by injury to people for whom they care. We have a duty to see that those things are minimised. This very small restriction will undoubtedly reduce the impetus and the amount of injury to individuals, and I believe it is our firm duty to carry this Bill.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, after the right reverend Prelate it is difficult for me to speak because of his well-known eloquence in this House as well as in the pulpit; but after 40 years of clean licence—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has outdone me, I think, by 20 years but perhaps we will argue that one out somewhere else—during which I have driven all kinds of vehicles, including Green Line buses when they were used as ambulances during the war, I feel I know something about driving vehicles. This is my tenth intervention on this contentious issue in your Lordships' House, and for this reason I am perhaps bored with my views on this subject and am interested in hearing other people's views. And I will be brief because I think that up to now all the points that I would wish to make have already been covered. So I hope to take less than two minutes.
The first point I wish to make is that I feel that this measure would be almost impossible to enforce, and I do not think that this House should be responsible for a Bill which is almost unenforceable. Indeed, it is completely unenforceable at night. I also feel that it is a waste of police time chasing people they think should be wearing a seat belt, only to find that a medical card exempting them can be held up. Even though a motorist may not qualify for a medical certificate, there are many people in this country who suffer from a genuine fear of being trapped. I am one of them, but I doubt very much whether a doctor would allow me to have an exemption, although I remember very well that when we last discussed this point in your Lordships' House the late, lamented noble Lord, Lord Platt, said that he would give me an exemption, but unfortunately he is not with us.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stone. I would be most grateful if I could have 919 that in writing. My Lords, exemptions have been mentioned: delivery vans, of course; reversing, of course (which is a very minor one); and medical certificates. But if your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading and we come on to the Committee stage, then, as I remember, taxi drivers also have to be exempted because while they are wearing a belt, inertia or any other kind, they cannot get across to the flag of their cabs.
I should like to ask the Minister one question. Can he tell this House how many people are killed or injured because they are wearing seat belts? We all know of many cases; but I should like to know who has carried out research into this, when were the last figures issued and what were those figures? From what I have said it will be apparent, I am afraid, that I would warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye.
§ 5.54 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, like others who have spoken I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for the opportunity to debate this contentious territory yet again, knowing that however contentious it may be I cannot convince myself that the balance of the argument one way or the other is very much more than marginal. I have lived with this subject for very many years because the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is not the only member of the public policy committee of the Royal Autumobile Club to address your Lordships. He and I sat on that committee together for 20 years; and the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, was also on the main committee. The engineering and technical committee was always thinking about the design of seat belts, and I should think I came up against this problem once every three months, whenever we had a committee meeting.
The opinion of the committee crystallised out, if I may put it in that way, into a pattern of opposition to the idea of compulsion; but, even so, one had to admit that the pattern of opinion of the Automobile Association, who were dealing with the matter just as seriously as we were, crystallised out in exactly the opposite direction. I cannot think, therefore, that it is very much more than a marginal balance of advantage for one argument rather than the other—a balance where I must say that I have switched my allegiance since the last time we debated it, for a reason that I shall tell your Lordships, from supporting the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, as I did on the last occasion, to supporting the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, as I am going to do this evening. Last time I would have built it into my argument at the hub that I cannot understand how I can endanger anybody except myself through failure to wear a seat belt. A seat belt comes into operation only after an accident; whether it is there or not cannot be the cause of an accident. That is the argument on which I would have put my weight three years ago.
What has happened since then? Very simply—a little bit of personal history—my son-in-law was posted to Ottawa on a NATO assignment, and I spent a summer holiday with my family in Ottawa watching my children and grandchildren getting used to the environment of compulsory seat belts. They took it 920 in their stride; it was just no problem at all. As usual, the children were delighted always to find their parents or their grandparents at fault, so if one ever failed to wear a seat belt oneself there was a chorus of "Grandfather", "Daddy" or "Mummy", or whoever it was, "you have not got your seat belt on". When they returned to this country and I was taking my three grandchildren of this marriage on a shopping expedition, they said with great indignation, "Why have we no seat belts in the back seat?" That shows how very quickly people get accustomed to this. I think we have made too heavy weather of the argument, and it is this personal experience which has caused me to switch. That does not mean, of course, that I now find fault with all the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has put forward on grounds of freedom, and so on. They remain valid, but I now put a somewhat different weight upon them.
Of course, we do not want to discourage a spirit of adventure in the young, but I would say—and if the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was in his place I think he would support me—that playing Russian roulette is not a proper way to express the spirit of adventure. Of course, you can play Russian roulette on the motorway. All you need to do is to swig down half a bottle of "booze" until you have the requisitie amount of Dutch courage, and then drive down the motorway in the wrong direction to see if you can get five miles down it without being killed. It is a silly game because you certainly could not get 50 miles down it without being killed. I do not believe that stopping people from playing Russian roulette is the same as inhibiting a sense of adventure. It is in that sense that I put a rather different emphasis on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, although I agree that they still have a certain validity.
I concede that every advantage is bought at a price. The morality of probabilistic processes is very little explored territory. I have been quite unable to find any authoritative authors on the subject. I have written one short paper on it myself for the Defence College; but one can only say that every advantage is bought at some sort of a price and, although we shall save a very large number of lives by making seat belts compulsory, I agree that there may be a life lost from time to time because a seat belt has rendered someone inaccessible to rescue, or whatever it may be. But I do not think that in conceding this we are making a precedent. I believe that choices of this sort face us in innumerable contexts over and over again, and that is why, on balance, I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and oppose the amendment.
§ 6 p.m.
Lord de Clifford
My Lords, I always thoroughly enjoy hearing the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who advances extremely good arguments for whatever he is discussing. But I am afraid that on this matter I am of the opposite opinion. I do not think that we should have seat belts. My basic objection to any order under this Bill is that it will not be enforced. I have driven 145 miles today on various forms of roads and I have seen practically every law of motoring broken; and not a soul got touched for it. If you legislate that people will wear seat belts, who is going to enforce it? It is all very well for noble Lords to 921 say that chief constables say that they can do it. They cannot enforce the present law. How on earth are they going to enforce the seat belt law? A lot of arguments have been put forward on what has happened in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said that he took part in demonstrations of cyclists who were protesting against having to have rear lights. That was something which somebody else was going to do to them. This is not what somebody else is going to do to them; this is what you have to do yourself to save yourself from being damaged.
I have known only four accidents in which there have been virtually head-on collisions. Of those concerned in the four accidents, one person was wearing a seat belt. I have never seen such a mess in all my life as was made of him. The others were not; but had seen the accident coming and had avoided the worst results of it. I have great feelings about this. It seems to me that you can drive more horses and carriages through the Bill as proposed than you could drive through almost any Bill we have had before your Lordships. It will require a great deal of scrutiny at Committee stage, if it ever gets there—which I hope it will not—to make it workable. One question which always arises when this situation is produced is: If you come to the compulsory wearing of seat belts, who is to be the person responsible for seeing that people are wearing seat belts? I am sure that a number of noble Lords will know of some very strong-minded ladies and gentlemen who, if this were a law and you told them to belt up, would tell you exactly where to go. If you are the driver of the vehicle, have you to refuse to take them? As the driver of the vehicle, are you the person who decides whether a law is to be observed or broken by a passenger? It is a most difficult matter.
The other matter that I object to about this Bill is from my memory of many a television series in which it was said, "Do not drive more than 200 yards without your seat belt"—yet straight in the middle of it is, "If you are delivering goods, you need not wear a seat belt". Delivering goods where?—from Dover to Birmingham! To me the whole thing is absolute nonsense. I object to compulsion in these matters. Our country has never taken kindly to compulsion. Until we can clear up and can enforce the present laws, I do not think that we should produce anything more for the police to do.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Richardson
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, described this issue before us as simple. I agree with him. I think the evidence for this was amply put by the brilliant preliminary and short opening address by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. I wish to say straight away that my profession, the medical profession, is profoundly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for seeing that this issue that they consider vital is once more before your Lordships' House. When I presume to speak for the medical profession in a united sense, I am indeed presumptuous; but I have behind me the weight of the British Medical Association, as your Lordships have been told, and more than the weight of the Royal College of Surgeons alone, the weight of all the colleges that meet together as a conference, all 922 the Royal colleges, the general practitioners, the physicians and so on. And the reason why they are so clear about this issue is that they accept the evidence that has accumulated steadily over the years that, by passing such a measure as this, great saving of life and misery would result.
The noble Lord, Lord Porritt, has drawn for your Lordships a picture of some of the things that are seen by nurses and by doctors not occasionally but as part of the unhappier aspects of their professional lives. Physicians such as myself have seen the end results and the ruined lives not only of those who have suffered from the accident but of the relatives who have had to bear the disabilities with them. The right reverend prelate the Bishop of London stressed the trouble, the care, the anxieties and miseries that accidents will bring. Various Members of your Lordships' House have pointed out the enormous economic burden to which accidents lead.
I wish to give you only one statistic and to put the burden of loss slightly differently. That is, that accidents that would be prevented if people wore seat belts in adequate numbers, 85 per cent. or more, account for 150,000 bed-nights—loss of beds to those who may have waited for them anxiously, unhappily for months, to have various procedures done upon them that will contribute not only to their happiness and health but to the economy of this country. More than that, the occupation, through avoidable accidents, of those beds may on occasions lead to the cancellation of admissions to persons keyed up to face an ordeal. It may even occur on occasions that there are those in hospital whose operation on the next day has to be postponed, perhaps for a long time, if, for instance, a rare blood group collected for that patient has to be given for an accident that might have been avoided. It is for this reason that I feel that the argument about the freedom to do harm to yourself and to destroy yourself is not entirely acceptable to me. It is a freedom to do harm to others, to bring misery to others and to take away from others the treatments for which they have been prepared and to which they are entitled.
How can this situation be improved? It is better to do things by persuasion than by compulsion, and it is highly satisfactory, so far as it goes, that massive and expensive persuasion has raised the rate of seat belt wearing from 14 per cent. to 30 per cent. But there it has stuck. If we are to achieve what we wish: namely, a reduction in death and in serious injury—to the figures of which your Lordships have been given several times this afternoon—we want not 30 per cent,; we want 85 per cent.
The evidence is, as your Lordships well know, that in those countries where compulsion has been introduced the rate of seat belt wearing increases, and increases to an acceptable level. The power of persuassion in this country has been recently tried out. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, mentioned this briefly in his opening speech. The Wessex Regional Health Authority was so deeply disturbed by the rate of accidents in their region and the seat belt wearing figures that they recently instituted an experiment. They took Salisbury and Winchester as two cities of comparable types of social make-up. They counted those cars entering matched car parks whose passengers 923 were wearing seat belts. They used Salisbury as the control and they subjected Winchester to massive persuasion through the radio and television—the equivalent of £50,000 was given free by those media—and of course the press and other methods. They did this to Winchester over a period of two weeks in November of last year. They did a re-education programme for a week in March.
What was the result of all this massive effort on a population which it could be thought likely to be reasonably intelligent and reasonably susceptible to evidence? The result was a 5 per cent. increase in the rate of those wearing seat belts. This was only temporary. In the men it went back in a matter of weeks to the previous level of between 30 per cent. and 32 per cent. In the women they managed to maintain a percentage increase of 3 per cent. Not really a satisfactory achievement when one realises that 50 per cent. at least is required to produce the effect we wish.
I cannot feel that there can be much doubt in the minds of most of your Lordships about why there is this extreme—indeed passionate—desire from my profession and myself that your Lordships will tonight give this Bill a Second Reading. It could be one of the most telling and valuable preventive measures that have been before Parliament in this century.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmany
My Lords, it is a pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, in his speech because among the many great offices that he has held in the medical profession, one for several years—was that of president of the General Medical Council. I in my humble way was for 14 years a lay member for Scotland of the General Medical Council, though not serving under the noble Lord, Lord Richardson. In that capacity I always thought that it was my duty to put the layman's point of view, and if there was anything like a doctors' lobby to try (if I may use the word) to "debunk it". Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, just now, and having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, I am bound to say that I cannot do other than find myself agreeing with their arguments.
Of course, we all like freedom; but we have to accept control. The most obvious occasion is a passenger in an aeroplane, and much has been made much of that example. Of course, one then wears a seat belt. Equally in a sport which I very much enjoy, racing—and, indeed, in hunting or polo—a hard hat is essential. It is the regulation. If one says one wants the freedom of wearing a cloth cap, one cannot have it. It is too expensive in injury. We must in this case accept that a seat belt has had the case made for it and we have no alternative but to accept it, even compulsorily.
However, may I in the minute or two that I detain your Lordships say a word following the line of my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve: we must be careful that we enforce this without doing harm to the public relations between the police and the law-abiding public. Certainly, taking again oneself as an example, I would very much resent it if a couple of young policemen pounced on me as I was innocently driving my car very slowly through the village street to pick up the shopping and they said: "You have no 924 seat belt". Where would I be walked off to? Is it going to be an immediate fine or are these trifling cases going to come up in the courts? We must beware of that. Equally, when there is a serious accident on the road, the police go to it and if they find that the driver is dead, then that is it, but if the driver is alive and not wearing a seat belt, that is going to mean that they would find he was breaking the law. Are they going to bring a case against him? Lying in the hospital, miserable, trying to recover, is he going to find a letter summoning him to court? These are possibly farfetched aspects, but I think they need consideration.
Law and order is as important as anything in this country today. We have crime on the increase. What we want is that policemen should have the goodwill and co-operation of all of us, and in enjoying them to exert duties that are uncongenial to public opinion we are not helping them to do the much more important duty they have of preserving law and order.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Strauss
My Lords, I will be as brief as possible. The first thing I want to do is to express my appreciation and thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for bringing up this matter once more and, I hope, this time successfully. For many years I have been deeply interested in the subject because for two years during the Attlee Government I was Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, and in that position was responsible for road safety. Safety belts were not a feature of the problem in those days but exhortation, propaganda and an attempt to get a change in the habits of the public was indeed a very important feature of the Ministry of Transport for which I was responsible.
One thing that I remember as a result of that experience and which I should like to bring before the House is a very simple one. Exhortation by propaganda and other means is not enough. We carried out very big campaigns costing millions of pounds in the press, on the radio and so on, and we tried to bring about more careful driving on the roads. One of the features of that campaign, as some of your Lordships may remember, was the very controversial "widow" poster. Some people thought it was good and others did not. But as a result of that campaign, although there was no doubt that a substantial measure of success was achieved, it was realised that it was no use going any further without some compulsory measure: if we were to achieve the result we all desire.
It seems to me that the argument in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts is overwhelmingly strong but I realise there are many Members of this House and outside who, for moral, ethical and practical reasons, are still opposed to it. The opposition seems to be based on two issues. One is a factual one: there is dispute about numbers, and whether in fact 1,000 lives would or would not be saved if the wearing of seat belts were compulsory. I do not want to go into the figures now because we have all seen them. There is overwhelming evidence that if it is not 1,000 it may be 800 or 1,200—certainly very large numbers of lives would be saved if it became compulsory to wear seat belts.
The other factual point—it has been mentioned previously—is that compulsion would be ridiculous 925 because you cannot enforce such an Act. I do not accept that for a moment. There are all sorts of Acts which are highly desirable but which cannot be enforced all the time. There is an Act in connection with road safety that no driver of a motor car may exceed 30 miles per hour in towns. It is not enforced in London and in fact it would be quite impossible to do so. Similarly, it is impossible to enforce the wearing of seat belts by everybody driving in London at any time. But the fact that that law exists has an effect—psychologically, by fear of the law or the acceptance of it—and people do not normally drive at unreasonable speeds in London. Obviously, although it would be impossible to have constant inspection of drivers in London to see whether they were wearing seat belts, the existence of the law in itself would have a substantial effect because people do not like to break the law.
The factual arguments are, first, that the effect would not be anything like as favourable as some people suggest in saving lives; and the other is that it cannot be enforced. Incidentally, when people talk about the number of lives which would be saved and the number of serious injuries which would be avoided, they are apt to look on these figures as cold statistics which can be argued about. But in fact every life lost is a great tragedy not only for the victim but for large numbers of other people—families, friends, wives, and mothers; and every person injured who may be reduced to a vegetable, may be blinded or may be crippled for life represents a serious tragedy which affects not only the victim but the relatives and friends of that person as well. So I suggest that we must also look upon it in that light, too.
The argument is that everybody should take the responsibility themselves without having the pressure of law put upon them and that they should decide for themselves—as we have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and others—whether they will wear a seat belt. Because if they do not and they have an accident it is their responsibility and that is the end of it. But, of course, that really is not the situation at all. If somebody has an accident through not wearing a seat belt, of course it is his responsibility but he is not the only one who suffers. If he were, there would be something to be said for the argument; but, as I said just now, the victim is not the only one who suffers. There are many members of the community who suffer. They are people who work in the hospitals and would-be patients who are not able to get into hospitals because accident victims are occupying the beds. All those people suffer. An accident is not an isolated affair but a social affair and it extends over quite a large area. Therefore, I suggest that the argument that the individual must face up to the consequences of his own folly does not hold water because there are large numbers of other people who may suffer severely through the folly of that individual.
I should like to emphasise a point, brief as I would wish to be, which has been mentioned already. When there is an accident in which a driver is not wearing a seat belt, it is not only he who may be seriously injured, but because he is not wearing a belt, he may not be in effective control of his car after the collision and so run into, and do serious damage to other cars and their passengers. These people too will be injured as a result of an individual nto wearing a seat belt.
926 Finally, there is the ethical case, the moral case, which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, put very well. He says it is wrong in principle. An Act of this sort would restrict the liberty of the subject. This is wrong in principle. That is all very well. All these social principles have to be considered on their merits and context. Some may be fine in principle but may have appalling consequences in practice. This issue may be one of them.
If we meet—the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, or any of us—the wife or mother of someone who was killed in an accident because he was careless and did not think it was necessary to put on his seat belt, what are we to say when they say to us: "Why did you not pass an Act of Parliament making the wearing of seat belts compulsory? If you had, my husband, my boy, would be alive. Why did you not do it? "It is no use saying to that good woman, "Ah, we were protecting the liberties of the public." She would reply, "Where is the liberty of my dead husband or dead son?" Those are the things we are dealing with today. If we consider them from the point of view of people and not just as a theoretical matter of restriction of liberty, surely we must say that it is our duty morally, when we have this opportunity, in view of all the evidence which is put before us, by the AA, the medical profession the legal profession and everybody else, to say that we must, in the interests of the public and to preserve life, do what we can to see that these many unnecessary fatalities do not occur again, with all their appalling suffering.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he agree with me that it is possible for the other side to be put forward, of families which have suffered a bereavement when somebody has been killed because he or she was wearing a seat belt? That is not unknown, is it? Will he agree that that case is equally apposite?
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. As someone who has sustained a severe injury, I know only too well what permanent disability means. We, who have become severely paralysed from breaking our neck or our back, can at least say "Thank goodness, it was not a head injury." In the days, 23 years ago, when I rode in point-to-points, it was not the practice to wear a back shield. Now it is. Had there been back supports in my day, I very well might not be paralysed today.
Like many other Members of your Lordships' House, I do not want our freedom of choice diminished, nor do I want us to be hounded by the police. But our society is not showing a responsible attitude to the wearing of seat belts. It has been proved by many countries that the wearing of seat belts greatly reduces accidents. When our National Health Service is so short of resources, can we afford not to bring in legislation which will save the country a large amount of money? I hope your Lordships will think very carefully on the effects it will have on the general public, if this Bill is not given a Second Reading today.
It is very important that there should be flexibility 927 in a Bill of this kind, and I am pleased to see that this seems to be the case here. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, whether taxi-drivers in town will be classed as exceptions, along with users of vehicles constructed or adapted for the delivery of goods or mail. Also on page 2, line 6, the Bill states, "for him to wear a seat belt". I suggest that females should also be written in. Would it not be better if the Bill said "that person"? I should like to stress that persons holding a valid certificate, signed by a medical practitioner, to the effect that wearing a seat belt is inadvisable on medical grounds, will in many cases be women who have breast cancer or the after-effects of it.
I should also like to see written into the Bill a clause which makes it law that babies and young children should not sit in the front seat. So many times, I have seen tiny babies and little children sitting on their mothers' knees, with nothing between them and the windscreen. Many other countries have made it law that young children sit in the back of a car, securely fixed.
Last Friday, I was in St. James's University Hospital in Leeds. During the week, a family had been brought into the hospital. Neither the husband nor the wife had been wearing a seat belt. The wife had been sitting in the passenger seat. The baby, who had been sitting on the woman's knee, was dead. The woman was critical and the man had multiple face, jaw and dental injuries. I am sure that, had they been wearing seat belts, the story would have been different. But, most likely, the baby would still have been dead, unless it had been in the back seat. No doubt, in most of our hospitals throughout the country which deal with casualties, there will be similar stories. Today, we have an opportunity to do something about this expensive situation. It is expensive to our National Health Service. These accidents also cause great hardship and sorrow to many families, as noble Lords have said.
My husband and I have two children and, living in a rural area, they have had to travel long distances to school. I have been constantly worried because, when someone else has been driving them, they have not always worn seat belts. I have had to write out a statement, and sign it, saying that anyone in our employment driving the children has a duty to see that, if over 12 and sitting in the front seat, they wear a seat belt. Otherwise, they must sit in the back. It has been a very uphill struggle.
The evidence is before us. I am sure that most of your Lordships will have had information from the BMA, RoSPA and other organisations. Should the wearing of seat belts beome compulsory, I hope that the regular servicing and keeping in good order of seat belts will become common practice. I do not think that the enforcement of seat belt wearing will be very difficult, although enforcement seems to be the stumbling block. When owners of cars find that insurance companies will not pay insurance in accident cases if a seat belt has not been worn, they will soon start seeing that belts will be worn. In North Yorkshire, our police are in favour of seat belt enforcement.
Some years ago, I visited the accident hospital in 928 Birmingham, when I officially opened the extension of the head injuries work centre. It was tragic to see so many young men who had severe head injuries, and with so much life left ahead of them. With the approach of 1981, which is to be the International Year for Disabled People, many people will be looking closely at disability, its impact on life and the need for the prevention of disability.
The other day, I was driving with my small dog sitting on the front seat beside me. He usually sits on the floor, but he had climbed up. I had to brake rather quickly. He shot forward and nearly hit the dashboard. When I next stopped and opened the door, I was amazed to see that he got out of the car and went and sat in the back. Some might say, "An intelligent dog". I hope that we are as sensible today, because we are in the position of helping to prevent death and injury.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, the debate on the Bill of my noble friend Lord Nugent, who is, as he said, the honorary president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, is a most valuable one. I declare a completely non-pecuniary interest, as one of the several honorary vice-presidents of RoSPA, although my own main interest has always been in home safety. But I believe that safety cannot be taken in isolation. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, rightly said, safety in the factory, too, can rightly be considered with a Motion of this kind.
There are, of course, debit and credit sides to any measures of this kind. There is only one particular concern which I have about this Bill. The matter of enforcement has been raised by a number of Members of your Lorclships' House and I shall not add to that, because I believe it is self-explanatory and, given reasonable persuasion, the problem of enforcement can be overcome. My main worry is the question of standardisation of these belts. The newer cars have inertia seat belts. The older cars—the A and B registrations—have belts which are sometimes very difficult for children, disabled people or those who are not very adept technically at extracting themselves. At this stage, I should like to put a question to my noble friend and relative who is to reply to this debate. What discussions, if any, have the Government had, or do they plan to have, with the Road Research Laboratory or the manufacturers of seat belts? If this Bill becomes law, and I believe there are overriding reasons why it should, this is an important matter to consider.
A great deal has already been said about the Health Service and hospitals. This is an aspect in which I have had an interest, again non-financial, over many years, having served on hospital committees. Probably many of your Lordships have a daughter, as I do, or other relatives who are nurses in teaching hospitals which are very busy dealing with accidents, some of which may well have been caused through seat belts not being worn. I have not extracted the figures, but these accident cases abound, particularly in the London teaching hospitals which are situated on busy roads. Particularly at weekends casualties due to crashes can occur.
The wearing of a seat belt does not prevent an accident. That is ordinary common sense. However, 929 I believe that there is the strongest possible evidence that in many cases, particularly with newer cars, the wearing of seat belts can minimise the violence of an accident, especially in a head-on collision. Examples have been quoted. I will give one brief example of two very close friends who, some 10 years ago, were driving along the main A41 trunk road near Aylesbury. They had the right of way but on a minor road they were hit by a lorry. Suffice it to say that their car was a write-off. Suffice it to say, too, that if they had not been wearing seat belts they would have been dead within minutes. As it happened, they were in hospital for some weeks. Now, even when they are getting the car out of the garage, they wear seat belts and they insist, quite properly, that anybody sitting in the front passenger seat of the car should wear a seat belt. Surely that is common sense.
It is no argument to say that if a person who is not wearing a seat belt kills or injures himself or herself, this is merely causing distress to one person. I am leaving aside the distress it causes to the family. I do not want to repeat ad nauseam all that has been said about the strains on the Health Service, but the fact is that many of our young doctors, nurses and others working in hospitals are under tremendous pressure. They may be engaged in cardiac surgery or other types of surgery which cannot be avoided because somebody has driven a motor car; it is surgery which is necessary because of a condition which could not in any case have been avoided. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, who rightly said that many operations of a vital nature can well be held up if multiple pile-ups or accidents happen through seat belts not being worn and serious injuries resulting.
Not every accident in which a person is wearing a seat belt results in his getting off scot-free. Some years ago I remember going round the Mount Vernon Hospital near Northwood when I was doing research for a debate in your Lordships' House on the Home Safety Bill. I saw appalling photographs of injuries caused to people in the home by falls, burns, and so on. It would be a most salutary lesson if there were available to be shown, if necessary, in schools, particularly in sixth forms, photographs of road accident injuries which could have been avoided if seat belts had been worn. Whether such photographs are available I do not know, but perhaps better than enforcement—there are problems over enforcement—would be methods of that kind.
In America, certainly in California where I believe there is no compulsion to wear seat belts, some cars, including two cars in which I was a passenger during a business visit last June, emit loud, strident noises until the passenger entering the car has fixed his or her seat belt. Whether or not we could introduce that kind of thing into this country, I do not know. There are obvious difficulties. It may well cause panic. However, in California it certainly has some effect.
We have heard that in Australia and New Zealand many lives have been saved by the wearing of seat belts. Not so many people live in those countries, of course. Far more people travel on our roads. I wonder whether the Government have had talks with the road authorities in Australia, New Zealand and other countries where the wearing of seat belts is compulsory.
The liberty of the individual is a much-used term 930 nowadays, and it is something which one treasures when one sees what is happening in other countries. But for people to be given distressing jobs, such as those given to hospital authorities and to those who have to clear up following some of the dreadful road accidents which take place, in which, if seat belts had been worn, the extent of the injuries might have been lessened, contradicts the edict of the liberty of the subject. I believe that this Bill will need further amendment; of that there is no doubt. However, I think that the time has come when a measure of this kind must go on to the statute book.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, while I fully recognise the desirability of the much greater use of seat belts, I will content myself at this stage of the debate, and with the long list of speakers to follow, by explaining quite briefly three reasons why I have some reservations about the Bill.
First, I accept that accidents in which an individual is killed or sustains more serious injury because he is wearing a scat belt are few and far between, but I doubt whether even the most ardent advocate of this measure would deny that such accidents can, and do, occasionally happen, whatever the results of the limited kind of survey referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, which must import some degree of subjective judgment.
It seems to me, putting it mildly, that it is a little unusual to invoke the criminal law, with criminal sanctions, to compel an individual to take a course of action which could possibly result in his receiving graver injuries than he would have sustained if he had not taken that course of action. I think one has to pause for a good deal of thought before invoking the criminal law in such circumstances.
My second point is of quite a different character. It is simply that I am bothered that the regulation-making powers in the Bill are so wide and so vague—regulation-making powers, again, which relate to the creation of a new criminal offence. This is a comment which I would apply to Bills which we have discussed on previous occasions on this subject and is a good deal more than a Committee point.
There are rather too many questions for comfort to which the Bill itself gives no hint of an answer. What, for example, is the thinking about belts for rear seat passengers? How far ahead are we looking? Is the requirement, when it is brought in, to apply only to new vehicles manufactured after some date in the future? How is it hoped to achieve anything like consistency as to the grounds on which medical certificates of exemption are given? Just what is intended by the reference in the parent clause to "different descriptions of persons", a matter on which the regulations would not be subject to Affirmative Resolution? I would also add my voice to those who would ask what is to be the position about taxi drivers. These are some of the points on which the Bill itself leaves us completely in the dark.
My third point relates to the problem of enforcement, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. Even the circular from RoSPA concedes that there is a grain of truth here and then hastily brushes the grain 931 under the carpet. In his circular the secretary of the BMA tells us that the police say that it is not difficult to know whether or not an occupant is wearing a belt of modern design and that enforcement is effective, although it is not clear why he puts this in the present tense when so far there is nothing here for the police to enforce. I notice, too, that a senior police officer who wrote to The Times the other day about this Bill was not even aware that it was not limited to front seat occupants. I do not know how widespread this ignorance is among the police themselves, but following up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, the view attributed by the BMA to the police would carry a shade more conviction if they were just a little more successful in enforcing the traffic laws we already have.
Just to give one example, it is also "not difficult", to use the phrase in the BMA letter, to note after dark whether a vehicle is complying with the lighting laws, but I think I could safely say that if one walked from this building to Waterloo during any evening rush hour it would be easy to pick out at least 10 vehicles which were in breach of those laws. In view of the references to Australia, I cannot help remembering, too, that when I was there with a group, our drivers volunteered to us that there was no reason actually to fasten our belts and that the police could not tell whether they were fastened or not.
We are not talking today about moral obligations or about the possible consequences of an accident in proceedings in the civil courts. In this Bill we are talking about creating a criminal offence and it seems to me that we have to be careful before we decide to get near to using, for propaganda purposes, criminal law which may well be inadequately enforced. And, if that is so, it may serve to bring the law itself into disrepute, as I think the failure to enforce the 30 mile an hour limit, to which the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, referred, is already in danger of doing.
I notice that the Bill imports machinery for checking on the driver but unlike, say, Canadian legislation, as I understand it, it puts no obligation on the driver in respect of his passengers. May I ask what the driver is supposed to do if his passengers refuse to fasten their belts? Has he any responsibility? If so, which is the provision in the Bill which imposes it? What happens if I give a lift to someone who refuses to wear a belt and then I am stopped by the police and my passenger refuses to give his name and address or gives what is obviously a false name: am I, as the driver, supposed to do anything about it? Perhaps more important, what can the police officer do? This is not an offence for which the police officer can make an arrest and it is not far-fetched to imagine a car full of youngsters out for an evening's entertainment, defying a police officer and exposing his lack of power. Are the police happy about this, too?
Suppose that the passenger was a boy of nine, below the age of criminal responsibility, dutifully sitting on the back seat but refusing to fasten his belt, or perhaps unfastening it while the car is zooming up the motorway and forbidden to stop. Just what is the driver, or a police officer, supposed to do under this Bill?
I appreciate that this is not a Government measure and that the Minister has a lot of points to deal with, 932 but I hope he will be able to enlighten us somewhat on these problems of enforcement which, to repeat what I have said several times already, are very important when one is creating a criminal offence. I have not spoken before on this subject and the views I am expressing are entirely personal views, but in conclusion I should like to just say that while I do recognise the force of the arguments for following the experience of other countries, we do have to consider the position under our own criminal law, and I fear that my doubts about the Bill are such that I do not think I can support it as it now stands.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I have been a keen user of seat belts for a long time—I suppose more than 20 years—and for most of that time I have been opposed to the idea of making their wearing compulsory. On the whole, I am inclined to think that now I have changed my mind, although I do not propose to enter into that particular controversy at this moment, beyond saying to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye that I do not personally take great stock of his objection to the principle of freedom because I do not believe that any law has ever been made, could be made, or ever will be made, which does not inhibit somebody's freedom in some way.
Turning to the Bill itself, I feel that this is a dubious way of going about the matter. This is an enabling Bill which gives permission to the Secretary of State to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory if he is so inclined. That is the implication. As the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has just said, he is being permitted to introduce into law a new criminal offence. If Parliament thinks that this new criminal offence should be created, then I think it should make up its own mind and say so. We should not tell the Minister that he may do it; we should tell him that he shall do it. Or, on the other hand, if we do not think that he ought to do it, then we shall throw out the Bill. I feel that it is a matter for our decision and it should not be put off in this rather airy-fairy way on to the shoulders of somebody else.
Much play has been made of the question of the attitude which people have to the wearing of seat belts. I have observed, and I dare say other noble Lords have as well, that in all the propaganda that has been sent out to us—perhaps "propaganda" is not quite the right word; the lobbying material and the speeches that have been made—we have heard a great deal of reference to the wearing of seat belts by other people, but very little to indicate that any of the people who write or speak are actually used to wearing these seat belts themselves. I feel that if they all have worn scat belts this should be reflected slightly more in what they say, or what we all read.
I have had several seat belts in my time. Supposing I have an accident, or if I do not have an accident, and I have my seat belt on, how do I get out; what is the precise procedure that I go through to get out of my seat belt? My Lords, there is no single one of your Lordships who can answer that question, because you do not know what sort of seat belt I have got. I contend that you should. My last five cars have had in them five different types of seat belt, with five 933 different ways of fastening them and five different ways of loosening them to get out.
My noble friend Lady MacLeod made reference to the feeling that many people have of being trapped in their seat belts. This is a perfectly genuine fear, I am quite sure; I have had it myself. It refers chiefly, I imagine, to the feeling that will arise if there is an accident and you are caught by this belt. It may be a totally imaginary fear or a fear of an imaginary situation, but it is still a perfectly real fear. If you do have an accident and you want to get out of your belt, first of all, which belt are you wearing? If it is your own car which you drive every day, you probably know exactly how to undo it. But supposing it is somebody else's car. You do not know. Supposing you are nervous or shaken, or even unconscious, and somebody else has to get you out. How does that person know how to do it? He has to find out. Little though the time may be to do that, it is a delay. It is made particularly difficult because the fastening is almost always on the floor between the seats where you have to fossick about and find it. Anybody trying to find it for you has to fossick about even more, and then discover how to use it.
It submit for the consideration of the Government and everybody else concerned that there ought to be one method of getting out of a seat belt and one only. After all these years, I find it quite extraordinary that nobody has bothered about this. There has been quite enough development of seat belts by this time to arrive at some standard. I imagine that the three-point inertial reel belt is probably as near a standard as we are likely to get. But the point is the fastening. It does not matter how you do it up; everybody has time to find out how to do it up or to be told by the driver. But how does he get out of it? He ought to have, probably on his chest, a thing that everybody knows about, a knob to hit, a button to turn or a loop to pull, and it should be the same in every car registered in this country, whether built here or imported. If that were so, nobody would need to have any fear of being trapped in a seat belt; even if he was half conscious or drunk, he could still get out of his car, or even out of somebody else's car. The fear of being caught would disappear.
Two things would then happen. It would be reasonable then to decide to pass a Bill to make it compulsory to fasten your seat belt. Also, something else would happen. It has been said by several speakers that persuasion is not enough. The noble Lord, Lord Strauss, who had the experience of being a Minister said this. We do not get far enough simply by persuasion; we get to a certain point and then it stops. But supposing the fear of seat belts disappeared, that every single seat belt in every car we get into can be put on almost subconsciously, without thinking about it. How much more persuasion would we then need to persuade people? I suggest very little. I suggest, therefore, that we should go no further with this Bill, but should desire everybody concerned, manufacturers, Government departments, the Road Research Laboratory, to bend their attention to this one thing, to standardise the method of release from seat belts. In the meantime, I would say to the supporters of this Bill, notably my noble friend Lord Nugent—and I say it, of course, in the nicest possible way—belt up 934 now, my Lords, and we will all belt up later on.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I ask whether he thinks that some seat belts may be more suitable for some cars and for different people? Therefore, is not freedom of choice in seat belts and cars something we should think about too?
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, there are all sorts of things we should think about too. My only point is that we should think about this one thing. I inhibit nobody from thinking about anything else.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords, I have listened to the debate so far with the greatest possible interest, and I would agree with the view already expressed that sweetness and light upon this issue is not all on the one side. Nevertheless, I have no doubt for myself on which side the balance falls and that is on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in whose debt we are for his presentation with such meticulous care and tenacity of this Bill.
Some reservations have been expressed recently, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale—I am sorry he is not here—first of all about the form of the Bill. It is not for me to answer this; I have no doubt the Minister will answer in detail in due course. But some points occur to me about it. Of course it is regrettable that a matter of this sort should have to be taken in the criminal courts. But there is no alternative, at least in the part of the country in which I have practised the law these last thirty or forty years. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, expressed concern that this should be a matter for the criminal courts, and I can understand his concern. But he would be surprised indeed if he knew the wide range of matters, affecting particularly the humbler citizens, which are taken in the criminal courts. I do not want to go into this in any detail, but certainly the citizens of Glasgow, if they leave the lids off their dustbins so that rubbish blows away, may find themselves in the criminal courts, and there is no alternative so far as I am aware.
Understandable concern has been expressed, also, on the question of enforcement. I agree, if I may say so, with Lord Strauss's answer on this point. I would only add to that by saying that of course enforcement will be a problem; it always is with a matter of this kind. I can only say that I see no reason, on the basis of my experience in the field, to think that it will be an insuperable problem or even a particularly difficult one.
Beyond that, I would say only this: that I share the concern which was expressed so forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, over restrictions on our freedom; our individual choice is restricted in areas in which no one is affected by our decision except ourselves. I understand the concern that has been expressed widely, not only in this House, about these kinds of restriction of freedom. Indeed, it is not only the more robust noble Lords on this side of the House or the equivalent side in the other place who are concerned about that, who are concerned that the object of Government should be to extend such free- 935 doms rather than to curtail them. Now that I come to think of it, I rather think that the goal of that old reprobate—what was his name? Karl Marx—was a paradise in which the power of the state would wither away and we should all live in a kind of happy anarchy. It is a daunting thought that the same goal should be shared by the old German political philosopher and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. But it is surely a travesty to invoke this legitimate and quite reasonable concern about freedom as a justification for opposing a measure of this kind. It suggests a lack of appreciation of the problem which is presented to our society by this monstrous growth—"the avalanche", as someone called it—of motor traffic on the road. It seems to me that if this type of argument is accepted it induces a kind of social or political myopia which inhibits the people who accept this kind of argument from seeing the reality of the problem.
After all, what does the amendment seek to do? It asks your Lordships to reject the Bill because it invokes the principle of compulsion. But it is only by the use of compulsion that conditions on the roads have been kept at least within the limits of tolerance these last 20, 30 years or more. For example, I cannot drive until I am 17; I cannot drive on the motorway until I have passed a test of competence to drive; I cannot and must not drive anywhere until I have passed a competence test to drive unless I carry little "L" plates fore and aft and have a competent driver sitting beside me; I must drive carefully; I must not drive dangerously; and the law says that I must drive with due consideration for other people. Sometimes it is not just an Act of Parliament which says that.
The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, will know, of course, that the compulsion is often enshrined in a statutory regulation. And it is not only the laws about driving—to which reference has already been made during the course of the debate—but the construction and use regulations (a great code of them) which compel not only the drivers of vehicles to see that they are in a safe condition, but the owners to ensure that they are safe and not to allow anyone else to drive them until they are safe.
Of course, if we break those statutory rules or sections of the Act we may be disqualified from driving a motor vehicle for a period. If we drive the vehicle while we are under the disqualification of the court we shall probably go to prison. Where is the sense, against that background, of suggesting in the name of freedom that we should not pass this Bill which will surely reduce significantly the carnage on the roads?
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, I should like to ask one question and it is my only interruption today. The noble Lord accepts the principle of compulsion. Does he accept the principle of compulsion operated by the State if in so doing the State is putting a certain number of citizens at grave risk?
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords, I do not see it quite like that. I accept a compulsion imposed upon me by the Queen and Parliament.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, may I assure your Lordships 936 that at this stage in the debate a great deal of what I have prepared has already been dealt with. But before I say what I have left I beg of your Lordships to think carefully before going into the Division Lobby. If one is in favour of the Bill one must vote "Not-Content" with the amendment. I dare to emphasise that because I have spent some time examining the Division lists of previous debates and am so surprised that so many of my friends, whom I regarded as reasonable and compassionate people, have, on occasions, opposed the principle of the Bill, that it may well be that in voting on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Balfour several Peers may easily have gone into the wrong Lobby. It is easily done and your Lordships must, of course, remember that one of the Divisions was carried by 55 votes to 53. One Peer going into the wrong Lobby would have altered the result.
In supporting the Bill I—like the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery—have changed my mind over the years. I changed it some time ago as the effects of the scourge of road accidents unfolded. I think that the wording of the amendment is a little misleading—and I raised that matter at the end of my noble friend's speech—in referring to the Division on 25th June 1974, thereby overlooking that on 11th of the same month this House, during the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill at that time voted by 66 to 55 that the relevant clause, Clause 7, embodying the purposes of my noble friend's Bill should stand part of the Bill. So, although it is true to say that three times we have rejected it, on another occasion this House has carried the principle. My noble friend's Bill only seeks to re-establish the principle originally contained in the ill-fated Bill of 1974.
This House has an honourable record as regards road safety. I have in mind one occasion when we urged the co-ordination of research into road accidents. On that occasion the mover was embarrassed by having his Motion for Papers accepted with amusing results. Nevertheless, it focused attention on the problem of road accidents and research into their causes. For one thing one can say that in 1966—the debate which I have talked of was in 1961—your Lordships will recall that by statutory instrument under another Bill it was made compulsory for all new vehicles, every vehicle newly registered, to have anchorages for seat belts, which is what we are worrying about today. The regulation applies to every motorcar registered on or after April 1967 and is to ensure that it isprovided with anchorage points designed to hold securely in positionand so on. In other words, that was the beginning of what we are talking about today. It seems to me that it is a logical sequence of what this House decided 16 years ago or more that we should do what my noble friend Lord Nugent suggests.
The final step in my thinking came, as another noble Lord has said, with the success of the Australian experience. There is no question about it. I was there before it began, but one of my children and her family are able to prove that it is absolutely successful and that it can be enforced. Enforcement is difficult as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, has said. Of course, it is difficult, but enforcement will improve 937 as the years go by and as Lord Halsbury's grandchildren grow up, and mine too. Indeed, they find it great fun to say, "Look out, Grandpa—you haven't got your seat belt buckled!"
While on the subject of enforcement, I also agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery said, and that again will develop as soon as the Bill is operated. It is manifest that motor manufacturers must get together and designers of seat belts must get together to ensure that seat belts are properly made and so that everyone knows where they should be. I travel a great deal by hired car and I always wear a seat belt. Sometimes I have to press a button and sometimes I have to pull something. There ought to be a standard accepted form which is easy to fasten and easy to get out of.
I have not heard any noble Lord mention Jimmy Saville and his "clunk click". I am sure that that must have done a great deal of good, but it left the matter on a voluntary basis and it has not made much difference, although he must have saved many hundreds of lives and prevented many injuries.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, spoke of the monstrous growth of traffic on our roads. It is as well to remember that as a country we are unique in having more vehicles per mile of metalled road than any other country. Of course, people can claim that they would have been killed if they had been wearing a seat belt. This happened to my sister-in-law who was thrown out of a car in a head-on collision and ended spread-eagled in the road, very badly injured. But she had two strokes of luck: she was not killed in the accident and nor was she run over by oncoming traffic. So this problem of being thrown out of a vehicle because one is not wearing a seat belt is not always the end of the matter.
I conclusion, I should like to repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech, remembering that in one of these Divisions one vote would have made a difference. I heard someone doubting what I said about going into the wrong Lobby. I have seen in this House a noble Lord move a Motion and then himself go into the wrong Lobby. Therefore, if noble Lords support my noble friend's Bill, as I do, I beg of them to do as I shall do and vote Not-Content on the amendment.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lord Strathcarron
My Lords, being number 22 on a long list of speakers makes it very difficult for one to think of points which have not already been made. I have long been a believer in wearing seat belts; in fact, 25 years ago I had seat belts fitted to my car when they were virtually unheard of. The effect on the passenger was really startling because if you said: "Would you kindly fasten your seat belt?" he would say, "What on earth are you going to do?" and nearly got out of the car. Obviously, people are more kindly disposed towards them now.
I should like to declare an interest in that I am a council member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, an institute with 75,000 members. The institute believes in competent and responsible driving, with seat belts as a second line of defence, the wearing of which should be made compulsory in the interests of road safety. Those of your Lordships who object 938 to the compulsory wearing of seat belts, no doubt do not object to being asked to fasten your seat belts in an aircraft on take-off or landing. Strangely enough, this is not only for your own protection, but in case you get shot forward and injure people sitting in front of you. As a motor cyclist I do not object to being forced to wear a crash helmet for my own protection.
The strongest argument that I have heard against the compulsory wearing of seat belts is that of protecting the individual's freedom of choice. But it seems strange to want to have the right to smash yourself up to prove a point. Should not those who believe in this freedom stop to think of the distress their death or injuries would cause to their relatives, not to mention the extra burden on the health services?
There is also the question of fire. Many people are frightened that they would be trapped and not be able to get out of the car. Fewer than 1 per cent. of accidents are concerned with fire or water. Arguments about being burnt to death if you wear a seat belt are not valid because if you do not wear a belt you will probably be knocked unconscious in the accident and would not be able to get out anyway. If you do wear it, however, you can undo it and step out of the burning car, very quickly, if necessary. Some people think that it is better to be thrown out of a car. That definitely is not so; statistically, it is quite untrue. Remember that grand prix drivers are tightly strapped in with a full harness to prevent their being thrown out.
Vast sums of money have been spent in order to encourage people to wear belts voluntarily. These have failed, because only about one-third of drivers wear safety belts, even after all the publicity. The question of enforcement is a difficult one, but most people are law-abiding, and it is estimated that 85 per cent. of people would wear a belt simply because it was the law to do so. I do not doubt that figure for one instant.
I appreciate that there may be medical reasons for not wearing a seat belt, but these cases could be covered by the issue of medical certificates. On-the-spot fines could be imposed on those who do not fasten their seat belts; warnings and advice could be given by the police; and severer penalties given to those prosecuted for traffic offences if they are not wearing belts.
Insurance companies could insist on belts being worn and could reduce benefits in the event of a claim being made. In general, medical opinion is very much on the side of compulsion, for it is the doctors and nurses who have to deal with the unnecessary injuries caused because people have not worn seat belts. I do not want my freedom of choice on any matter removed, but I believe that there is an overwhelming case for the compulsory wearing of seat belts, and for that reason I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in the Division Lobby at the end of this Second Reading debate.
§ 7.26 p.m.
My Lords, I do not like this Bill. I am all for seat belts, but I do not like the wearing of them to be made compulsory, for several reasons. First, and most important, I believe that it interferes with the freedom of an individual to assess the risk to himself and to make his own decisions. We are not talking about preventing people injuring others, as by drunken 939 driving; that is necessary. But once we start interfering with the risks that someone may take of injury to himself, it sets a very dangerous precedent. We might just as well forbid hill walking, mountaineering and rock climbing, racing of any kind, boxingand almost any form of sport; and even the use of a number of appliances, down to the humble pair of steps in the home, which we are often told is the most dangerous place of all. One could even be forbidden to cross the street, except at a pedestrian crossing.
I think that we have too much legislation in this country. The great comedian, George Grossmith, was once reading the rules of a club and when he had finished he said in disgust:Nothing but rules and regulations, just like a boarding house—you mayn't strike matches on the blancmange".I am afraid that this country is becoming rather like George Grossmith's boarding house.
I am in complete agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, that if we are to have the wearing of seat belts made compulsory, then we must have the design of the release mechanism made identical for all vehicles in which the wearing of belts is compulsory and which are registered in this country. Many people have to drive a variety of cars—garage mechanics spring to mind, and there are plenty of others. Many of your Lordships probably drive more than one car. I do myself; all have belts which release in a different manner. I once spent five minutes fumbling about in the dark trying to release myself from the seat belt of my daughter's car. Had I been stunned or shocked after an accident, I doubt whether I could have done so. This applies particularly to passengers to whom one might be giving a lift. Furthermore, seat belts must be long enough to go round the largest people. In my last car some passengers could not wear the belt at all, and they were not very fat either. Some belts are uncomfortable or impede necessary movement on the part of the driver, which in itself is dangerous. This applies particularly to belts which have an inertia reel. Some passengers are aged, disabled, blind or even mentally deficient, and should the driver be knocked out, they could never release themselves.
What about back-seat passengers? That has been left to regulation by statutory instrument, possibly negative statutory instrument. I do not like that either, because I do not trust those who make such regulations to realise that people, parents of children in particular, frequently have to carry more than two people in the back seat of the car. Real life is not like glossy advertisements. Sometimes there are several children, and granny too!
I wonder how many noble Lords and noble Baronesses have to do their own household shopping, and drive from one place to another in their local shopping centre in order to pick up heavy goods which no one will deliver any more? Like thousands of other women in this country, I do; and to have to fasten my seat belt every time I got in and release it every time I got out would be the last straw.
Again, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, about the extra burden this Bill will probably put on the police, who will presumably be responsible for enforcing these rules and regulations. 940 Either this will be an extra burden on them, which will reduce the time available to them to carry out their primary duty of maintaining law and order, or else they will have to take on extra manpower at extra cost. No mention of this aspect is made in the Bill. As I think the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, said, how are they going to do it? With spot checks? Are they going to lurk on motorways and main roads, hoping to see whether people in cars passing at 60 to 70 m.p.h. are wearing belts or not? How are they going to do it?
Then, what about the doctors who will have to add to an already heavy load of paperwork, the additional work of signing certificates for people for whom it would be dangerous to wear seat belts? That will be an extra burden on the National Health Service.
On a more constructive note, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, that if all insurance companies would agree to refuse to pay compensation for personal injury where seat belts had not been worn without a good reason, such as in some of the cases I have mentioned, and if the judges would uphold their decisions, there would be no need for this Bill. I hope that this Bill will be buried in a non-disused burial ground, and will never again be disinterred.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Viscount Cross
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for giving your Lordships the opportunity this afternoon to discuss this important question of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for his reasoned amendment. May I say straight away that I shall support the noble Lord Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in his amendment. May I also say that I should like to support the last speaker, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, also the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, in what they said about the standardisation of seat belts.
I should like to speak from the road safety point of view, and from the point of view of if possible preventing the accident taking place in the first place. I must not exaggerate or overstate my case, and of course a car is not an aeroplane and it is not a ship. However, in an aeroplane it is of course the pilot or the captain who decides when the seat belt light should be switched on in bumpy weather conditions in order to prevent the passengers from bumping their heads on the luggage rack or the roof of the aircraft. In exactly the same way, I should like the driver of the car to be responsible for the welfare and safety and, above all, the safe arrival of the passenger, or passengers, at their destination.
Modern brakes on cars are powerful and the car on a dry road can be stopped in quite a short distance. On a long run the passenger may wish to sleep. The passenger may be helping the driver by reading a map, and in those circumstances, I should like the driver to say to the passenger, "If you put on your seat belt, I can use the brakes to their proper extent should a dog run across the road, and you, if you are wearing your belt, will not bump your nose on the windscreen". I think it likely that in those circumstances the passenger would indeed put on his seat belt. But I must say at the same time that I would not be in favour of compulsion.
941 I should like to say a brief word about the driver. The only question I ask here is, is the driver in greater control or is he in lesser control of the car if he is, or is not, wearing a seat belt? A lot of drivers are perfectly happy and comfortable wearing a seat belt. The belt is there, and of course they should wear a belt if they wish to do so. There are, on the other hand, a lot of other drivers who are less happy when they are wearing a belt, less comfortable when they are wearing a belt, and they will probably drive less well when they are wearing a belt, and therefore, perhaps such drivers should not wear a belt.
May I quote from page 2, lines 1 and 2, where the Bill makes an exception and says:the drivers of vehicles while performing a manoeuvre which includes reversing;shall not have to wear their belts. That is probably because the driver requires some freedom of movement. He must be able to turn round in his seat to look back-wards and to drive backwards. In exactly the same way, the driver requires freedom of movement perhaps to lean forward at halt signs, at crossroads, and at T junctions in order more easily to see what is coming to the left and to the right. Also, if he is not wearing the belt, he is able to look more easily over the brow of a hill for any obstruction there may be such as a parked vehicle, traffic turning right, oncoming cars two abreast, or possibly in parts of Scotland and the Lake country and Yorkshire something like flocks of sheep. For those reasons that driver would be better not wearing a belt.
On those driving grounds alone, I shall support Lord Balfour of Inchrye's amendment. I should like to quote from Hansard, and I must apologise that I have not given the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, notice that I was going to quote what she said in the debate in your Lordships' House on 26th April 1977. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman said on that occasion at column 430:But once something like this Bill became law, we should be given added incentive to find"—and I have underlined the word "find"—something that was both reasonable to wear and also comfortable and easy to operate in all conditions".May I add to that, "and also something that the police can get undone in the event of an accident, or indeed that any other would-be rescuers can easily get undone in the unhappy event of an accident." On those grounds as well, I shall support Lord Balfour of Inchrye's amendment.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, this subject has been discussed several times in your Lordships' House. I suggest it has been one of the few issues on which the House has not distinguished itself because emotionalism and personalisations have tended to cloud the issue. After all that has been said, I suggest there are really only two major factors which have any real importance in deciding the point of view which each of us adopts. The first is the fact, and we must face it, that the compulsory wearing of seat belts would be a major inroad into personal free choice. It is perhaps only to be compared with the fluoridation of water. We must not let ourselves get into a position where in major 942 issues the state decides what is good for us regardless of personal freedom; that is the Communist/Fascist approach and is anathema to all of us.
If noble Lords agree with the argument so far, then I suggest it follows in logic that if we support the compulsory wearing of seat belts, the state must show that in our interests there is good and sufficient reason for doing so. I do not think that can be found on the 7,000 or so deaths on the roads. Britain is over-populated and people can commit suicide as they wish; the only argument on that score is the effect on their families, which is rather indirect and therefore a rather weak argument. Where the intervention of the state may be justified is in relation to the 10 or 12 times greater number of people who are seriously and permanently injured on the roads. Death is still an emotive aspect, but the permanently injured are to me the important consideration, and we should now consider much more the quality of life, and, whatever one may think about this view, the cost to the state of the seriously and permanently injured must be hundreds of millions of pounds a year, and a substantial portion of that could be saved by a greater wearing of seat belts.
In relation to enforcement, in previous debates noble Lords said that unenforceable laws were bad laws. I suggest that is an over-simplification. They really meant to say that laws whose purpose was not enforced by a good majority should not be enacted. After all, the majority of our laws are only partially enforceable. Consider, for instance, the large number of burglaries where the thief is brought to trial and the number of times the speed limits are exceeded. In both cases the sanction of the law has an important deterrent effect, even if the laws are not wholly enforceable.
The point I wish to make about enforceability is quite different. For years we have persecuted motorists in an effort to try to reduce the number of deaths on the road. It is cheaper for Governments to do that than, for example, eliminate black spots. The mentality of the red flag in front of every vehicle is not yet dead. Compare the penalties applied to the motorist for no more than an error of judgment or moment of inattention with those where the offender commits a deliberate act of violence and robbery. Noble Lords will appreciate what I mean. For those reasons I think that enforcement by the police of the compulsory wearing of seat belts would not only take too much of their time but would further affect their good relationship with the public, and the same would indirectly apply to the relationship with the magistrates' courts.
My main purpose in speaking tonight is to put forward in part a new idea. If at some time we decide on compulsion, there could be a useful compromise. Let anyone who wanted, opt out, regardless of their reasons, with the proviso that each year they obtain an exemption certificate witnessed by a commissioner of oaths including a passport photograph. The stamp fee for that document might be between £5 and £10, depending on what the actuaries thought was the right figure overall based on the number of accidents which would be avoided by wearing seat belts and the actual cost involved. In my simplistic calculation I suggest it would be between the figures I have quoted. It might also be a condition that the exemption document must be carried on the person of the driver, to whom it would be a personal document. Further, it would not be 943 unreasonable to say that any person not complying with those requirements would be breathalysed. I think something on those lines would be almost as effective as compulsory legislation without an ability to opt out. I think it would be ethically justifiable and I hope would be seen to be so. The number of people wearing seat belts would, I believe, be near the maximum under the suggesstion I have made. I repeat, without such an exemption I do not think we would be justified in pushing forward with compulsion.
Nevertheless, for rather illogical reasons which I do not propose to elaborate tonight, marginally—very marginally—I shall support the Bill
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I wear seat belts whenever I think it is necessary and quite a lot of the time when I think it is not necessary. I would like your Lordships to appreciate that to start with. However, I believe my noble friend's Bill does not deserve the support of the House because apart from the freedom side of it, which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye epitomises in his amendment, it is a Bill which if made law could not be fairly enforced, and it is the fairness which is important, and I have said this to your Lordships before in relation to Bills of the same sort.
It seems to me that it is more likely for the police to find themselves arbitrarily stopping people for this than for any other offence of a similar sort—for instance, speeding. At least they can measure speeding, but they will waste a lot of time on this. I thought the idea of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, was most ingenious—of everybody having a certificate, as it were, to exempt themselves from the law—but I did not think that that matched up with his earlier point when he said he thought the police might find themselves having their relationship with the public impaired by the introduction of the Bill. In fact, I was rather surprised that at the end of his speech the noble Viscount came down on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. I rather felt that he thought the other way—
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, if the noble Lord will excuse me for intervening, I would say that I admitted that I was being illogical. I shall not weary the House at this time of night by explaining why I was illogical, except to say that the accent on the holocaust on the roads, which was going on to a major degree a few years ago, made me feel so fed up that I became willing to go along with any reasonable suggestion in order to shut up that propaganda.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, the point at issue is of course whether the Bill, or anything like it, will seriously reduce the number of road casualties. I should very much doubt it. Various noble Lords, in particular I think the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, implied that directly the Bill became law, the number of road accidents would drop dramatically. I do not think that that is the case. I do not think many people would pay any attention to such a law until they started getting caught; and as for the point that most of them would not get caught, I do not think that the 944 law would have much effect.
I believe there is much to be said for propaganda. Perhaps there is much to be said for legislation requiring that cars be fitted with indicator lights which show whether one is wearing a seat belt. My car is fitted with such indicators, which serve as a permanent nagging reminder, and which help encourage one to wear a seat belt. I consider that a suggestion such as that might be incorporated in legislation, since it could be enforced.
There has not been enough propaganda. The "clunk click" campaign was a very good one and should be continuous so that the message gets into people's minds. The special study that was referred to by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, and, I understand, by my noble friend Lord Nugent (I was sad to have missed that) ran its propaganda phases for only about 10 days at a time. Anyone who has tried to influence people and change their attitude will know that to expect to do so in a period of 10 days is ludicrous. It takes years.
I have in my time been deeply involved in this kind of thing. A good example here from the doctor's point of view is that of the change of attitude regarding smoking. It has not been nearly as successful as many doctors would wish, but it has been dramatically successful in the kind of circles in which I move. Even as recently as five or six years ago at a meeting of an average group of businessmen one would find two-thirds smoking and one-third not smoking. Now the situation is reversed; in fact probably three-quarters do not smoke, and only a quarter do. It has taken five years to achieve that. It is absolutely ludicrous to believe that one can rely on an exercise that lasts for only a fortnight, as the doctors in Winchester did. Such a point proves nothing to us.
The point made about having to fasten seat belts in aeroplanes also proves nothing. It is enforced not by the law but by the airline company—and jolly good show! I am all for that. Wearing a hard hat when riding, hunting or steeplechasing is one of the rules of those who govern those sports. It is not the law. One is not a criminal if one disobeys that rule; one simply is not permitted to take part.
So let us forget matters of that nature that have been brushed across your Lordships' vision. The real question is whether to do what is proposed will make a substantial difference, whether it will be fair and, even if it is fair, whether it will be enforceable. I suggest to your Lordships that the answer to all those questions is, No, and that therefore we should all go into the Lobby to back my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord Strathspey
My Lords, when the question of the compulsory use of seat belts was debated in your Lordships' Housein April 1977, I said a few words against the Bill on the grounds that scat belts can kill as well as save. Since then I have been giving the subject some rethinking and I hope that what I am going to say will sway some of your Lordships who voted against the previous Bill to vote for this one.
First, I have seen some really terrible pictures of what can happen during a crash to front seat passengers and drivers who have not been belted in, even if they 945 were travelling at relatively low speeds. There can be frightful injuries to heads and faces, as your Lord-ships have already heard.
Then I thought of our overloaded medical services and how much effort and room, as well as huge sums of money, would be saved if the number of motor casualitics could be reduced. Some of your Lordships will have received a circular letter from the British Medical Association, and one from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Both those letters seem to me strongly to advocate the wearing of seat belts, and they give compelling figures which estimate that there would be a reduction of 86 per cent. in life-threatening injuries if seat belts were worn. The Road Transport Research Laboratory also seems to support the views of the BMA and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
In 1964, I ran at slow speed, into a large, immovable tree which was growing out six feet from the kerb into a road in Germany. It was a dark and wet night, and I had forgotten about the tree. I dread to think what might have happened to a front seat passenger who was not belted in, had I had one with me. As is customary, I was not wearing my seat belt and I gave my head rather a bang, but it did not seem to hurt very much. I suppose that it is a bit tough. But I broke my quadricep tendon on the ignition switch, which was sited on the right-hand side of the steering column. That accident resulted in time-consuming work for ambulances, nurses, doctors, a surgeon, remedial therapeutists, as well as a plasterer. Had I been wearing my seat belt, perhaps all that pain, effort and cost would have been saved; I do not know.
This Bill is really about saving medical services and efforts, and promoting safety. Much design work has been done in trying to make cars safe. I consider that siting the ignition switch on the right-hand side of the steering column, only about two or three inches in front of the driver's knee, is frightfully dangerous. If it were sited elsewhere, perhaps on the left-hand side, the kind of accident to which I refer would not happen. Perhaps this point could be examined to see whether any improvement could be made which would prevent the danger that I have mentioned.
To get back to seat belts, I am aware that I ought to wear a seat belt but I know that, in common with some of your Lordships, I have driven almost every day of my life since 1929, and I suppose that during that period I may have worn a seat belt 12 times, usually at the request of the person who is driving me. I just think it is a nuisance having to put on a seat belt, and there must be many thousands of other people who feel as I do. My wife is one; and I was out with a veteran motorist the other day, and he did not want to wear the seat belt in my car. However, there it is. For this reason alone I should like to see the wearing of seat belts made compulsory, so that people like myself would then be legally hound to wear them. I am sure that in that case most people would wear their seat belts, and there would then be a tremendous saving to the medical services in costs, time and effort, and in the long queues of people who are ill and who want to go to hospital but who cannot go because of casualties in car accidents.
My Lords, I have observed that the modern family saloon today, and even the heavy lorry, have the 946 speeds and the braking capacities of sports cars of a few years back; and, quite apart from that, I think there has been a tremendous speed-up of traffic. A few years ago the average speed on the road seemed to be about 40 or 45 miles an hour. I will not say how high it is now, but some of it is well above the speed limit. I think that with these extra speeds and more crowded roads, some of which is due to an increase in commuter traffic (which has increased, I have noticed, every time there has been a rail strike in the last few years; it is a funny thing, but, human nature being what it is, you can change your habit of buying some newspaper or travelling by some particular method, you find your new method is easier, more comfortable, more convenient or something like that, and you do not go back to your old method) the risk of accidents and really serious damage to large numbers of people is much greater than it used to be, and I think that the wearing of seat belts would help tremendously.
I think the chance of surviving an accident today without wearing a seat belt is pretty remote, because I know what it is like. I hit this tree at, I do not know what speed it was (it may have been 25 miles an hour) but if it had happened at 35 or 40 miles an hour, which is a fairly slow speed, I should not be here today. So, for the reasons I have outlined, I should like to see the wearing of seat belts made compulsorily, and I hope that your Lordships will see fit to reject the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, if there were time, which of course there is not, I think I could challenge successfully every single one of the points made by what I suppose one must call the "compulsioneers". To take just two points: the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London tried to equate the compulsory wearing of seat belts with the requirement to stop at red lights, to drive on the left and to observe the 30 miles an hour limit. Of course, that is a totally wrong analogy. These other requirements are meant to protect innocent third parties from being harmed by you. Compulsory seat belts are meant to protect an individual from the consequences of his own decisions—a piece of condescending paternalism which is totally unacceptable to adults in a free society.
Other noble Lords have cited the example of other countries where seat belt wearing has been made compulsory, and have maintained that these countries value freedom just as much as we do. With the possible exception of Australia, I do not accept this. Most of the continental countries have a greater tradition of authoritarianism than ourselves. Furthermore, in practice the law is not enforced in those countries in the way that many noble Lords suppose it to be. I spent a week in a region of France over Whitsun, I covered a very large mileage, and I can testify that the seat belt wearing rate was not more than 20 per cent.—far below the wearing rate in this country, where seat belt wearing is voluntary. The police simply do not want to know; they have better things to do, and they look the other way—except on Sundays. There seems to be a convention that the police look the other way from Monday to Saturday, and on Sunday there is a half-hearted attempt to enforce the law, but that is as 947 far as it goes.
I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and his friends mean well, but I fear that there has been a certain failure of imagination on their part. They argue that only a minor freedom would be lost if this law were to be passed. I have to accept that to them it is a minor freedom; but I ask them in turn to accept that for myself, for many other noble Lords in this House and for millions of people outside the House, the freedom to make decisions about strictly personal behaviour, including the freedom to take risks, is a vital freedom. I am not anybody else's property; my life is my own affair. It may be the affair of my family and friends as well, but it is certainly not the affair of strangers; and, really, as adults we do resent being singled out selectively for punishment by "nanny/big brother"—and I will explain the phrase "selectively singled out" in a moment.
I do not disagree that there is a slightly greater risk in driving without a belt than in driving while belted up, but neither risk is statistically very great in comparison with the other risks that the average active person faces throughout his life. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, equated driving without a seat belt to Russian roulette, thereby suggesting that if one drove out of one's house without wearing a seat belt one had a one in six chance of being killed during the journey. It that were indeed the case, I should certainly always wear a belt while driving, despite my strong aversion to doing so; but, of course, the average motorist can drive many hundreds of thousands of miles without, statistically, being liable to have an accident, and I suggest that the average sober motorist may in fact drive millions of miles without having one.
Another error of the pro-compulsion lobby, I regret to say, is a certain degree of double standards—unwitting double standards, I have no doubt. It is claimed that 600 lives a year would be saved if the wearing of seat belts was made compulsory, and yet the Department of Health and Social Security, in a parliamentary Written Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, on March 15th 1979, stated that 50,000 lives a year were lost as a result of cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking is therefore 83 times as dangerous as driving without a seat belt. Then there is alcohol in its various forms. The number of deaths caused by alcohol, indirectly, must also exceed by a very large margin the number of deaths as a result of not wearing a seat belt. I really do submit that nobody who smokes; nobody who drinks more than one glass of wine or half a pint of beer a day, or its equivalent; nobody who eats more than a trace of butter, cream or other cholesterol-forming foods; nobody who rides a motor-cycle or a moped; nobody who indulges in any outdoor sport more dangerous than croquet or golf, has any moral right to try to force the rest of us to wear seat belts by means of the criminal law.
One of the great misconceptions of those who favour compulsion is that people who do not belt up fail to do so only because of forgetfulness, carelessness or laziness. I think the noble Lord, Lord Strathspey, made that sort of point, and I accept that there are some people of whom this may well be so: I do not dispute that at all. However, in contrast a great 948 many people find belts desperately uncomfortable and distracting, whether worn as a driver or as a passenger. Others, including myself, actually prefer to wear belts while travelling as a front seat passenger—it is fair on the driver, for one thing; he can take avoiding action should a child or dog run into the road—but loathe wearing them while driving.
I find that inertia reel belts—and, nowadays, most belts are of the inertia reel type—distort and unbalance my normal driving position. Let us not forget that every motorist drives in a slightly different manner. This is a factor which those who want to force us all into the same mould tend to overlook. Equally, seat belts can and do make many drivers feel over-secure, protected from the possibility of harm should an accident occur. The almost-certain consequence of this is that drivers in this category will be tempted to take risks which otherwise they would not take when in a hurry, such as overtaking on a hill or on an undulating road. The chief sufferers would not be themselves and probably not other motorists either, but motor-cyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians. Let us not forget that it is those categories that form the majority of people killed on the roads: it is a great misconception to think that most of the people killed are motorists. This is not so.
It is ironical that one of the supporters of the Bill is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. As other noble Lords have said, compulsory seat belts would not prevent a single accident and, in my contention, would actually lead to a few which might not otherwise have occurred. Retention of freedom of choice, of individual judgment, therefore is not only important for its own sake, although that should never be underestimated; it is important because to force people to wear seat belts when they know from experience that this has a perceptibly adverse effect on their driving skills, reducing their driving ability by 5 or 10 per cent., is likely to lead to the deaths of innocent third parties. It is therefore positively immoral; and I hope that noble Lords will support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye in the Division Lobby.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye and in so doing I should at the outset declare my interest, negative though it may be, in that I am a recently-elected vice-president of RoSPA. I may add that the council were quite well aware of my objection to this measure before they elected me. I should also apologise to my noble friend Lord Cross to whose speech I did not listen; but I have listened to the others. The one which worried me most was that made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I found that his closing remarks were totally objectionable, totally untrue and totally emotional. He said in relation to supporting my noble friend Lord Nugent's Bill that we must support this Bill to stop the appalling carnage on our roads. I have listened to that for so many years that I am sick and tired of it. Indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, also used the same expression. I do not know what those two noble Lords mean by "carnage".
Let us look at some basic facts. I take as my base 949 line the Department of Transport's official statistics for 1978, the last published. There were 6,831 persons killed. If you remove from that number those who will not be affected by seat belts, pedestrians, cyclists, two-wheeled vehicle riders, car and taxi passengers and PSV passengers—that is, 4,845—you leave at risk 1,986 persons and a consequent reducing number of serious accidents. That record, since 1960, again taking the same set of figures, is reducing year by year and can be measured against a steadily increasing number of motor vehicles on the roads and the number of passenger miles travelled. If one were to draw this graphically it would show a very definite reduction in the number of accidents for the usage. I do not call that carnage. The right reverend Prelate says that he does. I call carnage some of the accidents in the home where people stick their finger in electric light sockets. We cannot make a law against that. It would not be enforceable, unless one applied to the local authority, the protection authority, for permits to change switches on the kettle or something like that.
The lobbying by the BMA and RoSPA has been colossal and particular reference has been made to the Wessex Regional Health Authority report. They, again, use these emotive terms. They say that there is no effective alternative to legislation if we are to reduce significantly the unacceptable toll of death. But there are alternatives. I have said that the accident rate is dropping. That is an incontrovertible fact. In that survey to which other noble Lords have referred the sample was, in fact, 670 persons, of whom 56 per cent, only responded. That is not a terribly good sample. They say that three main reasons were identified by 50 per cent. of the people who stated why they did not wear seat belts. These were: the restriction of movement, the fact that seat belts were uncomfortable, laziness or forgetfulness. My noble friends Lord Howe and Lord Cork and Orrery and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to these things. There are answers to all three, but none of the necessary steps has been put into practice by the motor vehicle manufacturers or the seat belt manufacturers. Why not?—because it suits them very well not to. It costs more money per unit of production to introduce these factors. Volvo, I believe, are the only people who do so.
This could be done, it could be brought into use through the vehicle use regulations; but it is not going to be done. People rely on this kind of Bill. A further 14 per cent. said they were either frightened of being trapped or burned to death in a crash through wearing a seat belt. These are real fears expressed in a survey which at least one noble Lord who belongs to the medical profession quoted. I quote it, too. Deaths, they say, could be cut by 60 per cent. and serious injuries by 40 per cent. Such a reduction in the number of the at-risk people—the 1,986 in the 1978 figures—amounts to what?—some 500 people. We are asking some 20 million licence-holders and their passengers to come under the aegis of criminal law for what?—800, 400, I do not know the figures. I do not dispute the various figures which have been bandied around from 1,000 down to 400. Foolish people! I do not think that that is the kind of balance we should be looking at.
950 In that same survey by the Wessex authority, people were told that, were seat belts worn, accident numbers would be reduced and there would be a saving on National Health Service funding. Only 3 per cent. said that that would be a cogent argument for their wearing seat belts.
I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, said. He said that if we arrived at an 85 per cent. level of seat-belt wearing, 150,000 bed-nights in the hospitals would be saved and could be used to other purposes. I just do not understand where he drafted, or even grafted, that figure in. I am told by a leading surgeon in Manchester that the accident rate will not fall, the level of injury and death might; but he would still be left digging seat belts out of people or people out of seat belts. The accidents will go on. The accidents will go on at some kind of level. The pure wearing of a seat belt is not going necessarily to reduce accidents. That it will reduce the level of injury, I accept.
We have had a tremendous amount of literature sent to us. It would be ungracious of me if I did not acknowledge early that the RoSPA literature Seat Belt Sense is probably as factually correct as most of the material that we have had. In my view, it relies far too heavily on unconfirmed conclusions emanating from other countries. Letters I have from colleagues in other countries do not support the same contention as set out. Frankly, I am not qualified to comment upon the BMA's papers. I suspect that it is a narrow lobby who have at heart the very best interests of the people they serve. I think that they are misguided. The RAC observations are the best balanced, particularly in the terms which bear upon the implictaions in law—that is, in the law-making process and the law-interpreting process.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, gave an example about dogs. I would ask the noble Baroness: How can she conceivably drive a motor car with a dog loose in it? The dog should be in a cage at the back of the car. How can she say that it is a very sensible dog who jumps in the back? Dogs and kiddies need guidance. It is absolutely ridiculous that one should put a belt around a driver and a front seat passenger and allow a dog to jump around the car. For that reason I have to confess that much of what she said fell on somewhat deaf ears for me.
Noble Lords have spoken about the other limitations on motor car users. They mentioned in particular licensing, MOT testing and insurance. The minimum insurance permitted is for third party under the Road Traffic Act. It is designed specifically for the benefit of third parties who are injured by virtue of the actions of the licence holder. In fact he has opted out of any insurance benefit for damage to his own car and property. The MOT was basically designed to prevent badly maintained vehicles from causing damage to other people. Frankly, I wonder quite what the driving licence is for. There is a certificate of competence and then one pays for a licence. I am somewhat tempted to think that it is more a matter of revenue-raising.
I come now more specifically to this Bill, and I ask myself: Why is it that the Government still decline to introduce their own Bill? I believe here and now that if this measure is so vital then a Government measure 951 and not a Private Member's measure should be before us. As late as Wednesday 10th December the Honourable Member for Norwich North asked the Minister of Transport whether he would be introducing legislation to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. In a Written Answer it was stated that the Minister had no prospect at the moment of introducing legislation although he felt very strongly that people should wear belts and would encourage them to do so on a voluntary basis. I wonder why the Government do not introduce a Bill. I believe that it is very largely because of the impracticablity of sensible enforcement.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, may I interrupt? The other reason is that there was no mandate for it, and people would not have voted for the Conservatives had they thought that the Conservatives were going to introduce such a Bill.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, may well be right about that. I was going to say something slightly different. I was going to say that compulsion in this area was probably contrary to Conservative policy. The Conservatives pledged themselves to less legislation, less Government interference, a return to personal decisions by the people. I believe those may be the reasons.
I believe that there is a greater reason. Today the Minister of Transport held a press conference to describe some of the measures in the forthcoming traffic legislation. One of those measures is a tightening up on the drink and drive laws. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said that seat belts were the only single measure that will significantly reduce deaths. I do not believe that, and I challenge him. I believe that a tightening up of the drink and drive laws will far more significantly reduce deaths and serious injury because between 30 and 40 per cent. of road accidents have a drink content. About 63 per cent. of road accidents between 10 at night and 4 in the morning have a drink content. There have been more convictions regarding drink than any other motoring offence. It is in that area that the public are more amenable and will accept legislation because the damage that a drunken driver does is not only to himself but to other people. That is where I believe that legislation should be focused.
This Bill is one of these wretched enabling Bills. I fought very hard before the end of last Session in regard to another enabling Bill, a Bill delving into areas in which we had not delved before, which gave the Minister almost unbridled power to do almost anything he wanted via a Negative Resolution. It is provided in Clause 2 of this Bill that the first draft, the first round of regulations, shall be by Affirmative Resolution. As other noble Lords have pointed out, that leaves a Minister almost free to do anything he likes second time around. I do not believe that this is what we should be doing under this kind of legislation.
I hope that many of the points of colleagues, my noble friends and those who are opposed to us in this matter and who would support my noble friend, Lord Nugent, will not be points described as Committee matters. These issues are fundamental. There have been seven attempts to put this legislation on the statute book. It is high time that there should be far more detail 952 about exemptions and the general principle regarding exemptions, convictions and enforcement. They should have been already in-built in the Bill. They have not. It is too wide-ranging and I urge those of your Lordships who are going into the Lobbies—and I believe that there may be some who may not—to support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, what a wonderful country we live in! I have been sitting here thinking how marvellous it is that we live in a country with so much freedom that we can spend so many hours—expending so much passion as well—on whether it is a great inroad on our personal liberty and freedom if we have to put on seat belts which may save our lives and the lives of other people. It really is something that we should think about, and it is rather cheering in the very difficult times in which we live at the moment. When the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, talked about this Fascist-Communist measure, I thought things were a little out of proportion. He very nobly at the end of his speech—he did not divulge his reasons for what seemed to be a switch, which it was, an enchanting one—said that he would be supporting the Bill.
My Lords, do not let us get carried away with this question of freedom, which has gone all the way through the debate, as though this will be the end of our democracy, the end of parliamentary Government in this country, and that it will usher in a dictatorial, authoritarian state if we make compulsory the wearing of seat belts.
The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who unfortunately takes another view, mentioned smoking. Some time ago I was the second chairman of the Health Education Council, and when I was trying to get legislation passed against smoking and to get more non-smoking areas in public places, I wrote a letter to The Times and I had some letters back, saying this would be the most illiberal and intolerant Act that had happened in their lives. Today, as the noble Lord admitted, people take it for granted that there are places where they are not allowed to smoke. They accept it and it is better for their health.
This has been the theme all the way through. Nobody likes anything new, that is a change; and nobody likes having to do something because they are told to do it. But to talk about something like this as though it were a sort of "nanny" state, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Monson—whose support I appreciated from time to time over the Housing Act—is really overplaying it. Also, to talk as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, did, about wanting more carnage in order to prove the point, I think did the right reverend Prelate a great injustice and also showed—which is quite unlike him—a lack of human compassion. I should think that the right reverend Prelate felt as all of us who have spoken on this have done, that if you even save one life it is well worth it. This is the line that we take on everything else.
Despite what one or two speakers have said, that seat belts save lives is not something that can be argued about. There is overwhelming and uncontroverted evidence that there is an enormous saving of lives and injuries. The noble Lord, Lord Richardson, I thought made a tremendously impressive and persuasive case, 953 speaking from a professional as well as a human point of view. And whether the bed-nights vary between 100,000 and 150,000 I would submit is irrelevant. He was speaking from his own experience, as did the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, of what happens and what they see.
On one occasion, I had the misfortune to be in an intensive care unit and found to my great concern that, apart from myself, the other beds were occupied by people who had been in road accidents. I cannot say whether that was all due to the wearing of seat belts or not, but I would call that carnage on the roads. The wearing of seat belts is one simple act which would cost very little. It is something which, from all the evidence—which I shall not repeat because it has all been given earlier in great detail and extremely well—can save lives and prevent injuries.
We talk about kidney and heart transplants, for which we have not sufficient resources. Certainly in the case of heart transplants there is some argument going on; but here we have something that is so simple to do. And the organisations which I thought were rather belittled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—the BMA and RoSPA—have no vested interest in putting forward a particular point of view. They are not people who are making seat belts and trying to "flog" them; they are not manufacturers of motor cars. They are going by what they have seen and what they know, and they have followed very careful statistics and surveys.
Some speakers supported the idea that seat belts were useful and helpful but that we should proceed by education and campaign. I see the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, nodding at that. I agree it would be a good thing if only it were possible, but it has not worked. Everything shows that for the period of the campaign, which costs a considerable amount of money, things are better and then get worse again immediately afterwards.
Then we come to young people. More people under 35 die as a result of injuries received in road accidents than from any other cause. One criticism about seat belts is that young people feel rather "cissy" about putting them on unless they know they have to do it. Many drivers feel like that, as do people in passenger seats. Someone said to me today that as a passenger they would like to wear a seat belt but felt embarrassed to do so if the driver did not wear one. As the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, told us from the experience of his family in Canada, it is the young people there who are taking the lead.
I was always very "wobbly" on this subject myself, because many years ago I had the experience of being flung out of a car in a motor accident and I think that if I had remained inside the car, I could have been killed because it was buckled against a tree. I was in a certain dichotomy about it, but over the years I had to accept that there are these occasional cases and it was fortunate that I fell on to a grass bank; otherwise I might have been killed anyway. Really, to take that as a reason for turning down this proposal—this point has been made by a number of speakers—is rather like saying that one will not have an operation because very occasionally people die under anaesthetic. I have come round entirely to the need for making this compulsory; otherwise we will not be able to get 954 any further forward. Once it is compulsory, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, says—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, would agree—there is no reason why this Bill should be taken as gospel, word for word as it is. Incidentally, the last Government brought in Bills, both of which got support in the other place—one in 1976 and one in 1979—and then, because of the end of the Parliament, they fell. So Governments, and not only private Members, have brought in Bills.
Once the principle is accepted a number of things follow. First, on getting the Bill exactly right, I am afraid I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he says that he wants it right now and it is no good waiting until it gets to Committee. Secondly, all those noble Lords who spoke about the necessary improvement in the design of seat belts would find that once something is compulsory and you have to use it yourself, and it is not just an attachment which lies unused in the car while you drive, everybody takes great interest in it and starts demanding a better and more comfortable belt.
I am now in the habit of using it out of town, although I am told there are more accidents in town. On my way to the House today I thought I had better put the belt on, because it was important to have good credentials for this debate, and also to see how I liked it. I drive a Mini and I must say that when I was driving along in town I found it very cosy and comfortable. It made me feel protected. This really is a question of habit.
To the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, (and I see she is not in her place) I would say that if she really suffers from claustrophobia, no doctor would refuse to give her a certificate. There is no question but that some people will not be able to wear a belt, but the basic principle involved here has been going backwards and forwards for so many years. Do let our House show itself at its progressive best tonight in supporting the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, this is the fifth time that this subject has been before your Lordships' House, and the ninth time that it has been before one or other House. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made the point that these debates do a little advertising on the cheap for seat belts. Therefore, this is not a subject where the arguments are novel or unfamiliar. They are very familiar. Dare I say that I felt rather as if I was listening to a gramophone record when the needle had stuck in a groove.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, dealt very ably with the points and produced relevant statistics. In these circumstances, I will not go over the arguments again. They were very ably presented here this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Nugent, who introduced the Bill in his customary, fair and persuasive way, and by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, when he spoke to his amendment. I am glad to see that they have someone sitting between them. I was getting a little nervous earlier on.
My noble friend and kinsman Lord Auckland asked about some statistics. I can assure him that the Department of Transport keeps in touch with many countries and I have before me many statistics. For 955 instance, in South Australia 71 per cent. of people wear seat belts in the metropolitan areas and there were 7,000 prosecutions in 1977. But we have had a lot of statistics, and I am sure that I can leave the answers to these to the two noble Lords who follow me.
A useful contribution from me will be to give the Government's views on three particular points: first, the Government's view on seat belts themselves; secondly, our attitude to the Bill itself, and thirdly, our attitude to the wide regulation-making powers which are contained in the Bill. To say just a word about the medical profession, the Government are, of course, already well aware of the views of all the major medical bodies. Indeed, earlier this year my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport received a deputation led by the noble Lord, Lord Smith. It is the medical profession who are involved in the tragic consequences of road accidents, and they are therefore uniquely concerned to reduce the consequences of them. Their case has been ably put in this debate by the noble Lords, Lord Porritt and Lord Richardson. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, mentioned guidance for exemptions. I can tell him that the medical authorities have offered, should the need arise, to advise on exemptions.
On the first point, it is the Government's firm view that seat belts save lives and prevent injuries. The evidence of research from all round the world, and from our own statistics, is incontrovertible. Generally speaking, the wearing of a seat belt can be expected to improve a person's chance of avoiding death or serious injury by about a half. Although it remains desirable to continue to try to improve designs, the Government are satisfied with the improved existing standards of both static and inertia reel seat belts. Standardisation for belts, including release systems, is subject both to British Standard and European Community research. I hope that this will satisfy some of the noble Lords who raised these points.
Nevertheless, some people still adduce arguments as to why this general proposition does not hold good. It is sometimes said, for instance, that it is better to be thrown clear in a crash. In fact, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, herself said so and we are pleased to see her here as a result of that. However, statistics do not bear this out and accident studies have shown that the chances of being killed are 25 times greater if you are thrown out of a car, than if you are kept inside it. Others are frightened by the prospect of being trapped inside a car, if the car catches fire or falls into water. Here the fact is that only about a half of 1 per cent. of accidents involve fire and water. All safety belts should have quick release buckles; and it is, at least, arguable that you will have a better chance of escape, because if you are wearing your belt you are more likely to be conscious.
No one would pretend that a seat belt will save life or prevent injury in all accidents. Some accidents are so severe that not even a seat belt will provide sufficient protection. There may also be cases where a person actually comes off worse because he is wearing a seat belt, or escapes more lightly because he is not wearing one. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, raised that subject and asked me a direct question about it. Such cases are not borne out by our 956 research and are very rare. They are probably of the order of one in a 1,000. These statistics are to do with the years 1976 and 1977 and are dated 1978. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said that two deaths out of 99 were discovered by a hospital to be due to wearing seat belts. I can only say that that is a very limited survey and cannot really be taken in the broad picture. I must again emphasise that a seat belt will generally improve a person's chances in an accident by some 50 per cent.
Given the advantages of seat belts, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, quoted him, but perhaps not quite verbatim—has since taking office made it his priority to encourage people to wear them. He said on 10th December, in answer to a Question in another place as to whether the Government would introduce compulsory seat belt wearing legislation:I have no plans to do so. However, it remains my view that seat belts save lives and reduce injuries and I shall continue to urge both drivers and passengers to wear them ".—[Official Report, Commons; col. 698.]Extensive advertising campaigns have been undertaken and the most recent one was in the Midlands a month or two ago. There the aim was to try to put new vitality into the, by now familiar, "Clunk Click" slogan.
Some of your Lordships may consider that all this is an inadequate substitute for compulsion. But it is a fact that many people are still unconvinced of the value of seat belts themselves, let alone compulsion. A law, to be successful, needs public acceptance and understanding. In countries which have had the greatest success with compulsion, it has always been preceded by publicity. So, in our view, the Government's publicity campaigns will be equally valuable, whether or not Parliament approves this or any similar measure in the future.
I now turn to the Government's attitude towards the Bill before your Lordships. Here I have to say that, while we are firmly in favour of seat belts themselves, we believe that their compulsory wearing raises a wholly different set of issues. People's views on these issues cut across party boundaries, and it has become a longstanding tradition that any vote should be a free vote. In such circumstances, the Government consider that their right course is to adopt an attitude of strict neutrality. We may well, therefore, find noble Lords who are members of the Government going into either lobby. I have obviously not been as successful as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who is taking his whole Front Bench into one Lobby. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, is not here. Although he seemed in his speech to be inclined towards compulsion, I thought that at the end he was rather doubtful whether it would work.
It is accepted that compulsion would raise the wearing rate and that by introducing it we would save more lives and prevent more injuries. It is accepted also that this would relieve the burden on our hospitals and ambulance service, and enable resources to be directed to other patients who need urgent attention. These are powerful arguments which cannot lightly be dismissed. At the same time, I recognise the concern of some noble Lords who have spoken already about whether it is right to legislate on a matter such as this. 957 Also, we should not lightly gloss over the practical problems that legislation would entail, which were ably illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale.
As I have already remarked, a law, if it is to be successful, needs to be acceptable. A fear is that a great many would not find this particular law acceptable and would resent the efforts of the police to enforce it. This was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmany. This could damage relations between the police and the motorist, and I know that your Lordships would be concerned if that were to happen.
The final matter on which I think it would be helpful to have the view of a Government spokesman is the question of how, if the Bill were passed, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport would expect to use the wide regulation-making powers which are contained in it. This is an extremely important matter because the Bill is basically an enabling Bill. Without some flesh being put on the bare bones of the Bill itself, it may be difficult to see precisely what is being proposed. The first power that the Bill gives is one to make regulations which will prescribe who is to wear seat belts. In theory, this power could be used to prescribe that everyone in every seating position in a car, van, bus or lorry, of whatever age the vehicle, should wear a seat belt. But that of course would be totally impracticable. The Bill gives power to make regulations for seat belts, wherever located. At present, only front seat belts are compulsorily fitted on new cars. The regulations would only apply to cars in which these belts have been compulsorily fitted. If rear seat belts become compulsory fitments, then the Government would have to make the wearing compulsory, if this Bill were passed. In practice, my department would suggest that compulsory wearing should apply wherever compulsory fitting applied under the Construction and Use Regulations. This would mean more precisely the front seats of cars manufactured on or after 30th June 1964, goods vehicles manufactured on or after 1st September 1966 and three-wheeled vehicles manufactured on or after 1st March 1970. I hope that this clarifies the position and gives some assurance to those who might be worried about what would be the position, say, in the case of vintage cars—about the only matter which has not been touched on in this debate.
The second power that the Bill gives is one to prescribe who shall be exempt from wearing seat belts. Here my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has made a significant and important change from earlier Bills in that he has included certain categories of exemptions in the Bill itself. These are for delivery rounds, drivers while reversing and exemptions on medical grounds. We think that all of these exemptions are justified. We think that they are so important and that there would be such a strong consensus in favour of them that it is indeed preferable that they should be in the Bill rather than be left to regulations.
But there are other possible exemptions which would need to be considered. These include driving examiners and instructors, taxi drivers, which one or two of your Lordships have mentioned, and people such as the police and firemen when responding to an emergency. There is also the vexed question of children, which has been touched upon by one or two of your Lordships in this debate.
958 All of these groups have claims for exemption, but their claims are far less obvious than the categories which my noble friend has included in his Bill. The problem is that we must ensure that all those whom it would be manifestly absurd to compel to wear a seat belt are exempted. On the other hand, the wider the exemptions go, the greater the sense of unfairness that is engendered and the greater the difficulties which the police will have in enforcing the law. All I would say at this stage is that before he made the necessary regulations, my right honourable friend the Minister would be under a duty to consult outside interests; and that this consultation process would clearly give him the necessary opportunity to consider the practical issues involved. I think my noble friend and kinsman Lord Auckland made a point about seat belts which will be covered by this reply.
The fact that this measure has been debated so many times before does not mean that there will not be intense public interest in our debate here today. I am sure that the public could not expect the arguments both for and against compulsion to be presented more ably and more clearly than they have been in this debate. I myself was particularly moved by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, who raised dramatic points of detail, and also by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I hope that my own contribution will at least have helped a little on matters which are of particular Government concern. If your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading, the Government will not seek to support or block this measure, except to indicate how we would use the wide regulation-making powers it would confer were Parliament to enact it. Should my noble friend press his amendment, I shall await the outcome with considerable interest.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, first I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this extremely interesting debate, whether they took part in support of the Bill or against it. We have had a debate of outstanding interest, covering every aspect. I should like to thank very much my noble friend Lord Avon for his extremely informative and helpful reply which had to be so nicely balanced, due to the Government's neutrality. Nevertheless, he gave us much helpful information, and I thank him very much for it. I should also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her robust winding up on the other side. I just wish that she were always on my side in debates. It was very effective. May I especially thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who in the present circumstances has been a hero to be here today at all
All points have been so fully covered that recapitulation by me would be superfluous and quite undesirable. The point is clear, and has been confirmed, that compulsory powers would probably increase the wearing rate to some 85 per cent. from 30 per cent., thus saving life and limb on a huge scale, and probably result in a 50 per cent. improvement in survival of both death and serious accident. The medical arguments have been so well developed by my noble friends Lord Porritt and Lord Richardson that I do not need to add a word to them. It is an impressive figure that demands on the Health Service by road accidents are 959 150,000 bed nights per annum. This is a shaking figure. Put alongside the £100 billion cost, it is clear that to decide whether or not to wear a seat belt is not a free option.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye developed his major argument, objecting on the ground of restriction of freedom, but the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, who I hope is still in the House, gave a far more effective answer than I could. He also dealt very cogently with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that this was a departure into the criminal law, which he deprecated. It would be better to leave that point rather than for me to try to embroider it.
At the end of the day it must be a matter of personal judgment where one thinks the point comes that something has such benefits that it is worth while making some sacrifice—I believe it is a small one—of personal freedom in order to get it. Obviously we differ on that. I had some powerful support from an ex-Lord Chancellor with whom I usually disagree. This was indeed very welcome. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, very much.
On enforcement, which is a very important point, I thought that the extremely cogent letter which I read out from the chief constables' spokesman, the honorary secretary of their traffic committee, the Chief Constable of Warwickshire, Mr. Birch, might have been given a little more weight than some noble Lords gave to it. This is what Mr. Birch says in his letter:Whilst there is not a unanimous police view"—that is, chief constables' view—nevertheless the majority of chief officers are in no doubt that the introduction of such legislation would do much to reduce the toll of fatal and serious accidents on our roads. There might be some problems associated with exemptions, but with intelligent and sensitive enforcement there is no reason why we should not follow a lot of other countries in introducing this accident prevention measure".Although obviously there will always be problems in introducing a measure of this kind, it appears that the chief officers who would be responsible for it feel that they could handle it. I make that point again.
Most of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, were Committee points. However, I should like to mention one interesting point concerning taxi drivers, about whom several noble Lords asked. I heard that the Australian experience, which is some guide to us, was that taxi drivers were exempt to start with, but after the new law had been in operation for 12 months they asked to be included because they felt that, on the whole, it should apply to them, too. Whether that would happen here, I do not know.
Again, may I thank all noble Lords very much for helping to make such a very interesting and worth while debate. I still hope that it may be the wish of the majority of noble Lords present to give this Bill a Second Reading. I must now leave it to my noble friend to make his reply.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, I shall stand between the House and the Division Lobbies but for a 960 few moments. I, too, should like to express my appreciation of the debate by noble Lords who have spoken on both sides and have deployed the picture so fully. I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was perhaps a little harsh to the House as a whole when she seemed to deprecate the number of hours we have spent on this particular subject in relation to more important matters outside and she took my noble friend Lord Monson to task for using the word "nanny". I must say that when the noble Baroness had finished I felt that "nanny" had given us all a bit of a scolding. I enjoyed very much the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Avon, which was a fine balancing act with, I think, the weight a little more on one side than the other.
I am not in any way going to re-argue any of the points, which it would be quite possible to do if I had the time and your Lordships had the patience. All I am going to express is some feeling of regret that none of the speeches took into account and expressed any sympathy for the 2 per cent. of deaths caused by seat belts, according to the table which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Avon—the British Medical Journal table—and they also forgot to congratulate those who have escaped from fire and from wreckage through having no seat belt. It is a balance of considerations and when your Lordships go into the Lobby in a few moments I suggest that, as I said before, it is not to save 600 lives but to remove the power of decision of the individual citizen in matters which should be within his or her own province, and at the same time to expose him or her to risks which the state has no right to impose upon any individual.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 36; Not-Contents, 72.961
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Avon, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Mansfield, E.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Margadale, L.|
|Burton, L.||Monson, L.|
|Cross, V.||Morris, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Mottistone, L. [Teller.]|
|De Freyne, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Feversham, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Segal, L.|
|Hale, L.||Spens, L.|
|Hatherton, L.||Stone, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Tryon, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Long, V.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller.]||Wise, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Birk, B.||Nugent of Guildford, L. [Teller.]|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Oram, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L|
|Cranbrook, E.||Porritt, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|David, B.||Richardson, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Denham, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Dowding, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Faithfull, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ferrier, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Seear, B.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Sherfield, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Slim, V.|
|Hill of Luton, L. [Teller.]||Stamp, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Ingleby, V.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Swansea, L.|
|London, Bp.||Taylor, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Masham of Ilton, B.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.