HL Deb 29 June 1981 vol 422 cc4-6

2.47 p.m.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans to urge or compel motor manufacturers to design and fit to all new cars seat belts adjustable in such a way that they could be used in comfort and safety irrespective of the height of the adult user.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Government are aware of the difficulties many small or tall people still have in finding comfortable seat belts. Devices are already available to adjust the shoulder strap, and there are specially designed cushions. It is also possible to vary the position of the anchorage points in some instances. But there is as yet no ideal solution which could be incorporated into legislation. We are continuing to discuss the problem with United Kingdom manufacturers and with our European colleagues.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, I have a strong suspicion that that may be a moderately satisfactory reply. But does my noble friend not agree that, as in the near future Her Majesty's Government will probably make it a criminal offence not to wear a seat belt, they are at least morally responsible for seeing that seat belts are safe; and is my noble friend aware that at present, for a large number of smaller people—below, shall we say, 5 feet 4 inches—a great many of the seat belts cannot be worn with safety? Further, is my noble friend aware that 20 years ago I was told by two motor-car manufacturers, at the time I was chairman of the British Road Federation, that there is no difficulty at all in designing a belt which is adjustable in the way I want but it is slightly more expensive to do so?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's moderate welcome to my reply. Unfortunately, I have little experience of small people's discomfort but quite a lot of experience of big people's discomfort, and I would agree with him. Considerable improvements have already been made, and the industry is well aware of our concern to see more progress. We have asked the belt manufacturers for more ideas, and we are also having very useful discussions with our colleagues in Europe, with whom we agree the general standards for belts.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, although I voted for the amendment to which this Question relates, every single seat belt in every car I drive fits neatly across my throat?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, again, the noble Baroness embarrasses me because, of course, it is the other way round so far as I am concerned. I am reliably informed that people who are small need have no fear of seat belts, and in point of fact the statistics, borne out in a recent study in Sweden, show that small people occasionally have burn marks where the noble Baroness suggested, but have no other ill efiects.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, can the noble Earl elaborate upon his gymnastic contortions?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I do not want to be drawn on this point by the noble and learned Lord, but I shall be applying for a medical certificate.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is this not one of the many issues relating to seat belts on which the Government will have serious discussions with manufacturers in the event of the Transport Bill, which includes this clause, becoming law?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing us back to sanity. Yes, it is. Hopefully, we shall discuss it again at the Report stage of the Bill.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, in view of the importance of seat belts to children in the back of cars, can my noble friend say whether there are any plans on his part to organise the compulsory fitting of seat belts—belts which are adjustable for children—in the back of cars?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think that my noble friend will be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has made a lot of statements on child seat belts which we have taken into consideration in connection with the Transport Bill.