§ 11.33 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th July be approved.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a year since this House exercised its judgment, and amended the Transport Act 1981, to make provision for the introduction of compulsory seat-belt wearing. As the House will know, although the Government were neutral on this issue, we did undertake to implement Parliament's decision, and that is why these regulations have been brought before us today. This House will, I am sure, be aware that these regulations have already been considered in another place and were approved by a considerable majority. I know that some of your Lordships will still be opposed to the principle of compulsion, but it is important to bear in mind that we are now discussing the regulations which will implement Parliament's decision in favour of compulsion. We are not here today to debate whether or not that decision should have been made.
§ Whatever our views on compulsion, the regulations I am presenting to you today will ensure that the law is as fair and easy to enforce as possible. This was our underlying aim in drawing up these regulations, and it is why we have proposed so few exemptions. I hope the House will keep the importance of this in mind during today's debate.
§ Turning to the regulations themselves, I think it would be helpful to the House if I went through them and explained, as briefly as possible, what they mean. The preamble sets out the requirements which have been fulfilled in accordance with the terms of the 1981 Act. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport laid a statement of proposals for implementing compulsion before this House and another place on 8th December last year. This was sent to a wide range of interested organisations and to the public. During the three months that had to follow before the regulations could be laid we received 458 many useful comments on the proposals. I can assure the House that we carefully considered all these views before we drafted the regulations.
§ Of the regulations themselves, Regulation 1 gives the commencement date; Regulations 2 and 3 are mainly technical; Regulation 4 introduces the requirement to wear seat belts; Regulation 5 specifies the exemptions; Regulation 6 specifies the types of vehicles covered; and Regulation 7 deals with the types of seat belt required.
§ If I may explain these regulations in more detail, Regulation 1 gives the commencement date as the 23rd Monday after they have been made. I realise this may seem curious but we chose a Monday after consulting the police as to the best day to bring in a requirement affecting most motorists. Clearly we could not specify an actual date as we could not tell how long it would take for the regulations to be approved by both Houses—your Lordships will know only too well how crowded our programme becomes before a recess. This unusually long period of 23 weeks is necessary if we are to prepare properly for the introduction of compulsion. First, we need to allow time for the printing and distribution of the medical exemption forms. Obviously, we could not incur possibly abortive expenditure by doing this work prior to the approval of this House. Secondly, we shall be mounting a publicity campaign in the press advising people about the new law. Leaflets will also be available and these will explain the law, give advice on the comfort and safety of belts, and on how to obtain medical exemption. Thirdly, sufficient time must then be left for people, if necessary, to apply to their doctors if they have a medical problem. As the House knows, we have taken powers in the Transport Bill to enable us to provide examinations for certain people who are on low incomes or disabled, and we plan to do so through the DHSS. Your Lordships will appreciate that it will take time for applications to be made and for doctors to consider them. I can therefore assure the House that we have only allowed enough time for these three provisions to be completed and are not needlessly delaying compulsion.
§ Turning to Regulations 2 and 3, these are mainly technical provisions, containing the citation and definition of terms used in the regulations. However, as the House will know, the Joint Committee has reported that Regulation 3(2) is an unusual use of powers. The regulation is simply designed to pick up future amendments to other legislation which is referred to in the regulations. This has been done to ensure that these regulations do not become incomplete or otherwise defective when minor changes are made in, primarily, the Construction and Use Regulations, which deal with the compulsory fitting of seat belts. As your Lordships may know, minor amendments are often made to those regulations to take account of technical changes in, for example, ECE regulations. It would be extremely time-consuming if every time such changes were made an affirmative resolution instrument also had to be laid to ensure that the wearing regulations did not become out of date. It is certainly true that major changes could be made: some have suggested that compulsory seat-belt wearing in the back of cars could be introduced in this way. However, I cannot stress too strongly that the Government 459 consider that such action would be improper given the sensitive nature of this whole issue and given successive Governments' recognition that specific powers were necessary to introduce compulsion in this field. I am sure, however, your Lordships will see the sense of this regulation.
§ Looking at Regulation 4, your Lordships will note that this requires a seat belt to be worn when driving or riding in a vehicle. The latter requirement only extends to the specified passenger seat which is normally the front nearside passenger seat or in the middle front seat if the specified passenger seat is not occupied.
§ It is Regulation 5 which lists the categories of exemption, and it is this question which arouses the most interest. As I said earlier, we have tried to make the law as fair and as enforceable as possible. Our aim has been, therefore, to keep exemptions to a minimum, and we have only included categories of exemption which seemed very compelling. The exemptions in Regulation 5(a), (b) and (d) are those required to be given under the 1981 Act; that is the users of vehicles constructed or adapted for the delivery of goods while on local rounds; drivers carrying out a manoeuvre which includes reversing; and holders of medical exemption certificates. As my right honourable friend indicated in his statement of proposals, he recognised the need to extend the first category of exemption to those collecting as well as delivering goods. I am sure the House will agree that it would be illogical to exempt one and not the other, especially as in some cases, such as Post Office and laundry rounds, the same person may be both collecting and delivering items. At the request of the National Joint Council of Approved Driving Instructor Organisations, we have also extended the exemption for drivers while reversing, to include in Regulation 5(c) a person supervising a learner driver, so that they can ensure that the manoeuvre is being carried out safely.
§ As far as the medical exemption is concerned, we have not, however, used the permissive powers available to us under the Act, to prescribe the size of the fee doctors may charge. The BMA are recommending to their members that they should carry out an examination of all applicants for exemption for which they should charge £19. But it will be for the individual doctor to decide what work he needs to do before deciding on an application, and therefore what fee, if any, he should charge. A prescribed fee might be too large in some circumstances, and too small in others. Nor can we limit the issue of certificates to a person's own GP. The 1981 Act applies to any medical practitioner, and it would have been ultra vires to restrict someone to their GP.
§ As proposed in my right honourable friend's statement, Regulation 5(e), (f) and (g) exempts the emergency services in limited circumstances. After consultation with them, we did not consider a general exemption necessary; nor did they ask for one. Of course, as with existing exemptions for the emergency services, under the road traffic law they may have to justify to a court their decision not to wear a belt. The House will note that we have not provided an exemption for the armed services. This is because many of their operational vehicles are not required to have belts fitted and we are not, by and large, proposing 460 compulsory wearing of belts where they are not compulsorily fitted. The armed services were, of course, consulted over these regulations, and are content.
§ As a result of our consultations, we were persuaded that other exemptions were necessary. The representatives of the taxi drivers and private hire car drivers pointed to the increasing number of attacks on their members, which could be increased if they had to wear a seat belt. Unfortunately, this argument is a valid one. It is related to the exemption for the police and other officers in escorting duty. We have therefore proposed, in Regulation 5(h), an exemption for taxi drivers when plying for hire or carrying a passenger, and for private hire car drivers when carrying a passenger. The exemption has been restricted to vehicles displaying the relevant licence plates, so as to aid enforcement.
§ Moving to Regulation 5(i), we have given very careful consideration to the question of exemption for drivers accompanying learner drivers. We see no justification for a general exemption for instructors and others supervising learner drivers—a view shared by the National Joint Council of Approved Driving Instructors Organisations. Indeed, one of the council's founder members, the British School of Motoring, already requires its 1,500 instructors (and its pupils) to wear their belts. However, we recognise the danger to road users, including the driving test candidate and examiner himself or herself, if the latter has to wear a belt at all times. This danger arises because the examiner may not take any action during a test until the candidate has been given every opportunity to correct a fault or to deal with a problem. This inevitably means the examiner has to act at the last possible moment, and once this has happened, the candidate has failed the test. We have therefore provided a limited exemption for examiners.
§ I can assure the House that Regulation 5(j) does not provide an escape route from compulsion for those who do not wish to wear belts. It is simply a sensible exemption for those odd occasions when a belt cannot be worn. It is an offence to drive a vehicle with defective belts, but we will be amending the Construction and Use Regulations, so that a person cannot be prosecuted for having a defective belt if it has only become faulty on that journey, or steps have already been taken to get the fault rectified. The second part of the exemption only applies for that short time at the start of a journey on a hill, when some belts do not unreel. However, once the vehicle has moved and the belt is again free to unreel, it must be put on.
§ Finally, in Regulation 5(k), we have proposed a limited exemption for motor mechanics. On occasions, we appreciate that mechanics may need to carry out adjustments or diagnosis, as front seat passengers. Wearing a seat belt could prevent this, as the work may involve getting under the dashboard as the car is driven along. However, so that the exemption can be enforced, it will only apply when a vehicle is being used with trade plates. Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that we received a large number of requests for other exemptions, but I would again emphasise that for the law to be fair, and enforceable, then exemptions must be kept to a minimum.461
§ Regulation 6 is an important one, listing the vehicles in which seat belts must be worn. As I mentioned earlier, broadly, these are the vehicles in which belts are already compulsorily fitted: that is cars registered since 1st January 1965, light vans registered since 1st April 1967, and three-wheelers first used on or after 1st September 1970. However, seat belts must also be worn if they are fitted to various classes of vehicles which are outside the requirement to fit belts. These are listed in Regulation 6(b) and include, for example, foreign visitors. Regulation 7 simply describes the type of seat belt which must be worn.
§ I must apologise to the House for taking up so much time in explaining these regulations. I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate their importance and the interest, particularly in the exemptions, that they arouse. After much soul-searching, I was myself persuaded by the medical evidence to support compulsory seat-belt wearing; but whatever views your Lordships hold on the principle, I hope you will agree that these regulations are a very sensible approach to a difficult subject. I trust that your Lordships will vote in favour of them and I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th July be approved.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, at last we are approaching the final stage of this protracted effort to secure legislation for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. As the noble Lord the Minister has said, Parliament has clearly decided on the principle. Your Lordships' House approved by 132 to 92 votes the new clause introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, which made this provision. I should make it clear that although there was a free vote I was not neutral, and I was pleased to have the opportunity of supporting the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in his effort.
When the new clause went to another place it was approved again, again on a free vote, by the substantial majority of 221 votes to 144; so the principle has been determined by both Houses. The debate concentrated on the freedom of choice and action of the individual, and again there was widespread concern about the tragic toll of fatalities and serious injuries on which the combined medical opinion had such a strong influence; and support for the principle came from a wide range of safety and other organisations. So the issue has been settled and the task of your Lordships today is to consider the regulations presented to us so carefully and clearly by the noble Minister, to whom I think we are all very grateful.
I must emphasise again that the regulations were approved by the Commons only last Friday by the very large majority of 181 votes to 59. The regulations follow the pattern laid down in the 1981 Act, and the noble Lord has clearly explained to us all the exemptions under Regulation 5. The exemptions (a), (b), (c) and (d) are the main ones as laid down in the Act. Most of the other additional exemptions were either set out in the details published by the Secretary of State last December or arose from the consultations. I am grateful to learn that so many useful consultations were conducted as a result of the publication of the Secretary of State's proposals.
462 The one exception that I queried right at the outset was the inclusion of paragraph (h)(ii), dealing with private hire vehicles. As distinct from the position of taxis, hire cars do not pick up passengers en route and they carry out journeys from point to point, just like other motorists. But I note the arguments which have been put about possible attack, and I assume that this category is included based on information about such occurrences. In any event, I would not wish a minor point of that kind to hold up the passage of these regulations.
Paragraphs (e), (f) and (g) in the exemption list appear to me reasonable, but I trust that the police and fire authorities will give clear instructions as to when their personnel must wear seat belts. It is essential that those authorities should set an example to the rest of the motorists. I am pleased to hear from the Minister this morning his emphasis on the steps that will be taken to publicise both the regulations and the exemptions that are open to individuals.
My major concern is the fee of £19, which is proposed by the BMA in connection with exemptions on medical grounds. In the other place, the Under-Secretary of State, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, said on 22nd July at col. 646 of the Official Report, that she took a sympathetic attitude, and went on:Nobody was sadder than I when the British Medical Association said that it would suggest to its doctor members a fee of £19 for a medical examination. The doctors do not need to charge that fee. A doctor may waive the fee, charge a pound or two, or charge nothing.That position was set out further by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in his opening speech this morning. I appreciate that this is not a matter which is covered by the regulations now before us; but I hope that the Secretary of State will not take the BMA's proposal as the last word. More may be said about this when we deal with matters related to the seat belt provisions in our further discussions on the Transport Bill which is before your Lordships.
I have studied very carefully what was said in the other place and here this morning, in amplification, by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and what has been set out in the 30th Report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments concerning Regulation 3(2). I think that the Joint Committee was right to draw attention to the implication of the provision for possible future amendments of the Construction and Use Regulations. I clearly understand the point made in the Department of Transport's memo and I appreciate the further clarification given this morning by the noble Lord the Minister.
Before concluding, I should like to ask two questions, but I shall readily understand if the Minister feels that he is unable to answer them this morning. First, will the medical exemption certificate be valid for British motorists when travelling in other countries which have seat belt legislation, as many of them do? If they will be valid, will travellers require an appropriate translation of their medical exemption certificate? Secondly, what will be the position of overseas visitors to this country? Presumably, they will be covered by our legislation—at least, constables will think so. If they have a medical exemption certificate from their own doctor, will they be expected to carry a translation in those circumstances?
463 Except for those two questions, and the other points which I have made, I welcome the regulations. I look forward to what I hope will be the unanimous approval of this House, so that we can move as quickly as possible to the implementation of this important piece of legislation.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, I rise to support the regulations that are before us this morning and will be very brief, because this is not the time to rehearse the pros and cons as to whether seat belts ought to be introduced. That decision has been taken and all we are discussing this morning are the regulations. We have had this question before us eight times since 1973, and from 1975 to 1978 I heard the arguments rehearsed at least three times when I was sitting where the noble Lord the Minister is now, and I have been convinced throughout the whole of our discussions over the years that this is a proper course of action to take.
What I am concerned about, and have some slight reservations over, is the exemptions for people doing short deliveries, because the statistics have sometimes shown that you are more liable to an accident on a very short journey than you are on a long one, and I would be in favour of people being encouraged to wear their seat belts at all times.
I am also concerned, like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and, indeed, the Minister, at the fact that £19 has been recommended as a possible certification fee. It seems to me that, if people have a genuine hardship and a genuine handicap, their own general practitioner ought to be able to certify that, without it taking up very much of his time or very much effort. The fact that a fee of up to £19 is likely to be charged may be open to abuse, in that people may be encouraged to shop around and go not to their own general practitioner, but to one who, perhaps, is not in favour of these regulations.
There is another point about the medical certificate on which I should like to be assured. For how long is that certificate valid? I can think of some circumstances where you would not want a certificate for life but only for a few months, and will that be specified on the medical exemption certificate when people get it? With those two qualifications, I congratulate the noble Lord on being privileged to bring forward these regulations, and I wish them a speedy passage.
§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Bellwin on his clear and lucid exposition of these regulations, and, indeed, on his moving of them at the end of this long saga to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, have referred. It is the final act of a piece of legislation which, I believe, will bring much benefit to life and limb, and I should like to thank all those who have supported me over this long period.
I would remind noble Lords that these regulations have a life of only three years, according to the 1981 Act, and that is a sensible provision. It should comfort 464 those who are still opposing the idea of compulsory seat belts, because it will give us time to see whether the hopes and beliefs of supporters are realised; because most people will wear seat belts when it is the law; because those, who are in the majority today, who feel that it is a bit of a nuisance to wear them, will be persuaded to wear them when it is a legal requirement to do so, and will find that it is really not much trouble and it becomes a habit, so that you do not notice it one way or the other.
Among the large fan mail that I had during the passage of this legislation, I had a letter from a man who wrote to me complaining about the prospect. I wrote back and explained the justification, to which he replied:I am a law-abiding man so I shall keep to the law, but I still shall not wear a seat belt. I shall always drive my car backwards in future.I replied to him that next time I was in Brighton, where he lives, I would look for any car travelling backwards, because I would know that he was in it.
But the fact is that most people are law-abiding, and when it is the law they will make the little effort required to start wearing seat belts and will find that it is no trouble. Then I hope that we shall find the benefits which we believe will come from this provision, and I trust that everyone will be contented with what I believe is a reasonable measure. But, in any event, we can review it in three years' time, and if any of the regulations are not right we shall have a chance to propose amendments to my noble friend or his successor, whoever that may be, and also to look at the whole principle of compulsory seat belts, if we still have doubts about it.
There is just one point which I have noticed in the regulations and which I ask my noble friend to look at for the future. I refer to the taxi drivers. I understand that taxi drivers were left out in Australia to start with, but subsequently they asked to be included, because they felt, on the whole, that it gave them protection. Quite a few taxi drivers do wear seat belts, and it is a very rare occasion when one gets out of his seat and does anything for a passenger. All the taxi drivers I have ever driven behind sit tight all the time. Perhaps my noble friend will look at this. I know that the rationale behind it is that he particularly needs to protect himself against possible assault late at night, but I am not sure that it is a very good case. In the differentation between driving examiners and driving instructors, I think that my noble friend has got it right. The driving instructor is, on the whole, going to be safer with a seat belt. I was delighted to learn that the BSM have always made this a rule with their instructors. But the examiner is in rather a different position and it is probably right to give him an exception.
With regard to the medical exemption, as my noble friend has said, these exemptions have been drawn very tightly. The consultative document which the Accident Commission has sent out gives very strong advice to medical practitioners to give exemptions very sparingly. I do not doubt we shall hear from noble Lords who are medically qualified—my noble friend Lord Porritt and the noble Lord, Lord Richardson—that the view of the profession is that the regulations will be justified. But the charging of a fee of £19 does seem a lot. I am hopeful that many doctors 465 will not feel it to be necessary to charge that amount. However, as my noble friend has said, the escape route is that the Department of Health and Social Security can give a free examination to the disabled and to those on low incomes. So I hope that that very important aspect of these regulations may prove to be satisfactory.
I believe that these regulations will bring great benefit to our community as a whole, and again I thank all those who have given such splendid support, especially RoSPA, the BMA and the AA, who have helped me so much in this long and now, I hope, eventually successful campaign.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, only due to the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and to an error in the administration who collect the names of those noble Lords who wish to speak am I now intervening very briefly. These regulations are the consummation of a long, hard fought fight, whose history is quite interesting. In 1974, by a majority of seven, your Lordships threw out a proposal in the Transport Bill of the Government of that day, the amendment being that the compulsory use of seat belts was to be introduced. The second victory for those who opposed was Lord Avebury's Bill in 1977 which the House rejected by a majority of 55 to 53. The third victory was over Lord Wigg's Bill, rejected by 86 votes to 82. Then Lord Nugent came along, and since then we have suffered nothing but defeat. The principles of Lord Nugent's Bill were accepted and incorporated by Her Majesty's Government. These regulations implement a Government victory over the opponents, of whom I have been at all times a fairly leading member. I do not like any of these regulations because they still impose the basic principle of compulsion, to which I object. Nevertheless, I shall not argue against these regulations in any detail but will accept defeat on the principle behind them.
I have had now, I regret to say, something over 53 years in Parliament, in both Houses, and I have learned—sometimes the hard way, sometimes not—that the will of Parliament must be accepted in the long run. That is why I think it would be a mistake today to try to counter these regulations. But, while I concede defeat on the main principle, this does not mean that I like all the draft regulations, the weaknesses of which will no doubt be exposed by subsequent speakers.
I conclude my speech of defeat by saying that those of your Lordships in this House old enough to remember Noel Coward's "Bitter Sweet" will remember the lovely song by Peggy Wood, "I'll see you again". These regulations have but a limited life, thanks to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, which the Government accepted. Therefore I shall see them all again—or, if I do not, I hope other noble Lords will see them again. And then, maybe, we shall see whether they were right or whether they were wrong.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, first may I pick up one small point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. He claimed that Australian taxi drivers had asked to to be made to wear seat belts 466 compulsorily because they felt safer. This does seem strange. Surely there is nothing whatsoever to prevent them from wearing seat belts on a voluntary basis. But I will let that pass.
When we debated seat belt compulsion on numerous occasions last summer we were repeatedly assured by the Government that very serious consideration would be given to the many anxious pleas and suggestions for widespread and generous exemptions. Ministers naturally gave no promises; they were in no position to do so. But, perhaps naïvely, although the maximum fine was particularly draconian by world standards—ten times higher than the new 20 Deutschmark fine introduced in West Germany—we believed that the regulations, in a spirit of traditional British compromise, would not be harsh, given the widespread opposition in the country and given that a large majority of Conservatives were, and are, opposed to compulsion. And we do have a Conservative Government. In the event, the regulations have turned out to be very nearly the strictest in the world, comparable with those in that indelibly socialist country, Sweden. This being so, many noble Lords who voted, perhaps rather hesitantly, last year for compulsion may well wish to change their minds today.
Let me examine some of the regulations. Contrary to expectations, neither pregnant women nor nursing mothers are automatically exempted. One can only imagine the distress this will cause pregnant women who will be worried that their unborn child may be injured when the car in which they are driving brakes sharply at a roundabout or at an intersection, and the worry about discomfort and possibly pain that may be caused to nursing mothers in similar circumstances. No automatic exemption is given to short people—those under 1.5 metres or 5 feet in height. This is all the more surprising in view of a letter from an eye surgeon in The Times a few months ago which described how one of his patients, shorter than the average individual, had been thrown up against his seat belt when the car braked sharply. The seat belt had pressed against an artery in his neck and he had partially lost the sight of one or both eyes.
The Government say that short people can spend money on adapting their seat belts but, as the RAC points out, it is contrary to all normal practice to force motorists to spend money upon altering their cars to conform with regulations which did not exist when they bought their cars. Nor is there any exemption for those whose size or shape makes seat belt wearing difficult or dangerous but whose condition is not strictly a medical one, although 14 out of the 21 European countries, the Australian States and the Canadian Provinces listed do grant such an exemption, including New Zealand, Switzerland, West Germany and Israel. The exemption for those on delivery journeys seems to me to be inadequate. What about newsagents, who have to stop their cars every few yards to deliver newspapers in the morning? Next, there seems to be no provision to counteract the in-explicable failure last year to bring Section 27 of the Transport Act into line with Section 28, as logically should have occurred, by inserting the words, "without reasonable excuse", into the section. This omission is unfair, illogical and anomalous. It is true that exemptions have been given when an inertia reel locks 467 when a car is on a hill. But as many motorists will know, the inertia reel frequently locks when a car is standing on the level. Are those living in the Cambridgeshire fens not to have this defence open to them? And what about the many occasions when passengers and sometimes drivers travel by car following minor or semi-serious accidents, when there has been no time to obtain a medical certificate?
It is really not enough to suggest that in these circumstances a court would almost certainly acquit. The point is that the individual should not have to attend the court in the first place. As the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has pointed out, driving examiners are not exempt, although driving instructors are: I believe that many people consider this to be totally illogical. After all, the driving instructor is dealing with total novices and he may have to make a grab for the brake at any time. A driving examiner, by the nature of things, deals with people who have had a certain amount of experience.
There is then the question of older cars. The Government themselves admitted in their consultative document—in Annexe B, paragraph 3—that until 1973 many types of belts were difficult to fasten and release. Given that within a few years there will not be many pre-1973 cars available, it seems extraordinary that they have not been exempted from the regulations. In order to conform with the regulations and in order to protect themselves, in providing buckles which release properly, drivers of such vehicles will have to spend money. I suggest that this will penalise the poorer sections of the community.
The question of fees has also already been mentioned. The Minister, in charge at the time told the House of Commons on 19th February 1980 that he envisaged fees in the region of £1 or £2. As we know, the fees have been set at a possible £19. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, also mentioned that this affirmative instrument can be modified by a negative procedure under the Construction and Use Regulations at a later date. The noble Lord the Minister assured us that no Government would think of taking advantage of such a loophole but as he surely knows, no Government can bind their successor.
Last but by no means least, there is no exemption for those who are prepared to testify before a commissioner for oaths that wearing a seatbelt adversely affects their driving ability, as many of us urged. I must expand on this extremely important point. We are told that 2,000 drivers and front seat passengers are killed on the roads each year—about one-tenth of the proportionate number 45 years ago—and that some of these lives will be saved if this order is approved. Perhaps this is true, but let us put the matter in perspective. We are not told that there are 4,000 people killed on the roads every year who are not drivers or front seat passengers. Some of them are passengers in the rear seats, lorry drivers, bus drivers or bus passengers—but most are pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists. Many of these may be at risk if this order is implemented.
Incidentally, we are not told that several hundred thousand people who are drivers and front seat passengers die every year of causes totally unconnected with motoring; from smoking too much, drinking 468 too much, over-eating, falling off step ladders, engaging in hazardous sports and from old age. I merely mention this to put the statistics into perspective. In comparison with the 2,000 drivers and front-seat passengers who are killed, we are not told that each year between 25 and 30 million drivers and front seat passengers do not die for any reason whatsoever.
What is the relevance of this? If this order is approved several million of these 25 to 30 million will suffer irritation and discomfort. If the Government had permitted lap straps belts as opposed to lap and diagonal belts, like the sensible and pragmatic Dutch Government do, this problem might have been avoided. But such a concession has not been granted. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, told us last year that he felt no discomfort when wearing a seat belt. All I can say is that not all of us are as tall, slim and elegant as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. It is a normal human reaction to try to minimise discomfort. For the front-seat passenger the solution is relatively simple. He can tilt and slide his seat back as far as it will go, so as to take the pressure off his chest—or her chest, because one must stress that it is women above all who are going to suffer the discomfort and possibly even the danger of pressure across the chest. The driver, on the other hand, will face a dilemma.
Either he leaves his seat in the optimum position for good driving or he slides it back. Human nature being what it is, I believe that he will, perhaps even without realising it, slide his seat back away from the wheel and become somewhat more of a risk to other road users as a consequence. Nor is this all. We have seen from the events at Buckingham Palace recently how a sense of complacency and over-confidence can lead to slackness and inattentiveness. This applies equally the question of seat belts. An over-complacent driver is far more likely to lack alertness and be involved in accidents.
Furthermore we read in the Daily Telegraph of 23rd July 1981 that an institution called the Applied Psychology Unit of Cranfield Institute of Technology's School of Automotive Studies in Bedfordshire discovered that 14 per cent. of drivers risk their lives when overtaking. If drivers gain further confidence as the result of a false sense of security given by a seat belt, is not that 14 per cent. likely to rise to more than 20 per cent.?
Also, there is no dispute that some will be killed because they were wearing seat belts: for example on 4th August 1981 a woman was strangled by her seat belt. To be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, he did concede this point last year. In other words, if this order is agreed to, what is gained on the swings will be to some extent at least lost on the roundabouts.
Less than three weeks before his untimely death in February of this year, the late Sir Ronald Bell wrote to the then Minister suggesting that the general tenor of the proposals,is unduly influenced by the à l'outrance approach of the most militant campaigners. As the comparative table in the consultative document shows, the proposals are the strictest and most vehement of all the regulations in the world. When you are dealing with the British people, I cannot think that that is right".469 I believe in traditional British moderation and compromise. We have not had this British moderation and compromise. The proponents of compulsion seem unwilling to see other points of view and have been totally inflexible. Traditionally, we have always had a free vote on this issue and I hope that those of your Lordships who agree with me will cast your votes accordingly.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Lord Richardson
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is right, as he is in so many things, when he says that the medical profession will apply medical exemptions very carefully and conscientiously, and will try to minimise their number because there is so little justification for them to do otherwise. I am equally sure that they will wish to follow the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, that temporary exemption should be used, and that exemptions should be reviewed from time to time. I think that this means that doctors who will be concerned with giving exemption will be determined to do so scrupulously, and I hope that the fee that has been discussed between the Minister of Transport and the BMA will be seen as reflecting the possibility of a great deal of careful work having to go into the signing of, and estimating the justification for, the certificate.
I feel that in quite a number of instances the candidates for exemption would be well advised to discuss the matter with such consultants as orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists, perhaps obstetricians; but I will point out, I hope for the comfort of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that a series of 23 pregnant women who were wearing their seat belts when involved in accidents was followed up from the time of their accidents, accidents involving collisions from five miles up to over 70 miles an hour, and all those 23 were delivered normally at the normal time without any damage from the seat belts to themselves or to the foetus, to the baby.
I feel that considerable difficulty may arise with those who are severely disabled, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, will doubtless mention this. Proper adjustment of the car and of the seat belts, careful experimentation in design and modification will be part of the information which your Lordships will require when this matter comes up for review. I feel that this element of finding out what really is helpful, what can be done for the cars and for the fitting of the belts to people of various shapes, however eccentric, is a most important part of the programme of review, and I hope that it will take place with the greatest possible care.
I must confess to an interest in Motability, the organisation that helps people to make the best use of their mobility allowance. They are able to modify cars really rather simply; it is surprising how much can be done by simple measures. This, I hope, may enable most people to wear their seat belts; and I am sure that all doctors, when they are considering exemption or not, will consider whether the failure to 470 wear a seat belt is more serious than any discomfort or potential disadvantage that might follow from wearing one.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the very careful explanation of these regulations, to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention very shortly. I quite accept that Regulation 3, which relates to the Construction and Use Regulations, is desirable, because I would look forward within a very short time to those Construction and Use Regulations being very severely amended. It is of some great disappointment to me that since Parliament decided on the principle of compulsion the seat belt manufacturers have progressed so little in a uniformity of locking mechanism and a simplification of locking. So I would hope that they would be able to move a little more rapidly in the next few months without us having to come back to Parliament.
I turn to Regulation 5. That deals with the exemptions. I have to say that I am very disappointed with regard to the British Medical Association's attitude concerning fees. I am equally disappointed that Her Majesty's Government have not utilised the powers in the Bill to prescribe fees. It is my experience with most professional people that where their professional body suggests or recommends a fee, that is the fee that is paid. So much so that the then Under-Secretary at the Department, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, spoke at the Standing Committee's investigation into this matter of "a pound or two"; that has been quoted, and it is on the record. This matter is reinforced by the current Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mrs. Chalker—this has all already been quoted this morning—who said that she was sad that the BMA were going to suggest this £19 fee. She went on to say in the same paragraph (22nd July, col. 646):That is why we seek to ensure that people on low incomes and the disabled are covered by the DHSS Medical Service.I understand there are some 7 million of those people. It could be that the DHSS is going to be faced with some fairly colossal cost if a large proportion of people decide to apply for exemption. I know we are going to return to this; I can promise your Lordships that we are going to return to this matter when we deal with the further parts of the current Transport Bill on Report stage in October. I would say this now. I think the Government should make further and more determined efforts to secure a fee that is going to be more acceptable. I would say this to the BMA, that they should examine whether they are really performing some part of their social duty in fixing this fee.
I turn to Regulation 5 (k). This is the one which exempts motor mechanics in the course of their job from wearing seat belts if they are operating under trade licence plate. I think I can understand the reason for putting in the trade licence plate, as amateur mechanics are thereby disbarred. There are, however, a great number of quite reputable little garages who do not operate on trade licences. The trade licence is normally only used where the vehicle itself does not have a current vehicle excise duty, the road fund licence. 471 So I can see that some difficulties might arise. In a very large organisation, where there are perhaps eight or ten testers, there are unlikely to be sufficient trade plates to go round, because they may be used for the collection of unlicensed vehicles somewhere else. So I can see that the industry might be faced with some little difficulty here.
Regulation 7(a)(ii) refers to Construction and Use Regulations. I should like to see here a positive move by Government to encourage belt manufacturers to improve their belts. I do not think that we should wait for three years, as has been suggested. I should like to hear from my noble friend the Minister that there is continuing research, particularly at the TRRL, into seat belts. There is an exemption in the regulations with regard to an inertia reel belt that becomes jammed on an incline. That is not the only usual cause of failure. The usual cause of failure in inertia reel belts is the locking mechanism. It is of some concern to me that I was asked by one of your Lordships if I could obtain a new part for him. I was able to buy the part on the Continent for him. It was not available in this country from the seat belt manufacturer and nor, indeed, from any shop. They would only sell a set of seat belts—there were four pieces and we only wanted one. That seems to me to be rather a stupid arrangement. As regards the seat belt manufacturers, let me say that they also have a social responsibility.
The final point that I should like to make relates to the report that is going to be put before Parliament in three years' time, and that is provided for in the Act. I would like within the next few months—perhaps my noble friend could write to me—to be told exactly how the monitoring will be undertaken, and the base from which we are going to start. I do not accept some of the claims that have been made with regard to the saving of many lives. It may be argued that if only one life is saved then this Bill is a good thing. I have never felt this. I have never felt that compulsion should be applied to so many people for so very few people who, in the main, have made an individual choice. So I should like to see the base from which we will start the monitoring, and the figures. Otherwise I really feel that Parliament has expressed its will—quite contrary to my own, let me remind your Lordships—and compulsion is here. These are the regulations and I believe your Lordships should approve them.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Lord Porritt
My Lords, I think that we must all be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for giving us the original direction and stopping us discussing the original Act and sticking to the business of this morning; namely, the regulations concerned with that Act, which is of course, an enabling Act. I still have a vague feeling of Nero fiddling while Rome is burning. I say that because it is more than a year since the seat belt Bill was passed in this House. There were a number of discussions prior to that, as your Lordships know well. It will be at least another six months before the regulations can possibly come into force. I cannot help thinking that in the interval since the seat belt Act was passed, there have probably been something up to 750 deaths and thousands of 472 serious injuries giving great human suffering and economic loss—both unnecessarily. I bow to my most courteous of opponents, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who does not believe these figures. I am not a great believer in figures either, but they have been checked in various parts of the world over and over again and whether the details are correct I do not know, but the general tendency is certainly to show that a lot of unnecessary lives are lost and a lot of unnecessary injuries take place.
I speak this morning purely medically as president—and incidentally some 20 years ago as founder—of the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention, which was the body which has been responsible for producing the guidelines for the Minister on which he has dealt with the question of medical exemptions in these regulations. They have shown in a very simple and straightforward document that the conditions which make it inadvisable for a driver of a car or his front seat passenger to wear restrictive belts are remarkably few. I am quite sure that the Government and the Minister have been grateful to them for the fact that they have simplified what might or might not have been a maze of contradictions and possible exemptions. In other words, I think that the giving of a permanent certificate on medical grounds will be quite rare. But there will be the necessity for temporary exemptions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, mentioned earlier on, after some more recent illness or traumatic incident or, for that matter, while the seat belts or the seats themselves in the car are being adjusted to the individual's needs.
As regards the disabled, I can only reiterate the words that we have heard so often from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, that the disabled need the protection of seat belts much more than the average person. In fact it has been shown that the disabled are almost habitual wearers of seat belts without any regulations or restrictions at all. The more they are disabled, the more they tend to wear seat belts. In passing, I should like to underline one point that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, made in our debate on 15th July. She said that for paraplegics it was very essential that, apart from their seat belts, which were also essential—they should also have headrests, because with their lack of control, "whiplash" is very likely.
On the question of medical exemptions, I think that it is a pretty good rule to say that anybody who is fit to drive a car is fit to wear a seat belt. It makes it fairly simple—perhaps too simple, as these things often are. But equally well I should like to say that all the owners of orange badges should certainly not claim automatic exemption.
Perhaps I may deal very briefly, as did the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention, with some of the conditions which have become "front runners" in the "exemption stakes", if I may put it that way. These have been quoted in the document produced by the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention. They deal with stiff necks and stiff shoulders. Your Lordships will remember that the procedures of "reversing" are already exempt. So that, to a large extent, copes with the trouble in that region. However, these conditions can very often be compensated by 473 movements of the trunk or by the proper use and adjustment of either side or rear mirrors.
Chest scars are a common cause of trouble and argument. They can be avoided by properly adjusted belts to prevent friction and by varying the height of the seat or the point of fixation of the belt. The same applies to abdominal scars. The moot question of ileostomies and colostomies where the bowel opens on the abdominal wall are slightly more difficult, but I can only say as a very ex-surgeon, that the openings of colostomies and ileostomies should be out of the target area of a belt, if they have been properly made.
I hardly dare mention the word "pregnancy", because the last time I did so I was told in no uncertain terms by a number of noble Baronesses in this House that as I had had no personal experience of the condition my remarks were those of a male chauvinist pig. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will probably agree with those remarks. When the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, spoke about "short delivery" I wondered whether we were getting into more difficult problems on the pregnancy side, but apparently she was not talking about that at all. Because of the barrage that I got on the last occasion, I have gone to some trouble to try to find out all there is to be found out about the question of pregnancy and seat belts in other countries, some of which have been enforcing the wearing of seat belts for a considerable number of years and some for not so long.
The noble Lord, Lord Richardson, has already told us more or less the result of those inquiries; namely, that none of the countries using seat belts has found any sound grounds for automatic exemption. That applies to any stage in pregnancy. Here again, very often one finds that the pregnant woman tends to be a habitual seat-belt wearer, for the simple reason that common sense tells her that she is not only saving herself but her unborn baby. As the noble Lord, Lord Richardson, has already said, there has been no report anywhere of an unborn baby being killed by a seat belt.
When we come to the question of obesity, stature, size and shape, I think that any fair person would agree that this is a much more difficult problem. But when—as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggests—we have more useful seat belts, I believe that these problems will be coped with as from individual to individual.
Claustrophobia is another popular reason for exemption and it is not easy to summarise. The claustrophobic can, in general, be persuaded that it is foolish to be frightened of a seat belt, particularly if he or she is not frightened of getting into a car, which after all is a little contained box in itself. If he can get into that, then to wear a seat belt is simply an extension of the claustrophobia which the car may or may not produce.
There is one other small point concerning pacemakers worn by people with heart conditions. I looked into this, because one might think that the pacemaker was in a pretty dangerous position qua seat belts. Nowhere has there been any report of damage to a pacemaker, although I gather that patients have been advised to have their pacemaker looked at after some incident in which the contact of the belt with the pacemaker might have been closer than comfortable. So it would seem that obvious medical 474 conditions calling for exemption are really very few indeed.
If I must say something about the fee charged for examination—and I do not do so very happily—I should like to say how sad it is if the motivation of the general practitioner is in any way impugned by this fee, which was agreed between the Government and the BMA. I wonder how many of us here are really qualified to adjudicate on its correctness or not. What is the fee for in the first place? When we think of the number of people who will apply for this—and in view of these regulations they will not be very many—and when we think that, quite rightly, a large number of those who are poor or disabled will be paid for, I cannot envisage any doctor making a large fortune out of examinations for exemption fees. If a full examination is necessary—and it may come down to that—they would be so few that they would be rather special cases and would want investigation; so it may be that the fee will not be quite so gross as it seems to many people.
In conclusion, let us remember once again the number of eminent bodies which have hacked the wearing of seat belts to the hilt and which are equally well backing these regulations. Personally, I fervently hope that we have reached the stage where niggling, carping criticism can stop and that we shall be prepared to try to work this really great and major experiment in life-saving.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he kindly clear up one point which puzzles me? He mentions that he is President of the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention. Does he not agree that the wearing of seat belts will not and cannot prevent one single accident?
§ Lord Porritt
No, my Lords, I certainly cannot agree because I believe that they will prevent a lot.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I and many thousands of people in this country had hoped that this day would never come, for over the years we have been told ad nauseam that this measure will save lives—so it may. But we all know of cases, and many Members of your Lordships' House have told us over the years of cases, where the wearing of a seat belt has trapped the wearer and has led to death. That is a well known fact which has never been statistically acknowledged by the Road Traffic Laboratory or by any Transport Ministries. Indeed, I have sometimes wondered whether people there ever read the newspapers in which the accidents are reported.
However, as we have been so ably told by the Minister, this morning we are not discussing the actual principle of this Act because the elected Chamber in the other part of the Palace of Westminster has voted for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. So it has been decided that this is to come into force.
Therefore, we are discussing the regulations and I want briefly to comment on some of them. First, I should like to comment on No. 5—which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman—as to what makes a "local" round of deliveries. As the noble 475 Baroness said, I think it is well known that a large number of accidents happen locally when perhaps one's defences are down and one is not particularly thinking of what one is doing.
Regulation 5(b) is:driving the vehicle whilst performing a manoeuvre which includes reversing".What is a manoeuvre? I would have substituted "driving in reverse gear".
Regulation 5(g) says:in the service of a fire brigade and is donning operational clothing or equipment".Such a person need not be wearing a seat belt then; of course, it would be utterly impossible. However, I should like to take this a little further, because I hold the view very strongly that to wear a seat belt impedes one getting out of a vehicle speedily. As I said one year, although I have forgotten which year, I should like the police, when going to the scene of an accident or to investigate a burglary, ambulance crews and fire brigades to be exempt when on operational duties.
One then comes to Regulation 7 concerning the descriptions of seat belts. I should never be happy unless seat belts were able to be unhooked at the doorpost of a car. So far no one seems to have suggested that they should be. Otherwise a driver can be locked in and, without lifting gear, it would be quite impossible to get the door open. I do not know how many noble Lords present today saw in today's Daily Telegraph a report of an inquest on a man who died as a result of wearing a seat belt because his seat belt was improperly fastened and improperly adjusted. His intestines were made gangrenous by the pressure of the buckle, and he died. Until seat belts are compulsorily of a uniform design so that everybody knows where the buckles are, and how to unfasten them from the door posts, it is highly dangerous that they should be made compulsory.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, drew our attention—and so did the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—to the fact that these regulations will be in force for three years. I should like to know, as would my noble friend Lord Lucas, how we are going to get any statistics about what has happened as a result of accidents and as a result of either wearing a seat belt or not wearing a seat belt during those three years. I have asked many people who have been in accident wards in hospitals, and they never find out. Those that I have asked have never even asked whether the injured person was wearing a seat belt or not. I suggest that perhaps we should ask the police to keep statistics, because without them I do not think that in three years' time we shall be any further forward than we are now.
As a disabled person I am speaking personally. I have a great fear of being trapped in an accident, in water, or in a fire. However, I am pleased to hear my noble friend the Minister say that this issue is of a sensitive nature and that it is a difficult subject. If the Minister approaches it in that light then I hope that the end product will not be as bad as I fear.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, like a number of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I am an honorary vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention 476 of Accidents. I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which gave considerable thought to these regulations. Of course it must be accepted that seat belts will no more prevent every accident occurring than giving a child a shotgun and saying, "Well, you will have one cartridge instead of two". There are always going to be loopholes.
There is a strong case—there has been for a long time—for the standardisation of seat belts. I wonder whether the Government have really looked into this as carefully as they might in co-operation with the BSI. This is germane to the regulations we are discussing. If those who own old cars with seat belts fitted to cars with a B or a C registration—seat belts which could well be lethal—have to change those seat belts into modern-type seat belts to conform with the regulations, are they going to receive any kind of grant either off their road fund licence or elsewhere in order to do this? It is not always the case that drivers are wealthy people. Some need their cars, albeit old cars, for essential purposes and, while I believe in the main that these regulations are entirely desirable, some assistance should be given here.
We have heard the story of the liberty of the individual. I would make the point, even though it perhaps goes back to the legislation which will make these belts compulsory from January next year, that those who have relatives in the nursing or medical professions and who have seen and dealt with these accidents almost invariably say that if a seat belt had been worn, the injury would have been avoided.
Looking at the compulsory seat-belt wearing for adults and children in cars and the evidence about exemption submittted on 8th December 1981, one sees some rather strange anomalies. For example, in New Zealand it was said that drivers who were belted could not operate the brakes, dip switch, indicator, horn, wipers, choke, or sun visor. I do not believe this to be an adequate exemption at all. This must be the fault of the design of the car. Every driver, particularly in an emergency, has to use both the brake and the horn. If one has a blinding torrent of rain, as one could have in New Zealand as well as anywhere else, the same is true of the windscreen wipers. Also, in Norway we have low speed journeys involving frequent stops. We know that this presumably refers to newspaper vans and milk floats. Nevertheless, these are stretching the regulations rather far.
I believe that these regulations are desirable. There are snags in them. There are problems in every kind of legislation of this kind, but they are coming in for a trial period. Your Lordships will all hope that Her Majesty's Government will make a careful study in conjunction with ROSPA and the Road Research Unit and other bodies to see how this legislation works. We all want to see fewer and fewer accidents on the roads, particularly to children and elderly people, and notwithstanding any objection there may be, and any problems which undoubtedly exist, the wearing of seat belts will contribute substantially towards this end.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I should like to support these regulations, although I admit to having had in the past some rather mixed feelings about them. However, I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord 477 Bellwin, can give me some assurance on the main point that I am going to raise those feelings will disappear. The noble Lord said during his very able exposition of these regulations that one did not want to have too many exemptions. I entirely agree. One can have so many exemptions that one begins to wonder to whom the regulations apply. However, there are two slight exemptions that might be good. They may be there already, in which case I apologise. I am afraid I have not read the regulations as carefully as I should have done.
One is for those who are doing door to door deliveries—and here I use the word "deliveries" in the same sense as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and not that of my noble friend behind me—such as milk vans, for instance. If you are constantly getting in and out of your vehicle, the wearing of a seat belt is possibly rather an extra nuisance. The other is when you are manoeuvring a car in a car park. The trouble is that a seat belt often prevents you turning around while you are in the seat and seeing exactly where you are moving your car to. As you are not likely to have a head-on crash while manoeuvring the car in that situation, it might be a possible exemption.
The main point I wish to raise is that if we have these regulations it is absolutely essential that there should be some standardisation of belt, a point to which reference has already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, and the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Auckland; and Lord Auckland raised the interesting point: if we have standardisation, how long will the car-owner be given before being compelled to have the standard type fitting?
I feel standardisation is essential because it is vital to have a quick release mechanism, since it is not unknown, for instance, for a car to catch fire, and if you cannot release your belt quickly, you may well become a victim. Time and again I have got into other people's cars and fiddled for five minutes or more before finding out exactly how the belt was fixed, or, worse still, how it was unfixed. The release mechanism should be instantaneous, and I suggest that something like a push button release would be ideal, and that should be easy to arrange. In any event, the important point is that the belts should be absolutely standardised. Before the debate, a noble Lord, in talking to me, suggested international standardisation, and that should be our aim; but before that can be achieved it is essential to have our own standardisation. To make that point was the main reason why I put my name down to speak, and I hope the Government will seriously consider it.
§ 1.3 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, said anyone fit to drive was fit to wear a seat belt. I hope I have not misquoted him. I would tend to agree with him if I were happier about the design of seat belts, but I am not happy about their design so as to be comfortable for all shapes and sizes of wearer, and I repeat that I rate comfort for the driver of a car very high indeed. An uncomfortable driver is an inattentive and even bad-tempered one, and that is very dangerous.
In view of the fact that the order has been pending for a year, I am amazed at how few cars have a variety 478 of fixing points for seat belts, for this is a matter which needs urgent attention. A simple device to stop an inertia reel belt tightening itself beyond a point would overcome many problems, medical and other. Even more so would less fierce inertia reels. The difference between aircraft seat belts, which most people find acceptable, and car seat belts, which many people do not, is that aircraft belts, besides being lap belts only, have no inertia reel so that once adjusted so as to be comfortable, they remain comfortable. It is the too fierce—it may sound like the reaction of a wild animal, but I mean the too strongly sprung mechanism—inertia reel which is the culprit. It is not, as the Department of Transport and their advisers seem to think, the old-fashioned belt, which can be very comfortable indeed but is inconvenient in other ways.
Have the Government put any pressure on manufacturers to remedy these defects? Could it not be done by altering the Construction and Use Regulations? I am sorry that something has not been done already, long ago, to put pressure on manufacturers, because it is rather late now and one would like to see the results coming through before these regulations come into force.
As for the exemptions, I wish to consider first those on medical grounds, and I should like to know the composition of the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention. Does it include obstetricians, psychiatrists and specialists in other branches of medicine? If not, have such specialists been consulted? Particularly, have obstetricians been consulted about pregnant women and nursing mothers? If so, what was their advice? My experience of experts is that most of them are expert only in their own field and know nothing whatever about anything else, let alone everyday life. Their advice should be listened to but it should never be taken as gospel.
Some of the opinions expressed in the Guidelines for Practitioners by the Medical Commission for Accident Prevention suggest to me—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, as chairman, will forgive me for saying this—that the members go about in chauffeur driven cars, taxis or public conveyances and never drive themselves or, if they do, do not wear their seat belts. On page 2 they indicate that discomfort to the chest from seat belts occurs only when friction is caused by the seat belt being too loose. When I read that I went straight out and drove eight miles with my very tight-fitting inertia reel belt fastened. The movements necessary to drive the car caused continual friction. Had the belt been looser, the friction would have been much less, and had I been a passenger, I should not have needed to make the movements which caused the friction.
On page 4 they pooh-pooh the idea that very fat people might have a case for exemption on the grounds that the belt is not long enough. The fat man will obviously try to get a longer belt fitted in his own car, but what happens when he is a passenger in somebody else's car? I hope he will not be told to squeeze into the back seat of a Mini! What happens when he is a passenger in a sports car, or hires a self-drive car and the belt will not go round him? They go on to say that if his girth makes the belt uncomfortable, he can improve matters by,moving the seat and adjusting the belt".479 All of those who drive cars know perfectly well that the vital thing for a driver is to position the seat so as to have maximum possible control over the car. Other considerations are neither here nor there. You cannot move the seat back so that your feet barely touch the pedals in order to make the belt comfortable.
On page 6 they say:Inertia reel seat belts do not restrict movement".That is quite untrue. If they did not, there would be no point in having them. That is what they are for. They go on to say that shortness of stature is no obstacle to wearing a belt. There was a letter in Wednesday's Daily Express from a 5ft tall woman who said that seat belts cut her across the neck. No fixing point I have so far seen will prevent that. The Secretary of State's explanatory paper of last September said on page 9:Any driver who has difficulty, belt or no belt, in reaching the controls, should not be driving in such circumstances".Unless I am very much mistaken, the 5ft tall woman—who can reach the controls perfectly well with the seat right forward, but then cannot wear her belt—should not be driving. That is nice! Her living even may depend on her being able to drive. But that does not matter; by not having grown tall enough to wear one of the types of belt at present available, she is to become a second-class citizen of a country in which Mr. Average Man is going to make sure that he is all right, but never mind anybody else. If she has a sensible, kindly doctor, he may take the risk of giving her an exemption certificate, though I do not quite know on what grounds he would do so. On the other hand, he may not.
Later in the Secretary of State's document we have Annex E which gives the exemptions in other countries. If I am right in my interpretation of the various phrases used, only three other countries do not have exemption for people who are unable to wear belts due to their size or shape. I regret that we are to be less civilised in this matter than our EEC partners and those other countries. Some countries also exempt passengers over 69 or 70—I think that that would be a good thing—and some exempt foreigners who are exempt in their own country. So what about our precious tourists?—both those exempt in their own countries, and those who are not compelled to wear seat belts at home.
Finally, can the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, assure the House that the £19 fee is the absolute maximum where detailed examination by a specialist is required?—otherwise it seems excessive. In any case, I query the justice of anyone being made to pay for a certificate which has become necessary only through a combination of misfortune and Government interference. Besides, the noble Lord indicated to us at the Report stage of the Transport Bill last year that the probable fee where examination was not required would be under £2.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, first, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Bellwin, and indeed my honourable friend the Minister in another place, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, for correspondence over the 480 year in relation to the last Transport Bill, and in particular in relation to this subject. I followed the point made by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that we are not here to debate the principle of the matter, since, sadly, we agreed to that some time ago, and we are concerned mainly with the regulations that are before us. But there is one point that I should like to make, arising from words which were uttered probably without really thinking them out by both the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, and my noble friend Lord Auckland, to the effect that the introduction of compulsory wearing of seat belts will mean fewer accidents. It surely cannot result in that. Indeed, if the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is to be believed, it might cause even a few more accidents. What compulsory wearing might do, and what I am sure the doctors think it will do, is to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries arising from accidents; and that is a more accurate way of putting it. Those of us who are altogether against the legislation would argue that that is not likely to be the case; there is not sufficient evidence to show for it.
Like my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve, I believe that we must have good statistics, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Bellwin will take note of her suggestion that the police should be asked to provide the statistics. That would be very useful, so that in about 18 months' time, when we are beginning to consider the continuation of these rather unfortunate regulations, we shall have some sound statistics to go on in order to argue the point. I think that there is a great difference of opinion among many of us in this House and in another place.
I turn now to points in relation to the regulations themselves. I have given to my noble friend notice of the first two points that I want to make. The third point I shall spring as a surprise—but not a nasty one. First, when we earlier debated the general principle I asked the Government, in at least one amendment at what should have been the Committee stage, but which was in fact Report stage, to reassure themselves that there was a sufficient range of BSI-approved seat belt designs to meet the needs of users of all shapes, sizes and ages. Other noble Lords have made that point in other ways, but the key consideraton is that I asked the Government to reassure themselves on it before they brought the regulations into force, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me that reassurance.
In giving him notice I said that I would not be satisfied by a reference to the extremely detailed provisions in Regulation 17 of the Construction and Use Regulations, because they were introduced in 1979, and there is considerable evidence to show that the seat belts at present in use do not satisfy all shapes and sizes of people in the way on which I asked the Government to reassure themselves. Many people, including the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, have made it quite clear how important it is that the seat belt fits the person; otherwise wearing it can be more dangerous, rather than safer.
The next point on which I advised my noble friend relates to Regulation 5(a), in regard to which he gave as examples Post Office and laundry rounds. I should like him to tell me specifically whether that 481 regulation applies also to deliveries of foodstuffs to shops in towns.
Now I come to the unexpected question, but it is relevant to what I was saying regarding my first point. The RAC sent me an interesting piece of paper which stated, among other things, that most other countries—I presume the RAC means other countries which have legislation on compulsory wearing—exempt short people from the obligation to wear a seat belt. This applies in, for example, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and West Germany, to people under 150 centimetres in height, which I am told is approximately 5 feet tall. The Australian states have exemption where a physical condition—which also covers large people—justifies the issue of a certificate.
I should like to ask my noble friend whether it is the case that under Regulation 5(d) short people will be issued with exemption certificates, as in all the other countries that I have mentioned. I think that what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said in this regard was very relevant, and I shall not repeat it, but perhaps in considering my request my noble friend will remind himself of the fact that short people who have seat belts that are not long enough either will not be able to drive at all, or will be under permanent strain and will not drive properly. I should be very grateful if I could have the answers to those points. In the meantime, I hope that we do not have to put up with the regulations for a moment longer than is necessary.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
My Lords, my first aim today is to convey to your Lordships the views of the Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation, on which I serve as a vice-president. The association firmly considers that whenever it is at all possible disabled people should wear seat belts. Indeed, through figures provided by the BMA, it would appear that a higher proportion of disabled drivers already wear seat belts than is the case with the able-bodied. However, there are cases where the use of a seat belt causes unnecessary pain, or creates such other difficulties that the requirement to wear one prevents a disabled motorist from using a car. That indeed may cover one of the points mentioned today by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, in regard to the problem of the short person. The extra difficulties include those that are experienced by some trike drivers. RADAR believes that these cases, small in number as they are, should be given a certificate exempting them from wearing a seat belt.
RADAR claims that many disabled organisations are worried about the cost of the medical examination required—we have heard the cost mentioned today—before such a certificate may be issued. Although I understand that there is to be exemption of the charge in cases where a mobility allowance is payable, nevertheless there are some disabled people who do not fall within that category. For instance, there are disabled motorists whose age precludes them from receiving the mobility allowance.
In order that such occasional cases shall be accommodated, RADAR asks that medical examination, for the purpose of obtaining a certificate of exemption, should be free for any appropriate case that is already 482 registered as disabled with the local authority. Where cases eligible for the exemption are not registered with the local authority, possession of an orange badge should be accepted as proof of registration. If an orange badge is not possessed, a letter from a social worker confirming registration would need to be obtained. These are RADAR's suggestions. RADAR stress that their wish is not to seek for orange badge holders or others registered with local authorities exemption for all from the seat belt regulations, but merely to absolve the very small number who may prove eligible for exemption from paying the £19 fee for the medical examination.
My Lords, I make one last plea on the much-discussed subject of seat belts themselves. It really is necessary that belts be made with quick and easy release, and of standard design, please. Easy release matters so much for people who have ungainly and awkward hands and arms and who have to use a car for travel to work and for other, extra special purposes. I am a little mystified that there is still this puzzlement about the type of seat belt. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will tell us why it is that we cannot use the best that is in use overseas. I am sure there is some very good reason for that.
I began by saying that it was RADAR's view that wherever it is at all possible disabled people should wear seat belts in the interests of their own safety. Certainly I happen to be one who always wears mine. Anyone who works with disabled people will feel as keenly as I do that people who are able-bodied should be required to "belt up" now, not only in their own interests of safety but also in the interests of relieving over-used hospital beds.
§ 1.22 p.m.
§ Lord Airedale
My Lords, I apologise for not having put my name down on the list of speakers, but I was not sure that I could be present. I want to make only one very small point. There will inevitably be people who will have been trapped in their crashed cars by not being able to release themselves from their seat belts, and some of these people may be haunted by the most terrible fear of this experience happening to them again. If they go to their doctor and he is satisfied that this experience really happened to them, and if he is satisfied with the advice of a psychiatrist if he thinks it is necessary, then I hope that on medical grounds these people will be exempt, and will not have to go on fastening themselves into cars after having had this terrible experience in the past.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Viscount Cross
My Lords, I must also apologise for not having put my name down on the list of speakers, but, with the leave of the House, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. Like my noble friend Lord Mottistone, I am also in favour of just one further exemption, and that is for people who are less than five feet tall. Of course, the danger with people who are less than five feet tall is that the belt comes across their neck and across their windpipe, and that is a very dangerous thing to happen. The Government may say that you can raise the seat, you can sit on a 483 cushion or you can lower the anchorage point, but I do not think that in practice any of those things is likely to happen.
In this document, with which I know your Lordships will be familiar, Compulsory Seat-Belt Wearing for Adults and Children in Cars—Proposals by the Secretary of State for Transport, dated 8th December 1981, Annex E lists the exemptions. The countries in which, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone has said, there is exemption for people under five feet tall are no less than nine in number: Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, West Germany and Israel. There are a further three in which there is incapacity by reason of size by certificate. Those three are all the Australian States—and there are six of those—Tasmania and Canada. I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister what is the reason why all those countries, all twelve of them, have thought fit to give small people an automatic exemption. I think there must be a good reason for that.
I can think of cases in this country of people living alone in the country who might take their cars when they go to the shops, say, once a week. Those people might be prevented from driving altogether, and in those circumstances, because they could not drive, might have literally to move house to somewhere else rather near the shops. I do not think the Government would want such an upheaval in quite a lot of cases. For those reasons, I ask the Government to make an exemption and to place the exemption I have suggested in these regulations. In concluding, may I ask the Minister one question? Do newspapers come within the category of goods? Would someone delivering newspapers be exempt from these regulations?
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I, too, should like to apologise for not putting my name down on the list of speakers, but I was sure that the two points I wanted to make would be made by other speakers. However, they have not been, so if your Lordships would bear with me I should like to make them. First and foremost, I should like to agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, about taxi drivers. When one thinks of the number of taxi drivers who drive out to London Airport, more than half the distance on a motorway, at very fast speeds, the fact that they are exempt from wearing seat belts is in my opinion quite ridiculous. What is more, as the noble Lord said, very few of them leave their seats anyway when carrying passengers in town. I think the question of taxi drivers is something which will need to be looked at.
The other point I want to make is this. I drive two cars and one has a very clear red light which flashes if I have not got my seat belt on and also makes quite a loud noise. When I drive that car, I very soon put on my seat belt if I have forgotten. In the other car there is simply a small red light which is out of my vision because I have to sit rather far back, and I very seldom have a seat belt on in that car. I think manufacturers should be encouraged to put such a warning light, together with the noise, in cars, to remind people that they have not got their seat belts on. I think it is a very necessary thing indeed. I think Stirling Moss had 484 a seat belt the operation of which connected with the switch, and you could not start the car without putting on the seat belt. I would not go to that length, but I certainly think that a warning light and a noise is very necessary.
The question I should like to ask the Minister is this. Today, very few cars are made with bench seats in the front, but that does not preclude drivers from carrying two people on the passenger side if they have a large family, as I have. I have in fact done this many times. Since the advent of seat belts I have found that, if the passengers are not too big, you can get the seat belt around two persons. Will that be legal? It is not illegal to put two people in the front, but will it be legal to put one seat belt round two people to get over the difficulty?
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, as I expected, we have had a very lively and interesting debate. Although I shall try to respond to most of the points which have been made, I am sure that your Lordships will perhaps excuse me if I do not cover each and every single one. However, I assure your Lordships that I shall carefully read Hansard, and if there are some points which clearly concern some of your Lordships but which I have not covered, though I ought to have done so, then I shall certainly write to the noble Lord concerned.
As I said at the start of the debate, it is important to remember that we are discussing the implementation of the principle of compulsory seat-belt wearing, not the principle itself. From the variety of points which have been raised, I am sure your Lordships appreciate even more clearly than may have been the case before that our task in drawing up the regulations has not been an easy one. If we had accepted all the cases made to us for exemption, there would be few motorists to whom compulsion would apply, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Somers, himself mentioned. The task of the police in enforcing the law would also have been an impossible one; and to have granted exemptions widely would also have given rise to a sense of unfairness among those who were not so exempt. It would have reduced the potential for saving casualties, which, after all, is the sole justification for compulsion.
If I can try to pick up some of the points that were made, the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Mottistone, and others too have been concerned about short people and how this covers them. Surely, there is no safety reason for them not to wear seat belts. Section 33(b) of the Transport Act 1982 will require children under 14 to wear seat belts when riding in the front of vehicles. There can be no logical reason to exempt short adults. Short drivers may have to move the seat and the upper anchorage point which may be too high in relation to their height so that the belt might rub against the neck. I must stress that this is not dangerous—uncomfortable, Yes—but in the event of an accident a short person not wearing a seat belt (this is the point) risks far greater injury than those which may occur if a seat belt does not lie comfortably over the shoulder and across the chest. This is true of other people, again coming to Lord Monson's point, whose size and shape make seat belt wearing uncomfortable. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, was also concerned about this.
485 It does not mean that nothing can be done to alleviate their problems. We have been in discussion with car and seat belt manufacturers to ensure that advice on the variety of ways in which seat belts can be made more comfortable is widely available to the public through the trade. One firm of seat belt manufacturers have set up a number of specialised seat-belt fitting centres throughout the country and I would urge anyone experiencing difficulty to go to their local garage or to contact the car manufactuers or seat belt manufacturers direct to find how their particular problem can be tackled.
In the same way, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to elderly people and suggested that they should be exempt from compulsion. While I sympathise with those who may have difficulty in fastening and releasing seat belts, I do not think that we should value the lives of older people less highly than others. Furthermore, for those who have some medical problem, they can apply for exemption if on medical grounds and I think it important to remember that although drivers over 60 are the comparatively safe drivers, they represent 25 per cent. of car licence holders and exemption on such a scale would invalidate compulsion. On this same point, in any case—this is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised—it would be almost impossible to draft a regulation to cover all the circumstances for all the shapes and sizes. The driver or rider would not know whether he was exempt or not until he went to court to prove his case. Similarly, a constable would have to make difficult on-the-spot judgments and the mind boggles when one thinks of him trying to do that.
In response to my noble friend Lord Mottistone on this point, we are satisfied that the range and flexibility of seat belts, taken with booster cushions, if necessary, are proved, for the purpose of the construction and use regulations, to be sufficient except in very rare cases. These rare cases could be covered by medical certificates if that was justified. I would want to say also that to prove the concern that one has in these matters, the construction and use regulations themselves have twice been amended in this respect since 1979, which is not a long time ago.
If I may try to pick up some of the other general points the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked whether certificates can be used abroad. The answer is that this is currently being discussed with the ECE—not the EEC—to see if a uniform arrangement on certificates across Europe can be reached. We hope that we shall progress on this. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, deeply involved in this whole matter and for whom I think many have cause to be very grateful, asked about the taxi and private hire car driver position.
The exemption we are giving is solely on the grounds of the possibility of attack. In saloon cars, the drivers are vulnerable. This aspect influenced us very much.
On the point of foreign visitors, they will have to use seat belts if they are fitted. Regulation 6(b)(ii) covers that. As to certificates abroad, this is something which has to be taken up. At the present time, foreign certificates in Great Britain are unlikely to be used. The registered medical practitioners will include a foreign doctor if suitably qualified. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, coming back to the point about short people, that the easiest way to alter 486 the lock for those people is to lower the upper anchorage points; and the brackets for this, I am told, costs about £1 which I should not have thought was a major expense.
The point which without doubt has caused the most concern, I think it is fair to say, is that which concerns the medical certificate; the fee of £19 and all that surrounds it. What can one say about this? I tried to explain in my opening remarks why the Government have not used their powers to prescribe a fee. I would not accept that every doctor will automatically charge the recommended fee, regardless of the amount of work he has done. However, it has always been accepted in the earlier debates over the years on the principle of compulsion the doctors should be able to charge a fee. That will be a matter for agreement between the doctor and the patient who will be free to approach any doctor for a certificate. It would also be unreasonable to expect a doctor to consider carefully an application for exemption, and perhaps have to carry out a full examination, and then only allow the doctor to be paid if he decides that the certificate should be granted. That has been put forward.
When I look at some of the other suggestions that were put forward, the mind boggles. There were such suggestions as people should not be unreasonably requested to wear seat belts. That would take a little interpretation. There were one or two other similar suggestions. Coming back to the point of the fee, the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, I thought, spoke very clearly on this. I would correct one point that he made. The fee has not been agreed between the Government and the BMA. It is entirely for the BMA to decide how much to recommend to its members. We have discussed it with them at length. They still felt that that was the right amount. On the £19, if that should be the figure, I stressed when we covered this in the Transport Bill the other day—was it, my Lords, only the other day? At this stage I am not clear which day it was we took it on. I said then that, of course, there will be cases where the fee will be paid for those who cannot afford to pay it and it will be paid for through the avenues I mentioned then.
Several noble Lords expressed so much concern about the fee—my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and almost every one—that we have to recognise that this is a matter of concern. I hope that the very fact that we have discussed it as we have today will come to the attention of all concerned and that it will receive still more consideration in due course.
May I say on the point that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, raised about the psychological effect upon people who had been in an accident of some kind, that it would be up to the doctor to decide whether the wearing of a belt in their case would be inadvisable, and if he did so decide then he would issue a certificate.
The point that troubled the noble Lord, Lord Somers, on the release mechanism is also very important. I know that many people are concerned about the possibility of not being able to release a seat belt if they become involved in an accident, and also about the difficulties that some people may experience when fastening a belt. Someone who fails to wear a seat belt runs a much greater risk of being killed in an 487 accident than a person who wears a belt and cannot release it. That is not an answer but I think it is fair to say that.
However, since 1973 all belts fitted in new vehicles must be capable of being fastened and unfastened with one hand. The release mechanism must be marked in red and display the word "press" so that it is easily identified. The regulations also require the release mechanism to be within easy reach of the wearer and readily accessible to a rescuer. It is important that a rescuer is able to release both belts from one side of the car, especially as in some instances it is not possible to gain entry to one side of the vehicle. That is why the release mechanisms are in the centre of the vehicle. We certainly have not received any complaints from the emergency services about the difficulties of rescuing road accident victims who have been wearing seat belts. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that any slight differences in the types of release mechanism which may be found in different vehicles do not justify the rejection of the introduction of compulsion at this stage.
May I say to my noble friend Lady Macleod that I, too, have read the Daily Telegraph today and the article to which she referred. I would only say that seat belts are certainly necessary but they must be properly worn and fitted. There is no argument about that. Regarding the concern of my noble friend Lord Auckland about older belts, if someone wishes to change a belt he of course is free to do so so long as it complies with the construction and use regulations. However, there is no need for someone to change unless the belt is defective. If he does not, then of course there is no financial involvement.
I would comment to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who referred to an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, that belts are not designed to prevent accidents but to reduce the chances of death and injury when an accident occurs. We believe they will reduce these chances by 50 per cent. My noble friend Lord Mottistone asked whether these regulations will apply to vehicles delivering foodstuffs to shops in towns. Exemptions for vehicles constructed or adapted for the delivery of goods, and foodstuffs to shops will be covered if such vehicles are used but not if goods are delivered in saloon cars.
On the point of monitoring statistics, which troubled several of your Lordships, may I say that first of all the police already provide casualty figures which are used for the department's annual publication, Road accidents, Great Britain. It is our intention quite clearly that if we have a three-year experimental period, which is what we are talking about, then one would expect at the end of that time, in coming forward either for an end or for a renewal, to be able to give the kind of statistical information that people would expect to enable them to make a proper judgment as to where one would go from there.
I am sorry that I am not giving a detailed reply to the many fair points that were raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, but she knows that I will be in touch with her and will take the matter from there. What the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, suggests is not on. I can tell him that the construction and use regulations do apply. The noble Lord, Lord Richardson, referred 488 to medical exemption; the Act says a medical practitioner. It is for the applicant to choose whom he approaches. He may always get a second or third opinion which is not unusual and unknown in medical matters.
I opened this debate by reminding noble Lords—and I have done so again—that this House has approved the principle of compulsion. We have now moved into the final stage of introducing compulsory seat belt wearing. However, might I also remind the House, as my noble friend Lord Nugent said, that three years after these regulations come into effect they must be renewed by both Houses before compulsion can continue. I can assure the House that the Government will be closely monitoring the effects of the law during this period so that we can report the results to your Lordships when we take the decision on whether or not compulsion should continue.
Until that time, whatever our views now, we have to accept that Parliament has decided in favour of compulsion, and that it is our responsibility to ensure that the law is sensible and is fair to everyone. To be fair, the law must allow an exemption only where there is a strong case for it. Moreover, it must only allow exemptions in as consistent a manner as possible. The more the number of exemptions, the more people will ask why they too were not exempt in their particular circumstances I can inform the House that we have had many diverse requests for exemption: from window cleaners to wildlife photographers. Some exemptions, like elderly drivers, would have exempted such a large proportion of the driving population that the law would have been very difficult to enforce. Other exemptions would have exempted so few people that they would equally have brought the law into disrepute. If we had exempted some people on certain short journeys, other than that allowed in the Act for goods vehicles, in fairness we would have had to exempt many more. In no time at all, we would have discovered that more people were exempt than were required to wear belts. The law would have been brought into disrepute before it even started, and Parliament's underlying aim to save lives and avoid serious injuries, would have been negated completely.
Even so, I should like to give one final assurance, to those who are still concerned that the exemptions have been drawn too tightly. This is an important change in the law, affecting many of us who travel by road. We believe we have found the right balance between those who have a justified claim for exemption, and the needs for an enforceable law. But let me stress that this does not mean that the regulations cannot be changed. If, after a reasonable period, we saw a need to reconsider any particular aspect, then we would, of course, do so.
On the one hand, we have those who fervently await the commencement of compulsory use of seat belts—many even want compulsory rear belts. They would prefer that there be less exemptions. On the other side, as we have heard, there are those equally firm and genuine in their beliefs. I was most impressed and moved by the way—not what she said—my noble friend Lady Macleod referred to her attitude in this matter. There are those who patently want to weaken—some would say to undermine—the parliamentary decision, by seeking to incorporate exemptions which 489 would clearly make compulsion unenforceable. Neither extreme is acceptable, and certainly to make it all unworkable is not an option.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye referred to this as a Government victory. I would have to remind him that the decision was taken on a free vote. The Government were neutral in the original decision-taking but, as he fairly and popularly reminded us yet again, now it is the will of Parliament that this be the law for a three-year experimental period. What we have before us for approval today, is a balanced régime, which is carefully thought through, which is practical and sensible. I think that this House, with its great reputation for fairness, for rectitude, and above all constitutional propriety, should now approve this order in good spirit and let all concerned get on with it.
Parliament decided on the principle. As promised, the Government have now produced the draft regulations necessary to implement that decision. I commend them to the House today for approval.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, when he says that Parliament has approved the principle of compulsion, would he not concede that eight days ago no fewer than 59 honourable Members and right honourable Members in another place, including the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Jo Grimond, Mr. Enoch Powell, Sir Angus Maude and Mr. Mark Carlisle, all voted against this particular order?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says, but I do not see that it in any way affects anything that I have said.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 13.490
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Aberdare, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Airedale, L.||Davies of Leek, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||De Freyne, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Amulree, L.||Dormer, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Elton, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Avon, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Banks, L.||Glanusk, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Hayter, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hornsby-Smith, B.|
|Bishopston, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Brockway, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Kearton, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Cockfield, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Long, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Longford, E.|
|Crathorne, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|McCluskey, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|McFadzean, L.||Seear, B.|
|McFarlane of Llandaff, B.||Selkirk, E.|
|Marley, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Slim, V.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Milverton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Oram, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Phillips, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Porritt, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Rathcreedan, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L|
|Rea, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Reigate, L.||White, B.|
|Richardson, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|St. John of Bletso, L.||Young, B.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Monson, L. [Teller.]|
|Boothby, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Cross, V. [Teller.]||Spens, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Stone, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.