HL Deb 06 June 1988 vol 497 cc1167-82

6.59 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

This Private Member's Bill has survived the arduous legislative process of another place, first through the initiative and skill of my honourable friend Mr. Stephen Day and secondly because the restraint of human freedom implied in the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts applies only to children under 14 years of age. In this respect, it will bring the law into line with the existing position under the 1981 Transport Act which requires a child under 14 to wear a seat belt when seated in the front seat of a motor car.

The philosophy behind the Bill is that the parents or other adult drivers are responsible for the safety of a child below the age of 14, riding in their motor car, and should provide the necessary safety device. The legal assumption is that a child under 14 cannot be expected to be a judge of danger to himself. The casualty figures confirm that a motor car is a potentially dangerous place in which a child may travel. Annually more than 60 children are killed and more than 7,000 are injured while travelling in the backs of motor cars. Approximately 90 per cent. of these accidents happen when children are in the back of the motor car. This is a distressingly high figure which I am sure all noble Lords would wish to see reduced or eliminated as soon as possible.

The mandatory fitting of rear seat belts arrived on 1st April 1987, affecting last year's model of motor cars. Therefore, this Bill would only apply to all such cars as soon as the regulations were approved. Since 1981 anchorage points for rear seat belts have been fitted to all new motor cars so that the owners of these vehicles would have the option to fit seat belts. I expect that most parents would wish in the interests of protecting their children to fit rear seat belts, but the choice is theirs and there would be no legal requirement.

Thus the impact of the Bill is only a beginning in terms of legal requirement to protect children travelling in the rear seats of motor cars. It will grow year by year as the new models equipped with rear seat belts come into use. I expect that the publicity given to the regulations will stimulate most parents to take action to make their children as safe as possible in older motor cars.

I expect that other noble Lords, like myself, often see motor cars on the daily school run, usually driven by busy mums, with children climbing about all over the inside. It fills me with alarm to contemplate the risk of injury which they are running if there were to be an accident. This Bill will be a first solid step towards reducing these dangers.

There are many important points of detail which may be raised with regard to the various restraints which may be used to protect children in motor cars. Some of these will be covered by regulations, but many of them are concerned with what will be optional but very desirable extras; for instance, things like rear-facing baby seats, etc. Nevertheless, there is a number of important points to be dealt with in regulations after the Bill has been approved. I ask my noble friend the Minister to confirm that his department will undertake the fullest consultation to ensure that all points are adequately catered for. I should record that the police are entirely in favour of this measure and see it as virtually self-enforcing, like compulsory front seat belts.

Turning to the Bill, it is short and simple. Clause 1 requires that a child under 14 years of age shall not ride in the rear of a motor car fitted with a seat belt unless he is wearing a seat belt. The driver is made responsible for the observance of this condition; exemptions for those holding a medical certificate, etc. are provided for. Regulations shall be made by the Secretary of State covering those various other points in connection with the wearing of rear seat belts by children under 14.

Clause 2 provides for the application of the Bill to Northern Ireland by an Order in Council. Clause 3 provides for the Secretary of State to bring the Bill into action by a statutory order which shall be laid before Parliament.

The Bill has wide support outside. It has the support of many public bodies, including the AA and, I am glad to say, my old friends the RAC, who sometimes take a different view on seat belts. In particular, I thank my friends in the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety who have been a major help to me in providing me with briefing material. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

7.5 p.m.

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, it is a great honour for me to have the opportunity of addressing your Lordships for the first time.

The Bill before us this evening is commendably brief, but no less important for that. It deals with a straightforward point of principle—that it should henceforth be compulsory for children under the age of 14 to wear seat belts when sitting in the rear seats of cars.

I am concerned that this Bill represents a further incursion of the state into areas which should rightfully be the responsibility of the individual or, in this case, of the family. It is, I believe, another example of the "nanny state" at work. I am not of course against the wearing of seat belts by children and adults. Indeed, I strongly support it. Seat belts have undoubtedly reduced the risk of injury to the occupants of motor vehicles involved in accidents. What is less easy to determine is whether the benefits from this reduction in risk are sufficient to require that the wearing of seat belts should be compulsory.

My own four children are all over the minimum age of 14 and so will not be affected by the Bill, should it become law—that is, until they themselves become parents. However, I recall many long journeys in the past, more often than not en route for a family holiday, when the wearing of seat belts by the children would have caused all sorts of problems. We used regularly to invest in estate cars rather than the saloon variety. This was not just because it was easier to access the impedimenta of child care—food, drinks and mopping up equipment—from the back of an estate car than from the boot of a saloon. More importantly, it was because on long drives it was possible to flatten the rear seat and make a bed of rugs and cushions on which the children could and did sleep. On other occasions we used a camper or small self-contained caravan. In these vehicles it was possible for the children to sit at a table to read, draw and play games and occasionally to stretch their legs.

I appreciate that by not wearing seat belts, the children may have been at greater risk than had they been wearing them, even though at the time no seat belts were fitted. But I do not believe that the risk was significantly greater than the many other risks that have to be managed continuously by parents in respect of their children, in the conduct of everyday life.

The Prime Minister, in recent speeches, has been placing great emphasis on the family as the centre of responsibility—the building-block of society—a policy for which she has my full support. It seems to be contrary to this policy to place upon parents the burden of compulsion in performing the instinctive function of protecting their children. Furthermore, it will place an added burden on the police and the courts, when there are many more serious problems with which they need to be concerned.

True, it is envisaged in the Bill that exemptions may be granted (as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has told us) for any child holding a valid certificate signed by a medical practitioner to the effect that it is inadvisable on medical grounds for him or her to wear a seat belt. But for a naturally restless child, medical grounds may not be applicable.

It would be sad if active children were denied the opportunity of going on a family holiday by their aversion to wearing a seat belt and by their parents' understandable reluctance to break the law. Indeed, on the assumption that most cars will accommodate a maximum of three children with safety belts on the rear seat, it is difficult to see how families like mine with more than three children would cope at all. Furthermore, as we have already heard, the law would in this way also restrict the ability of parents to share the important job of picking up each other's children from school. There will, I believe, be many such inconveniences which will not obviously be of benefit to the children and may put them at greater risk by forcing them to cycle or to walk.

As I have said, I support all moves to make roads and vehicles safer for all users. I applaud the considerable progress that has been made in this respect in recent years. I believe the Government have a right and a duty to promote and to publicise new safety features and to educate the public in their use. However, in this instance I believe the Government are going too far in interfering with the natural responsibility of parents for the safety of their children.

7.10 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships' House this evening I do so with great pleasure in order to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on a serious minded, non-controversial contribution to the matter before us. It was a speech entirely conformable to the traditions of your Lordships' House. I beg to inform the noble Lord on behalf of your Lordships that we shall hope to listen to him on many occasions in the future. I have known various members of the noble Lord's family from prep school days onwards. As the years have lengthened some of them are now listening from the Elysian fields. I am sure they are nodding commendation and approval for the quality of the speech to which we have listened.

In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for taking up this Bill today, I again have some congratulations to offer—to wit on his birthday. I am sure that I speak for all your Lordships in wishing him many, many happy returns. He drank my health for the same reason the day before yesterday and I shall hope to drink his at the conclusion of the proceedings this evening.

Not for the first time we appear as companions in arms. However, I must tell your Lordships that in this particular context I did not see eye to eye with the noble Lord until I suffered a conversion as spectacular as that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. However, my conversion took place on the M.4 from Heathrow to Central London. Three of my grandchildren, who had spent two years in Canada following my son-in-law's posting to a NATO assignment in Ottawa, expressed indignation that there were no rear seat belts for them.

That resolved the doubts in my schizophrenic mind, equally balanced between the AA aspect of my persona and its RAC counterpart. The one was marginally favourable towards compulsory seat belts, the other was marginally unfavourable. It had seemed to me for some years past that in so marginal a situation the status quo should have it. However, my grandchildren recruited me to the camp of the noble Lord. I have remained a faithful adherent of that camp ever since and in that spirit I support this Bill.

7.13 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, upon initiating this Bill. I also wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on his maiden speech. I must be, honest, however: I would not exactly have said that he was uncontroversial. But he did bring up some very interesting points.

I have read the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said that the Bill was short and simple. I have read it several times and I found it rather convoluted. All I do know is that from a certain date children under the age of 14 sitting in the back of a motor vehicle must wear seat belts if the vehicle is fitted with them.

I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said. I had never thought about estate cars, although I drive one. Actually it is a hatchback but I can put the rear seats down. If there are two or three children lying in the back they cannot have seat belts put on them because the seats are not there. Perhaps we should think about that in future.

However, the Bill mentions specifically children up to the age of 14 years. If children are in the back of a car and that car hits another car or an immovable object, the children will be catapulted forward and they will go through the windscreen. They will knock it out and, if they are not killed, they will be seriously disfigured. Are we honestly saying that this can happen up to the age of 14 but that beyond that age it does not happen? Of course it does. If an adult is sitting in the back of a car and that car is in an accident, that adult, whether he is 14, 15, 16 or 60, will go over the front seat and through the windscreen should the car come to a sudden stop.

I know someone very well who will hate me for what I am about to say. She told me that there was no way that she would wear a rear seat belt because she regarded it as an invasion of her privacy. I heard that argument when the law concerning the wearing of front seat belts was brought in. Before that law was brought in I personally wore seat belts even when they were not legally required. I was once in a head-on collision with another car. It was not my fault and the insurance company backed me up on that. I wrapped the steering wheel around the steering column. My passenger did himself no good at all. If he had been wearing a seat belt, I think he would have been all right.

I have always worn a seat belt. I started off with the aircraft type of seat belt. They took about five minutes to get into and five minutes to get out of. They were very cumbersome. The modern seat belts are very good except if one happens to be a lady. The people who publish pictures of motor cars design seat belts for men. It is all right for a man but the seat belt cuts across the neck or the bosom of a lady. They can be very uncomfortable. They should be adjustable. I have an MG Metro turbo in which the seat belts are adjustable. They can be unscrewed and lowered.

I appreciate that I am meant to be talking about rear seat belts but I am trying to get over the point that seat belts save lives. If they will save the life of a 14 year-old, will they not also save the life of a 15 year-old, a 16 year-old, a 17 year-old and those in other age groups? I should like to bring these points up at a later stage in the debate.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I too should like to thank my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for introducing this modest but very important and necessary Bill to your Lordships' House tonight. As many noble Lords present will be aware, I have the honour to be the president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It will, therefore, come as no surprise that I speak with considerable personal commitment to the content and purpose of this Bill.

Over the years, the Department of Transport and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, have produced and disseminated considerable volumes of publicity designed to educate adults about the risks involved when young children are carried unrestrained in the rear of a motor vehicle.

Clearly it is right that such publicity efforts should be directed at adults, as young children are not in a position to provide for their own safety while travelling as passengers in the family car. There can be few parents who do not know just how dangerous it is to carry their children unrestrained on car journeys. They must also be aware of the modest cost involved in providing a good standard of protection. Indeed there are now schemes under which the necessary safety equipment may be borrowed, and, thanks to the enterprise of a company known as Kwik-Fit, a national scheme exists to provide for the free professional fitting of safety seats and a full refund of the purchase price once a child has outgrown the equipment.

Despite all of that, on the latest published data available to us over 1,000 children under the age of 14 are killed or seriously injured each year as unrestrained and helpless passengers in the rear seats of motor cars. It cannot be right that this young and vulnerable group of road-users should continue to be placed at risk by the foolhardiness of adults. Given our current state of knowledge and the low-cost availability of suitable safety equipment, I urge your Lordships to support the Bill and to provide for the protection of those who cannot act in their own defence.

7.21 p.m.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham

My Lords, I, too, should like to support the Bill and also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on introducing it. I should like also to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Cobbold on his excellent maiden speech.

I support the Bill and applaud its aims. However, I should like to put in a plea for the licensed hackney drivers of this country. I think the Bill perhaps places an unreasonable burden on licensed taxi drivers because in my view a taxi driver cannot be held responsible for the actions of other people's children, especially if the parents are in the cab with the children.

Children are of different sizes—they come in an amazing variety of sizes—and require different types of restraint. It is unreasonable to expect a taxi to carry several different sizes and types of this equipment. Although there is a "reasonable cause" clause in the Bill, a taxi driver could still be required to justify his conduct in court, possibly with costly results. I should like to ask the Minister for some reassurance that he will give due consideration to these points and that he will bear in mind the difficulties faced by the licensed hackney carriage profession.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, introduced this short but far from modest Bill with his customary elegance; and we have been privileged to hear an excellent maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, with which I am pleased to say I agreed wholeheartedly.

It goes without saying that this is a well-intentioned Bill. Naturally no Private Member in either House of Parliament ever introduces a Bill without being absolutely convinced that in some degree it will be a positive benefit to at any rate a substantial section of the people of this country. The same is probably true even of governments. But good intentions do not automatically ensure that such a Bill is a good one: still less, that it should be given an unqualified welcome. Indeed, only a short time ago a Private Member's Bill emanating from a most distinguished and senior Conservative Back-Bencher in another place (now unfortunately deceased) was thrown out lock, stock and barrel by your Lordships without even being given the courtesy of a Second Reading.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, with whom I have often crossed swords in the past on the issue of seat belt compulsion, will not be in the least surprised to learn that I am one of the many people who oppose the Bill. Do the objections to this particular Bill correspond to the objections to the original seat belt compulsion measure? Yes, to a considerable extent; but there are also important differences. On the one hand, the argument that the sense of security conferred by seat belts positively encourages complacency, not to mention careless or even aggressive driving on occasion—an argument well supported by the evidence since 1982—obviously does not apply here since children, by definition, are not normally in the driver's seat. On the other hand, there are certain moral arguments against this Bill which are even more powerful that those which were raised against the original measure. I shall come to these in a moment; but let me first deal with the practical arguments, although of course even practical arguments often have a moral tinge.

First, the Bill will knock the well-known "school run" mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on the head. When our sons were small it was customary for parents living in a particular street to take it in turn to pile four, five or six children—or possibly even seven or eight children if the car was an estate car—into the car and run them to and from the school. During all this time over many years not one single child suffered so much as a bruised finger as a result of this practice. It not only saved parents an immense amount of time and expense, but was much safer for the children too, who did not have to cross busy roads to catch buses and were not at risk from sex maniacs when walking along the street. So unless this Bill is amended to exclude the school run, children will actually be at greater risk in future than they are at present.

Then, what about large families, which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold? Rear seats belts, when fitted, normally cater for two or, at most, three passengers; but many families have four or five children under 14 and smaller families frequently want to take cousins or friends out on picnics or excursions with them. What are these unfortuante families to do? Assuming they are not single-parent families—a big assumption nowadays—they must buy two cars and drive everywhere in convoy, very expensively, or they must switch to an old car where no rear seat belts are fitted.

Old cars are often more reliable than new ones. For instance, one of my cars was first registered in 1964 and on a frosty winter's morning it usually starts up far more readily than my other car, which was first registered over 20 years later. However, it cannot be denied that older cars lack the braking power, the road-holding ability and the visibility of newer cars and, as such, they are inherently more dangerous, not only to the occupants but to other road users. It seems strange that the Department of Transport is apparently agreeable to a measure which would have the effect of keeping inherently less safe cars on the road instead of their being scrapped.

Then what about the police? The police are going to have to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of which makes, which models and which years of cars are or are not fitted with rear seat belts. They will also have to be able to distinguish in a car moving at speed, possibly through tinted windows, whether a child is 11, 12, 13 or 14. That is difficult enough in a static queue of young people waiting to get into an X-rated film.

Finally, what about fidgety or naughty children who unbuckle their seat belts, either accidentally or deliberately? Is the child to be hauled before a juvenile court in the latter circumstance? If not, and if the parent is to be prosecuted for the child's misdeeds, will not this encourage the driver of the car constantly to swivel his or her head round when driving at speed to check whether the buckles are fastened, thereby putting themselves, the children and all other road users at enormous risk?

Now I come to the purely moral, as opposed to the partially moral, arguments. I do not intend to go down the libertarian road regarding the individual's right of free choice in matters concerning his personal safety and wellbeing. That is because it is all too obvious that a majority—I hope merely a temporary majority—of people in Britain today want to deny others that choice. The chief ambition of a surprising number of people nowadays seems to be to achieve the age of 95 or 100, with all other considerations subordinated to that aim. Of course that is their own affair; but what one objects to is their evident desire to compel other people by law to alter their lifestyles so as to maximise their chances of attaining the age of 95 or 100 too, whether they wish to do so or not. However, it is no use swimming against a transient tide. One has to accept that if a majority of people feel that adults have no rights in this matter it follows that an even larger number will believe that children and young adolescents should have no rights in this matter either.

However, there is another moral argument that may even make the paternalists among us stop and think. When some years ago the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, was speaking to his amendment which first introduced seat belt compulsion, he readily admitted that compulsion would lead to the deaths of some individuals who were compelled to wear belts. He justified this, as others before and since have done, on the grounds that for every individual killed by the wearing of seat belts hundreds would be saved. It is true that very many more lives are saved than lost as a result of compulsion, although that does not alter the ethical objections to compelling people to put themselves at risk, other than in time of war or grave national emergency.

However, where children are concerned the position is worse, in that the ratio of lives saved to lives lost is likely to be narrower. There are three reasons for this. The first is that a child's head is heavier in relation to its body than is an adult's head: this is likely to lead to a greater incidence of whiplash injuries. The second is that because children are by definition much shorter on average—and that has already been mentioned this evening—the belts are much more likely to lie across their throats, with the risk of serious injury to their throats or even strangulation in the event of sudden deceleration. The third is that, notwithstanding that small children may accidentally release their belt buckles while fidgeting, they are far less likely than adults to be able to release their belts deliberately in the panic circumstance of the car catching fire or plunging into water.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that 120 cars burst into flames every day, according to the statistics given by someone who is strongly pro-compulsion, and last year more people drowned in their cars than drowned in boating accidents.

That leads us to an extraordinary paradox. If the Bill goes through it will be perfectly legal for parents to refuse to have their children vaccinated against dangerous and possibly fatal diseases, despite all the pleading of the authorities and the medical profession, on the grounds that vaccination is very occasionally dangerous. Yet it will be quite illegal for parents to refuse to strap in their children on the grounds that belts are occasionally dangerous, despite the fact that the principles are identical in each case. I do not think that such double standards can be defended.

All those objections of principle and practice will, I am sure, be dismissed on the grounds that on balance the legislation would save lives. One must stress the words "on balance". But to compel by law all those—whether adult or juvenile—who ride bicycles or horses to wear crash helmets would also save lives. To lower the speed limit on motorways and dual carriageways to 55 miles an hour, as in parts of the United States, and on minor roads to 35 or 40 miles an hour, as in the Channel Islands, would save lives. Undoubtedly to treat tobacco like heroin or cocaine would save lives. To outlaw alcohol, animal fats and sugar would save lives. To ban boxing, rugby football, steeplechasing and mountaineering would save lives. But where will it all end?

It would be discourteous to treat the Bill in the same ruthless way as the late honourable Member for Kensington's Bill was treated the other day: I for one certainly do not propose to do so. However, the Bill deserves thorough scrutiny at a later stage. Thorough scrutiny is what it will get.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I apologise for not having put my name down to speak in this debate. I am a longstanding honorary vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I support the Bill wholeheartedly. My wife and I have six grandchildren and our two daughters are fanatical supporters of rear seat belts.

I think that it is important to bear in mind that this is not retrospective legislation. It applies as I understand it to new cars in which seat belts have all the aids of modern technology. I should like to point out that in Australia, which I visited at the end of 1986 on parliamentary business, seat belts are mandatory and have saved lives galore. It is difficult to decide on a mandatory age, but 14 seems reasonable.

Those who say that children fidget in the back of cars are quite right; of course they do. If one drives 200 or 300 miles with three small children in the back of a car of course they will fidget. But if they tap mum or dad on the shoulder it is much better for them to be wearing seat belts because if they do not wear them there is much more chance of their being thrown through the windscreen than if they are restrained.

In a serious accident there is no guarantee that children or anybody else will survive. However, I believe that the Bill is a valuable addition to efforts to curb the enormous loss of life among young people in accidents on motorways and elsewhere. In that spirit I wholeheartedly support my noble friend's Bill.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, like everyone else this evening I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, on bringing the Bill forward from another place and presenting it to your Lordships so clearly tonight.

There seem to have been only two speeches from which I would dissent. One was that of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, which does not surprise me at all. I do not say that in any aggressive sense. I greatly respect his logic, his libertarianism and the way in which he always makes the point on this kind of Bill. I shall deal with that in more detail in a moment.

The other speech with which I have some disagreement was that of my noble friend, Lord Cobbold. The Companion tells us that we should not all congratulate maiden speakers on their maiden speeches. I do not intend to do so. What I intend to do is to say how pleased I am to see him in his place and to have a new recruit to our ranks who has now made his maiden speech and will speak on many other subjects, much to our enjoyment. Perhaps I may take him up on one or two things that he said.

I respect very much what he said in relation to the problem of carrying children in motor cars. Going back a few years I remember trying to carry five children in a car. It was not a station waggon; it was an ordinary saloon car. Indeed, the problems came back to me as he spoke. I think that he raised a question which needs an answer from the sponsors of the Bill. How do you cope with the situation of a family going on holiday with a large number of children and perhaps a dog or two in the back and travelling a long way? Quite clearly it is very difficult to fit them all with seat belts. Similarly I think that the questions which have been raised about school runs are important.

Having said that I nevertheless believe that children in the back seats of cars should be restrained. I have no doubt in my mind that where seat belts are fitted—and they should be fitted in all cars—children should be restrained by them. The question of children fidgeting is difficult. I know that from my own experience. However, it is far better that they should be restrained while they fidget than that they should be crawling all over daddy or mummy who is trying to drive down a motorway or along a winding lane in mid-Wales.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, also raised certain objections to the Bill. He rightly said that people are seeking immortality these days, and that is perhaps foolish of them. I think that a lot of attitudes in this country and the world today are dictated by the foolish expectation of immortality. It seems to me that while people may be wrong to seek to legislate for everyone to live until they are 95 or 100 there is nothing wrong with legislating so that parents take control of the situation so that their children can at least live to the point where they can make decisions for themselves. That seems to me to be the distinction in relation to this Bill.

Parents do indeed have a duty to keep their children alive. I think that that duty should be drawn to the attention of parents by legislation.

It is not just a question of immortality but of the strain on the National Health Service and other matters. At the purely human level there is the sadness that so many children should be killed in accidents, which is something from which we cannot step away in this debate

I listened with interest to the observations of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about the time limit. I should be perfectly happy to support a Bill that insisted that seat belts should be worn by everybody who was travelling in the rear seat of a car. There is a phenomenon known as the flying mother-in-law syndrome. A number of people in this country have been killed by a mother-in-law popping out of the back seat and being hurled not through the windscreen of the car but onto the spouse sitting in the front passenger seat. That may contain a certain comedy element in terms of the old music-hall tradition of this country, but nevertheless it is a serious matter. A number of serious injuries, though not necessarily fatal ones, have resulted from rear seat passengers being propelled over the front passenger seat.

There is also the consideration that if these provisions become law some parents may well feel grateful to have them on the statute book because at least they can say to their children, "You jolly well stay there—because the law says you must stay there and not just because I say so!" There are other methods of making children do as they are told but I shall not go into them now.

Basically speaking, with the qualifications which my noble friend Lord Cobbold has rightly made and which need to be answered, these Benches very firmly support the Bill. There is just one assurance that we should like to have from the Government tonight which concerns Northern Ireland. We should like to be assured that it is their intention to bring forward an Order in Council to make sure that this legislation applies to Northern Ireland when, as we all hope, the Bill has passed through all its stages. Once again I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and hope that the Bill will pass speedily through your Lordships' House.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on his maiden speech. As his noble friend said, there may have been disagreements with his comments but his point of view is taken seriously and is worthy of consideration. I am sure that in the course of making many speeches in this House he will recognise that although views may differ they are listened to and discussed and we are grateful that they have been brought forward. Your Lordships will gather from those remarks that I support the Bill.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on sponsoring the Bill in this House. He and I were comrades in arms when we promoted the amendment to what is now the 1981 Transport Act which resulted in the compulsory wearing for all of front seat belts. I also congratulate him because it is his birthday and I hope that he will receive the good present of having the Bill passed without dissent through this House. In the other place the Bill had all-party support and it is obvious that it will receive all round support in this Chamber.

This is a private Bill and I speak in a personal capacity without committing my colleagues, although I doubt whether any one of them would oppose this measure. It is a question of common sense. The Parliamentary Advisory Committee for Transport Safety to which many tributes were paid in the other place has communicated with a number of noble Lords and listed some 17 very responsible organisations which support this small Bill. They include the two automobile associations, medical bodies and the Association of Chief Police Officers. That may supply one of the answers to the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The association's traffic committee wholeheartedly supported the Bill and has said that it can see no problem with regard to the enforcement of this law any more than it had any problem with the enforcement of the law about front seat belts.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, gave various details about its effects and I shall not go over them again. Research has indicated that some 90 per cent. of children who travel in front seats wear seat belts but that only 31 per cent. are restrained when they travel in the rear. Those are two very important figures to which we should pay close attention.

The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, reminded us that this is not retrospective legislation. Cars which are now on the road do not have to be fitted with restraints. However, as new cars come on to the roads the number of restraining belts will accumulate because all new cars have to be fitted with rear seat restraints.

Generally speaking I prefer details and conditions to be written into a Bill. However, I recognise that consultations have to take place on a number of points in order to meet the provisions contained in Clause 1(3). I hope that noble Lords who have with them a copy of the Bill will look very carefully at subsection (3) and its various provisions for exemptions: children of any prescribed description, vehicles of a prescribed class"— that might meet the point about taxis that was made by one noble Lord— or the driving of vehicles in such circumstances as may be prescribed". That may deal with some of the points raised about the number of children in the back of a vehicle. Subsection (3)(b) provides that regulations may be made: defining in relation to any class of vehicle what part of the vehicle is to be regarded as the rear". Paragraph (c) describes the type of seat belt to be covered under this Bill. All those provisions will be the subject of regulations, which normally I should like to see written out.

When the Minister replies to this debate, I should like him to indicate whether or not this will be done by affirmative or negative procedure. At the Third Reading of this Bill in another place the Minister involved referred to: enabling regulations, which will require the approval of both Houses of Parliament".—[Official Report, Commons, 13/5/88; col. 645.] Did he mean that affirmative approval would be required or merely the silent approval that is given unless one has a Prayer to annul?

It is essential to put this legislation on the statute book as quickly as possible so that consultations on these important questions can take place. We should have the Bill enacted as soon as possible and have the regulations thoroughly defined. As has been mentioned, there was much controversy when the front seat belt regulations were put into effect. People said that that measure would not be accepted. Now 95 per cent. of people accept it. The police cite that creditably high figure for the number of people who wear seat belts. I remember one noble Lord who said, "I never wear a seat belt but when the legislation is passed I shall never drive without one". I believe that at least 95 per cent. of drivers now wear seat belts.

A survey by Gallup showed that 91 per cent. of car drivers support the compulsory restraint of children in rear seats. I respect the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and appreciate his argument that an adult may prefer to say, "Yes, I want freedom". It was an argument that was used when the amendment of which I spoke earlier was debated. But can that argument be sustained when it is applied to children? Admittedly I no longer have young children. My children would not care to be referred to as such. Nevertheless I have eight grandchildren, four of whom would be happy to be referred to as children. I can assure your Lordships that their parents ensure that the restraints on their cars are used.

Once this Bill has become law, most parents will take the same view on this question as they have taken on the compulsory wearing of front seat belts. They will do so, if I may be permitted to say so, in the same way that people have readily accepted the bar on their freedom to smoke in underground stations and trains. That bar has been readily accepted by the overwhelming majority of people. I believe that we need to have the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible. We need to consider these regulations in some detail, with the highest degree of consultation with the bodies concerned so that it can take effect on a date which I hope will not be too far in the future.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, perhaps I may join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford both on his birthday and on introducing this Bill to your Lordships' House this evening.

Although it is not a government measure, this is one which the Government are happy to support, contributing directly as it will to a reduction in the number of children killed and injured in road accidents. As my noble friend said, over 60 children are killed and over 7,000 injured each year while travelling unrestrained in the backs of cars. It is irresponsible of us as drivers to expose them to an unnecessary level of risk. If a child rear-seat passenger is restrained, the chances of death or injury in a crash or collision are reduced by two-thirds.

The level of compliance with the law on front seat belt wearing (95 per cent.) shows that the value of seat belt wearing as a common sense precaution is now accepted. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that children travelling in the front of a car are restrained. The Bill extends that responsibility to children travelling in the rear, where they are no less vulnerable, and where most child passengers travel. Some 90 per cent. of child car-occupant casualties are rear seat passengers.

It is all too easy to put children on the back seats thinking that they are safer than on the front, but when unrestrained they are not. In a crash—even at low speeds in built-up areas—they can be catapulted over the backs of the front seats into the windscreen.

The publicity generated by this Bill has led to an enormous increase in the sale of rear seat belts and child restraints this year as people have become aware of the vulnerability of unrestrained children. More and more people are having rear seat restraints fitted to older cars. All new cars must now have them fitted anyway. This Bill proposes that where such restraints exist they should, where practicable, be used by child passengers.

It does not require that all children in the rear of cars should be restrained—only that restraints which are fitted should be used. A large group would not be prevented from travelling together simply because there were insufficient seat belts. Equally, it would not be practicable to use rear seat restraints if there were four or five children squeezed onto the rear seat.

This Bill establishes the principle of compulsory child restraint. There are many issues still to be resolved in deciding how the law should apply in practice.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Does the Bill do what he said? It only provides for compulsory child restraints in the back seat of motor cars. Child restraint in other directions has yet to come!

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We are talking about the rear seats in motor cars. As I say, there are issues still to be resolved in deciding how the law should apply in practice.

The enabling regulations will need to accommodate a wide range of circumstances: the large family, the very young child, the school run, and so on. I hope that that will give some reassurance to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in his excellent maiden speech. I doubt very much whether I shall be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in any way.

The 1972 Road Traffic Act, which this Bill's provisions will become a part of, requires the Secretary of State to consult such representative organisations as he thinks fit before making the regulations. My honourable friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic gave an undertaking during consideration of the Bill in another place that the Government would consult widely about the drafting of the regulations. I am happy to repeat that assurance this evening.

So far as concerns taxi drivers—a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham—the regulations may well exclude them from responsibility for seeing that child passengers are restrained. That has yet to be decided, but their representations will certainly be borne fully in mind.

Furthermore, in another place the Bill was amended so that the making of regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That was a question that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me.

Regarding Northern Ireland—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—I understand that it is the intention to seek an Order in Council extending the Bill's provisions to Northern Ireland.

The voluntary use of rear restraints is increasing. We shall continue to encourage that with regard to adults. However, we have no plans at present to make compulsory the wearing of seat belts by adults sitting in the rear seat.

There is now a growing body of public opinion that we should move towards obligatory use of rear seat restraints for children. This Bill reflects that shift. This measure will make a significant contribution to increasing the safety of children travelling in the back of cars. It has the Government's full support.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his substantial support. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have given me such generous support for the Second Reading of this Bill. I must say a word of congratulation to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on his maiden speech. Although I did not agree with it—he would not expect me to—I admired the cogent points that he made. They were all points which must be catered for as effectively as possible in the regulations.

However much I may have appreciated his speech, it is as nothing to the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, did so. He never had a better ally. I was fascinated to hear the noble Lord, Lord Monson, going through the arguments once again on this Bill, which is much more difficult for him to oppose, I should have thought, although it did not seem to be. He managed with his customary fluency to marshall his arguments on why this was an altogether unacceptable interference with the liberty of the subject. I am grateful to him for saying that he did not intend to divide the House on the Second Reading of the Bill. I suspect—and I say this to the Minister—that we may have a lively time at the Committee stage when we see the amendments that have been put down.

I think the point has been well covered by my noble friend that where there are more children than seat belts the law would not require children for whom there are no seat belts to wear them. They will be worn only in so far as there are seat belts provided. The regulations have to cover a number of tricky points and some interesting questions have been raised this evening. I have no doubt that my noble friend has taken note of them.

I am sure that I should not spend more time now trying to answer a debate which in the main has been most helpfully supportive from all sides of the House. My old warrior colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was supportive in trying to get this seat belt Bill on the statute. I hope that we shall do so very soon.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended, from 7.58 to 8 p.m.]