HL Deb 13 June 1988 vol 498 cc74-89
Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Compulsory wearing of rear seat belts by children]:

Baroness Macleod of Borve moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 9, after ("vehicle") insert ("with more than three doors").

The noble Baroness said: I congratulate my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford on bringing this Bill to the House. I also apologise for my absence at Second Reading; it was not possible for me to be here.

I have tabled this amendment as almost a probing amendment because my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, in winding up on Second Reading, said that the Minister for Roads and Traffic would give an undertaking during "consideration" of the Bill in another place that the Government would consult widely about the drafting of the regulations. There is one aspect that I am particularly worried about which is the reason why I have tabled this amendment. I refer to the carrying of children in cars with only two doors.

I have driven a car with only two doors for a long time. I am well aware that people—children or adults—who are in the rear of the car when an accident takes place cannot possibly get out. It is not possible for anyone, whether the fire service or people on the spot, to release children and get them out of the car, perhaps over the heads of the adults in charge of the car.

I hope the Minister will bring this amendment to the notice of his right honourable friend because although, in my view, the principle of the Bill is right, in that it could save lives, I believe it is important to take this point on board. I have tried to get one of my grandsons out of the back seat of a car with myself and another adult in the front unable to move following a feigned accident. It was not possible. In that spirit, I beg to move.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

I thank my noble friend Lady Macleod for her congratulations to me on bringing forward this Bill. I thank her also for expressing her support for the principle of the Bill, which I would certainly expect because clearly it is going to save lives and reduce the number of injuries to children.

The problem concerning the amendment is that if included in the Bill it would exclude over one-third of all motor cars on the road—that is, some 7 million—which have two doors, usually with a hatchback of some kind. Therefore, the effect of the amendment would be to remove from one-third of all motor cars the additional safety we are hoping for with the progressive use of rear seat belts for children. An overwhelming case would have to be made out before accepting the amendment.

In fact, there is no experience—other than what my noble friend said concerning her own experiment in trying to release a child from the back of a car with two doors—in accident records of children being trapped in the backs of cars in accidents. This of course, is in accidents generally and especially in the most anxious conditions where motor cars are on fire or have plunged into water, with the consequent danger of drowning.

In fact, the Department of Transport set up an inquiry after compulsory front-seat belts were agreed to by Parliament. That inquiry, headed by two independent assessors (two professors from the London School of Economics), reported on those particular aspects. The assessors found that there was no increase in deaths by fire or drowning and no evidence of entrapment by seat belts.

Therefore, while I sympathise with my noble friend's amendment, I have to tell her that it would knock a large hole in the intention of the Bill by excluding one-third of all motor cars. Without convincing evidence that it was justified, we could not accept the amendment. I hope that my noble friend, while by all means asking my noble friend the Minister to hear evidence from anyone who puts forward in the course of consultation points about two-door cars, nevertheless will agree that there is not a sufficiently strong case to write the amendment into the Bill. I hope therefore that she will be willing to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monson

I warmly support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness. However, I have to say that whatever the theoretical objections—and I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said—I suspect that those who are inclined to resist it cannot understand the practicalities of life as it is lived by families today.

Assuming they have a choice and that they have not been landed with a two-door company car or that they can only afford the cheapest model in a range—and that is normally a two-door car—most families will opt for a four-door car, especially now those cars are fitted with childproof locks. The difficulty of getting carrycots and, even more so, recalcitrant children out of the back of two-door cars needs no emphasising. Nevertheless, inevitably some parents are obliged to convey their offspring in two-door or three-door cars from time to time, whether on a permanent or temporary basis.

What happens if the car crashes and the parents notice that petrol is spilling from a fractured petrol tank, or if the car is driven into a drainage ditch or reservoir and the parents find that either the door or the seat tilting mechanism has jammed? Most modern cars are fitted with padded head rests or head restraints which are hard but hollowed out for purposes of visibility. I have found that it is difficult, even where relatively neat, padded headrests are fitted, to transfer either a raincoat or small parcel or carrier bag from the back seat without having to get out of the car. It is even more difficult when much larger head restraints are fitted where there is a much smaller gap between the top of the restraint and the roof lining of the car. In the experience of most people, both head rests and head restraints are extremely awkward to remove from the back of the front seat even at the best of times, let alone in the panic circumstances of a crash.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, when he virtually denies that people are killed when cars catch fire, or drown, as I said at Second Reading, more people are drowned in their cars than in boating accidents each year. The motoring correspondent of the Observer, who is almost fanatically in favour of this Bill, admits that 120 cars catch fire every day, so I do not believe that it can be maintained—

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he realise that anyone can drown in three inches of water, even in a bath?

Lord Monson

Why add to the number drowning? Just imagine trying to rescue a child or children trapped by a jammed seat belt buckle in the circumstances of a potential fire or drowning. It need not be the car itself which catches fire; it could be the car or lorry it has crashed into. Theoretically, matters ought to be easier in a three-door car involved in a crash because one should be able to get in through the tailgate and rescue the child from there. However, if the car in question has been rammed in the rear by another car or goods vehicle, as often happens, that avenue of escape is barred as well. It is for that reason and not because of any desire to be pernickety that I warmly support this amendment.

Lord Underhill

I appreciate the spirit in which the noble Baroness has put forward this amendment, but listening to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, it seems that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, need hardly have spoken. The noble Lord ignored almost every fact that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, put before the Committee, including the evidence gathered over the past five years.

I rest the whole matter on the provision in the Bill that there will be regulations which will include vehicles of a prescribed class. If the wide consultations prove the case put forward by the noble Baroness, it can be looked at. However, that would mean disproving all the evidence of the past five years. There is provision in the Bill if we really want to check the position.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

I apologise for interrupting, but my noble friend Lord Nugent took the line that to accept my noble friend Lady Macleod's amendment would in effect remove practically all the value from the entire measure. The noble Lord seems to be suggesting that evidence given to the Department of Transport might in due course lead it to accept the exclusion of two-door cars. He has accused the noble Lord, Lord Monson, of ignoring what my noble friend Lord Nugent said against this clause. Would the noble Lord himself accept that an amendment along these lines, if it were substantiated by evidence given to the Department of Transport before it introduced regulations, could be perfectly compatible with the purposes of the Bill?

Lord Underhill

I believe that if evidence were found on the lines proposed in this amendment, then to a great extent the Bill would not become completely valueless but its value would be considerably diminished. That would depend on any new evidence. By passing the Second Reading, we have agreed that there shall be the widest consultations. I believe most of the amendments before the Committee are ones that can be covered by consultation. I believe that the facts that we have at present mean that we should not support this amendment. The wider consultations may bring further evidence beyond that which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, mentioned, but I doubt it.

The Earl of Halsbury

I supported the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in 1981, and I again give him unconditional support in 1988. I believe that the best contribution I can make to the proceedings of this Committee is to say that I support him through thick and thin and that I shall make no further intervention.

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

I accept my noble friend Lady Macleod's concern about the possibility of entrapment in a vehicle in the case of an accident. Such a possibility exists, but as my noble friend Lord Nugent pointed out, the fear is more imagined than real.

The chance of being injured in a crash or collision is very real and much greater. A TRRL study about the effects of seat belt wearing published in 1985 found that, in 1983, 13 occupants of cars and light vans drowned in their vehicles and 26 died in fires. In that year the total number of car-occupants deaths was 2,109. The total car-occupant casualties exceeded 130,000. The risk of death and serious injury can be dramatically reduced by wearing seat belts. The TRRL study and the parallel study by Professors Durbin and Harvey indentified at least 200 fewer deaths and 7,000 fewer injuries per year as a result of compulsory front seat belt wearing. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Anyone who has seen—

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

I apologise to my noble friend for interrupting, but perhaps he will allow me to make one point. He is quoting the evidence relating to front seat belt wearing, but we are talking here about the wearing of rear seat belts. What evidence do we have to demonstrate that what is relevant to the one is relevant to the other?

7.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am using the evidence of front seat belt wearing as an example of the kinds of savings in life that can take place. I have every reason to believe, as I said before and shall say again, that the impact of making children wear rear seat belts will make a significant improvement in the accident rate. Anyone who has seen the short film which has been produced showing how children are thrown about in cars involved in accidents will have no doubt at all about the value of this Bill in encouraging the use of restraints. I remind the Committee that over 60 children are killed and over 7,000 injured each year while travelling unrestrained in the backs of cars. I believe it is irresponsible of us as drivers to expose them to unnecessary levels of risk.

This Bill does not introduce any limitations or constraints as to the number of rear seat passengers that can be carried. It does not require that all children in the rear of cars should be restrained, but only that restraints which are fitted and are suitable should be used. Therefore, as I said at Second Reading, the Government are happy to support this Bill. As has been said, there are many issues that need to be resolved when drawing up the enabling regulations. We shall consult widely with all interested and expert bodies; namely, the police, who support the Bill; family organisations, motoring organisations and taxi drivers' associations.

I can also give an undertaking that we shall include in the consultation process those noble Lords who have expressed an interest in and some misgivings about how the law will operate. We shall not rush the regulations; we shall proceed step by step. There is now a growing body of public opinion that recognises the vulnerability of children as car passengers and considers that they should be restrained. Restraint reduces by two-thirds the chances of a child passenger being killed or injured in a crash. I submit that this Bill is in step with that shift of opinion. Wearing rear restraints is estimated to reduce child fatalities by 75 per cent. and to reduce injuries by two-thirds. Therefore, the Government cannot support this amendment or any of the amendments before the Committee. I know that my noble friend Lord Nugent will be able to deal with them most effectively and I shall not intervene again unless it is absolutely necessary.

Perhaps I may be allowed a personal view from the Dispatch Box. Having children aged five and two-and-half years, my wife and I will be affected by this Bill when it becomes law for quite a long time to come. We always try to strap in our children, and I fully agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, when he said at Second Reading that it is much easier to persuade children to put on their belts when the law says that they must. I must confess that I rather jumped the gun and I am already using that argument.

My wife takes part in the school run and we sometimes carry the children of friends. I have every confidence that the regulations will cover these kinds of situations. Apropos a future amendment, the children sleep quite happily when strapped into their seats. I hope that the Committee will allow this Bill to go forward unamended.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for his assistance. I feel very strongly about the two doors. I cannot agree with what the Minister said. I do not think it has been proved because so few children have had the ability, as he would say, to wear seat belts. They are not provided in most cars. However, as I said at the beginning, I brought forward the amendment in order to ask the Minister to take another look at the matter and to see whether he could incorporate it into the regulations. I do not wish it to be part of the Bill but it should he looked at as part of the regulations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 9, alter ("vehicle") insert ("in excess of 30 miles per hour").

The noble Lord said: I should like to—

Lord Nugent of Guildford

Will my noble friend be kind enough to give way for a moment? With the informality of a Private Member's Bill there are no formal arrangements about grouping amendments. However, it appears that Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are almost identical. I wonder whether my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will agree to these amendments being debated together.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

It is in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, but, so far as I am concerned, that would seem to be a sensible way of proceeding. I was about to make that suggestion myself because it is a matter of argument as to where the precise words should appear in the Bill.

I was a little concerned to hear my noble friend the Minister state that he did not intend to intervene unless it was absolutely necessary. I should have thought that, at least on some of the amendments, it would be reasonable and desirable that we should have an expression of the Government's opinion. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not regard that as a total vow of silence.

This amendment is a relatively modest proposition. It is designed to suggest that regulations introduced under the provisions of Clause I would not apply where the car was being driven at less than 30 miles an hour. I was much impressed by the arguments advanced at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I hope it is not too late to compliment the noble Lord on an admirable maiden speech. I only wish that I had been present to hear it although I have subsequently read it.

The point here is a simple one. It concerns a family that is on what I believe is known as the milk round, taking the children to school and in all probability travelling, as a family does for this purpose, a relatively short distance and at a modest speed. Children are collected at various points along the journey. I did not often do this myself but my wife did it over a period of years. Children are collected at regular intervals on the way to school by a car travelling at a modest speed. Of course an accident can happen but equally there is the certainty that children are getting into the car at regular intervals along the route. The problem of making sure that each and every one of them—so long as there are not more than two on the back seat—is at any given time strapped in for the remainder of the journey to school is rather greater than the promoters of the Bill would have us believe. I would not relish being in the position of the upholders of law and order who had to make sure that this legislation was enforced on the highway when children are being picked up at regular intervals and the vehicle is travelling at a modest speed. In those circumstances the danger of a collision is diminished.

I do not suggest that the amendment would transform the purpose of the Bill but, as the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, suggested in his maiden speech, it might relate the legislation slightly more to the realities of a day-to-day life for the average family. I beg to move.

Lord Cobbold

In supporting the amendment I take up a point raised by the Minister. It is important to be clear that what is at issue is not the wearing of seat belts as such. All of us agree with the Minister that seat belts are an effective safety device and that they have saved many lives and reduced injury on almost all occasions when they have been put to the test. The amendments are not concerned with the libertarian issue. Whatever may be the view of the Committee on the extent to which the state would be empowered to interfere with the freedom of individuals—it is one of the fundamental duties of the Chamber to give the individual the benefit of the doubt—we are concerned this evening that the Bill contains many anomalies which will make it extremely difficult to enforce in practice. It will be difficult for parents to decide how to operate it and it runs the risk of bringing the law into disrepute.

While I am happy to support the alternative amendment, Amendment No. 3, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, Amendment No. 2 seeks to enable the continued operation of the all-important school run. I should like to ask the Minister how, when he takes other people's children to school, he makes the decision whether to strap in those children or his own. That is a difficult decision with which parents would be faced in those circumstances.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

It is simple. The first in is strapped in.

Lord Cobbold

I am grateful for that reply. The amendment does not materially alter the Bill but would enable this perfectly natural and very much used operation of taking schoolchildren to their place of education to proceed as normally. It is sensible and will be welcomed by parents. It will reduce the risk of children being made to walk or cycle to school and therefore being put at even greater risk.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Monson

In speaking to Amendment No. 2, perhaps, as suggested, I may speak also to Amendment No. 3, which is tabled in my name. Amendment No. 3 is a possible alternative to Amendment No. 2. The slightly different wording of Amendment No. 3 has no special significance, but I contend that it would slot in at a much more natural point in what is a long and potentially rather confusing sentence. The purpose of the alternative amendments is to protect and ensure the survival of the well-known school run.

It is true that the Minister in another place on 13th May (at col. 645 of Hansard) appeared to favour the retention of the school run. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, pointed out in this Chamber only some three hours ago, when speaking in Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill, the trouble is that Ministers change. The present Minister, whom we all know to be an extremely sensible man, may well be replaced in due course by someone far less reasonable and far less liberal, in the true sense of that word. Indeed, he may even be replaced by someone from another party altogether, which could lead to even more drastic changes.

It is not without significance that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in his Second Reading speech indicated considerable disapproval, not of the school run itself but of the fact that it normally entailed many children being carried in the back of the car. He said that notwithstanding the fact that so many Members of the Committee and their wives (as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, pointed out) have practised the arrangement for many years without the slightest mishap. Therefore, unless some safeguard is written into primary legislation the situation could change for the worse in relation to parents.

Admittedly these amendments are a somewhat rough and ready method of achieving the desired aim. After all, not all school runs are confined to built-up areas. Nevertheless, they normally do not involve great mileage; for example, even in the country a four-to-five-mile run would be the most one would expect.

It is most important to remember what the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, pointed out. If children are forced to walk or cycle they are actually at far more risk than if they are in the back of a car, even in an unbelted state. As I said, it is not too much of a hardship to limit one's speed to 30 mph—or, in practice, to 35 mph—for a distance of only four to five miles. After all, there is no way that the police can tell at a glance whether a parent has been given an exemption for a school run.

I should also point out that although it is true that accidents can happen at speeds below 30 mph, films which use dummies do not recreate genuine situations. It is most rare for cars to be driven smack into brick walls; most accidents in urban areas are sideways accidents or involve glancing crashes of some type. Further, I have been advised that the heads of the plastic dummies used in the simulated film versions of accidents fracture at an impact speed of 17 mph, whereas a human head can hit a toughened screen, as opposed to a laminated one, at a higher speed than that and frequently incur only minor injury.

If the Government can bring forward a workable and enforceable solution to the problem I shall he glad to hear about it. However, failing that, I think the amendment proposes the best workable solution available.

Lord Tordoff

From these Benches I oppose the amendment on many grounds. First, if ever I saw a wrecking amendment, this is it. It removes the effects of the Bill from most urban areas. Basically I think that the people who move the amendment are really unaware of the dangers involved in impacts of cars against other bodies, whether they are glancing, head-on or going straight into a wall. The fact of the matter is that the amount of energy created by a moving body—which a child is when it leaves the back seat and hits something in front of it—is half MV2. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, will confirm that fact. When one starts squaring up "V" one begins to have an awful lot of energy released. That is why three bodies moving through a car and hitting a windscreen, the back seat or the person in front can do a great deal of damage, whether it is at 15, 20 or 30 mph. The restriction to 30 mph does not make sense in practical terms. Apart from anything else it completely rules out the operation of the Bill in any urban area. Therefore I hope that Members of the Committee will oppose it.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I should like to say one word in response to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, I too oppose the amendment and, indeed, all the others. I think the noble Lord, Lord Monson, used the word "adult". We are not dealing with adults; we are dealing with children whose heads have not yet formed properly and which are therefore still very soft.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

I thank my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux for his kind support, and also the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I am indeed glad that I have found one point on which I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monson, because it is not often that I agree with him. Amendment No. 3 is drafted better than Amendment No. 2. Even so, I am afraid that I do not advise Members of the Committee to accept it.

First, may I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and indeed my noble friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne, that the school run will continue. In another place my honourable friend the Minister, Mr. Bottomley, explained what will happen in regard to seat belts in the backs of motor cars. He said that children would be required to wear them. For example, if there are two children then they would both be required to wear a seat belt; if there are three children then they would all be required to wear a seat belt. Further, if there are more children in the car than that, then the other children will not be able to wear seat belts merely because there will not be any available to them.

Just how my noble friend the Minister will draft the regulations I cannot say, obviously it will be difficult. However, this is the principle of the Bill. In so far as seat belts are fitted, we want them to be worn because they will protect children—

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

I apologise to the noble Lord for interrupting him, but perhaps I may ask him whether he has ever been involved in a school run where children are picked up and possibly deposited at different points because they do not always go to the same school. Has the noble Lord really contemplated the practicality of having the adult in the car legally responsible—regardless of the circumstances—subject to legal pains and penalties if a child picked up at one point has not immediately attached the seat belt; and if another child, picked up at another point (replacing a child which has perhaps been deposited at a different school on the way around) has not done so? I say again, has he really contemplated the practicalities in terms of the school run?

Lord Tordoff

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, whether he agrees that adults should be legally responsible for children under the age of 14, or does he seek some wider change in the law of this country?

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

If the noble Lord will forgive me, I am not sure that is a suitable subject for discussion this evening. Of course the parent or guardian is legally responsible for the safety and performance of under-age children; there is no argument about that. The issue of practicalities does not always receive the attention it deserves.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

I think that perhaps I should continue my speech because we seem to be getting somewhat out of order. Of course we are pretty flexible in this place but there are limits to how far we can stretch that flexibility. I accept that it is inconvenient to introduce this law. I also accept that it will be most difficult to draft amendments in order to accommodate the school run, which will obviously continue. However, that is what my noble friend and his honourable and right honourable colleagues are willing to do, and therefore we should ask them to do it.

It is a difficult and practical point. However, the practical point that I return to is that those of us who want children to have the protection of wearing seat belts in the backs of cars are conscious of the fact that more than half of the accidents and injuries that occur on the road occur in built-up areas. Therefore, if we accept the amendment we will have knocked out more than half of the motor-car miles that we wish to cover. In those circumstances it is not acceptable, and we are left with the practical problem (outlined most cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne) of just how the school run is to be accommodated.

It must be said that the police are willing to accept the Bill—and, indeed, they support it. They believe that enforcement will not present them with a problem. Obviously, the school run will be a delicate affair. There must be a bit of give and take over it. All I am interested in trying to achieve is that, insofar as there are seat belts in the back of a car, children should wear them. In that context the amendment is not acceptable because it will knock out half the mileage that we wish to protect. I hope that my noble friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will not press an amendment that knocks out half the Bill.

Lord Monson

Before the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, sits down, I am grateful to him for his kind compliments. Despite his assurances that the school run will definitely be maintained, how can he be sure that in future less reasonable Ministers of Transport will not reverse the decision unless we write the safeguard into primary legislation?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I have already made it clear that in drafting the regulations we shall consult widely. I have made it clear that we shall accommodate the school run. The amendment limits the speed to 30 miles an hour, and I see no connection between that and the school run. Many school runs take place in rural areas and drivers will do more than 30 miles an hour.

Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Nugent has said, about 70 per cent. of accidents occur in built-up areas. It would be unfortunate to eliminate that protection from the Bill's coverage. As I said, we shall consult widely. The regulations will be in the form of an affirmative resolution in this place. Any change that might be brought forward by some future Secretary of State will also be in that form, and there will be an opportunity then for debate.

Lord Monson

I appreciate that point. However, does the Minister agree that neither he nor his honourable friend in another place can possibly bind their successors?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I have just said that we cannot bind our successors; but the regulations will have to be made by affirmative resolution and therefore they will have to be debated.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether he is also taking into consideration the fact that a number of minibuses do the school run nowadays. Minibuses, not just motor cars, also have to be taken into consideration.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I shall take that point into consideration when we come to draft the regulations. As I have said, we shall take into consideration all the points made by noble Lords. I am not sure whether minibuses would have to have seat belts fitted.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

I listened carefully to the response by my noble friend Lord Nugent. It reminded me slightly of a story I heard many years ago from the brother of my noble friend Lord Home, Mr. William Douglas-Home, who wrote a play called The Chiltern Hundreds which was essentially about his father. The actor who was playing the role of the father was called upon in the play's directions to cross the stage, answer the telephone and carry on a conversation with someone off stage. The actor, a distinguished old gentleman called A. E. Matthews, was 83. One evening he apparently "dried", as the theatrical profession says, and was unable to recall the lines that he was supposed to speak. He turned to the leading lady on stage and said, "It's for you, my dear".

I am bound to say that that seems to be the attitude of my noble friend in his response to the amendment. He does not know how the school run will be maintained within the legislation. He turns to the Government and says that it is for them to come up with a good solution. But, after all, this is not government legislation; it is my noble friend's legislation. I do not believe that his reply was satisfactory. However, I accept with reluctance his unwillingness to have the amendment written into the Bill and I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

7.45 p.m.

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

In calling Amendment No. 4 I should point out to the Committee that if the amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 5.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 10, leave out from ("there") to ("in") in line 12 and insert ("are in the rear of the vehicle not more than three persons some or all of whom are children under the age of fourteen years who are not wearing seat belts").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 5 to which I added my name but about which I must confess that I have subsequently had second thoughts. Amendment No. 5 is a somewhat stronger and simpler alternative, but I am not sure that it will be wholly acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and his friends.

Once again, some of us feel strongly that safeguards should be written into primary legislation. What reinforces that belief is the evidence of some confusion and cross-purposes within the Government and among the Bill's supporters. Some of them have suggested that all existing seat belts in the rear of a car will have to be used by children if the Bill becomes law. A moment's thought would demonstrate the difficulty of working that out. If there are four or five children and two of them have to wear belts, the others will be squeezed into a tight space in the centre and their arms and legs will be entangled and so forth.

The Minister in another place pointed out in Standing Committee on 27th April 1988 at cols. 14 and 15 that if three adults and two children were packed in the back of a car, in practice none would be able to wear seat belts. There would be two seat belts that could not be used. Some confusion is already becoming apparent. On 6th June the Minister said, at col. 1180 of Hansard, that it would equally not be practicable to use rear seat restraints if there were four or five children squeezed up in the rear seat.

What the Minister said this afternoon rather contradicts that. He said that if four or five children were squeezed on the back seat two or three of them would have to wear belts. One can see that there is confusion among the Bill's supporters and in government circles. For that reason, I beg to move.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I dare say that it is drafted with a good deal more skill than my Amendment No. 5 and so I am happy to subsume my amendment in the terms of Amendment No. 4.

Here, it seems to me that we are touching upon what is potentially one of the more intractable and unenforceable aspects of the legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in his maiden speech pointed out, and as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, reminded us, one will frequently have substantially more than two children on the back seat of a car, especially on the school run, and yet apparently the police arc expected to adjudicate as to which children should wear seat belts and which children are properly not equipped in that way. The reality is that when one has three or four children on the back seat of a car, as one may well have especially on a school run, there will be no prospect of sorting out which children are wearing scat belts and which are not. I seriously suggest to my noble friend that this is one of the aspects of the Bill which will create quite intractable problems of adjudication and grave difficulties of enforcement from the point of view of the police and the courts, if it comes to the courts having to adjudicate in cases of this kind.

It is not good enough, I submit, for my noble friend, our colleague in another place or the Minister in another place to say, "That is quite all right. If we have more than two children on the back seat then two will wear seat belts and the remainder will not". This will create impossible problems of enforcement. I should have thought that it was calculated to bring the law into contempt. We must have a better explanation from the promoters of this Bill on how precisely they expect this aspect of the legislation to operate than we have been given hitherto. I am happy to support the amendment.

The Earl of Erroll

I very nearly stood up before on several of the other amendments, for the simple reason that I cannot understand why we pass legislation which does not say on the face of the Bill what we all agree is intended to be done eventually through regulations.

It seems to me extremely dangerous that we should pass a Bill which says that if there are any seat belts fitted in the back of the car then everyone in the back seat must wear seat belts. In other words, if there is one seat belt, then one person must wear a seat belt and there cannot be any others in the car. That is what it says, "except as provided by regulations". The regulations have not been made, they are not there and we do not know what they will say. If we intend that school runs should go on and should be permitted, then I think that should be on the face of the Bill. That is what we are here to determine, not to pass the buck to civil servants.

Having said that, it seems to me that one of these two amendments, Amendment No. 4 or No. 5, is the solution to the school run problem and taking the children to the village fete, to parties and all the other social things that may happen in life. I do not think we wish to destroy social family life and therefore one of these two amendments is essential.

The other reason which I feel has been expressed very well by other speakers whom I support, is that if you have five bodies across the back seat you cannot fit two of them into seat belts and then have three crammed into the tiny space left in the middle. It does not work. You either have everyone sitting in the hack seat wearing seat belts because there are only three or less, or you probably have none of them. If someone can fit in, so be it but it should not be made compulsory by law. I think we must put something in the Bill which says what we mean and not have lots of vague promises. That is what we are here for.

Lord Underhill

I had not intended to speak on this amendment but, in view of the remarks of the noble Earl, I hope that noble Lords will bear in mind what I said on Second Reading. I believe that this is a most useful Bill, one which ought to get Royal Assent as soon as possible and we could then permit the regulations to be fully discussed. Frankly, I am one of those who believes that we should write on to the face of the Bill as many details as possible. But in this case I believe that the regulations will require the utmost consultation. That has been promised to us by the Minister.

The Bill provides for consultation and most of the points which are the subject of these amendments are detailed, in Clause 1, to be the subject of consultation. I should like this Bill to go through. One or two of the points which have just been raised will require most serious consultation, but what I want to see is the Bill approved by this House with consultations taking place. Then the regulations can be drafted accordingly on the affirmative procedure.

The Earl of Erroll

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that I think it is very wrong in principle to hurry legislation through just because it seems to be a good thing in principle and then pray that we can sort it out later. We do not debate the regulations: this is our chance to put on the face of the Bill what we mean. We are not going to debate the regulations, and to hurry this through is bad legislation.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

Noble Lords have merely gone over the same ground again about the problem of the school run. It is a problem; we have all agreed on that. While I listened with interest to the intervention by the noble Earl, he has done no more than repeat the arguments which have already been put forward by my noble friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on the last amendment.

Yes, of course there is a problem about the school run, we all agree with that and it was very fully debated in the other place. I thought that the general principle was fairly well adhered to by the Minister there, that in so far as there were seat belts he would expect them to be worn. I also have to agree that, if the congestion became sufficiently great, perhaps the regulations would have to provide that they should not be worn.

I think that the noble Earl's experience of legislation is rather limited if he thinks that it is possible to put all these detailed provisions in the Bill. What regulations are for is to cover details after minute consultations. Certainly the noble Earl will be able to come along and be eloquent when the order becomes before us. It will be in the affirmative form. If he feels strongly enough about it he could invite the House to divide against it. Whether he would carry a majority remains to be seen. Certainly he will have every opportunity to debate the matter.

However, we really are going over the same problem again. What those of us who wish this Bill to go through want to see is a beginning of the wearing of seat belts by children who are sitting in the back of motor cars. That will preserve life and limb which are now being lost. We know that there are problems with the regulations; we know that they will have to be flexible. After a great deal of consultation I hope that my noble friend and his honourable and right honourable friends in another place will get the best answer they can. In due course we shall see the affirmative order, which will come along for us to approve or not, as we wish.

Thus I hope that noble Lords will not continue to press this amendment but will accept that this is exactly the same problem as we have already discussed, and that they will be good enough to withdraw their amendments and trust to the fact that regulations must be produced which will, so far as is physically possible, provide for the school run to continue and that as far as possible seat belts, where they exist, will be worn.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for suggesting that his response to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, was to some extent somewhat dismissive. As he knows very well, it is all very fine that these regulations will come before us under the affirmative resolution procedure. But suppose we are dissatisfied with them? We can vote them down and they can be reintroduced the next day. So while we certainly need to look at the procedure under which such regulations shall he carried through under the Bill, nevertheless there is no substitute for having these details written into the Bill itself, I suggest, before it passes through this House.

Lord Monson

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, has made a very telling point. Theoretically we can vote down an order when it is brought in but in practice we hardly ever do. I cannot remember the last time it happened: it must be once every 10 years or thereabouts.

My amendment is simply designed to embody the Minister's admission, made in the Standing Committee by Mr. Bottomley, that if three adults and two children were placed in the back of the car, in practice none of them would be able to wear seat belts. There would be two seat belts which could not be used. This was confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, when he said that it would not be practical to use seat restraints if there were four or five children squeezed onto the rear seat. That was in column 1180 of Hansardof 6th June.

I. suppose that my amendment goes fractionally further, in that I specified three persons. If I had said four. I think I should have felt entitled to press this amendment to a Division, I should be doing no more than two government ministers have already admitted is feasible. But, in view of the fact that my amendment goes fractionally further than what they had indicated would be acceptable, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure for one minute.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8 p.m. to 8.1 p.m.]