HL Deb 27 June 1988 vol 498 cc1206-21

7.3 p.m.

Read a third time.

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

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 9, leave out from ("vehicle") to ("on") in line 10 and insert ("first used on or after 1 April 1987").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, reminded us in Committee on this Bill, the right honourable gentleman who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer told another place on 23rd January 1980 when speaking to seat belt amendments at the Committee stage of a transport Bill then going through, that the intention was not to require compulsory wearing where there was not compulsory fitting. He said that he could not believe that if any Minister of Transport brought forward regulations on any other basis the House would give its approval to them.

That seemed to most of us self-evident in our parliamentary democracy, yet there are disturbing signs that the present Minister of Transport may be thinking—I do not say he is thinking—of reversing this widely accepted policy. This despite the fact that most people would consider it unthinkable that parents who had voluntarily, at their own expense, in a public-spirited way, fitted rear seat belts to pre-1987 cars should be hauled up in court, with all the attendant adverse publicity, and fined if they did not strap their children into the rear seats of their cars on every single occasion, whatever the circumstances. However, other parents who had never bothered to fit rear seat belts would remain perfectly free to drive their children round unbelted in the rear of their cars in perpetuity, or at any rate for as long as they continued to own a pre-April 1987 car. Most people in this country would, I suggest, consider such a policy totally unfair and totally unworthy of this Government.

As noble Lords will recognise, Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are alternatives. Amendment No. 1 to which I am speaking now, although it would do no more than bring the law regarding rear seat belts for children into line with the law on front seat belts for children, is slightly more rigid than Amendment No. 2 which would permit compulsory wearing whenever compulsory fitting is required. In other words, Amendment No. 2 represents a considerable compromise with the views of the supporters of the Bill. I hope that that willingness to compromise does not go unrecognised.

If for any reason the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, or the Government indicate a positive preference for Amendment No. 1 over Amendment No. 2, I shall, of course, persist with it. But if they do not—and I suspect that they will show a slight preference for the second amendment as it is somewhat more flexible and would permit the Minister to introduce new regulations—I shall probably withdraw it and agree to a compromise amendment, which is Amendment No. 2. I await with interest what noble Lords have to say. I beg to move.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I confess I had expected that these two amendments would be moved together. I am not absolutely clear whether the noble Lord, Lord Monson, was speaking to both amendments, but I imagine that he was. Therefore the debate will cover both. Perhaps other noble Lords will wish to speak as they have their names down on the Marshalled List. I can only speak once so I must answer the whole debate now as well as I can.

I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, relied on. A statement was made in Committee in 1980, not by the Chancellor of the Exchequer but by the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Nevertheless, he was a junior Minister of Transport at the time so the noble Lord has a fair peg on which to hang his argument. What was said was that it was unthinkable that Ministers would make the wearing of rear set belts compulsory before the actual fitting of the seat belts had been made compulsory. That was a fair point.

One must see the statment that was made in the light of the changing perspective of Government generally, and especially in the light of the rapidly changing perspective on transport. First, the Government made it compulsory to have front seat belts. Now it is a matter of choice as regards what should be done about rear seat belts. The Government might have proposed that rear seat belts should be compulsory for adults and children. Or it may be decided that rear seat belts should be worn by all children sitting in the hack. There are various alternatives. However, the point was very well made by the Minister in debates in another place that the perspective does change. That is really the point that I put to the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

As the Minister saw the position in 1980—eight years ago— the next step would have been to make the actual fitting of seat belts compulsory before making it compulsory for them to be worn. This Bill gradually makes compulsory the wearing of rear seat belts as they are fitted or have been fitted— compulsorily since 1987 and voluntarily before that. That is how the Minister saw the position at the time. I do not think that his statement binds future governments. The particular approach that has been decided upon is that it should be compulsory for seat belts to be worn by children in the rear of cars if the seat belt is there. To accept the noble Lord's amendment would mean excluding something like 2 million seat belts which are already fitted in the rear of motor cars. Everyone knows that for some years a large range of motor cars have been fitted with rear seat belts as standard; Volvos, Volkswagens, Fiats, Mazdas, Toyotas, Saabs, BMWs and Mercedes, for instance. In addition, many private car owners have fitted rear seat belts because they felt it sensible for the protection of their family.

The noble Lord makes the point that a parent may forget to fasten a seat belt which has been fitted compulsorily and is then apprehended by the police. This seems to be a remote possibility. The concept of a caring parent being penalised is so outside the spirit of the Bill that I do not think it is a sufficiently strong peg on which the noble Lord can hang an argument. The amendment would require ruling out the application of something like 2 million seat belts. The object of the Bill is to give children the protection of a rear seat belt insofar as there are seat belts there.

We are contemplating a measure which we know will give additional protection to children and which will save lives and prevent injuries. To exclude from the measure such a large number of seat belts which could achieve that is utterly impracticable. I should like to say to noble Lords that despite the ministerial statement eight years ago, we should not feel ourselves bound by that statement. We should take the practical view. We have a chance of including in the measure the existing seat belts. We should take advantage of that, knowing that by doing so we are going to give protection to millions of children who would not otherwise have it. I hope that the noble Lord will be persuaded that there is a very strong argument for taking the Bill as it stands and not proceeding with his amendment.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alport)

My Lords, I should like to advise your Lordships that if Amendment No. 1 is agreed to. I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 2.

Lord Underhill

I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in his opposition to Amendment No. 1. I have handled a number of transport Bills from this Dispatch Box; I can appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, desires to be flexible in order to achieve something. However, this flexibility is carrying things a little too far. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, moved an amendment at the Committee stage, which was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to defer regulations until compulsory seat belts for all vehicles were a condition of their being on the road. Now the noble Lord wishes to limit the proposal merely to cars manufactured since April 1987. That is carrying flexibility a long, long way.

What is the value of securing this amendment if the House should approve it'? Surely the only consequence would be that a number of children who at present would be covered by the provisions in the Bill would no longer be covered. That is not an advantage to parents or to anyone else. Therefore I oppose the amendment.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

I apologise for arriving late. I did my best to make arrangements to be present for the beginning of this business; unfortunately those arrangements went awry. Therefore, I hope that I shall not repeat what has already been said.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, rightly said that I moved an amendment in Committee. We were told that it was far too draconian. Now, when the noble Lord, Lord Monson, advances a much more modest amendment, we are accused of displaying excessive flexibility. There have been references by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to the remarks of the then Minister of Transport, now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in another place eight years ago. He expressed very clearly, I would submit to your Lordships, the absurdity and impropriety of passing legislation of this sort unless amended along the lines of the amendment.

I feel that we are entitled to hear an explanation from my noble friend on the Front Bench of precisely why Her Majesty's Government appear to be taking a totally different view today from the one they were taking eight years ago. The statement eight years ago was extremely categorical. I am bound to say that it seemed to me to make a very great deal of sense. It would be helpful if my noble friend could explain what has persuaded the Government that what appeared to be very good sense eight years ago no longer appears to be so.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is entitled to a reply from the Government Front Bench on this matter. However, I should say to him that eight years is a long time ago. Times have changed. Compulsory seat-belt wearing has come into force since that time. And it has proved to be very popular. I would point out that when front seat-belt wearing was made compulsory, the use went up almost overnight from about 35 per cent. to 95 per cent. It has remained at that level. We are only talking in this Bill about making children wear seat belts compulsorily where they are fitted. As far as I know, we have no intention at this stage of making adults wear rear seat belts. That is a matter that would have to be debated in any case.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, quoted my right honourable friend the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as having said he could not believe that the House would give approval to a measure of this sort where regulations were not in existence. Another place has given approval to these measures. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that most people would find this unfair. I know that one does not like to quote public opinion polls too often because they are not always accurate. But when one gets a figure of 92 per cent. of people in favour of this particular measure, one has to take some notice.

If the Government have changed their minds since the introduction of the compulsory wearing of front seat belts in 1980, I think that governments are entitled to change their minds every now and again—once in every eight years or so. I am not ashamed to get up and say so.

Lord Monson

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is quite right in saying that any government have a right to perform a U-turn if they so wish. The Government are at perfect liberty to reverse the policy laid down by a former Minister of Transport, the right honourable gentleman who is now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I apologise for having confused the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I was not aware of doing so hut, if I did, it was probably a Freudian slip, occasioned by my knowledge that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer on at least one occasion voted against seat belt compulsion.

What the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has failed to recognise, in talking about 2 million cars already having been fitted with rear seat belts—and I think that the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Brabazon, also do not appreciate this—is that there were probably a similar number of cars fitted with front seat belts prior to 1965, and yet there is no obligation upon children in pre-1965 cars to wear seat belts in those cars even where they had been fitted.

However, as I said at the beginning, I think that this is perhaps a slightly rigid amendment from the point of view of both the Government and the sponsors of the Bill. Amendment No. 2 is more flexible and would go some way in the direction sought by the sponsors of this Bill, in that it gives the Minister power to make new regulations, if he so wishes, requiring rear seat belts to be fitted to cars where they are not already fitted. Therefore, I shall reserve most of my words for Amendment No. 2, and I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 9, leave out ("is fitted any seat belt") and insert ("any seat belt is required by regulation to be fitted").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be brief. The arguments have essentially been advanced on the previous amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, this amendment allows much greater flexibility, and would enable the Government to regulate in the future in a way in which Amendment No. 1 in Lord Monson's name would not make possible. Therefore, I suggest that this may be more acceptable to my noble friend than Amendment No. 1.

If it falls foul of the critique of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for excessive flexibility, I must plead guilty, but it seems to me that this is perhaps the best amendment to meet the case that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and other noble Lords have made this evening. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the noble Lord will be pleased to know that on this occasion I am not accusing him of undue flexibility. Having looked carefully at the wording of the amendment and of the Bill itself, I would support the amendment were it not for the fact that the provisions for exceptions are made in Clause 1(3). Therefore we have already in the Bill that regulations will be made which will provide all the exceptions possible. It seems to me that the wording that is now desired is unnecessary, being covered by the provision for regulations to provide for the exceptions.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I believe firmly that the sort of inconsistency we are being asked to accept is totally wrong, given that legislation is meant to be based, however tenuously, on morality. I have already spoken about the wrong-headedness of penalising parents who have been thoughtful and public-spirited enough to go to the trouble of installing seat belts at their own expense, whereas those who do not display such virtues can get away with keeping their children in the rear without seat belts for as long as they wish, and totally without any risk to themselves.

What must be emphasised is that there is no comparable existing obligation to put children into seat belts in the front of a car, which, after all, is a much more dangerous place, except where those belts have had to be fitted by regulation; that is to say, post 1st January 1965. There are many vintage and classic cars first registered prior to January 1965 in which seat belts were fitted, whether by the manufacturers themselves or by one or other of the owners of those cars, and which remain fitted in those cars—I happen to own one of them—and yet there is no legal obligation upon either an adult or a child to use those belts.

Your Lordships will surely appreciate the illogicality of having a relatively permissive, liberal law for a child who happens to be seated in the much more dangerous front seat and another, much stricter, law in respect of a child sitting in the much less dangerous back seat. This is an illogicality that cannot be defended. It is the supporters of the amendment who are conservative in every sense of the word and consistent in this matter in that they are following the existing law as it stands. It is the opponents who are being somewhat rash and radical and who are breaking entirely new and untried ground. For that reason I urge the House to support this amendment.

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, I should like to support this amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson. This amendment is one which the Government and the sponsors could perhaps accept. It helps to get rid of a few of the anomalies in what I believe to be a potentially unsatisfactory piece of legislation. It makes the Bill more flexible, and it would be of help to those parents and those of us in the community who are going to have to put this legislation into practice if it should become law. I therefore support the amendment.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment if only for the reason that in the Bill as at present drafted if any person does not want the children in the back to be using their seat belts, all he has to do is to remove them from the back of the car.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I am a trifle uneasy about our proceedings this evening. The essence of amendments on Third Reading is to sandpaper, by drafting amendments, any rough edges that have been left following Committee stage and Report of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are not drafting amendments. They are rehashing stuff we have been over at Second Reading and Committee. We did not have a Report stage because the Bill was reported unamended. Amendment No. 1 is out, but Amendment No. 2 is still in, and I am doubtful whether it is in order from the standpoint of the traditions of how we proceed on Third Reading.

Amendment No. 3 is an entirely different matter because this is a drafting amendment. If the Bill would be improved by inserting the word "thereover" after "Parliamentary control" to make sure what it is that parliamentary control is exercised over, that would be a proper Third Reading amendment, but I do not think that the rest of the amendments listed here are proper for Third Reading because they alter the character of the Bill, and that is not something that Third Reading amendments are for. I hope that I shall have the support of the noble Viscount.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I recognise that this is a less restrictive amendment than Amendment No. 1 but of course it is directed to the same purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, had the argument right, that Clause 1(3) provides for regulations. A great deal of our debate has concerned what those regulations will deal with. It is obvious that there are many aspects of rear seat belt wearing by children which will have to be catered for.

We had lengthy debates, which noble Lords have noted, with regard to the problems of the school run, which will obviously continue, and how that should be dealt with. It is difficult to see just how many of these matters will be dealt with, but obviously the right way of approaching it is by having extensive consultations with all the interested parties in order to get the regulations exactly right, and to get the exemptions, which clearly will be necessary to accommodate various practical conditions, completely right too.

To write in these particular words is quite unnecessary. Regulations are provided for. The Minister has undertaken, both here and elsewhere, that those regulations will be comprehensive. We shall come to another amendment on which we can talk a little more about that subject, but it is not necessary to change Clause 1 in this fashion. I advise the House not to accept the amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, perhaps I could respond first of all to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. His experience of your Lordships' House is infinitely greater and far longer than mine. I can only say humbly that I have attended a number of Third Reading discussions of Bills in this House in which I recollect that amendments were tabled which seemed to go quite a long way wide of drafting. I can even think of occasions when almost the same amendment has been introduced on Third Reading as had already been rejected at Committee and which was carried on Third Reading. I bow, of course, to the noble Earl's much greater knowledge and experience of your Lordships' House. However, I have noticed that on occasion things do not quite work out in the way he stated.

I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Nugent said in reply to the amendment. I also listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, had to say. I may be being very dense, but one thing I do not see in subsection (3) is any provision by regulation specifically requiring that a seat belt be fitted. All sorts of other things are required but not, so far as I can see, that a seat belt be fitted. That, of course, is a rather fundamental point. I freely confess that I do not see how the purpose of this amendment could remotely be supersumed in the existing Clause 3.

However, I have listened to what my noble friend has said. I still think that the nature of the volte face which the Government have made in their own position is bizarre. I still think that what we are trying to achieve has buried in it an inherent contradiction. However, in the light of my noble friend's resistance I shall not myself seek to press the amendment, although I cannot speak for the other sponsors. As far as I am concerned, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 28, after ("control") insert ("thereover").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to correct an error in the Bill. The explanatory marginal note to Section 199 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 reads: Exercise of regulation-making powers and parliamentary control thereover". The word "thereover" obviously has accidentally been omitted from the Bill as it stands thereby making something of a nonsense of Clause 1(2). The words "parliamentary control" standing in isolation make no sense at all—control of what? The amendment would rectify that omission. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, this amendment, I submit, is unnecessary. There is no need to add "thereover" to the existing wording in the Bill. Clause 1(2) in the Bill follows the wording in the relevant passage of Section 27 of the Transport Act 1981 dealing with adult seat belts, in which Section 27(3) reads: In Section 199 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 (exercise of regulation-making powers and Parliamentary control)". It is a copy of that provision and I submit that the amendment is unnecessary.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the fact that the word "thereover" was also accidentally omitted from the 1981 Act—which obviously it was—does not alter the position at all. Two wrongs do not make a right. The Government have by and large accepted the drafting amendments to a variety of Bills which I happen to have proposed over the past few years. I cannot understand their inconsistency in not accepting this one. I emphasise that the word definitely appears in the 1972 Act, notwithstanding that it was omitted from the 1981 Act. What other noble Lords do is up to them, but I cannot connive at badly drafted legislation going on to the Statute Book. Therefore I shall not be withdrawing this amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 31, at end insert— ("; and (c) after subsection (4) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (4A) The following additional provisions apply to regulations made under section 33C of this Act—

  1. (a) when the Secretary of State proposes to make the first regulations under that section he shall lay before each House of Parliament a statement explaining his proposals; and
  2. (b) no draft of those first regulations shall be laid before Parliament for approval under subsection (4) above until after the expiration of the period of three months beginning with the day on which the statement was laid (or, if the statement was laid on different days, with the later of the two days).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to ensure adequate parliamentary control over the regulations stemming from the Bill. On 13th June, speaking in the Committee stage of the Local Government Finance Bill, at col. 33 of Hansard the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, complained that the Bill represented: skeletal legislation with even more than usual provision for everything to be done by regulation". If the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, was right in describing the Local Government Finance Bill as skeletal—and I am sure that he was right in so describing it—then this Bill is positively amoeboid. It is vital, therefore, that both Houses of Parliament are given an opportunity to have a say in the drafting of the regulations before they reach their final form by which time it would be too late for anything realistically to be done, whatever might be done in theory.

Fortunately, an excellent precedent exists in Section 27(3) of the Transport Act 1981. That is the section for which none other than the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was responsible. This amendment is taken verbatim from the noble Lord's Section 27, with one exception, namely that the three-year trial provisions in the 1981 Act are omitted. Although we believe that a three-year trial period will in practice prove all too necessary, we have omitted it in deference to objections raised in another place, thereby showing ourselves willing, as always, to meet our opponents halfway.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, will doubtless argue that while these provisions were contained in Section 27 of the Transport Act 1981, they do not appear in Section 28 which covers front seat belt wearing by children. That would be perfectly true, but there are two answers to that point. Section 28 regulations came out at approximately, if not precisely, the same time as Section 27 regulations. Members of Parliament therefore had a chance to consider them both at once, even if not in a formal sense. Secondly, Section 28 contained no new issues of principle or practice as compared with Section 27. This Bill does both.

So far as concerns new issues of principle, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, speaking for the Government on the 1981 measure, agreed that rear seat belt compulsion would be wrong in principle as it would eliminate any avenue of escape for those passengers who felt uncomfortable with seat belts, felt trapped by them or had any other valid objections to them. That policy is now for the first time to be reversed.

So far as concerns new issues of practice, the Bill introduces a great many new complications that do not feature in relation to front seat belt wearing by children. There is the legal position of parents who voluntarily fitted seat belts, about which we spoke just now in relation to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. There is the question of the school run, the dilemma concerning nursing mothers and the problem of children asleep in the back of a car or the rear part of an estate car because of illness or exhaustion. It is vital that Members of both Houses of Parliament should be able to have some say in the framing of these regulations. This amendment would ensure that. I beg to move.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, I should like to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, which also stands in my name. I am hound to say that I think it is rather an important amendment because I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the range of delegated power which it is proposed to give to the department under Clause 1(3) of this Bill is absolutely staggering. We are in what I call "King Lear" territory—"They shall be the terrors of the earth".

We have been told time and again that the great advantage of the Bill is that all kinds of representations can be listened to and arguments heard. The noble Lords, Lords Cobbold, Monson and Kilbracken, will be able to offer their three ha'porth of wisdom or more and then, at the end, in its own wisdom the Ministry of Transport will devise the regulations. As we have been assured, they will then come before us by way of affirmative resolution.

We have almost no indication in this Bill of what might be the scope and shape of those regulations. I should have thought that this proposition—the essence of which, as I understand it, is that the Secretary of State, having completed the processes of negotiation and discussion, will then lay before both Houses of Parliament a Green or presumably a White Paper, setting out precisely the nature of the regulations that he proposes to introduce and the reasons for them—goes a very long way to assuage our anxieties about the scale of delegated legislation involved in the Bill.

Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, fairly pointed out, it is taken holus-bolus from the legislation which my noble friend Lord Nugent introduced some years ago. I should therefore like to think that it is what I believe is nowadays known in the jargon as user friendly to my noble friend. However, the wording will not be unfamiliar and the purposes will be precisely those which he advocated in advancing the earlier legislation. So I hope that in this instance my noble friend will be prepared to accept that this will be a material improvement to the drafting of the Bill and is not designed to delay its implementation. In some previous instances my noble friend has argued that the effective amendments that we have moved would be calculated to delay the implementation of legislation or drastically curtail its scope. Neither of those considerations can apply in this case.

All that we are suggesting and—it seems to me that it is not at all an unreasonable proposition since it is one which my noble friend himself espoused on an earlier occasion—is that when the negotiations have been completed the Secretary of State should not just lay before both Houses of Parliament under an affirmative resolution procedure the regulations that he has decided upon, which will then of course not be capable of amendment (capable of rejection, yes, but not capable of amendment), but instead he shall set out the reasoned purposes which have led him to choose the regulations which, at the end of the day he has chosen. That seems to me to be a considerable improvement, so I warmly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, perhaps I may just briefly intervene in this debate. I know that during the passage of this Bill a number of noble Lords have made known their concern about how its provisions will apply in practice. Similar concerns were expressed in another place. I recognise that the Bill does no more than sketch the outline by establishing the principle of compulsory wearing and I can understand the concern about how the detail will be filled in. I say to my noble friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne that during the course of the debates at Second Reading and in Committee stage in your Lordships' House we discussed quite a number of details.

However, my right honourable friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic gave an assurance in another place that the Government would produce a consultation document. During the Bill's passage in this Chamber I have been at pains to assure noble Lords that we would consult them. During the Committee stage I gave an assurance that we would specifically include in the consultation process those noble Lords who have expressed an interest in, and have some misgivings about, how the law will operate. I also give an undertaking that the consultation document will be deposited in the Library of this House and will be available to all your Lordships.

Following consultation about the draft regulations, both Houses will have the opportunity, as the Bill now drafted requires, to debate those regulations fully. I can assure your Lordships that we shall not rush any of the regulations-making process. We shall proceed step by step. With that assurance I hope that the noble Lord will feel that the amendment is unnecessary.

Lord Monson

My Lords, to a certain extent I am reassured by what the noble Lord says, but he is a little imprecise about the degree of consultation with those noble Lords and Members of another place who are unhappy about the Bill. I wonder whether, with the leave of the House, he will give us a positive assurance that all Members of this House and all Members of another place who have expressed doubts or reservations about this Bill or certain aspects of it will be definitively consulted, as all other interested parties are to be consulted, some weeks before the final regulations are drafted. It is no good if that consultation takes place merely a few days beforehand. We need time to study them.

If it is the case that we shall have not an excessive but a reasonable length of time to consider the regulations that are to be made, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I believe that I can help the noble Lord on that matter. I said that we would not rush this process—we would not rush any of the processes—and that we should proceed step by step. I shall undertake to make certain that noble Lords who have taken part in these debates are aware of the consultation document that is placed in the Library of the House for all noble Lords, and that the consultation process will take place in good time.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am reasonably happy with what the noble Lord has said and, that being so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 5: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:


The Secretary of State may make regulations providing for compensation to be paid to children who can be shown to have suffered injury in consequence of the provisions of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope I can manage to reassure my noble friend Lord Halsbury. I took what one might describe as top level advice about these amendments and was assured that it was perfectly in order to move them as they covered matters which had not been definitively decided at the last stage of the Bill. In fact there was the right to have a Report stage, notwithstanding the fact that the Bill had been reported without amendments, but we decided not to insist upon it because we did not wish to be accused of impeding the progress of the Bill.

This amendment is one which I moved and then withdrew at the Committee stage, reserving the right to bring it back, which I am now doing. The more I re-read in Hansard the objections made by the noble Lords, Lord Nugent and Lord Brabazon, at Committee stage, the more illogical those arguments appear to be. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, claimed (as is reported at col. 583) that the: direction of the amendment is exactly the reverse to that of the Bill". Frankly I have to say to him that such is not the case. The amendment simply provides that where the good intentions of this Bill—and I have never denied that the intentions behind the Bill were good—result in occasional adverse side effects, as is hound to happen from time to time, the Secretary of State may (not must but may) arrange for those relatively few people who are adversely affected to be compensated.

There are plenty of precedents for arrangements of that kind. One thinks of the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 and of the recent proposals to compensate those British ex-servicemen who suffered illness as a result of being made to witness the testing of atomic bombs in Australia almost 40 years ago.

If nobody is ever injured as a consequence of wearing a seat belt—as the Transport and Road Research Laboratory has claimed—then no compensation need ever be paid. Indeed, no compensation need ever be paid however many are injured because in this House we cannot commit the Secretary of State to expenditure of moneys because that would infringe Commons privilege. However, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, when speaking to earlier seat belt legislation, has already conceded that occasionally people are killed or injured by seat belts.

However, we do not need to rely on the noble Lord's assertion or on press reports of deaths and injuries so caused. A report entitled The Medical Effects of Seat Belt Legislation in the United Kingdom prepared for the DHSS by Mr. Rutherford in 1985 revealed a 40 per cent. increase in major brain injuries since compulsion, together with a marked increase in sprains of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, together with fractures of the sternum. In 1986 a team of eminent surgeons at the University Hospital in Nottingham wrote that, the position of the heart between the sternum and the vertebral column makes it vulnerable to injury by seat belts … it is apparent that victims of road traffic accidents who wear seat belts do sustain myocardial contusions". The report went on to say, although … most patients recover with no ill-effect, some patients … suffer serious complications".

It is pointed out that some of these complications became evident as late as 17 years after the accident which produced them. The report concluded by stating: Following the legislation regarding seat belts, it is logical to expect an increase in the incidence of myocardial contusion".

Let us face facts. Parents can refuse against the best medical advice permission for their children to be operated on. Parents can legally refuse permission for their children to be vaccinated against fatal disease in the face of expert medical and other advice. However, if this Bill goes through unamended, they will—quite irrationally and illogically—not be permitted to challenge expert advice in the matter of seat belt wearing. This makes it all the more important that compensation be provided on the relatively few occasions when the experts' compulsorily imposed opinion turns out to be counter productive. The Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979, as subsequently amended, provides for payments of up to £20,000, and such payments have been made to approximately 830 claimants since the Act came into force. I suggest that seat-belt damaged children are morally entitled to similar payments. I beg to move.

Lord Rugby

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to myocardial contusions in these cases. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether the wearing of the seat belt saved the life of a person in an accident where such bruising took place?

Lord Monson

My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may have done on some occasions but these contusions can occur not only in accident situations but on hard braking when no accident takes place. That is the problem with such incidents.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, we are going around the same course again that we debated on the Committee stage. Although the noble Lord is technically within the custom of the House—because he previously withdrew the amendment—in practice we are simply repeating the debate that we had before.

I make this point. The noble Lord refers to Mr. Rutherford, a surgeon, and relies on his figures. Of all the surgeons who are in favour of seat belts, undoubtedly Mr. Rutherford leads them. He believes in seat belts absolutely. He gave me massive support at the time when I was campaigning for front seat belts.

The noble Lord opposite raised the subject of other injuries. They will undoubtedly have arisen in cases where seat belts have probably saved the person's life. Therefore even if one suffers some considerable injury it may still be worth it in order to have one's life saved.

That is the fact of the matter. Seat belts have now proved themselves as a result of the compulsory wearing of front seat belts. We think it worth the while of the nation to protect children sitting in the back of a motor vehicle by requiring them to wear seat belts, where they are fitted, because that will save lives and will save injuries also. It would therefore be a move in the wrong direction to put in a compensation clause of the kind that the noble Lord wants. I feel that he has taken Mr. Rutherford's figures out of context. I shall most certainly send a copy of Hansard to Mr. Rutherford so that he can see how he has been quoted. Nobody would be more alarmed than he if his figures or work were quoted as showing that the fitting and the compulsory wearing of seat belts was not going to be to the advantage of human beings. Of course they are.

I ask the noble Lord to recognise that his amendment is still unacceptable. Perhaps this time he will withdraw it.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, is quite right. We have been around this circuit on more than one occasion, and I recall the circuit. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will withdraw his amendment because we shall not arrive anywhere.

However, what he might have done, and what my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford might do, is to urge upon the seat belt manufacturers to make improvements. So far as I am aware there have been no major changes in driver or passenger restraint systems in modern motor cars for the last 10 years. I believe that it is there that we could look for improvement and for the reduction of injury, if there is such, by virtue of the wearing of the belt.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, perhaps I may draw attention to the impossibility of adjudicating in a case of this kind. The only just compensation would be compensation for the injury received from wearing a seat belt, as opposed to the purely hypothetical alternative injury that might have been received as a result of not wearing a seat belt. The latter is absolutely unascertainable. I do not see how any judge could come to a conclusion as to what the difference between these two quantities might be.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, in this instance I cannot support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I was not wholly convinced by the arguments against it advanced by my noble friend Lord Nugent. They seemed to amount to the proposition that one should not be paid compensation even if it can be demonstrated that something that is designed for one's good has done one injury. I am not sure about that, but I am deeply doubtful about the wisdom of spreading ever wider the scales of compensation for what I would call the "happenstances" of life, of which I believe there are already far too many. The generality of consumers are liable to suffer from the burden of meeting the costs which arise from such compensation claims satisfied in the courts. Therefore on those much wider grounds I cannot support the new clause put forward by the noble Lord.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am not denying that the Rutherford Report endorsed seat belt compulsion. Nor have I ever denied that on balance seat belts save lives overall. The operative phrase is "on balance". Seat belt compulsion may save lives just as vaccination saves lives, overall, but there are occasionally adverse side-effects from vaccination just as there are adverse side-effects from seat belt wearing.

If compensation is to be given in one instance, it seems to me only right that it should be given in the other. I cannot see any excuse for the two not to run hand in hand. For that reason, no matter what other noble Lords may say, I cannot withdraw the amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

8 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

Lord Monson

My Lords, I suspect that almost every one of us has over the years driven our children, our children's friends, our nephews and our nieces for tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of miles in the back seats of our various cars without any harm befalling them whatsoever, as indeed our fathers and grandfathers did before us. I can only deplore this attempt to subordinate the good sense and the good faith of parents to a complex bureaucracy and to the heavy hand of the criminal law.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, I confess that I share a good many of the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Nugent on the skill, the charm and the courtesy with which, as all of us who know him would expect, he has moved this measure through your Lordships' House.

I must confess nevertheless that it still seems to me to be most dubious and doubtful legislation. Basically what we are asked to believe is that by the passage of this legislation parents will be induced to behave in a way in which otherwise they might not behave. There is no suggestion that the legislation is legally enforceable, because clearly it is not, but it will have an inducement on other people's conduct.

I leave your Lordships with the thought that in due course, as I understand it, we are to have before us legislation which will similarly make it illegal to hang onto a video recording for more than 28 days in the home unless it has been erased. It seems to me that the same principles apply there. The notion is that we are to be induced, I suppose, to behave in a particular way in the privacy of our own homes or in the privacy of our cars. I must say to my noble friend and your Lordships that this does not seem to me to be a very clear form of legislation.

I believe that we shall live to regret the kind of precedents which we create by the passage of legislation such as this.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I briefly but sincerely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on introducing yet another important piece of legislation dealing with seat belt wearing. If it were not for the exceptions and regulations I might be critical of certain aspects myself. But I believe the regulations are there, and the possibility of exceptions. We have had assurances from the Minister.

I should also like to congratulate Mr. Steven Day, a Member in another place, who first introduced the Bill. I am certain, as with the compulsory front seat belt wearing, that we shall find that within a short space of time after the introduction of this new Bill it will be widely appreciated that we have done something useful and have assisted in saving the lives of a large number of children.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I should briefly like to congratulate my noble friend on having piloted the Bill through the House. I believe that it will save lives and give a dramatic boost to the wearing of rear seat belts by children. As I said earlier when front seat belt wearing was made compulsory, the wearing rates went up from 35 per cent. to 95 per cent. almost overnight. If my noble friend's Bill achieves the same kind of result, we shall all be proud to have taken part in the debates on it.

On Question, Bill passed.