HL Deb 23 July 1991 vol 531 cc637-8

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to compel passengers on London buses to wear seat belts like passengers in London taxis, given that over 10 times as many bus passengers as taxi passengers are killed or seriously injured in London in an average year.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

No, my Lords.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that exceptionally brief reply which does not disguise the illogicality of the Government's approach to this matter. Does he agree that in a four-year period only one person was killed in a London taxi as a result of a collision and that such few collisions as occur tend in any case to be sideways ones rather than head-on ones? Does he also agree that journey times happen on the whole to be shorter than journey times on buses? Is he aware that taxi drivers do not themselves have to weal belts, although they are statistically more at risk than the passengers? Does he further agree that London taxis are quite different from other taxis or front cars in as much as people in front cannot be injured by passengers catapulted from the back, by virtue of there being a partition separating the two? Doe; he agree that, if the Government are serious about wishing to cut down the number of deaths on the roads at the expense of individual liberties, they could save 100 times as many lives by making it compulsory for all pedestrians to wear orange donkey jackets like motorway repair men?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I missed the fourth or fifth question that the noble Lord asked. We must look at the statistics. The noble Lord gave a statistic that I do not recognise. Obviously, one needs to compare seated passengers on buses with seated passengers in taxis because if you are not seated on a bus you cannot wear a seat belt. About twig as many seated passengers are killed or seriously injured travelling in buses than in taxis, but their exposure is 20 times greater when measured in passenger miles. Seated bus passengers are therefore 10 times safer than taxi passengers. London taxis are safe, but buses are even safer.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, doe my noble friend recall that the late Lord Hewart, replying as Attorney-General in another place, once answered that, "The answer to the right honourable gentleman's question is in the plural"?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. I do not recall that, but we are all the wiser for it now.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord to address himself singularly to the following questions. First, will he say whether work on the part of the working group on the Commission proposal to give effect to compulsory wearing of seat belts in coaches and minibuses has now ceased, or at least appears to be diminishing? Will the Government give support to the idea that work should proceed apace on that matter? Secondly, will the Minister say whether, if no European Community action is likely in that field, he will seek to introduce unilateral action to deal with the question of compulsory wearing of seat belts in those vehicles?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Yes, my Lords. We do not accept that there has been any decision to give up work on that matter in the working group. We are making that clear to the European Commission. The existing directive on seat belts agreed last year requires new proposals to be brought forward by the end of 1991 and, as the noble Lord said, that has not yet happened. The Commission must do so. We certainly wish to proceed in this matter. If the Commission decided not to take action itself, we should have to consider the possibility of unilateral action. If it spurred the Community to take action collectively we would not rule it out completely, but unilateral action itself would not provide the passenger protection that we need as we could not enforce a national requirement against coaches and minibuses registered in other EC member states.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, this Question is about London buses. However, does the Minister agree that, when one sees the speed of the touring buses that go up and down the motorways there is a strong case to be made for having seat belts in them?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that this is a Question about London buses. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, we are pressing for what the noble Lord is seeking.

Lord Monson

My Lords, as the Minister has quoted statistics he will undoubtedly have seen recent statistics that reveal that 1,100 people in this country die every year from skin cancer caused by sunbathing. Has he any information as to whether the Government propose to introduce legislation making it illegal to sunbathe without first applying Government-approved sunscreening lotion?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

As I said in my original Answer: no, my Lords.

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