HC Deb 28 July 1981 vol 9 cc1031-69

Lords amendment: No. 12, after clause 26, insert—

"A.—(1) After section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 there shall be inserted the following section:—

"Wearing of seat belts.

33A.—(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring, subject to such exceptions as may be prescribed, persons who are driving or riding in motor vehicles on a road to wear seat belts of such description as may be prescribed.

(2) Regulations under this section—

  1. (a) may make different provision in relation to different classes of vehicles, different descriptions of persons and different circumstances;
  2. (b) shall include exceptions for—
    1. (i) the users of vehicles constructed or adapted for the delivery of goods or mail to consumers or addressees, as the case may be, while engaged in making local rounds of deliveries;
    2. (ii) the drivers of vehicles while performing a manoeuvre which includes reversing;
    3. (iii) any person holding a valid certificate signed by a medical practitioner to the effect that it is inadvisable on medical grounds for him to wear a seat belt;
  3. (c) may make any prescribed exceptions subject to such conditions as may be prescribed; and
  4. (d) may prescribe cases in which a fee of a prescribed amount may be charged on an application for any certificate required as a condition of any prescribed exception.

(3) Any person who drives or rides in a motor vehicle in contravention of regulations under this section shall be guilty of an offence; but notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law no person other than the person actually committing the contravention shall be guilty of an offence by reason of the contravention.

(4) If the holder of any such certificate as is referred to in subsection (2) (b) above is informed by a constable that he may be prosecuted for an offence under subsection (3) above, he shall not, in proceedings for that offence, be entitled to rely on the exception afforded to him by the certificate unless—

  1. (a) it is produced to the constable at the time he is so informed; or
  2. (b) within five days after the date on which he is so informed, it is produced at such police station as he may have specified to the constable."

(5) Regulations under this section requiring the wearing of seat belts by persons riding in motor vehicles shall not apply to children under the age of fourteen years (to whom the next following section applies).".

(2) In section 169 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 (forgery of documents etc.) in subsection (2) (documents to which that section applies) after paragraph (b) there shall be inserted the following paragraph:— (bb) any certificate required as a condition of any exception prescribed under section 33A of this Act".

(3) In section 199 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 (exercise of regulation-making powers and Parliamentary control) the following subsection is inserted after subsection (2)— (2A) The following provisions apply to regulations made under section 33A above—

  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) below 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); and
  3. (c) at the end of the period of three years beginning with the day on which the first regulations under that section came into force, all regulations in force under that section shall expire unless their continuation in force has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament."

(4) In Part I of Schedule 4 to the Road Traffic Act 1972 (prosecution and punishment of offences) after the entry relating to section 33 there shall be inserted the following entry:—

"33A. Driving or riding in a motor vehicle in contravention of regulations requiring wearing of seat belts. Summarily. £50. Sections 181 and 183 apply."."

Read a Second time.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 24, 60 and 61, and all the amendments in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).

Mr. Lawrence

This is one of those subjects which stir feelings deeply and genuinely, regardless of party politics. It touches upon freedom, and all of us have been sent to this place to protect, as far as we might, the individual liberties of our constituents against the remorseless hunger of a State and bureaucratic machine trying to gobble it up.

That is why those of us on the Conservative Benches—even though our constituents will probably forgive us less readily if we let the Government mess us around—have no monopoly of conscience in the matter. It touches also upon road safety and the lives of our constituents, whichever party we represent. But divisions exist, will become evident in the course of the evening, and will resolve themselves finally in the Lobbies later tonight.

I should like to make two observations before I develop my case. First, we who act against compulsion are often called the anti-seat belt lobby or brigade. We are not, alas, a brigade, otherwise the result of the debate would be a foregone conclusion in the Lobbies. We are not even a lobby in the sense that we are campaigning to change anything. We are not. We are arguing to keep the legal status quo. We are defending the existing right to wear or not wear a seat belt as the individual thinks best. More importantly, we are not anti-seat belts. We are, on the contrary, overwhelmingly in favour of them.

We agree with the medical profession's powerful lobby that the wearing of seat belts is far more likely than not to save the life of the driver or passenger in a car, and to avoid serious injuries. Our argument is not over whether we should wear seat belts but whether it is either right or sensible for the State to force everyone to wear them.

My second observation is that those who support compulsion often greatly overstate their case. Their case, moderately put, is a respectable one, but all too often—whether it is because of some shocking personal or family experience or just a lack of time to consider the statistical evidence—the case for compulsion is wildly exaggerated.

We were assured by the mover of the amendment in the other place that up to 700 deaths and 11,000 serious injuries could be avoided each year by compulsion; that the numbers wearing seat belts would go up from 30 per cent. to 80 or even 90 per cent.; that the odds against the wearing of a seat belt causing death or an accident are 1,000 to one.

As a result of those assurances, the vote in the other place for compulsion was 132 to 92. As the British Medical Journal explained, there was good whipping here by the BMA". I do not know whether the Whips for compulsion in the House tonight will turn out to be as good as they were in the other place, but the circular letter which those who were whipping sent out to the faithful, calling upon them to vote, after a couple of spelling mistakes and a misreading of the time limit for the initial period of the operation of the Bill, goes on to declare: You will know only too well how many lives, dreadful injuries and desolated families can be saved by this simple measure". These promises have been made before. Doubtless they were made before the other countries in the Western world embraced compulsion. But we now have some solid evidence that we have never had before. In earlier debates we have heard talk of some figures from Australia that were airily waved about as supporting the compulsion case, but we were never given any statistics from the many other countries experiencing compulsion. Now we have just that. We have a comparative study of road fatality statistics in no fewer than 18 countries, covering about 80 per cent. of the world's car population.

Examining the national statistics which have not been available earlier, Mr. John Adams of University College, London, in January this year published his findings.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

The only one that the hon. and learned Gentleman can dredge up.

Mr. Lawrence

It is a darned sight more than anything that has ever been dredged up by the arguers for compulsion on the Opposition Benches, who have never presented this House with a comprehensive analysis of the statistics.

Mr. Mitchell


Mr. Lawrence

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker. However, I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I continue.

Mr. Mitchell


Mr. Lawrence

Mr. John Adams of University College, London, compared Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Israel, Australia and New Zealand—all countries with a compulsory seat belt law that is enforced—with Italy, the United States of America, Japan and Great Britain, where there is either no compulsory seat belt law or it is not enforced.

Mr. Adams' findings are astonishing and unexpected. Although most of the countries experienced a substantial decrease in road accident fatalities in the years following the 1973 oil crisis, the decrease was greater in those countries without a compulsory seat belt law than in those countries with one.

Mr Mitchell


Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman will have to carry on—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not giving way.

Mr. Mitchell

I wondered whether the hon. and learned Gentleman was giving way.

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman can carry oil wondering. I should like to complete my case. The promise of massive reductions in the number of deaths because of compulsion simply has not materialised. There is no evidence to show that seat belt compulsion—taking accidents overall—saves lives; nor does it reduce the overall number of injuries. However, the inherent unreliability of comparative statistics makes any positive conclusion about injuries impossible.

That survey has put the cat among the pigeons. Those who have stood up publicly for compulsion have some understandable reluctance to stand on their heads in public, whatever the evidence may be. Others, less publicly committed, will want to stop and reconsider the matter. The first attack made on Mr. Adams' inconvenient findings was that he had not substantiated his tentative hypothesis that the reason why there seemed to he no reduction in the death rate, and probably an increase after compulsion, was that protecting car occupants from the consequences of bad driving encourages bad driving. As a rock climber may take more risks when wearing a harness, so a car driver may do so. That attack was irrelevant. Mr. Adams was only describing the statistics. He did not set out to explain them and still less to prove an explanation. It is for all of us to consider why those statistics produce that astonishing result. However, it is beyond argument that they produce it.

The next attack came from Lord Nugent, who proposed the amendment in the other place. On 11 June—only six weeks ago—he said that Mr. Adams' mistake was to muddle up pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists and so on with the only relevant victims—drivers and front seat passengers. I hear notes of assent and support for that criticism from Opposition Members.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)


Mr. Lawrence

I hope that we shall hear some constructive speeches from Opposition Members, rather than "Nonsense!"

Lord Nugent's criticism of Mr. Adams was patent rubbish since the survey and its appendix contained three graphs, giving information about car occupant fatalities in Sweden and in seven EEC countries. Nevertheless, the criticism was repeated by Dr. Murray MacKay in a letter to The Times on 11 June. Mr. Adams replied, pointing out the error of his critics in The Times in a letter of 16 June. That seems to have made no difference. Once some people have made up their minds, they will not change them, whatever the facts.

On 26 June, the motoring correspondent of The Times repeated the error. Once again, the patient Mr. Adams drew the attention of The Times to the error and once again, the correction was ignored. The leader in The Times stated: Dr. Adams fails to distinguish sufficiently between all road user casualties and those among car occupants.

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Lawrence

Mr. Adams has produced 57 graphs. He concludes: Nowhere in all this data can there be found any evidence of the enormous beneficial effect promised by the advocates of legislation. On the contrary the data persistently suggests that the effect of the legislation, if there is one, is perverse. There, for the moment, the evidence rests.

6.45 pm

The survey means that when we are told—as I confidently expect to be told by some Opposition Members—that in return for surrendering no freedom that is worth talking about the House will, at one legislative stroke, save tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of terrible injuries and that all that is needed to achieve that miracle is the acceptance of this amendment, we must stop and think. If only it were all that easy.

The survey also means that the high social price of compulsion can no longer be weighed in the scales against the substantial saving of human life. Nor can it any longer be said that we should give up even a little of our freedom and that we should not worry about the other objections to compulsion, because of the massive saving of life that will result.

What is the social price that we are called upon to pay for compulsion? There is the high price of surrendering a parcel of our individual freedom. It amazes me that Parliament seems to pay little regard for individual freedom although there is great enthusiasm for international human rights. However, generations earlier than mine held the price of individual freedom to be so precious as to be worth laying down life for. Some ask what principle of freedom a seat belt law would offend. My answer is the principle that we have a right not to be made into criminals if our actions are directly aimed at hurting only ourselves. Of course, the harm that we do ourselves may indirectly harm others. Our families will suffer. The taxpayer may—although not necessarily—have to foot the medical bill.

Until the law made crash helmets compulsory—two wrongs do not make a right—it was never thought to be a proper function of the criminal law to outlaw self-harm. It is no crime deliberately to kill oneself, to commit suicide, but it will become a crime not to protect oneself against being killed accidentally.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear it in mind that it is within recent memory that suicide ceased to be a crime?

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for drawing our attention to that point. I am sure that hon. Members will digest it and see its significance.

There are other questions of principle. Some people undoubtedly die because they are strapped into car seats from which they might have escaped. We can all give examples from what someone has told us or from our experience. However, the question is whether we are to be forced by the criminal law to do something that might kill us. The RAC thinks not. That is a substantial reason why the RAC is against compulsion. Indeed, most people would think not.

If the principle is to be that people must be protected against themselves whenever families or taxpayers have to bear the indirect cost, why pick arbitrarily on the motorist? With as much reason the State might ban boxers, wrestlers, rock climbers, pot holers, free-fall parachutists, racing drivers and motor cyclists. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) were here I might add that the State might even ban yachtsmen.

Britain has the lowest road accident death rate in the EEC without having compulsory seat belts. However, since more pedestrians than drivers are killed in urban areas, a case could be made for forcing pedestrians to wear crash helmets and protective clothing. If the principle is to be that people must be protected against themselves when more than a few people are at risk, how long will it be before the lives of 50,000 smokers per annum and of tens of thousands of alcholics could be saved by making their enjoyments criminal? The end of this relentless enthusiasm of do-gooders to restrict our freedom could be a Britain in which few people would care to live.

The second element of high social cost could be the harm done to the rule of law by a criminal offence which could not be properly enforced. The problem is not that we should inevitably need more police on traffic duty, more courts in which to process the thousands of additional prosecutions and more operating costs. The real concern is the harm that such a law could do to the respect in which the motorists, numbering half the population, hold our laws and those who have to enforce them. If the proportion of seat belt wearers rose from 33 per cent. at present to the 80 per cent., forceast by the proponents of compulsion, there would be 20 per cent. or 26 million drivers evading it. We would make over 5 million criminals; people who would no longer think that it was always necessary for the criminial law to be obeyed.

Exemptions to such a law are necessary. Some appear in the Lords amendment. To be fair they should include the too fat, the too tall, the too short, the too thin, the too pregnant, the too claustrophobic and the too crippled. How would a policeman stopping a car for that offence know in advance whether the driver or the passenger is exempt? How often will it be alleged that a police officer at night or in busy traffic was mistaken in believing that a seat belt was not being worn? How often would a police officer be right, only to find that a seat belt had been hastily fastened before he spoke to the driver? Whatever the circumstances, countless cars would be stopped unnecessarily, there would be far more arguments between policemen and motorists, there would be an inevitable increase in the allegations of police harassment—all at a time when the public image of the police has become an exceedingly sensitive matter.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

What my hon. Friend has said were the grounds on which the chief constable of the Devon and Cornwall constabulary recommended that we should oppose compulsory seat belts. He is concerned for the prosecutions made in good faith but in error, which would harm relations between the police and the public.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful for that piece of local evidence, because, althought many of us have our knowledge and experience of that, the more there is about the more important it is that we defeat the amendment.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As there will be an extra burden on the police if we pass the measure tonight, does my hon. and learned Friend recommend that we recruit more police specially to carry out this burden? If not, does he suggest that they should be taken off other duties, and which duties should those be? I think that would be a burden that the police would very much not wish to have.

Mr. Lawrence

I hope that the amendment will not become part of the law, so the question is hypothetical. When relations between blacks and whites in our society and between police and civilians, are, to say the least, delicate, now is not the time to start giving more opportunity for dispute and controversy.

The reply which is sometimes given, that the law would not need to be enforced, is absurd. Making laws for which there is no effective sanction is not only a complete waste of time, because no one will observe them, but brings the law into disrepute. That is one of the important reasons why we should be responsible about our actions in this place. Small wonder that policemen and lawyers are filled with apprehension about the good sense of the law that makes seat bells compulsory, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said. It is hardly surprising that recent Transport and Road Research Laboratory polls have shown that almost half the motoring public is against it. What precedent is there—

Mr. Foulkes

More than half is in favour.

Mr. Lawrence

Almost half the motoring public are against it. What precedent is there for the creation of a crime when it is known in advance that its creation is opposed by so large a proportion of the British people? Where else have we ever made a law which we have known before we passed it would be so strongly opposed by the people who sent us here?

Two things are clear from this reaction by the public. First, the public reaction would have been even stronger if those polled had known what the London university evidence has told us, because they made their decision on the basis that, naturally, seat belts saved an enormous number of lives and serious injuries. Secondly, a law which does not have the overwhelming consent of the people ought never to be put on the statute book. The rug seems to have been pulled from under the feet of those who believe that there is substantial statistical evidence to prove that compulsion saves lives.

Because of the fears and apprehensions that we must have about the impossibility of enforcing the law properly, sooner or later we must do more than mouth platitudes about the need to protect individual liberty against the encroaching power of the State. Here is as important a place as any to start doing that. Because a massive proportion of the British public to whom the law would apply is opposed to compulsion we should reject the Lords amendment. Let us say to those ill-informed, illiberal do-gooders "Belt up yourselves if you like, but for goodness sake leave us alone."

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman cannot do that. I have proposed the Question.

Mr. Ennals

My hope is that the House will agree with the Lords in the said amendment. I want to deal with each of the criticisms that have been made by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), but perhaps I should make one or two comments in advance.

This is the eighth time in the last 10 years that there have been attempts to introduce legislation to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory for drivers and front seat passengers. In the last six years the House has voted four times with substantial majorities in favour and on the last three occasions with majorities of roughly 100 in favour. I welcome today's opportunity for the House to express its will.

There are four aspects of the Lords proposals which I believe should allay most of the fears that have been expressed by the public. I shall discuss the fears expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman in a moment. The first is that there must be some exemptions. I am sure that that is correct. We cannot, at this stage, specify them, but the Secretary of State must specify them so that we can consider them. For example, it would be absurd if those who deliver milk had to put on seat belts every time they moved from house to house. That applies also to people with medical certificates which expressly say that it would not be in their medical interests—be they minute, enormous, pregnant, or whatever condition they may have—to wear belts. The medical profession must be consulted.

Secondly, the proposed legislation should be laid three months before it is voted upon in the House. That would give us an opportunity for consultation. It would be a wise provision to enable consultation to be carried out.

Thirdly, there should be positive approval by both Houses. Fourthly, conditions should be reviewed in three years' time so that the measures that we are taking now are not measures to which the House is for ever bound. We should be able to reach conclusions about whether we were right or wrong.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

The point that I want to raise relates to medical exemptions. The right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) suggested that there should be a variety of medical exemptions—for example, ladies of ample proportions—but, from his experiences as a Minister responsible for the Health Service, does he accept that there must be much discussion with the medical profession before we can be sure that it will undertake such an obligation?

Mr. Ennals

I did not suggest how wide the exemption should be, but I agree that there must be consultation with the medical profession about the exemptions. One great advantage is that the medical profession is overwhelmingly in favour of the legislation. It awaits the moment when the Secretary of State for Transport begins those discussions.

I shall now reply to some of the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Burton. Of course there is a freedom argument. We already, in our own way and in our interests and in the interests of the public, accept numerous infringements of what the hon. and learned Gentleman might call absolute freedom. For example, why should we have compulsory insurance? That is a denial of our freedom. Why must we have a driving licence? That is a denial of our freedom. Why must we pay vehicle excise duty or have MOT tests? Why should it matter whether the tyres or brakes on our vehicles are effective? We have accepted all those rules.

7 pm

Mr. Lawrence

They all involve other people.

Mr. Ennals

I shall come to that. Those who do not want to accept limitations on freedom have the freedom not to drive or not to drive in the front seat of a vehicle. Society has an obligation to drivers, passengers and their relatives and to the public. The victim of an accident who, through failure to wear a seat belt, becomes unconscious and has no control over his vehicle, might cause death and injury to others. He might injure other drivers, passengers in his car or pedestrians. The House has an obligation to protect the community interest.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, there is the extraordinary argument by Dr. John Adams of University College, London that the wearing of seat belts could lead to a false sense of complacency. The hypothesis is that protecting an occupant from the consequences of bad driving encourages bad driving. There is no evidence of that. No evidence has been advanced, even by Dr. John Adams. He has produced a document that is riddled with inaccuracies.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

It would have saved time if the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) had given way earlier on this point. It would detain the House for too long to go into the statistical arguments against Dr. John Adams' conclusions, but one is: The evidence that the use of a seat belt greatly improves a car occupant's chances of surviving a crash appears to be overwhelming. That a person travelling at speed inside a hard metal shell will stand a better chance of surviving a crash if he is restrained from rattling about inside the shell is both intuitively obvious and supported by an impressive body of empirical evidence.

Mr. Ennals

That was a helpful intervention. A careful study has been made of the conclusions and supposed statistics in Dr. Adams' study. The document is extraordinary for a research worker. It has been analysed carefully. I am grateful to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents for analysing it. It has collected evidence country by country. It has analysed statistics here and in Sweden, Norway, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Finland and Spain. They were dealt with by Dr. Adams in his paper.

RoSPA points out the failure of Dr. Adams to get his statistics right. In some cases he made comparisons between two years when in the second year the legislation had not begun to apply. I have had correspondence with many parts of the world from people who wish to prove to me, as I hope to prove to the House, that that piece of research was, as I have said before, bogus. Dr. Adams might have intended to do well. Talk about do-gooders. He might be a do-gooder, but he did not do a good job on research. I am grateful to RoSPA for doing the study.

Another argument is that in a few situations—and there are some—it is harmful to wear a seat belt. People say that they know of incidents when, if they or their friend had been wearing a seat belt, they would have suffered serious injury. That was dealt with convincingly in a powerful letter in The Times today by Sir Alan Parks, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and his colleagues in Edinburgh and Glasgow. They said: On the question of injury incurred, in a very small number of cases, as a direct result of the wearing of seat belts, we can only ask what reason there can be in incurring a huge risk in order to avoid a very small one. The answer to this objection is to bring our influence to bear on the development of better and safer restraints, and improved and standardised release-mechanisms. I hope that we shall do that when the Bill is passed. I should like a common form of seat belt. That quotation is from people who are committed in favour of the proposal.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind the careful analysis of 20,000 accidents at Wexham Park hospital near Slough? Not one could be found where seat belt wearing caused any damage.

Mr. Ennals

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We must recognise that there are individual cases, but the conclusion of the surgeons who deal with cases in hospitals is that it affects only a small minority.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton talked about the attitude of the police and the difficulties of enforcement. That was dealt with effectively by Mr. Roger Birch, the honorary secretary of the traffic committee of the council of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland in The Times today. He said that compulsion would be unlikely to lose us many friends for the following reasons: first, it is within our experience that a growing proportion of drivers are aware of their increasing chance of being involved in a fatal or serious accident, and would welcome a reduction of this risk. Secondly, the law will to a great extent be self-enforcing as a large majority of the motoring public do not intentionally flout the law. I believe that. He continued: Finally, experience has shown that in dealing with this type of offence a friendly word of advice, or where appropriate a more cautionary letter, usually achieves the desired result, with prosecution very much the last resort. That is a powerful argument.

Mr. Grieve

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ennals

I shall not give way again. I have given way several times. Many other hon. Members wish to speak.

If anybody says that that is a fallacious argument, he should remember that it is a fallacious argument developed entirely on behalf of the chief constables of the country.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton must have forgotten just who are the supporters of the Lords amendment. It has the strongest approval, not only of the Automobile Association but of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal College of Surgeons of Scotland, more recently, the Conference of Medical Royal Colleges and their Faculties, the Royal College of Nursing at its annual conference this year, the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Federation, of whom the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is a representative in the House, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Institute of Road Safety Officers, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the County Surveyors' Society and the insurance companies. In addition, I have here a letter from the British Insurance Association.

There are strong arguments in favour of the proposal and we are determined that we shall get it through. It is not through lack of trying that people do not voluntarily wear seat belts. There have been media campaigns, sometimes costly, and public education attempts to persuade drivers to wear seat belts. Few people, including Dr. Adams, doubt that it is wise to wear them. The Minister agrees. All that the campaigns have managed in 10 years is to increase the number of people wearing seat belts from 14 to 33 per cent.

An interesting study was made by the Wessex regional health authority into methods of voluntary persuasion and whether they would work. The conclusion was that no means except a legislative one would push the figure above one-third. Some people will say that they always wear seat belts on long journeys and on motorways. Most of the accidents that we are discussing do not occur on motorways or during long journeys. They usually happen within the vicinity of urban areas or in rural areas. The conclusion of the study was that legislation was essential.

I do not think anyone can doubt that if the law required people to wear seat belts, about 85 per cent. or possibly 90 per cent. would do so. A recent public opinion survey by MORI showed that 48 per cent. of drivers supported legislation, while 39 per cent. were against. A majority were therefore in favour. This included some who did not themselves wear seat belts but who said that if this was the law, they would do so. I am sure that this applies also to many hon. Members. Because it is not the law, they neglect to wear seat belts. This is the nub of the argument. Another public opinion poll showed 50 per cent. were for seat belts, and 46 per cent. were against.

I should like to refer to the views of those who know the importance of wearing seat belts through their own experience. The Norfolk accident rescue service, based on the county police headquarters, has told other Norfolk members and myself: We are convinced that the successful outcome of this proposal would result in the greatest advance yet achieved in the reduction of serious injury from road traffic accidents. This rescue service knows a little more about the subject than do some hon. Members. Mr. John MacNae, consultant in the accident and emergency division of Norfolk and Norwich hospital, writing on behalf of all casualty surgeons wrote a few days ago: I hope and pray that this time we will be successful. I echo that hope tonight. I agree with RoSPA that no other single practical piece of legislation could achieve such dramatic savings in lives and serious injuries. That is without mentioning the long waiting lists in the orthopaedic wards of our hospitals, as the Secretary of State for Social Services, who succeeded me, knows as well as I do. In my view, Parliament's reputation will be enhanced by a substantial affirmative vote tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I remind the House, although I am sure that it does not need reminding, that the guillotine falls on this Lords amendment at 9 pm. Hon. Members will perhaps take that into account when making their speeches.

7.15 pm
Mr. Moate

I am one of the illiberal, ill-informed, do-gooders to whom my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred. I hope passionately that this Lords amendment will be agreed by the House. I have supported the compulsory wearing of seat belts for 10 years. I doubt whether there is a document on this subject that I have not read. If I am illiberal, ill-informed and a do-gooder, I can say only that I am not ashamed to share that distinction with a large number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and a large number of significant organisations outside the House.

My hon. and learned Friend, in using that phraseology to describe those who disagree with him, is referring to the doctors of this land, the organisations that represent them, the surgeons, the nurses, the Automobile Association and a whole range of distinguished organisations and people. I ask my hon. and learned Friend and those who share his view to reflect upon the fact that many hon. Members who are equally passionate in opposing interfering and busybody legislation feel sufficiently strongly to say that this is an issue where Parliament and the Government should take steps to try to save lives. We are just as much freedom fighters as those who take a contrary view. On this issue, we disagree. I hope that more attention will be paid to the arguments that we put, particularly as regards the number of lives that can be saved.

I respect the manner in which my hon. and learned Friend has campaigned against this issue. He says that he is overwhelmingly in favour of the wearing of seat belts. He takes that view presumably because he accepts that it saves lives. There is little dispute about the fact that seat belts are a good thing and that they can save lives and reduce injuries. I presume that the argument relates to the question of numbers. My hon. and learned Friend concentrated on the so-called new evidence of Mr. Adams. This is the first time that opponents of compulsion have had something that they regard as significant on which to latch. All the evidence previously was overwhelmingly in favour of compulsory seat belt wearing reducing the number of accidents and injuries. It is not therefore, I presume, a question of principle.

Mr. Henderson

Yes, it is.

Mr. Moate

My hon. Friend says it is a question of principle. Those who believe that are saying that if we can prove that a large number of lives will be saved, the question of freedom is set aside. They are prepared to sacrifice what they see as an important point of individual liberty only if a large number of lives can be saved and injuries averted. That is a respectable point of view, but it adds emphasis to the argument put by Mr. Adams and others. It is therefore reasonable to examine the question of numbers.

I became convinced of the case for seat belts on the basis of the Australian figures some eight to 10 years ago. I believe that it was on the basis of those figures and also a surey undertaken by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory that the Government argued repeatedly that up to 1,000 lives a year could be saved and 10,000 injuries avoided if compulsory seat belts wearing were introduced. That figure was reduced. It was based on 100 per cent. wearing seat belts. We are now talking of 70 per cent., 80 per cent., or probably 90 per cent. wearing if the measure is introduced.

Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Australian figures are limited to one state and are therefore unique? Will he agree that there are also many other factors that were not sufficiently taken into account at the time?

Mr. Moate

The figures were the basis that led me originally to believe that the case for wearing seat belts is right. I was also convinced by the fact that the Automobile Association, representing millions of motorists, took up cudgels in favour of compulsion. It has campaigned continuously and courageously over the years. I agree that the Australian figures were based on one state. Since then, 23 nations have accepted compulsion. We are becoming the odd man out in the Western world. All these nations have been convinced that this is a valuable method of life saving and have accepted it.

The Royal Automobile Club is opposed to compulsion. It distributed a document recently that presumably it regarded as setting out a strong argument against compulsion. It attached to it an answer that was given in another place that set out the comparative statistics for seat belt wearing. Presumably the RAC thought that it was strong evidence in favour of its argument. It referred to West Germany and Sweden. The compulsory wearing of seat belts in those countries has not produced results as dramatic as those in Australia. However, it produced significant evidence that lives can be saved.

In West Germany, before compulsion there were 21,486 deaths. After compulsion there were 21,190 deaths. Taking the three years before and the three years afterwards, not many lives were saved, but at the same time there was a 10 per cent. increase in car mileage. If account is taken of that increase in road activity, about 600 lives a year were saved and 11,000 injuries avoided. If account is taken of the same fctor in Sweden, about a 10 per cent. saving in injuries and fatalities was achieved.

Presumably the RAC selected West Germany and Sweden to support its case. The two countries were included in the document produced by Mr. Adams. I presume that they were included in an attempt to try to prove his case. I find it significant that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton and others select Mr. Adams's work as their main evidence.

Mr. Lawrence

Mr. Adams is the only person who has done any work on the subject.

Mr. Moate

The argument has raged for 10 years. I suggest that a great deal more work would have been produced by many others if my argument, and those of others who support it, were as weak and thin as my hon. and learned Friend has suggested.

Mr. Lawrence

Has my hon. Friend considered the possibility that we have not been aware of the statistics, figures and graphs before because they do not suit the pro-compulsion case?

Mr. Moate

Those who have lived through the many debates and filibusters over the years will not believe that my hon. and learned Friend and many others did not deploy all the arguments suitable for their case. They have had ample opportunity to deploy any argument that they wished.

Mr. John Adams is a lecturer in geography. He has produced an eccentric paper and has made the preposterous suggestion that the wearing of seat belts encourages people to drive more dangerously. That is to suggest that any safety device is to be deplored because it makes people careless. Is that argument to be used against building workers wearing safety helmets? Is it to be applied to machinery that is guarded? Is it seriously argued that safety devices make people behave more dangerously? I think that the majority of people would consider that a ludicrous proposition.

Mr. Adam's case seems to be undermined because he is personally in favour of the wearing of seat belts. How can he reconcile the two approaches? The case for compulsion lies in numbers. If only a few people were involved, I suspect that the House would be reluctant to impose a measure of compulsion. Undoubtedly there is an infringement of personal freedom. I do not regard it as being a significant infringment. It has been proved beyond doubt over the years that hundreds of lives could be saved by the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I should regard 200 or 300 lives saved as more than sufficient to prove the need for compulsory measure.

My right hon. and hon. Friends who take the view that the compulsory wearing of seat belts is an unacceptable infringement of personal liberty are getting things out of perspective. I am concerned about this feature of the debate because these are people for whom I have immense respect and with whom I generally agree. We wish to restrict the amount of Government interference, but to apply all the arguments about personal liberty and personal freedom to the roads is to misapply those arguments.

The State creates modern roads. I am not talking about ancient rights to travel on Roman roads. The conditions that are created allow motor vehicles to travel at phenomenal speeds. If the State creates conditions in which danger can exist, we have an obligation to ensure that we lay down conditions whereby people may drive reasonably safely. We know that there is no real freedom on the roads. We have to drive on one side of the road. We cannot always turn where we want to turn. We cannot drive at the speed at which we want to drive. The cars that we drive have to comply with many safety standards. These standards are devised to protect not only other people on the roads but drivers. The Government have a duty to lay down the conditions under which we drive if they are to prevent injury to others and to ourselves.

I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to reconsider their passionate feelings about freedom of choice and liberty. These feelings are not appropriate to the conditions on our roads.

I recognise that there is hardly an issue that raises more passions and more feelings throughout the country than the one before us. We have been arguing about it for 10 years. I hope passionately that tonight we shall accept the amendment that is before us. However, the argument will not end then. We shall have to argue about exemptions and regulations. The clause requires that the issue should return before the House in another three years. I trust that those who oppose the amendment and the clause will accept the three-year experiment. I trust that they will accept that Parliament has spoken clearly in both Houses in favour of the experiment. I hope that the measure will be allowed to take its place in the Bill and that the Bill will be enacted. I hope that it will be given the opportunity to prove that it car, save lives. I hope also that at the same time as we use the measure to save lives my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make it part of a massive campaign to reduce the number of road accidents. If this Parliament can do one great thing in this Session, it can reduce the appalling and unacceptable slaughter on the roads. That is basically what the amendment is all about.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) and all those in favour of the proposal that is before us are rightly putting stress on saving lives and reducing the need for hospital treatment. The hon. and leaned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) rightly said that the same argument could be applied to smoking. Why do we not ban smoking? Why did my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North not introduce legislation to ban smoking when he was in a position to do so as a Minister in the Labour Government? That would have saved lives and reduced the need for hospital treatment.

What about drinking? Why do we not stop people from drinking? We do not do that because the Government get money when people drink. That being so, the Treasury will not approve of legislation to stop drinking. I am talking about general drinking. We know that some people drink themselves to death. The Treasury does not want drinking to stop.

Mr. Foulkes

What about stopping eating?

Mr. Lewis

Indeed. I was coming to that. Overeating can result in death. That is what we are told by many experts. We are told that we are likely to drop dead if we are too heavy. I wish that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) were in the Chamber. I am glad that the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) has just entered the Chamber. Let us have a law to stop us eating. We probably overeat and we might drop dead or cause ourselves to be in need of hospital treatment. What a farce that would be.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North had a heart attack recently. He was walking with a stick. I heard that he came back before he was supposed to do so. He returned to resume his work and to carry out his duty. Good luck to him. Let us have a law to prevent his doing that. If a doctor says that an individual should not get back into harness, let us have a law to stop individuals from doing so.

I have read articles by many experts that include the advice that too much sex can cause heart trouble. Apparently we might drop dead if we over-indulge.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Too much sex makes us blind.

Mr. Lewis

Let us have a law to say that we must not have too much sex. That would be laughable, because it could not be enforced.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) for giving way. His heart may not be in mid-season form, but it is certainly in the right place.

7.30 pm
Mr. Lewis

That is the point that I am making It is ludicrous and farcical. Of course there are many things that people should not do. Of course I should not overeat. Of course I know that it is wrong to carry too much weight, but I make up my own mind. If I am told that I should not eat this or that, I still decide.

Mr. Ennals

That is right.

Mr. Lewis

My right hon. Friend may be overweight. Perhaps he should stop eating. Let us be honest and say that if we wore crash helmets in cars there would be fewer concussions. Let us wear visors, because that would protect our faces. So let us have a law that says that we must wear crash helmets with visors. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) lost an arm, but perhaps if we wore gauntlets when driving cars our hands would not get cut if we had a crash. We should not have had to go to hospital with cut hands. So let us have no car driving without gauntlets.

What a farce. Where do we stop? There are about 2,000 rules and regulations affecting vehicles on the road, and there is not a man in Britain who could say what they are. The police do not know, and they cannot enforce half of them—even simple matters. They cannot enforce the payment of vehicle excise duty, as it is plain to see. Cars drive around with tyres that are worn, and no MOT tests, What can the police do? They do their best. How can the police see whether we are wearing our belts? The belt may be round one's person, but it may not be done up. We can tell the police that it was on, or that we have just undone it as we were pulled up. How will they know?

What about the cars which legally do not have seat belt anchor points? I have a car that was made before seat belts came in, and I do not have to wear one.

Mr. Foulkes

It has a man with a red flag in front of it.

Mr. Lewis

That is right.

Where do we start, and where do we stop? I agree that we can make rules and regulations.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

What about suicide?

Mr. Lewis

One can commit suicide. One can shoot oneself, poison oneself, or jump off the top of a building, but one is not allowed to drive a car without a seat belt, knowing that one might kill oneself.

The police have enough troubles. The police that I see in Cannon Row rarely wear seat belts. This morning I saw a policeman get out of a panda car and then get back into it. He was not wearing a seat belt. I am not complaining, because it is for him to decide.

What about ambulance men? How many times do we see ambulance men belted up? I rarely see them wearing seat belts. What about firemen?

Mr. Rees-Davies

What about taxi drivers?

Mr. Lewis

Yes, and firemen and bus drivers? I could go on.

Let us get the matter into perspective.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

My hon. Friend once accused me of being a new Member after I had been in the House for two years. Now that I have been here for three years, perhaps I shall not be accused of that. If this provision is so unenforceable—and my hon. Friend seems to be basing most of his argument on its unenforceability—why are both the Association of Chief Police Officers of England and Wales and the Association of Chief Police Officers of Scotland resolutely in its favour? They have said publicly that we should endorse it tonight.

Mr. Lewis

I do not know. I should need to ask the police officers concerned. My hon. Friend might also ask them why they are in favour of the death penalty. The police are in favour of the death penalty, so let us do what the police want and have the death penalty. Let us have shooting for looting. During the war we had shooting if there was looting.

Everyone who wants to belt up can do so. There is nothing to stop that, but we must not try to tell people what they must do. What about people with asthma? What about people with heart trouble or who suffer from claustrophobia? When a doctor gives his certificate of exemption, how does he know when someone is speaking the truth? One can say "I keep getting a pain in my heart every time I do up my seat belt. I want a certificate.". Or perhaps I could say "My hand sometimes goes a bit limp and I cannot do up my seat belt. Give me a certificate.".

I recommend all those who are against this measure to go to their doctors and tell them that there is something to prevent their wearing seat belts. The doctor does not know. Perhaps one person has shoulder trouble. There are 101 different reasons for seeking exemption. I shall do my utmost to oppose the measure, because in my opinion it is farcical and is the thin end of the wedge. Two thousand regulations will become 3,000, and we must stop that process. It is a waste of time and money.

I once heard a rumour. Many years ago we had a certain Minister of Transport who, it was alleged, had got in with a seat belt manufacturer and was persuaded that it would be a good idea to have seat belts. Subsequently, we had seat belts. It was then said that he might join the board of the company, but that did not actually happen. There are sometime vested interests at work. I believe that people should decide whether they want to wear seat belts, and as long as they do not cause pain or suffering to others there is no reason why they should be compelled to do things that they do not want to do.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Norman Fowler)

At least that last charge will not be levelled against me, with the views that I hold.

I wish to intervene briefly to give some indication of the Government's position and to add my personal views on the position.

This is obviously an issue not only of controversy but of deeply held personal beliefs. The Government recognise that, and there will be a free vote on our side of the House. That will apply as much to Ministers as to anyone else. It is in no way a party political matter. It is a decision for Parliament, and the Government will abide by that decision.

There are many in the House, irrespective of their sides in the argument, who believe that it should take a decision on the issue one way or the other. During the past eight years five attempts at legislation have been made from the Commons. We have, therefore, had plenty of opportunities to give our views, and now the House has the opportunity to decide.

The clause before the House follows previous attempts at legislation in being, basically, an enabling measure. It gives me powers to make regulations requiring drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, but that power is now subject to a number of important qualifications. First, three months before any regulation is made I must lay before Parliament a statement explaining the proposals and setting out, for example, the exemptions. That statement would enable me to take into account the public response before laying the regulations themselves.

Secondly, the regulations themselves must make provision for exceptions to be made for local delivery drivers of goods or mail, those with medical certificates and drivers while reversing. But that does not prevent me from making further exemptions, and we would consider that. Thirdly, the regulation itself is subject to the affirmative procedure. Fourthly, and most fundamental of all—the regulations have a life that is specifically limited to three years. In other words, they would have to be renewed after the three-year period.

I hope that, again, both sides of the argument might see advantages in that. Those who believe that compulsion will lead to a reduction in deaths and injuries will, presumably, not dispute a provision that enables that claim to be put to the test. Those who oppose on the ground that it will not result in such a reduction, would similarly have their theories checked. I do not say that that disposes of the debate on the principle, but if the House decides in favour of compulsion there will be that check.

On the issue itself, I hope that nothing that is said tonight will challenge the proposition that seat belts provide protection in an accident and that it is a matter of common sense to wear them. Indeed, not only common sense but financial interest also dictates that course. The fact is that the courts will reduce personal injury damages by up to 25 per cent. for the person not wearing a belt. Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that in spite of all the arguments and the publicity, seat belt wearing in Britain has reached an average of only 33 per cent. although on motorways it is 43 per cent.

The next question is whether it is possible to estimate the savings in lives and injuries if we had compulsion. I shall seek to be as objective as possible. In the past it has been estimated that if there was a 100 per cent. wearing rate there would be savings of 1,000 lives and 10,000 serious injuries. But, of course, a 100 per cent. wearing rate is wholly unrealistic. The question is whether lower wearing rates would produce savings in direct proportion. In the past we have tended to assume that they would, and thus that an 80 per cent. rate would produce savings of 700 lives and 7,000 serious injuries, and a 60 per cent. rate one of 450 lives and 4,500 serious injuries. However, the more recent work in the Department suggests that that is unlikely to be so. There are a variety of possible reasons for that. One is that drivers who fail to comply may be more accident prone in any event because they ignore other regulations also. As evidence of that, a study in New South Wales indicated that 20 to 25 per cent. of car drivers who do not use their belts account for 80 per cent. of the front-seat fatalities in cars. In other words, the reduction in casualties is not proportionate. But precisely how much less the expected savings would be compared with the original projections is impossible to state with any confidence, although I stress that there should still be savings. No one would deny that.

7.45 pm

Of course, the Adams report suggests that compulsion encourages riskier driving. I think that that hypothesis is dubious and not proven. I think that Mr. Adams is right to challenge some of the estimates of savings made, however. An important point that comes from international comparisons is that the results are better in countries such as Australia and New Zealand and not as good in countries such as Canada, France, Ireland and Norway. The difference is that in the first group of countries the law has been enforced strongly and with effective penalties, and in the second group the wearing rate has been lower, the law has been only partly enforced, sometimes even without penalty. There should be worthwhile savings. They are difficult to quantify, but the evidence suggests that the effectiveness of the law depends on enforcement.

Perhaps, at this point, I should give my personal views. During the past two years I have been attacked for my position on the issue. The right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) for example has told me to forget my prejudices and, by implacation, to accept his principles. I hope that I can persuade him that wherever else we may disagree, there are also issues of principle for those of us who oppose compulsion.

My starting point is that I want to see the minimum of interference with the decisions of the individual citizen. I notice that that statement is often made in the House, but one which we often find it convenient to find exception for when faced with the decision on a particular case. I also believe that, quite apart from principle, there are solid practical reasons for relying on the common sense of the public.

In the motoring area, although we have less restrictions than our European neighbours, our road saftey record is not one of the worst in Europe—it is one of the best if not the best.

An international comparison of road accidents shows that in terms of car user deaths per 100 million car kilometres the British figure is the lowest in Europe. The British figure of 1.2 deaths compares with countries such as Belgium with a rate three times as heavy; France which is almost three times as heavy and Germany which is almost double. It is against that background that I judge this new clause. We are being asked tonight not to support the case for wearing seat belts—which I do gladly and constantly—but to say that the non-wearing of a seat belt should be a criminal offence. That is the essence of the proposal.

I accept that there are no absolutes in deciding whether a new law should be introduced, and that in the past we have introduced laws that have interfered with the freedom of individuals to decide. The law on motor cycle helmets is the nearest analogy.

That leads me to ask a second question—how easy is the law to enforce? The helmet law is easy and comes close to being self-enforcing No one would claim that of the seat belt law. There are obvious difficulties—for example, at night, in heavy traffic—for the police to check. And yet I suggest that unless the law is enforced the savings in casualties will not be fully achieved. We have long since passed the stage where Parliament can pass criminal laws and simply hope that they will be observed.

Mr. Grieve

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that Parliament should be particularly careful not to create new criminal offences in which there is no element of moral obloquy?

Mr. Fowler

That is a further point, but I shall keep to the point which I was seeking to make. It was because of the breakdown 150 years ago of the theory that Parliament could make criminal law and see it observed that we started an organised police force.

I do not agree with Mr. Roger Birch in his letter to The Times which has been mentioned on a number of occasions, when he says that to a great extent the law will be self-enforcing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said, the experience of Australia and those countries which are most successful is based on enforcement of the law. My figures show that approximately 6 per cent. of all motor traffic prosecutions at the moment in Australia are prosecutions for seat belt offences. That would lead to a large figure of prosecutions in this country if the same test were carried out in England and Wales. It would perhaps explain why an organisation such as the Magistrates' Association is opposed to compulsion.

Mr. George Robertson

Does the Secretary of State accept that an enormous number of people in this country, including Opposition Members, would be opposed to introducing unenforceable legislation, which would lead to a serious new strain in relations between police and the public? Over many years the associations representing both chief police officers and the rank and file have concluded that the legislation is enforceable and desirable. Surely if anyone had an interest in arguing that an unenforceable and unnecessary law should not be enacted, it is the representatives of those organisations. That is a powerful argument.

Mr. Fowler

The fairest way of summing up the view in the police and among the public is that views are different and divided. No one would claim that the police service was united on that point. I would be surprised it anyone seriously made that point. I see that the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) shakes his head.

For many years we have taken a cautious view about introducing new motoring laws. As the Royal Commission of the Police said in 1962, No law can be considered satisfactory unless it commands wide popular support, and its purpose is understood and accepted. The Royal Commission of 1962 is recognised as one of the most distinguished summaries in this area. It added: Sensible modern laws consonant with public opinion and generally understood and accepted are the indispensible foundation on which the police themselves can enforce the road traffic laws uniformly. Those are wise words. In this context we should accept one point. Personally, I always wear a seat belt. It seems to me a commonsense precaution. It is true that many do not wear seat belts because they cannot be bothered. However, many others have made a conscious decision not to wear them. They have made their judgment. We may believe that we know better. We may quote the figures at those people and we may call their views anecdotal. However, we would be foolish to ignore the fact that a great number of people believe that that is a decision for them, not a matter for the criminal law.

That is the problem which we face this evening. We are making criminal law and we are asking the police to enforce it. What persuades me on this issue is the important relationship between police and public, which is perhaps more obviously relevant today than on any other occasion when I have spoken on this issue. The relationship between police and motorist is a crucial part of the relationship between police and public. It is perhaps as motorists that the public are most likely to come into contact with the police. Nothing is more important than that we should, as a priority of policy, preserve good relations between police and public. That means exercising a self-denying ordinance on the new regulations and laws which we ask the police to enforce.

That is my judgment. I accept that this is a balanced argument. I respect very much the sincerity of the views which have been put by right hon. and hon. Members on this issue. Many of my hon. Friends support compulsion, as do many of my colleagues in Government, such as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. This is a free vote. The Government, and I personally as Secretary of State for Transport, will carry out the decision of the House. I give that pledge. However, on the issue of principle I intend to vote "No".

Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)

I am sure that the House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for the information that he has given concerning the statistical analysis of road accidents and what the possible saving of life would be if compulsion were brought about. I regret to inform him that I profoundly disagree with his analysis. However, like him, I am speaking in a personal capacity because this is not a party issue. Therefore, my speech is no reflection on my hon. Friends who take a different view.

I am glad that the House of Commons is able to debate this important subject. My only regret is that this important provision was not in the Bill as originally drafted. This amendment was also not forthcoming when the Bill was before the House on Second Reading or Report. An issue of this magnitude should be dealt with in the House of Commons rather than elsewhere. However, not to be too churlish, I am grateful that their Lordships saw fit to amend the Bill. They amended a glaring omission from the original Bill. This is the fifth time that Parliament has had the opportunity to debate this important issue. I sincerely hope that the long crusade by many hon. Members on both sides for compulsory wearing of seat belts will end in victory.

Most developed countries have now acknowledged the importance of seat belts. As the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said in his excellent contribution, in 1980, 23 countries made the wearing of seat belts compulsory. The United Kingdom is the only Common Market country without such legislation—

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

And the lowest rate of deaths.

Mr. Stott

The introduction of compulsion in other countries has generally achieved a wearing rate of between 80 per cent. and 90 per cent.

The Secretary of State has given the House figures, which no doubt his Department has considered carefully, to ascertain the potential savings if seat belts were to become compulsory and if the wearing were 100 per cent. I accept that that is not possible, but the figures are interesting. If it were compulsory to wear seat belts and everyone wore them, the potential saving would be 1,000 lives and 10,000 serious injuries would be avoided. If 75 per cent. of the population wore seat belts, 650 lives would be potentially be saved and 6,500 serious injuries would be avoided. [Interruption.] I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) listened to my speech in silence. If 50 per cent. of the population wore seat belts, the Department of Transport estimates that 300 lives would be saved and 3,000 serious injuries avoided.

8 pm

It is not insignificant that the Secretary of State for Social Services has been listening to the debate. He and his entire ministerial team will, I suspect, support this provision in the Lobby because, perhaps more than anyone else, they know what it costs to put people together again following a road accident. Road traffic accidents are now such a major cause of death and incapacity that the present proposals must be regarded as public health legislation. Road accidents are responsible for more than half of all male deaths in the 1 to 19-year-old age group, and the proportion of young people killed and crippled by such accidents continues to rise.

These accidents make substantial and imperative demands on our hospital services. The severity of the injuries received by the victims requires sophisticated medical treatment, and the demands made by such injuries cannot be met within existing resources without other services and operations taking a back seat. The introduction of laws to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory will not only reduce the pain and suffering of accident victime; it will also reduce the demand for hospital services, thus easingthe burden on those waiting for hospital space currently occupied by accident victims.

The medical profession has made considerable advances in treating injury and illness. However, prevention is better than cure. A major step towards that prevention would be the introduction of the compulsory wearing of safety belts in cars.

Those countries that have introduced compulsion can point to a decline in death and injury on their roads. The Government and the Secretary of State for Social Services have already estimated the potential saving in life if the wearing of seat belts was to become compulsory, but what about the saving in financial resources? In a debate on road safety last December, it was estimated that if seat belt use rose from 30 per cent. to 100 per cent., 12,000 fewer people would be fatally injured on our roads. However, medical savings at 1976 prices would be about £75 million. I have no doubt that that figure is considerably greater today. In addition, the resources taken up in hospital as a result of road accidents was estimated to be 150,000 bed nights.

Given those figures, and the magnitude of the expenditure incurred by the NHS to treat road casualties, it is hardly surprising that the medical profession totally supports what the proponents of compulsion are attempting to do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) read out an impressive list of organisations, covering the whole spectrum of the medical profession, that are in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. He mentioned the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Surgeons and the British Medical Association.

I and some of my hon. Friends have met and talked to those people. I am absolutely convinced of their sincerity, because above everyone else they are best able to judge the damage and awful problems that ensue from road accidents.

Mr. Ennals

Especially the casualty surgeons.

Mr. Stott

Precisely, the casualty surgeons are at the forefront. They are at the sharp end—

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I accept that the evidence produced by the medical profession is important and that we should consider it carefully. However, is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the medical profession is in the best position to judge whether such a law is an effective way of reducing the damage?

Mr. Stott

That is a different matter. I am saying that, based upon the real human evidence with which the hospitals must deal, the medical profession has urged all of us to support the compulsory wearing of seat belts because, like myself, it believes that there would be a significant reduction in deaths on the roads as a result.

In June the consultants held their annual conference in Brighton. It was attended by Dr. Gordon Trinca, a Melbourne casualty consultant. According to The Times, he said: I weep for you here in Britain…Wearing seat belts is the single most effective measure to prevent death or serious injury in a car crash. In the 10 years since Victoria introduced compulsion, the death rate has fallen from 8 to 3.4 per 10,000 vehicles registered per year, in spite of increase of traffic. How can you ignore smashed faces, damaged brains and broken kneecaps caused by not wearing belts? The responsibility for 20 dead Britons lies with each of your politicians. That may be somewhat exaggerated, but that is what the gentleman felt and he must have felt strongly about it when he said it.

I cite three more examples from that same conference. Dr. John MacNae of Norwich said: I am desperate, I've been trying so long. I've come to the conclusion politicians are just not concerned about public safety. Dr. Malcolm Hall of Preston agreed. He said: When they talk about the infringement of personal liberty, I don't understand. There's no freedom in death or disfigurement. Even Sir William Rutherford, the distinguished consultant at the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast, where many victims of violence are treated, finds traffic accidents more horrifying and frequent than terrorist offences in Northern Ireland. That is a sad comment from such an eminent surgeon. It is therefore hardly surprising that the medical profession wishes to see the compulsory wearing of seat belts enacted.

An orthopaedic surgeon recently informed me that one of the best operations now performed by the NHS is the replacement of arthritic hips. The waiting list for such a replacement is between one and four years. That is one of the most emancipating operations for people suffering from that disease. But those operations cannot be speeded up because of the time taken by orthopaedic surgeons to patch up people involved in accidents who have not worn seat belts.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) prayed in aid the evidence of Dr. John Adams. I was tempted to rebut his arguments, but the rebuttal was done forcibly by the hon. Member for Faversham (.Mr. Moate). In cross-correspondence in The Times this year, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell)—I assume that there is a valid reason for his absence tonight—supported the beliefs of Dr. Adams, but they were firmly rebutted by the Birmingham accident unit and Murray Mackay, an eminent specialist, unlike a geographer, on this subject.

The rebuttals were extremely concise and precise. Those of us who have attempted to look at the problem seriously find the evidence in Dr. Adams's paper highly spurious and bogus. It does not stand up to the test of serious scrutiny.

The other argument that was advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Burton was that of personal liberty. It is a powerful argument but I was struck by a note that I received from the AA recently, and that I assume other hon. Members received. The AA obtained counsel's opinion on the question of liberty. The note said: The AA obtained legal opinion on whether restricting the liberty of the subject in this way offends against any constitutional principle. The conclusion reached by Queen's Counsel is that `To say that the proposed legislation…is unconstitutional or is not a proper exercise of parliamentary sovereignty since it infringes upon the liberty of the subject is to make a statement which is without foundation and completely contrary to the sovereignty which Parliament has exercised for many centuries."' I tend to agree with that statement, because, unlike the hon. and learned Member for Burton—I take slight offence at what he said earlier—but, like the hon. Member for Faversham, many of us have throughout our political lives supported individual freedom and have always done what we could to sustain it, provided that it was responsibly exercised. Like many hon. Members, I seriously question the freedom of people who ride in the front of a car to take entirely avoidable risks, even with their own lives.

The time has now come for this debate, which has been running for 10 years in the House, to reach its conclusion this evening. I respect the views of hon. Members who oppose the compulsory wearing of seat belts, because we all have a right, as we are democratically elected, to express our views, to stand up in the House and try to persuade hon. Members of the force of our arguments. l believe that, with the good sense of those who have pursued the answer to the problem for a long time, the compulsory wearing of seat belts will be enacted tonight.

Mr. Grieve

The tone of the debate has hardly been elevated by the trite and shallow contribution of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott). He spoke with the authentic voice of the manager out of the managerial society: he knows what is good for people, and that is what has to be imposed upon the population.

I fully understand and respect the views that have been put into our postbags and expressed by delegations from the medical profession. Of course, the medical profession sees the consequences—frequently severe and horrid consequences—of not wearing seat belts.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House who are opposed to this measure recognise that, in most cases, though not all, the wearing of seat belts is an act of prudence that is likely to save life and certainly avoid injury. But that is not the issue that we are debating tonight. It is for us, Members of Parliament, to take a broader view than the doctors, whose attitude to the problem is inevitably conditioned by the suffering that they see in hospitals. Of course it is for them to express their view, but it is for us to take the broader view, and the broader view encompasses the effect of any such legislation that we are likely to pass upon the sum total of human freedom and liberty in our society.

Human freedom and liberty are not to be whittled away, even in good causes. As I pointed out in my intervention in the wholly admirable and balanced speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, there is no moral obloquy in the act that we are seeking to forbid by law and to make a criminal offence.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the doctors' view is biased by the fact that they see those who are injured? By definition, they do not see those who escaped because they were not wearing seat belts. There are a number within these precincts whose lives were spared because they were not penned into their cars.

8.15 pm
Mr. Grieve

My hon. Friend may well be right. There are undoubtedly authentic cases of that, but I am not discussing the pros and cons of wearing seat belts. On balance, I am pro the wearing of seat belts, but it must be left to the individual to decide for himself.

What shall we be doing if we legislate, as I gravely fear that we may? I beg my colleagues to draw back from the brink of legislating on this matter.

There is hardly an aspect of human life where it is not possible for the legislature to say, "You would be better off if you did not do that." The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) made that point with many graphic illustrations. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made it with example after example in his speech. We have been told of alcohol, tobacco, rock climbing and so on.

If we start legislating to prevent people from injuring themselves, there is no limit to the burden that we shall take on and no limit to the number of criminal offences that we shall create and foist upon the unfortunate people whom we are sent here to represent and whose liberties we are here to defend.

I do not believe that there are many in the House who will now be influenced by the speeches made in this debate. I believe that most hon. Members have made up their minds. After all, we have been discussing the matter for many years. Nevertheless, I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members to withdraw from the belief that it is for Parliament to say what shall be done. We can say. We have heard of the ridiculous opinions given by some Queen's Counsel—God knows who he was—which is cited by the AA. Of course, Parliament can legislate about anything; it can designate men as women and women as men, as Dicey says in one of his textbooks. But that is not the question.

The question is whether it is right that we should legislate on this matter. Is it desirable? Are we called upon to limit the liberties that we are here to defend? The answer, taking the broad view of the whole of human activity, must be that we are not.

It is so easy to be led astray, to whittle away freedoms by saying, "We shall do a lot of good", or, in the words of the hon. Member for Westhoughton, to whom it seems to be the only and primordial consideration, "We shall save a lot of money." Freedom and liberty are priceless, and they are what we are here to defend.

I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members to vote against what the other place has done.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I am in total agreement with the Secretary of State's speech. I do not intend to go over the pros and cons of the argument again. They have often been heard in the House. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that it was not an argument about whether we should or should not wear seat belts; it is an argument about whether not wearing them should be made a criminal offence.

The House should be extremely chary about creating new criminal offences at any time. The criminal law is on the whole designed to protect the public at large and not the individual from his own harmful acts. It is true that there may be occasions on which not wearing a seat belt results in harm to someone else, but there is no doubt that the main argument for wearing seat belts is to avoid damage to oneself. If we are to extend the criminal law in that direction, I shall regret it. It should be done with the greatest caution. Once one starts on that line, why not deal with smoking and drinking?

Further, it is extremely undesirable at this time to lay new duties upon the police. This is not the moment to ask them to undertake the work of trying to enforce regulations which I believe would be very difficult to enforce. They already have more duties than they can reasonably be expected to discharge. I believe that their prime duty is to be on the beat and to stop real criminal offences. I therefore do not believe that this is the time to extend the criminal law in this direction. I in no way doubt the honesty and integrity of those who have spoken in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts, but I belive that they are wrong.

I do not lay great weight on the argument of liberty. Liberty is infringed by having to drive on the left-hand side of the road. I believe that it is more important to distinguish between those things that are desirable and those things that are to be enforced by the criminal law. I do not believe that the case has been made to extend the criminal law into self-regarding actions in the way that the amendment suggests. I therefore adopt the Secretary of State's arguments and I trust that the House will reject the Lords amendment.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Many of those who have spoken in the debate have been deeply concerned about the question of liberty, and that concern is shared by many of our constituents with regard to the wearing of seat belts. What I find extraordinary in the debate—and there was a slight echo of this in the remarks of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) about self-regarding actions—is that many of the fundamental points at issue with regard to liberty were cogently set out in John Stuart Mill's essay on the subject, in which he drew the important distinction between liberty and licence and whether the liberty of one person to do a particular thing would have an adverse effect upon others.

I disagree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, because I believe that the question of seat belts is not simply a matter whether, if it is made compulsory, some of those who wear seat belts will themselves be saved. There is, also the question whether, if we do not legislate, there will be an adverse effect upon other people. If one considers the indivdual cases, I believe that the answer is clear

First, I think that there is no dispute that, by and large, the wearing of seat belts is likely to save both lives and accidents. It is also not in dispute that if compulsion is introduced more people are likely to wear seat belts than would otherwise do so. It would therefore seem to follow that if we introduce legislation along the lines that their Lordships have proposed, fewer people, in exercising their liberty not to wear seat belts, will create a situation in which the police have to clear up after accidents and deaths, and the bloodshed on the roads, to which they are now subjected, will be diminished. It is therefore a matter of licence rather than liberty. The same applies to the hospital service. If we legislate in this way, following the irrefutable line of argument that I have just set out, there will be less strain on the hospital services.

If that is so, the fact that we are not legislating means that the liberty of those who might otherwise have been saved by using the hospital resources has itself been jeopardised. One must strike a balance between the two. That must therefore be taken into account.

To take a slightly more trivial example, there is also the cost to the Exchequer of accidents. The fact that people are using their freedom not to wear seat belts imposes a cost upon the Exchequer and thus on the taxpayer. Indeed, taken to the ultimate extreme, there is the cost of advertising to persuade people to wear seat belts rather than legislating to ensure that they do so.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)


Mr. Higgins

I shall give way in a moment. The Department of Transport's advertisements on the subject have been extremely effective, but it is still not seriously disputable that legislation would substantially increase the number of people wearing seat belts.

Therefore, the matter is important for a variety of reasons and the point of principle does not run in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis).

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Smoking and cancer?

Mr. Higgins

The hon. Gentleman referred to smoking and alcohol. One could extend my argument and say that if we prohibited smoking fewer people would go to hospital with cancer and there would be more resources available to deal with other illnesses. That is so, but, as with prohibition in the United States, we must recognise that it would not necessarily be right to do that. In any case, there is a vast difference between compelling people to wear seat belts and legislating in other areas where different problems arise.

I hope that the regulations that will have to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take fully into account the points made by, for example, the British Insurance Association, because it has made a number of valid comments. No one who favours the Lords amendment would oppose the greatest possible care being taken in the drafting of the regulations.

The issue has been debated many times and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already taken many actions in transport law that have improved road safety and resulted in fewer deaths on the roads. He has rightly decided that the Lords amendment will be the subject of a free vote.

I do not understand how my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) can claim that the effects of the proposed legislation are likely to be perverse. It is abundantly clear that the wearing of seat belts saves lives and reduces the number of accidents and that compulsion is likely to result in more people wearing seat belts. On those grounds I shall support the Lords amendment.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I shall speak only briefly. Let me preface what I have to say by emphasising that I entirely accept the sincerity of right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken for and against the Lords amendment. This is an extremely important debate which raises issues not only of life and death but also of preventable disability. That is why I wanted to intervene and, in supporting the Lords amendment, I shall speak almost exclusively about the prevention of disability.

The House knows that I spend much of my time with severely disabled people. Many that I have spoken to recently have strongly emphasised to me the importance of our debate. They would dearly like to be able to speak and vote tonight. They are tetraplegics, paraplegics and people with other severe disabilities which they know would never have occurred if they had been wearing seat belts when the accidents in which they were disabled occurred.

Freedom has been mentioned frequently in the debate. Let us, therefore, reflect for a moment on the plight of preventably disabled people whose freedom even of personal mobility is now so gravely reduced.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak for such people tonight. Yet it would be much better if they could speak for themselves. If only they could, I am sure that, from their first-hand experience, they would dissuade even some of the most resolute opponents of the Lords amendment from rejecting it.

Maximising the prevention of disability is one of the principal aims of the International Year of Disabled People, and the first purpose of the "Charter for the 1980s" for disabled people worldwide is that we must save as many people as possible from disability by doing everything humanly possible to improve prevention. The more that we succeed, the more we can help those who are unavoidably disabled.

The whole of the medical profession is united in support of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Professor J. G. Robson, the honorary secretary of the Conference of Medical Royal Colleges and their Faculties in the United Kingdom, wrote on 23 July: As a preventive measure the wearing of seat belts would not only save many lives but also the prolonged suffering and social disruption of the many thousands of severely injured individuals each year. He went on to say that the profession does not regard compulsion in this context as an infringement of personal liberty any more than it so regards dangerous drug control, safety design and guarding of machinery, the guarding of moving belts and countless other safety measures already controlled by legislation. For the House now to reject this chance to improve prevention would be grossly irresponsible, for it is incontrovertible that to approve the Lords amendment would be to reduce the incidence of disability.

8.30 pm

The Minister said that as many as 7,000 people could be saved from severe disability every year. That is a strikingly important figure in terms not only of the public expenditure that it implies but of the extent of personal suffering that it reflects. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) was eminently right to notice the importance of the attendance here tonight of Ministers from the Department of Health and Social Security.

The House unanimously endorsed on 3 July the aims of the International Year of Disabled People, and there was strong emphasis in the debate on the issue of prevention. This is a long-awaited opportunity for the House to declare itself on an issue of major importance in the field of prevention. Let us seize the opportunity and, in doing so, act in good faith and consistently with the motion that we so strongly supported in the debate on 3 July.

To reject the Lords amendment and then to speak after tonight about the necessity of preventing disability wherever we can would be the purest cant. It really is no good whatever prating about the prevention of disability and then refusing to act when opportunities to do something practical about it occur. Let us match precept with practice tonight by decisively approving the Lords amendment.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) is an expert on disablement; and it is the object of the Lords amendment to save not only life but limb. Every week a total of about 120 people are killed in road accidents and about 1,000 people are seriously injured. Most of these cases do not hit the headlines. They occur mainly in ones and twos. But behind the statistics lies a terrible toll of grief and of waste. We can and must act to reduce it. I believe that acceptance of the Lords amendment will reduce it.

That view is shared not only by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who acknowledged that the wearing of seat belts would reduce deaths and injuries on the roads, but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), and by Professor Adams, according to the quotation given by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend is in danger of misunderstanding the point. The point is not that in any given case somebody's life or limb may be saved by wearing seat belts. That is indisputable. But if Mr. Adams's evidence is correct, that overall more accidents occur as a result of which more people are dying, the overall figure is adverse to the case that my hon. Friend is making.

Mr. Jessel

Professor Adams's thesis is unproven. It is new. It is be lied by the experience of Australia, where there was a dramatic reduction in deaths and injuries when seat belt legislation was introduced. The same can be said of France and Belgium. Admittedly, the numbers have gone up since, but so have the numbers of cars and drivers and the mileage. There has been a great weight of evidence over the years, and no one can belittle it because of a new and unproven thesis.

On the whole, the House accepts that the legislation would reduce the number of deaths and injuries. However, there are still reservations on the question of liberty, which needs to be resolved. The argument has been depicted as a conflict between safety and freedom. There is an element of truth in that. However, the two are not equally balanced. If seat belts were made compulsory, there would be a significant and distinct gain in the saving of lives and in the prevention of injuries compared with a very minor infringement of freedom.

Why do I say that the infringement of freedom would be very minor? It is not onerous to wear a seat belt. It can become second nature to put on a seat belt and the driver hardly notices it. In other countries where seat belts have become compulsory, the people have accepted and adopted them. The main reason why the compulsory wearing of a seat belt is not a great infringement of freedom is that it does not prevent anyone from getting in his car and going where he wishes to go. The only cost is the two seconds that it takes to put on the seat belt. In that sense the loss of freedom is tiny.

That is the answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), who has just come back into the Chamber. He said that if we infringed liberty in this way it could pave the way for a ban on smoking, mountaineering, drinking, overeating and so on. If any of those things were banned or curtailed by law, the activity itself would be inhibited. However, the wearing of seat belts does not prevent anyone from driving where he wants, so it is not a parallel case.

I regret the use of the word "criminal". Several hon. Members have said that it is monstrous to use the criminal law to enforce the wearing of seat belts. The word "criminal" is highly emotive, because it conjures up the idea of a felonious or extremely wicked activity. But all we wish to enact is a law that will say that people must do something. Not to do it will be no more morally reprehensible, to use the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull, than a parking offence. It will not bring moral obloquy. No one regards a parking offence as a criminal matter. No one says that because someone disobeys a parking restriction he is a "criminal".

Mr. Rees-Davies

I hope that my hon. Friend will consider this point, because it lies at the heart of my beliefs. Another criminal offence will be created. The police will stop cars and will, while checking whether a person is wearing a seat belt, ask the driver to produce his insurance certificate, MoT certificate, road fund licence and so on. That will cause trouble between the police and individual citizens. The police will be stopping people in pursuance of a criminal prosecution.

Mr. Jessel

With respect to my hon. and learned Friend, I cannot see anything terribly wrong with that. The people of Australia and New Zealand are just as freedom-loving and "bloody-minded" as we are. However, there have been no problems in those countries when other checks have been made when people have been stopped.

Some confusion arises from the use of the word "freedom". It is a big word with a wide range of meanings. However, people talk about it as if it were a single indivisible concept. That is nonsense. Most hon. Members who say that compulsory seat belts would infringe freedom do not feel that their freedom is being infringed when they are required to put on seat belts in aeroplanes. They think that that is the normal thing to do, although it is compulsory under the air navigation order. However, there is something about putting a belt on in a car that excites some hon. Members.

This proposal does not represent any interference with basic freedom in the political, spiritual, psychological and constitutional senses. Objection to it has nothing to do with a love of liberty but derives from the sheer exasperation of being made to do just one more thing in this highly regulated State. However, that one more thing takes only two seconds to do and gives an enormous advantage in terms of safety.

In the conflict between the big advantage to safety and the minor infringement of freedom, common sense should prevail. The House should support the Lords amendment.

Mr. Sheerman

I shall be brief as I realise that many hon. Members still want to speak. So much ground has been covered and so many statistics given that I have thrown away the statistics that intended to present. Many of the statistics have been used and re-used.

We should put right a possible injustice about Dr. Adams. I welcome the advent of Dr. Adams into the debate. If we are to have an academic climate, there must be a place for the lone voice tilting at conventional wisdoms. I do not deplore the fact that Dr. Adams published a controversial paper. I have met Dr. Adams and questioned him about his views. I do not question his integrity or his competence. As a good statistician he spent much time having a go at conventional wisdoms. But that is not to say that the conventional wisdom is not right. In this case I believe that Dr. Adams was wrong, but that is not a criticism of the man or his quality. I want to make that plain in case an injustice has been done.

In transport safety I am a pragmatist. There are an appalling number of casualties. With the Secretary of State I celebrate the fact that the number of accidents in Britain is lower than in many other countries, but it is still disgracefully high. The sheer talents and futures of so many people, many of them very young, are thrown away. That weighs in the balance of the arguments about freedom and the arguments made by those who oppose the measure.

To be pragmatic, I welcome the three-year trial period. We have an admirable opportunity. If we make a grave mistake we can start again. Let us try the experiment. If it helps to reduce the tremendous waste of human talent, ability and potential and saves lives, well and good. The Secretary of State can then reassess how successful the experiment will have been in those three years'. If we are proved wrong—and Adams and other experts have shown that the conventional wisdoms that they challenged were poor conventional wisdoms—in three years' time we shall have the chance to make up our minds again, afresh and anew.

We must listen to those involved in this desperate waste, whether they be the police, nurses or doctors or those who use their talents such as road engineers and the motoring organisations who try collectively to cut down the carnage on our roads. We must listen to their arguments and act on their views.

We are constantly arguing and discussing liberty and freedom. We all know that at the end of the day it is a question of balance. The right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) was correct. One must make up one's mind about the action to be taken knowing that much Government action cuts across some freedoms.

On both sides of the House we profoundly defend freedom. That is why we are here, but we are also here to protect the lives, the futures and the potentials of those whom we represent. As a Member of Parliament I cannot face those men and women who visit me or write to me having lost loved ones and whose family structure has been crushed by a senseless death. Road deaths are senseless. They are a waste, and this country needs all the talent that it has.

8.45 pm
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I am the father of a daughter whose life undoubtedly was saved because she wore a seat belt when her car was turned over on a roundabout at Newcastle upon Tyne. I wish to put on record that I and the majority of my party will support the amendment, whatever my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) might say.

Mr. Sheerman

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I have always insisted that my children wear seat belts. My daughter on one occasion omitted to wear a seat belt and was able to fling herself into the back of the car and save herself from serious injury, if not death.

Mr. Sheerman

At Wexham Park, out of an investigation of 20,000 accidents, in not one was anyone damaged or inhibited by wearing a seat belt.

Transportation in the twentieth century involves a sophisticated and complex pattern of social life. Sometimes the theories of John Stuart Mill have to be updated in the light of modern changes. We bring a tremendous amount of pressure through commerce and advertising on people to drive faster or drive flashy cars. I am disturbed that an analysis of the people who are careful, who voluntarily wear seat belts and give up certain fatty foods, shows that they tend to be from one social class or background.

A high percentage of the people whom I represent—working men and women—do not belt up. I do not wish to make a political point, but the people who are convinced by argument and advertisement are not among that 60 per cent. of the population whose lives I desperately want to save. I hope that, the House will vote according to my argument.

Mr. Waller

Many hon. Members have spoken about freedom. I do not wish to add to what has been said on that score, because many hon. Members have expressed that argument well. However, it is odd that some hon. Members believe that there should be freedom in respect of every matter but this. There is no question but that if one is belted up in a accident one is much safer. However, there are occasions when the opposite is true. They may be extremely rare, but I believe that the individual has the right to choose.

It is agreed that most babies injected with whooping cough vaccine have a better chance of escaping the disease. Would any Government legislate for all babies to be vaccinated with that vaccine? I do not believe that they would. We would all say that that was wrong.

Large numbers of motorists are against compulsion. It might be 45 or 50 per cent. I do not wish to argue about the percentage, but it is considerable. Not many will disagree that compulsion would affect relations between the public and the police.

A serving police officer who is particularly concerned with the investigation of accidents, Inspector Bennett, who is studying at St. John's college, Oxford, said: There is already a growing belief that the motorist is unfairly discriminated against by the police. Rightly or wrongly, a seat belt law could easily confirm that belief. It is important that respect for the law is confirmed in the House. If we introduce a law that is disapproved of by many people, it will be brought into disrepute. A. C. J. P. Phillips, in an article headed The Place of Law in Contemporary Society", wrote: It is a short step from dishonouring and disregarding one enactment which restricts freedom to dishonouring and disregarding law in general. Then anarchy results. There is a considerable amount in what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) said about banning other activities. I shall not pursue the argument, because time is short. The central argument is whether compulsion will save lives. The proponents of compulsion argue that it will save vast numbers of lives, yet until Dr. Adams produced his results no one had carried out any adequate research. The situation had been accepted except for the fact that, in an accident, one would be better off when wearing a seat belt. No one disputes that.

Hon. Members have received evidence from the medical profession in support of its belief that this legislation should be introduced. It goes without saying that the medical profession believes that to be so. Its members have no more knowledge than hon. Members have of the statistics. It is the overall statistics that are important. It is often claimed that a belt law in Britain would save 1,000 lives. It is claimed that occupant fatalities would be reduced by more than 40 per cent. Efforts have been made to destroy Dr. Adams's credibility, but I do not believe that anyone has been able to do so.

I attended a one-day meeting at Birmingham university, where Dr. Adams was under attack by seven academics. I do not believe that his basic statistics were destroyed. Even those who disagree with his hypothesis for the statistics would find difficulty in disagreeing with the statistics themselves.

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Waller

Time is short and I wish to be brief. Dr. Murray Mackay, the leading academic advocate of compulsion, has said that the seat belt effect is buried under all the other uncontrolled variables in such an analysis. That is his explanation of why it is not possible to show that seat belts have saved lives in all the countries that have been mentioned. It contrasts remarkably with the strange claims for the overwhelming fall that would result following the enactment of legislation in other countries.

According to the letter from RoSPA to hon. Members, Dr. Adams's paper requires detailed analysis with the aid of much background information from the countries concerned before an authoritative comment can be made on it. That statement was made five months after Dr. Adams had published his paper, but in the interval RoSPA had been unable to disprove his figures.

Before this legislation is enacted, we must be sure. It is not enough not to know. I do not believe that Dr. Adams's thesis has been disproved or that this debate has proved that the introduction of compulsion will save lives. I shall be in the same Lobby as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).

Mr. George Robertson

I used to approach debates on this subject with some burning anger over the manner in which the House of Commons arrived at decisions on what are clearly large and important issues in preventive care. Latterly, that anger has turned to sadness and frustration. Hon. Members have talked and talked and used every procedural device to avoid coming to a conclusion on one of the most important issues facing the people of this country. It was no underestimate of the situation for a recent BBC television programme to be called "The greatest epidemic of our time" when so many thousands of our fellow human beings are being butchered and killed on the roads—in many cases, avoidably so.

Following a good and fair debate, we are now approaching the stage where Parliament can at last come to a conclusion and, I hope, change the way in which the law is regulated. My sadness and frustration are reflected in the letter in The Times today from the three presidents of the three Royal colleges comprising surgeons and physicians. In their powerful letter they stated: Surgeons see daily the appalling and tragic results of avoidable injuries to people of all ages and feel something approaching despair at the failure of our legislators to take simple steps to reduce this annual carnage; and steps whose efficacy has been proved in many other countries. Those are the words of those who see daily the effect of road casualties. It is their opinion that so many of them could be avoided if Parliament were to pass one elementary piece of legislation. After its enactment, it would cease to be of the controversial nature that many hon. Members make it out to be.

I have an interest to declare. I am the chairman of the National Seat Belt Survivors Club, organised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Hundreds of people, including many hon. Members, have come together to tell their stories. They believe that their lives were saved and that they were saved from serious injury in a road traffic accident, one of the most common misfortunes that can befall us, because they were wearing seats belts. Mr. Jackie Stewart, the motor racing driver, who has much more experience of the hard end of motoring driving, is the president of the club.

I am a member of the club because five and a half years ago I was in a serious road accident. That is the other interest that I have to declare. I can present documentary evidence to prove that I was saved because I was wearing a seat belt at the time of collision. As a result, I can participate in this debate. If I speak with added conviction and emotion because of that, let it not be thought that my interest rests on that experience alone. However, to get so close to the abyss and to know that one was saved drives home the message better than documentation and statistics. It drives the message home personally and enables one to have greater sympathy and understanding for the thousands who were not in the fortunate position of wearing a seat belt in the greatest epidemic of our time.

If the House gave more consideration in these debates to those who are no longer around and cannot participate in debates of this nature or write letters to their Members of Parliament because at the time of a road accident they were not wearing the one piece of equipment that would have demonstrably protected them from being injured, we would arrive at a much more rational decision and conclusion.

Much has been made of the unenforceability of the law. As I said earlier to the Secretary of State, many people would be seriously worried about passing this measure, or any other measure, if it were likely to endanger police-community relations or if there were a serious danger that it could not be enforced. As the brother and son of serving police officers, I know only too well the dangers that can occur if Parliament decides to enact legislation that does not have people's support. The organisations that represent our police forces—the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation—have concluded that there would be no enforcement problem and that it would be in the interests of the nation to enact this provision.

Surely we should not listen to self-appointed spokesmen for our law enforcement agencies when there is incontrovertible evidence, part of which has come no later than in today's edition of The Times, that those who represent the police forces believe that it is desirable and necessary that we go ahead and make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. I believe sincerely and passionately that the time has come to stop talking. Parliament has talked long enough on this topic. The time has come to think of those who could be saved as a result of this legislation. It is time for Parliament to follow the lead that has been given by the House of Lords and agree with the amendment.

Mr. Rees-Davies

As I have been denied the opportunity to speak, I merely want to point out, first, that as a disabled person, when I was not wearing a belt, I was thrown out of a car and was uninjured. If I had been injured, obviously, having only one arm, it would have been difficult to disentangle myself.

I end by saying that I support every word that has been said by the Secretary of State.

It being Nine o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you make it abundantly clear that those who are against compulsion should vote Aye because of the nature of the way that the Question is put? There might be some confusion among hon. Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

If an hon. Member wishes to support the Lords amendment, he should vote No. Hon Members who are opposed to the Lords amendment should vote Aye.

The House having divided: Ayes 144, Noes 221.

Division No. 292] [9.00 pm
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Greenway, Harry
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Grieve, Percy
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Banks, Robert Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Bendall, Vivian Grylls, Michael
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Gummer, John Selwyn
Berry, Hon Anthony Hamilton, Hon A.
Bevan, David Gilroy Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Bidwell, Sydney Haselhurst, Alan
Biggs-Davison, John Hawkins, Paul
Blackburn, John Heddle, John
Body, Richard Henderson, Barry
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hicks, Robert
Bradley, Tom Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Bright, Graham Homewood, William
Brinton, Tim Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Brooke, Hon Peter Hurd, Hon Douglas
Brotherton, Michael Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Bruce-Gardyne, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Budgen, Nick Kimball, Marcus
Butcher, John Lambie, David
Butler, Hon Adam Langford-Holt, Sir John
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Latham, Michael
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Clegg, Sir Walter Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Colvin, Michael Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Cope, John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Cryer, Bob Lyon, Alexander (York)
Eggar, Tim Macfarlane, Neil
Emery, Peter Madel, David
Farr, John Marland, Paul
Fisher, Sir Nigel Marlow, Tony
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Mather, Carol
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Forrester, John Mayhew, Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Mellor, David
Fox, Marcus Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Glyn, Dr Alan Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Goodhew, Victor Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Goodlad, Alastair Molyneaux, James
Gow, Ian Montgomery, Fergus
Gower, Sir Raymond Moore, John
Morgan, Geraint Stanbrook, Ivor
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Steen, Anthony
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Stevens, Martin
Myles, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Neubert, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
O'Halloran, Michael Tebbit, Norman
Osborn, John Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Page, John (Harrow, West) Thompson, Donald
Percival, Sir Ian Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down) Torney, Tom
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Proctor, K. Harvey Trippier, David
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Trotter, Neville
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Rees-Davies, W. R. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Waddington, David
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Wakeham, John
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Walker, B. (Perth)
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Waller, Gary
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Wells, Bowen
Royle, Sir Anthony Wheeler, John
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Whitney, Raymond
Shelton, William (Streatham) Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Shersby, Michael
Skeet, T. H. H. Tellers for the Ayes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Matthew Parris and
Sproat, Iain Mr. Christopher Murphy.
Adley, Robert Eastham, Ken
Alexander, Richard Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)
Anderson, Donald Elliott, Sir William
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Ennals, Rt Hon David
Atkinson, David (B'm'th.E) Evans, John (Newton)
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Fairgrieve, Russell
Beith, A. J. Faith, Mrs Sheila
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Field, Frank
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Braine, Sir Bernard Foulkes, George
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Buchan, Norman Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Cartwright, John Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda George, Bruce
Chapman, Sydney Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Churchill, W. S. Goodhart, Philip
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Graham, Ted
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Cohen, Stanley Grant, John (Islington C)
Coleman, Donald Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Cook, Robin F. Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Costain, Sir Albert Hannam, John
Cowans, Harry Hardy, Peter
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Crouch, David Hayhoe, Barney
Crowther, J. S. Haynes, Frank
Cunliffe, Lawrence Heffer, Eric S.
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Home Robertson, John
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Hooley, Frank
Deakins, Eric Hooson, Tom
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Horam, John
Dewar, Donald Hordern, Peter
Dixon, Donald Howell, Rt Hon D.
Dobson, Frank Hoyle, Douglas
Dormand, Jack Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Dorrell, Stephen Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hunt, David (Wirral)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Janner, Hon Greville
Dubs, Alfred Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Jessel, Toby
Dykes, Hugh Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Eadie, Alex Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Kerr, Russell Prescott, John
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Knight, Mrs Jill Prior, Rt Hon James
Knox, David Rathbone, Tim
Leighton, Ronald Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Le Marchant, Spencer Rhodes James, Robert
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lestor, Miss Joan Richardson, Jo
Loveridge, John Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Luce, Richard Robertson, George
Lyell, Nicholas Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Rooker, J. W.
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Roper, John
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
McCrindle, Robert Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
McElhone, Frank Rossi, Hugh
MacGregor, John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Scott, Nicholas
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McKelvey, William Sheerman, Barry
Maclennan, Robert Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McNally, Thomas Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
McNamara, Kevin Silverman, Julius
Magee, Bryan Sims, Roger
Major, John Soley, Clive
Marks, Kenneth Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Squire, Robin
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Stainton, Keith
Mates, Michael Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Mawby, Ray Stoddart, David
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stott, Roger
Maynard, Miss Joan Strang, Gavin
Meyer, Sir Anthony Straw, Jack
Mikardo, Ian Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Tilley, John
Miscampbell, Norman Tinn, James
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Morton, George Ward, John
Mudd, David Warren, Kenneth
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Watkins, David
Neale, Gerrard Watson, John
Needham, Richard Welsh, Michael
Newens, Stanley Whitehead, Phillip
Newton, Tony Whitlock, William
Normanton, Tom Wickenden, Keith
O'Neill, Martin Wiggin, Jerry
Onslow, Cranley Wigley, Dafydd
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wilkinson, John
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Palmer, Arthur Wolfson, Mark
Park, George Woolmer, Kenneth
Parker, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Patten, John (Oxford) Tellers for the Noes:
Pawsey, James Mr. Roger Moate and
Penhaligon, David Mr. Austin Mitchell.
Peyton, Rt Hon John

Question accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment No. 12 accordingly agreed to.

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