§ Order for Second Reading read.9.37 am
§ Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill requires the compulsory restraint of children under the age of 14 in the rear of cars in which restraints are fitted. The Bill will not require retrospective fitment. It would enable the Secretary of State to introduce regulations prescribing the description of seat belts to be worn and the manner in which they are to be fixed and worn. Regulations may also exempt children of any prescribed description and vehicles of a prescribed class. A driver who fails to comply will be liable to a maximum fine of £100. In effect, the Bill adds a new section 33C to the Road Traffic Act 1972.
I should like to place before the House two basic arguments in support of the Bill. The first is the case for the restraint of children and the second is the case for legislation. The 1986 casualty figures show how much at risk is the child who is carried unrestrained in the rear of a car. In that year, 89 per cent. of child car-occupant casualties were seated in the rear—that represents 8,560 children — and 91 per cent. of fatalities were children seated in the rear of vehicles.
The largest casualty group was of children aged between five and 13 years. That group accounted for 65 per cent. of the total and only 8 per cent. of them wore restraints in accidents. Surveys conducted by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory show that only 17 per cent. of those children travelling in the rear wore a restraint.
Accident research has shown that unrestrained children are more at risk from head injury than adults and that unrestrained children suffer head injury in 80 per cent of accidents. Swedish research carried out by Volvo, Nielsen shows that ejection from a vehicle is a common cause of injury. Everyone who has seen the video produced by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety which used dummies to show the horrific injuries that a child may suffer will understand how ejection from a car can cause extremely serious injuries.
Other research by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory shows that the use of child restraints can reduce the incidence of fatal injury by about 75 per cent. and that of serious injury by about 50 per cent.
The Bill's effects will be gradual as older cars without restraints are gradually taken off the road. The exact effects of the Bill are therefore likely to be small at first although it is difficult to estimate how many rear restraints are currently available in the back seats of cars. However, reductions of about 50 serious and fatal injuries might be expected in the first year, rising to reductions of about 300 as more belts are available. As time passes, that figure may improve.
I should have thought that the House would welcome any measures to reduce those injuries. It is not surprising that parents who have seen their children injured because they were not restrained are perhaps the most determined to see that the legislation succeeds as it, hopefully, proceeds through the House. That is understandable when we realise the anguish that those parents have endured, having seen their children suffer.
1267 It is also very important that we should understand what happens in a car accident. That would help us to understand the anguish suffered by parents who have experienced tragedies. Some hon. Members have told me in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster that an unrestrained child in traffic cannot be at much risk. I do not think that it is widely realised that in a 30 mph frontal crash, a 15 lb. baby would be thrown forward with a force of 450 lb. That is 30 times the baby's weight. We can therefore understand how such serious injuries can be inflicted.
Similar legislation to that contained in this Bill was introduced in Victoria and New South Wales in 1981 and 1982 respectively. The evidence there showed that the use of restraints increased and casualty rates were significantly reduced. The case for the restraint of children in the rear, no matter whether we agree with legislation, is unanswerable. There is a definite case and a need for children to be restrained. As Dr. Gordon Trinca of the Australian College of Surgeons said:In no country have desired levels of wearing been reached without enactment of legislation making such use compulsory. Where laws have excluded children, the wearing rate for children has been much lower.I now want to consider whether we should legislate. Any law in a free society must obviously have public support. I would be the first to accept that. Laws are inoperable in a free society when they do not have that support. However, I have no doubt that there is widespread support for the aims of the Bill inside and outside the House.
A recent opinion poll carried out by Gallup in August last year, showed that 91 per cent. of drivers were in favour of compulsory restraint of children in the rear. We should not forget that drivers would be directly affected by the effects of the legislation. Interestingly, 92 per cent. of the general public—whether they drove or not—supported the principle in this legislation and welcomed the compulsory restraint of children.
While all hon. Members may have reasons to question the accuracy of various opinion polls, figures of 91 per cent. and 92 per cent. showing such a level of support show that we have the trend right. When that level of support is reflected among the driving public and the general public, the figures show that there is wide support for the legislation.
I believe that the public will willingly comply with this legislation, if it becomes law, in the way that they complied with legislation on front seat restraints. We can expect a great improvement in usage rates. At the moment we know that people take risks. Most people know that it is sensible to ensure that a child is restrained if restraints are available. However, if we are honest, those of us who are parents have been guilty of taking risks. Perhaps mother has a lot of shopping and is in a hurry. It is easy to forget to restrain children, or to think, "It is only just down the road, it doesn't matter this time." People know that they are taking risks if they do that.
However, people knew that they took a risk if they did not wear a front seat belt when legislation was introduced about the wearing of front seat belts. I believe that, once this Bill becomes law, people will comply with it. The 1268 British people are a sensible, law-abiding community. That is a fair combination which will ensure that the law would be upheld.
The Bill also has widespread support in the House. Two hundred and ten hon. Members responded to my letter asking for support today—we must recognise that that represents almost one third of all hon. Members in the House. One hundred and seventy-five hon. Members agreed with the principles in the Bill; 18 were undecided and only 17 replied that they were against it.
Equally, the Bill has all-party support. I want to thank the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is in the Chamber. I hope that he will make a contribution later. I thank him for his work on my behalf on the Bill and for his work with the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety without whose help I would not have been able to present the Bill to the House this morning.
I would particularly like to mention the co-ordinator of PACTS, Jean Breen, for her invaluable help. The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) campaigned hard last year on this issue and asked a number of questions in the House.
I must also mention Mrs. Christine Burn and her daughter, who organised a "belt up in the back" campaign. As for outside organisations, I am pleased to say that the Bill is supported in principle by the Traffic Committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland; the Association of London Borough Road Safety Officers; the Automobile Association; the British Medical Association; the British Paediatric Association; the Casualty Surgeons Association; The Child Accident Prevention Trust; the County Road Safety Officers Association; the Guild of Experienced Motorists; the Institute of Advanced Motorists; the Institute of Road Safety Officers; the Institution of Mechanical Engineers; the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety; the Royal Automobile Club; the Royal College of Nursing; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents; and the Royal College of Surgeons. The evidence of support for the legislation is widespread, which in itself should be justification for its enactment.
The only serious opposition that I have so far heard represents an honourable but — I say this with due deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) — a minority viewpoint: that such laws are an interference with the rights of the individual. How on earth can that argument apply to legislation governing children? It is a mystery to me how anyone can argue that the Bill is an interference with personal liberty. It sets no precedent; the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 established a parental duty to provide children with food, shelter and other basic requirements. Similarly, controls on the consumption by children of alcohol and tobacco have been with us for years. If it is wrong to legislate in this instance because it is an interference with personal liberty, why on earth are parents required by statute to ensure that their children are adequately educated? Is that an interference with personal liberty?
The case against the legislation—if, indeed, there is a case — cannot be substantiated on grounds of interference with personal liberty. Many of our laws seek to protect children, and to ensure that their parents fulfil their responsibilities. The Bill is no great threat to personal liberty, although it is certainly a threat to the dangers that face children who are unrestrained in the backs of cars.
1269 I contend that the need for the legislation is proven, and that its public acceptability is undeniable. There remain, however, some practical details of which I feel that hon. Members should be aware, and on which I can give some practical assurances.
Why, it may be asked, does the Bill refer toa child under the age of fourteen years"?The Bill aims to provide protection for children who cannot make considered judgments about their safety. The limit of 14 years mirrors exactly that used in the front seat belt legislation for children in section 28 of the Transport Act 1981, under which parents have a legal responsibility for their children's safety until they are 14.
What about school runs, on which a number of children are carried to school by their parents? The Bill requires the use of rear seat belts only when they have been fitted, and the driver must restrain only as many children as there are appropriate restraints. The Bill does not prohibit the carriage of unrestrained children in the rear where restraints are not available. It is designed—this sums it up nicely—to protect life, not to inhibit lifestyles.
Questions may be asked about enforcement. The traffic committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers supports in principle the compulsory use of restraints in the rear for children, and, as with compulsory front seat belt wearing, there is every probability that this measure will be self-enforcing. Typically, seat belt offences are detected as a result of some other traffic offence when the vehicle is stationery, so a police officer should be able to detect non-compliance relatively easily. I do not believe that it will be necessary for him to do so very often, because I agree with the Association of Chief Police Officers that the Bill will be self-enforcing.
A number of parents have told me that they support my ideas—but what if little Tommy undoes his seat belt, as he is probably wont to do frequently? My reply is that the Bill contains a reasonable excuse clause, which will allow the courts to take such circumstances into account. The Bill is not a sledgehammer; it is intended as a serious attempt to bring home to people their civic duty and, more important, their duties to their children.
It has been argued that, if a driver wishes to carry three children in the rear of a car that is fitted with only two seat belts, he will be faced with a difficult and unacceptable choice: which child should be left unrestrained? My Bill does not materially affect such circumstances, or, indeed, create that moral dilemma. It applies only to cars in which seat belts are already fitted. For parents who are running around with three children and only two belts, the obvious answer is to fit a third belt. If they feel that they cannot do that, the moral dilemma already exists. Surely it is unreasonable to argue that, because three, four or five children are carried in the back of a car with only two restraints, none of the children should be restrained.
It has also been argued that five children sitting in a row on the back seat unrestrained can all sit on the seat, but if some of them are restrained, others cannot. The idea of a family of young children, or a group of five friends, sitting neatly in a row, unrestrained, for the entire length of a journey, is unbelievable. Children sitting unrestrained in the backs of cars bob all over the place. As a motorway driver who used to do 40,000 or 50,000 miles a year, I have seen them bobbing around in the back probably more than most hon. Members.
It is sometimes suggested that the use of restraints by children will lead to their entrapment in accidents and car 1270 fires. It is important to be clear about this. The independent assessors' analysis of the effects of compulsory front seat belt wearing found no significant increase in the small number of drowning accidents; nor did they find any increase in the number of casualties involved in fire accidents. During the past five years, the Department of Transport's vehicle inspectorate division has seen only six cases of entrapment in severe accidents. No fires were involved, and no injuries due to entrapment by seat belts.
In August last year, there was widespread press coverage of a tragic accident in which a young child strapped in the back of an Austin Metro was burnt to death. Subsequent investigation by experts revealed that no child restraint had been fitted to the vehicle.
I believe that this is a sensible and practical piece of legislation. It is fair in application and sincere in intent. It is a mild Bill. It is not authoritarian and it is not a threat to personal liberty. It is not heavy-handed, but it is an encouragement to greater child safety. On that basis, I would have thought that the house should welcome it and I commend it to the House.
§ 10 am
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on his speech and on the choice of subject for his private Member's Bill. It is a furrow that many people have ploughed before and it is not an easy one. Recognising the faces of hon. Members present in the Chamber today takes me back to when we considered the wearing of seat belts before. This is a subject that unites hon. Members who probably do not agree on any other subject. They come together in the belief that this area needs desperate action.
Today is Comic Relief day. Our television screens this morning were filled with sober announcers wearing red noses. Newspapers today are filled with pictures of politicians and other prominent personalities with the familiar red bulb on their nose. As I came to the House this morning I saw a large number of children on their way to school wearing them as well. People have been magnetised by today's event, not so much by the general problems of aid and relief for Africa, which will be the beneficiary of the generosity, as by the pictures of small children who are the innocent victims of famine in Africa and other parts of the world.
British people respond easily, quite justifiably and rightly, to the dilemma faced by children all over the world who suffer because of famine, pestilence, disease and war. Therefore, it is appropriate that the House of Commons should be considering a measure of this sort today. We are not considering the protection of adults or vast numbers of people who would undoubtedly benefit if they wore rear seat belts; we are considering children up to the age of 14 who are the innocent victims of their own carelessness or perhaps the inability of their parents to control them or strap them up.
I am the chairman of an organisation called the Seat Belt Survivors Club. It is organised within the umbrella of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It was established almost 10 years ago to draw attention to the benefits of wearing seat belts and to move beyond the technical and statistical arguments that exist for the wearing of seat belts in motor vehicles. We asked those who have been the victims of road accidents but beneficiaries of wearing seat belts to write to us with their 1271 experience. I, the Minister, his predecessor, the leader of the Liberal party, or whatever it is called this week, and hon. Members on both sides of the House qualify for membership of the club because they are able to participate as human beings, never mind as politicians, because they were wearing a seat belt.
Some of the most effective letters I have seen have been received since front seat belts became compulsory. I have been approached by individuals, and the organisation has received letters, from people who have said, "We never wore a seat belt before the law made it obligatory. We were either too lazy, did not think that it would matter or resisted it because it confined us in the car." We all used to hear such arguments. Those letters have then gone on to say, "The law said that we should wear a seat belt and we believe that that is a sensible thing to do. We are law-abiding citizens and we wore the belt. We are able to talk today or to write this letter because, in a road accident subsequent to the legislation, we were restrained by a seat belt and are alive when we would have been dead without it."
That is one of the most effective arguments. Those of us in the House today will remember the previous long, dreary, monotonous and usually futile debates on seat belts. We remember the interminable objections raised by those who held up civil liberties and other arguments in opposition. We now realise that it is not a controversial matter. People simply get into their cars and put on their seat belts. For the vast majority it is now an uncomfortable experience to drive any distance without it.
On top of all of that, there is the enormous saving of lives and the prevention of serious injuries. We are not dealing with the cold statistics, projections or estimates that we were considering previously. We are now talking of between 200 and 400 human beings who would have been killed but who are alive because they were wearing a seat belt. We are talking about the 7,000 people who were protected from serious injury because they were wearing a seat belt, largely because they were forced by law to do so.
It is difficult to give the House a picture of what that means in human terms. One of the most effective speeches during the previous lengthy debates was made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), with whom I probably disagree on everything. His views are well to the right of Genghis Khan. Before he became a Minister, his view was that compulsion was not advisable and he would not have supported it. However, his experience as a Minister, going to hospitals and talking to casualty surgeons converted him. For somebody who took such a robust view—I am sure that his view was even more robust than that of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor)— to be converted by the facts is a salutary lesson to us all.
This measure is simple. It should be uncontroversial, uncomplicated and wholly beneficial. We are talking about 1,000 children who are killed or seriously injured in cars today because they are unrestrained.
The arguments deployed by the hon. Member for Cheadle are powerful and difficult to contradict. If one looks at the transportation of anything in something as lethal as a car one can see a comparison. If we wanted to send a valuable china object through the post or some eggs in a box we would not send them without them having 1272 been carefully and strongly packed to ensure that they would not move about. Yet we allow ourselves to carry fragile children—they are as fragile at 30 miles an hour as eggs in a wooden box — without any restraint or padding. Anybody who thinks about wrapping up a fragile birthday or Christmas present and concludes that it should be done thoroughly and effectively makes the argument for restraining children in cars.
The issue then comes to why we should make it compulsory. Is it not an obligation on parents to ensure that their children are restrained in cars? Should it not be for the children to be taught from an early age that wearing seat belts, like road safety, is the norm? Of course, the answer to that is yes. Of course, every parent should be obliged to do that. As the hon. Member for Cheadle said, we do not often allow that decision to be left to parents without the supervison and the back-up of the law.
Even those of us who are passionate supporters of seat belts—those of us who are convinced, because of direct experience, of the value of seat belts — know how difficult it is to get children to wear them in the back of cars. I confess — with rear belts in my car and even before it is made obligatory—that I find it difficult to persuade my three children, on every journey, to wear what I know to be beneficial to them. I know that my children, and 90 per cent. of other children, will obey the law if it lays down that it is the norm. The law is a backup to parents, which is often necessary to ensure that they take their responsibilities seriously. It takes them off the hook of the inevitable problems of getting children to do what is in their best interests.
Some in this debate, as in previous debates, will deploy the civil liberties argument. It is a strong argument, and we heard it interminably in previous debates on this subject. I am not in favour of imposing unreasonable restrictions on people's personal liberties or civil rights. That is not something that Parliament should always do. However, as the hon. Member for Cheadle said, we are acting on behalf of children, not adults. Once children reach the age of 14 they can make their own decisions and take their own risks, although it must be said that those risks and responsibilities place burdens on the rest of us if they end up in hospital after a road accident. That is not the issue that we are considering; we are interested only in children in the back seats of cars and in ensuring that they are protected, at least until they are old enough to take decisions for themselves.
Even if the civil liberties argument had validity and even if it had power — we saw how quickly this argument faded away with regard to front seat belts—in the case of children under 14, where rear seat belts are available, we are not arguing that that in any way affects the civil liberties of the driver or of the parent, and certainly not those of the children.
The statistics often speak for themselves. However, the people who cannot speak for themselves are the casualties. I was one such casualty 12 years ago. I often think "serious injury" is not an adequate description. In the vast majority of cases it describes not people such as I who have recovered, but those who are permanently disabled, maimed or disfigured for the rest of their lives. Road accidents are horrifying; they often take place at high speeds and involve multiple collisions. Those multiple collisions involve nearly 960 unrestrained children under 1273 the age of 14. Their effect can be brought to life only by seeing the individuals affected. We have an obligation to reduce that carnage.
I should like to associate myself with what the hon. Member for Cheadle said in congratulating the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. It, with all the other organisations involved in this matter, has done much to alert the public to the dangers involved. Not only that — scaremongering is easy, and it is easy to portray the agonies involved—but it has drawn much attention to the remedies that are available, which are simple, easy, effective and publicly acceptable. Jean Breen, who has worked assiduously on behalf of the organisation, has done a great service to those who in the past would have lost their lives but who in the future will be saved.
This is a popular measure. It was supported by over 90 per cent. of the population in a recent opinion poll. It is necessary and, on this appropriate day, it is humanitarian. If we can make a small impression on the carnage and tragedy of road accidents involving children, the House will have done a great service.
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)
It is always pleasant and agreeable to find myself completely in accord with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)—whether I be left or right of Ghengis Khan matters not. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is a few degrees to the right of Karl Marx.
I start by declaring an interest. I have the honour to be the president of the Guild of Experienced Motorists. Membership of that body is open to anyone who has driven for at least 10 years without serious conviction for driving matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) said, it supports the Bill.
I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on bringing forward this important measure but on presenting it with great sincerity and clarity and by meeting the arguments. He has rendered a great service to road safety.
I can add a further survey to those that my hon. Friend mentioned. The Guild of Experienced Motorists carried out a survey of its members last year on rear seat belts. Surprise, surprise—the result what that 90 per cent. of its members came out in favour of the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts. It must be remembered that those people are drivers whom it might be expected would take a different point of view, but they bore in mind the incontrovertible fact that seat belts have saved lives, that they will continue to do so and that they have prevented serious and minor injuries.
The evidence is that there has been a 30 per cent. reduction in death and injuries since the seat belt legislation was passed; a 25 per cent. reduction in hospital admissions; a 39 per cent. reduction in brain injuries; a 53 per cent. reduction in facial wounds; and, for the economically minded, saving of £130 million.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
Will my hon. Friend say from what source he has obtained those figures? They seem to be at odds with many others that are available.
§ Sir Anthony Grant
The figures are mainly derived from Government research. I obtained them from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.
1274 Some 9,000 children were killed or injured in 1986—those are Government figures. Government research has shown that child restraints have reduced fatal accidents by 15 per cent.
Apart from those bare statistics, one can see from one's—own experience—if one takes the trouble to investigate them—the dangers that exist for children in motor cars. A little time ago in my constituency at the Rosie maternity hospital, we had an example of those dangers when Essex county council produced a little chute, down which we precipitated no less a person that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport. We simulated a speed of 15 mph. He was precipitated down the chute clutching a doll to his bosom. He is an athletic man, but despite his efforts, at that speed, at an impact of 15 miles an hour, without restraint, the doll came out of his hands and the head was knocked off.
If that happens at 15 miles per hour, to an energetic chap like the Minister, we should consider the risks to other passengers. Mothers often suffer from the delusion that if they are clutching their baby and cuddling it tightly it will somehow save him or her. Alas and alack, the contrary is true. The results are misery, death and injury.
Let us look at what has happened overseas, where there has been effective child restraint legislation. In Michigan, in the United States, there has been a 25 to 50 per cent. reduction in injuries. In Victoria, Australia, where the law is similar to the Bill, injuries to children have gone down by 17 per cent. In New Mexico, the fatality rate is down by 33 per cent., and in Tennessee deaths have been reduced by 15 per cent. The evidence from overseas completely supports the Bill.
Why should we not extend the seat belt law to children in rear seats? As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle said, the only issue is freedom. There is no greater lover of freedom than I. All my political life I have believed that there is far too much bureaucratic interference in our lives. I believe in the sanctity of the individual, I detest the nanny state and I have some sympathy with those who want the freedom to injure themselves of their own volition through idiot schemes, provided that they do not interfere with other people. However, children are different. They need a nanny. They cannot decide for themselves, and we are responsible for them.
For a long time, the law has recognised that fact. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said, we are not allowed to starve children, to deny them shelter, make them drunk, or to allow them to be uneducated. Legislation has recognised those factors for many years. Therefore, why on earth should it be an infringement of freedom to ensure that children are not killed, maimed or injured in such dangerous things as motor vehicles?
Many details in the Bill need to be sorted out. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle mentioned some of them, but the Bill contains provisions for regulations to be made to deal with all exceptional cases. The original seat belt legislation made exceptions for people who were too fat, too small, or claustrophobic. Those matters can be dealt with by regulations and they can be sorted out, discussed and debated in Committee.
Today's debate is about a basic principle. I believe that if one child's life is spared, or one child is saved from horrific injury, the Bill is worth while. If only those who are opposed to the Bill could see the horrors of children in the hospitals in my constituency who are injured, and if only they could share the grief, misery and remorse of 1275 the parents whose children are suffering in that way, they would join me in giving the Bill an enthusiastic Second Reading.
§ Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on a sensible Bill. I am delighted to give it my wholehearted support. If it becomes law it will save the lives of many young people and protect thousands more from serious injury.
We have heard some of the figures for accidents involving children, and they make very sad reading. In 1986, 70 children were killed in car accidents and more than 9,500 were injured–89 per cent. of those injured were occupying rear seats. It is undeniable that if the Bill had been in force at that time those figures would have been dramatically lower. Many of those injuries were caused by the child hitting the back of the front seat of the car. Another common cause of injury was ejection from the car. Both of those types of injury would have been much less likely if the children concerned had been restrained by seat belts.
Naturally, it is extremely difficult to estimate the effects that the Bill will have on the number of serious accidents, but the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety has done research that shows that this legislation could result in 50 fewer serious and fatal injuries in the first year. It also shows that that figure could be expected to rise to 300 when seat belts become more widely available. Parliament cannot ignore that finding. We have a duty to take action to save lives whenever possible and we are grateful for that opportunity today.
The Bill has the support of many of the most widely respected motoring organisations, including the AA and the Guild of Experienced Motorists, which has already been mentioned. I believe that the Government also look favourably on this matter. The Department of Transport road safety review states thatMandatory useof rear seat beltsshould be kept in mind as a possibility for at least the long term—and sooner—if the general climate of opinion and the extent of voluntary use favour it.I believe that public opinion is now in favour of taking this action.
Most people now accept that the strong rules on the wearing of seat belts in front seats have been beneficial. Although a stubborn few still refuse to wear them, most people accept that it is a wise law that has saved many lives. If we insist on seat belts for adults in the front seats of cars, it is inconsistent for us not to insist on children wearing rear seat belts when we know how many lives can be saved and how many serious injuries can be prevented by such a measure.
This is a wise Bill because it has taken account of the world as it is, not of the world as we would wish it to be. If the Bill is enacted it will be illegal to drive a car containing a child passenger who is not restrained, if that car has rear seat belts. At present, at least 2 million cars are equipped with rear seat belts, and since rear seat belts have been compulsory in new cars since 1987, that number will increase.
The Bill, sensibly, will not force undue expense on motorists but will ensure that the use of rear seat belts 1276 becomes the accepted norm. Similarly, those with large families will not be penalised because the Bill recognises that cars may have to carry more children than the number of seat belts.
My spokesmanship on health issues has taken me into many hospitals throughout the country. I have seen children with smashed faces in hospital wards. Many of those children were in the rear seats of cars that had no seat belts. If the Bill can prevent such injuries for only a small percentage of those children I, for one, will be grateful. I can see no serious practical objection to a Bill that will do so much to save the lives of young people under 14, and that has been carefully drafted to avoid serious objections and difficulties. I urge the House to support the Bill and to take a major step towards saving lives.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn). I join him in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on his preparation and presentation of the Bill. I also agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), and I am delighted that he was preserved by his seat belt to be with us today.
I have no doubt that the introduction of seat belt legislation has been an important factor in the welcome decline in the number of people killed on our roads in recent years. I have absolutely no doubt that if the Bill that has been so ably prepared and presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle reaches the statute book, it will play an important role in significantly reducing the number of children killed and injured on our roads.
Why has it taken so long to bring forward the measure and to get seat belt legislation on to the statute book in the first place? From the time that a seat belt clause first appeared in Government legislation back in 1973, it took about 10 years for the wearing of seat belts to become mandatory, and a further five years before this private Member's Bill appeared. Hon. Members are anxious to press the Government of the day to take urgent action to tighten up safety laws to prevent other types of accidents—for example, railway, aircraft, tube, and ferry accidents— but we are strangely reluctant to do so in respect of road accidents. It took us 10 years to activate seat belt legislation, when we knew that its introduction would save hundreds of lives a year. We know that a small change in the law relating to breathalysers will undoubtedly save more lives.
If we could find time to deal with legislation to introduce automatic safety and speed cameras on our roads, we could, for the first time, effectively enforce our speed regulations. However, I expect that it will take another 10 years before the House gets around to the installation of automatic speed cameras.
Why are we so reluctant to deal with the problem of road safety? There are two reasons. The first is that official road safety statistics are presented in the best possible anodyne fashion. They are produced late. Indeed, they are produced months or years after they might make any great impact.
In its important report on road safety, the Select Committee on Transport made some sensible recommendations for the improvement of the presentation of road safety statistics. I know that they are sensible because I drafted them myself. Such improvements could be 1277 brought into effect without any further action by the House or any further legislation by the Government. I hope that action will soon be taken. I fear that, so far, the recommendation made by the Select Committee on Transport has been totally ignored.
The second reason is that, sadly, many hon. Members are bad drivers. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) is the president of the Guild of Advanced Motorists. I am sure that he never infringes the traffic laws. The fact that many hon. Members are dreadful drivers has imposed a parliamentary road block on the improvement of road safety. After all, it is embarrassing, if one has made a stirring speech in favour of road safety, and one is arrested for speeding a few days later. Undoubtedly, that produces in many hon. Members an ambivalent attitude to the enforcement and tightening up of traffic laws.
I remember when, many years ago, that great parliamentarian Aneurin Bevan was beginning to take an interest in road safety and made one or two interesting speeches on the topic. He was later spotted by a member of Clement Attlee's family, breaking the law as it turned out. He was taken to court and never took an interest in road safety again. I suspect that many of us are inhibited in that fashion.
Although I expect that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle will get unanimous support for his Bill, there are clearly many parliamentary hurdles ahead.
I make two pleas to my hon. Friend the Minister. I ask him to redouble his efforts to ensure that the presentation of road safety statistics is made more effective in the near future. I ask also for an assurance that, if my hon. Friend's Bill runs into difficulties in Committee, or if it falls at one of the many of the parliamentary hurdles that still lie ahead, he will use his best endeavours to ensure that the basic principles of the measure are introduced in Government legislation in the next Session. Of course, I realise that he cannot commit the Government in any way today, but I hope that he will assure the House that, if problems arise, he will use his best endeavours to make sure that the measure is adopted. Parliament will not be doing its duty if we fail to protect our children.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
After having been part of campaigns for various safety measures over the years, one has the impression that a small group of eccentrics insist on having reunions in the Chamber to talk about issues about which they feel reasonably obsessive. That small group of hon. Members, many of whom have got to know each other very well, have been joined by a few new faces in this Parliament. They meet regularly.
Most of us feel proud that, at some stage, we have made a contribution not only to the making of great speeches—many great speeches are made in the Chamber—but to providing the votes that change people's lives in such a dramatic way. None of us has any reason to be ashamed of our record over the past few years. On an all-party basis, we have helped to save lives and prevent deaths and serious and disabling injuries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) talked about what we mean by "serious" injury. I advise him that by a disabling injury, we mean never being able to walk without pain again. If one talks to surgeons and to the people who suffer such injuries, one learns that that is what they mean by serious injury.
1278 Today is the day of Comic Relief. I make no apology for returning to that topic, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton. Today we have all seen lots of happy children going to school dressed up with their red noses. It is a super day because they are raising funds for children in Africa. The most common killers of young children in Africa are disease and starvation. Our country is not like Africa. Many of the diseases that were common killers of children have disappeared from our country, thank God. However, worthy as it is, the Bill will not stop the most common killer of children in this country, which is not cancer, leukaemia, heart malformation or disease, but death on the road. It is not even the subject that we are discussing. Most of the children who die on our roads are pedestrians or are on bicycles. There are strategies and ways in which we could tackle that problem, not by law, but by much greater efforts in other ways.
However, we are debating this excellent small Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day). I add my congratulations to him on his work. It is easy to stand up in the Chamber arid make a speech, but there is a lot of work involved in private Member's Bill. Like other hon. Members here, I have had a private Member's Bill on this subject and we all recognise that it takes a lot of time and effort and does not get one any Brownie points with the Whips. However, it is a good Bill which certainly deserves support.
Our children went to school today with red noses, and the tragedy is that some of their parents will not see them come home. Some of their parents will pick them up on the school run and will kill their children. Some children will not come back from that day of fun. We cannot stop that. It will happen today as it happens every day. Parents will get the news, hear the knock on the door and see the unfamiliar sight of a policeman on the doorstep and they will wonder what on earth could have happened. That is the chilling fact of the deaths that we in this House have taken so much for granted.
Last week, and on previous weeks, the House was full for private Members' legislation when we discussed important issues, such as life before birth and the freedom of information. However, sometimes on a day such as today, when we are discussing something that will help children to live—children who have personalities, who already have all their faculties, and who are dearly loved by their parents—I look round and notice that quite a few of our colleagues do not seem to think that important enough to turn up for the debate.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
I assure the hon. Gentleman that although there is only token representation from Northern Ireland on the Ulster Unionist Bench, my hon. Friends, like many other hon. Members who are absent, are fully behind the Bill and, if they were present, they would congratulate the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on introducing this important measure.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He is right in part. I was trying to say that the amount of attention received by this issue—the greatest killer of children in our country — should have greater priority among a number of our colleagues. I say that about my party, the Conservative party and, indeed, all parties in the House. If we are seriously to tackle all the other problems of the killing of people on British roads, we must upgrade this subject in terms of its profile and priority on the parliamentary agenda.
1279 It is seven years since I introduced the Safety of Children in Cars Bill. As we know, it did not succeed. It was not as high in the ballot as this Bill, from the hon. Member for Cheadle, which was number five. Although my Bill did not succeed, we managed to use it again in the Transport Act 1981, so it survived in an unusual and unique way. It became law, having been accepted by the Government. I give credit to the then Minister and his Under-Secretary who have moved on to greater things, for their efforts at that time. Although I should not suspect such things on an all-party occasion, I suspect that there was the belief that, by accepting the children-in-cars element, the compulsory legislation to make adults belt up in the front seats of cars might be downgraded and bought off. However, in the same piece of legislation we also managed to obtain the passage of an amendment on that subject.
We should give the general safety of children a high priority. I should like to give the House a few statistics. We shall have too many today, so I shall go through them quickly. When presenting a paper at a recent conference on the safety of children, not far from this House, the preeminent expert, Barbara Sabey — most hon. Members will know that she is a senior person in the Transport and Road Research Laboratory — pointed out that road accidents are a tragic and, for the most part, avoidable loss of young life. During 1986, more than 41,000 child casualties were reported to the police. Weighting that statistic dramatically, it is equivalent to over half the population of an average-size parliamentary constituency —in fact, perhaps, the constituency of Southend, East. Possibly thousands—maybe even tens of thousands—more accidents went unreported. Until the health sector improves its accident reporting systems, we shall never know exactly how many there are.
Road accidents are the biggest cause of accidental death among children. According to a paper produced by the Child Accident Prevention Trust only this week, they are the most severe type of accidents, largely because of the forces involved and because hard and heavy metal objects hit frail and small human bodies. Nearly 3,000 children suffer disability as a result of such accidents and about 10 per cent. are left permanently disabled. It is clear that we give too little priority to this problem.
However, we should not talk only about the problems because we have some solutions, such as the Bill. Other possibilities include a national pre-school traffic club. I hope that the Minister is still giving his earnest attention to that. The education and training of children is one of our deficiencies. We do not get through to the child at home or to the family and, despite all our efforts, we do not get through to the child in school.
In recent weeks I have been discussing with the Minister and other hon. Members the fact that it is about time that we went back to the example set by the Americans in the 1960s and made a British version of a programme such as "Sesame Street". It was wonderful entertainment; children loved it but they learned at the same time. We are the preeminent television programme-makers of the world. Why should we not make our own version of "Sesame Street"? Why not get the BBC and commercial companies to make a programme which, sugaring the pill, delivers a consciousness that could do so much to teach children about the number one hazard to survival in their lives?
1280 There are other important issues. Manufacturers should have introduced pro-pedestrian car designs long ago. There is also today's issue of the wearing of rear restraints by children. That is important because it is the first, quickest and surest step in cutting down these dreadful casualties. It is quick, easy, acceptable and popular. Surely there cannot be many more recommendations for a piece of legislation. We can move on from today. Let us get children in cars out of the way and move on to other issues which are equally, and sometimes more, important.
The hon. Member for Cheadle said that the Bill is a natural progression of the safety of children in cars legislation, which requires all children under the age of 14 to be restrained if seated in the front seats of cars. We knew that it was the first step because we were practical people, and we knew that without that first step it would be far too idealistic to introduce restraints for children in the rear seats. However, we got anchorage points in rear seats and we then moved on to the fitting of rear seat belts. We now have a great opportunity to get this little Bill into law.
This will be a powerful piece of legislation. The original aim of our provision was to improve the safety of children in the front seats of cars, the most dangerous place to be unrestrained. Careful monitoring has shown that it has been successful. Front seat belt usage increased almost overnight from 50 per cent. to over 90 per cent. for the five to 13-year-old category. That resulted in a net casualty reduction of 15 per cent. That happened in the year following the introduction of the legislation and I have no reason to believe that it has not been maintained. As expected, the provision did not have any significant casualty reduction effect on child casualties in the rear seats, where most children sit and where most are injured.
Earlier this week, a report was published by an expert working party of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, which said that an increasing use of restraints for children in the rear is the only key to the improvement of in-car safety. The report stated:As 90 per cent. of child car occupant casualties are seated in the rear where restraint usage is only about 30 per cent., it has to be concluded that the only way to reduce child casualties is to increase markedly rear restraint use.Although the report recommends a number of complementary measures to increase usage, such as the need for the widespread introduction of child restraint loan schemes, priority is given to the need for the introduction of the Bill.
A few bouquets are in order. Thanks to the efforts of the Minister, road safety officers and other organisations, such as the "belt up in the back campaign" and the "That's Life" programme, the myth that it is safe to sit unrestrained in the rear seats of cars has been largely dispelled. All those efforts have played a crucial part in developing a positive public attitude about the value of seat belts and the need to wear them in the rear, but, just as we found when we were talking about adults in the front seats of cars, that is not enough. All our efforts got the wearing rate up to 30 per cent., but not much beyond. That is when legislation became the only step forward. The hon. Member for Cheadle was right. This is not an impetuous piece of legislation. It is not a heavy-handed piece of legislation. It follows the natural progression of events and circumstances over a long period.
1281 I do not wish to detain the House any longer. Although only some states in the United States have legislation for adults to wear seat belts, every state has legislation for children to wear seat belts. Children under 14 are not responsible for themselves. Society and their parents are responsible for them. We must look after children who are too young to protect their own interests and to understand the consequences of jiggling around in the back seat of a car travelling at any speed. As the guardian of those young people, the House must pass the Bill.
Legislation has been introduced all over the world and it has been effective. The Bill is practical. It applies only to cars in which restraints are fitted, and it does not require additional expenditure by parents. That is important, but, ultimately, it is a matter for the Department of Transport, in consultation with other bodies.
Some hon. Members may want to know more about the important group of children aged between one and four. That is a difficult age group because adult seat belts are not ideal for young children between one and four. It is better to have a properly designed seat for children between the ages of one and four, but an adult seat belt is far better than no seat belt. In consultation, the Department of Transport can discuss the problems of the one-to-four age group properly and can get the matter right when the Bill goes into Committee, which, I believe, is a possibility.
I have tried to present some of the facts. None of us believes that the safety of children and adults is merely a matter of emotion. It is a matter of emotion when one sees people in hospital and hears of children dying unnecessarily or being maimed for life, but none of the measures that I have put forward has been based on emotion. I, PACTS and most of the organisations at the forefront of the compaign for seat belts for children believe that we should talk about effective measures based on science and technology and on the experiences of other comparable countries. This is an important issue and I hope that the hon. Member for Cheadle will have every success with his Bill.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on his good fortune in obtaining a high place in the ballot, and also on the sincerity with which he introduced his Bill.
So far in our debate, arguments have been used in an appropriate way and I welcome the fact that nobody's sincerity has been impugned, as has sometimes happened in the past. I wish to put forward a different viewpoint for that put forward so far, but I hope that those who disagree with me will accept my commitment to road safety and my sincerity in saying that I feel just as strongly about the need to reduce the number of avoidable deaths.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) said that the only arguments against the introduction of this Bill related to freedom of the individual. I am sorry that he has had to leave us, because that is not the case. I do not intend to rely on any arguments relating to freedom of the individual. I agree with those hon. Members who said that some issues transcend the issue of freedom of the individual.
Of course it is necessary to protect children. It is sometimes necessary to protect children from the foolishness of their parents or of adults. My one concern about the Education Reform Bill is that many aspects 1282 seem to rely considerably on parental choice. We must also consider those children whose parents may not have such a commitment to education. However, that is a side issue, upon which I do not want to be drawn. I use it to illustrate the fact that I believe that the issue of freedom is not one upon which we should rely when considering the safety of children under the age of 14.
I hope that everyone will accept that probably the most important thing we can do to improve road safety is to improve driver behaviour. Of course, some accidents a re caused as a result of vehicle malfunction, and others as the result of civil engineering failings on the road, but the majority of accidents are essentially attributable to failings in driver behaviour. If we could improve such behaviour, we could substantially reduce the number of accidents, casualties and fatalities.
It was rather interesting that when I mentioned to a number of people, particularly women, that I hoped to speak in this debate, they reacted with almost exactly the same words, "When I have got the children in the car I always drive carefully, as if I had a crate of eggs in the back." I am sure that that analogy sounds familiar to several hon. Members.
The individual's driving behaviour alters according to their perception of possible danger. Such risks are considered greater if a vulnerable cargo is being carried. When eggs—or children—are being carried, the brakes are applied that much earlier before the bend, overall speed is moderated and the driver stops when the lights change to amber rather than accelerating as one might when driving alone.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
The hon. Gentleman is treading common ground because we all believe in better driving and better safety. Is the essence of the hon. Gentleman's argument that the more vulnerable the cargo the safer the driving, and that therefore children in the back should not have seat belts?
§ Mr. Waller
If the hon. Gentleman allows me to develop my argument, he will find out.
The assumption is that the crate of eggs or other cargo in the back is loose and may topple forward with disastrous consequences. Let us suppose that the crate was roped down and attached to the car or was prevented from moving forward in the event of de-acceleration. Is it not more than likely that one's behaviour would be modified? The driver may not revert to the style he adopts when driving alone, but, nevertheless, his perception of potential risks would be adjusted, at least subconsciously.
§ Mr. Waller
I will give way later.
In such circumstances my speed may increase by the odd mile an hour and I might round the bend with a touch more elan. Indeed, I might apply the brakes a fraction later than I would if my cargo was more vulnerable. I am sure that all drivers adjust their driving behaviour according to the cargo and the passengers they have on board. Perhaps if they are driving their elderly grannies their driving style is quite different from that when driving someone of their own age.
§ Sir Anthony Grant
I apologise to my hon. Friend for my absence at the beginning of his speech. Of course people drive more carefully if they have children in the 1283 back. However, what we must consider is the fact that, no matter how carefully people drive, they are likely to be involved in an accident where someone else is to blame. In those circumstances, a mother may be driving along carefully and slowly, but, without any fault on her part, there may still be a much greater risk to her children.
§ Mr. Waller
I am absolutely delighted that my hon. Friend has made that point, because it is intrinsic to my argument as it develops. Shortly, I will discuss what happens when another motorist is involved.
I accept that changes in mental attitude may vary only marginally, but marginal changes are of the essence. Serious injuries or fatal accidents only occur once in several hundred thousand vehicle miles. One of the official documents that I have seen has calculated that a fatal accident or serious injury occurs one in every 1 million vehicle miles. However, the difference between a near miss and total disaster is sometimes slight. Therefore, a driver's behaviour needs only to be modified a touch just once in all those hundred thousand miles for different consequences to ensue.
Let us take the analogy of a crate of eggs a stage further. We must not consider this issue just from the point of view of people in the car. In this connection, the argument by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West is relevant. Apart from drivers and passengers in cars, pedestrians are especially vulnerable. They are not protected by a steel shell, and if hit by a vehicle it is flesh and bone that feel the impact.
Let us suppose that an elderly and infirm person is crossing the road slowly, step by step, and a car is bearing down fast. As a witness to that potential tragedy what would be my thoughts? If I had time to think, I might hope that the elderly person would see the car and be able to take evasive action. However, if that was a forlorn hope, I might fervently wish that the driver of the car was driving with extra caution. One reason why a driver might do so could be because a vulnerable cargo, such as a crate of eggs, was loose on the back seat. I believe that that analogy is a fair one.
One sometimes sees the sign, "Drive carefully —children on board" in the rear window of cars. The drivers of those vehicles need no such sign; they modify their behaviour because the risk is considered greater. Everyone argues that children in cars are safer if restraints are worn, and it is argued that that fact should be drilled into people. Indeed, the document "The Safety of Children in Cars" published by the Child Accident Prevention Trust states:A complementary intensive education and publicity effort to explain the need for their use and the provisions of the proposed law should commence immediately.Nothing could more effectively change a motorist's assessment of risk and his subconscious approach to driving than a campaign that states, "Cut the risks: make sure your kid is belted up."
Some may doubt that behaviour is adapted according to one's perception of risk, so let us consider some examples. Every schoolboy knows that the invention of the Davy safety lamp by Sir Humphry Davy saved countless miners' lives. Sir Humphry's new lamp burned with a cool flame below the ignition point of methane. However, did it save lives? It turns our that every schoolboy is wrong. The invention of the lamp encouraged mining in methane-rich atmostpheres into which miners 1284 would not have previously ventured. After the introduction of that lamp there was an increase in the amount of coal mined, but also an increase in the number of explosions and fatalities. Miners perceived the dangers as being less and were prepared to venture into more risky situations. Unfortunately, they were sometimes lulled into a false sense of security.
Similar examples can be seen every day. Someone who stands on the top of a tall step-ladder manoeuvres with extreme care, but if a woman stands on a low stool to clean windows, that is when she topples over the breaks her leg in three places. The low stool seems much safer.
§ Mr. Waller
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would allow me to finish my argument. I will come to the end of this stage of my argument and then I will give way with pleasure.
The rock climber who has never used ropes may decide to use them on a particularly difficult climb. When he believes that the risks are so diminished he is likely to do things that he has never done before. His chances of making a fatal error are increased. The equipment may be good, but it may not be so good as to make him invulnerable if he subconciously thinks that if he falls it will prevent him from being injured. Furthermore—this is particularly significant—if he does fall, the rope may save his life but can do nothing to help the chap 15 feet below him whom he hits as he falls down. Here, we may think of the old person crossing the road without the same protection as that of the driver and his family belted up in their fine shiny, super-safe new car.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
The logical conclusion of what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that the greater the risk, the greater the attention to safety. Applied to children in cars, that theory reduces itself to the argument that we should put the children not on the bonnet, because that would obscure visibility, but on the bumper, because then they are exposed to more risk and the driver would drive even more safely.
§ Mr. Waller
There is always a danger in taking any argument to its logical conclusion. I admit that many safety measures are consumed because we take greater risks. As an illustration—I would not for a moment suggest that this should happen — drivers would probably drive more safely if they had a bayonet pointing at their heart. I am not suggesting that that should happen, because if accidents occurred, they would be more serious. However, accidents would happen more rarely than they do now.
We must look not just at the casualties when accidents occur but at the number of accidents that occur. For example, statistics from insurance companies showing how insurance premiums have risen show that there has been a considerable increase in the number of accidents during the last few years. Unfortunately, these statistics are not collected in any systematic way. We have only casualty figures, and I would have liked to have accident figures.
§ Mr. Sheerman
The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a great increase in cars on the roads in the period about which he is talking. Let me take him back to his risk compensation theory, which he has been propounding for 1285 years, but relatively unsuccessfully. The most vulnerable driver on the road is the motor cyclist. He is the most likely to have an accident if he is unwary or a little bit stupid and the evidence is that, as a group, they are the most reckless drivers on the road, and get killed in their thousands. What price the hon. Gentleman's risk compensation theory there?
§ Mr. Waller
I do not follow the exact point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I agree that motor cyclists are vulnerable, and one reason is that a high proportion of the accidents in which they are involved are caused by other road users, although I accept that many motor cyclists are young and relatively inexperienced on the road, and that is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is so anxious to introduce measures to try to reduce the toll.
In developing my analogy, I have moved a little far from what happens on the road, so I shall now move back to that point. We can illustrate the fact that driver behaviour varies, whether the risk is increased or reduced. Let us take the example of a top rally driver. Whatever the terrain, his speed is such as to give the average passenger quite a nasty shock. I do not know whether many hon. Members have driven with a rally driver, but I know that it is quite a hair-raising experience. However, that driver has a secure, full harness to hold him steady and to protect him if the car goes off the road. If one took away that full harness, I am prepared to guarantee that the average speed over any course would be reduced. That would be a good thing if one happened to be in his path.
Recently, there have been some tragic accidents to spectators alongside international rallies. In only the last few weeks, in the Paris to Dakar rally, a number of fatalities were caused. Few situations are so dangerous as to be a pedestrian in the path of a driver whose equipment leads him to believe that he and his passengers are safe.
Let us see what happened after front seat belts became compulsory, because there has been a great deal of thought about our experience over the last five or so years. Professors Durbin and Harvey were commissioned by the Department of Transport to carry out an analysis of the comparative statistics before and after. In the two years following the introduction of compulsion there was—I want hon. Members to listen carefully to this—a 40 per cent. increase in the number of cyclists killed in accidents. This increase did not take place in accidents with heavy goods vehicles, for which seat belt wearing was not made compulsory.
On page 51 of their report, Durbin and Harvey say:There remains strong evidence of a substantial increase in numbers of cyclists killed in accidents with cars.There was thus clear evidence pointing in the direction that drivers were imperceptibly taking more risks, with disastrous results for other road users. Others in greater peril were those in cars who were not belted in. On page 51 of the report, Durbin and Harvey say:The fact remains that we find the large proportionate increase in rear seat passengers killed hard to understand … We must therefore leave the sharp rise in the number of rear seat passengers killed as an unexplained mystery, at least until more evidence is available.That epitomises the problem faced by those who oppose the seemingly sensible approach of compulsion.
It is easy to detect those who are saved because of seat belts. They write letters to Transport Ministers arguing in favour of compulsion. Those who are killed because drivers take one risk too many do not write letters. They 1286 are not able, like the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), to say what has happened to them. That is the great difficulty and the point that we must not forget.
Durbin and Harvey said that they werereluctant to accept driver behaviour as an explanation since this would be expected to lead to a corresponding increase in numbers seriously injured and there is evidence of no such increase.However, there is serious doubt over the non-fatal injury statistics, because they are, as has already been said, so unreliable. Injuries are counted as serious if somebody breaks a finger or stays in hospital for one night. On the other hand, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory states that 59 per cent. of serious injuries to cyclists are never reported to the police.
The only statistics which are 100 per cent. reliable are the statistics for fatalities. Those favouring seat belt compulsion over many years conceal their feelings if they deny that the fatality statistics for motorists in the period following the introduction of compulsion in 1983 have been a serious disappointment. In 1977, the then Transport Minister, Mr. William Rodgers, forecast that 1,000 lives a year would be saved, a figure echoed for some time by Mr. David Ennals, now Lord Ennals. By 1982, the Department of Transport suggested a figure of 700 or fewer and, on the day of the debate of the renewal in regulations in January 1986, the British Medical Association was talking about 200 fewer deaths, which rather contrasts with one or two of the figures that we had heard before.
§ Mr. Waller
Even organisations which were strongly in favour of seat belt compulsion, like the BMA, were, at the end of the day, able to claim the saving of only 200 lives. With such small figures, the whole process must be put in doubt.
§ Mr. Waller
I am not saying that 200 is small. I am querying whether the saving of 200 exists at all or, as I shall show in a moment, can be attributed to other factors.
The Lancet ruefully admitted:There will be regret that the evidence on deaths is not more one-sided, and disappointment that the measure has fallen short of its promise.I am afraid that this Bill could fall short of its promise as well.
As for savings in casualties, there is evidence that the savings following early 1983 can be attributed not to the wearing of seat belts but to the introduction of the evidential breath-testing machinery. There was a significant drop in the number of drivers killed who were found to be over the drink-driving limit. The number of drivers killed between 10 pm and 4 am—what are often described as the drink-drive hours—fell by 23 per cent. as compared with a drop of only 3 per cent. at all other times of the day. The Department's statisticians attributed all the savings to seat belts. I suggest that the evidence points in a very different direction and that the overwhelming bulk of the savings can be attributed to the introduction of the evidential breath test.
1287 It is hardly surprising that, since compulsory seat belt wearing was introduced, the Cyclists Touring Club and Friends of the Earth, which originally favoured compulsion, have expressed serious doubts. Many of their leading members now express outright opposition to it, because they see what the effects on other road users can be.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
I have spent a lot of time with Friends of the Earth and the Cyclists Touring Club, and that is not a point that either has put to me. If my hon. Friend has evidence, or is in contact with them, perhaps he could arrange for me to see what they are saying.
§ Mr. Waller
I should be delighted to do that. I was careful to say that the organisations as a whole do not necessarily oppose the legislation. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) knows that those who represent the Cyclists Touring Club and Friends of the Earth on the committee which he chairs, who previously supported compulsory seat belt wearing, took a different line when the regulations were renewed recently.
In 1981, the Department of Transport evaluated the experience of compulsion in other countries. It anticipated that there could be a disadvantage for other road users arising from altered driver behaviour if they perceived the risks to be less. The paper which was produced accepted the findings of Dr. John Adams of London university, that pedestrian casualties increased in every one of the eight countries which had introduced compulsion, and described the statistical odds against achieving such results as one in 256. It warned that the increased casualty rates for pedestrians were "alarming" and noted:Since pedestrians account for 20 per cent. of casualties in Britain and the law effect seems positive for them— in other words, seat belt compulsion causes more pedestrian casualties—closer scrutiny is called for.I take that latter phrase as a "Yes, Minister" warning against over-hasty legislation.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I hesitate to interrupt, because I want to hear what my hon. Friend has to say about the Bill, but I think that it is helpful to the House if I occasionally produce a bit of information. On page 84 of "The Casualty Report: Road Accident Great Britain, 1986", we are given pedestrian deaths in 1976 as 2,335 and in 1986 as 1,841. It gives the all-severities injuries in 1976 as 68,509 and in 1986 as 60,875. If that is a one-in-250 chance—because those 10 years bridge the introduction of compulsory front seat belt wearing and there are only 170 countries—there is something slightly curious in John Adams' calculation.
§ Mr. Waller
I a glad that my hon. Friend has said that. It enables me to clarify what we are talking about. We were talking about the situation in eight countries before we made seat belt wearing compulsory in Britain. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would be the first to say that matters have changed in many respects. For example, regulations have been introduced to protect pedestrians in the event of their coming into contact with a car by making cars safer. A series of things have been happening at the same time.
§ Mr. Waller
Campaigns have been run to warn people against drink-driving, which is the most dangerous driver behaviour. I am glad to say that they are having an effect.
The Lancet, which is a reputable publication produced by people who see the effects of accidents and who have been broadly in favour of legislation, referring to Dr. Adams' work, said it wasunhelpful of the Department of Transport to have suppressed an evaluation supporting his doubts.I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Minister had been in the Department at that time, he would not have suppressed the document.
What should be our conclusions? First, driver behaviour is the most likely reason for accidents. We all agree about that. Indeed, I see my hon. Friend the Minister is nodding on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Waller
Secondly, motorists' behaviour may be modified by the risk that is perceived to apply to drivers and passengers. That applies especially to child passengers. Thirdly, any saving in casualties as a result of accidents is likely to be offset by an increase in accident numbers. That has been shown.
Fourthly, it is not acceptable to transfer the burden of risk from the best protected to the most vulnerable. Fifthly, it is not acceptable to legislate, even if one believes that the net effect may be positive—some have said that it is — if it means that other road users become casualties. One major motoring organisation has argued for compulsion on the grounds of this so-called net effect. It was prepared to trade off casualties among cyclists and pedestrians for savings, as it saw it, among car drivers. I hope that, when it comes to legislation, such a concept will be anathema to all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Waller
I am sorry if my hon. Friend was not listening. I said that drivers' behaviour is affected substantially when they have passengers, especially child passengers, of course a child will be better off, in the event of an accident, if it is belted up in the back, but who is to say that there will not be more accidents and that the victims will not be other road users? That is the nub of my argument.
It is wrong if parents are unable to assess the evidence and reach their own judgment. We should not introduce legislation that can do harm, even if it is more difficult to quantify than the good which the legislation appears at first sight to do. Although I shall not obstruct the further passage of the Bill today, I shall continue to throw light on its deficiencies.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I rise primarily to congratulate the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on introducing this important Bill, which makes a major contribution to road safety. He could not have chosen a better subject for a private Member's Bill because it provides concrete help, will save lives and is perhaps, although it should not be, too small for the Government 1289 to pursue. It is an ideal subject for a private Member's Bill. I shall be brief and then I shall belt up here on the back seat of the House.
We should not debate too long because Fridays tend to be hon. Members' playtime. It is the day for cause-pushers or quibblers, like the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller). It is also the day for hon. Members who are never called to speak during the week to vent their frustration by giving inordinately long speeches, as the hon. Gentleman did, and for those of us who have Front Bench responsibilities and are never called because senior spokesmen hog the time on our subject and we may not speak on any other because we are Front Bench spokesmen.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Is that why the hon. Gentleman spends all his time trying to bring television into the House of Commons? Is it so that his constituents can see that he is here, although he is not speaking?
§ Mr. Mitchell
That would not be an argument for television because television would only demonstrate my impotence, which I am not anxious to do publicly. On Fridays speeches tend to be long for those reasons, so I shall try to be brief.
I am a member of the Seat Belt Survivors Club. Wearing a seat belt saved my life and since then I have been a passionate advocate of seat belts. Despite all the alarms and fears of quibblers, the introduction of that legislation has made an enormous contribution to saving lives. We shall make a similar smaller contribution today by passing this Bill. There cannot be a more important objective than to save the lives of children who would be killed, maimed or seriously injured if the Bill were not passed. I do not want to be emotive about this, but saving lives is one of the highest purposes of Parliament and far more important than many of the other enormous issues such as unemployment, foreign policy and schools legislation, which we debate during the week.
There is no intellectual case against this legislation and the hon. Member for Keighley proved that at some length by his arguments. Essentially he argued that a greater feeling of safety produced greater risks. To assert that, he is trading the concrete saving of lives by the seat belt legislation because he is arguing that it makes people feel more secure, so they take risks. It is demonstrable that the compulsory wearing of seat belts has saved innumerable lives and averted an enormous number of injuries. I shall not go over the statistics again.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman merely wants to delay the Bill and I shall not gratify him in that way. There has been a 30 per cent. saving in deaths and injuries to front seat passengers; a 20 per cent. saving in deaths and injuries to drivers of cars and light vans; a 39 per cent. reduction in brain injuries; a 53 per cent. reduction in fatal wounds; and a 40 per cent. reduction in injuries to the lungs sustained by front seat passengers. All those are concrete gains from that legislation.
The hon. Member for Keighley is proposing that those savings be traded for his hypothetical fears and statistical quibbles about a hypothetical risk effect. That risk effect is a statistical quibble which is not borne out by significant statistics. The Department of Transport and the various independent assessors of the legislation have concluded 1290 that there is no significant rise in the number of pedestrians, pedal cyclists and rear seat passengers seriously injured since the introduction of the seat belt legislation. There is no evidence of changes in the level of reporting of serious casualties during that period.
§ Mr. Bottomley
From 1984 to 1986 the number of cyclists killed decreased by 20 per cent. Those are the three years following the introduction of compulsory seat belt wearing. I am prepared to accept that the level of cycling will also be an influence, but the raw death figures for cyclists have decreased by 20 per cent.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am most grateful to the Minister. It is exactly that sort of statistic that refutes the quibbles of the hon. Member for Keighley. In favour of the quibbles he advocates that we discard the gains made by the seat belt legislation. That is the essence of his argument. It is paradoxical, downright wrong and certainly does not apply to this Bill.
The Bill is intended to protect children in the back seat, not drivers. To prove his argument the hon. Gentleman must be able to argue that parents driving children who are belted up in the back seat will proceed to behave wholly irresponsibly — as if there were no children or no proverbial carton of eggs in the back seat.
The hon. Gentleman would have to say that the fact that children were belted up was an incentive for parents to behave in that way. That argument is so plainly ridiculous that the hon. Gentleman did not venture to put it, but it is the logical extension of his position. It is not only wrong but — perhaps I should not say insane—crazy.
I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman is wasting the time of the House with arguments at that level of intelligence. It is much the same as the argument that has been put to me by a few individuals which is that as the Labour party represents people with large families and inferior cars, we should oppose the legislation. The argument is that if the legislation is introduced, it will put at risk anybody with three children, one of whom cannot be belted. In other words, because some people have three children we should put the lives of two children who can be belted up at risk. That is the logical extension of that particularly crazy amendment. When the hon. Gentleman put his argument he should have worn a red nose.
Once again, we are far too late with the necessary progress. We lagged behind for over a decade with the compulsory seat belt legislation and we lost innumerable lives as a result. We are now late again. This legislation has been introduced and is widely in force in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. This is an important reform and once again the only opposition comes from the vast tribe of quibblers in their little reservations, arguing that the last bastion of freedom is the freedom to be catapulted into a windscreen and that it should be reserved for children.
§ Mr. Waller
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has sunk to the sort of abuse which some of his colleagues would regret. At the time of the debate in 1986, the hon. Gentleman said that he was worried about the statistics on the increase in the number of casualties among cyclists. If he was worried about the statistics then, why is he not worried about them now?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for carrying with him a pocket compendium of my speeches. He would need a furniture van to bring them all into the Chamber, because my speeches tend to be long, but he will not provoke me into making this one longer. The hon. Gentleman's argument is wrong and unjustified.
I would have preferred the Bill to go further and to require the fitting of rear seat belts in all cars which do not have them. That would be an important safeguard, but we delayed too long in prescribing the foundation for such legislation. We should make up for that by making the fitting of rear seat belts compulsory. That might help the Bill to say that it is a moderate, middle-of-the-road measure—halfway between the extremism of the hon. Member for Keighley and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. I would be prepared to argue that on the same paradoxical basis as the hon. Member for Keighley has used.
I strongly support the Bill, and I hope that the House will give it an uncontested Second Reading.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that the Bill is partly an emotional matter. I find it difficult to speak on the Bill without emotion because, just over 12 years ago, my only child—a girl aged five—was killed in a crash on the M4. Even now, after such a long time, it is difficult to speak about it.
At that time, and during the following five years, I tried to force myself to see whether some good could come from the accident. During those long five years, until about 1981, working closely with my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham (Mr. Moate), for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhard), for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) and some others, hardly a month went by without our making some attempt to get parliamentary support for what we believed to be so necessary. Because it took five years longer than it should have done, thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of serious injuries occurred which could have been prevented. But we battled away, and in the end we achieved the legislation.
People now take it for granted that front seat passengers should wear seat belts. Had the legislation not been passed in 1981, many people would have been killed or injured since. We can argue about the precise number, but no one disputes the fact that, on balance, it would have been substantial.
Since 1981, I have shut up on the subject. My colleagues and I had done our job, and had seen the results. There seemed to be no point in reopening old wounds. But now there is. The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), on which I warmly congratulate him, could, if enacted, save more lives—this time of children. I hope that it will receive full support and not meet unnecessary obstruction.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said that there was no intellectual case against the Bill. I 1292 agree with him. The first and most obvious point to make is that in aircraft it is compulsory to wear belts on take-off and landing. It is the law under the air navigation orders. Hardly anyone objects to it. No one seems to find that law objectionable in principle. An airline chief steward who lives in my constituency told me that, in his experience of 20 years, only one passenger had refused to wear a seat belt. The plane did not take off until that passenger had been removed.
I remember the "freedom fighters" who, in 1971 and 1972, battled against the compulsory wearing of crash helmets by motor cyclists. They said that it would be a monstrous interference with the freedom of young motor cyclists if they could not rush round with the wind streaking through their hair. The motor cycling magazines ran a huge campaign urging motor cyclists to write letters to Members of Parliament. Many of us disregarded those letters because we gave greater weight to the views of the middle-aged mothers of those young motor cyclists, who wrote fewer letters but of whose views we were well aware. That law was passed 15 years ago, and it has prevented about 120 deaths and 80 serious injuries a year.
Similar arguments about freedom are used today. They are nonsense, because they do not take into account the wide range of meanings of the word "freedom". It is a big word with many shades of meaning. There are the great liberties of speech and religion and the freedom from having one's country occupied by another. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West said, none of us would yield on those freedoms. But the word "freedom" is also used in relation to many petty regulations. On minor matters including driving on the right side of the road and allowing a cyclist cling to a car to pull himself along, none of us would want freedom. It is worth sacrificing some "freedom" to ensure major benefits in safety. It is philosophical nonsense to apply the word freedom merely because we use the same word, to apply to lesser matters. We should have the wisdom to discern between the two in our process of legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) is a barrister——
§ Mr. Jessel
I am sorry if I have offended my hon. Friend. He sounded like a barrister. Lawyers often use their forensic skills to try to secure the acquittal of guilty people by making mere possibilities sound like probabilities. But when legislating on matters involving human risk we must look at the probabilities and not the possibilities, and take the expert advice and look at the statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley talked about people standing on the top of ladders with buckets. His speech was anecdotal.
It is a curious facet of human nature that people who on most matters seem to have plenty of common sense seem totally incapable of weighing the size of one risk against the size of another. This week I had a letter against the Bill from a constituent who was concerned about the risk to a child in the back of a car if the car caught fire. She was afraid of that risk. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, who said that parents ought to be allowed to choose and decide, would honour her request to be allowed to assess that risk for herself. However, the number of car crashes in which the car catches fire is only one in 400. Clearly, the risk of a child in the back of a car 1293 losing his or her life as a result of the car catching fire is much lower than the risk of being killed or severely injured as a result of being in a head-on collision while not wearing a safety device.
Are we to allow such parents to be the ones to weigh up a risk if they do not assess it in any sort of mathematical way; if such parents just go by hunch or instinct, and that is to the detriment of the chances of saving the life of a child and does not make sense. Some people are not sensible about weighing up relative risks.
In the preface to one of Dale Carnegie's books—not "How to Win Friends and Influence People", but in one of his other books — he writes about an outbreak of smallpox in New York between the wars. In a populaton of 7 or 8 million about seven or eight people died from that outbreak. There was enormous publicity and a stampede of people rushing around trying to jump the queues to get smallpox vaccine before anyone else. In the same year, 50,000 people died in New York because they had the wrong diet and suffered heart attacks that could have been avoided. Because the smallpox epidemic had a huge amount of publicity, people were not capable of weighing up the relative risk.
The same thing happens with different aspects of road safety. The House has a duty to support the Bill. I hope that no one will obstruct it.
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
I am sure that the whole House applauds the contribution by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), bearing in mind the pain that it must have caused him to speak on this subject. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) advanced a most bizarre argument and one which, when I was looking forward to this debate, I never thought about. At one time I was a safety officer and occasionally I met someone in industry who said that it would be much safer if guards were removed from all the machines. I suspect that it was someone like that who was in charge of safety at Chernobyl, and we know the effects of that.
Superficially, it could be argued that I have an interest in this safety legislation because I represent the constituency of Carlisle, which has the largest and the best seat belt manufacturer in Britain. That firm is, of course, Kangol. Not only is that company our largest seat belt manufacturer, but its work force belongs to the Transport and General Workers' Union of which I am a member and by which I am sponsored.
The Bill will not result in any extra work for people in the seat belt industry. That is because it is only in cases where seat belts are fitted that parents will be required to insist on their children using them. The Bill will not create an extra financial burden on families, nor will it mean that families will have to change cars or give up holidays, as has been suggested for families who want to join BUPA. It is a mild Bill and perhaps hon. Members would have supported a Bill that was a little stronger. However, we realise that it is necessary to support the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that few Members were in the House and that that suggested that the House was not very concerned about the issue. I suggest that it is because hon. Members thought that nobody would he callous enough to speak against this legislation. Hon. Members have gone back to the constituencies, happy in the belief that the Bill will go to Committee.
1294 The reason I am here today has nothing to do with the fact that there is a seat belt manufacturer in my constituency. I am here today as a result of an incident that happened to me the day after the 1987 general election was announced and before I was a Member of the House. I have a very marginal constituency and in the event I have a majority of 71. My brother agreed to come over from Canada to help me fight the election. The day after the announcement my brother arrived in this country with his two children and I drove up the A74 to Prestwick airport to collect him. I put the children in the back of the car, which was a Y-registered Cortina. It was not an old car, but it did not have rear seat belts. I was about to start off when my six-year-old neice began to complain bitterly and to cry. She said that we should not drive because she was not belted up. My brother explained that the law in Canada states that young children must be safeguarded in the rear of cars. They must be belted up.
That was the first time that the matter had been brought to my attention. I have no children and was not used to the situation. Perhaps the hon. Member for Keighley will take comfort from the fact that I drove very carefully down the A74 on my way home. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) were here he would agree that the A74 is probably one of the most dangerous roads in Britain. Indeed, perhaps the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) would agree with that. If there was ever an insult to the Scottish nation it must be the fact that the P.46, which is a fine three-lane motorway, bypasses my constituency and stops at the Scottish border where it becomes that terrible road the A74.
Mr brother and his family and I got home safely. However, during the election campaign I was driving along, minding my own business, thinking of other things when someone, travelling at about 50 mph, ran into the back of my car. Fortunately, the children were not in the back at the time. As a law-abiding citizen, I was belted up. My car was written off. I shudder to think what might have happened if the children had been in the back. The accident was not caused by my careless driving, it was caused by the careless driving of the person behind me. I have no doubt that the children would have been seriously injured and would have become two more statistics to add to the thousands of children who were injured in that kind of accident last year. Indeed, matters might have been worse and they might have become part of the fatality statistics.
I discussed these matters after the election. When I said that someone should do something, I was told that I was the Member of Parliament and I should do something about it. That is why I am glad to be spending this Friday morning supporting the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) and his private Member's Bill.
I hope that no one will oppose the Bill today. If it fails to reach the statute book this will be a sad day. We should be in no doubt that children will be killed unnecessarily if the Bill does not reach the statute book. Some people may argue that persuasion is better than legislation. Indeed, we may hear that argument later. However, the reality is that no matter how we try to persuade people, young people will not receive the necessary protection that they deserve. Prior to legislation only 30 per cent. of people used front seat belts. However, once legislation was introduced, more 1295 than 95 per cent. of people used them. If we are to protect children whose parents may not be as thoughtful as they should be, we must pass this Bill.
We must give credit to organisations, including the Department of Transport, which have done all that they can to persuade people to ensure that children are secure in the back of cars. In particular I want to mention the Kwik-Fit organisation which launched a campaign last month which, with certain provisos, gives free safety seats for the rear seats in cars. That must be applauded. Unless legislation is introduced, we shall not reduce the number of accidents.
Another argument that opponents of the Bill might put forward is that it interferes with personal freedom. That could be argued if we were considering making it compulsory for adults to belt up in the rear of cars. However, that case cannot be made for children. It has already been stated that there is legislation to stop children from smoking, to stop them from drinking and to forbid sexual activity with children under the age of 16. I am sure that no one would suggest that that is only the thin end of the wedge and that the next move would be to ban smoking or drinking by adults. I even understand that there is an early-day motion about banning sexual activity, but I do not suppose that that will gain approval.
Let us examine the precedents. In 1956, as can be seen from Hansard, there was a big debate during consideration of the Agricultural (Safety) Bill about whether children should be allowed to drive tractors and other agricultural machinery. At that time, about five children per year were killed driving tractors. The backwoodsmen said that to legislate against children driving tractors was a denial of personal liberty, and should not be allowed. One hon. Member, who represented East Grinstead, showed a photograph of five-year-olds driving tractors, and said that any well-adjusted five-year-old was capable of doing so. Thirty years ago, the House decided that those children needed protection, and the figures show that the legislation worked. In the 1950s, we were losing five children a year who had been driving agricultural machinery. Over the past five years, only one child has been killed in such circumstances.
I ask the House to give the protection of the law to the children of my constituents, and to those of all the constituents in Britain, so that my Canadian niece will not have an advantage over British children. Other countries have put these laws into operaton. That proves that they work, and that there is no reason for the House not to accept this Bill today.
§ 12.1 pm
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
I thank the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) for what he said about Southend, and about the A74. When I represented a Glasgow seat, I thought that the condition of the A74 was one of our greatest national scandals, until I moved to Southend and I found that the roads there were infinitely worse.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on bringing forward a Bill that commands such massive support on both sides of the House. In fairness, I must say that any Bill that claims to try to stop cruelty to animals, to be kind to pensioners or to make children safer will receive considerable support. I accept that 1296 children's safety is a very emotive issue. As the father of three young children, I am well aware that ensuring their safety is a nightmare of which every parent is constantly aware. However, while there is obviously a deep-rooted desire in the House to pass Bills to stop cruelty to animals, help pensioners or make children safer, we must be very careful about the way in which we use laws, as opposed to campaigns or persuasion. There are several things that we must avoid.
First, we must avoid at all costs what I would call the Esther Rantzen disease, calling for Parliament to abandon pillar boxes and lamp posts on the basis that old age pensioners may bump into them at night. Parliament is constantly being asked to pass laws that do not make a great deal of sense.
Secondly, we must avoid doing what we were asked to do by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) —passing a law because he was unable to persuade his unruly children to do what they were told. There is a danger of our passing laws because parents appear to be unable to persuade their children to do what they think is right.
Thirdly, we must avoid putting forward laws that may appear acceptable on the basis of statistical information, but do not necessarily stand up to examination. Several people have written to me making the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, in his excellent opening speech, about 91 per cent. of child accidents affecting those sitting at the back. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, who seems to be being flooded with statistics today, will give us some guidance on how relevant that figure is, bearing in mind the number of children who travel in the back seat.
I have considerable sympathy with the gut reaction of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), whose excellent and carefully argued speech was unfortunately not received with the sympathy that it deserved. A number of people feel very strongly that the concept of accident-free motoring will encourage worse driver behaviour and will create more accidents, not necessarily for drivers, but for others on the roads.
I wish to persuade the Whips immediately that neither I nor my hon. Friends have any intention of trying to talk out this Bill. Therefore, I shall put the one basic point that I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle and the Minister will bear in mind. As a Parliament, do we have a right to pass a law to force people to do something that in certain circumstances will create additional dangers for children? That has to be faced up to.
I frequently take my children to hockey practice or school or collect them from school. On such occasions, I often have four or sometimes more children on the back seat of my Rover car. If I were to select three of them and afford them the privilege of a seat belt, the two others would be sitting on top of the three belted children. Surely they would be in additional danger. In my view they would be in more danger than if they were all sitting on the same level. I hope that hon. Members will think carefully about that. If there are three belted children on the back seat it creates a plateau on which others travelling in the back have to sit. On the basis of common sense, that creates more danger.
Most of the countries that have passed laws of this sort have had different ages in mind. Will it make toddlers more careful if we put an adult seat belt on them? In my car, we used to have one of those splendid seats for 1297 toddlers where one has virtually to put a new chair on the hack seat. To pass a law forcing a toddler to put on an adult seat belt will not be a recipe for greater safety.
Is it logical to fix the age at 14? I have a youngster who is 13 who is bigger than me and I have an old mother who is certainly much smaller than both of us. If anyone deserves protection, it is someone who is smaller and more at risk.
Hearing all the statistics that are put forward reminds me of someone trying to explain the benefits of our trade figures with the EEC. I wish to make it abundantly clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle believes in the Bill passionately and presented it fairly and reasonably. However, I hope that he will bear in mind that in certain circumstances the Bill will create additional dangers for children.
It is wrong that a law should force such a situation upon us. In those circumstances, it would be infinitely better if, before passing such a law, we ran a publicity campaign in which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle and all his hon. Friends on both sides of the House could try to put across their views to the general public. We could see whether that led to any improvement rather than introducing a criminal law which certainly, in the views of a minority, including myself, will make things worse rather than better.
§ 12.8 pm
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on introducing the Bill. I assure him of my support and the support of my colleagues in his endeavours to bring it into law. However, I and my colleagues have one disagreement and disappointment with the Bill, which is that it does not apply to Northern Ireland. I have already made that point to the hon. Member for Cheadle.
I do not wish to rehearse the arguments we have already heard. However, the arguments that apply to children in Great Britain should also apply to children in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. I cannot understand why the law will not apply to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I intend to suggest how it could be extended. Perhaps the Minister will also make suggestions on the matter.
The children of Northern Ireland should receive the same treatment. Parents in Northern Ireland feel exactly the same about their offspring as hon. Members and the other citizens in Great Britain feel about theirs.
The argument about whether adults should wear seat belts is completely irrelevant; we are talking about children. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) lost me in his arguments. If we are considering whether children should wear rear seat belts, it is irrelevant, even though it may be a good argument, to talk about people climbing up cliffs and placing a bayonet in front of the driver to prevent crashes.
We all realise that children, under and over 14, do not pay much attention to what is going on when they are 1298 sitting in the back seat of a car. They are not terribly worried about safety. They put their trust in the adult who is driving. It would he useful if children were restrained by seat belts—it would be for their own benefit and safety.
Most sensible people will support the Bill. One must not worry only about drivers. Pedestrians, because they are more nimble than cars, can suddenly walk out into the middle of the road. If an accident occurred, it would be the fault not of the driver but of the pedestrian.
It has been mentioned that Australia has legislation about front and rear seat belts. It has been suggested to me—perhaps someone could confirm this information—that in Australia when rear seat belts are fitted it is the responsibility of the rear seat occupant to ensure that they wear the belt; it is not the responsibility of the driver. It would be better if it were the responsibility of the adult driving the car to ensure that children are restrained in the back of cars.
We shall support the Bill, but I should like to return to the fact that it will not apply to Northern Ireland. That is my only disagreement with it. I point out to the hon. Member for Cheadle that page 5 of the Farm Land and Rural Development Bill, which has just gone to Committee, says:An Order in Council under paragraph 1(1)(b) of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (exercise of legislative functions for Northern Ireland) which states that it is made only for purposes corresponding to the purposes of section 1 above,which refers to the negative resolution, can be applied to Northern Ireland.
Fact sheet No. 15 from the Library says:From 1986, certain Acts relating to Great Britain have contained clauses providing that legislation for Northern Ireland to the whole Act (or part of it) might be issued under para. 1(1)(b) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, but that such legislation should be subject to the negative resolution procedure.That is how it can be applied to Northern Ireland. I am disappointed that it has not been done up to now. I ask the hon. Member for Cheadle to consider that point in Committee. I hope that the Minister will also examine that possibilities. I commend the hon. Member for Cheadle for presenting an excellent Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
First, I assure the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) that the interest in the protection of children in the rear of cars that he expressed on behalf of his hon. Friends will be passed on to my ministerial colleagues. If at any stage I am moved to hold responsibility for Northern Ireland, I shall carry with me my personal interest in child restraint. I am not advertising for a job; I am simply making a declaration.
Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on his work in bringing the Bill before the House. The Government are keen to see how public and parliamentary opinion has moved on the subject of protection for children in the rear of cars. I also pay tribute to the work of PACTS. Its work on transport safety has helped many people to be alive today. It has also helped people avoid injury, or greater injury. It brings together Members of Parliament, people in relevant professions and car manufacturers who have facts to give.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) is interested in facts. He said, rightly, that 1299 legislation should be based on facts as well as on emotions. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, (Mr. Waller) put forward, in some cases fairly, the possibility of risk compensation. We all accept that we sometimes compensate for the degree of perceived risk. We have experience of that on roads in our constituencies. People tend to treat dangerous roads with caution but have disrespect for roads that appear to be safe. Crashes and collisions often occur where, on the face of it, they should not have happened.
The risk compensation theory or, to the real aficionados, the homeostasis is incomplete. If it worked completely, the anti-skid treatment on road surfaces at junctions would not work. Everyone would realise that they could brake later or harder and still have the same chance of a crash. However, in some cases it needs to be taken into account, and certainly we have to guard against over-confidence.
Two days ago I was launching the Government's proposals for more comprehensive testing and training for motor cyclists. Mr. Mike Read of RoSPA, who has done great work, both personally and with that organisation, in avoiding accidents on the roads, made the point that people who have one day's initial training should not regard themselves as fully trained motor cyclists. It is necessary to guard against the dangers of exuberance and inexperience.
The words of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) will be taken into account. It is up to those of us who have the job of presenting information and statistics and looking after the research that the Government fund to make sure that we publish information, warts and all, whether or not it happens to back up my prejudice or somebody else's prejudice.
It is not the job of a Government spokesman to sum up a debate on a private Member's Bill, but it is my responsibility to demonstrate that I have listened to the points that have been made by all hon. Members.
We have seen examples of how the number of casualties has been reduced. It is now accepted that, if it were tied to front seat belt wearing, the death rate of cyclists would have continued to rise in the years following 1983. It has not. When research is done it is important to try to repeat it, or, at least, to look for the facts that will test whether an hypothesis or an apparent piece of evidence stands up as a long-term trend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle put forward a case for the wearing of child restraints. Too high a proportion of people in the back of cars are not restrained. More people have the opportunity to put on seat belts because, following the introduction of compulsory anchorages, only new cars with the compulsory fitting of child restraints or rear seat belts can be sold in this country. Page 56, paragraph 10.7, of the "Casualty Report: Road Accidents in Great Britain 1986" states that, of the 205 unrestrained babies seen in the 1986 survey, 168 were carried on the lap of an adult.
No one who has seen the PACTS video, which was kindly financed by the General Accident Insurance company and which contains the Transport and Road Research Laboratory's demonstration of what happens to a baby in that position, and no one who has seen film showing a dummy on a parent's lap in a crash would ever again knowingly expose his or her baby to that risk. A 1300 brave and forthright speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). Anyone who has heard him talk of the tragedy in his family would be foolish beyond words to leave their own child exposed to risk, now that they have the benefit — if I may call it that—of someone else's experience.
The House of Commons represents the people of this country. Hon. Members have the same experiences as those of other people in this country. It is not our responsibility to make the use of roads risk-free — we can only aim as far as reasonably practical towards that — but even if we adopt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's relatively modest target to cut road casualties by one third by the year 2000—that gives us 11 years and 11 months—we can probably cut out 5,000 deaths of and injuries to children if they start to wear restraints in the back of cars in which they are fitted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle is not asking the Government to use the powers that they already have to propose regulations to require adults to wear seat belts in the back of cars. My hon. Friend spotted a quirk in the law whereby the Government can require adults to wear seat belts in the back of cars, but they do not have the power to require children to do so.
At no stage during the debate on the Road Traffic Act 1972, which my hon. Friend's Bill seeks to amend, did anyone say that we specifically want to exclude chidren from the regulation that requires people to be restrained or protected in the back of cars. It is a quirk. My hon. Friend's Bill will fill that gap. Exemptions have been referred to. I give a commitment. If the Bill is passed by Parliament, the Department of Transport, with the various advisory and professional bodies, and my hon. Friend the Members for Keighley and for Southend, East, will carefully look at making the regulations under the Bill as suitable as possible to meet all known cases.
Some such cases can be described now—for example, the problem of large families. It is not my hon. Friend's intention to exclude large families from travelling in small cars. Although that may not be the most sensible thing to do if one has an option, many families do not have that option. It is not the intention of the Bill, nor would it be the Government's intention in putting forward regulations, to ban school runs. We may have our individual views on whether it is sensible to take more than three, and even up to eight children, in one car, but I do not think that the regulations would interfere with that.
If the Government have the power to lay regulations, it would not be our intention to do that in such a way that people would be forced to install rear seat belts, other than those required by law at the moment. However, that is not a commitment for ever, because moods change and people's understanding of the issues varies. I do not think that anyone would sensibly consider trying to lay regulations for adults until at least half the cars have restraints fitted. As the anchorage points became compulsory only in 1981, and the legislation requiring new cars to be fitted with adult restraints or child belts came in only last year, we are probably four or five years away from repeating this debate over adults.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle did not spend much time discussing the ease of fitting. To those parents who are considering the installation of child restraints, I am sure that all hon. Members would give the message, "Don't think about it: do it."
1301 If people have any doubts, they can ring the free phone telephone number, 0800 234 888. One need not be a parent to use that number — any godparent, member of the family, or grandparent could do so. We will arrange to send any caller the leaflet "Protect Your Child in the Car", which gives illustrations of the various types of restraint that are available. Such restraints are easy to fit.
I believe that it was the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) — it could have been another Opposition Member — who talked about the Kwik-Fit scheme. I should correct that by saying that Kwik-Fit will sell a child seat and refund the money in full when the seat is no longer needed. I do not want to be a walking advertisement, but Kwik-Fit has may centres where people can obtain rear restraints that are capable of fitting people of all sizes and ages. The grandmother or children of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East will all fit in the same belt. Many other places provide such belts, including Mothercare, car accessory shops such as Halfords Ltd, and garages.
The reason that there is so much more provision of these restraints is, as has been mentioned, the work of the "That's Life". programme, which has done more than the Government. "That's Life" helped to encourage parents to buy a million rear restraints in 1986 and a million rear restraints in 1987. That is probably twice or three times as many as would have been sold otherwise—if it had been left to my mouth close to this microphone.
Parents are responding, but the real question that the House must face is whether the responsibility of parents for their children goes further, and whether it is right to have the prompt of legislation so that parents will automatically use restraints. We still have to get parents to buy restraints by persuasion and campaigning. The Bill will do nothing to require parents to fit the restraints.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) talked about the Seat Belt Survivors Club. Many of us are honorary members of that club and perhaps we should write to Rospa, presumably in Birmingham——
§ Mr. Bottomley
I see. There is no free phone. We must pay for our own stamp.
The hon. Gentleman also asked when obligation requires compulsion. Parents have an obligation to protect their children. Any hon. Member who is in the House late in the evening fears a phone call from his family saying that there has been a car crash. Our first thought is not whether the car is all right but whether the members of our family are all right. Nearly all of us, unless we have a car that is as old as mine, insure our cars comprehensively. There is no obligation to do so, but we do it because we are concerned, to some extent, about the car. However, most of us would happily accept the destruction of even a new car if we heard that a member of our family had not been injured in a crash. The best way of secondary protection for a child or, indeed, an adult in a car is a seat belt or a specialist restraint that is geared to the age of the child.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), speaking both as an experienced individual and as president of the Guild of Experienced Motorists, said that restraints save lives and reduce injuries. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East asked whether the fact that 90 per cent. Of 1302 injuries involved children in the rear of cars tied in with the proportion of children in the rear of cars. The answer is yes, but, predominantly, younger children are in the rear of cars. The large 13-year-old child is more likely to be in the front beside the driver.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
Will my hon. Friend say, from his long experience, whether wearing an adult seat belt makes a child under three more secure?
§ Mr. Bottomley
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me about his second question. The answer is yes. There is little virtue in putting a child under the age of one in an adult seat belt, because a child of that age cannot sit up by himself. If an adult seat belt is the only thing available, it provides better protection than leaving a child unrestrained.
For children up to nine months, I advise parents to get an infant carrier, many of which now fit into the three-point harness. Between the ages of nine months and four years, the best solution is a specialist car safety seat. Beyond the age of four, although it depends on the size of the child rather than his exact age, it is better to use a booster seat or a specialist cushion with the seat belt.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) gave us his views on behalf of the alliance. I am glad that he described the world as it is. It is full of parents who know that they ought to have child restraints and that they ought to use them. They need that extra push which will transform the wearing rate.
More demonstrations should be carried out, such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West at the Rosie maternity hospital. If more of us were put on a sledge and dropped from the top of a small ramp, with a reasonably heavy doll or a dummy child in our arms, we should soon realise what was involved. I want to take this a stage further. We should be put in a sledge and sent down a 12 ft ramp without a dummy doll and without wearing a seat belt. Few people would complain afterwards because their heads would have been smashed in. That is what happens to children. What parent would deliberately hold a child head down, 5 ft above a glass table and then let go? That represents far less of an impact than a car stopping dead at 25 miles per hour.
Eighty per cent. of the crashes and collisions that produce injury in this country occur in built-up areas, even though they contain only 40 per cent. of the traffic. If I were given a choice between driving with a child unrestrained on a motorway or in a built-up area, I should prefer to have the child unrestrained on the motorway and belted up in the built-up area. The real dangers are in the built-up areas. Low-speed crashes can kill and injure children.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), a long-term member and supporter of PACTS, asked me to represent the statistics and information in a more effective way. I shall accept his encouragement. I am doing my best, but I need to do better. Often, we underestimate the power of commissioning research, the results of that research and the annual digest of statistics, which tend to come out in a n indigestible lump, although there are many good articles. I recommend hon. Members to read the "Casualty Report: Road Accidents in Great Britain 1986". It is subtitled "The Casualty Report" but I have subtitled it "Accidents happen to vehicles, casualties 1303 happen to people". Perhaps my hon. Friend might be willing to discuss how we can present this information in an effective way.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) deserves tribute for his co-leadership of PACTS and for the way in which he puts the arguments across, both inside and outside the House. The hon. Member for Huddersfield was right to state that we are trying to save people's lives by protecting their lives. The allusion he made to the happy children involved with Comic Relief is important because road deaths are the biggest killer of young people. It is overtaken by various other things such as smoking, later on, but between the ages of 15 to 25 roads pose the greatest threat to young people.
Effective measures put forward by Government will cut the road casualty toll. A total of 5,382 people died on our roads last year—enough to put a dead body on every seat at the festival of remembrance at the Royal Albert hall each November. Every one of the 100,000 places available at Wembley for a cup final could be filled at least three times over by those who are injured. Among those deaths and injuries are children in the backs of cars. There are some 9,000 injuries and hundreds of deaths each year.
The House must consider whether the Bill provides sensible and effective powers for the Government to lay regulations. Those regulations would be loose and there would be plenty of opportunity, if it came to that, to argue that the Government were being too slow or too unambitious—I suspect that that is the truth. We must consider whether the Government should have those powers now.
My hon. Friends the Member for Keighley and for Southend, East rightly cautioned the Government about saying, "There is a problem, here is the legislation. No matter what the cost, bring in the nanny state." However, I repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West said: children need nannies. For children's protection I believe that there can be no doubt that belting up is effective and that legislation would get many more parents to do what makes sense for their children.
I do not believe that a great deal more can be said on behalf of the Government. If it had come to a vote, I certainly would have voted in favour of the Bill. I believe that it is a pity that, when the Government were given powers to legislate for adults in the rear of cars, those powers were not used. Therefore, people should not be worried about the Government being over-anxious to use every opportunity to take such powers. Indeed, perhaps the Government stand to far back I believe that the powers, if given to Government, would be used sensibly and there would be full consultation so that people would not be harmed and the result would be that many children would be saved.
Let me illustrate the rate of danger to children. In each of the years since 1980, between 37 and 58 children have been murdered. In the years since 1980, between 60 and 81 children have died, unrestrained in the backs of cars. That puts the issue into perspective.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on introducing this important Bill. The Under-Secretary said that there 1304 was an unintentional gap in previous legislation and that it should not have been necessary to introduce the Bill as primary legislation. The hon. Member for Cheadle has chosen to bring forward this sensible, overdue legislation and that redounds greatly to his credit because this is his first stint in Parliament. I hope that his contribution to safety on our roads is recognised by the House.
The roads are less safe than they should be. On a different occasion we will have a debate on the Government's responsibilities and the pace at which we should be moving. As a mark of compliment to the Minister, perhaps it is almost uncharitable, I always get the feeling that there is a road safety Minister trying to get free of the shackles of a Government who wish to underfund the infrastructure. Perhaps that feeling will guarantee, ultimately that he will find himself in Northern Ireland and will then be able to help the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe). Perhaps I should not push too hard on that today.
This legislation is extremely important. We are talking not just about a significant number of deaths over a year but about a huge number of serious and less serious injuries. Any parent who sees their child in hospital, or even just hurt, knows the anguish and agony that we all go through in such situations, not to mention the obvious suffering of the children concerned. We can have nothing but sympathy for the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) who lost his child in this way.
As a parent, I have contemplated the possibility of one of my children dying—under any circumstances—and know how difficult it would be to come to terms with that, particularly if one had a sense of responsibility for what had happened. That would be compounded if one felt that one could have taken actions that would have prevented the accident. It would produce a guilt that only those who have been through such an experience could understand and appreciate. For those reasons, the House has an obligation and a responsibility, not just to parents but to all in society, to offer a legal framework which will allow the safe use of our roads.
I do not want to spend a great deal of time on the remarks of the hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Waller) and for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). Their views are nonsense. There is an old saying, used by statisticians, that some people use statistics as a drunk would use a lamp post—to prop up an otherwise disreputable situation.
§ Mr. Waller
The statistics that I used were official statistics, and I used few of those. I developed my argument fairly carefully. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has a viewpoint, and he should accept that I have a viewpoint and an equally valid right to put it.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. No, I do not accept that. If the hon. Gentleman were consistent in his theory, he would believe that the introduction of any safety measures, such as those rightly pointed out by the Minister — skid resistance, better braking systems and more adequate steering — would lead to riskier driving and the acceptance of a higher risk on the road. I reject that view, not only because it does not conform with my view of driving, which I agree is only at the level of personal experience and anecdote, but because I do not believe that people take a measured, calculated view which allows them to assess risk in the way that would be necessary for them to come up with the results 1305 that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. The case is rather the opposite. If people took a rational viewpoint, they would realise that driving a motorcar, even with children restrained by seat belts, is risky. Deaths and serious injuries occur even when children are restrained in the backs of cars. The argument that we can afford to take great risks and drive like hooligans or grand prix drivers is not borne out by a rational decision. The truth is different.
Most of us get into our cars without thinking about whether we shall have an accident that day. I got into my car at 6 o'clock this morning to drive to Manchester airport. No doubt I drove as I always drive—not as well as I ought to. I did not think that I might have an accident. Over the weekend, when I drive my children, I will not think, "This is the time when I will have an accident." Virtually every one of us has had that thought from time to time—it conditions our behaviour. I am afraid we mostly have it when we pass an accident on the motorway or read about a particularly dreadful accident in our area. That is when our behaviour begins to approximate to a rational model of assessing risk, but for the most part, sadly, that is not the model of human behaviour.
If the hon. Member for Keighley followed through the logic of his argument, he should be arguing passionately against the Bill. He should oppose rear seat restraints in any circumstances because in his view they are for the greater disbenefit. The fact that he does not oppose the Bill so passionately leads me to question his motivation. I am not casting aspersions about his views—I am sure that he is as keen as the rest of us to ensure that our roads are safer — but the logic of his argument is patently ridiculous.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
The logic of my argument is that everyone should be belted up and no car should do more than 10 mph in a built up area or more than 30 mph outside. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) fairly said that there is some risk compensation. He did not say that people should not be belted up, although he may have given that impression, and it will not help the causes that I and the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) support if we drive my hon. Friend too far.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have no strong views on how far the hon. Gentleman can be driven.
The Bill is basically sound and I hope that what the hon. Member for Antrim, South said will be heeded. I see no reason why the Bill should not be amended to take account of Northern Ireland. The Minister has not said that he would oppose such a move, although he may wish to reconsider if amendments are tabled.
It is right to legislate, but information is critical. That is the experience of every country that has introduced rear restraints. It is only when a legislative framework is backed up by information campaigns that the public realise the significance of an issue.
The use of rear restraints in Sweden has gone up from less than one quarter to about three quarters of the population on the basis of three lines of action — a legislative framework, public information, and local authorities providing loans for child seats. I fear to throw in that latter remark because I am sure that Conservative Members will say that I am representing loony Left 1306 Labour councils who want to use public money for mischievious purposes. There is, however, a strong argument in favour of such public sector action.
Most of us are ignorant of the dangers. I was intrigued by what the Minister and the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) said about what happens at relatively low speeds. Most of us have held a young child in a car and assumed that we were capable of keeping it out of danger. It seems that the reality is very different. The House has an obligation to get that message over.
I have been able this week to examine what is available for young children. I have children of almost all sizes. I have fewer rear restraints than children—I have three restraints and four children. I have to make the unenviable choice which may be called the Southend question. I must tell the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) that I would far sooner have three of my children properly restrained than have none of them restrained, on the basis of some dubious concept of fairness.
The hon. Member for Cheadle does the House a great service by introducing the Bill, but it is a shame that the Bill is not Government legislation. Dr. D. J. Williams, president of the Casualty Surgeons Association said in his letter to the hon. Gentleman:We find it very disturbing that it should be necessary for you to introduce a Private Members Bill in order to achieve a reduction in the number of serious and fatal injuries to children but we are unanimous in our support for your endeavour.That is high credit to the hon. Gentleman. It is less credit to the Government that private Member's legislation is required on an issue of primary safety. I hope that the Minister has listened to the House which, apart from one or two dissenting voices, is overwhelmingly in favour of the introduction of the measure. I hope that he will recognise that safety commands support across the House and is not the province of one party or another.
We must be assured that the Department of Transport and its Ministers take safety seriously. While it is easy to say the words that show how worried we all are, it is more difficult to get the Government to act. The Government should have introduced legislation, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing it. I hope that the Minister will enthusiastically adopt the measure and ensure that it is put into practice.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
Those of us who strongly support the Bill should at least thank my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Mr. Waller) and for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) for their important statement that they do not propose to delay the Bill today and for enlivening the debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley undoubtedly did. It is most important that they have stated that they will not delay the Bill as it gives us great heart and hope that the legislation will find its way to the statute book. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) will have the great honour of carrying it to the statute book. Whatever happens to him in his future distinguished political career, if he gets this on the statute book, he will be able to look back on one of the most worthwhile achievements of his career. I say that as one who laboured with great difficulty in the early 1970s with many other hon. Members who are 1307 present today to persuade the Government and Parliament—we were swimming against the tide—to accept seat belt legislation.
Having thanked my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley for what he said, I must disagree fundamentally with him. He is fighting a rearguard action, having lost the original argument on seat belts. His fundamental belief that somehow better driver behaviour can be produced by education or exhortation is wrong and has been proved wrong by our seat belt experience.
We know that seat-belt wearing increased dramatically as a result of the legislation. To suggest as he does that we should not have compulsory restraints for children in rear seats, but that we should leave the decision to drivers and parents, is flying in the face of experience. We know full well that the low wearing rate would continue. That is what he wants to see happen because, he argues, the more we belt up, the more careless we become as drivers and the greater the hazard we are to other road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. He is suggesting that seat belts make us careless and that we should not wear them too often. It follows that he is sceptical about restraint for anyone in a car. That is not carrying his argument to an illogical conclusion——
§ Mr. Waller
If I was driving a car and had small children in it, I would ensure that they were belted in because I would be thinking about them. But it is wrong to introduce changes in law which might have the effect of transferring the risk from children belted into a car to others who were using the road at the same time.
§ Mr. Moate
My hon. Friend's logic is flawed. He makes a judgment for himself that children should be restrained, but he is taking a calculated risk that that action could cause injury to others. We as a Parliament must make that calculated judgment about whether, if my hon. Friend is right about the increased hazard to pedestrians or cyclists, that risk is offset by the greater saving of life that would accrue from seat belt wearing. The overwhelming evidence is that substantial savings of life and a reduction in serious injury could be achieved by adults wearing seat belts in the front and rear seats and by children wearing the harness described by my hon. Friend the Minister.
The House is entitled to consider some of the arguments that were deployed by my hon. Friend and others on the Bill, which made it compulsory to wear seat belts. Many of the premises upon which they argued have been proved decisively to be wrong. It is remarkable how the motoring public accepted seat belts. I make a point of looking at other cars to see how many drivers are unrestrained, and almost every driver wears a seat belt. We were told that the motoring public would be hostile to wearing seat belts and that there would be difficulties of enforcement. There has been none. We were told that the police would be overwhelmed with work, but they have not been. We were told that the legislation would not reduce casualties, but it has.
All that happened not through a miracle but because the British public accepted the logic of wearing seat belts. It has become an automatic feature of their lives. That is exactly what would happen with child restraints in rear seats.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said that it would be wrong fpr parents to use the law to back 1308 them up in enforcing better behaviour on their children. I understand his point exactly. It is a duty of parents to make their children behave. But many parents would welcome the assistance of the law in persuading their children to belt up and be restrained in rear seats. Any parent could tell us how difficult it is to get children to sit still at all, or to sit in the back of the car. Every child wants to sit in the front and they do not want to be restrained. The legislation would encourage the use of children's seat belts far beyond what it might prescribe. It will become commonplace for all children to expect to be restrained from an early age.
I was intrigued by the evidence of a survey conducted in Kansas which would gladden the hearts of most parents. It said that the use of child restraints can reduce disruptive behaviour during car journeys. So there would be a wonderful secondary benefit apart from the improvement in road safety. A group of children riding in car seats exhibited very high levels of appropriate or safe behaviour, whereas children not riding in car seats exhibited very low levels of appropriate behaviour. As a parent — all parents would echo this—I believe that the legislation could help in encouraging better behaviour by children in cars. That would have an tremendous effect on road safety, because there is nothing more hazardous than a youngster crawling round a car. Apart from the danger to the unrestrained child, general behaviour is a factor in road safety.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley suggested that when children were restrained it made the driver slightly more careless. I think he also suggested that when they were unrestrained the driver would be more careful. I am sure that, like other hon. Members, my hon. Friend would be horrified if he were to drive alongside another car and see unrestrained children crawling around the car and leaning over the back of the driver. The slightest impact would cause massive damage to such children. That happens now, and the evidence of our own eyes refutes the rather intellectual points that were made by my hon. Friend.
The evidence of our eyes and our instincts show that the Bill is right and must be placed on the statute book. We hope that the forecast about life-saving and injury reduction is right. However, if the forecast is only one half or one quarter right the Bill is still needed because, essentially, we are talking about avoidable accidents. We know that every family faces hazards that can deprive it of children and that many handicaps arise. Many unavoidable things in life can cause tragedy to families but we are talking about avoidable tragedies and Parliament can contribute towards eliminating those.
The fact that my hon. Friend the Minister has spoken so strongly in favour of the Bill gives us great hope. I do not share the criticism of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) about the Bill being private and not Government legislation. The Minister knows that I am not uncritical of some aspects of the work of his Department, but in recent years no Minister has done more to improve road safety, and it is commendable that he has encouraged the Bill. That is vital if we are to have a good Committee stage and get the regulations right. I welcome the Minister's positive attitude.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle. His Bill is superb and my hon. Friend, who is in his early years in Parliament, presented it magnificently. The Bill will make a major contribution to road safety.
§ 1.2 pm
§ Mr. James Cran (Beverley)
I add my congratulations to those that have been expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day). I have seen him nurture the Bill from an idea to what it is today. His presentation and marshalling of the facts were admirable.
The Bill is long overdue because of the statistics about which the House has heard and which I shall not rehearse. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) gave us a forensic demonstration of what he considers the facts to be. I start from the premise of having checked the facts of the 1986 debate. The annual saving of about 200 deaths and about 7,000 serious injuries and a 25 per cent. reduction in the admission of car accident victims to hospital leads me to believe that the original experiment of putting seat belts in the front of cars was right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said that there was a 27 per cent. increase in deaths caused by other road users. I, too, have read the report by Dr. John Adams about which he spoke and the question that arises is what is cause and what is effect. The report does not make that absolutely clear. We must, however, consider this study and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle will consider it if the Bill reaches Committee. I repeat that the findings are not conclusive.
I have taken my decisions from statistics and from experience. I had an experience with my daughter Alexandra, who is now six years old, which I will never forget. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley reminded me of it. He said that many road accidents are caused by driver error and I would not dissent from that. However, I think that I can claim that I was not driving abnormally on the occasion that I am describing. I was driving on to the M6 in Birmingham when another driver approached me from the main carriageway. In response, I braked slightly, not violently. Unbeknown to me, my daughter had stood up. She was not too old for her baby restraint and as I braked very gently she was propelled between the two front seats. Fortunately she was not injured by hitting the dashboard or, even worse, by the gear stick. That was an experience that I would not care to repeat. I have profited and learned from it because that incident could have proved fatal.
I have now become far more careful, not just as a result of the statistics, but because of that incident. I take great care to ensure that my daughter is sitting correctly and that she is restrained. However, there was an uneasy period before she accepted the restraint. I am delighted to say that the position now is that if she is not restrained before the car begins to move, she shouts out to tell me that she is not restrained. She now understands, as I understand, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle understands, that restraining a child, as much as anyone else in a car, must be the correct course of action. I wonder whether I would have taken this action without having experienced my near-accident. Therefore whenever my car now moves I ensure, that my daughter is restrained in the back.
I am however, worried about others who may not have experienced the kind of shock that I had. Other people appear to be unintentionally lackadaisical, as I was before my unfortunate experience. Before that, I took the view that it could never happen to me or mine. I did not think my daughter could be propelled into the front of the car and perhaps be fatally injured.
1310 Many hon. Members have referred to the 8,560 accidents that affect rear seat passengers. That figure is proof that accidents happen to other people. Moreover, I cringe, like many other hon. Members, when I travel along motorways and ordinary roads and see children standing between the seats. I have seen children leaning from the rear seat to the front seat. On one occasion I even saw a child moving from the rear seat to the front seat while the car in question was moving. The public seem to believe that accidents will not happen. I believe that the actions that I have described are accidents waiting to happen.
If the Bill does not make progress, those accidents waiting to happen will happen. They might affect my children or anyone's children. If people do not believe me, they should visit their local police station. I visited my local police station before I made up my mind about this Bill and used a crash simulator. It is a very crude instrument, but it simulates an accident occurring at 15 mph. I believe that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has also used a simulator.
I was not carrying a child — merely a bundle of papers. I had expected the experience to be a bit of a cakewalk, hut, my goodness, when I reached the end of it, not only did I nearly catapult out of my seat—happily I was restrained—but my papers went in all directions. I wish that more people would go along to their local police stations to test the equipment and experience its stunning effects. I hope that the police, in response to the Bill, will go out into the community with that equipment, arid with all the other means that they have to hand to explain to people about the effects of accidents at speed.
Hon. Members who cite the complications in the Bill are right to do so. In particular, I have been moderately troubled by the examples of three or four children sitting in the back of a car with only two restraints, and the school-run phenomenon. I like clean solutions to difficult problems. However, I have been convinced that there is no quick solution to this problem. It is surely not acceptable to suggest that, if all the children cannot be restrained, none should be. That is a nonsensical argument. If there are two restraints and three children, those two restraints should be used, because that will contribute towards preventing deaths or serious injuries that might otherwise occur.
Another point that has persuaded me to support the Bill was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle: that what is important is riot only the Bill itself, but making parents think about their children's safety when they are in cars. I relate that to my horrific experience on the motorway outside Birmingham.
Speaking as I do from the Conservative Benches, my heart is with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend. East (Mr. Taylor). If a voluntary solution were possible, I would be the first to espouse it. But, alas, I do not think that it is possible. Consequently, I have been pulled, intellectually kicking and screaming, to support the Bill. I do not believe that publicity campaigns would have other than a temporary effect, or that we should be discussing temporary palliatives for such difficult problems.
My next question is, what is the best form of restraint? I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle will consider that point carefully. I started from the premise that all that was needed was for small children to be harnessed in adult restraints. In my own experience, with my daughter, that is better than nothing. However, it is not the best solution, for the simple reason that—although 1311 such restraints are adaptable, and the angle at which they are fitted can be changed — they do not always fit a small child well. I hope that my hon. Friend will go beyond suggesting the use of adult restraints to consider the other restraints that can be fitted for small children.
I shall support the Bill enthusiastically, and vote for its Second Reading. Normally, as I have said, I live in hope that voluntary action will work, and that the publicity generated by a Bill such as this will provide the solution that we want. However, neither would succeed entirely. I wish that we could make the legislation retrospective, and achieve the complete solution that I should like to see. However, I accept that that is not a practical course of action.
This is a moderate Bill. It will protect children who cannot make their own judgments, and we ought to remind ourselves of that. More importantly, it will safeguard children against, perhaps me, or others who might become complacent after the end of a publicity campaign. We may come to feel that we do not really need to use the seat belts or may simply forget about them. Then, as sure as night follows day, there would be an accident or a near accident such as that I had on the motorway. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle and enthusiastically support his Bill.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on his success in the ballot. I also congratulate him on his choice of subject for legislation. I understand that he is a relatively new Member and that this idea is his own and has not necessarily come about through the inspiration of the excellent "That's Life" programme.
I should tell the House that I am a convert to the cause of seat belts. I was not a Member when the previous Bill was discussed and I had doubts about the benefits of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. However, I have completely changed my view.
I often get the impression that my wife does not entirely rate my ability as a driver. However, that does not stop her ensuring that I do most of the driving in our family. When we started our family she made sure that we immediately purchased what my hon. Friend the Minister described as safety seats. I thought that she was rather going over the top. However, from the excellent examples we saw on "That's Life" a few years ago, I now recognise how right she was. But then women are often so right on many matters.
I am often appalled by the way in which people transport their children in cars. When we put our two children in the restrainers for the first time I cannot pretend that they enjoyed the sensation of being restrained. As we all know, children like to have a free rein. As we drive along we see young children sitting on the laps of mothers or standing between the two front seats. It is appalling. An even worse practice is that of piling three, four, five or six children and a dog into the back of an estate car. If such a car were to be involved in a shunt, there would be great danger for all the people in the car.
We have already heard about the 77 children who were killed in 1986 and the 10,000 who were injured. Those statistics are extremely telling. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents claims that nearly 500 lives are 1312 saved each year through the wearing of seat belts. It also claims that 7,000 serious injuries and 13,000 slight injuries are prevented. The society also claims that since the introduction of the compulsory wearing of seat belts in 1981, there has been a 15 per cent. reduction in car accidents and, significantly, a 25 per cent. drop in hospital bed occupancy.
There is a large amount of international evidence that is overwhelming in its support for measures such as this. Research in America has shown that restraints can reduce fatalities by 71 per cent. and serious injuries by 67 per cent. In Britain, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory estimates that the use of rear restraints could reduce deaths by up to 75 per cent.
International evidence shows that the use of rear restraints has increased dramatically following educational and promotional campaigns, in some cases by as much as 50 per cent.
That begs the question, what price safety? Are we to be faced with the possibility of restraints being compulsory in cars for children under 14 while little or no public education is undertaken to promote and instil in people the need for the use of such restraints? I hope that, hand in hand with the Bill, there will be a suitable publicity campaign to help to reinforce the principle in the minds of the general public. My hon. Friend the Minister earlier spoke about a particular leaflet, but I hope that we shall go much further in publicising the excellent measure of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle. Such a step will be important to ensure the proper working of the Bill. That need not necessarily be done by the Government. The multi-million pound motor industry could consider undertaking that task.
Monitoring is plainly a matter for the police. I am delighted that the Association of Chief Police Officers is satisfied that the monitoring of restraints would not be a problem. The measure would be self-enforcing, as was that for front seat belts. The usage rate of front seat belts rose from 30 per cent. before legislation to 90 per cent. following it. That shows that, contrary to many police officers' fears about lack of compliance with the law, the public generally respect and abide by a relatively unmonitorable law.
I have a number of hobby horses on road safety, and one is the ever-increasing practice of people using telephones in cars. When I have raised this matter on other occasions, I have been told by Ministers that existing legislation covers the subject. I am not satisfied that that is the case, and I hope that the excellent committee referred to by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will examine the increasing use of telephones in cars.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle has done the country a great service by seizing the initiative and introducing this legislation. I hope that it will go through all its stages in both Houses speedily and that it will quickly become law.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
Some years ago, I was sent some instructions to draft pleadings in a case relating to a car accident. They have stuck in my mind ever since. I shall briefly relate them to the House.
A father was driving his two sons home from school. The older child, who was aged seven, was sitting in the front seat and the younger one, who was aged four, was sitting in the back. The older child and the father were 1313 wearing seat belts. The car was one-year old, and as it drove along the A64 in Yorkshire, which is a dual carriageway, another car came out of a side turning and, without stopping, proceeded on to the carriageway, almost catching the car in which they were travelling along the fast lane. The father, seeing that, was understandably shocked and pulled the wheel over to avoid just clipping the car that was coming out of the side turning. As a result of that sudden action by the driver, the car careered at 70 mph across the middle of the road, through a hedge and into a tree. As it hit the tree with such great force, it began to turn over and skid further along the hedge.
Someone in a car following that car had seen everything that had happened. As a result, we knew the identity of the driver of the car that came out of the side turning and could sue the driver. He was a 19-year-old who was drunk. He had bet his three companions that he could get across the dual carriageway without stopping, indicating or looking where he was going. He had won his bet and went on to have a further three pints in another public house.
The car containing the father and the two children ended up on its side. The driver, in his seat belt, immediately turned round to see what had happened to his sons. He released his seat belt and began to climb out of the car. I do not recall the make of the car, but I have a feeling that it was a Ford Sierra. As he climbed out, the car rocked and turned over on its side. To his horror he discovered that the four-year-old child sitting on the back seat had been ejected through one of the side windows of the car. The car had rolled over, half on to the child, and had crushed his head and the upper parts of his body. It was a truly horrific accident. I had the grave duty of meeting the parents and the little boy, who was then aged 11, and explaining the law relating to car accidents. It was a tragedy.
I experienced another case, this time concerning a man in Lincolnshire who was driving with a baby and its mother on the back seat. As they went round a sharp bend, they suddenly met a tractor in the middle of the road. The car came to a sudden halt, because it slewed straight into the front wheel of the tractor which stopped it dead. The mother hit the back of the driver's seat, the driver in his seat belt stayed exactly where he was, but the baby, aged one year, was ejected from the car through the front windscreen and was scattered in several pieces into the engine of the tractor.
Both of those cases convinced me wholeheartedly of the need urgently to bring forward legislation such as the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) has brought before the House today to ensure that such accidents never happen again.
It is a tragedy that in the first case, the Yorkshire case, the child in the front sear was totally unharmed while his brother was killed. The father was wearing a seat belt and although the car had hit a tree at 70 mph he was completely unharmed. He suffered a slipped disc or some minor injury, but to all intents and purposes he got out of the car and walked away from the accident while the child in the back seat was crushed to death. That was a tragedy.
If a 15 1b baby is thrown forward at a 30 mph frontal impact, the force is equivalent to 450 1bs–30 times its weight. We must remember, when discussing children in car accidents, that the biggest and most vulnerable part of a baby, the part that suffers most damage, is the head. Children's heads are proportionately larger in comparison to their bodies than those of adults. Adults' heads are 1314 considerably harder than those of children, and in this House we all learn to be very hard-headed. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members would say thick-headed. However, the fact remains that children's young bones are supple and are not joined. Children under five have a space at the top of the cranium that is not yet sealed up and their heads are extremely easily damaged.
Any of us who have been to ski resorts and have skied down quite dangerous precipices will often have seen children aged two or three ski past us at alarming rates. It is a marvellous experience. When I look at them whiz past me, I notice that they wear crash helmets and I do not. That is because a child's head is not only the most vulnerable part, but the most critical part of his body.
I remind the House that 38 per cent. of accidents result in ejection from a car. I do not have the figures relating to back seats, but I suspect that a far higher proportion of ejections are from back seats. If that is the case, we must examine some legislation that will deal with that problem.
The result of an accident to a child whose head is damaged can be wide-ranging, permanent and distressing. Children have been put in intensive care for years on end as a result of car accidents in which they suffered comparatively minor accidents to their heads. We have seen children who are unable to walk for the rest of their lives, not because their legs or backs have been damaged but because they have suffered injuries to their heads. We have quadriplegic children in our hospitals. Their disabilities have not been brought about by congenital defects or disease in early childhood but because of what has happened to them in car accidents. It is within the power of the House to make sure that children are properly restrained. For that purpose, I commend the Bill.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said, there are cases in which there will be more damage to children through their being restrained. Such cases are far too remote for us to worry about. Two important things are brought about by the restraint of children in the back of cars. First, in many cases, it prevents ejection and, secondly, it curbs inappropriate behaviour. Many statistics have been quoted, and I do not wish to quote too many more.
§ Mr. Devlin
With respect, I have been present for a substantial part of the debate. I had to leave the House briefly to deal with some constituents who are visiting today. The matter is of great interest to my constituents who are sitting in the Strangers' Gallery and are listening to what is said in the House.
In 1977, there was a United States study of 25,000 children involved in accidents. It demonstrated a rank order of safety of children in cars. It showed that the safest children are seat-belted in the rear of cars, the next safest children are seat-belted in the front, more unsafe children are unbelted in the rear of cars, and the least safe children are unbelted in the front of a car. It has already been mentioned that it is important to legislate to prevent train and aircraft accidents happening again. I look forward to the end of the King's Cross fire inquiry, which may bring useful legislation before the House so that we ma} be able to prevent tragedies of that kind. Each year, more children are killed in cars or on the road than are killed in aircraft, ship or train accidents. For that reason, the legislation is important.
1315 I listened to my hon. Friend the Minister tell the House that he did not want to be a walking advertisement because he mentioned the firm of Kwik-Fit-Euro. I commend to him the role of walking advertisement on every occasion if more manufacturers and shop owners are prepared to present a similar scheme to the public. Giving parents the opportunity to buy child restraint chairs and straps from a reputable manufacturer and to have that cost fully reimbursed when the child has outgrown their use is highly commendable. If another 50 companies were to come forward with similar schemes, I would have no hesitation in standing up in the House to act as the most blatant walking advertisement in mentioning every single one of their names and in commending them individually. Here and now, I should like to thank the chairman of Kwik-Fit-Euro for his recent and kind letter to me, in which he pointed out the value of the scheme. Lest I advertise his name too much, it is Mr. Tom Farmer who is the chairman and chief executive. I commend his action and his company.
Turning to other countries, we should have a brief look at the position in the United States. There is legislation in five states to restrain children in cars who are under five years. In 15 states there is legislation relating to children of the age of four years and below. In 25 states there is legislation restricting the carriage of children under three years. There is legislation relating to children under two years in one state, and in four states there is legislation relating to children or babies, under the age of one. Yet in this country, with its many counties and districts, we have no law relating to the carriage of children in cars.
I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle that I would go further than he has done. The wearing of seat belts should be compulsory in any part of a car. I have had my bellyful of drafting pleadings in respect of cases where people have been thrown out of cars and crushed by large pieces of machinery grinding together in the middle of the night. I have had my bellyful of looking at photographs of people, parts of whose limbs and bodies have been scattered all over the engine and the machinery of the vehicles into which they have crashed, or who have been pushed across trees or thrown into ditches. I am sick to my stomach at looking at pictures of children who have been involved in accidents—that is the most chronic area. At Question Time we often hear shouts from odd corners of the House of, "Babies are dying." When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is sitting where my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is sitting now, some Opposition Member will shout out, "Babies are dying," and a great roar goes up in the House that something must be done. I agree that something must be done. Today we are dealing with one reason why babies die. Indeed, it is greater cause of their deaths than any other, but where are our hon. Friends? They are not here. Next time we hear those hon. Members shout, "Babies are dying," we should say, "Where were you on the day we brought legislation before the House to stop some of those babies dying?"
Again, I would go further than my hon. Friend. We should consider the cost to the National Health Service of dealing with all those horribly distorted children and the costs of the casualty departments in bringing out staff in the middle of the night; of calling in surgeons to piece together those children; of bringing people together in emergency teams to bring blood from one end of the 1316 country to another; of assembling emergency teams to bring parts of bodies from one end of the country to another; and of assembling emergency teams of specialist doctors, paediatricians and other carers who come together suddenly and without warning. That is an enormous cost. However, there is also the enormous cost of treating a quadriplegic child for 20 years. A child has been in intensive care in my local hospital at north Tees for six years. The cost to the state of having that child in intensive care is about £1,500 per week. That has been going on for six years. That child was not brought in because she was injured in a car accident. She was born like that, but other children in other parts of the country, particularly in Birmingham, have been brought in as quadriplegic patients as a result of road traffic accidents.
I wish to raise with my hon. Friend the Minister the question of children who indulge in inappropriate behaviour in the back of cars. Too often, I have been driving in London and seen children playing and screaming and shouting on the back seats of cars, and disturbing the driver. I do not have any statistics to show how many accidents result from such behaviour, but my common sense tells me—and the House's common sense should tell it—that this must be a major contributory factor to accidents on our roads. If we restrain that, we shall do the House and the country a great service.
Finally, I do not believe that it is the object of the Bill to penalise the caring parent. Some caring parents will already be fitting good child restraint straps and seats in the backs of cars which are not manufactured with seat belt anchorage points. If they do not use those seat belts, which they have fitted on the back seats, I should not wish to penalise them. We should try to encourage good practice so that parents who care enough about their children will install those straps and seats. I hope that the Bill will not penalise those people.
I have considered those issues in the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle leaves free from regulations. These matters can be considered in Committee. It is a good and widely drawn Bill with a fundamentally sound principle which will cut out many thousands of deaths on our roads of those most vulnerable in our society. I therefore commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Day
I shall be brief. I thank everyone who has contributed. I shall not respond individually to each hon. Member because the tone of the debate has been very much in favour of the Bill. I am grateful to the House and to all hon. Members who have spoken so eloquently in favour of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) left me a note because he has had to leave the debate. He did not wish to be rude, but he had a speaking engagement in Leicestershire, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I said that I would make that clear, as he did not wish to insult either me or the House.
I wish to clarify one important point. Several hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) asked why I have not extended the provisions of the Bill to all vehicles. I subscribe to that as a principle, but there are practical reasons why I do not believe that it is possible to do that. Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), will probably be aware that all cars 1317 manufactured since 1 October 1986 have been subject to the mandatory fitting of rear seat belts or child restraints. Obviously, those vehicles are covered by the Bill because rear restraints have been fitted. Cars manufactured since April 1982 have had anchorage points fitted. Vehicles in which seat belts or child restaints have been fitted voluntarily will be covered by the Bill, but there are many cars on the road, dating from before April 1982, in which it is physically impossible to fit restraints. From a practical point of view, therefore, it is not possible to fit them in every vehicle on the road. The passage of time will deal with that aspect.
I thank the Minister for his kind comments and his support in the debate. I take on board his comments about the need to consider the regulations closely and for appropriate consultations to take place. My Bill is drafted as it is to empower the Minister to do that and to fill the gap that currently exists in the legislation.
I have every sympathy with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and I recognise that the people of Northern Ireland feel the same as the rest of the United Kingdom. I will do all that I can to try to ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are taken into account as long as I do not believe that that would, at any stage, jeopardise the progress of my Bill.
Finally, I should like to refer to a letter that I believe will be of interest to the House. It was addressed to the Minister, but I also received a copy. It is from Lynn James, who is the mother of the child in question. Mrs. James says:I have heard on the radio and seen on television that you are having a campaign on the use of child restraints in cars. I thought you may be interested in a rhyme that my son Henry came out with after watching a film showing dummies going through a windscreen. He was only four then, he is now five. This is the rhyme,'Humpty Dumpty sat in a car,Humpty Dumpty didn't go far,Over the seat and in the air,Over the road and everywhere.'Such a rhyme from a child of five is amazingly perceptive. Apparently that child now calls children who bounce around in the backs of cars Humpty Dumpties. That rhyme would be worth remembering by parents who are trying to restrain their children in the backs of cars. It is a light, but serious note on which to end this debate.
I thank hon. Members for the way in which they have discussed and conducted themselves in this debate. I am extremely grateful to the House for listening to me so carefully, and I trust that we will now give approval to the measure.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Commital of Bills).