House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2002 - 03
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Column Number: 573

Standing Committee D

Tuesday 11 March 2003


[Mr. Alan Hurst in the Chair]

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

New clause 25

Seat belts: delivery drivers

    'The following shall be substituted for section 14(2)(b)(i) of the Road Traffic Act {**em**}1988 (c.52) (seat belts: exceptions: delivery drivers)—

    ''(i) the driver of or a passenger in a motor vehicle constructed or adapted for carrying goods, while on a journey which does not exceed the prescribed distance and which is undertaken for the purpose of delivering or collecting any thing,''.'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.

2.30 pm

Question again proposed.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing new clause 24—Requirement for adults to wear adult seat belts—

    '.—A person driving or riding in the front or rear seat of a vehicle constructed or adapted for the delivery of goods or mail to consumer addressees, as the case may be, while engaged in making local rounds or deliveries or collections shall wear an adult seat belt.'.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Just before we adjourned, I was declaring an interest. I do not know whether it is necessary, but it is always wise to err on the side of caution. The family business in which I am still a shareholder uses delivery vehicles to supply the fine merchandise that we purvey. It is a free delivery service.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Does the firm stretch to an internet service?

Mr. Randall: We are an old, established company. We are just getting the hang of decimal coinage.

I have worked for the company from an early age and spent a lot of time on delivery vans. I understand the culture of delivery vehicles and the problem that many people have with taking seat belts on and off. I am especially interested to hear, therefore, about the time scale and distances involved.

I have a dilemma with the two new clauses. Initially, I was taken by the Liberal Democrats' idea that seat belts should be worn on all occasions. Hon. Members will know that, when the wearing of seat belts was first made compulsory and, latterly, when a good friend and former colleague passed a private Member's Bill making the wearing of seat belts in the rear of vehicles compulsory, many people found it difficult to adapt. Lorry and van drivers large and small do not always put on their seat belts and would probably welcome an excuse not to comply. For obvious reasons, it can be a major cause of fatal injury not to wear one.

Having been teased by the Liberal Democrats' new clause, however, I now believe that the Government's new clause might be nearer the mark, but only as I

Column Number: 574

heard exactly what the Government understand by the time and distances involved. For example, the Minister mentioned dust-carts. The person having to go in and out of the passenger side could be excused for not wearing a seat belt, but the driver should wear one because he is not continually going in and out of the cab, although the driver may be a ''she'' for all that I know.

My particular interest may become relevant in the case of a driver who was not wearing a seat belt sustaining serious injury in an accident. Would the company be held liable for not putting a large notice on the van's dashboard saying, ''You must wear your seat belt at all times''? Is it a matter of law that the company would not be responsible? If there is a grey area, what will the employer's liability be?

With the freedom that I now enjoy to pick and choose between Government and Liberal Democrat new clauses, I wait with bated breath the answers to my questions and will then decide which option to choose.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Clearly, the Liberal Democrats can claim a partial victory. The press release has now been written and the presses will be printing the ''Focus'' leaflets so that they can be sent across the country to proclaim the partial victory that has been achieved.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that the Liberal Democrats will have a single position on the same issue throughout the entire country? History should record whether that is the case.

Tom Brake: I do not know why that should surprise the hon. Gentleman so much. We have a clear and consistent position on all issues throughout the country, as does the Labour party if one looks at Scotland and Westminster.

We will be claiming a partial victory. However, we have some reservations about new clause 25. The advantage of our new clause is that it is much easier to enforce and administer. How will the police monitor the prescribed distance and how will the measuring be carried out to ensure that it is not exceeded?

If a more stringent requirement had been introduced for the use of safety belts in vans, manufacturers would have swiftly found technological fixes to ensure that quick release mechanisms were available so that van drivers and their passengers would be inconvenienced as little as possible by having to use them. Unfortunately, the Government's proposal will not create the impetus to come up with technological developments.

We need to take action with regard to van drivers. The Under-Secretary of State answered a parliamentary question that I posed a few months ago on seat belt-wearing rates for cars and vans. In April 2002, 91 per cent. of car drivers and 93 per cent. of their front-seat passengers wore safety belts. For van drivers, the figures were 64 per cent. and 51 per cent. respectively. Only about half of the front-seat passengers in vans were wearing their safety belts, and for both van drivers and front-seat passengers, there

Column Number: 575

has been a reduction in the use of seat belts over the past few years.

In addition to the measures proposed by us and the Government, there is a need for more publicity campaigns to encourage van drivers and passengers to use their seat belts. By how much does the Minister expect that the statistics will improve if the new clause is adopted? For drivers who travel further than the prescribed distance, the aim should be to match the current figures for car drivers and their front-seat passengers.

If the Government launch a campaign to encourage van drivers and their passengers to use safety belts, it should encompass adult rear-seat passengers in cars because they are also irregular users of safety belts. A campaign is needed to encourage them to use them.

Mr. Randall: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any restrictions that apply to young people in the front of vans? I have often seen youngsters in vans with their father, perhaps during half-term, and I am not sure that they should be doing it. I wonder whether allowances would be made for young people. That could be quite serious.

Tom Brake: I do not have the answer but perhaps the Minister—or his officials, if he does not know—can assist and clarify the matter. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many van drivers think, for whatever reason, that it is appropriate to have their children sitting on the dashboard without any restraint. It would be useful to have confirmation on the current legal position, and to know whether the Minister believes that new clause 25 would assist in relation to children.

Clearly, we welcome the Government's conversion to our cause. We would have preferred for new clause 24 to be adopted, but if that is not the Government's wish, we will support their proposal.

Miss McIntosh: I have some sympathy with the comments of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), and I think that the Committee shares his surprise. For the first time in recorded history the Liberal Democrats are claiming to be saying the same thing across the country.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): The hon. Lady may be interested to know that, on Luton borough council, the Liberals Democrats have abstained on all budget decisions just before they are to fight the local elections. They are at least consistent.

The Chairman: Order. I call Miss McIntosh.

Miss McIntosh: What the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) says is not surprising.

We are slightly disappointed that the Under-Secretary has not seen fit to support any of our amendments, including the change to the title, but there is still time. Perhaps we can discuss that on the chain ferry in Plymouth in the summer. I hope that the Minister will agree that we have raised some issues that he would wish to endorse.

Column Number: 576

On the fitting of seat belts, a momentous anniversary was reached just this month. That is worthy of note. When the Minister spoke to new clause 25, he referred to the prescribed distance. It would be helpful to know how short that distance would be. There are other issues relating to delivery vehicles. I am mindful of the interests of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). Delivery vans are never far from the minds of those on the Conservative Benches for obvious reasons.

I gather that one does not have to wear a seat belt if the engine is running but the car is stationary or technically deemed to be parked. I wonder why the Government—or, indeed, the Liberal Democrats—have not covered that scenario. Clearly, it could cause some embarrassment if a person did not have to wear a seat belt because they had stopped or were travelling a short distance—we will learn later what those distances might be—but were prosecuted for other things, such as illegally keeping the engine running. It would be helpful to have some guidance from the Minister on that.

My concern, to which the Minister alluded, relates to the additional responsibility and duties on the police should either new clauses 25 or 24 be accepted by the Committee. Can he tell us how the police force will monitor all aspects, including the distance that is being travelled? The point about young persons travelling in delivery vans has already been raised.

2.45 pm

I record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge for all the help and assistance that he has given me. He has moved to the Back Benches, but I hope that that is only temporary. I am sure that that does not reflect on the companionship that we have enjoyed on the Front Bench, or on the lengths to which I have gone to move some of the amendments and new clauses. He has supported me not just during the Bill, but on many other occasions. I am sure that his sojourn on the Back Bench will be short lived and that he will return to the Front Bench soon.

On how police will enforce the new legislation, my hon. Friend suggested that the issue of delivery vans in London and other towns would be problematic. It would be helpful to know how much time and additional resources the police will be given. I am mindful of the fact that the Minister has seen fit to move the new clause, but how will the police perform their duties under it?


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 11 March 2003