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Rob Marris: The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that, certainly until recently—it may still be the case—certain specialist sports cars were produced in north America with left-hand threads for the wheels nuts on one side. Does he agree that it would help if we had some comparative information from other countries about whether such a safety device, in contradistinction to the one directly referred to in new clause 11, were fitted?

Mr. Knight: That would certainly be helpful. I have no knowledge of any vehicle with counter-running threads on one side suffering the problem of its wheels loosening. That may well happen in a few cases, but I am not aware of it. I should have thought that producing a vehicle with threads that tighten in the opposite direction on one side would cost relatively little. The House would welcome such a feature if it led to vehicles becoming much safer on the road, particularly when travelling at speed.

New clause 13 is entirely probing in nature and is intended to tease out from the Minister whether the Government are considering best practice in reducing accidents and considering the experience of other countries. Being a Conservative, I always hesitate to argue for more red tape, especially when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), the Cabinet Minister for deregulation, is sitting behind me—[Interruption.] I am sorry; he is a member of the shadow Cabinet, certainly until 6 May.

Although we do not want to accept the one-size-fits-all attitude of many Labour Members when considering our European partners, we should look at the practices of other countries if statistical evidence has been gathered about them, if only so that we can dismiss them and look for an alternative solution. A similar regulation to new clause 13 forms part of Spanish law. Motorists who travel in Spain must ensure that they have coloured jackets in their vehicles. The regulation applies if a vehicle is stopped, but not parked. For example, motorists who discover that they have a flat tyre on a motorway are required to wear a yellow jacket if they leave their vehicle to replace it.
 
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I raise the matter against the background that, in the past seven days, a person on the hard shoulder of a motorway in the UK was killed after he and his car were hit by a heavy goods vehicle. Eighteen months ago, there was a widely reported case in which four female passengers who got out of a car that had broken down on the third carriageway of a motorway were killed. Several motorists each year are injured, some fatally, while on the hard shoulder. Unfortunately, not all stretches of this country's motorways have the benefit of lighting.

I would like to tease out from the Minister what the Government are doing to bring home to drivers how dangerous it is to get out of their vehicles on motorways in the United Kingdom. If she does not intend to follow the practice adopted by Spain, what else is being done to educate drivers about the danger that exists?

We wait with interest to hear what the hon. Members who tabled new clauses 15, 18 and 21 will say. May I perhaps pre-empt what the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) will say about new clause 21? I think that it has been drafted to address bull bars. Although it is widely accepted that bull bars fitted to a vehicle can be dangerous to pedestrians in certain circumstances, not all bull bars pose such a danger. I understand that one company produces the equivalent of traditional bull bars, but made out of rubber, and people who study such matters have taken the initial view that they make vehicles safer. Additionally, given the number of foreign vehicles on our roads, might not the matter be better addressed internationally rather than unilaterally? I look forward to hearing what the hon. Gentleman will say with interest.

Mr. Martlew : I want to speak to new clause 15. Hon. Members might realise that it is similar to a private Member's Bill that I introduced last year, which unfortunately did not get a Second Reading. I have tabled the new clause to try to find out whether the Government have changed their policy on the measure.

We still have the problem that more than 500 children suffer serious head injuries and more than 36 are killed due to incidents involving cycles each year, but about a third could be saved if they wore helmets. The new clause would require children under the age of 16 who were cycling on a public road or in a public place to wear helmets. Things have changed, however, since I introduced my Bill. Much was made by its opponents, some of whom are here today, of the fact that the British Medical Association did not support it. Since the Second Reading of the Road Safety Bill, the BMA have looked at the issue again, and they support making the wearing of a helmet compulsory for both children and adults. I do not believe that we can make helmet wearing compulsory for adults, because once they are 16 people can make up their own mind. However, it is the responsibility of the Government and the public to protect children.

4 pm

When I introduced my Bill, I encountered a great deal of opposition from organisations that sell bicycles. I received many letters, especially from small cycle shops, which have been given misinformation by the Cyclists
 
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Touring Club. Since then, Halfords, the largest retailer of cycles in the country, held a board meeting at which it concluded that, even though the measure could affect its business, it would be unethical not to support the Bill. It therefore supports making the wearing of helmets compulsory for children. Hon. Members will remember receiving little cards from the CTC giving seven reasons for opposing the Bill. A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority, which found that many of the CTC's claims were spurious and ruled against the organisation.

The last time that we debated this issue, therefore, the House and hon. Members were misled. The position has changed, but what we really want is a change in the Government's view. Before I introduced my Bill, there was a great deal of debate about the issue in Cabinet. Some Cabinet Ministers supported the proposals, some opposed them, and they decided that they could not agree. That was a great pity. However, the problem remains. The number of youngsters who are being injured is probably increasing.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree with the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, which is based in my constituency, that between 70 and 80 per cent. of head injuries affecting child cyclists take place off road? If the provision were accepted, we would prevent only a very small proportion of injuries to children.

Mr. Martlew: I agree with the trust more than my hon. Friend, who is one of the measure's main opponents. The new clause makes provision for helmet wearing on roads and other public places, because it is difficult to legislate for behaviour off road or on private property, as she knows. That is one reason why we find it difficult to enforce seat belt legislation in such areas. Every year, we allow the equivalent of a primary class of young children to die, because we will not introduce legislation. I am afraid that the Government's policy of trying to persuade the target group of teenaged boys between 12 and 16 to wear helmets is failing. The Minister might be able to give us some figures showing that the number of youngsters in that age group who wear helmets has gone down, despite the fact that a considerable amount of money has been spent on advertising.

The Government's policy is failing because of peer pressure. Youngsters are saying, "Look at mushroom-head over there". They do not think that it is cool to wear a helmet, even though some of them are extremely well designed. They are pressured into thinking that if they wear one they are a coward. They would therefore like legislation to be passed, because then they could say, "I have to wear a helmet, because it is the law." There is a similar problem with school uniforms. If children are told that wearing school uniform is optional, of course they will not wear it. They will wear trainers and so on. But if it is compulsory to wear school uniform, all the youngsters do.

I hope that when the Minister responds, she will take into consideration the facts that I have highlighted—that the BMA now supports the compulsory wearing of helmets; that Halfords, the largest cycle retailer in the country, says that wearing helmets is ethically right; that the CTC's propaganda has been discredited; and finally,
 
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that the Government's policy of trying to persuade youngsters to wear helmets has failed. Sooner or later, the Government will have to legislate on the matter.

Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): As the House knows, I am a member of the Select Committee on Health. We recently produced a report on obesity, and childhood obesity in particular. One of the reasons that we identified for that was lack of exercise. The number of children who walk or cycle to school has fallen because of dangers on the road. Is it not incumbent on all of us to try to increase children's level of activity, and to make children as safe as possible by promoting safer routes to school and the wearing of appropriate equipment, such as helmets, to encourage that activity?


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