(HANSARD)in the first session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of




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Monday, 25th March 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom—Took the Oath.

Rear Passenger Seat Belts

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek full information to ascertain how many deaths in the United Kingdom of drivers or front seat passengers were wholly or partly due to rear seat passengers not wearing seat belts.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions is currently investigating the numbers of front seat occupants' injuries attributable to an unsecured rear seat passenger. We have commissioned Transport Research Laboratory Limited to make an assessment. A report is expected during May.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. While waiting for that report, does he accept overall the conclusion of a Japanese inquiry that a very substantial number of deaths of drivers and front seat passengers in vehicles is caused because the rear seat passengers were not belted in? Without the need for further evidence from the awaited report, surely the time has come to prosecute back seat passengers who do not wear seat belts. Further, should we not start a campaign to warn drivers that under no circumstances should they drive

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with rear seat passengers who are not belted in, both for the safety of those passengers and for the safety of the drivers themselves?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the Japanese experience is not directly comparable because they do not have any laws requiring people to wear rear seat belts, whereas we do. In terms of wearing rates, the position has improved very significantly over recent years. Now some 90 per cent of children under 14 years of age wear their seat belts when seated in the rear. We believe that that is largely attributable to the success of the publicity campaign that has been run since 1998. A number of noble Lords will have seen that film, which shows how dangerous it is when a rear seat passenger, whether a child or an adult, is flung forward and hits someone sitting in the front seats of the car. However, we want to go much further in persuading adults in the rear seats of cars to wear seat belts, because that is where the problem lies. Only around 57 per cent of adults wear seat belts when sitting in the rear of cars, I think in the belief that they are safer in the back. They may be a little safer, but certainly drivers and front seat passengers are not.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, the noble Lord may have observed that the Government declined last week to reduce the limits of alcohol for drink driving offences. They have consistently refused to do anything about people such as those just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Janner. They have consistently refused to do anything about mobile phone use. Bearing in mind that over the past two years the number of crashes has risen by 2,000, how do the Government intend to achieve the 50 per cent reduction in casualties declared in the 10-year plan?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am minded to have a go at the first statement made by the noble Lord, but to let someone else take the second one. Focusing initially on drink driving, the noble Lord is right to say that, without doubt, we have further to go on this problem. But we should also mark the significant improvement

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that has taken place. The number of deaths as a result of driving while having taken alcohol over the required limit has halved over the past 10 years.

The noble Lord is right in that a number of other European countries still enforce a level of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. In essence, it is the Government's view that we have developed a pretty strong consensus across the country that it is unacceptable, as well as being illegal, to drive under the influence of excess alcohol. We do not believe that taking the level lower would lead to a significant improvement. The problem lies with a group of hardcore drinkers and a limited number of young people who are in fact drinking way over the 80 milligrams limit. Dropping the level to 50 milligrams might risk losing the very strong consensus within society without addressing effectively those groups where the problem lies.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, is the Minister aware of concerns that have arisen over a significant number of people who are driving under the influence of cannabis as a result of the "softly softly" approach now being taken by the police in some areas? Will he say what action the Government will take to deal with what is likely to be a major problem?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I have not seen evidence of such concerns, but I should be pleased to receive it and for the department to consider it. The Government's position on this matter is absolutely clear. Cannabis is an illegal drug. People should not take any drug or substance, whether legal or illegal, that might interfere with their capacity to drive safely. Clearly, cannabis is a substance of that kind. I am sure that the noble Baroness knows that the legislation with regard to drug use is more complicated than that for alcohol in terms of detection, but the position of the police is very much to try to increase their ability to identify drivers who have taken illegal substances when they are stopped at the roadside, thus increasing the potential to prosecute such offences.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that London taxis display many signs telling one either to do something or not to do something, but that I have never seen a sign in a London taxi saying, "Please wear your seat belt"?

Noble Lords: Taxis do display such signs.

Baroness Trumpington: Noble Lords amaze me. I have not seen those signs.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, perhaps I may invite the noble Baroness to take a taxi ride with me one evening after the House has risen—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I suspect that signs are frequently displayed, but that the rate of observance in

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the back of taxis is pretty slim. I shall not make a personal confession from the Dispatch Box, but I am sure that all noble Lords could set a better example.

Lord Paul: My Lords, many prescribed and over-the-counter drugs can cause drowsiness. Can my noble friend say what action is being taken in regard to such drugs, the use of which can cause havoc?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, as opposed to the illegal drugs referred to earlier, when GPs prescribe medicinal drugs they make it fairly clear in most cases that people should not drive when taking such substances. Although I do not think that there is any hard medical evidence, most common-sense people take note of that warning and either desist from driving or get other people to give them a lift in such circumstances.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, returning to the issue of seat belts in taxis—I intended to raise the matter before my noble friend referred to it—the reality is that if you get into a London taxi the chances are probably two to one that the seat belt is not working. Is there any chance of the back seat belts in taxis being inspected regularly as part of an examination similar to an MoT test for a car?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am speaking without certainty but I would be very surprised if, when it licenses taxis, the London Public Carriage Office did not carry out such a test. For the avoidance of doubt, I shall make sure that the department draws the matter to the attention of the London Public Carriage Office to ensure that back seat belts are in working order when they are tested.

Foot and Mouth Disease

2.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many animals of each species have been slaughtered as foot and mouth disease suspects or contacts since 30th September 2001.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, in total, 6,113 animals—that is, 5,781 sheep, 330 cattle and two goats—have been slaughtered since the last case of foot and mouth disease on 30th September. These animals have been slaughtered as either dangerous contacts as a result of a sero-positive blood sample or as "slaughter on suspicion" cases.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong in my understanding that if animals are sero-positive they may be expressing live virus but that virus will be so coated that it will not be infectious. If that is so, why are the Government taking extreme

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precautions in such cases when they still have not closed the outlets at the airports for meat coming into this country?

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