HC Deb 06 July 1990 vol 175 cc1270-8

Lords amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 11, at end insert— (1A) Before making any regulations under this section the Secretary of State shall consult such representative organisations as he thinks fit.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

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

I thank Lady Masham of Ilton for the eloquent way in which she steered the Bill through the other place. Lady Masham lost her ability to walk in a point-to-point accident 30 years ago and since then she has been confined to a wheelchair. She breeds beautiful highland ponies and runs a fine riding establishment. No one could be better equipped to understand the need for a Bill to protect the heads of young riders, too many of whom have been killed or maimed in appalling accidents. People of all ages have suffered from such accidents, but it is the young whom the Bill seeks to protect.

The three amendments introduced on my behalf by Lady Masham were accepted and do much to improve the Bill. The first amendment requires the Secretary of State for Transport to consult widely before making regulations to enforce the wearing of hard hats. Hon. Members will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) moved a similar amendment on Report on 27 April. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic and I assured him at that time that there was every intention to consult widely and that no such amendment was necessary. However, on reflection the Department of Transport felt that the amendment was necessary to ensure the commitment in the Bill and that the wording as printed was the most desirable.

It is more than possible that the Sikh community will want to be consulted about protective headgear for young Sikhs when riding. I do not have expert knowledge, but I accept that it is likely, indeed almost certain, that Sikh headgear is as strong as anything that we can provide. That is shown by the fact that such headgear is accepted as legitimate on building sites.

The Pony Club would naturally expect to be consulted as the organisation which represents children who ride and those who do not. I know that the Pony Club has great expertise and exercises care to ensure that children who ride are properly protected and ride in as safe a manner as can be achieved in a sport which is accepted by those of us who ride as the most dangerous in the world. It is certainly the most exhilarating and the most marvellous sport in the world. The Pony Club will have proposals to put forward, as I am sure will the British Horse Society which strongly supports the Bill. I am an elected member of the council of that society and for a long time worked with the society on the preparation of the Bill.

I was first elected to the council of the British Horse Society in 1973 on the nomination of the late Dorian Williams, who was a marvellous man, and Field Marshall Lord Gerald Templar, a great man who cleared Malaya of Communists at a time of great difficulties. I sat on the council of the British Horse Society and have been regularly re-elected ever since. The last time that I was re-elected was a few days ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "hear hear".] I am grateful to my hon. Friends.

The British Standards Institution would also be an obvious body to consult. I hope that it will not too regularly introduce new standards. The British Standards Institution has achieved a good safety helmet for children in British Standard 4472 and a good riding hat 6473. I hope that those pieces of protective headgear if properly worn and done up in the correct manner will be satisfactory.

Every time that a parent, a child or anyone buys a new piece of headgear for riding, protective or otherwise, it is an expensive operation. It would not be right constantly to put individuals and parents to that expense. We always want the safest possible protective headgear for children and others but people should not be forced to buy new headgear too often.

It would be right for the Department of Transport to consult maintained schools and schools for disabled children where riding is on the curriculum. That is worth thinking about. I founded in 1964 an organisation called the London schools curriculum riding scheme, which enabled children in ordinary maintained schools and special schools for the disabled to ride. Every kind of disabled child, including autistic, delicate, physically disabled and mentally disabled children can ride into my scheme. Such children often have virtually nothing else in their lives and obtain such pleasure and joy from their riding that we should do nothing to make it more difficult for them to have that splendid games option.

My scheme applied to schools in inner London only. It was financed by the former London county council and the Inner London education authority—to their great credit in each case. The riding and any headgear had to be paid for out of public funds. Headgear had to be in accordance with British Standards Institution recommendations so that children were as protected as possible. I would expect the Department of Transport to consult maintained and independent schools, and certainly special schools.

There may be doubt in some hon. Members' minds about my scheme, under which hundreds of thousands of children in the city of London learned to ride. Many such children lived in high-rise flats where they had no other access to animals. They were not even allowed to keep mice, dogs or cats. The London borough of Lewisham, which has taken over control of education in the borough, confirmed this week that riding will continue at Sedgehill school where I was deputy headmaster for seven years and which I ran for a period. It is a large school of 2,000 pupils. The decision to allow riding to continue is most enlightened. The borough will also ensure that riding continues in special schools where it is already provided. It would be well to consult such boroughs. Westminster city council is making favourable noises about continuing my scheme, so there is every reason to consult schools which provide riding, including special schools.

There is no doubt that the widest possible consultation will be undertaken by the Department of Transport before the Bill is enacted, I hope, in the autumn. Consultation is a prerequisite to the enforcement of the Bill. I commend the amendment to the House.

12.15 pm
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

When my hon. Friend first introduced his Bill I was not happy with the form that it took. However, he has made all sorts of alterations and it is now in a far more acceptable form. I wish him well with it.

The Bill will make it an offence for an adult capable of stopping a child from doing so, causing or permitting that child to ride a horse without wearing protective headgear. I am sure that "adult", "capable" and "stopping" have all been defined, but if I, for example, saw a child without protective headgear on a horse, could it be said that I was capable of stopping that child riding?

We are dealing with children riding horses. I know that "horses" has been defined. I hope that it will not be taken as read that children will be allowed to ride foals, even with protective headgear. That would not be kind to the foal. After all, children vary in size, height and weight. It would be a shame to allow any child to ride a foal.

Mr. Harry Greenway

I can advise my hon. Friend that that important point will be covered on the second amendment. There was a long and good debate in another place on permitting a child to ride without wearing protective headgear. The adult who owns the horse or is in charge of the horse is required to use best endeavours to see that the child wears protective headgear on the road.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Perhaps I could make it clear, in case there is any misunderstanding, that, unlike in earlier debates on other Bills, we are required to take the three amendments separately. There will be separate debates.

Mr. Summerson

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was about to say that I would not be capable of stopping a child on a horse because I am allergic to horses I can not go within half a mile of one without sneezing, so that might preclude me.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for answering that point. That was all I wanted to raise.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

The amendment is important. When the Bill was first introduced it was not intended that formal consultation should go ahead. Everyone assumed that those affected would be consulted. It was wise of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) to accept the advice of my hon. Friend the Minister that consultation should be formalised.

I wish to make a few remarks about the nature of headgear which should be put firmly at the top of the agenda for consultation. I am the sponsor of another private Member's Bill that deals with safety—the Safety in Children's Playgrounds Bill. One of our problems is that it is not always entirely clear to local authorities which equipment is safe and which is not. They are not accustomed to the relevant British standards.

In pursuing the logic that I am seeking to set out and advance in my own Bill, I have sought to draw on my experience in buying car seats for my children. I have no knowledge of the construction of child seats and do not know what is safe and what is not. I recognise, however, that if something complies with a standard of the British Standards Institution and carries the BSI's kite mark I can have confidence in the construction of the seat.

There is some confusion about what is safe headgear and what is not. British standard 6473 of 1984 relates to protective hats for horse and pony riders. Its predecessor was British standard 3686. The hats that come within the terms of that standard can still be worn, depending on their age and condition. There is also British standard 4472 of 1969, which relates to protective skull caps for jockeys. British standard 6863 sets out specifications for cycle helmets. Some parents will be confused and will not know whether they have to buy two different sorts of hat. Those who represent their views will want to be consulted. Users will want to know whether they must buy different types of hat. I am certain that all responsible parents would want to buy the right sort of hat for a child who engages in horse riding. They will want to know that the hat that they are buying is safe. It is easy to buy something in the belief that it is safe only to learn later that it is not. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give some assurances about safety and consultation.

Mr. Harry Greenway

My hon. Friend is making an interesting contribution to the debate. It would be desirable, if it could be achieved, to have protective headgear for children that could be used for riding horses and ponies and for cycling. I think that jockeys' helmets that come within British standard 4472 would be safe for cyclists. I am not so sure that current cyclists' helmets would be safe for horse riders. I shall listen with interest to the response of my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will use the opportunity that will be provided by consultation to put some pressure upon the British Standards Institution. In a market where sales will be relatively few and in which the profit for the institution in undertaking testing will be relatively small, there may be a reluctance to help companies move towards a position where they can use the kite mark. As I have said, I believe that the kite mark is essential in giving guidance to parents who are purchasing headgear for their children. It is vital that pressure is put on the institution. I hope that we shall have easily understood markings of the kite mark sort to guide parents.

It is important that we consult religious groups that may wish to have exemptions introduced. The Government have an excellent record of helping Sikhs to be exempt from certain requirements when their religion does not allow them to take the same safety measures as others. There was an enormous row over some years about motor cycle helmets and Sikhs. In the end, the Government wisely agreed that Sikhs would not be obliged to comply with that requirement.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government's decision to give way on that issue was admired and agreed with by very many people? Does my hon. Friend agree that Sikhs had a fearsome and immensely courageous reputation during the second world war'? They never went into battle with any form of head gear apart from their turbans and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is difficult to see any connection between the hon. Gentleman's intervention and the Lords amendment.

Mr. Hughes

I shall respond to only part of my hon. Friend's intervention. He has made the valid point that the campaign which the Sikhs mounted and their bravery shows that they put their religion much higher than their personal safety.

The Government have acted once again on behalf of Sikh believers in respect of regulations for the wearing of hard hats on building sites. In the past few months they have changed the regulations while being mindful of the spin-off from that decision in terms of safety and insurance. Again, the Government acted extremely courageously and wisely in helping Sikhs, many of whom work on building sites, to be exempt from the regulations. I attended an enormous meeting in a temple at Southall and it was clear that those present were extremely grateful to the Government for what they had done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is my parliamentary neighbour, may be able to tell us how popular horse riding is among Sikh children. I have no knowledge of that.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

It is clear that the hon. Gentleman was not listening when the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) introduced the amendment. He referred to Sikh children riding horses, Sikh headgear on building sites and Sikh headgear generally for horse riding. It seems that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) is deliberately wasting the time of the House on a day when there are many other important Bills to consider. The hon. Member for Ealing, North has more than adequately dealt with the issue which he has raised.

Mr. Hughes

I have a long record of speaking on these issues. I was one of those who led the campaign to persuade the Government to exempt Sikhs from wearing hard hats on building sites. I do not remember the hon. Gentleman ever saying anything about that subject. I do not know whether he has any Sikh believers in his constituency. I have a right to talk about these matters and to amplify the important issues about which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North spoke.

Consultation is important and it will be regarded as especially important by Sikhs who are constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and myself. I believe that a compromise can be arrived at that will not offend their religion or frustrate our important aim of seeking to protect children.

This is an important amendment to an important Bill. We must get things right. It is important that within the consultative framework it should be understood that we have the protection of our children in mind. That consideration must be put above all else. In doing so, we shall be doing an enormous amount within a relatively select area to improve the safety of our children. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North on the amendment.

12.30 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I rise to speak briefly in support of this eminently sensible amendment. I am concerned that the House spends so much time nannying people. The Bill is an example of nannyism gone mad. More people have accidents because of slipping in the bath than falling off horses. Do we propose to introduce a Bill at some stage to advocate that people should wear helmets when they take a bath? Slipping in a hard iron bath and cracking one's head is a very dangerous thing to do—surely the state should take a line on that. In doing so, why not consult the representatives of all the organisations involved in the bathing business or those who take baths? I can think of an endless series of people to consult—we might even set up some little quangos for consultations and to investigate the accident levels.

I feel strongly that, before bringing forward this type of legislation, we should stop and think about the basic tenets of this Conservative Government which, historically, are different from those of other Conservative or Socialist Administrations because we eschew the nonsense of the nanny state and regulation for the sake of regulation.

I frequently visit Portugal on holiday where workmen work on scaffolding without wearing helmets. To the best of my knowledge, the accident rate there for serious head injuries is not any worse than that in this country. When we get round to trying to dictate to parents what their children should wear when they go for a trot on their ponies—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the hon. Lady is reading the same amendment that I am reading, which refers to the need to consult representative organisations before the making of regulations. The hon. Lady is a long way from that.

Mrs. Gorman

I believe that I am getting to the point which, in my view, is that the only representatives who should be consulted on such an issue are the parents of the children who will go horse riding. It is time that we left such decisions to the family concerned when it decides whether their children should take a ride on a horse.

Mr. Harry Greenway

I hope that my hon. Friend will concede that I am as firm a defender of freedom as she is. However, we are talking about a Bill which would apply only to under-14-year-olds. I hope that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that we have changed the provisions from applying to people of all ages. If my hon. Friend had seen the many children I have seen who have been maimed for life, shattered or even killed by falling from a horse on to a road and the distress that that has caused, I am sure that she would accept that the Bill is reasonable. In any case, 80 per cent. of children under 14 already wear protective headgear.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I am pleased to learn that most parents with children who go horse riding have apparently made that decision for themselves. I am concerned that we are seeking to make an offence of something that should be the choice of the individual concerned. A basic principle is at stake—

Mr. Robert G. Hughes


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The debate is now far wider than the scope of the amendments. I hope that we can return to amendment No. 1, which refers to the need to consult representative organisations prior to the Secretary of State making regulations. I have heard little about that so far from the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Gorman

Thank you for drawing my attention to that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My point is that the only people concerned with making such a decision should be the families of the children who will go out on a horse. Other organisations, including the medical profession, may have a variety of opinions, but that point is secondary to the basic issue which is that the state should leave people to make such decisions for themselves. We in the House of Commons should not be wasting all this time on such material.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)

I am delighted to be at the Dispatch Box for the second time this morning and, in doing so, to join my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in recognising the importance of his Bill, and of the Lords amendments. If I may—[Interruption.] I am delighted that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) has rejoined us. I know that he believes this issue to be as important as do my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and others.

I should like to explain in a little more detail what the consultation will cover since I have been asked so to do. The regulations will cover any exemptions from the requirement to wear protective headgear on religious grounds or for medical reasons or in particular circumstances. I shall be consulting both religious groups, especially the Sikhs who have already been mentioned, and medical organisations. I shall also be consulting the Child Accident Prevention Trust and the Masters of Foxhounds Associations, plus various horse organisations, such as the British Horse Society which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has said, have been following the passage of the Bill with interest—[Interruption.] I should be grateful if my hon. Friends could pay a little attention.

The regulations will also contain the required standard or standards of the hat to be worn and the manner in which it should be worn. At present there are two types of suitable protective hats conforming to British standard 6473: 1984 "Protective Hats for Horse and Pony Riders", the predecessor of which, BS 3686 is still worn and will be considered depending on age and condition, and BS 4472, which relates to protective skull caps for jockeys. These hats are already compulsory for jockeys under Jockey Club rules at its race meetings and at competitions and events organised by the Pony Club.

I shall have to decide whether any other hats are as safe as these, such as the pedal cycle helmet, BS 6863. The reason I would wish to consult on whether to include cycle helmets is that they appear to provide the same amount of protection, if not more than—for the side of the head, for example—as horse rider helmets. We are trying to encourage more children to wear cycle helmets. It would be unreasonable to expect parents to buy both a riding and a cycle helmet for their child if one hat would provide sufficient protection for both.

When the amendment was introduced in the other place Lord Monson said that it implied that consultation would be only with organisations, not individuals. I assure any hon. Members with similar fears that the consultation process will be the standard one, whereby a press release is made by the Department of Transport. Any member of the public will be able to telephone the Department and obtain a copy of the consultation document. Their ideas will be given all consideration.

I shall also consult individual doctors who have experience of dealing with head injuries arising from riding accidents. Lord Monson was also concerned that a publicity campaign would be needed. He suggested that, arguably, a publicity campaign would have been better than the Bill. The publicity that will surround the consultation period will be just part of the publicity; there will be additional publicity when the regulations are made. Part of the campaign will be to encourage those over 14 to wear protective headgear, and not just on the road. Part of the campaign will be to encourage pedal cyclists to wear protective helmets.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

The initial controversy that surrounded the Bill, because it applied to adults as well as to young people, has given my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) the publicity that he sought. I, too, am a member of the British Horse Society. I shall welcome the opportunity to discuss with interested parties, particularly the armed forces and those who enjoy riding and hacking, how important it is that the legislation should apply to young people rather than to adults. My hon. Friend will be the first to appreciate that there is a royal component to the consultations. Certain notables have avoided wearing protective headgear. That might have caused some difficulty. However, because of the way that the Bill is now drafted—on the principle that the way that the twig bends the tree will grow—I join in contratulating my hon. Friend on the way that he has carried out his consultations and on the fact that the Bill is now in a form that is truly acceptable to all.

Mr. Atkins

I am delighted, as ever, that my hon. Friend is pleased by what I have said.

I said earlier that I wanted to spare parents the double expense of buying a riding hat and a cycle helmet if one would so the same job. Some hon. Members may know that the use of cycle helmets is limited and therefore might think that it is unnecessary and a waste of time to worry about whether one helmet be substituted for the other. However, I shall be launching a campaign next spring to make all parents fully aware of the benefits of cycle helmets. That matter will be raised then.

I find it extraordinary to see some cycle racing competitors riding without helmets and some wearing helmets which appear not to conform to any recognised approved safety standard. The message to young cyclists is very poor and may explain why they are often reluctant to wear helmets which they think might make them look foolish. However, as my right hon. and noble Friend, Viscount Davidson said in the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, it is paradoxical that we can bring forward a measure such as this only when there is already general acceptance of its great benefits.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

My hon. Friend suggests that at the end of the consultation period cycle helmets might be thought to be suitable and could be used to meet the objectives of the Bill. However, he also said that cycle helmets do not conform to the necessary safety standards. Does not that undermine my hon. Friend's Bill? The Minister suggests that he wants to save parents the expense of two helmets if their child is both a cycle rider and a horse rider, but, as he has just said that he is not satisfied about the safety standards of some cycle helmets, how does he reconcile those apparently different objectives?

Mr. Atkins

As ever, I enjoy my hon. Friend's interventions as he poses questions and then answers them. None the less he makes a valid point. There is some interest and concern in the quality of cycle helmets and the need to ensure that children understand the importance of wearing them. We must be absolutely certain that they do the job for which they are required. As my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North and for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) have said, a helmet that did both jobs would make a great difference to some parents for whom the cost of two helmets might be unnecessary and difficult.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Let me take my hon. Friend back a couple of sentences to his remarks about racing cyclists. Surely my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is wrong because with such examples being given to children, and without the wearing of helmets being compulsory, parents will spend whatever money is necessary to make sure that children have the helmets, but children will not wear them because they are not fashionable. I used to ride horses and when I was 16 and rode a motor scooter, it was fashionable to have a helmet but not to wear it. We want the children to wear the helmets.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. Will the Minister bear in mind that we are dealing with consultation with representative organisations? I am sure that he will bring his remarks within that context.

Mr. Atkins

Of course I shall do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but obviously I shall try to answer the points that have been raised. As one who has a daughter who rides and a son who cycles, I understand the points that my hon. Friend has made. I shall endeavour to ensure that the consultation that I undertake will deal with all those matters. In the circumstances, I have dealt with those concerns as briefly as possible. I have deleted several comments that I had hoped to make to ensure that we make progress.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

I was engaged in some discussion with the promoter of the Bill at an early stage in its proceedings. I welcome the practical way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has approached the Bill and congratulate him on a Bill that will do a great deal of good. I also welcome the consultation to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred.

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful for the acceptance and congratulations of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). I now hope that we can move on to the other amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Back to
Forward to