HC Deb 26 March 1990 vol 170 cc43-4 4.16 pm
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to lay down safety standards for equipment, layout and surfaces in children's playgrounds.

I introduced a Bill during the last Session that, because of lack of parliamentary time, was not successful. I wish to explain why I now wish to introduce this similar, although not identical, Bill.

Anyone who has been to a children's playground or has taken a child to one knows why the Bill is necessary. For example, most playgrounds have hard surfaces underneath the swings. The latest statistics available from the Department of Trade and Industry show that 70,000 children were taken to hospital because of accidents in playgrounds, 30,000 of them with swings.

To show how serious some accidents can be I wish to highlight one that happened in Northern Ireland. In August 1989, a nine-year-old boy fell off a swing in Hillhall. He did not deserve to fall on to a concrete kerb. He need not have broken his arm and severed two arteries. He does not deserve the fact that he may never fully regain the use of that arm. He did not deserve the fact that Lisburn council waited until after that tragedy to pledge that money was no object in keeping children safe. The question for the House is how many children's playgrounds are in that state of disrepair.

My Bill last Session resulted in one piece of good fortune for me and my children. After the playground in London to which I take my daughters had appeared several times on television—when the broken kerbs, the uneven concrete and the lumps of metal sticking out of the ground were highlighted—the local authority magically discovered that it needed to put down safer surfacing. I am grateful for that, but I should also be grateful if local authorities would think about how many more playgrounds need safer surfacing.

It is difficult to get a ten-minute Bill through Parliament, but, having had the temperature of debate raised not only by my Bill last Session but by the many people who have campaigned throughout the country wanting to know what would happen to their children's playgrounds, local authorities decided to revise their policies and to lay down safer surfacing, provide new equipment and generally uprate their playgrounds. Progress has been slow. I regret that some local authorities have even run away from the problem. They have been able to do so because some scientific data are misleading.

One report produced by Karen King and David Ball, who worked for the Greater London council scientific services and now are in business on their own, have suggested that safer surfacing is not as good as it should be and that its safety cannot be measured. The data used by those people are not only sometimes out of date, but many are foreign, and so cannot be checked. Advice on safer surfacing and other safety matters is best left to the British experts. In this area, as in so many, British industry and British experts lead. Clearly, safer surfacing can make a dramatic impact on preventing accidents in children's playgrounds.

The Bill that I introduced last year had other effects. The Government have decided that a new code of guidance shall be introduced, and I am grateful to the Minister for Sport who will introduce it later this year. Once again, local authorities will have it brought to their attention that they need to do something about children's playgrounds. It is important that they should look at the good work done by our experts.

Last year's Bill was comprehensive. It would have changed children's playgrounds completely in about five years. Within that time, local authorities would have had to fit new safer surfacing and equipment. This Bill is much less draconian. Some people may worry about the expenditure ramifications, but local authorities will not need to spend more money than necessary. However, they must ensure that they buy the right equipment.

The main effect of last year's Bill was that, in revising their policy, many local authorities spent a great deal of money on new equipment and safe surfacing and thereby stretched the capacity of British industry. Some imports do not comply with the relevant British standards. In this Bill I am asking the House to approve that all equipment sold for use in public playgrounds should conform with British standard 5696, part 2, and the fitting advice in part 3. Where that British standard does not apply, the equipment should comply with the relevant standards laid down by DIN or other British standards. That would help and guide local authorities which are not entirely clear what they should buy. The legislation would help to prevent needless injury to many children in our playgrounds.

We cannot run away from the problem, or pretend that children's playgrounds are supervised, as some local authorities contend. The time is right, the technology and the information are there, so we should act now. I commend my Bill to the House. It is needed now and will stop many children being injured in playgrounds.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert G. Hughes, Mr. Paul Boateng, Mr. James Cran, Mr. Michael Jack, Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Graham Riddick, Mr. Ian Taylor, Mr. Matthew Taylor and Mr. Patrick Thompson.