HC Deb 27 January 1995 vol 253 cc590-633

Order for Second Reading read.

9.36 am
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a rare honour that the House bestows on a Back-Bench Member to have the pleasure and privilege of introducing a Private Member's Bill. It offers me a special opportunity to present a Bill on behalf of my constituents, which is relevant to parents throughout the country.

Sometimes, when a tragedy occurs where no one is at fault, it leaves us with a feeling of helplessness because no law, however well-intentioned, can overcome human error or an act of God. Sometimes, however, a profoundly significant event highlights the need for a change in the law and galvanises people of determination and good sense to change it—an event that was totally avoidable and was due, not to human frailty, but to human neglect. The Lyme bay tragedy was one such incident and because that event triggered the Bill, hon. Members will understand if I refer to it several times during my speech.

In March 1993, four teenagers from the Southway school died in Lyme bay. That was no accident. They died due to the criminal neglect of the people whom they and their parents thought were responsible for them—the people running the St. Alban's activity centre. The managing director of Active Learning and Leisure, Peter Kite, is now serving a three-year prison sentence for manslaughter.

Parents, governors of schools, local education authorities, teacher unions, organisations involved with running activity centres, the townswomens' guilds and many others, have called for action in this important matter. They have done so because the strongest instinct in any parent is to protect their children from danger. It is an instinct that is so strong in parents that they will often put their child's life before their own.

The parents who lost their children at Lyme bay are here in the House today, as are some of the survivors of that appalling incident who tried to rescue their schoolfriends. My constituents Dennis and Jackie Walker, Noel and Sylvia Dunne, Carolyn and Bob Langley and Gerry and Jackie Sayer have all suffered the greatest loss that any parent can suffer—the loss of a child. It was such an unnecessary loss, of four young, healthy people in the very prime of their lives.

Over the past 22 months those parents have borne the overwhelming pain of their loss with great dignity and, with extraordinary courage, they have turned grief into action. Realising that their own children can never return, they have campaigned unstintingly to ensure that no other parent will suffer in the same way.

My constituents, as well as many other parents, sent their children on activity courses because they believed that young people should have challenges, and the experience and excitement of the outdoors. There should be opportunities for young people to push their strength and endurance to the limits, and to find in themselves hitherto unknown capacity. In an age of television games and videos, the challenge of the outdoors is of even greater importance, especially for children who live in our great conurbations and monotonous inner cities. Those children, some of whom lack play space, need to find genuine adventure.

The national curriculum recognises that the outdoor environment has an important role in the physical, emotional and intellectual development of our young people. Our society puts greater stress on outdoor activities. Those who support the Bill support such activities for children, and want to see them grow and expand. But we must distinguish between activities that are exciting and challenging, and activities that are dangerous. We must distinguish between activities that are adventurous and exhilarating, and those that are hazardous.

Abseiling can be fun and exhilarating with ropes that are in good order and a competent instructor, but abseiling can be dangerous, as in a case recently reported in The Times Educational Supplement. It stated that Alan Cottle, the outdoor education manager for Surrey, visited Hyde house centre in Dorset and found that children were abseiling from a tower, but the instructor did not know how to use the braking mechanism. In his report on the incident, Mr. Cottle said: I was alarmed to see some appalling practice which was totally unsafe". It is significant that the Hyde house centre is owned by Devon and Dorset Holidays, whose owner, Chris Reynard, had shares in Active Learning and Leisure, the company fined £60,000 for manslaughter in the Lyme bay case.

I wish to examine briefly the present position of activity centres and the framework in which they operate. There has been a rapid growth in those wishing to participate in such activities. Local education authority centres have declined in number as more funds have been delegated to individual schools and less has been held back by authorities. Squeezes on budgets have meant that many local education authority centres have closed and commercial centres have filled the gap.

I have no intention today of exploring the philosophical or political arguments on the ownership of the centres, which is not at issue in the Bill. Whoever owns the centre, it must be operated to standards that make it safe for our children to use. At present there is no need for anyone who sets up a centre to register. Anybody can set up a centre, almost at will.

It is a curious irony that we live in a society in which, if we send our dog to a boarding kennel, we can be assured that it is registered and meets high minimum standards, yet if we send our child to an activity centre, there is no requirement on the centre to register and no legally required minimum standards. In a civilised society, consumers have the right to expect high minimum standards of quality and care, whether in old people's homes or dogs' homes or hygiene in food shops. The Bill extends the right to safety standards for our children at activity centres.

A Health and Safety Executive report was published on Tuesday this week into activity centres inspected since April 1994. The report confirmed my belief that most centres work to satisfactory or high standards and some centres, both commercial and local authority, work to excellent standards. However, in their detailed examination of 192 centres, the executive reported: some areas for improvement were noted and appropriate action was taken to deal with both serious and less serious concerns. The executive also established that 76 per cent. of centres with five or more employees had a written safety policy. That means that 24 per cent. of centres did not have a written safety policy. It also stated that 87 per cent. of centres had undertaken risk assessment of the outdoor activities provided and 13 per cent. had not undertaken that risk assessment. Some 92 per cent. of centres had procedures and equipment in place to deal wilh emergencies, such as procedures for evacuation from, and communication with, remote locations and 8 per cent. of the centres did not have such safety procedures. It found that 84 per cent. of centres ensured that formal or informal training was provided for instructors, while 16 per cent. did not provide that training.

I wonder how many of us would fly in an aeroplane knowing that 16 per cent. of pilots had not received training and that 24 per cent. of airlines did not have a written safety policy. Yet that is the very environment of risk into which we launch our children when we send them to outdoor activity centres. In all, it is estimated that there are 3,000 such centres around Britain. There is no register—no list—so we do not know whether that figure is accurate. The Health and Safety Executive's report appears to show that about 10 per cent. of the centres work below a satisfactory safety level. That means that 300 centres do not meet the required standards and each of those centres takes hundreds, if not thousands, of children through its doors each year.

It is also estimated that 75 per cent. of children are booked into centres by their schools and the other 25 per cent. are booked in directly by their parents. We must ask: how do parents and teachers distinguish between good centres and bad centres, and how do they know when they are making their choice that they are choosing a safe centre that works to high standards?

The position for teachers, governors and parents was made more difficult by the four-point plan introduced by the former Secretary of State for Education in November 1993, in which governors were made corporately and legally liable for the safety of children from their school booked into an activity centre. The situation in grant-maintained schools is even more difficult, in that the governors are individually and corporately legally liable for the safety of children engaging in these activities. Therefore, governors have rightly said that they cannot take responsibility for matters which they are not competent to judge.

Under the Bill teachers will still have a general care of duty, in loco parentis, and nothing can take that duty of care away from them. But how does that extend to a teacher who in good faith hands over responsibility for an activity to a person who he believes is an expert instructor in that activity? That is precisely what happened at Lyme bay. The teacher handed over responsibility for the canoeing activity not knowing that one of the instructors had a qualification that an eight-year-old could have achieved in an afternoon and that the other instructor had barely more.

The Bill will be welcomed by all responsible centres, and I know that many people are concerned about these matters. Evidence in recent months to the Select Committee on Education has come in droves, and it all states the same thing. It is almost as if those providing it are working from a script. They all say that there needs to be compulsory accreditation and inspection and a framework of law to cover these centres.

It is interesting to note that much of the evidence has come from the industry and that many centres report that in the past 15 months business has fallen by up to one third because public confidence in it has been undermined. Some of them say that a huge burden of paperwork and bureaucracy has descended upon them as schools and local education authorities seeking to meet the criteria of the fourth point in the four-point plan ask for lengthy questionnaires to be completed for each trip. Sometimes an inspector from the local authority calls as well to ensure that the documentation has been correctly completed. It is rather as if each passenger who gets on a bus has to ask the driver whether he has a PSV licence and the bus has an MOT certificate.

Only by compulsory accreditation of all centres will we restore confidence in the outdoor activities industry, relieve good centres of all unnecessary bureaucracy and form-filling and ensure that teachers and parents will know which centres are working to high safety standards and which are not. At the end of the Lyme bay trial Mr. Justice Ognall said: The potential for injuries and death is too obvious to be left to the inadequate vagaries of self-regulation. Hardly a parent in the country would disagree with that assertion.

I shall now outline the Bill's main provisions. It sets out to raise standards of safety for providers of facilities for adventure centres in total or part for young people under the age of 18. Centres that cater exclusively for those of 18 years or over are excluded from the Bill. The facility would have to include some form of leadership or instruction and I do not intend the Bill to cover providers of equipment such as boats on a boating lake where there is no instruction or leadership.

When the regulations are drawn after consultation it is most important that family outings and some social and voluntary groups are excluded. We shall need to take great care when drawing up regulations to ensure that the line is drawn in the correct place.

The Bill contains four main elements. First, it sets up a licensing authority which will oversee the accreditation and licensing of activity centres. In particular, centres will have to agree to follow a code of safety practice which will include the suitability of equipment and the qualifications and experience of instructors. The code of practice that is currently being finalised by the Activity Centres Advisory Committee will, I am sure, form an excellent basis for that.

Secondly, the Bill establishes an inspectorate to ensure that centres abide by the code of practice. When the inspectorate encounters activities that are causing immediate danger to children it will have powers to stop that activity at that point. If it encounters sloppy or potentially hazardous activities and practice, it could issue notices of improvement to give centres a period of time to improve standards. I hope that over time that would lift the standards of centres that are currently not operating to proper safety standards and allow them to continue trading, but, of course, to higher safety standards.

The ultimate sanction on a recalcitrant centre that continued to ignore high standards of safety and put children at risk would be the removal of its licence, after which it would be an offence for the centre to continue trading. If it did, the result could be a heavy fine or imprisonment.

Thirdly, the Bill sets up a complaints procedure for consumers or others who have reservations about the safety of activities at a particular centre. Such complaints could be followed up by competent independent inspectors. If that procedure had been in place in 1992, Joy Cawthorne, the former instructor at the St. Alban's centre, who warned the managing director that unless his safety standards improved he would have to explain one day to parents why their child was not coming home, would have had somewhere to take her complaints and a competent authoritative body could have acted on them. Had such a remedy been available we might not have needed this debate, four children might not have lost their lives and Mr. Kite could still be trading.

Fourthly, following some Government pump-priming funds the scheme should be largely self-financing with centres paying for their accreditation. I liken that to car owners who currently pay for MOT certificates.

The Bill is a piece of enabling legislation which sets out the framework for safety in outdoor centres. If it becomes law, following a period of consultation with the industry and other legitimate interests, statutory instruments will have to be laid before the House for the detailed legislation. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that if the Bill becomes law he will act without delay to ensure that the secondary legislation is introduced. I hope that that can be completed before Christmas to allow the legislation to take effect early in 1996. I ask the Minister to make it plain that he agrees with my desired timetable.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman because, as he knows, Lyme bay is partly in my constituency. Could he expand a little on his ideas about financing? Does he accept that the fees paid by local authorities and persons may be variable? How does he see that operating? Obviously, it is important that we do not make these activities so expensive that parents cannot afford to have their children carry them out. There is considerable concern about that and, although I support the Bill, that issue needs greater explanation.

Mr. Jamieson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, which has a good motivation. No one who supports the Bill wants centres to go out of business. However, in the current unregulated environment, many are going out of business because people do not have the confidence to use them. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that it would have been wrong of me to present the Bill today and try to put precise detail on a charging scheme for centres. The Bill provides for consultation with the industry and other interested parties before decisions are taken on such matters.

It is my intention to follow the ACAC's guidelines. It has already costed the voluntary programme of accreditation that the Government had in mind. It suggested a scheme that initially was pump-primed to set up a small licensing body, which could then charge fees, at differential rates, depending on the size of the centre. We must remember that some centres are multi-million-pound organisations. They have said they would be willing to pay a small fee to become accredited so that people would have the confidence to use their centres. The hon. Gentleman will understand why, although I am telling him my thoughts, I am not putting any detail on the costings. That must be part of the consultations.

Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although there may be a case for differential charging based on the size and volume of a business, that must never be allowed to lead to differential standards between centres?

Mr. Jamieson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The thrust of the Bill is that there should not be differential standards at centres. They must all follow high standards of safety for children. However, we must not financially penalise small centres or people who want to set up small organisations to the extent that we put them off. When we reach the secondary stage of the legislation, we must carefully consider that point to ensure that those who want to come into the industry and start a small business can do so.

In drawing up the Bill, I was anxious to ensure that it covered only aspects of safety for children. It does not cover other aspects such as hotel arrangements and other general provisions at centres. Those are matters on which sensible teachers and parents can make decisions. If a teacher or parent who visits a centre before the proposed holiday does not like the look of the hotel arrangements or the cleanliness of the premises, he can quite properly make a decision about that, acting as a sensible adult. However, what a teacher or parent cannot sensibly do when he arrives at the centre is to make an assessment of whether the instructors are competent to carry out the activities and whether the equipment is suitable for the task.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

As a fellow Plymouth Member, I greatly support the Bill. I can recall what the hon. Gentleman referred to as the sense of shock and trauma in Plymouth when the tragedy occurred. I commend him for the way in which he has introduced the Bill, which is a balanced and sensible response to what was obviously a gaping hole in our law. He has my entire support.

Mr. Jamieson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support.

I make no apology for having been deeply critical of the Government over the past 22 months for not taking action in this important matter. The campaign for a change in the law has been a long, hard fight with many harrowing experiences on the way for the bereaved parents, especially the three-week trial of those accused of the manslaughter of their children.

It is difficult for an Opposition Back Bencher to get a Government to change their mind. Therefore, I come here today in some humility to welcome the Government's recent change of heart. I thank the Minister for his co-operation and the guidance that I have received from his Department in recent days. I also thank him for making a statement on Tuesday not only showing his support for the Bill, but positively welcoming it. I hope that we can work together in the coming months to get the Bill through Parliament to Royal Assent and then, as urgently as is prudent, to get the statutory instruments through the House.

I am also grateful for the support of many other hon. Members who have encouraged and assisted me, in particular the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) and for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks), both of whom share my concerns. I am also grateful to many of the teaching unions, in particular the National Union of Teachers and its leader Doug McAvoy and his staff. They have worked behind the scenes talking to teachers and others.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, South-East may not know this, but Doug McAvoy and I went abseiling at Kit Hill in his constituency last year. I leave him to surmise why it was me who went down the rope while Doug stood by and watched.

If the Bill reaches the statute book, it will be a fine testimony to the many who have campiagned for it, in particular the bereaved parents who lost their children in Lyme bay and who have selflessly turned their grief into action—not for their children, but for other people's children. Their courageous determination has inspired me and, I am sure, many others who have a cause in which they fervently believe, that, through people power, Governments can be moved.

Most of all, if the Bill becomes law the names of those young people who died at Lyme Bay—Rachel, Simon, Claire and Dean—will be engraved upon it.

The House is perceived to be at its worst when we appear to be in constant disagreement. The Bill is an opportunity for it to be seen at its very best—putting aside the usual differences on a matter that transcends the party political divide: the safety of children.

10.7 am

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

I pay the warmest of tributes to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson). He has been at the forefront of the campaign, and it has been his determination and his will that something could, should and must be done which have brought us to this point today.

My interest lies in the fact that the St. Alban's centre is in my constituency. On that tragic day I shared the thoughts and feelings of so many people—how could it possibly have happened? Everything that has followed, including the trial, has emphasised more and more the need for positive action to be taken, and such action not. to be left to a self-regulatory body but to be imposed upon centres so that they have no choice.

The ACAC's report clearly shows that there is no way forward other than by statutory legislation, and I accept that. However, it is important that we bear it in mind that any such control must relate, first and foremost, to the training and the capability of staff. We certainly should not—and here I look to my hon. Friend the Minister—over-legislate or write out what I would term the "acceptable risk". There is such a thing as acceptable risk. If we take it away from young people, they will say, "I don't want to do this; I'd rather stay at home playing a video game than go to a so-called activity centre only to be cossetted and mollycoddled." Can we bear in mind, therefore, the need to legislate but not to over-legislate?

The Lyme bay tragedy illustrates only too clearly the opposite ends of what is acceptable. On the day of the accident, two groups of young people were involved in waterborne training in the Lyme bay area—one group at the "so-called" St. Alban's challenge and activity centre.

I feel a slight sense of guilt over this matter. Of course, I knew about the St. Alban's centre and its general role, but I had always seen it as a residential centre. I had not been told or informed in any way that it was moving into this wider field of activity. Had I known about that, because of my background, I would have visited the centre and taken an interest. I would not say that I could have avoided problems, but I would certainly have looked at the centre with a keen eye, knowing what should and could happen in such a place.

All hon. Members know what happened at the St. Alban's centre on that day. Just down the road on the Cob at Lyme Regis, an adventure, training and education centre was still open, although sadly it has now closed. It was run by Dorset county council. Two groups of youngsters, those at the centres at St. Alban's and at the Cob, were involved in waterborne activity on that day.

The Cob centre was run by totally competent staff. On that morning, the manager did not allow the youngsters to go outside the harbour. Capsize drill in the harbour was the only activity undertaken. That was because the manager had looked out, was a local person, knew the sea conditions and had been properly trained. He looked after the children who were in his charge, as he had done for the last 25 years.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Could the hon. Member advise us whether the centre is still open and who managed and ran it?

Sir Jim Spicer

As I said, sadly, the county council has closed the centre. That is a tragedy. The centre should still be open. One of the reasons for the closure is that Lyme bay and all activity centres have seen a downturn in usage. The influence brought to bear to keep that centre open might have worked, had it not been for the fact that so much bad publicity surrounds activity centres in general. Any centres associated with Lyme Regis, however, will have an uphill battle in restoring the confidence of schools and individuals. That is sadly the case.

The problem was the difference between the way in which the two centres were run. That highlights the need for action to be taken and the need for action by the Government.

I was driving from London to my constituency listening to the radio and I heard this remark by Mrs. Langley: My daughter Claire will not have died in vain if ways can be found of stopping such a tragedy ever occurring again". As Mrs. Langley and the other parents are in the Gallery, it would be right to say that those words would be echoed by all parents and by every hon. Member in the House.

The hon. Member for Devonport made it clear that he wanted the legislation to move ahead quickly. I hope and expect that, when he comes to reply, my hon. Friend the Minister will stress that fact. Let us be clear that, as from today, no centre in the country can neglect the measures that they know will be imposed on them shortly. As from today, any centre that has not already set in train all the measures that are outlined in the Bill and that will follow in the next two or three months, can take it for granted that they are out of business. A warning should go out to all centres that, as from today, they cannot afford to ignore the need for safety allied with qualifications.

On what happened in Lyme bay on that day, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has already received the file on the coastguards and on the investigation that followed. I have an assurance from him that he will consider closely the internal coastguard investigation and the evidence at the trial.

All my points are made with hindsight and always with the thought, "If only". On that day and every day, we have around our coastline harbourmasters who are capable and competent of playing a part when waterborne activity takes place at sea. If there were a requirement for any group of young people, or anyone in charge of a group of young people, to book in with the harbourmaster and to say, "We are going to do X today," two things could happen. First, the harbourmaster could say, "In my view and with my local knowledge, you can do that, but make sure that you telephone back to me the moment your exercise is completed"; or he could say, as could have occurred on the day of the tragedy, "I do not think it is a right and proper for you to engage in that activity today. My advice is don't do it." I hope that we will make better use of harbourmasters' skills because they are on the spot. Those in Lyme bay have far more local knowledge than the coastguards, who are based at Portland—far removed from the scene. If the harbourmaster had known, much could have been different.

The world is full of "if onlys", but all hon. Members and everyone in the country will applaud the Bill and will be delighted that the Government have seen fit to endorse it. We hope that it will be on the statute book in short order.

10.17 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer). I am sure that his comments, and those that many other hon. Members will make today, will be warmly appreciated and accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on his luck in the ballot, and on his choice of subject for his Bill. My hon. Friend referred to the shambles that often exists in the Chamber. We know what our constituents feel about that. Thankfully, this is one of the good days for Parliament. It is a pity that there are not more good days, when Bills, such as those that my hon. Friend and, indeed, Conservative Members introduce, have the cross-party support that I am sure exists today.

I offer the deepest sympathy, not only to the parents of the four young people who died in the canoeing accident, but to all the people who suffered in the tragedy. Their lives have been spared, but we all know that the suffering caused by that event will long continue. One often hears of accidents and loss of life. One often asks what one could have done to avoid such occurrences. In this case, clear evidence exists that standards and the lack of positive supervision were a major factor. I am sure that my hon. Friend's proposals will be strongly supported by parents and all those involved with activity centres.

I have here a copy of Wednesday's Daily Express which contains the headline One in 10 activity centres still a risk". The article states: The new report, by the Government's Health and Safety Executive, found that 8 per cent. of outdoor centres have no plans for dealing with emergencies. It continues: Criticising the delay in introducing controls, he"— Mr. Denis Walker, whose daughter Rachel was killed in the tragedy— said: 'I find it unbelievable that the Government has waited 22 months to act.' This press comment reveals that problems still exist. I do not wish to make this a party political issue as it is far too serious for that but I wonder whether the Government would really have acted if my hon. Friend had not introduced the Bill. Twenty-two months is a very long time for no action to be taken, which is why it is so important that my hon. Friend's Bill is supported not only today but in Committee.

The press report makes it clear that, after tragedies of various kinds, it can take an enormous length of time to get the relevant authorities to take meaningful action that will save lives and avoid any recurrence of such events.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

I am following closely what the hon. Gentleman says and, like all hon. Members, I was moved and impressed by the way in which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) presented his Bill, which I am sure we shall all support. The hon. Gentleman speaks of the need for speedy action but I advise an element of caution, having some years ago been involved in a knee-jerk reaction on the issue of playground safety.

There are times when, as it were, the best can be the enemy of the good. The important thing is that we know that we cannot live in a risk-free world and that what we are trying to establish is a minimum standard to ensure that such tragedies do not occur. The widest consultation will be essential to ensure that we increase the activities available and do not reduce them by hasty over-reaction and the introduction of instant bureaucracy to solve a crisis that does not exist everywhere.

Mr. Cox

That is a fair point but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport said, there are some very well run activity centres and it is their standards that we seek to establish everywhere. There are already superb guidelines.

Young people can be extremely keen and full of enthusiasm. Our experience with our own children tells us that they often have no fear or fail to see potential dangers. As my hon. Friend said, it is important that parents, teachers and youth workers are aware of that fact and know that there are clear guidelines on safety and supervision at all activity centres.

The Minister has yet to speak but I hope that he will give a commitment that the Government will support my hon. Friend's Bill. It is in Committee that matters of genuine concern can be ironed out and I hope that that will be so in this case but what concerns me in this instance is the phrase "in principle". We know that it can mean anything to the Government of the day. Anyone can say that he supports the Bill "in principle", but we need the Minister to say what that really means.

Since I have been a Member of Parliament I have heard several comments such as, "Yes, it is a good idea and we shall support it but someone else must do it and take the responsibility"; "Yes, these proposals are needed, but we must not force them on authorities"; or, "Oh yes, it is an excellent idea but we must consider the costs involved." We hear such things all the time, from Government's of all parties.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth)

Perhaps I could save the hon. Gentleman's time and that of the House by drawing attention to clause 1, which states: The Secretary of State shall by order designate a person … to exercise such functions as may be prescribed by regulations relating to the licensing of persons providing facilities for adventure activities. That could not be clearer. So that the hon. Gentleman does not get hung up on the phrase "in principle", I repeat what I have said outside and foreshadow what I hope to say later—the Government support the Bill. If we support the Bill and the Bill contains such a notion, there can be no doubt about what will happen.

Mr. Cox

I am delighted, and hope that that clear commitment is imprinted on hon. Members' minds, but I must point out that another measure—the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill—was also supported by hon. Members of all parties, and we all know what happened to that. However, I heard what the Minister said and will listen with interest to his forthcoming speech.

Mr. O'Hara

Further to my hon. Friend's point about the phrase "in principle" and any safeguard that it may offer, has he read clause 1(4), which states: In exercising their functions under regulations made under this section the licensing authority shall have regard to any guidance given to them from time to time by the Secretary of State"? Should it not be made clear that that would in no way compromise the independence of the person charged with carrying out the functions outlined in the first line of the long title of the Bill?

Mr. Cox

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, hut we shall have to wait for the Minister's comments and until the Bill reaches Committee where, as we know, the nuts and bolts will be sorted out. I am sure that my hon. Friend's point will be examined at that stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport said that we may well get complaints from activity centres once the Bill has been passed. They might say that too much pressure is being placed on them or that the costs involved are too great but if any activity centre does not support the principle of the Bill it should not be in business. It is as simple as that. I am sure that hon. Members, parents and those who work with young people would warmly welcome the demise of any such organisation.

I may well be the only London Opposition Member to speak in this debate so I must stress that activity centres are of great benefit to young people living in London. Many young Londoners visit the centres to enjoy a wide range of facilities and that is to be welcomed. I am sure that hon. Members who represent constituencies in other large cities would make the same comment. The centres, are, however, often a long way from the areas where the young people live and go to school. The Bill is important in dealing with the problem of the distances involved. It is often impossible for teachers to make visits to the centres to convince themselves and, in turn, to convince the youngsters' parents of their safety. Teachers cannot say, "I have been to see the centre. It is good, it is in pleasant surroundings, the equipment is superb and the supervision is superb. I am happy to take your youngsters there." That is why there must be tougher standards for the centres.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport touched on this next point. We know that many centres have in recent years been run by local authorities. I am sure that we welcome that. There has, however, been a change in policy and many centres are now commercially run. Local authority and Government involvement has diminished in many aspects of life. Sadly, the previous standards no longer exist.

One of the largest hospitals in south London is in my area. I can come to the House to put questions to Ministers about standards at the hospital. I am now told, "The hospital is nothing to do with me. The hon. Gentleman should take the matter up with the hospital trust." That is a weakness. I am not prepared to accept voluntary codes of conduct; they are just not good enough for the safety of young people.

The Bill may not meet the wishes of some people who operate activity centres; that is too bad. As the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) pointed out, we are dealing with the safety of young people. It is our duty as Members of Parliament to ensure that suitable legislation is passed. Governments have the power to introduce legislation over night, if they wish to. Those of us who have been in the House a while have often seen that when, sadly, something has gone wrong, legislation is introduced over night which seeks to overcome the weakness identified. That is why I am somewhat concerned to hear that it may be another 12 months before the legislation comes into force.

Money is involved in all legislation. I hope that the Minister will outline how local authorities should deal with the legislation. We assume that local authorities will be the local watchdogs on standards at local activity centres. We know that organisation will be needed. Few local authorities have spare cash. In view of the importance of the proposals, local authorities should not be requested to have in place someone whose job it is to check standards and supervision without being given sufficient money. The supervision of residential homes for the elderly, for example, sometimes leaves a great deal to be desired. That is my concern about this Bill.

Mr. Forth

Again, I shall spare the hon. Gentleman his obvious misery and discomfort. With the permission of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), may I say that I think that I understand the way in which the Bill is intended to work. We must not presume that local authorities will have the responsibility for enforcing standards. As the hon. Member for Devonport said, we shall have consultation. We want to study the question of who should have that responsibility.

As the hon. Member for Devonport also made clear, the intention is to make the system self-financing. I hope that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) will not worry excessively about additional burdens or additional financial burdens on local authorities. We have not settled matters; that is precisely why there will be extensive consultation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not prejudge the matter.

Mr. Cox

I have followed the Minister's point with interest. He says that the system will be self-financing—okay. I hope that it will not push up charges—

Mr. Forth

It may do.

Mr. Cox

The Minister says that it may do. That may mean that, sadly, the very people whom we would wish to use the centres will not, for a range of reasons, be able to do so. We have the right to consider that point. The Minister made an interesting intervention; all of us will follow his further comments with great interest. He says that the system will be, in the main, self-financing. Presumably, a lot of additional responsibility will be put on the centres. Supervisors will need to be trained and that is—

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)


Mr. Cox

Yes, it is costly. Trained people are entitled to expect a reasonable salary for their work, their training and their responsibilities. Charges could be substantially higher. I shall follow that matter with great interest.

I realise that this is a crucial debate. I realise that some hon. Members were, sadly, deeply involved in the tragedy in the west country. I welcome the Bill, but I believe that, as with all Bills, hon. Members who welcome legislation have a right to put questions on matters about which they are concerned. That is our duty. I remember that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland)—I will not get too involved with this matter—made that point during the passage of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

I fully support the Bill, but I point out to the Minister and to my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, who will pilot the Bill through Committee, that there are things that we need to be told now. We cannot wait until the Bill becomes law because all the problems may then start to come to the fore. Things may happen that we never thought would happen.

I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the House. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides support it. Even more importantly, people outside, especially those with children, support it.

10.37 am
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

I join colleagues on both sides of the House in welcoming the Bill. It has support from both sides and we all wish it to be speedily enacted into effective legislation. That is especially true of those who, like me and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), come from the south-west of England and who have been especially affected by the tragedy that helped to create the impetus for the Bill.

The hon. Member for Devonport may be surprised to see me speaking in support of the Bill. The Bill provides for increased regulation and the hon. Gentleman would normally expect me to oppose such a Bill, as I normally look for less regulation from this place rather than more. On this matter, however, the hon. Gentleman has convinced hon. Members on both sides that the existing code of practice applied, especially by schools, in overseeing standards in activity centres is not sufficient. Indeed, I shall refer later to comments made by one of my local schools on that very subject. However, the hon. Gentleman has certainly made a case for the need for statutory regulation of some form and I congratulate him on doing so.

Like the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), I shall make a number of detailed comments on the Bill. The hon. Member for Devonport has rightly and sensibly drafted his Bill so that much of the detail will be provided in regulations. Clearly, we are dealing with many different activities, set up in many ways in different parts of the country and we must ensure that the regulations eventually passed by the licensing authority, which have the force of law, can be applied to a wide variety of circumstances.

I hope that in a number of areas, which I shall detail, the hon. Gentleman will ensure that he gets some idea from the Minister in Committee of the way in which the Government believe that the regulations should be drafted and applied. It is easy for too much to be left to subsequent regulation without the principles at least being defined in Committee. The hon. Gentleman will need to pin the Government down on those regulations; until the Minister is pinned and wriggling on the wall in Committee, the hon. Gentleman should not be satisfied that he has got the Bill that he wants.

The hon. Gentleman will have to be careful to ensure in several detailed areas that he gets what he wants. In the Bill there is a lack of definition of providers of facilities. We all know, from accidents that have occurred, what we think of as activity centres, but, in fact, the term can be used in a much wider context than special residential centres designed to provide a wide range of facilities.

I shall give the hon. Gentleman an example of that range of facilities. In that example, and in others to follow, it will be apparent that my limited experience in the area is at least partly based on my involvement many years ago in climbing. Indeed, I am still involved in mountain walking. It certainly used to be the case that a climbing party, of whatever age, which hired its equipment, would take a great deal of advice and assistance from the climbing shop. It would often organise a day's climbing on the advice of the specialist in the climbing shop on such matters as the equipment required.

As I interpret the thrust of the Bill, that shop would not be considered as a centre. However, the hon. Gentleman may explore in Committee the possibility that some subsidiary levels of regulation may be necessary for those who give specialist advice to schools and teachers who are organising parties of young people, especially for climbing and other mountain activities. Mountains are no strangers to accidents involving young people, whether supervised or not. We need to establish the extent to which the Bill should cover that area in detail.

In clause 1(2)(b), the hon. Gentleman defines the facilities to be covered as those which include some element of, instruction or leadership. I hope that he will define that further to ensure that activities include some element of instruction and leadership.

Again, in climbing, only a few years ago it became necessary for teachers leading parties in mountains to have a mountain leadership certificate. Previously, parties were taken out, often with the best of motives and entirely safely, by wholly unqualified leaders and often on the basis that the party relied on common sense rather than an element of leadership. When an activity requires leadership, I hope that the regulations in the Bill cover it regardless of the existence of leadership at the time.

Clause 1(3)(f) has already been referred to in a little detail in the debate. However, it is important to consider the levels charged for licences because the licensing authority may deem it entirely appropriate to charge a different level for a large, organised activity centre, which caters for a substantial number of parties from schools from all over the country, to that charged a small centre which takes only three or four people at a time arid provides a limited range of activities, often involving only limited danger.

I am thinking especially of centres which provide facilities for adults and for young people. There are many such centres. The hon. Gentleman will need to explore in Committee whether the same fee should be applicable to centres which are exclusively for young people and centres that may take young people almost by chance. For example, a number of activity centres in the home counties, designed exclusively for rock climbing training, take adults and young people. The majority of people on those courses at any time is more likely to comprise adults, but people under 18 may well be included. There will need to be differential fees.

I hope that the regulations in clause 1(3)(h) which cover the investigation by the licensing authority for complaints concerning licence-holders; will be explored in Committee and, most important—I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on including it—the provision in paragraph (k) of the bringing of appeals to the Secretary of State against such decisions of the licensing authority". We are dealing with an area in which there is frequently a difference of opinion. Reference was made earlier to abseiling. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that there have been considerable advances and considerable differences of opinion among climbers in recent years on the extent to which particular types of equipment are appropriate and are applicable to types of abseiling. Those differences can often be crucial.

I remember being on a climbing course in the Alps when we were using very simple abseiling equipment. But, in a moment's inattention, combined with a gust of wind and an especially difficult ice face down which a friend was abseiling, the abseiling rope turned in seconds into a garrotte. Only the frantic efforts of those near the climber saved my friend from serious injury.

Differences of opinion will be drawn to the attention of the licensing authority and since it will be staffed by specialists in particular sports and in particular aspects of safety, there will always be differences of opinions, for which an outside body may be needed for the right of appeal. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on ensuring that that outside body is involved from the start.

The date of the commencement of the Act has already been referred to. Like the hon. Member for Tooting I am sorry that the Act cannot be introduced more quickly than the hon. Member for Devonport has provided for. His time limits are sensible. They are not even unnecessarily lenient. However, if the hon. Member can press the Minister in Committee about the content of some of the regulations which will eventually be laid under the Act, I hope that he will be able to publicise that detail sufficiently to enable activity centres to apply those standards in advance. I want to see as much as possible of what will eventually be provided under the Act available this summer and not next, and available this winter and not next.

Mr. Jamieson

The Activity Centres Advisory Committee has almost completed its work and it has now drawn up a code of practice for centres. I believe that that code of practice should form the core of what the activity centres have to agree to. That code is in place. If my Bill becomes law, activity centres will know that the code will be legally obligatory for them in 12 months, time rather than voluntary.

Mr. Stern

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, which was most helpful. I hope that what is said in our debate today, and what is said in Committee, will encourage the advisory committee to tell activity centres, "Look, this is what is likely to be the law: apply it now. Don't wait for it to become law." If that were to happen, I should be delighted.

I return to my opening point: the burden which, under the existing code of conduct, has been placed on schools and staff to enforce standards for their pupils which may well be inappropriate for the school or the education authority—not all education authorities have experts available to them in respect of all forms of outdoor activity—to impose. That code is to be replaced—unusually for me, I welcome that—by legal regulations.

I represent a city constituency and an area where school staff are particularly reliant on outside advice in terms of the activities in which pupils are engaged. With the indulgence of the hon. Member for Devonport, I want to quote from a letter that I have received from Henbury school in my constituency: Staff, even those with great expertise, have great difficulty assessing the quality of the many centres throughout Britain and find that much information published by individual centres is confusing or inaccurate. When involved in the organisation of a new course, we have to write to the centre and obtain assurances from the centre about the residential accommodation, the equipment and the qualifications of the staff. Although the centre can give their current details, they cannot guarantee that they will not have staff changes in the average 14 months that elapses between organisation and actually visiting the centre. Many teachers do not have the training to interpret the reply received from the centre, eg whether a T.I.(B.C.U.) is a sufficiently high qualification for a group of 8 pupils on Grade 2 Water for Canoeing. (It isn't!) A centre may be suitable for a trip one year but lose the qualified staff and become unsuitable the next. However, the responsibility for the trip is at present on the school and the teachers taking it. I congratulate the hon. Member for Devonport on introducing a Bill that will relieve that school and many others from the heavy responsibility they currently carry and which they are probably not capable of carrying.

10.53 am
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I desire not only to congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on coming first in the ballot—

Mr. Jamieson


Mr. Campbell

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I congratulate him on coming second in the ballot and on the most measured and informed way in which he introduced his Bill. If I may respectfully say so, it was a model of how a Second Reading debate should be introduced in a case of this kind.

Some hon. Members have already mentioned—I would like to take this opportunity to mention it again—the fact that, in the activities that we are considering, there can never be a total elimination of risk. It is the risk itself that is often the element that provides the challenge for young people. If we chose to, we could wrap our children in cotton wool and expose them to no risks, or to as few risks as we could possibly imagine. However, for many young people, the opportunity to take part in outdoor activities provides a welcome challenge, which often assists them in the development of their personalities and, out of achievement, gives them a far greater sense of their own abilities and, in a sense, of their own dignity.

My interest in these matters springs from my former membership of the United Kingdom Sports Council and of the Scottish Sports Council, in the course of which I had a very tenuous responsibility for such outdoor centres run by the sports councils as Glenmore lodge in Scotland and Plas-y-Brenin in Wales. Those two centres are interesting examples to cite in this debate because they are illustrations of the highest possible standards of equipment, training and tuition.

While I do not for a moment suggest that all centres for outdoor activity should meet the high standards that those two centres have demonstrated over a long period, those centres show that, in the furtherance of outdoor activities and facilities for adventure activities, it is important to realise that the standards of equipment and of training and supervision are extremely important. However, we cannot escape the conclusion that, if we are to lay down standards about the quality of equipment and training and hence the ratio of supervision, that will have financial consequences, which may substantial.

All hon. Members would regret it if, as a consequence of what the Bill quite sensibly proposes, access to the opportunity for adventure activities for young people was inhibited. This is not the occasion to discuss the way in which that access can be maintained. However, I believe that investment in the opportunity for such outdoor activity is extremely important.

If hon. Members had ever, as I have, seen the look on the face of someone from a city who, in normal life, would probably not have the energy or will to walk from one end of a street to another but who, by means of cajoling, bullying and, perhaps at the very end, pushing, one had managed to get to the top of a mountain of more than 3,000 ft in Scotland, they would have seen on the face of that person a sense of personal achievement. If they had heard the way he had boasted about it afterwards, it would be clear to anyone with a connection with that activity that one can do a remarkable amount for the sense of achievement and for the personality development of young people.

If, as a consequence of this highly desirable measure, we have to find funds to ensure that people who would otherwise be debarred from these activities can participate in them, that is a cause with which I would wish to be associated and which I believe deserves the support of the whole House as much as the Bill deserves our support.

Clause 1(2) refers to certain exceptions. The hon. Member for Devonport referred to them when he introduced the Bill, but he did not explain the reasoning behind them. For example, facilities for adventure activities … does not include— (a) facilities which are provided exclusively for persons who have attained the age of 18". I understand the hon. Gentleman's thrust to deal with the position of children. However, a poorly run adventure activities facility open only to people above the age of 18 could put those people at great risk. Perhaps there has been an exchange between the hon. Gentleman and the Minister of which I know not, and indeed, could not know, but there is a question which, if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he might answer.

I have always inclined to the view that, even when public opinion presses, it is important that consideration is given and time is taken before legislation is introduced. I say that as one who, in a professional capacity, has had to wrestle with what apparently was the expressed intention of Parliament in a statute, but which, even to a legal mind, has proved to be somewhat ambiguous or even difficult to understand.

We can think of many examples of legislation, hastily introduced in response to legitimate public opinion, which has subsequently proved to be inadequate, to have inherent ambiguities, or indeed, to be unable to meet the very mischief with which it was designed to deal. We still have the legitimate support of public opinion for a measure such as this. We know also that the measure has had the benefit of exchanges between the hon. Gentleman and the Government, that consultation has already taken place and that more is to be instituted.

On that basis, it is highly desirable legislation, which has been introduced in a measured and considered way and which carries public opinion with it. It deserves the support of the whole House. From the speeches that we have heard, I deduce that it is bound to receive it.

11.1 am

Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on his success in the ballot. His choice of subject is most appropriate and timely, given his involvement as a constituency Member in the events that followed the tragic accident in Lyme bay a couple of years ago. As the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary neighbour, and one who shares the same media, I pay tribute to the restrained, responsible and objective manner in which not only he but the parents of those who lost their lives, and all those associated with the Southway school have conducted themselves since the tragedy. It has been an object lesson in how to campaign for a certain set of measures in a tenacious but constructive way. No doubt that process was frustrating at times.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) mentioned his reservation not about the Bill but about too-hasty action in response to public pressure. There is great validity in his argument. When he made it, I said, "The Dangerous Dogs Act." We must not allow ourselves to fall into that trap. On this occasion, I do not think that we are.

I say to those who have borne frustration and annoyance at times that, provided that we get it right, the Bill is what is required of us today. Provided that we get it right, the most pertinent tribute that the House could pay to those who lost their lives would be putting on the statute book the necessary provisions to at least minimise the chances of such a tragedy recurring.

One reason why the Bill commends support is that, at the time of the tragedy, we all knew in our heart of hearts that it could have been our children, the children of relatives or the children of friends who were so tragically affected. After all, they were involved in a normal school activity, an outward bound adventure activity—something that is repeated every day by schools throughout the United Kingdom.

Given the experience of that occasion, we owe it to all pupils to prove that the House of Commons is prepared to provide the necessary support and security in future. Of course we cannot totally eliminate risk, nor would it be desirable to try to do so. The element of challenge attracts young people to participate in such activities in the first place, and rightly so. It is part of the growing-up experience. It provides opportunities to participate that people would not normally have.

As a sponsor of the Bill, I shall make a couple of general points and one specific point. One or two people have said to me that they are somewhat surprised that a Government who have opted for deregulation in recent years should now support the Bill. My response to that is that we are dealing with young people, schools, local education authorities and so on. We wish to encourage parents to allow their children to participate in that way. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to provide the statutory support when required. I do not believe that a voluntary system would work.

I am always reminded of the comparison that I noted when I first moved to my constituency in 1970. My daughter was then six, and she went to the village primary school. After a couple of months, I said to the head teacher, "You don't have a parent-teacher association here." He said, "No, I don't need one. I can always raise the necessary additional funds and so on by direct means. One of the disadvantages of a parent-teacher association is that you see only the parents of the children whom there is no need to see and you never see the parents of the children whom you would most like to see." That argument applies to these circumstances. Of course responsible establishments would sign up readily, but the more dubious ones might be reluctant to be forthcoming.

Like the hon. Member for Devonport, I wish to draw attention to the recent report of the Health and Safety Executive. I appreciate that it was damaging in respect of a minority of cases. A minority do not meet the required standards. As has been said, hon. Members are always tempted to respond too quickly on the basis of the particular rather than the generality. In this case, which involves young people, the circumstances justify the need for a positive response from the House.

My specific point relates to adventure centres, outdoor centres or activity centres—call them what we will—which provide for all ages and for a variety of functions. The hon. Member for Devonport knows that my constituency contains the Lanlivery field studies centre, a residential centre providing outdoor activities for handicapped people. It is a first-class, well-run centre, which provides excellent facilities. Courses there vary considerably, from ones which people of my generation might describe as a geographical field trip, to music courses.

The centre also provides for adventure and recreation, such as climbing on Bodmin moor and sailing on the River Fowey. How will the provisions contained in the Bill affect well-run centres such as Lanlivery? I am not questioning the standards of the Lanlivery field studies centre, but how will it fit into the provisions in the Bill?

As one of the sponsors of the Bill, I whole-heartedly support the provisions contained in it. I know that, in due course, we shall obtain a positive response from my hon. Friend the Minister.

11.10 am
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

I am aware that many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, and I am conscious of the pressure of time. I shall try to be the model of brevity in the comments which I shall make. Much of what has been said has been self-evidently true, and has been supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

As the Opposition spokesman and as a sponsor of the Bill, I must say that this is a time for both congratulation and sad reflection. It is welcome news that the Government are meeting the demands of parents, teachers and the general population. We must consider, however, that we have wasted many years, and that a whole succession of Governments—Labour and Conservative—have failed to act on the matter.

From the tragedy in the Cairngorms 24 years ago through the loss of four boys at Land's End to the tragic loss of the children at Lyme bay which brought about the Bill today—not forgetting the other four children who died in the same year in outdoor pursuits—young lives have been needlessly and thoughtlessly lost for years, while the most basic measures would have prevented most of those untimely deaths.

Mr. Steen

Does the hon. Gentleman have any statistics or figures—I have not been able find any—showing how many fatalities there have been in the past 20 years in activity centres? I know that there have been accidents, but am I right in thinking that fatalities have been virtually confined to the regrettable Lyme bay disaster?

Mr. Kilfoyle

That is certainly not true, but as far I can ascertain no statistics have been collated in this area, and we need to address that. I can recall the Cairngorms tragedy, and there was a incident in the Alps some 10 or 12 years ago when children were lost. Children's lives have without doubt been needlessly lost, and the Minister can perhaps tell us later how we can find the statistics.

Mr. O'Hara

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not confine ourselves to considering fatalities? Should not we be equally concerned about the unacceptable risk of serious accident—a child may be maimed for life, for example—in activity centres?

Mr. Kilfoyle

It is certainly true that we must address the question of injuries—both serious and relatively minor—but it is a sad fact of life that it is a fatality which grabs the public's attention.

May I echo the sentiments that have been expressed from both sides of the Chamber regarding the credit that must be given to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson)? He has conducted a long, persistent and dignified campaign on behalf of the families who were caught up in the Lyme bay tragedy. He has acted on behalf of all youngsters who attend activity centres, and his industry and compassion have been creditable. All of us—not just as Members, but as parents—appreciate very much the work that has led to the Bill coming before Parliament today.

The result of that work is a short enabling Bill of six clauses. The Opposition welcome the Bill, but with some reservations. We are particularly concerned about the lack of clarity concerning instructors' individual qualifications, as opposed to those of the centre. We are concerned also about the scope of the Bill concerning centres which can be perhaps defined as field study centres. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) commented on centres for those who are over 18, but are still in full-time educational institutions. It is a fine distinction for a teacher who is organising a sixth form trip to check up on whether people are 18 or 19. The teacher would do it, but it complicates—perhaps unnecessarily—the task of the organiser of a trip.

I appreciate that these matters are still to be explored and refined, but it is important to note that there are dangers therein. While there is no need to nanny people or introduce over-zealous regulation, we believe that there is still a responsibility on the Government to ensure the fullest protection for all our young people. Attempts in the past to regulate through the Activity Centres Advisory Committee and the British Activity Holiday Association were not successful. The latter, which was formed in 1986 and represents private operators, inspected the St Alban's centre from where the ill-fated canoe trip on Lyme bay originated.

That centre is only one of approximately 3,000 such centres operating in this country. One of the first major difficulties which my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport encountered in trying to organise the research behind the Bill was to ascertain exactly how many centres there were. That should be one of the first objectives to be set in drawing up the legislation of the centres.

I say that there are approximately 3,000 centres, because all attempts to count them have failed and the figures are constantly changing. That is particularly the case with regard to local education authority centres. A Sports Council survey found that, between the Education Reform Acts of 1988 and 1994, nearly 12 per cent. of LEA centres had closed, while another 22 per cent. were under serious threat. I am fortunate that my local LEA has a fine, well-equipped centre in north Wales. Nevertheless, that centre is—like many others—under threat.

A consequence of that is that the slack in provision is increasingly being taken up by the private sector, especially since—quite rightly and understandably—the national curriculum encouraged outdoor activity. Ironically, in doing so, the national curriculum stressed that safety features should be maintained.

Centres are subject to the Health and Safety Executive and relevant legislation, but, given the reduction in the number of Health and Safety Executive inspectors and the limitations of their remit, it has clearly been the case for many years that their function has been insufficient for the proper inspection of outdoor activity centres. Meanwhile, the responsibilities of LEAs, governors and teachers remain. However, there are too many gaps in their legal position to provide effective monitoring where it really matters—at the activity centres themselves and with those people who are directly charged with youngsters' safety.

One matter which the Minister may be able to clarify is that governors of grant-maintained schools are particularly vulnerable in law. Whereas governors of county schools are personally liable in extremis, the governors of grant-maintained schools do not have the financial support of a local authority behind them. Will the Minister enlighten me at some point—not necessarily this morning—as it seems peculiar that a governor of a grant-maintained school should be more exposed than a governor in the county sector? It has been suggested that that is the case.

It is gratifying that we have reached the stage of considering a Bill in the House. The Opposition have maintained that to ensure effective safety in activity centres five requirements must be fulfilled. A licensing authority must be created, with registration of centres. Conditions must be clearly set out for the granting of such licences. Acceptable standards of premises, equipment and management must he laid down. Staff must be properly qualified. Regular and thorough inspections must be made. Today's Bill is a major step in that direction, but we must recognise that time is of the essence in following up the Bill with the necessary secondary legislation. That should enable centres to meet the prescribed higher standards where those standards do not currently obtain.

I cannot conclude without referring to some comments made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) which confused me greatly. He spoke about the mountain leadership certificate. Whether he was confused or I am confused, I know not.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East referred to the Plas-y-Brenin centre in north Wales. I attended a residential course at that centre 24 years ago when I was obviously younger and certainly much slimmer.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

How long ago?

Mr. Kilfoyle

My memory fails me on that point. I remember going to the centre on a residential course to obtain the mountain leadership certificate. I went under the aegis of Christ college, which the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) was later to represent.

I remember the thoroughness with which the Central Council of Physical Recreation ran the centre and the effectiveness with which the instructors ran the course. It was not just a matter of taking that particular course. We went on an introductory course then went away and filled in our log books for a couple of years with the various activities that we led. Then we went back for our assessment. While we were there, we followed not only the basic rules of safety in the mountains but fundamental rules on checking equipment, the type of equipment that should be used, how a party should be organised and all the safety precautions that should be taken. The training was very effective.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East said that we could not expect every centre to attain tomorrow the same very high standards. While I appreciate that, it is a salutary reminder that, 24 years ago, courses were run of such a high standard in Britain. The shame is that in that time we have not encouraged other centres to aim at least halfway up that particular ladder.

I hope that in his reply the Minister will deal with inspection. I appreciate that some hon. Members on both sides of the House would have grave misgivings about, for example, local education authorities being the inspection or licensing authority. I know that, out there in centres such as the CCPR centres, there is a huge reservoir of expertise which should be used if we are to deal with the question of safety, particularly in mountainous areas.

11.22 am
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on introducing this most important Bill. The Bill is at least one good thing to result from the terrible agony and avoidable disaster of the Lyme bay tragedy. For more than 30 years, I have been intimately connected with the work of the Brathay Hall Trust in Cumbria. The organisation uses the outdoors to develop people young and old. I was there as a 28-year-old as warden and I am now chairman of the trustees.

The centre was founded 50 years ago through the philanthropy of a generous family, the Scotts. The trust has continued to fund the centre through those 50 years, although now to a lesser degree. Our work was originally with young adults. It is now with all ages, from 12-year-old schoolchildren to senior managers. It is from that experience that I speak in the debate.

Safety must be balanced against the importance of adventure and, therefore, as others have said in the debate, of some risk. There is a real possibility that safety could become so dominant a theme that the thrill, excitement and challenge of the activities could be squeezed out. Safety standards must be high, exacting and sensible, but an acceptable risk is and should remain part of the activity. It is probably right to say that those brave and splendid children who died in Lyme bay, their companions, of whom we have read much and for whore I feel greatly, and their parents were attracted to that opportunity because of the very adventure that it provided.

I hope that the specific points that I have to make will be useful markers as further work on the Bill progresses. These views in general terms represent the thinking of many of the activity centres of the highest quality and the longest established members of the outdoor training industry. The first point is the need to put the matter into perspective. It is a very safe industry. I do not in any way wish to lessen the importance of the Bill, so I hope that I will not be misunderstood. The Bill is a necessary sledgehammer to crack a nut, the nut being those very few cowboy centres. They must go. Therefore, the Bill is justified. They must either go or their standards must be dramatically raised.

Mr. Steen

Does my hon. Friend agree that, unfortunately, more and more legislation is for the minority rather than the majority? I had the privilege to pilot the Dartmoor commons legislation through the House. It was necessary only because a few cowboys were exploiting the natural facilities of the moor. The vast majority of farmers were behaving responsibly.

Mr. Wolfson

That is a perfectly proper point to make. I hope that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to develop it if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I make it clear that my remarks are intended to put the matter into perspective. The Bill is an enabling measure. The way in which the safety improvement is made will be important. It is important that it is not done in too heavy-handed a manner. Let us look at the perspective. More children are killed or injured on the roads on the way to and from activity centres than at the centres themselves. A survey by the Outward Bound Trust showed that more children were hurt by falling downstairs at the centres than ever were hurt by the activities. Where drama was part of the activities, as it often is, it was the most dangerous activity. As children fenced in drama classes, they hurt each other with the sticks.

None of what I am saying should be taken as an attempt to lessen the tragedy of Lyme bay, which has led to our debate today, but let us examine the safety pattern in primary schools. Apparently, 25 per cent. of primary schools have a serious accident involving children each term. In 25 per cent. of primary schools no clear safety or first aid policy is laid down. I do not excuse that. I do not say that it is right. I am simply trying to put the outdoor activity industry and its safety record in proper perspective.

Mr. Brandreth

When putting the matter in perspective, it is worth remembering the contribution that it makes to children's overall well-being. Notwithstanding the tragedy, about 300 children are killed on our roads each year—many because they are playing in streets that are not safe for them. It is important for them to have the opportunity to go to adventure centres, as it helps them to play and grow in safety. We want that safety to be enhanced. Far from reducing the number of activity centres, we hope that this legislation will increase it, because more people will have confidence in them.

Mr. Wolfson

I would not have been involved in a voluntary capacity in such work for 30 years if I did not agree with my hon. Friend.

The title of the Bill may need to be reconsidered. A better description might be "activity providers", because other organisations undertake such activities, but not necessarily from centres. They may use tents, huts, hotels or barns, or carry out the work at a Butlins or similar holiday camp.

Mr. Jamieson

Perhaps I may assist the hon. Gentleman. Providers of the activities are covered in clause 1(3)(a) of the Bill.

Mr. Wolfson

I am grateful for the intervention, which is helpful, but it is not helpful if the title of the Bill is misleading.

All the major players that have been in the business for many years support the Bill, albeit a little reluctantly, because they do not believe that the legislation will change anything that they do, but it will add additional costs to their operations, as many hon. Members have said. Those costs must be kept low to encourage the maximum number of young people to make use of the opportunities that they provide.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Does my hon. Friend agree that established activity centres will undoubtedly benefit from the Bill? Without it, they might suffer—we heard this week that the Outward Bound Trust has been losing customers because of the lack of confidence. Everyone will benefit from the Bill—the cowboy outfits will be brought back into the mainstream, or closed, and successful centres can only gain public confidence.

Mr. Wolfson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was about to say that high-quality providers welcome the Bill because it will establish a level playing field. The difficulties that the Outward Bound Trust has recently experienced are well known.

It is important that we consider the criteria necessary for safety. It would not be sensible for the Health and Safety Executive to be the main promoter of those criteria in these circumstances, because its job is to remove all hazard in industry. As has been said, the code of practice that the United Kingdom Activity Centres Advisory Committee has drawn up is the benchmark on which I hope that the regulations will be based. The group established to ensure that those standards continue should include representatives from the Council for Outdoor Recreation, or a subsidiary, the Ministry, the Health and Safety Executive and possibly Ofsted and the Consumers Association.

I do not want to take up too much more time, but I must mention qualifications. The national governing bodies of sport have a certification system, but it may not always be sufficient to measure the competence of staff. Four key ingredients are necessary for competence—technical qualifications, experience, cultural attitudes towards safety, as that has to be in the bloodstream of those working at such centres, and the need for judgment or good common sense. Judgment will be built up from technical qualifications, experience and having safety in one's bloodstream. In capable people, those ingredients can be balanced so that they still provide the chance for adventure and acceptable risk.

It is important to include organisations such as the scouts, guides and the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme in the framework in some way. They should not be left out. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) will comment on that from a scouting point of view, if he has an opportunity to speak. It would not necessarily seem sensible for each troop to have a licence, but the key centres and headquarters of those voluntary organisations should be brought into the licensing system as they set parameters for training and leadership.

We must not forget the enormously important work that unpaid people have voluntarily undertaken, and will continue to undertake, in outdoor activity training and opportunities. It would be utterly wrong if the Bill squeezed them out, or made it more difficult for them to contribute.

Finally, it will obviously be necessary at some stage to include appropriate provisions of the Bill in legislation for Northern Ireland, so that the same criteria can apply there.

11.36 am
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

As a co-sponsor of the Bill, I am pleased to be able to speak. I was delighted when my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) asked me to sponsor the Bill, as I had been involved in discussions with him about the Lyme bay incident from the very day that it occurred.

I became involved because, for many years, I have had experience of deep-sea canoeing. As soon as I heard the first press reports of the terrible tragedy, I knew that something had gone drastically wrong. It was not an accident—I encourage hon. Members to use that word cautiously—and it was avoidable, because some crass errors were made, which have been described at length during the debate and in the court proceedings.

Of course risks exist in deep-sea canoeing. They are due to a range of factors—the elements, the physical fitness of the canoeists, the quality of their equipment, training and their knowledge of other vessels, especially large vessels that cannot see small ones in high seas. There are many risks, but steps can be taken to minimise them. People, particularly young people, engaged in outdoor activities should be encouraged to think along those lines. They should be encouraged to develop a culture of safety—to use the words of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), who made a wise point. They should be encouraged to develop a culture of safety so that they analyse the risks and take the necessary steps.

But young people cannot do that off their own bat; they need the expert training of instructors and teachers around them. That is exactly the philosophy that underlies the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Of course, people at their workplace are expected to work safely, but the culture of safety must start from the top of the organisation and flow down to every level. That is precisely what did not happen in the Lyme bay incident.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport said that 24 per cent. of activity centres had no safety policy statement. In its report, the Health and Safety Executive, in typically exact and fairly cold language, states positively: 76 per cent. of the 158 centres with 5 or more employees had a written safety policy. However, in the appendix to the report, the HSE said that the principal health and safety legislation relevant to outdoor services—the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974—required that such centres should have a written statement of policy.

It is extraordinary that, 19 years after the Act came into force, 26 per cent. of such centres were in direct breach of a statute of this land. It is outrageous that centres should have taken that cavalier view towards the law of the land. Against that background, we cannot treat the Bill as a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is an important piece of legislation targeted at the large number of centres that have failed miserably over the years to carry out their statutory functions. That is not to say that the greatest percentage of centres have not done a splendid job. In the 1960s I attended such centres and joined in activities such as learning to canoe and abseil which were character forming and taught me important lessons about team work. I know that there are centres of great excellence throughout the country, but a significant number fail.

On the whole, centres work well, but one needs to consider who should provide regulation. One could have argued, in the context of the Lyme bay centre, that the local education authority was the appropriate inspector. Perhaps the HSE would have been appropriate, or a private organisation such as the British Canoe Union.

To respond to the point made by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), who is not in his place now, we need to make it quite clear, as the HSE said in its conclusion, that there is no room for complacency. The HSE continued: Most providers will still be keenly aware of the Lyme Bay tragedy, but it could be easy with the passage of time for vigilance to fall. We must identify the appropriate regulator and inspector of the facilities and ensure that all steps are taken to maintain vigilance.

Mr. O'Hara

Does my hon. Friend agree that, grateful though we are to the Activity Centres Advisory Committee for its code of practice—which will serve as an interim code and may be the basis of future regulations—the regulatory body should not be entirely composed of people within the industry?

Mr. Miller

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and agree with him. Working out exactly what the appropriate body should be will form an important part of the debate. I firmly believe that inspection must include a significant element from outside the industry.

It is encouraging that there is now such widespread agreement on what we are trying to achieve this morning. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be slightly amused at the unanimity between themselves and the National Union of Teachers, which has had a fair amount of stick from Conservatives recently. A parliamentary briefing from the NUT dated 24 January states: The Bill is the result of a long campaign, with the support of teachers, parents, local authorities and others. Given the support of the Government and the industry itself, we urge all Mps to support the Bill and ensure its passage through Parliament. There must never be a repeat of the incidents that led to the Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy when young teenagers were killed and injured. Clearly that must be the case.

In its briefing, the Consumers Association touched on a number of matters—which have been mentioned in the debate—relating to the specific need to identify some of the regulatory practices. In Committee we must consider most carefully the advice that has been received and the points that have been made on the Floor of the House today.

It would be inappropriate not to congratulate the Minister of State and a number of his colleagues on their eventual conversion on the road to Damascus. On 21 March 1994, the Minister of State said: There are existing general statutes imposing duties with respect to health and safety and especially, as has been referred to more than once, the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Within the general framework, there are specific regulations such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 and others which apply to activity centres as well as to other premises … Given the range of existing provisions, there might be a serious danger that additional requirements—even of the kind outlined by the hon. Gentleman"— my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport— would add burdens on both suppliers and customers of services, including the schools themselves, increasing costs and possibly, therefore, acting as a deterrent to the provision of activities which the hon. Gentleman conceded at the outset form such a valuable educational contribution to the curriculum of schools."—[Official Report, 21 March 1994; Vol. 240, c. 116.] Statements by the Minister outside the House show that the Government have changed their position. That is most welcome, as are the comments of the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) who in that same debate could not see why regulation was necessary. He said: if statutory rules and regulations had been laid down the accident would have happened."—[Official Report, 21 March 1994; Vol.240, c. 113–14.] I do not accept that. If regulations had been in place and enforced the incident would never have happened.

Mr. Steen

I do not want to enter into an argument during this poignant and sad debate. I understand that there were two highly qualified canoeing instructors in the St. Alban's centre. However, they were not leading these young people on that particular trip. If they had been, the accident might not have happened, but if there had been statutory rules and regulations I cannot believe that they would have stated that those two instructors had to lead those young people.

Mr. Miller

That is just the point. The Bill requires that persons with appropriate qualifications should lead. It would not allow people with minimum experience, even if they had the best will in the world, to lead such an expedition.

The Bill would also do what the hon. Member for Sevenoaks suggested, in that it would engender a culture of safety. The Bill is part of that vital process. I do not want to pursue the point. I shall only underline the fact that I am pleased that the Government have changed their position dramatically.

The issue now is where do we go from here. Statutory instruments relating to the Bill will be important and perhaps we should look at equipment and training issues in those instruments in conjunction with the language contained in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. It would be helpful for the Government to acknowledge and give a commitment that issues covering training and the inspection of equipment and so on will be specifically exempted from the provisions of that Act. Clause 27 of that Bill gave rise to controversy in Committee last year and should be seen to apply to matters that are different from those covered by the Bill.

I pay tribute to the bravery of the parents who were involved in the Lyme bay tragedy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport said, their persistence was about the lives of other children and I hope that we can all learn from past mistakes. Without their persistence and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport and the knowledge of some of the important issues that came out in the subsequent court action, there would not be such agreement throughout the House.

As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, the House should reflect not just on the safety of young people but should examine other issues. Perhaps that topic is outside the scope of the Bill, but those issues involve the improvement of safety for other people in other environments. The House has an important responsibility to ensure that at every possible stage for every group of people in society a safe and healthy environment is provided in all respects. Vulnerable young people need the protection that is outlined in the Bill, but that must be within the context of support by the House for the continuation of the important work that goes on in the many successful outdoor activity centres throughout Britain.

11.55 am
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on achieving the objective of the campaign that he has waged since the disastrous Lyme bay tragedy in March 1993, in which four young people from Plymouth lost their lives. I pay tribute to his determination, dedication and commitment. The House owes him a debt of gratitude. The death of the children in Lyme bay aroused the emotions of the nation, and the hon. Gentleman was right to use the opportunity of winning the ballot to introduce his Bill.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), who has an illustrious track, record in a variety of charitable work. He spoke from experience, and I hope that the Minister will read his measured speech and take it into account when drafting the rules and regulations.

The House is concerned to ensure that, when parents send their children to activity centres which are miles from their homes and schools, they can rely on the standards of safety. They must be sure that children will not be placed at additional risk because of inadequacy at the centre. However, outdoor activity centres and the like are involved in pitting young people against the elements of nature. That is the essence of such centres. Activities such as canoeing on rivers, sailing on the high seas or abseiling are inherently dangerous and one must be extremely careful as to how far one nannies children and prevents them utilising the activities to develop strength and character and to obtain the skills which the centres aim to develop.

As far as I know, over the past 10 years there were comparatively few fatalities in activity centres. I have managed to dig out some research on the issue which I am sure that the House would like to hear. In May 1985, I am afraid that there was a drowning at Land's End, when four children were swept off the rocks. In April 1988 in Austria—of course, the Bill and the rules and regulations will not cover activities there—four children slid over a precipice. In August 1989, there was an abseiling fatality of an instructor in Wales, and in August 1990, in Scotland, a school teacher slid over a precipice. In May 1992, a child fell during a night walk. An instructor was drowned in a cave in June 1992, as was another in October 1992. In May 1993, there was the dreadful disaster at Lyme bay.

My point is that, other than the eight to 10 children who should not have died, but did die during the past 10 years, the only other deaths at activity centres have been instructors and schoolteachers. We need to put the matter in perspective when considering the 3,000 activity centres that operate most days of the year, where no tragedy occurs.

I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks about the number of children who, unfortunately, are killed on the roads going to and from activity centres. We must add to that figure the 180 children under the age of 16 who each year die in accidents in their homes, despite all the legislation.

Mr. Kilfoyle

Is the hon. Gentleman giving a comprehensive list of those who have died at activity centres during his specified time span, or is he merely giving examples?

Mr. Steen

I have cited the figures that I have been able to find. There may have been one or two accidents in other countries visited by school parties. The Cairngorms accident, which has been mentioned, happened some 20 years ago. I understand that there have been accidents in Switzerland and Austria, but unfortunately the Bill would not deal with such incidents.

We have only to look at the numbers of hon. Members in the Chamber on a Friday to realise how successful the hon. Member for Devonport has been in turning the spotlight on the safety of activity centres. Largely because of his good fortune in coming second in the ballot, he has persuaded the Government to pay further attention to the safety of activity centres. Last summer the Government, like me, doubted whether there was a need for further rules and regulations, but he has persuaded us that a voluntary code of conduct may not be enough. I pay tribute to him for his measured speech and for the way in which he has handled the introduction of the Bill.

We all want to do everything possible to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. I, the hon. Gentleman and others have all said that in the debate. It is the least that we can do for the children's families, who are here to listen to our debate. We want them to feel that their children's lives were not lost in vain. That is why I believe that what the hon. Gentleman has done with his Bill is of such great importance. The nation remembers the children.

Before Christmas, it was reported in the media—which cannot always be believed—that while I was obviously in favour of doing everything possible to prevent accidents in activity centres, I had serious reservations about whether setting up statutory registers and passing Acts of Parliament would do much to help. We must remember that very few serious accidents have occurred at the 3,000 centres during the past 10 years, so I doubted whether passing another Act of Parliament would be the best way forward. I had doubts about the Bill then and I have doubts about it now. As the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) said, the purpose of a debate such as this is to air doubts and express reservations.

I was a youth leader for 10 years. One of the interesting points about this debate is the range of experience on both sides of the House in the subjects under discussion. The hon. Member for Devonport was a distinguished schoolteacher. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) is well known for his scouting activities. It is therefore right that hon. Members with such a range of experience should be called to speak in this debate.

As I said, I have certain reservations. I have worked with young people and I have launched and worked with two national charities. Therefore, I hope that the House appreciates that what I am about to say does not mean that I lack any compassion or concern. I simply believe that they are fair points to make at this time.

The key to the future safety of activity centres is the quality of training, the experience of the instructors and the development of the instruction. The instructors are the people to whom ultimately we trust our children's safety. The aim must be to raise standards at the point of delivery. Unfortunately, I fear that not enough thought has been given to that aspect of the Bill. When registering with a central body, each activity centre will have to state which activities it intends to offer and what level of qualification the instructors in each activity have reached. The Bill states that the body will have the power to refuse accreditation to centres that are not working to adequate standards.

That is all well and good, but is it not attacking the symptom rather than the cause? As I have said, the activity centre at Lyme bay had two highly qualified members of staff, so possibly it would have been accredited under the Bill. The question is whether those two members of staff would have been out with the children or whether the management could have made other arrangements.

How will the new body, through its inspectors, do anything different from the existing inspectorates? The Island Cruising Club in Salcombe in my constituency is nationally known as one of the best yachting, sailing and canoeing clubs in Britain. It tells me that, even without the Bill, it is already monitored by seven agencies. It receives visits from officials who look at all aspects of its activities. I shall tell the House which bodies monitor that club.

First, the club plays host to the Department of Transport Marine Safety Agency. It is always knocking around Salcombe; I think it likes my constituency. It visits the club fairly regularly. Not content with that, along comes the Royal Yachting Association. It seems to like the air in Salcombe. It looks around the club and satisfies itself that it is doing an effective, interesting and valuable job. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr Miller) mentioned the British Canoe Union. It does not want to be left out, and it comes to Salcombe probably twice a year to check that the canoeing aspects of the club are safe.

Mr. Jamieson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steen

I will do so once I have finished my list.

There is the Salcombe harbour authority—a distinguished and august body. It is paid for and supported by the South Hams district council. Then there is the Health and Safety Executive. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks was not too enthusiastic about that body masterminding the Bill's rules and regulations. It is already at it, coming down to the club to look around and satisfy itself that all is well.

Mr. Jamieson


Mr. Steen

I have not yet finished my list.

In the summer months, Salcombe gets very full. The hotels are packed with officials visiting the Island Cruising Club. The South Hams district council's environmental health department also comes to look at the club—

Mr. Hicks

It does not have to come very far.

Mr. Steen

My hon. Friend is right; he knows his geography well. It is only a 20-mile drive from the council offices to Salcombe.

Last but not least, the Devon fire and rescue services visit the club. That is seven organisations with seven lots of officials all visiting just one activity centre year in and year out. Why does the hon. Member for Devonport believe that an eighth organisation will make things better?

Mr. Jamieson

I wish that the hon. Gentleman had given way in the middle of his list because I could have spared him finishing it. He has successfully made the point about why we need the Bill. At the moment, centres suffer a great deal of bureaucracy and unnecessary inspection by various bodies because no statutory framework for their operation exists. If one set of people undertake accreditation and one set of competent people inspect, we may cut the number of organisations going to the centres. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the Bill.

Mr. Steen

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting observation. I have an office in Dean's yard. A new card entry system has been installed there. I asked the Serjeant at Arms whether, as the card had been introduced, he would do away with the two security guys that were inside the building—who do marvellous work—and an administrative guy. He said, "Of course, once we have the entry card, we will be able to reduce the number of officials who stand there." I have received the entry card, but the number of staff inside the building has nearly doubled and another entry service is being installed.

Lady Olga Maitland

I agree with my hon. Friend for today, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on the point about multiple agencies checking out activity centres. They all have different benchmarks for the standards required. The Bill proposes that we have one rigorous benchmark that no one could misunderstand.

Mr. Steen

The example that I gave of Dean's yard entry system made my point very well. When one introduces a new system that one believes to be safer, one does not do away with the other systems—one has them as well. If the hon. Member for Devonport can tell me for certain that the seven inspections of the Island Cruising Club by all the different agencies will stop, I will support him 100 per cent. My fear is that the Bill will add to the seven inspections. That is why I am concerned.

Mr. O'Hara

Will the hon. Gentleman please accept that he is unnecessarily burdening the House? He must accept the simple fact that, if after A, B sometimes occurs, that does not imply that after A, B always occurs. That is at the centre of the Bill. Unsatisfactory procedures are in place and the Bill simply sets out to put adequate and satisfactory procedures in place. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to burden the House further with such irrelevant trivia.

Mr. Steen

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I cannot agree with him. If he were part of the Island Cruising Club management, and were visited by seven organisations throughout the year, asking about safety and various other regulations, he would question whether an eighth organisation_would do away with the other seven. I would give the measure whole-hearted support if that were the case. If it means, however, that an eight organisations will undertake inspection, the bureaucracy, rules and regulations will become considerably worse. Many well-run organisations will find that the amount of paper and bureaucracy will increase.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)


Mr. Steen

I shall not give way for the moment. I must make progress. I am being chastised. I would always give way to the hon. Lady, but I ask her to let me make a little progress.

Our aim is to ensure not only that activity centres are as safe as possible, but that as many children from as many walks of life as possible are able to enjoy them. I fear that the enterprise of the hon. Member for Devonport will result in an elite, and in far fewer activity centres. Perhaps 20 per cent. of the existing 3,000 centres may go out of business because they will not be able to afford, not just the cost of accreditation, which we know will not be too expensive, but the cost of recruiting and employing higher qualified instructors, who will have to go on longer courses.

The Government will have to provide more grants and staff will have to gain more and more skills, which will cost centres more and more money. One must think through the consequences of the arrangements. Although one welcomes higher qualifications and higher skills, one must also recognise the on-going cost. One may say, "Well and good. It is worth doing."

Mr. Wolfson

I support the Bill, but I believe that my hon. Friend's point about increased costs is a key factor. I know that the best-run and safest centres have heavy expenses. That is an important point to consider in the progress of the Bill.

Mr. Steen

I welcome that intervention. I am not pursuing my argument to be frivolous. I am concerned that children from all walks of life, from the inner city of Plymouth, as well as from the rural areas around it, have the opportunity to go to the best activity centres and to find that they can afford them. We must be concerned about the on-going cost to the public purse of longer training courses and higher pay for instructors. If it will be self-financing, we must consider the consequences. I was chastised by Opposition Members, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks for putting the matter in perspective.

Mrs. Golding

What cost does the hon. Gentleman put on a young person's life? Surely that is what we must consider and that is what the Bill considers.

Mr. Steen

Of course one puts an enormous cost on a young person's life. Indeed, no real price can be put on it. The 10-year track record of activity centres is not appalling. Nor can one say that there has not been supervision. As I said, one activity centre has been inspected by seven organisations. I support what the Bill proposes, but such on-going cost may prevent the very young people from the poorest homes who should enjoy such activities from enjoying them. I am sure that the hon. Member for Devonport would not like to have elitist activity centres as a result of the Bill.

I must bring my speech to an end, even though I have some other useful points to make; they can be made later. I am sure that all hon. Members support the spirit and aim of the Bill—who would not? I have some doubts about the statutory commitments and serious doubts about the consequence of more rules and regulations. The track record is very good as it stands. I wish the Bill well. I hope that it will do what we all hope that it will do.

12.17 pm
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

It gives me great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) in co-sponsoring his Bill, although we can take no pleasure in the circumstances surrounding it. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken this morning has referred to the distress and agony experienced by the parents who lost children in the Lyme bay tragedy.

I follow the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who, although he expressed his support in principle for the Bill, unfortunately introduced a slightly discordant element by implying that excessive cost will arise if one introduces a statutory framework that seeks to eliminate, as far as possible, the errors that led to the Lyme bay tragedy. There is no doubt that, had the Bill been enacted a few years ago, the operators of the centre would have been outside the law and unable to take the risks that they took in sending instructors on the particular course. They could have argued—and did—that they were acting reasonably.

In paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, I suggest that had he not introduced this Bill we should probably not have had a debate in Government time on the safety of children at activity centres. In this case, fortune has favoured the brave and the persistent in that my hon. Friend won the No. 2 slot in the ballot. It is salutary for us to remember that this debate would not be taking place without that good fortune.

Until my hon. Friend came second in the ballot, the Government's position was that there was already enough guidance and legislation to ensure a satisfactory framework for activity centres. Of course, we know that that was not the case. As the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) made clear, there is a debate among the deregulation maniacs and those who put profit before safety and the lives of children. Fortunately, thanks to the tremendous campaign waged by the parents of the children involved in the Lyme bay tragedy, we have been able to persuade the Government to reconsider safety at outdoor activity centres.

There may be concern about the cost of regulation but it should not have been that which was outlined to the House today; the real concern about cost is simply to ensure that any system of regulation is run as cost effectively as possible. It should have nothing to do with scare stories about 20 per cent. of centres having to close because regulation will be too costly. If the system that we introduce proves too costly for some centres, it is probably just as well that those centres close; we shall then know that children will not be put at risk.

Not only in connection with activity centres but in many other circumstances we are all too often told that, if a death has not occurred or nothing serious has happened in the past 20 years, extra regulation is not needed. When, all of a sudden, a tragedy such as that at Lyme bay occurs, our minds turn to the issue of safety. I am, therefore, pleased that my hon. Friend has introduced the Bill.

As many hon. Members have said, there is a voluntary system, and various centres offer accreditation—such as the English tourist board, the Activity Centres Advisory Committee and the Welsh tourist board. The British Activity Holiday Association also has a code of practice. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) said, representatives had visited the St. Alban's centre but presumably felt that its standards were satisfactory.

Under the Welsh tourist board's scheme, a centre that does not want to be included is simply not inspected. If it is inspected and does not meet the board's standards, it does not have to close; it can carry on with its activities but is not included in the board's promotional literature.

Mr. Kilfoyle

Before my hon. Friend concludes his remarks, may I ask if he is aware that a garage that rented out surf boards was considered to be an accredited centre under the Welsh scheme?

Mr. Griffiths

No, I was not aware of that particular case but it reveals the need for a proper regulatory framework.

I conclude by drawing attention to the Health and Safety Executive's interim report, to which a number hon. Members have referred, and by pinpointing one or two issues that have not been dealt with. Of the centres that did provide training, 25 per cent. did not do so under the auspices of the national governing body of the activities involved. In addition, 8 per cent. of the centres did not record accidents and 45 per cent. of the centres examined were not aware of their legal responsibility to do so. The HSE found that only 50 of the 107 accidents that occurred and which should have been reported were, in fact, reported, so the seriousness of the problem is clear. It also found that 10 per cent. of activity centres gave cause for concern.

In a survey conducted in Wales by the Institute of Higher Education in Swansea, the results of which are contained in a report entitled, "Managing a Safer Product", published in July 1993, it was found that 25 per cent. of centres in Wales did not have satisfactory safety standards.

I deal now with the points raised by the hon. Member for South Hams and others about centres abroad. Schools usually book such centres abroad through British agents. Will the Government consider placing a duty on those agents to ensure that overseas centres operate to the standards applied in Britain? In any event, I look forward to the Bill rapidly completing all its stages and being enacted and working within the year.

12.27 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on his extremely good fortune in obtaining second place in the ballot for private Members' Bills. It is very much to his credit that he has devoted his Bill to this important subject which was, of course, brought to our attention by the tragedy in Lyme bay.

It is right for the House to review the arrangements and regulations that apply to such activities. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of activity centres and providers of facilities; some are clearly cowboy operations. It is right for these matters to be looked at carefully. I counsel the House, however, to be extremely careful about what it brings to the statute book because it is only too easy to throw out the baby with the bath water.

I have the honour to be secretary of the all-party parliamentary Scout Association group. About one third of hon. Members have passed through the Scout Association during their young lives. The association is one of the greatest providers of outdoor activities, including canoeing, sailing, mountaineering, abseiling, potholing or orienteering. All those activities are potentially dangerous. Just as we have benefited from them, however, so today many boys and girls, many from deprived or inner-city areas, are enjoying those activities in which otherwise they would not be able to take part.

The Scout Association has developed thorough systems of training, qualification, regulation and authorisation to do its best to avoid tragic accidents. It has harnessed the work of unpaid volunteers and provides a wonderful programme of activities. In all those activities, it has to strike a careful balance between the provision of exciting adventure and the needs of stringent safety controls. My hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) were right to refer to the balance of risk. Young people can be very safe if they never venture from their homes and if they get their only thrills in life out of computer games and the like.

The Scout Association, through regulations and care, has an extremely safe record. It has standards on which parents can rely. That comment does not, of course, apply only to the Scout Association, but to others such as the Girl Guides Association, the Boys Brigade, the Sea Cadet Corps and many others that are properly regulated and have safety very much in mind. The challenge of the Bill is to extend the scope of safety arrangements to all, but not to jeopardise good-quality activities provided by responsible organisations.

It is a sad fact that bad accidents can lead to bad law; firearms legislation provides one example. The Bill provides for a licensing authority to settle regulations, for inspection and for licence fees, all of which inevitably involves bureaucracy. The ensuing bureaucracy could add terrific costs which would be a practical and financial disincentive for organisations that already have excellent safety records. It could cause a switch from the youth organisations that I have mentioned to others that have far less tried-and-tested structures; indeed, it could lead to no activities at all for our young people.

My plea, therefore, is that there should be close consultation with organisations that have a track record, such as the Scout Association. In clause 3(3), there is a requirement that Before making an order or regulations … the Secretary of State shall consult the Health and Safety Commission and such other persons (if any) as he considers it appropriate to consult. I suggest strongly that the Secretary of State and the Health and Safety Commission should consult the Scout Association and similar organisations. The Standing Committee might like to consider an amendment to require consultation specifically with appropriate youth service interests.

In terms of setting standards and regulations, the Committee should consider delegating licensing to responsible, accredited organisations that already enforce standards. It is worth considering the point that the Lyme bay tragedy could not have happened at a scout centre. The requirements imposed by the Scout Association about the qualifications of the personnel involved, the standard of equipment and the weather conditions would have prevented that expedition.

The idea of delegating licensing to qualified voluntary organisations is not new. Licensing for the driving of minibuses by volunteers is covered under the Minibus Act 1977, which gives the authority for issuing section 19 permits to organisations. The responsibility was delegated to designated bodies, including the Scout Association. There are precedents and we should consider the possibility of delegating licensing.

I support the Bill. There is a solemn responsibility on the Standing Committee and, subsequently, on the licensing authority to raise safety standards at the bottom to the highest that prevail in highly respected organisations and to keep a close eye on the costs which might divert funds away from these wonderful activities for young people.

12.33 pm
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth)

May I, as is traditional but nevertheless heartfelt, congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on winning the No. 2 spot in the ballot for private Member's Bills? Such success always throws the limelight on any hon. Member and I am sure that we all agree that the hon. Gentleman has used his privilege and good fortune in the ballot to the best possible effect in introducing this Bill. What I hope will be the extreme brevity of my remarks should in no way be construed as reflecting any lack of interest, concern or support for the Bill or, indeed, be any reflection on the quality of the debate. However, I am very conscious of time.

As so many hon. Members have said, this debate reflects the concern of the House for the families of young people who lost their lives, not only the deaths at Lyme bay of Claire Langley, Rachel Walker, Simon Dunne and Dean Sayer but Hayley Hadfield, who tragically died in a previous accident at an activity centre, Mrs. Trotter, whose son was also affected, albeit in a slightly different way, and others before that. The memories of those people are very much in our minds when we debate the aims and effects of the Bill.

I was going to rehearse at little length the background to the Bill and the Government's attitude to it, but I shall say only that I believed at the time, and would say so now, that our response as Government and as a Department, certainly to the Lyme bay tragedy, was, by Government standards, rapid and appropriate. Surveys on activity centres, the publication of results of inspections, guidance issued by my Department to schools and so on were put in place and were having an effect. In fact., many hon. Members have said that there was every sign that centres had been made aware, through those measures, of their responsibilities and had sought to improve their standards. That was very welcome.

A number of things have happened to cause us to want to look at this subject again and to lead us to support the Bill, not least the fact that the Activity Centre Advisory Committee, which we hoped would introduce a voluntary scheme of accreditation for centres, has considered matters for some time and has concluded that a statutory scheme would be preferable. That obviously carried a lot of weight with my colleagues and me.

The words of the judge at the trial of the Lyme bay incident, which have already been quoted, not least by the hon. Member for Devonport, included comments on the centres, among other things. He said: I believe that authoritative control, supervision and, if necessary, intervention, is called for. His views were reinforced by Dorset police, who provided us with key extracts from the proceedings. Some very weighty words were added to the argument for statutory measures.

Mr. Wolfson

My hon. Friend is dealing with the judgment. As I understand it, the managing director of the company was found guilty and punished, but the local manager was exonerated on a technicality. If I am right, would my hon. Friend consider that point as appropriate? It should not be able to happen again—we now hope that it never will—if a similar situation ever arose.

Mr. Forth

The point of which I want my hon. Friend and the House to take account is the fact that the judge, having presided over the trial and taken into account all the circumstances, gave his view that further measures were required. That is the important context in which I quote the judge's words.

The Health and Safety Executive report, which has rightly been frequently quoted in the House today, said that although standards were generally fairly good, serious shortcomings had emerged from its surveys that required attention. That therefore led my colleagues in government and me very readily to extend the support, which I gladly repeat to the House, for the Bill and its thrust.

Although I fear that I may be treading slightly on the territory of the hon. Member for Devonport—I hope that he will forgive me for doing so—it may help the House if I give a preliminary Government response to some of the questions that have been asked in the debate. That may help hon. Members to reach their conclusions about the Bill.

Much has been said about the time scale. I am clear that we want to have the regulations that will flow from the Bill in place as soon as is properly possible. However, we must bear in mind that we have to deal first with the Committee stage. It will then have to pass its further stages and receive Royal Assent. During some of that period, we may be able to embark on the extensive and detailed consultation that everyone wants, not least because of the many points that have been made in this debate, before introducing regulations, for which we hope to obtain the approval of the House.

With the best will in the world, I believe that that will take most of the rest of this calendar year. However, I hope that all the regulations will be in place in time for the 1996 season—if I can put it that way. That is a reasonable timetable, to which I hope we can adhere. I am sure that there will be co-operation from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

My hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) referred to the balance that we must strike in seeking not to over-regulate and remove every conceivable risk and, in other words, seriously damage this very important activity, which adds so much to the pleasure and character development of young people.

That balance must be in our minds as we progress through the Committee stage and the consultations that will give rise to regulations. I am sure that we are all conscious of that point. We must balance safety and risk and cost and accessibility. Those issues must be in our minds as we proceed with the later stages of the Bill.

Several questions were asked about the definition and detail that will arise should the Bill receive its Second Reading today. My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) and for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) made important points of detail about the definition of activity centres and the kind of organisations that may be affected.

It was vital for those points to be raised in this debate. They will be picked up further, perhaps in Committee but more probably during the consultation process, when it will be very important that we try, as far as possible, to ask all the appropriate questions of all the appropriate and interested organisations in order to frame the regulations better to make them as effective as possible, but with that balance of lightness of touch and effect that has been maintained throughout. I envisage that that will be of the greatest importance during the consultation process.

I believe that many of the points will be covered by exemptions being incorporated in the regulations that will seek to define the bodies that will not necessarily have to comply with the requirements of the Bill and of the regulations.

Mr. Jamieson

indicated assent.

Mr. Forth

I see that the hon. Member for Devonport agrees with that.

I want now to deal with an important point that was made by the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). They wanted to know whether local authorities would be the licensing authority. The answer is that local authority inspectors could not be designated as licensing authorities simply because clause 1(1) provides for a person to be designated. That could be a body—and, in my view, very probably would be—but not individual inspectorates from more than one authority. The way in which the Bill is framed at present precludes the possibility of local authorities picking up the very important responsibility that is so central to the Bill.

Mr. Steen

Will my hon. Friend assure me that the seven organisations that I mentioned, including the Department of Transport Marine Safety Agency, will, as a result of the passage of the Bill, no longer have to burden existing activity centres with further inspections? Will he assure me that the Bill will set up a new arrangement that will remove the existing arrangements so that only one body—and not seven, eight or nine—will carry out inspections?

Mr. Forth

Much as I would like to give my hon. Friend that assurance, in all conscience I cannot do so, mainly because we have not settled the important detail of how the legislation would operate under regulations. Equally important, having heard what my hon. Friend said, I suspect that many of the functions carried out by those bodies may overlap with the functions envisaged for the Bill but would not entirely replace them.

Therefore, although I hope that some organisations would take cognisance of the responsibilities flowing from the Bill and may see fit not to continue inspections, I could not give that guarantee. They would have to be responsible for assessing how far that overlap was complete or partial. If it were complete, I hope that an arrangement could be made to eliminate duplication. If it were only partial, I should have thought that an element of duplication may regrettably have to continue.

I have been brief. That does not mean that I under-estimate the importance or value of the Bill—I do neither. However, the debate has been wide ranging and informative, and it will help the hon. Member for Devonport during the Committee stage, which I hope will follow soon after Second Reading. The debate will enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others to take responsibility for seeing the Bill through into effective regulations, which will do everything possible to ensure that, wherever possible, such tragedies never occur again.

12.45 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

The Bill is prompted by a terrible tragedy. As parents, our hearts go out to the parents of those concerned. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on his care in bringing forward the Bill. However, we are entitled to ask whether it is the right approach. We are entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Minister for further and better particulars before the Bill reaches the statute book.

We all want activity centres and we want them to be safe, but we do not want them to be confined to the better-off because of costs loaded on to activity centres. The Government must consider their response very carefully, if the Bill becomes an Act, when drawing up the regulations. The Government have a duty to consider their response carefully and not to be over-influenced by crisis, tragedy or public pressure. Important as those matters are, the Government have a duty to ensure that we do not always legislate for the minority. We must legislate for the majority.

The overwhelming majority of activity centres have ensured safe and successful activity and projects for young people for a long time. Therefore, we want legislation and regulations that do not drive up costs or drive too many people out of business. We must remember that many such operations are very small. They are naturally independent organisations, run by people who are dedicated to climbing or sailing, for instance, and we must not over-nanny them or those who attend their activity centres. We must not over-regulate for a risk that might be very small. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) said, more youngsters are killed on the roads on their way to activity centres than are killed as a result of the activities.

I remind the Government of their own documentation on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. Many statements made it absolutely clear that the Government were committed not to more regulation but to less regulation. For instance, they insisted that there should be a compliance cost assessment—a new regulation—and that there should be risk assessment and management. The Government said: Those responsible for drawing up new regulations to protect from some perceived risk must assess whether that risk is so grave or is likely to occur with sufficient frequency to justify the burden imposed by the new regulation. They must consider whether there is a better way in which the risk can be managed. I could speak for longer, but there is no time. Many Government statements have made it absolutely clear that the Government are conscious that new regulations can drive up costs and force people out of business. As has been made clear many times this morning, my hon. Friend the Minister is aware that activity centres are already regulated by the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992. Section 3 of the 1974 Act places a general duty on employers and the self-employed to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that the activities do not expose to risk people not in their employ. Under section 7 of the Act, an employee has a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work". Activity centres are already regulated. I took the liberty today of ringing the British Activity Holidays Association, because we have not heard a great deal from it today and because the association's members are the people who are in the business. It is concerned that qualifications are required to suit the circumstances. For instance, much canoeing is conducted in safe conditions in swimming pools or small ponds, and not necessarily in the sea.

We want to ensure that the right standards are applied in the right circumstances. That will be a difficult task for my hon. Friend the Minister in drawing up the regulations if the Bill becomes an Act. We also want to ensure that the regulations do not discriminate against private operators in favour of local authority operators. I very much hope that the British Activity Holidays Association will be closely consulted during the course of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) made some pertinent points, and it was unfortunate that he was derided by some Members when he was doing so. My hon. Friend is a caring and effective legislator who wants to ensure that we have safe activity centres, but he does not want to impose costs on centres which will simply drive them out of business or ensure that they become elitist.

I shall end with a quote from Christina Hardy, writing in the Daily Telegraph. She herself was quoting Cardinal Newman, who said more than 100 years ago: We are so constituted that if we insist upon being as sure as is conceivable in every step of our course, we must be content to creep along the ground, and can never soar.

12.51 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I shall be very brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on grasping the initiative? I am naturally and instinctively reticent about supporting extra regulation and legislation, but the hon. Gentleman's restrained and thoughtful approach has convinced me that, in this case, it is necessary, and I can support the Bill.

I have spoken to parents in my constituency who send their children to activity centres and who want to be able to do so because of the benefit that their children derive from the centres. They also want to do so in the knowledge that the safety requirements at the centres are adequate to protect their children. They support the Bill.

I have spoken to the director of education at the local authority which serves my constituency, Bromley. The director of education and the authority are strongly in favour of the Bill because they want to continue to send children from the borough to activity centres. They too want to do so in the knowledge that proper protection is being afforded.

I have spoken to a teacher who leads children to such centres, and who has considerable experience in doing so. She too is strongly in favour of the legislation. She has seen improvements in standards during the past two years—I wonder why—and she realises that, in the very nature of activity centres, there is bound to be risk. She realises that teachers have responsibilities, and she does not in any sense want to duck that. Bearing in mind the culture of the centres, the characteristics of the people who run them and the feelings of children when they are there, it is difficult for a teacher to step in and say, "No, you cannot do that." That teacher needs to be backed up by legislation, and that is why teachers almost universally support the Bill.

I am worried about the nature of some of the people who have been employed in the past by activity centres. I do not want in any sense to suggest that this is the norm or the rule, and I hope that the practice has diminished. However, there are cases on which I have been given information where outdoor activity centres have in the past employed as guides and leaders people who have no qualifications. In some cases, people who have come from abroad—Australia and South Africa, for example—and are illegally working in this country have been employed, and back-packers and rough boys have also been employed.

These people have probably been entirely well motivated, but when it comes to a crisis they simply do not have the training or the skill to deal with it. That sort of thing must not be allowed to continue. One cannot allow chance or good hopes to prevent repetitions of such occurrences. Legislation is necessary to ensure that qualifications and the standards of operators and their personnel are adequate and can provide absolute safety in the application of their skills.

The tragic events of Lyme bay and the publicity and concern that have followed from them have achieved a good deal in improving standards, but there is always a danger that time will pass and complacency will return. Legislation is necessary to prevent that. We cannot legislate completely against risk in human activity—it is impossible—but we can legislate to prevent complacency. That is why I support the Bill.

12.54 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

It is with great pleasure that I warmly congratulate at the end of the debate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on introducing this most important Bill. I share his concern that far too much emphasis has been placed in today's debate on the costs of introducing regulations, proper organisation and monitoring of activity centres. When a child's life is at risk, we cannot put money before that child's life. Although we should have a sense of proportion and common sense, when a child's life is at stake we have an obligation to go to the ends of the earth to get a Bill that is right and appropriate in terms of safety.

Anyone who has read the Health and Safety Executive report will agree that it makes sobering reading. Two Opposition Members have pointed out some of the factors that came up in the report. I should like to point out a couple more. The report made it clear that 8 per cent. of the activity centres visited had no procedures or equipment in place to deal with emergencies. For example, they had no arrangements for communication with remote locations or emergency evacuation from them. Six per cent. had no system to ensure that equipment was well maintained and safely used. That is plain scandalous. Any activity centre that fails to come up to scratch should have the activity brought to an end or simply the whole show closed down. I take a robust view of the matter.

I am a member of the Education Select Committee, which is looking into activity centres. We have received 86 submissions in all. The vast majority are in favour of some compulsory scheme of registration, accreditation and inspection of outdoor activities. Anyone who has read some of the submissions and contacted some of the people who have made them, as I have done, will realise the importance of regulation. I spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Peter Hadfield of Salford, who told me the distressing story of their 11-year-old daughter, Hayley. She died in May 1992 after attending the Manor adventure centre in Shropshire. What Mrs. Hadfield told me was hair-raising. It was a story of blinding incompetence on a scale which leaves us speechless. I hope that those experiences will never be forgotten.

In that context, I am worried when I hear my hon. Friends say that we should worry about the costs of implementing the Bill. If they listened to Mrs. Hadfield, they would think again. This is an enormously important Bill. I have spoken to head teachers of schools in my constituency. They have recently stopped sending their young to activity centres because of the lack of confidence and the breakdown in safety measures. We want to get those children back out to the centres to experience those enriching life styles. I wish the Bill greatest speed. It deserves it. It is not before time. I wish to see the Bill implemented so that my children in Sutton will be able to enjoy the experiences that can only enhance their lives.

12.58 pm
Mr. Jamieson

This has been a useful debate, with many helpful contributions and I pay special tribute to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) for her impassioned cry on behalf of children.

I do not want to delay the House for more than a few moments, but I must answer some of the questions posed during the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) asked why the provisions in the Bill were restricted to people under the age of 18. I feel that that group of people is the most vulnerable. Children are the least able to assess the risks involved in an activity and the immature and inexperienced need to gain experience knowing that there is a framework that guarantees them a certain level of safety. Also, most centres provide for a variety of ages—for those over as well as under 18. If we find that those that provide exclusively for the over-18s are giving cause for concern, the Liberal Democrats might introduce another Bill, if they win the ballot.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) mentioned the excellent centre in his area, which deals with people who have various disabilities. By and large, the Bill might not cover the sort of activities that it provides. If they are covered, the centre would have to accredit once. Such centres not only provide activities themselves, but often go to other centres for different activities. They would therefore have the assurance that when they booked into another centre it would be accredited under the law. The Bill will therefore help such organisations.

The hon. Members for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) and for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) rightly mentioned the scouts and guides. May I add the Youth Hostels Association, with which I have had some discussions. I envisage that those organisations will have to accredit once, if they have centres or undertake activities that fall within the remit of the Act, if the Bill is enacted.

Each and every brownie and guide pack or scout group would not have to accredit separately—that would be ridiculous and, when we draw up the finer points of the regulations, we want to be sure that that would not happen. The Bill will help the scout and guide movements considerably, because, when they employ another centre to provide activities, they will know that it is working within a legal framework—they buy in most of the more hazardous activities from outside sources.

I am pleased at the widespread support for the Bill from the House today. I hope that with cross-party support we can develop a new safety culture for our children. I hope that, when the Bill becomes an Act, it will reassure parents, teachers and governors and, most of all, that it will create a new environment of safety within which activities can grow and flourish.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).