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Column 105First, if there is an exemption and a licence is not required, the arguments that I have deployed in relation to enforcing an agreement through the licence clearly cannot apply : the hon. Gentleman is right in that regard. Undertakings that are exempt--including London Underground and the docklands light railway, which is related to London Regional Transport for the purposes of legislation--will exercise their right, and enter into an agreement with the British Transport police. The hon. Gentleman is correct, however, in saying that because they are exempt from the railway licensing system it is an option for them to extend the jurisdiction of the British Transport police, rather than its being imposed on them.
I can confirm that the docklands light railway and London Underground have a formal relationship with the British Transport police ; in other words, they have extended the jurisdiction of the police voluntarily to themselves --and the system has worked very well.
I have mentioned the representation on the police committee. I indicated a cross-reference and the hon. Gentleman was right to ask questions about police jurisdiction in relation to exemptees. The hon. Gentleman cited the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 and its definition of the tunnel system, which is exempt. That definition relates to the tunnels, terminal areas at Cheriton and Frethun, an inland clearance depot which is not proceeding as originally envisaged, necessary road and rail links of each country, and the fixed and movable equipment needed for tunnel operations. Although British Transport police jurisdiction cannot be imposed on the tunnel system through the licensing system, BTP's jurisdiction is clear in respect of passenger and freight rail services to and from the tunnel. It exists because licences are required to run those train services, so a requirement will be imposed on the licensee to enter an agreement--which must be approved by the Secretary of State--to cover the powers of the police. Therefore, British Transport police will be at Waterloo station and on the trains, and will be responsible for the law and order function that I described earlier in respect of freight services.
In the tunnel itself and at its portals, Eurotunnel will be responsible for security arrangements. If there are problems, it will call in Kent constabulary. There is an agreement between Kent constabulary and Eurotunnel. On the other side of the channel, different arrangements will apply because there the state is responsible for security and policing arrangements.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North drew my attention to the long list of light maintenance depots, which are exempt from the licensing system. He is right to say that jurisdiction can extend automatically to investigations and to the pursuit to those depots of anyone committing an offence. Of that, there is no question. I should not have thought that policing the depots themselves would be high on the list of policing responsibilities, but I accept that there may be a legitimate interest on the part of depot
Column 106owners to enter an agreement with British Transport police. However, that will not be compulsory but voluntarily negotiated.
Mr. Dobson : Is the Minister saying that British Transport police will have no jurisdiction over exempt premises and will have a right to enter such premises only in pursuit of someone who thieved something from the railway ?
Mr. Freeman : Yes, that is a fair and accurate description. After discussions with British Transport police and the chief constable, I am not aware of any particular problems arising in relation to constraints on jurisdiction. Clearly there is a right of pursuit, but because such depots are exempt from the licensing regime it would not be possible to impose a BTP agreement on their owners, although some may wish to enter such an agreement to protect their property.
Mr. Trotter : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour party issued a press release tonight ? I subsequently spoke to the chairman of the British Transport Police Federation, who described that press release as
"a load of garbage, so wrong it is unbelievable. I can only conclude that it was designed to stir up trouble unnecessarily." I suggest to my right hon. Friend that that has been the tone of many comments by Opposition Members tonight.
I have stood opposite the Minister, at the Opposition Dispatch Box, throughout the Railways Bill and in Committee, I respect his regard for detail and his attempts to explain the proposed legislation--in so far as it is capable of being explained--and I know that he does not run away from the issues. I am not suggesting that it was anything deliberate, as the area had not been explored, but it is on the record that at the start of the debate today he dismissed the exemptions as being only steam trains, and the odd bit here and there.
In his response to me on the stand part debate, the Minister went through every one of the substantive exemptions that I asked about and confirmed that, in each case, there would be at the very least a possibility that those parts of the railway would be outside the jurisdiction of the British Transport police and that they might or might not opt in. So far as I am concerned, that is it--the record is straight on that and we shall not obstruct the Bill tonight--but that was not what the Minister said to start with, so there are still huge questions to be answered.
The guy who is paid money by the British Transport police to look after their interests--the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), who had neither the intellect nor the energy to ask any of those questions--then stood up at the end and produced the best contribution that he could make. And it spoke volumes. When members of the British Transport police read the record of this debate, they will know who asked the questions, who scraped away the surface and who began to get some of the information that is relevant to their future work and to that of railway passengers. I will let it rest there, but--my goodness--
Column 107what a movement there has been since the start of the debate in the factual information that has come from the Minister.
Question put and agreed to .
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill .
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill .
Schedule agreed to .
Reported, without amendment .
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Mr. Dobson : I do not wish to detain the House for long. As I explained on Second Reading, the Bill is before the House because the Labour party pressed the Government to put right their errors in the Railways Act that would have left the British Transport police bereft of significant powers to combat crime, look after the interests of passengers and goods on the railways, and continue our efforts to fight terrorism. The Bill was urged on the Government by myself, and, in the knowledge of my urging, also by the chairman of British Rail and the chief constable of the British Transport police. They believed that it was right to introduce such a Bill. I believe that it was right to do so and hope that the inadequate measure that is before us tonight will be something of an improvement on the situation that would have prevailed had we not got the Bill. Tonight's brief debate has demonstrated what we suspected as soon as we saw the Bill- -that it is an inadequate and confused measure. I do not know what members of the British Transport Police Federation might think, nor do I know what the chief constable of the British Transport police might think, but it appears to all Opposition Members that aspects of the Bill suggest that the comprehensive policing of the whole of the railway network exclusively by British Transport police is under threat and is further threatened. We suspect that it is the Government's intention to exempt more and more of the railway system from the coverage of BTP generally and to cause them to restrict their activities to what is called core policing so that organisations such as Group 4 can move in and take over some of BTP's current functions.
As I said on Second Reading, when the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) was not present, the measures taken by BTP to counter terrorism are extremely impressive. They managed to assess 1,136 bomb threats last year and to close stations on only 33 occasions, when nine bombs were found. Of the 1,103 occasions when they decided not to advise the closure of stations, none of them involved a bomb and no one was injured or killed. That was the result of having a comprehensive policing system for Britain's entire railway system. That left the senior officers who have to make such judgments confident about the information that they were receiving. They were confident about their ability to analyse the situation and confident to take their lives and others' lives in their hands in making their decisions.
If the Bill undermines in any way the comprehensive nature of BTP's coverage, the Minister will be responsible for putting at risk people's safety and for increasing the vulnerability of the transport system to terrorism. He had
Column 108better remember that. If he has any doubts about the Bill in view of what has been said and the questions asked by Opposition Members, which have been left unanswered, perhaps he should eat a little humble pie and suggest some changes to be made in another place. We are dubious about the Bill. We asked for it to be introduced and it was, but we consider it unsatisfactory. Its long-term ramifications may be extremely dangerous.
Mr. Freeman : I have a clear conscience about the Bill. It deals with a specific problem and it is clear and concise. It does not undermine the powers of the British Transport police. It ensures that their jurisdiction and powers are unimpaired. I reject the criticism that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has levelled that the Bill may be defective in some way and that we should think again. It is, of course, a Government Bill. We are not dealing with an Opposition measure. It is the result of the best legal advice and it has been supported by the Labour party and endorsed by the police committee, the chief constable and the chairman of the British Railways Board.
We are correcting a specific problem. The Bill is not a charter for Group 4 or any other private sector security firm. It is designed to ensure that BTP's powers remain unimpaired. The force will in future be able to provide the same jurisdiction and cover that it has applied hitherto. The Government have discharged their
responsibilities to BTP promptly and adequately and I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to .
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed .
Mr. Mackinlay : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be brief but this is an important matter. I am concerned that the Bill affects the prerogative of Her Majesty in as much as it relates to constables who are sworn, I believe, to carry out their powers under the royal prerogative. If that is so, the Queen's
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : I rise to present a petition to the House about a matter which has enraged many British citizens : the imposition of VAT on fuel. It has enraged British citizens because the Government specifically promised in the last election campaign that they would not widen the scope of VAT. The petition reads : To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the people of York
That the Government intends to impose VAT on domestic fuel bills, which will greatly add to the hardship suffered by those on low incomes or with special heating needs.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to remove from the Finance Bill currently being considered by the House the proposals to add VAT to domestic fuel bills.
Column 109And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. The petition is signed by Mr. A. Kelly of Tennyson Avenue, York, and by many others of my constituents.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wood.]
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport) : I am very grateful to have been awarded the chance to debate safety in outdoor education. I come to the Chamber with mixed emotions of pleasure and sadness--pleasure that I am able to air views about outdoor education on behalf of my constituents and sadness because of the circumstances in which I have had to ask for the debate.
At 11 am on 22 March last year, eight teenagers from Southway school in my constituency went on a canoeing trip to Lyme bay in Dorset and by 11 o'clock that night it had been confirmed that four of those teenagers had died in that venture. During the past year the bereaved parents have borne their great pain with considerable dignity. They have campaigned for changes in the law with passion and perseverance because it is their wish that no parent should have to go through the agony that they have been through in the past year. I speak, both as a former teacher and as a parent, as a supporter of outdoor education. Young people--particularly those who suffer the monotony of urban life--need the challenge of the outdoors. It gives direction and purpose to their lives and provides a discipline that is lacking in the lives of many youngsters today. The national curriculum recommends outdoor pursuits to schools and the debate is not about taking away all risk from outdoor pursuits, but about removing all unnecessary risk from those pursuits.
What changes have taken place in the past few years ? Because of the onset of local management of schools, many local education authority outdoor centres are winding down or have closed. The debate is not about the merits of LMS, but that is still a fact. Many of those centres are now being replaced by commercial private centres that are run for profit. The debate is not about whether that should happen. Some of those commercial centres are good, some are excellent, some are mediocre and a few are cowboy outfits that are putting children's lives at risk. It is my wish that the poorest centres should be brought up to the standard of the best centres, or should close.
My concerns about the matter are not new. Which ? has been campaigning for changes in the law for 19 years--since 1975. In 1991, it carried out a survey of centres in Great Britain. If the Minister has not already seen it, I commend to him Holiday Which ? of September 1991 which showed that some of the centres that it inspected were seriously lacking in basic safety measures. It also found, as I have said, that some of the centres were excellent. However, two of the 10 centres inspected were seriously deficient in safety measures.
At that time, calls--the parents to whom I have referred and I have been saying this for the past year--were made for compulsory registration of activity centres, for a comprehensive code of practice for those centres, for appropriate qualifications for instructors employed by activity centres and for a formal system of regular and comprehensive inspection by an independent body. What checks are made ?
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wood.]
Mr. Jamieson : What checks are being made on those centres ? In a recent, well-reported case, the centre in Lyme bay and several other centres were checked by an inspector who was sent round by the British Activity Holiday Association. Presumably, he gave a clean bill of health to those centres. However, it was later found that he ran a centre that was seriously deficient. He was quoted in no less a journal than the Western Morning News as saying that he had no qualifications. He said that he just used common sense to carry out the task.
Would we allow an aeroplane mechanic working on a aeroplane on which we were about to fly or a surgeon who was about to carry out open-heart surgery to use just common sense ? What is wrong with the present system is that any of us in the Chamber, whether we were skilled or experienced, could open an outdoor pursuits centre tomorrow and take youngsters on potentially hazardous outings. Most local education authorities have good guidance. Over the past year, I have discovered that a few of them have weak guidance. Some have guidance that is virtually non-existent. I am concerned that grant-maintained schools do not have guidance on which to fall back unless they take note of the LEA guidance in their areas. Some of those schools are now using what is called the named instructor scheme whereby a centre fills in a check list sent in by the school. That check list is checked afterwards. However, the difficulty is that too few schools have people who are competent to say whether that check list has been filled in correctly. Similarly, too few LEAs have outdoor pursuits advisers who can tell them whether that check list has been filled in correctly. The system is fundamentally flawed because those check lists rely on the centres giving truthful and accurate answers about the operation of the centres.
It is estimated that 25 per cent. of children who go to those centres every year do not go through their schools or LEAs. They go straight to the centre from home. Their parents usually find a centre in one of the Sunday supplements. There is no checking in between by any other body to discover whether the centre is working to high standards.
We expect the highest standards of safety in a civilised society in any body that is operating publicly. We do not get on a bus and ask whether the bus driver has a driving licence. We expect that to be the case. However, in outdoor education activities, there is no statutory requirement for any person to have qualifications to carry out those activities.
I want now to consider briefly the Government's response to the tragedy to which I have referred. On 11 November, the Secretary of State for Education released his four-point plan. The first item in the plan is that the Health and Safety Executive should inspect the centres. It came out earlier this year that the Health and Safety Executive will inspect only 100--50 a year for two years--out of an estimated 3,000 centres. On that basis, it will take 60 years to inspect all the centres. If we applied that to motor vehicles, would we say that it is satisfactory to give an MOT to only one out of 30 vehicles ? The Minister's plan is seriously deficient in that respect.
There is another point. In written questions, I have asked both the Department for Education and the Department of Employment where those 3,000 centres are in Britain. Neither of those Departments could give me an answer. They simply said that the information was not
Column 112collected in the form in which I requested it. All that I asked for was the names of the centres and the counties in which they are. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the House and tell us in what form the statistics are kept, if they are kept at all. Does he know where all the centres are, so that he is in a position to have them inspected by the Health and Safety Executive ?
Another point in the Minister's plan is that the reports will be published. I agree with that, but where will the reports be published ? How will they be made available to parents who are thumbing through the colour supplements on Sunday to find a centre ? How will parents and schools see the reports ? I remind the Minister that the Department of Employment said that the first reports will not be available until April 1995 and the second batch will be available in April 1996. Three years after the tragedy, we will have reports on one out of every 30 centres.
I refer to a letter that I received from the Minister on another matter--I asked him about Ofsted reports of private schools. In a letter dated 17 February, he said :
"The onus is on the school to distribute the report to interested parties or to advise them where reports can be obtained." Will he use the same criteria for those centres or will the reports be openly and freely available to all ?
The four-point plan set out further guidance for schools. I am glad that many schools are receiving good guidance. The guidance available in Devon is excellent--it was updated following the terrible tragedy. However, all of the guidance documents still rely on honest and truthful answers from the outdoor centres. That is a fundamental flaw in the present system.
The fourth point in the plan laid out by the Minister is that he will change the articles for governing bodies to reinforce the legal responsibility of governors. Unless other measures are put in place, I am afraid that that will make governors who support outdoor education reluctant to send children on such activities because they would be held legally liable for the shortcomings of centres over which they have no control whatever.
The Secretary of State has set up a steering group--it is meeting at present--to draw up new guidelines. The membership of that group is excellent. I am pleased that it has a number of distinguished members. The work of that group will be of limited value--indeed, it will have negligible value--unless there are some statutory teeth to what it is doing. The draft document refers users to a code of practice set out by tourist boards. That code of practice has been drawn up largely by people who own such centres or who have a vested interest in them. Any code of practice should be drawn up independently by people who do not have a direct financial interest in a centre.
Most of all, what is wrong is that there is no binding requirement on any centre to employ instructors who are properly qualified to carry out the work. We know that some of the people who work in centres start work a matter of days before the activity is undertaken, sometimes with no training at all. They are paid £30 or £40 a week, and are expected to take responsibility for the lives of young children.
What is needed ? Clearly, the new guidelines for local education authorities--particularly those which have
Column 113insufficiently good guidelines at the moment --are right. I applaud what the Minister is doing in that respect. We want all of the guidelines to come up to the best standards. However, they must be backed by teeth. There must be a statutory obligation on the centres.
The Minister needs to address two points. The inspections that take place are carried out by the Health and Safety Executive, but just inspecting a few centres is insufficient. The hon. Gentleman must make sure that far more centres are inspected. They could be inspected by an agency, and the centres themselves could pay. That is a little bit like the MOT test example that I gave. The centres could have some sort of kite mark which would show that they had been tested and had met high standards as a minimum requirement. I know that many good centres would welcome and would pay for such a scheme. That does not necessarily have a financial implication, and perhaps there could be some pump-priming from the Minister. I ask him to address seriously the question of wider inspection.
The other main point is that there should be a clear legal framework for establishing that instructors who are undertaking potentially hazardous activities, such as abseiling, yachting or canoeing on the sea, should have qualifications to carry out those activities. That does not exist at the moment. If we allow just anybody to take children abseiling or canoeing, I am afraid that their lives will be at risk. I have also found out that there are literally millions of children going through the centres each year. I ask the Minister to address the two points of inspection and the statutory qualifications that people should have.
It is my wish, and the wish of the parents who lost their children in the appalling tragedy last year, that there should be changes in the law to make sure that all outdoor education establishments are working to the highest standards. I know that my thoughts, and those of many hon. Members, will be with the parents who lost Simon, Claire, Dean and Rachel. Let us hope that their sad and tragic loss spurs to us change the law.
Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) for allowing me a few minutes to speak in the debate. I am also grateful to the Minister because he indicated that, hopefully, he would be able to respond in some way.
My concern is the safety aspects of private schools and, in particular, private kindergartens and primary schools. Tragically, the young child of a Mr. and Mrs. Sargeant in my constituency died in a swimming accident at such a private school. The child died basically because of a difficulty with a floatation device. I am not seeking to apportion blame or neglect in the matter. What concerns me, and what also concerns Mr. and Mrs. Sargeant, is the yawning gap in enforcing the best standards within those establishments. This follows closely on what my hon. Friend was saying.
There are elements of danger in everything, but people--particularly parents--are reassured if they know that those elements of danger, to the best of everybody's intentions, are being closely monitored. There does not appear to be anyone with jurisdiction for safety in private schools, with the exception of the Health and Safety Executive and the police. Admirable as those two bodies
Column 114might be, I do not believe that they have the breadth, scope and expertise of local education authorities. LEAs examine such matters continually and on a larger scale. In the letter that the Minister kindly sent me dated 7 March he unfortunately gives no undertaking that the Government are prepared to consider that suggestion. I hope that in response to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport and my speech the Minister will take it on himself to consider the matter more closely. He said in his letter that once an independent school has satisfied the Secretary of State that the necessary standards have been achieved, everything is OK, everything is signed. I remind the Minister that, tragically, standards can be applied in the first instance but may well not continue to be applied.
Unfortunately, there is a yawning gap in the legislation. I sincerely hope that the Minister will examine the case again and will consider the difficulties that have arisen. I hope that there will be some liaison with the LEAs. I hope that their expertise, which I am sure will be welcomed by most of the independent and private schools, can be put to good use.
Several hon. Members rose
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. Before I call anyone, I must be clear that the Member has the permission of both the Minister and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) to speak.
I also lost a constituent as a result of the canoeing accident. I was extremely disappointed that my next-door neighbour, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), did not have the courtesy to allow me to intervene in his speech in this important debate, which I am glad that he managed to obtain. It is not helpful if next-door neighbours who have suffered the same tragedy do not stand together to announce such
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I must make it clear that an Adjournment debate is essentially on a subject raised by one Member and answered by a Minister. The custom is for another Member who wishes to take part in the debate to sound out both the Member and the Minister in advance.
Mr. Steen : I merely wished to intervene, Madam Deputy Speaker. I did not intend to make a speech, but because the hon. Member for Devonport refused even to allow me to ask a question, I am having to make a short speech.
I lost a constituent in the tragic accident. I do not believe that if statutory rules and regulations had been laid down the accident would have happened. It was one of those tragedies that occur from time to time which one feels are an appalling waste of life. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not overreact to the tragedy, believing that creating more rules and regulations will prevent such tragedies from happening.
The Health and Safety Executive has an amazing number of things to do. To give it more tasks is unlikely to result in such tragedies being prevented. I hope that the
Column 115Minister will take that point to heart. We do not necessarily stop such unfortunate occurrences by passing rules and regulations. 10.18 pm
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) rose
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on handling the matter in the way that he has. It is a particularly important issue. I must say in response to the point raised by the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) that such tragedies can be avoided. I rise to speak as someone with many years' experience of canoeing. I built some of the first glass fibre boats in this country in the early 1960s.
When I discussed the day after the tragedy the matters raised by my hon. Friend, I was horrified to learn about the lack of supervision. Basic needs were ignored. For example, the youngsters had been given no training in deep-sea rescue before they were taken across Lyme bay, which is a treacherous piece of water. There were no spray decks on the vessels. The clothing worn, although good, was inadequate. The situation in which those youngsters found themselves was bound to cause a tragedy. It is nonsense to argue that that tragedy could not have been avoided. Way back in the early 1960s, there were canoeing expeditions in British waters, emulating experiences gained by eskimos in Arctic waters, that were supervised far more safely than was this specific incident.
The right place to comment in detail and to attribute blame is obviously another place, but I hope that the Minister will take on board the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport throughout the past year, and the very clear guidance given by the British Canoe Union and other organisations which have clearly indicated that the tragedy should have been, and could have been, avoided.