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Column 601young 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
Column 602matters; that is precisely why there will be extensive consultation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not prejudge the matter.
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. 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.
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.
Column 603Indeed, 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.
Column 604Again, 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 and 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
Column 605the 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.
Column 60610.53 am
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.
Column 607If, 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.
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.
Column 608There 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
Column 609constituency 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.
Column 610Should 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
Column 611national 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 be 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. 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
Column 612went 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.
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 whom 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
Column 613few 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.