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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.
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.
Column 614All 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.
Column 615Finally, 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.
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
Column 616statutory 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
Column 617the 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.
Column 618As 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
Column 619in 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. 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.
Column 620As 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.
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
Column 621masterminding 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 rose --
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. 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
Column 622at 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) rose --
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.
Column 623it. 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.
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
Column 624scare 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.
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.