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Column 634`Commission', insert `, organisations representative of the owners of activity centres'.
Mr. Evans: I am grateful to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate today--brief, because I have a slight back pain, which I have had for the past 20-odd years. I would not be surprised if it was due to that wretched weekend that I spent in Crickhowell, which has been referred to time and again in the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on his success in the ballot, and on introducing this most important piece of legislation, which has all- party support. I look forward to it getting on to the statute book as quickly as possible. I suppose that many of us, with the grace of God, look at the tragedy at Lyme bay and say that it could have been our children or those of constituents of ours. Therefore, I believe that we should take measures to protect members of the public. But at the same time, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree, we do not wish to over-penalise small businesses in this country that operate activity centres.
I pay tribute to the dedication of the people--young people in particular-- who work in those centres, the vast majority of whom are decent and law- abiding and would not step outside any area if they thought that they were endangering the lives of young people. I believe that the Bill is in the best interests of those legitimate activity centres. I understand that, following the tragedy at Lyme Bay, the custom of those activity centres has dropped off quite dramatically because of the fear of many people that they would not be able to judge the standards of activity centres around the country. The Bill will correct that for the first time. It will be welcomed by many people who operate such centres.
I have tabled this probing amendment because I want to ensure clarity of purpose about the Bill. I believe it important that we attract as many young people as we can to activity centres. The River Ribble flows through my constituency, and regularly on a Sunday morning I see young people canoeing up and down the river, enjoying themselves. I want to ensure that there is not a similar tragedy in my constituency. We need to get young people involved in such activities. It was mentioned on Second Reading that too many young people are stuck in front of television sets or computers. With the Internet coming in, goodness knows how much daylight many young people will see in future.
I am not certain what constitutes an activity centre, but one area that may be covered by the amendment is the ski centre on Pendle hill in my constituency, which runs between Clitheroe and Sabden. Many young people use it to good effect. I am not certain whether it would be regulated by the Bill. Many groups--we all have them--in our constituencies, such as girl guides, cubs, beavers and scouts, use those activity centres, but also go on events that they have organised themselves. I am not too sure whether those groups or youth clubs will be covered.
My amendment is trying to ensure clarity for all sorts of groups that may exist within the term "activity centre". Clause 3(2) says that regulations under section 1 or 2
"(a) shall be made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument;
(b) may make different provisions for different cases" I want absolute clarity as to what the provisions would be and the different cases that we are talking about. As we have stated time and again, we do not wish to see
Column 635over-regulation for the sake of it. We do not wish to see regulations heaped on for the sake of it. It has been stated that we can introduce legislation to protect young people, but irrespective of whatever legislation we introduce, we will not able to legislate against people injuring or killing themselves. We are seeking in the Bill to minimise the risk of them doing that.
I wish it to be made absolutely clear that people who operate those activity centres will not suddenly--particularly when they have made massive investments in their business and taken all precautions to ensure that their operation is run as safely as it can be--have new rules and regulations heaped on them, regulations which they may not deem appropriate, which may involve costs. I see in the Bill that transitional provisions may be introduced over a time. Therefore, the costs, whether in training or additional equipment, could be spread over a period.
Having said that, smaller organisations might suddenly be asked to abide by our requirements but may not be able to raise the money to fulfil their obligations and may go out of business. The ratio of instructors to pupils in some of the smaller centres might be greater than in some of the bigger centres, but I am sure that the standards vary throughout the country.
I am asking for clarity on the provision. Are we seeing the thin end of the wedge, with no regard paid to the costs that may be incurred by activity centres as a result of new rules and regulations? Such costs will be passed on to the people using those centres. I do not want to see those centres used only by the youngsters of wealthy parents.
Many parents in this country have to scrimp and save to ensure that their youngsters are able to take part in the activities that their friends take part in. It would be dreadful to put those parents in a position in which they would have to say to their children, "I'm terribly sorry, but you cannot go on that pursuit, because we can't afford it." We must ensure that any rules we introduce are framed in a sensitive and common-sense manner, and that they will not heap additional costs on to parents and the activity centres.
I am also concerned at the possibility of what I call the clipboard mentality, which we have seen in this country time and again. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, and others, have talked about deregulation, and we are in a deregulatory mood in many respects, but that does not mean that we are opposed to introducing new rules and regulations when they are absolutely necessary. I want to ensure that a cost-benefit analysis is done on any new rules regulations that are suggested for those activity centres. We must ensure that they are not over -burdensome, and that they are well within the costs of the activity centres.
I am also conscious that there might be different rules and regulations for different activity centres, some of which might be in public ownership, and some in private ownership. I want to get away from that completely. Surely we want to set a minimum set of standards that are clear for everybody at the outset, so that they will all know what they are to do to comply with the regulations. They should not be open to interpretation by officers in various parts of the country who interpret the rules and regulations more rigidly than officers who may use a
Column 636light-touch interpretation. Some officers will move from one part of the country to another, taking with them the baggage that they have built up.
We must give the activity centres the ability to plan long term. The last thing they want, especially in the light of the difficulties of small businesses in raising capital for all sorts of projects, is to be presented with a Bill which will make it extremely difficult for them to raise money from the banks. The banks will say that they are not certain that the project for which the money is required will increase the number of people coming to the activity centre, and will not lend the money.
As I have said, the centres need to be able to plan long-term, and their prices must be kept as competitive as possible, because they are competing with many other activities, outdoor and indoor. I ask the Minister to address the needs of the activity centres and the flexibility he needs to be given to meet any future changes that we have not been able properly to address in debate on the Bill. The activity centres must be aware of a clarity of purpose, so that they know exactly where they stand.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) speaks with such eloquence that one might be tempted into believing that behind his plea for deregulation lies a deregulatory amendment. But he seeks to remove flexibility from the Bill, making it more rigid and probably more onerous to the operators of activity centres than would otherwise be the case. I trust that the House will not be taken in by the charm and blandishments of my hon. Friend. I am afraid that, in my case, they fell on deaf ears.
I should like to speak to my amendment, which is No. 11. Throughout the passage of the Bill, there have been numerous calls for the regulatory burden to be kept as light as possible--the light touch. There is a danger that, with the best intentions in the world--there can be few better intentions than to try to legislate to ensure that tragedies such as that which occurred at Lyme bay will never happen again--we shall end up with regulations that are too onerous and which work against the interests of young people by making it more difficult and costly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley has mentioned, for them to go on excellent activity holidays. I make no apology for returning to the theme of regulation with amendment No.11. Despite the assurances of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) that the Bill will not impose undue restrictions on the operations of activity centres which would deny young people the opportunity to take sensible risks, there is genuine concern among those in the field that that may happen. It is not the purpose of the Bill to draw up detailed regulations: it merely enables the Minister to draw up regulations at a later stage and to deal with them by way of the statutory instrument procedure. The Bill is sensible, and I stress again that I welcome it.
However, I remind the Minister that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said, the Bill is no part of the Government's deregulation initiative. It represents an inescapable extension of regulatory control. When presenting the statutory instrument which details and enacts the regulations, it will be for the Minister to ensure that they are not unduly burdensome or will hinder the enjoyment or experience of young people in participating in sports activities.
Column 637Clause 3(3) requires the Secretary of State to consult only "the Health and Safety Commission and such other persons (if any) as he considers it appropriate to consult."
I do not like that "(if any)", because it gives the impression, deliberately or otherwise, that there may not be other people whom my right hon. Friend may see fit to consult before making his regulations. That would be a pity, but I shall let that point pass. I do not doubt that the Health and Safety Commission is well qualified to provide expert advice on health and safety issues relevant to the regulations. But that is not the only organisation the Secretary of State should be required to consult in framing the regulations.
If a balance between health and safety and the personal development of young people through participation in adventurous activities is to be maintained, surely the latter deserves as much consideration as the former. That is why the amendment seeks to require the Secretary of State to consult representatives of the owners of activity centres before setting the regulations in stone.
I am sure that hon. Members are aware of the work that has already been done by the Activity Centre Advisory Committee working with the Council for Outdoor Education, Training and Recreation and the British Activity Holiday Association. I understand that all those bodies accept the need for statutory systems of regulation and that they have made that clear to the hon. Member for Devonport. In the absence of statutory regulation, they have over the past two years been developing their own voluntary body, and they have made it clear that they stand ready to offer the Secretary of State advice and the benefit of first-hand knowledge in the running of activity centres for young people when he is drawing up the regulations that are enabled by the Bill.
I understand that considerable dialogue has already been established between the Health and Safety Commission and those bodies. I am pleased to hear that that dialogue is taking place, but there is no requirement for the Secretary of State to consult the people on whom the burden of the new regulations will fall. The chairman of the British Activity Holidays Association has expressed concern to me over that.
Although the BAHA is enthusiastic about the Bill, it remains understandably anxious about numerous matters of detail which are likely to arise from it and which will need to be considered by the Secretary of State as he moves towards implementing his regulations.
I tabled the amendment in the interests of balance, which we have heard so much about during the passage of the Bill, and in the interests of the light touch which we would all wish to see. It is reasonable that there should be a requirement for my hon. Friend the Minister to consult the owners of activity centres as well as those whose business it is to ensure the safety of the public.
After all, once the Bill becomes an Act--as I hope it will shortly--it will, like any other piece of legislation, require the good faith and support of those to whom it is directed for it to be an effective law. It is surely right that the views of those on whom the regulations will fall are taken fully into account as the regulations are developed.
Column 63812.30 pm
Mr. Matthew Banks: My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) referred to the need for flexibility, and I agree. I do not, however, concur with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who is a passionate deregulator in industry, business and commerce. I do not believe that his amendment will make a substantial improvement to the Bill.
I am rather more persuaded by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East, although I would not go so far as to say that he should not seriously consider withdrawing the amendment that he has tabled. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley, who eloquently described the activities in his constituency--which I know particularly well--is seeking to do the opposite of deregulating. If the amendment were to form part of the Bill, it would take away the flexibility which should be inherent in it. The flexibility on which there has been agreement across the Floor of the House and which formed part of the foundation behind the Bill would be removed. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley in a number of other respects. He is entirely right to say that the same regulations should apply to both private and public sector activity centres. He is also entirely right to say that there should be no regional variation in standards in the running of activity centres, no matter what part of the UK they are situated in. It is important that standards are maintained, and regulations will follow the guidance as a result of the Bill.
But it is important to ensure that there is the maximum flexibility, and that would be inhibited if amendment No. 4 were agreed to. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley will, having listened to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson)--who I hope will have something sensible to say about the matter--will withdraw the amendment. I referred to regional variations and to public and private sector regulations. When we seek to legislate for the safety of young people who are canoeing, abseiling or taking part in any other activity, it is important that we achieve the same safety measures and provisions, irrespective of the activity. To remove the part of the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley is suggesting be removed would be inappropriate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East was entirely right to say that the British Activity Holiday Association is anxious about a number of items contained in the Bill, and I very much hope that, as we make further progress in the debate, some of the issues which my hon. Friend raised will be taken on board.
Mr. Forth: This has been an intriguing and important debate, because it has enabled us to focus on the direction which many of us would like the Bill to take. The debate has been particularly useful, because it has allowed us to concentrate on a key phrase in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has done us a service by drawing attention to clause 3(2)(b), which refers to the fact that the regulations to be made may make different provisions for different cases. He speculated on what the differences might be.
Column 639I do not often get the opportunity to use the notes so helpfully provided by the excellent officials who give me such superb support at the Department for Education. On this occasion, to repay them for their past kindness I shall read their notes--precisely because, in their usual way, they have accurately anticipated the sort of points that have been made. I shall do my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley the honour of using the notes, because they exactly answer the points he made.
There are a number of circumstances in which we can envisage requiring the sort of flexibility that my hon. Friend mentioned. First, regulations may need to provide for the possibility that licences should contain different conditions for different types of activity. It may be that, following consultation, we would want the regulations to specify that, for example, instructors leading rock climbing or canoeing expeditions should have leadership certificates. We can imagine other similar possibilities.
Secondly, consultation may lead us to conclude that providers should have licences classified as provisional until they are inspected, after which they might then receive full licences if appropriate. That provision, which would be removed if my hon. Friend's amendment was accepted, would allow different sorts of conditions to be imposed on provisional licences and full licences. We may wish to provide regulations for a sliding scale of fees, so that small businesses are not unnecessarily burdened. That is exactly the point about which my hon. Friend was concerned, and I understand why. It is a flexibility that we want to include in the Bill. The House will recognise immediately not only the prescience of the officials in the Department in anticipating the points raised by my hon. Friend, but the fact that their notes anticipate the sort of conditions in which we may want to make different provision for different cases--not in the way that my hon. Friend feared, but to provide exactly the flexibility that he said he wanted. That flexibility is included for good reason, and it would be applied in the sort of areas and in the sort of ways that I have mentioned, not in the ways that my hon. Friend feared.
I come now to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth). I am aware that he has carefully scrutinised the Committee proceedings, although he did not have the privilege and joy of serving on it. He will be aware that the point raised in his amendment has been mused upon previously. I hope that I will be able to persuade him, as I was previously able to persuade the Committee, that to include individual organisations in the Bill to ensure that they are consulted might be tempting, but not necessarily productive.
There is no question but that the sort of organisations that my hon. Friend has in mind will be fully consulted during the consultative process. I am happy to give that undertaking now. After all, it is in our interests that they should be consulted. If we want to bring before the House a set of regulations that are well formed, well thought-out, relevant and effective, we can do no other than to consult all the relevant and interested parties and bodies to ensure that we know their views, can use their expertise and, as far as possible, ensure that the regulations that we frame are relevant, workable and practical.
It follows that I want to ensure that consultations cover the widest possible spectrum of organisations and individuals. The Department has increasingly come to value that process as a method of operation. We have used
Column 640it with the special needs code of practice and we are using it now with the development of policy for under-fives' education. It is not only a vital democratic process: it is valuable in the formation of policy, to ensure that those most immediately involved in an activity that we intend to regulate are consulted fully in advance. There can be no question but that that is case.
Having said all that, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that, in some people's eyes, to single out a particular group or body, no matter how important they may be, might give them a dubious or spurious primacy in the matter.
Mr. Forth: The commission has a unique role, in that it is the body statutorily charged with ensuring health and safety as far as is possible. The other bodies involved have an important but different role. They would be consulted and listened to--they are, of course, active players and participants--but they do not have the statutory role that the commission and, with it, the executive will continue to have in acting to ensure that the highest possible standards of safety apply in every case.
For that reason, it is correct that the Bill singles out that unique, central and pivotal role for the Health and Safety Commission, but that it does not succumb to the temptation of seeking to provide a list, either exclusive or inclusive, or a list of priority consultees.
It is better that we leave it completely open, with the proviso, which I hope my hon. Friend will accept, that there can be no question but that the organisations that he has mentioned will be consulted. He may want to write to me to seek a further assurance if that is not sufficient, and to remind us, if we need reminding when it comes to the consultation, that those bodies should be fully consulted, as I have assured him they will be.
Mr. Jamieson: In the debate, I have been an interested observer, watching the split among Conservative Members elevate into open warfare. Being split eminently suits them for the Back Benches, but being in open warfare qualifies them for the Cabinet.
Amendment No. 4 was tabled by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). He may have misunderstood the part of the Bill to which it relates. There is no question that commercial centres should be dealt with differently from local education authority centres. It is proper that the measure, if and when it is enacted, should fall equally on both organisations. That was fully expected and explained on Second Reading and in Committee.
The Bill's intention was to ensure that charges for smaller centres could be made on a different scale from charges for larger organisations, and that those scales should reflect more the amount of usage and turnover of the centre, rather than its physical size. The hon. Gentleman referred to charges on small centres and to the burden that is caused. In introducing the legislation, I did not intend to over-burden small organisations. We want them to thrive, and we want to encourage them to achieve further success. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has taken the trouble to read the evidence given to the Select Committee on Education by Ms Rawlinson- Plant, who is a committee member of the British Activities Holiday Association. She
Column 641referred to the small centre with which she is involved--the Mill on the Brue centre, which sounds like something out of Thomas Hardy. She said that the centre took only 50 people at a time. But when I asked her what its turnover was, she said that it was about £250,000 a year. I asked her what she thought was a reasonable accreditation fee to pay. She astonished the Select Committee by saying that she thought a reasonable fee would be £5,000 per year. I asked her to repeat it, just in case a zero had been misplaced, and she repeated it as a reasonable fee to pay. That came from a person who is running a small centre.
It would be unreasonable for a small centre to pay that sum. Ultimately, we look forward to a fee that will be considerably less than £5,000. I was nevertheless surprised to hear someone from a small centre, in evidence to a Select Committee, give that sum as the fee that it was prepared to pay for accreditation. It is an indication of how strongly many of those bodies feel about the accreditation scheme and its commercial value to them. As the hon. Member for Ribble Valley said, many centres have suffered a reduction in trade because of the lack of confidence caused partly by the Lyme bay tragedy and partly by other events that have occurred since. 12.45 pm
Amendment No. 11 was tabled by the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth). It is unnecessary to include in the Bill a set of organisations which represents specifically the providers of activities. I recall the Minister of State, in many of his illustrious contributions to debates in the Committee stage of what became the Education Act 1993, saying that too much weight should not be given to producer interests, and that the emphasis should be on consumer interests.
As I said to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), we must tread with caution with a body such as BAHA, which, as the amendment suggests, is an organisation
"representative of the owners of activity centres."
BAHA does not represent a substantial number of centres. It represents possibly 120 or 130 out of 3,000. I accept that Mr. Martin Hudson has made many changes to BAHA in the past two years--lest anyone think that I am criticising him, I believe that many of those changes have been for the good.
The reason why I counsel caution with the amendment is that, when the body was set up in 1986, the intention was to carry out a voluntary accreditation system. If the hon. Member for Surrey, East looks again at BAHA's evidence to the Select Committee, and especially at the record of my interrogation of Mr. Martin Hudson, he will see that I asked about the voluntary accreditation scheme and how it had been conducted in the late 1980s.
An inspector, Mr. Higginson, who I believe has a senior post in BAHA, visited hundreds of centres, and was paid to carry out the scheme. At the same time, he was running the Rock Park centre, which was found wanting by the Consumers Association and the Welsh tourist board, which declined to accredit it under its system.
Before we give too much prominence to such bodies and mention them specifically in the Bill, we should consider just how authentic they are and what their
Column 642essential responsibility is for the safety of children, because that is what the Bill is about--it is not about protecting the providers of activities but about protecting the safety of those who use them. On those grounds, and for those reasons so clearly outlined by the Minister, I counsel the House to reject the amendment.
Mr. Nigel Evans: I am extremely grateful for the advice and guidance given by my hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) about clause 3(2)(b), which has given it clarity of purpose. My fear was evident. The thrust of the Government's policies is deregulatory, and the last thing I wanted to do was to reverse that.
Due regard should be given to the costs of any changes that might have to be made, because they will have to be passed on to the customers of activity centres which we want to be used even more. I certainly want the Minister to have flexibility, but he must understand that, although I have every confidence in him and consider him to be a fellow traveller in this matter, in future someone else might be in a position to make a different interpretation of clause 3(2)(b).
However, in view of the Minister's assurances that my fears are ungrounded, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Order for Third Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.-- [Mr. Jamieson.]
I was quite taken by the late conversion of so many hon. Members to a lively interest in the Bill. I was pleased to see the hon. Members for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth), for Southport (Mr. Banks), for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), and others, tabling amendments and speaking on them today. However, I fear that many of the amendments were not even serious probing amendments, but were constructed to eat up valuable time in the House.
It should be put on record that today we have had another, more sophisticated attempt to ensure that the Transport of Animals for Slaughter Bill does not get the hearing that it deserves. That is especially sad because no one anticipated--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. This is the Third Reading of the Activity Centres (Young Person's Safety) Bill. It is not a debate on other legislation or on tactics related to other legislation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that all the amendments selected today are fully in order.
Mr. Kilfoyle: I am suitably chastised, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having said that, I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). He said that this was a sad day in terms of his views on regulation and deregulation. For parents throughout the country, it is a happy day indeed. It is especially a happy day for the Walker, Dunne, Langley and Sayer families who lost children in Lyme bay. The
Column 643Bill cannot, of course, be any compensation for their terrible loss, but they can take some succour from the fact that the Bill has reached its Third Reading. We hope that, as a result of the Bill, there will not be such losses in future.
I was taken by the concern for military traditions shown by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, as reflected in amendment No. 3. Such traditions do not strike my fancy; I have never had a particular engagement with uniforms, boots and all things military. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which was endorsed by the Minister, that the issue had, in all fairness, not been raised earlier.
So that I cannot be considered to have extended, even inadvertently, discussion of the Bill on Third Reading, I intend to be extremely brief. We very much welcome the fact that the Bill has reached this stage. Yet again, I place on record the fact that credit must be given to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) who has conducted such a model campaign during the Bill's various stages. The Bill is a credit to him, a credit to the families concerned and a credit to all who have children as their primary concern. As I said, I am not especially concerned about what happens to military tradition. I am not really concerned about what happens in terms of regulation and deregulation in the context of this Bill. Like hon. Members on, I hope, both sides, my concern is for children, especially when they are at risk.
In these peculiar political times, the Labour party is more the party of deregulation than the Conservative party in many respects. The one question I have to ask myself is whether, with a Labour Government, the Bill would have been introduced without a strong campaign having been mounted by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport. I believe that it would have been.
I congratulate the Minister on his productive and constructive attitude at each stage. The simple reason for his attitude is that he has reflected public opinion, and the sense of public outrage about what happened in Lyme bay and the potential for future disasters. I welcome everything that the Minister has said. I deplore the fact that--shall we say--time has been wasted in considering the Bill, for whatever reason. On that note, I hope that others will follow my model of brevity and speedily complete the Third Reading.
Mr. Merchant: I shall take nothing but the briefest of time to speak in favour of giving the Bill a Third Reading. I am sure that all hon. Members, including Labour Members, will recognise that I have had--and displayed--a genuine interest in the Bill from the very beginning. Sadly, for some, this Bill will come too late, but it will substantially prevent previous abuses which left open avoidable levels of risk.
I am not generally in favour of regulation, especially unnecessary regulation, but there is a strong argument for the regulation that the Bill will enforce. It sets up a framework. On a constitutional note, I slightly regret the fact that so much is left to statutory instrument, but I recognise--and have been convinced--that it is necessary in this case. There will be a proper licensing, inspection and complaints procedure. The Bill will neither harm business nor the activities in its scope. Rather, it will
Column 644encourage such activities by making them clearly more reliable, by answering doubts and by helping those who run the centres to run them with greater confidence. It will also encourage parents, teachers and those who take part to do so without the worry that they have had in the past few years.
For those reasons, I believe that the Bill is of benefit to all those involved. It will help the education of our children and help to protect them and I delighted to see it reach this stage. 12.55 pm
Mr. Matthew Banks: I had not originally proposed to catch your eye on Third Reading, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I do so briefly to make one particularly important point. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Devonport, especially for the way in which he wrote to right hon. and hon. Members from all parties and kept us informed on the progress of his Bill.
A number of us who spoke to amendments on Report in the House this morning did not table our own amendments and were in our places to support the hon. Gentleman and the important measures which lie behind the Bill. I have no doubt whatever that if there had been any time wasting, as was suggested earlier, the Bill would not have made such progress. All of us on the Conservative Benches, in tandem with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), wish the Bill best speed.
Mr. Forth: I join the sentiments which have been expressed and congratulate the hon. Member for Devonport on his wisdom and sagacity in bringing before the House a Bill to provide a framework for activity centres. It is an enabling measure and it will be followed by consultation. The regulations which will flow from it will be very much based on that process of consultation, as we emphasised over and over again. It will put in place a licensing regime with inspection and penalties to seek to ensure as far as is possible within the law and given human frailty that any centre which provides activities for young people under 18 will be as safe as we can make it, but will be consistent with providing the sense of adventure which we all believe is so important to the development of young people.
Scrutiny in Committee and on Report has demonstrated that the Bill achieves all the provisions required. I wish it well. I am sure that the hon. Member for Devonport knows that the Government, my Department and any others involved will seek to ensure that his Bill, once it has passed all its parliamentary stages, will be put into effect with speed and the thoroughness that it deserves to ensure that, when it finally takes effect, it will be balanced, effective and fair. That is the Government's intention and I am sure that it will meet the hon. Gentleman's approval.
Mr. Jamieson: I rise at the close of the debate with a sense of humility and pleasure at having been able to steer the Bill through the House. I am humble because the House has given me the time to introduce a measure which is of great importance to my constituents and to people throughout the country. I have also been humbled
Column 645by my ability to persuade so many people to support the Bill, not just in the House, but in the much wider community outside in the country. I have been pleased that it has received so much cross-party support. I am also humbled to have been able to participate in that rare event--an Opposition Back Bencher steering a Bill through the House in tandem with the Government and with their support. It has been a pleasure to represent my constituents and to reflect the much wider interest throughout the country. I have been pleased to be able to extract from an appalling disaster, which happened almost two years ago today, some hope for the future. I cannot pretend but that the Bill was initiated by the tragedy at Lyme bay. I cannot conceal how deeply saddened I am that four lives had to be lost before action was triggered. I cannot claim the high moral ground and pretend that I was campaigning for the measure before that event. That tragedy at Lyme bay triggered the need for the Bill and triggered cross-party support for it. That tragedy has led to a period of careful consideration and, now, to measures of plain common sense, which anyone can see are right.
With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to thank one or two people who have assisted me with the Bill. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Department for Education for his support in getting the Bill through the House. Had it not been for his support, we would not be participating in the Third Reading debate today. I thank him for his contribution in getting the Bill through the House. I also thank the silent ones behind him, his civil servants, who have been so helpful in seeing the Bill through Parliament. The Minister did them credit today by reading out the brief that they had written for him--and excellent it was too.
I should also like to pay tribute, as I did on Second Reading, to the parents who lost their children at Lyme bay. The Walkers, Dunnes, Sayers and Langleys have suffered what can only be described as the unimaginable loss of a child. None of us can understand what those people have gone through unless we have been through it ourselves. But we all know what it is like to lose loved ones, and how deeply and profoundly it affects people when they undergo such a tragedy. It is significant that the parents used their loss not merely for internal grief, great though that may have been, but as a springboard to campaign for other people's children. That must have been the most noble position for anyone to take in the circumstances.
The Bill has received widespread support from local authorities, individual schools, sporting organisations,
Column 646commercial centres that run activities and youth organisations, not least the scouts and the Young Men's Christian Association, as well as many other organisations. I have had considerable support from all the teachers' professional organisations, particularly the National Union of Teachers, which has played a large part. I am particularly grateful to Jonathan Hopkins and Elaine Derbyshire from the NUT, who helped enormously in the Bill's preparation and helped me to steer it through the House.
There are many unsung heroes behind the scenes, but I should like to thank one other person. I have the rare opportunity to thank one of my staff, a young man called Alex Ross, who has been with me since I was elected, nearly three years ago. He came straight from university and, not long after that, the Lyme bay tragedy occurred. He has helped me to deal with the distressed parents with enormous maturity, sensitivity and good sense well beyond his years. He, too, has shown quiet concern in ensuring that the Bill proceeds through Parliament. His tenacity behind the scenes has helped to get the Bill to where it is today.
The measure states that children involved in hazardous activities should have a framework of safety guidance that must be adhered to. It distinguishes between activities that are challenging and exciting and those that are dangerous and pose a risk to life. The Bill puts in place a system of proper inspection of activity centres, and when it is enacted, I hope that it will restore public confidence in that industry, which has been rocked by tragedy. As the regulations are implemented and the accreditation scheme begins to work, I hope that parents and teachers will have renewed confidence. All of us want to encourage young people to undertake such activities, for reasons clearly spelt out in our debates.
The Bill will assist good centres, which are in the majority, and support their commercial ventures and activities. It will send a clear message to centres that cut corners and compromise safety that either they join the scheme or go out of business. I hope that few centres will go out of business because of the Bill and that those that cut corners, as revealed by the Health and Safety Executive report, will bring themselves up to standard.
It was said many times in debate that the Bill cannot eliminate all risk, but it will permit challenging and adventurous activity for children in an environment that ensures that safety comes first. Bill read the Third time, and passed .