Activity centre law `must not ban risk'

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The Independent Online
Warnings against eliminating risk and excitement from outdoor activity courses were heard in the Commons yesterday as a Bill aimed at preventing another Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy moved towards the statute book.

Parents of the four teenagers who died in the disaster in Dorset in March 1993 were in the public gallery for the second reading of the Activity Centres (Young Persons' Safety) Bill.

Introduced by David Jamieson, Labour MP for Plymouth Devonport, the Bill will introduce compulsory registration for 3,000 centres and establish minimum standards and inspection.

But Mark Wolfson, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks and chairman of the trustees of the Brathay Hall outdoor activities centre in Cumbria, told MPs that safety had to be balanced against the importance of adventure and some risk.

"There is a real possibility that safety could become so dominant an element that the thrill, excitement and the challenge of these activities could actually be squeezed out. Safety standards must be exacting but an acceptable risk is, and ought to remain, a part of this activity," he said. Mr Wolfson was head of the Brathay centre from 1962-66.

Supporting the Bill, he said it was a "necessary sledgehammer to crack a nut" - the nut being the few "cowboy centres" who would either have to improve standards or go out of business.

A report published last week by the Health and Safety Executive showed that one in ten centres gave cause for concern.

The company behind the St Albans Challenge Centre at Lyme Regis, Dorset, which organised the fatal expedition, was subsequently fined £60,000 and its managing director, Peter Kite, jailed for three years for manslaughter.

The Government originally hoped for voluntary accreditation. But it has bowed to a recommendation from the Activity Centre Advisory Committee and the judge in the Lyme Bay trial who said "authoritative control, supervision and . . . intervention is called for".

Eric Forth, Minister of State for Education, said he hoped that regulations would be in place by early 1996.