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UK Politics

Ministers warm to canoe tragedy Bill

The Government appears to have moved to back compulsory registration and inspection of outdoor activity centres, aimed at ensuring the Lyme Bay tragedy can never be repeated.

The news was greeted with delight last night by parents of the four teenagers who died when their canoes capsized in Lyme Bay, Dorset. The four, from Southway Comprehensive school, Plymouth, drowned in March 1993 during an expedition organised from the St Albans Challenge Centre, Lyme Regis. Peter Kite, the managing director of the centre, was last year convicted of manslaughter and jailed for three years.

The trial highlighted lax safety standards at the centre and brought calls for tighter regulation of the nearly 3,000 outdoor activity centres, which run courses for 9 million visitors a year. For more than a year, ministers resisted compulsory action, backing instead a voluntary scheme of registration.

But now David Jamieson, the Labour MP for Devonport who is piloting his own Bill to introduce legally binding registration, believes he has been assured of Government support. He said last night he and the Government "appear to be coming to an agreement", after his talks with the Department for Education.

He wants legally-binding guidelines for operating activity centres, stipulating minimum standards of staffing, training and equipment; an accrediting organisation to register centres, which could not otherwise trade; and an inspectorate with powers to close centres down. His Bill is due to have its Second Reading next week. Without Government support, it would fall.

It is understood that the Government's position has changed because the DFE assumed that the Health and Safety Executive had the power to set up a register if compulsory action proved necessary. Legal advice now suggests this is not so. A department spokesman said: "The Government is considering very carefully the measures Mr Jamieson is developing."