To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received concerning the implications for safety in schools of the current state of pen top safety.
In addition to the hon. and learned Gentleman's own representations, I have received, and replied to, a letter from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs on the subject. My Department has also answered correspondence from Mr. and Mrs. Walker, who are the hon. and learned Member's constituents, and whose son, Billy, tragically died last October after accidentally swallowing a pen top at his school.
Is the Minister aware that the Walker family, and thousands of people who have signed a petition calling on the Government to take action, consider that unless and until pen tops are banned from schools so that no more children unnecessarily die, as Billy did, and no more children are operated on in hospital, as so many are, there can be no hope for greater safety? What steps is the Minister proposing to take at least to encourage schools to take this basically simple safety measure?
I can tell the hon. and learned Member that my Department is preparing a letter giving advice to all local education authorities in the light of expert comments received on a draft consultative document. It is likely to recommend that any pens with detachable tops that are issued for use in our schools should have the tops removed before being issued to pupils, and that authorities may wish to give early consideration to changing either to pens with tops that cannot normally cause asphyxiation if swallowed or to one-piece pens that do not carry this safety risk. I undertake to keep the hon. and learned Gentleman informed of developments as they emerge.