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Provision Of Headgear

Volume 170: debated on Friday 20 April 1990

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`Any person who owns, controls or possesses horses which are or may be available to be ridden by young people under the age of 18 (whether or not for hire or reward) shall be under a duty to make available a supply of headgear which satisfies the provisions of regulations issued under Section 2(b) of this Act.'.—[Miss Widdecombe.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

2.5 pm

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I shall not be pressing any of the other amendments that have been selected by Mr. Speaker, but I feel particularly strongly about new clause 2 and wish to speak to it, even given the restrictions on time.

The new clause seeks to put an absolute legal obligation on anyone who has horses available for riding without it having to be a commercial enterprise. The horses do not have to be available for riding for financial benefit or reward, they merely have to be available to be ridden by young persons. If I have any regret about the scope of the Bill, it is that it is limited to young riders and does not cover everyone. That said, it would be wrong for headgear to be made compulsory only in those establishments where young people could pay money to hire a horse and not if someone was lending a horse to the daughter of a neighbour, for example.

Most of us who derive great pleasure from riding are aware of the necessary protection that headgear provides. But I am sad, because the design of riding headgear could have been tidied up, specified and made subject to statutory regulation within the scope of the Bill. I speak with some feeling, having been thrown from a horse when I was younger than 18 and wearing the necessary headgear. I was wearing the standard design which is favoured by many riders—a peaked hard hat. A bull bellowed over a gate like a trumpet at the last judgment, and my horse reared up and threw me on to a hard road. I was not hurt by the fall beyond a few scrapes and bruises, but the force of the fall drove the hat down across my nose. Although it did not break it, it did a substantial amount of damage and was the only real injury that I sustained from the fall. Another form of headgear that is gradually becoming more favoured by riding schools, but not so much by individual riders, resembles a motorcycle helmet. it does not have a peak which can be forced down by a fall, so it protects the head without the possibility of damage being caused by the hat itself.

Any young person who rides his or her own horse or pony, a hired horse or a borrowed horse, in any place and in whatever conditions, should be made by law to wear protective headgear. It is very tempting to think, "I am only taking the horse down to the field. I am not out riding, so I do not need to put anything on my head and I do not want to have to go hack to the house and fetch a hat." Young people are particularly prone to such lazy thoughts. Even on a 10-yard journey, if the horse reacts unexpectedly, even an expert rider can be thrown and sustain severe head injuries. If we make headgear a legal requirement for motor cyclists, we should certainly make it obligatory for young people riding horses. I do not wish to develop that theme, but I shall press new clause 2 because the scope of the Bill is not wide enough and will leave many people vulnerable to injuries that can be sustained when riding.

I shall be brief. If my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) looks at clause 2(1)(b) she will see that the description of the protective headgear to be worn by children is carefully and firmly covered. It is important that that should be so and I take my hon. Friend's point.

I was sorry to hear about my hon. Friend's nasty accident, but I hope that it will not colour her attitude to this important Bill.

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. At 11 am, I raised a point of order, since when it has appeared on the tapes that the transcript of the conversations between the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller), the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry and a third agency have, according to Downing street, come to light. Will the Government consider making a statement at 2.30 pm?

That is not a matter for me, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments have been heard.

I have two reasons for asking my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone not to press new clause 2. First, owners of horses cannot possibly provide headgear for all the sizes of heads of children who will be required to wear it to ride horses. The safe, secure and firm fitting of headgear for riders is important. If headgear is not firm, safe and secure, it is valueless. One problem with the 80 per cent. of children under 14 who already wear protective headgear is that they may wear any protective headgear, but the Bill overcomes that and ensures that it is carefully and suitably fitted.

My second reason is on health grounds. I run a riding scheme for deprived and disabled children in London. In the early days of the scheme, 26 years ago, we provided the riding establishments that children attended for instruction with a range of 30 protective hats. The parents of the children did not like them wearing them for health reasons, and we must accept that important point.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone will understand that I am not happy about new clause 2, but I accept the warm spirit in which she moved it.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in resisting new clause 2, but I must say at the outset that I oppose the provisions of the Bill as a whole.

One reason why the new clause is not appropriate is that many riding schools simply do not cater for or require children to ride on a road. Those schools may he located in fields some distance from a road. The new clause will make it necessary for all riding establishments to provide protective headgear whether or not they intend or envisage young people riding on roads.

I do not follow the force of my hon. Friend's argument. It does not matter whether someone is riding on a field or road. If someone is going full gallop across a field, he could damage himself quite horribly by falling off. Surely the Bill's purpose is to protect people wherever they are.

My hon. Friend is right, but the fact remains that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has brought before the House a Bill relating to riding horses on public roads. As it stands, the Bill includes bridleways, although I have an amendment seeking to exclude bridleways from the Bill.

2.15 pm

The Bill is essentially related to road traffic, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is present. It is not within the Bill's ambit to cater for the riding of horses in fields, although I fully accept that many accidents take place in fields. A study carried out in the midlands demonstrated that many more than half all accidents leading to medical treatment happen in fields or stables. However, the Bill is not about fields or anything other than roads. Therefore, it would be inconsistent with the Bill's objectives to include a requirement that would be unreasonable for many riding establishments in this country.

I shall continue to relate my comments to the new clause, but I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will allow me a little latitude because the Bill had no debate on Second Reading, but went through on the nod. Therefore, hon. Members have not had any opportunity to discuss the Bill's objectives, whether or not they include the provisions of the new clause put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe).

Does my hon. Friend agree that because the Bill received Second Reading on the nod, there has been no discussion in the House about whether such legislation, imposing a particular form of safety protection, is necessary? I speak not as a rider, but as a former rock climber. The belief 10 years ago that helmets, or some form of protective headgear, were essential at all levels of climbing, is very much out of fashion now. More and more of the country's leading rock climbers eschew headgear because they regard it as dangerous.

The Bill has received Second Reading, albeit on the nod, so it would be inappropriate to jog back to that stage now. We must stick to the new clause.

I take note of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern).

The Department of Transport has said that resources have to be directed at major road safety problems. I heartily endorse that. Fortunately, there are few accidents involving horse riders compared with the number of accidents involving pedal cyclists. Bearing in mind the little discussion there has been in the House—even in Committee only two hon. Members apart from the Bill's promoter and the Minister, spoke—and that only two of the Bill's sponsors are here to support my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, it is important that the many amendments down for discussion should at least be considered.

The fact that a defence, included in the Bill that my hon. Friend originally brought before the House, has been removed from the Bill without debate is a good reason for debating those matters now. I do not doubt my hon. Friend's sincerity, and I recognise that he feels strongly about the matter. However, I hope that he will recognise that others feel that while the law has a part to play in many areas of life, we should be cautious and require good reasons before extending it into an area where many people still believe that personal responsibility, including that of parents and guardians, is important.

I intend to speak briefly on the new clause. I find a number of aspects of the new clause troubling and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) will have time to deal with my doubts. I have two main doubts, First, the new clause

refers to "young people under the age of 18".
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that we are dealing with young people who are at different stages of physical development. As the hobby, habit and skill of riding become more popular and as riding becomes more frequently available in schools, I have no doubt that more and more young people of many different ages will take it up. Will my hon. Friend comment on the practicality of the universal obligation she proposes, which would have the effect that any provider of horses that are available to be ridden by young people must carry a range of protective headgear wide enough to protect children from the age of about four?

There is nothing in the new clause to prevent the young people in question from coming along with their own headgear. The new clause would insist that headgear should be made available. It would be in order for there to be an agreement between the owner of the horse and the person riding the horse that the latter would bring his own headgear. The new clause seeks only to stop young people borrowing a horse and riding it without headgear.

My hon. Friend misses the point. A young person and his parent or guardian may come to try out riding for the first time without such headgear—and given the cost of equipment for most sports, it is highly likely that a child trying riding for the first time will come along without such headgear. The hon. Lady would place an onerous duty on the provider of the horse. Under the new clause, it would be necessary to provide a range of headgear for young people from the ages of four to 18.

My hon. Friend has a detailed knowledge of health and social security matters. I am sure that she is aware of the increasing science involved in the study of head injuries and the necessity to provide different types of headgear for different bone structures. I am worried that the duty she seeks to impose is unduly onerous, especially for small riding establishments.

Secondly, who is to enforce that duty? Are we saying that under the law, it will be necessary for an enforcement body to check periodically whether a riding establishment provides a range of headgear to cover every potential customer? Where are the resources to come from to provide what would effectively be an inspectorate for riding establishments? Where is the register of riding establishments necessary for that inspection to work?

I must explain that all riding establishments have to be licensed and that they are inspected before being licensed. Part of that inspection could easily include examining the headgear that should be available. However, I have two objections to the new clause, including an objection on the ground of hygiene.

My hon. Friend is quite right, but under any sensible inspection regime, a once-and-for-all inspection is wholly inadequate. An additonal duty will therefore be placed on the inspectorate to ensure that an adequate range of headgear is made available for the purposes of the Bill. I am happy for such a duty to be laid on the inspectorate if the Bill is passed, but I question what resources would be necessary and whether we should place such a duty on every single riding establishment.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Bill. My view on the new clause is that I do not think that we should complicate the Bill too much. I declare an interest because I was brought up on a pony and during an undistinguished career as an amateur steeplechase jockey I had the chance to ride in about 50 races. I owe my life to the fact that I was wearing a crash hat when I had a number of bad falls. We should do all what we can to get the details of the Bill right. I tabled several amendments to the Bill, but unfortunately they were not selected. I had the idea of adding after the word "horses" the words "cows and other large quadrupeds".

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not refer to amendments that may or may not be discussed later. He must stick to the new clause.

In an ideal world, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Bill would also refer to cows and other large quadrupeds. We say that we are concerned about children riding horses and ponies but I have seen children riding bulls, elephants and camels. They could well ride such large quadrupeds without the proper headgear. However slim or remote the evenutality may seem, we should be aware that that could happen and I trust that the Minister will refer to it in his remarks.

We should be careful about complicating the Bill by adding the new clause. The Bill is excellent and I have always supported it. I particularly welcome the growing trend in riding circles for children and riders of all ages to wear proper approved crash hats rather than hunting caps, bowler hats or other forms of headgear. More and more responsible riding establishments, parents and horse owners will not let a horse out of the yard unless the rider is wearing a proper crash hat. We all know that, as a result of the move towards better safety standards, many lives have been saved. In the past, a large number of jockeys and stable lads at racing stables were seriously injured because they were not wearing proper headgear when they fell off a horse on the flat. Ten years ago, before the Jockey Club introduced rules whereby all riding stables had to insist on everyone wearing a proper crash hat, many accidents occurred that could have been avoided. That was probably the start of riding circles' increased efforts to insist that children in particular wore crash hats.

The Bill is a move in the right direction. I should have preferred it to be wider but, bearing in mind the objections expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am prepared to accept it as drafted. It would be a mistake to complicate the Bill by an unnecessary new clause and it might prevent this excellent Bill from proceeding.

I have only a few moments and I do not intend to be on my feet at the close of play. Let me record first of all the Govenment's support for the Bill in general terms but our worries about the new clause, which would require persons who own, control or possess horses available to he ridden by young people under the age of 18 to have a supply of headgear that satisfies the regulations. A similar clause was moved in the Standing Committee, of which I was not a member. The clause is tangential to the purpose of the Bill, which seeks to ensure that children riding horses on the road should have to wear helmets. Irrespective of the place from which they set out and in what circumstances, an offence will prima facie have been committed if a child is discovered riding on the road without a helmet.

The problem about new clause 2, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), is that a riding establishment may allow horses to be ridden only in the field, which is not within the scope of the Bill. It would be inconsistent to impose an obligation to hold helmets at a riding school whose horses are ridden only in fields, so we cannot support the clause.

Motion, and clause, by leave withdrawn.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order for me to speak on amendment No. 16—

It being half-past Two o'clock the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 27 April.