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Volume 171: debated on Friday 27 April 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendments made: No. 6, in page 2, line 24, leave out from 'Wales' to end of line 25 and insert

'means any highway and any other road other than a bridleway, to which the public has access and includes bridges over which a road passes.'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 26, leave out from 'Scotland' to end of line 27 and insert

'means any way other than a waterway, bridleway or footpath, over which there is a public right of passage, and includes any bridge (whether permanent or temporary) over which, or tunnel through which, the road passes.'.—[Mr. Waller.]

Order for Third Reading read.

1.12 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In this brief speech, I should like to thank all those hon. Members who have given my Bill such close attention both in the House today and previously. I am pleased and grateful that we have been so well supported especially since it has taken a considerable time for the Bill to achieve its Third Reading. As it is a crucial Bill, I should like to say a few words about why I have been so persistent in this matter.

Before doing so, I thank the Government, the Department of Transport and its officials for helping me to draft amendments and for many other kindnesses. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic who has been kind and helpful. In that vein, I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) for his great kindness and especially for being prepared to stand in for me today if I had had to leave for another engagement as seemed all too likely at one time.

There will be those who will argue that riders should stay clear of roads as much as possible. I agree with that, but as the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) has pointed out, it is impossible in many areas because there is not enough countryside left for all riders to stay off the roads. Indeed, there are now over 3 million regular riders in this country. However, I assure the House that many riders keep entirely clear of the roads where they are able to do so in wonderful areas such as Exmoor, Dartmoor and other areas where there is still sufficient countryside. Riders must be able to get to open land, bridleways or private land on which they can ride safely, away from motor traffic, but often the only way of getting to such land is via the roads.

Horse riding is not new. It is perhaps the most ancient sport in Britain and indeed in the world. Horses were ridden on roads before roads became populated with cars. The House has not passed any legislation to take away horse riders' rights. Horse riders continue to have equal rights to use all-purpose roads. I remind motorists of that fact as they often seem to think that they take precedence over horses and it is wrong for them to think that. That is not the legal or moral position. The horse and rider and horse user have as much right to be on the road as any motorist.

Horse riding is not a declining pastime reserved for the rich. The signs are that riding, particularly among young people is becoming more and more popular. The British Horse Society estimates that about 3·5 million people ride regularly—probably weekly. It is difficult to know how many of them become casualties in road accidents because unfortunately comprehensive information is not collected. One study in 1988 suggested that there may be about 1,500 road casualties requiring medical treatment every year. That is about four per day. Not surprisingly, accidents on roads tend to be more severe than accidents in fields or stable yards.

Among those who ride today are about 200,000 adults who learned to ride as children through a scheme for ordinary children and disabled children that I introduced in London schools while I was senior housemaster at the Sir William Collins school in King's Cross in 1964. I took boys from that school who lived in high-rise flats in King's Cross and had no contact with animals because they were not allowed to keep pets—even mice—in their homes.

The then London county council and subsequently the inner London education authority allowed me to set up a scheme to take children out riding.

As the hon. Gentleman says, it was marvellous. I shall never forget it and it continues. We brought riding to disabled children who had no other recreational pastime. Their education was often greatly facilitated by riding. for example, riding is often an incentive for the autistic child to increase its vocabulary to express its reaction to what is happening and to understand more in the way of instruction.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have supported his Bill throughout. I wish him well in his endeavours. In view of what he said about his scheme—I know something about it—is he not sad that he voted in favour of the abolition of ILEA?

I must not go down that road. As one who served the London county council for three years and ILEA for 20 years and later in a part-time capacity, naturally I was sad to see what was in many ways an excellent employer disappear. However, I believe that the new arrangements that have been made should and can be made to work well. In some ways ILEA failed children——

Order. The hon. Gentleman promised me that he would not go down that road.

I am being led astray, Madam Deputy Speaker.

About a third of all riders are children. That means that more than 1 million children ride regularly, because there are 3·5 million regular riders. It is estimated that only 80 per cent. of child riders wear safety helmets or hats. That leaves one in five—perhaps 200,000 children—completely unprotected when riding. That is a serious situation. About 80 per cent. of children who wear riding hats or protective helmets may wear sub-standard or badly fitting hats. A sub-standard hat, perhaps one that does not confirm to any British safety standard, can offer only limited protection, if that. To wear a helmet that is not properly secured is pointless. It will fall off before the rider hits the ground if the rider falls from his horse or pony. The Bill addresses that important matter head-on, as it should.

Helmets may not prevent death—a rider may suffer multiple injuries—but they reduce the severity of head injury and prevent minor head injuries. Even a seemingly small bump to the head may cause considerable complications. Recovery may never be complete. I have known people who have fallen from a horse become comatose for years. One lady, Jean Sansome, who served the British Horse Society, had an unexplained accident and was comatose for five or six years. She was visited daily by her elderly mother. It was sad to see and I do not want others to suffer in that way.

As time passes I hope that the Bill will have an ever-widening impact. Children who have been required to wear a riding hat will acquire a habit which is vital to their continued success and safety as riders. They will continue to wear one as they grow older. That is the value of the Bill. Children who wear helmets on the road will continue to wear them off the road. I hope that the Bill will increase awareness among adults of the need for protective headgear while riding.

I wear a riding hat regularly. This morning, for the first time, I wore a new protective helmet——

No, in Hyde park. It was comfortable, felt safe and gave extra confidence to this rider, as I am sure that it could to everyone else. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.21 pm

I shall be as brief as I can. I am glad that it has been possible to have a debate on this matter because there was no debate on Second Reading and only a brief one in Committee. Today's debate has been successful because we have had an opportunity to discuss some of the main issues. It is important that there should be debate in the House so that those outside may know that shortly the law will be changed.

I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) feels strongly about the matter. Hon. Members will be aware that we disagree to an extent. However, we do not disagree about the rightness of children and adults wearing safety headgear on horseback. Our only disagreement is about whether the law should intervene and make it a legal requirement. At all times I am in favour of avoiding using the law unless it is absolutely necessary. There is still scope for personal responsibility. I am certainly against the nanny state. On the basis of this legislation, it would be possible to extend the law into many other areas concerning prescription affecting the responsibility of the individual.

Nevertheless, I recognise that the arguments relating to children are different. It can be argued that sometimes children need protection against irresponsible parents or guardians, and I agree with my hon. Friend to that extent. The case for legislating for children is different and certainly stronger.

We must consider priorities. Every day there are many accidents on the roads that require medical help. Sadly, 161 involve pedestrians, 71 pedal cyclists, 117 motor cyclists and 468 car users compared with four involving horse riders. The Department of Transport has said:
"resources have to be directed at the major road safety problems."
Bearing in mind that publicity, quite apart from legislation, can have a good effect, it would in my view be better to confine legislation to areas where there are large casualty totals.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North is aware that if there had been Divisions in the House today it might not have been possible to obtain a quorum. I hope that he will recognise that a certain amount of goodwill has been expressed today and that compromise is in the air—invariably that is a good thing in the House. I wish him well with his Bill.

1.25 pm

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller); I had similar reasons for objecting to the Bill being given a Second Reading without any discussion several weeks ago. Since that time, many sensible representations have been made to me and many sensible amendments have been made to the Bill.

I agree that children are in a different category from adults and that, in many cases, they should be protected from themselves. For that reason, I wish the Bill well.

An important message should go out from the House today: all riders, not just children, and not just those riding on roads, would do well to wear a hard hat at all times. If that message is sent out, we will have done well.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.