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Causing Or Permitting Child Under 14 To Ride On Road Without Protective Headgear

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.

Amendment proposed: No. 23, in page 1, line 5, to leave out the words

`Except as provided by regulations.'—[Miss Widdecombe.]

Question again proposed.

12.32 pm

We are now dealing with amendment No. 23. Mr. Gary Waller has the floor.

I do not intend to press the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

I understand that the hon. Member did not move the amendment, so I shall have to put the Question.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 1, line 7, leave out 'on a road' and insert—

'in a place prescribed by subsection (2A) of this section'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 26, in page 1, line 7, leave out 'on a road'.

No. 14, in page 1, line 22, at end insert—
'(2A) Subsection (1) above applies to horses ridden in the following places—
(a) on a road, and
(b) elsewhere than on a road when ridden as part of a riding school which is open to the public.'.
No. 6, in clause 3, 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 26 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, a road passes.'.
No. 18, in page 2, line 27, at end add—
`(c) includes all bridleways, tracks and rights of way.'.

The amendments are concerned with the scope of the Bill and define areas where children under the age of 14 will be required to wear protective headgear when riding a horse. Amendments Nos. 13, 26 and 14 would extend the scope of the Bill considerably from its present form and would make it an offence to ride in fields, riding schools or places other than a road without protective headgear.

While I recognise that there are dangers in riding anywhere without protective headgear, it remains a fact that there would be grave difficulties in extending the Bill in that way. For it to be enforceable the police would have to be given powers of entry, for instance, and my hon. Friends who tabled these amendments might consider that it is undesirable to grant such powers for this purpose. It is also important to bear in mind that a child rider should wear protective headgear on the road because accidents there tend to be more serious than those in a field, because riders may well come into contact with traffic. There are many bad collisions between vehicles and horses on the roads, and people and horses alike can be badly injured.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 would exclude bridleways from the legislation. There is usually no traffic on bridleways unless there is special provision, which is rarely allowed, for a motor rally, and it is highly unlikely that children would be riding horses during one of those. In almost any circumstances one could think of there will be no vehicles on a bridleway, so it would appear consistent with the objectives of the Bill to exclude bridleways.

There could also be confusion in the minds of people who were not sure whether they were on a bridleway or in a field, whereas it would be quite clear to them that they were on a road on which traffic was being driven. That is why I am keen to see amendments Nos. 6 and 7 incorporated in the Bill, and I am glad to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) finds that acceptable, as, I understand, does my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic.

The form in which the amendments have been tabled may be defective, but I trust that they will be accepted in any case. If they need further amendment to include footpaths—I understand that footpaths can, in certain circumstances, be considered roads under the Road Traffic Act 1988—I am sure that it will be possible to effect such amendments in another place.

First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) for the spirit in which he moved the amendment and for the compromise that he has outlined, which I am happy to accept.

Amendments Nos. 13, 26 and 14 deal with the circumstances in which it would be a legal requirement for a child to wear protective headgear. As amended in Standing Committee, the Bill limits the offence to riding on a road as defined in the Road Traffic Act 1988—a highway or other road open to the public. The amendments would have the effect of requiring the wearing of headgear anywhere. The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) would extend the offence to apply to riding schools, but the reason for limiting the offence to causing or permitting a child to ride on a road without protective headgear was the grave difficulty of enforcing the requirement to wear protective headgear on private land unless the police were given powers of entry that were considered unacceptable. I certainly regard them as such.

It is also more important that children wear protective headgear when riding on the roads because accidents on the roads tend to be more serious than those in fields. There is no doubt that the head is in much greater danger from hitting a hard road than from hitting a field, most of which are soft because they are cushioned by grass.

The main purpose of the Bill is not compromised by this limitation as children will have to have appropriate hats available. I am happy to accept the compromise position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley in amendments Nos. 6 and 7. However, the amendments would effectively restrict the requirements to roads other than bridleways and hence exclude the requirement for children to wear headgear on bridleways.

Does my hon. Friend have any statistics on the number of injuries to children on bridleways and footpaths as opposed to roads?

I do not have such statistics, but I accept their relevance. Statistics about accidents to young riders are collected broadly and generally, and we well know that about 75 per cent. of such accidents occur on roads. That is a rough estimate, but in view of my long experience in these matters I ask my hon. Friend to accept it.

It may interest my hon. Friend to know that a study carried out by Dr. Michael Whitlock in the west midlands in 1986 found that 17 per cent. of accidents involving treatment of victims took place in stables, 43 per cent. occurred in fields, 23 per cent. on roads and only 4 per cent. on bridle paths. Therefore, it appears that stables and fields are much more dangerous places than bridle paths.

I think that we are talking about different things. I know Dr. Whitlock and I also know that the statistics which he has collected relate to accidents to children with horses, but not necessarily riding them. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and other hon. Members will know that people do not ride horses in stables, except when leaving the stables. Many of the accidents that have occurred in stables have not involved children on horse or pony back. That is why I said that about 75 per cent. of accidents occur on roads, and I stick to that percentage.

The Bill as amended in Committee is already narrower than the Bill as presented. Many parents quite sensibly encourage their children to ride on bridleways rather than on roads. That is wise, but bridleways are not always available to children, especially those in urban areas, as I well know, and that must be taken into account. The Bill does that. There is less chance of an accident off the road because of the absence of motor vehicles. However, there is still the risk of an accident if. for example, the horse is startled by a bird or by a child falling from the horse. In such cases there is a risk if the child is not wearing protective headgear. However, in the interests of compromise I accept the prime danger of accidents being likely to occur on roads and in that spirit I accept my hon. Friend's amendments.

The debate on this important matter should be informed by the evidence that is available on accidents. Perhaps the promoter of the Bill could give more details about it, because it is enormously relevant.

I was interested in the figures given by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about the west midlands study carried out by Dr. Whitlock. The hon. Gentleman adduced those statistics in support of his argument and it is interesting to note that 43 per cent. of accidents happened in fields, 17 per cent. in stables, 23 per cent. on roads and 4 per cent. on bridleways.

There is a danger that the Bill is being excessively liberalised. Where there is doubt about the degree of protection that will be afforded in the light of the available statistics on accidents, we should err on the side of caution and afford maximum protection to young people rather than go the other way and unduly loosen the requirements of the Bill. That would needlessly expose young people to additional accident risk. Unless I have detailed figures that lend support to the contrary argument, I shall be inclined to make the Bill as rigorous as possible, not to make it more liberal.

12.45 pm

It is understandable that many people's perception of this important Bill will be based on experience of rural areas, where most riding takes place. I shall be interested, however, to hear evidence and argument on experience in urban areas, or urban fringe areas, where a certain amount of riding takes place, and where I can well imagine that the risks to young people will be considerably greater. That applies to footpaths as well as roads. I shall be grateful for a response to that point.

There is a world of difference between a footpath across a field in the middle of open space and a footpath adjacent to or running through an urban or industrial area. I know from examples in my constituency where riding is not uncommon in such areas. It often gives rise to certain conflicts between residents and riders. If the wearing of helmets was not obligatory for young people, they would be exposed to particular dangers. I hope that these matters will be borne closely in mind.

The general public will be expecting us to afford the maximum protection to young people. I do not think that they would support the argument that an infringement of liberty is involved. Indeed, they would expect, in the interests of young people, the maximum protection to be afforded to save young people from accidents that can be serious and tragic. That would surely be their view when the safety precaution of the mandatory wearing of protective headgear of a suitable sort would minimise the risk of serious injury.

I support the amendment. I have considerable experience of riding in the countryside. A clear distinction must be drawn in the minds of children, and those who look after children, between the importance of encouraging people to ride as much as possible on bridleways and the dangerous practice of taking children on the public highway. There is no doubt in my mind that it is extremely dangerous in the modern world to ride a horse on the public highway. I know that it is necessary sometimes because it is not possible to get on to a bridleway without travelling the public highway first. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous practice. Children should use the public highway for riding as little as possible. If the amendment were not inserted in the Bill, that distinction would not be as clear.

Figures that have been produced by the British Horse Society show that the main danger to horse riders comes from other vehicles. The society tells us that 41 per cent. of accidents are caused by horses being frightened by a vehicle and then being hit by it. It appears that 6 per cent. are caused by a horse being frightened by one vehicle and being hit by another. Only 13 per cent. are caused by a horse shying from a shadow or a bird. Apparently 3 per cent. involve no other vehicle. It would seem that the main danger comes from other vehicles, and we are not likely to find other vehicles on a bridleway.

There is a difficulty with enforcement. I am sure that, we would all like children to be encouraged to wear hats at all times when riding. All the stables that I have visited make it mandatory to wear a hard hat. Indeed, adults should wear hard hats at all times. A great deal more work needs to be done.

Some adults at the stables that I use do not wear hard hats. I do not know why. I always use a hard hat—indeed, I would not want to ride a horse without one. However, some adults never wear a hard hat and, indeed, actually hate wearing them. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) changed his original intention of having a much wider Bill. If we tried to apply the Bill to public bridleways, it would run up against the problem of enforcement, and a clear distinction would not be drawn. I am delighted that it appears that my hon. Friend is prepared to accept the amendment.

When I put the Question, I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) will make his position clear.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 24, leave out '2' and insert '1'.

The amendment would reduce the maximum penalty for the offence from £100 to £50. It would make the penalty point one on the standard scale, rather than point two. However, I understand that the Government intend to alter the standard scale and link it to the incomes of convicted defendants, so in future defendants with substantially larger incomes than other defendants might be subject to a larger penalty than £50.

There should be consistency between the offence in this Bill and that in the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Rear Seat Belts by Children) Act 1988. The penalty for that offence is point one on the standard scale. As I think that the offence in this Bill is of a similar order of magnitude, it would be right to have a similar penalty.

I oppose the amendment. Indeed, I am surprised that it has been introduced because a penalty of £100 is by no means excessive, especially as it is the maximum and would not necessarily always be fully imposed. We have been told of the dangers of allowing a child to ride without wearing a hard hat. We should not say that it is important for the safety of children that they should wear a hard hat and then trivialise the offence by setting a maximum of £50. I do not accept the reasoning of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about bringing the penalty in line with that for not wearing rear seat belts. His analogy falls down on at least two points.

Although Parliament made it compulsory for children to wear rear seat belts where they are fitted, they are not required to do so in other circumstances. It is not mandatory to have rear seat belts fitted, so many children do not wear them. As a child cannot be compelled to wear a non-existent seat belt, no transgression or penalty is attached. That is why the fine was fixed at a low figure. It would have been wholly unreasonable unduly to penalise car owners who are public-spirited and sensible enough to install rear seat belts in the first place, perhaps even when the child itself had loosened the belt. Heavy penalties in such cases when it is not mandatory to fit rear seat belts at all would discourage people from fitting them. The House took a logical approach in that instance, but the same arguments do not apply in respect of riding safety.

The young horse-rider is in charge of the vehicle, as it were, whereas the child passenger in a car is not. The youngster at the age of daring should be given maximum protection. The case of the 12-year-old horse rider is very different from that of the six-year-old who undoes his or her seat belt. There is much more onus on the owner of the horse, the parent, or the other responsible persons mentioned in the Bill to ensure that a hard hat is worn, because that is the only determining influence that they can exert. Once the child is on the horse, he or she is in control.

The analogy drawn by the hon. Member for Keighley with children in the back seats of cars is therefore wholly inappropriate for at least two reasons. If we reduce the penalty, we shall be belittling the Bill quite unnecessarily. I feel sure that the penalty suggested by the promoter is reasonable. I do not like unrealistic penalties being fixed because that leads to the law falling into disrepute. In this case, I believe that the generality of people would approve of the fine proposed.

I am not impressed by the argument that the basis of the scale of fines may be changed soon anyway and made commensurate with people's ability to pay. We can discuss that if and when such a change is made, and not spoil the Bill for the sake of a hypothetical situation. I hope that the promoter will persist with his original proposal and resist the amendment.

I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) to persist in his view. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) that the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has shot his arguments to pieces. We are discussing the serious matter of putting a small child in charge of a vehicle that one cannot necessarily stop when one wants to, as I know to my own personal cost.

1 pm

The Bill is good. We should insist that a child is fully protected. To set a derisory penalty of £50 for not ensuring that a child is protected would be dangerous. The arguments of the hon. Member for Preston in convincing the House that the position is not analagous to that of a child sitting in the back of a car were valid. All of us who have children and who try to strap them into their seats in the back of a car know how difficult it is to keep them in the straps, and they sometimes get out. That must have been considered by Parliament when it set the low penalty. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North to persist and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, after listening to the argument, will not press the amendment to a vote.

I concur with the remarks of the hon. Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Preston (Mrs. Wise). I am interested in the matter, having had four children and many more ponies at times at home. I know only too well how unpredictable ponies, let alone horses, can be. For that reason, we must stress the seriousness with which we address the issue. We are concerned that parents and all those involved in encouraging young people to engage in riding and horse jumping should ensure that young people have the maximum protection at all times.

I urge the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) not to press the amendment. In Northern Ireland we take great pleasure and satisfaction in the numbers of young people who, during the week and especially on Saturdays, participate in pony gymkhanas and games. It is clearly understood that no one can participate in those events without being properly prepared and equipped for their own safety and also for the sale of the organisers' insurance. For that reason, and for the good reasons already expressed, I urge the hon. Member for Keighley not to press the amendment.

I thank the House for a good debate. We have heard most persuasive speeches from the hon. Members for Preston (Mrs. Wise) and for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), and from my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). The hon. Member for Antrim, East seemed to be saying that horses are less reliable than ponies and more likely to be skittish or difficult. I sometimes think that it is the other way round and that the smaller they are, the more difficult they can be. Like me, however, the hon. Gentleman is experienced in these matters and has his own experiences.

The amendment seeks to reduce the maximum penalty from £100 to £50. I chose the penalty of £100 to reflect the seriousness of the offence and to be consistent with the penalty for other offences, such as the maximum penalty for allowing a child to travel unbelted in the front seat of a car, which is also £100. That would enable the court to take a serious view if any adult should cause, as opposed to permit, a child to ride without protective headgear.

I am anxious to make progress and I should make it clear to the House that I have had a discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) before this debate. I hope that he will accept the arguments of the House, which are persuasive and which persuaded me. However, I have agreed with him in advance that if he persists with the amendment I shall accept it on the understanding that the matter will be reviewed within a year in light of the way in which the Act is working. Although I hope to carry him with me to a £100 fine, on which I have strong views, to get the Bill off the ground, which is of the greatest importance, I am prepared to compromise if necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 24, at end insert—

`(3A) In proceedings against any person for an offence under subsection (1) it shall be a defence for him to show that he has used all due diligence to enforce the execution of this Act and of any regulation made thereunder.'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 24, at end insert—

(3B ) In proceedings against any person for an offence under subsection (1) it shall be a defence to show that the child, or any person who has responsibility for the child, had a well founded religious or conscientious objection to the wearing of headgear specified in regulations made under this Act.'.

The amendments are concerned with defences. Amendment No. 4 is concerned with due diligence. The fact that an accused person has used due diligence is often regarded as a defence to a charge against him. Thus, under this legislation an adult would not normally be liable because at the time he permitted the child to ride he did not know that the child would ride hatless. In similar legislation in which the offence of allowing something to happen exists, it is normally judged that the accused would not be liable. However, I am a little concerned about the word "normally". There could be circumstances in which an individual who was charged with allowing a child to ride hatless might be convicted even though he was innocent of any offence. Nevertheless, I do not wish to press the amendment to a vote, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consult further with his legal advisers to see whether any possible change is needed in the other place.

To hasten progress on the Bill, I give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Amendment negatived.