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Adventure and Gap Year Activity Companies (Accreditation and Inspection)

Volume 574: debated on Tuesday 21 January 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a register of accredited providers of adventure and gap year activities in the UK and overseas, where such activities are offered by a UK-owned or managed business; for the provision of consumer information about the registration process; for inspections of providers of such activities and for a register of approved inspectors; and for connected purposes.

In August 2006, Luke Molnar, the 17-year-old son of my constituents Gill and Steve Molnar, died on the island of Tokoriki. Luke was a paying volunteer on a diving expedition arranged by a UK-based company, Coral Cay Conservation Ltd. On the day of his death, he went to assist a friend who had received an electric shock when he touched a washing line. When Luke touched the line, he received a massive electric shock, which killed him. It transpired that a local electrician had wired the washing line to the electricity supply in order to run power to a number of huts that were being used as accommodation for the volunteers.

A coroner’s inquest held in Manchester in 2011 returned a verdict of unlawful killing and the electrician was convicted of manslaughter by a court in Fiji, but no proceedings have been taken against Coral Cay or its then directors. The company has since been taken over and is under new ownership. Luke was a fine diver and he was well aware of the risks involved in such an activity. He and his parents undertook very careful research into the expedition and the facilities that would be available before he embarked on the trip, but the coroner’s inquest exposed a total lack of care for health and safety by the then management of Coral Cay. Claims on the company’s website of high standards and qualified personnel on site—claims that were relied on by the Molnars—turned out to be entirely false.

Luke’s death is not the only instance in recent years of young people, often minors, being placed at lethal risk on overseas adventure activities. The inquest into the death of 17-year-old Samuel Boon, who died on a trekking holiday in Morocco, concluded just last week. In a number of cases, including Luke’s, coroners have highlighted a series of concerns, including a lack of regulation and suitably qualified expedition leaders with good local knowledge. Parents and families place great trust in the UK-owned companies that provide and manage such expeditions, yet they are being denied genuine assurance that proper quality standards are being met.

Of course, in the case of UK activities, a much more stringent regulatory environment has existed for a number of years, following the establishment of the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority as a result of the Lyme bay tragedy, in which four teenagers died. However, the future of the AALA is now worryingly uncertain, and although other excellent quality standards exist, including the Learning Outside the Classroom badge and British standard 8848, today parents face a bewildering landscape of standards, accreditation processes and inspection regimes, on which they are desperately reliant to ensure that their children are safe.

To its credit, the industry has been anxious to address these concerns, and I want to place on record my thanks to the many groups and individuals who have spent time talking to me about the different regimes that exist and explaining their different features and benefits. I would particularly like to thank members of the British Standards Institution committee SVS/2/5 on adventurous activities, expeditions, visits and fieldwork, which has been conducting a review of British standard 8848; Beth Gardner of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom; and Alistair Cole of the Expedition Providers Association, who is also chief executive of the Lifesigns group, the new owners of Coral Cay. All those bodies are acutely aware of the vital need for public reassurance and confidence that the activities they are offer are safe.

I welcome the work done to establish high-quality standards, but the fact is that it remains entirely possible for a completely unqualified, inexperienced provider to offer overseas adventure activities without having to comply with any safety standards at all. No parent could possibly be willing to allow their child to participate in activities that have not met the most rigorous safety standards. Every parent would want to assure themselves that adequate safety procedures existed and that proper checks and controls were routinely carried out. Parents would be especially reassured where a provider had been accredited to an independent standard. They would want to know what the standard encompassed and whether an organisation that claimed to meet it had been independently assessed.

How would parents know that today? Given the range of accreditation processes and standards, it would be difficult and chancy, even for the most clued-up and careful parents, as the experience of the Molnars shows. That is why I have been discussing with industry leaders the idea of providing a register of accredited providers, which would clearly set out what standard a provider had complied with, whether it had been independently accredited as meeting that standard or whether it had self-assessed. My motion proposes a Bill to introduce the establishment of such a register.

There are those who will say that conformity assessment schemes can restrict innovation and competition, and that the very essence of the activities I am talking about is that they contain a degree of risk, which is, of course, indeed the case. But no parent would consider a single avoidable risk a price worth paying, and I am pleased that many of those I have spoken to in the industry now recognise the value of a register of accredited providers to reassure parents that avoidable risks have been properly addressed. To be clear, this modest proposal is not for mandatory accreditation, but for a publicly available record of who is or is not accredited. The transparency of such a register would create an impetus and expectation that good providers would be accredited and bad providers driven out of business.

Such a register would not, of course, eliminate every risk, but it would be an important step that could help to prevent another family from experiencing the horror faced by the Molnars in 2006. Gill and Steve have been brave, passionate and committed campaigners, and they are here closely watching this debate. They strongly support the creation of such a register, so that some small good might come from Luke’s tragic death. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Kate Green, Sir Peter Tapsell, Alison Seabeck, Dan Jarvis, Bob Stewart, Mr Michael McCann and Chris Bryant present the Bill.

Kate Green accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed (Bill 157).