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School Playground Injuries: Liability
15 January 2001
Volume 620

2.43 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they intend to take to mitigate the impact of no-win, no-fee litigation on school liability for injuries incurred during the playing of traditional schoolyard games.

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My Lords, the Government see no need to take any new action. The numbers of injuries to pupils in schools have reduced over the past three years. We have published guidance on making playgrounds safe. Schools can reduce the risk of litigation by having effective procedures for handling parental concerns and complaints. But where local education authorities or schools have concerns about the potential cost of litigation, they can take out insurance.

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My Lords, as the Minister may know, my Question is based on research carried out by the University of Keele, published just before Christmas, which suggests that this kind of litigation is having an effect on schools. If the noble Baroness had been watching ITV Channel 3 at a quarter to two this afternoon, she would have seen an advertisement by Claims Direct specifically aimed at litigation for accidents to children. In the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 11th January an article stated:

"Britain has gone compensation crazy. Analysts estimate that compensation is costing taxpayers £9 billion a year".
According to the article, Manchester City Council has already complained to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about the effect on council budgets and council services of paying compensation. I have raised this issue on previous occasions. I am afraid that the noble Baroness shows the same complacency as did the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.

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Question!

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My Lords, how long will we tolerate going down this slippery slope, with everyone being afraid to provide services because the lawyers will be at their throats?

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My Lords, I am not aware of the research published by the University of Keele to which the noble Lord referred but I shall certainly try to get hold of it. There is no evidence of an increase in the number of cases being brought as a result of injuries to children in school playgrounds. The DfEE monitors the position and I shall ensure that we keep a close eye on the impact of changes in the legal system. The noble Lord referred to advertisements on television. It is perfectly reasonable that people with good cases should be entitled to know where services are available to them. Provided that the companies which advertise them do so with propriety, I think that they can extend access to justice.

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My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the reasons for the reduction in the number of incidents is the reluctance on the part of teachers to engage in various activities? They are vulnerable and often defenceless when it comes to defending their part in taking young people on adventure training or walking in the country. Sadly, some of these activities are now on the decline in schools. It is disappointing that our young people should not be enjoying canoeing, walking, riding and hiking.

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My Lords, my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, concerned accidents in the playground. There is no evidence that the kinds of activities to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, refers are on the decline. The Government are keen to encourage schools to take young people and children out of the school environment into worthwhile activities of this kind. There is always a balance between putting children at risk and being overprotective. It is a matter of common sense as to where the line should be drawn.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the dangers of an increasing culture of compensation is that it increases the risk of people making false allegations, perhaps many years after the event—I think in particular of allegations of child abuse—because they have their eye on the pounds, shillings and pence as opposed to the truth of the situation?

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My Lords, in raising the issue of child abuse, my noble friend is moving rather a long way from the Question on the Order Paper. Perhaps I may say to him that in no-win, no-fee agreements the client's solicitor and insurer bear the risk of paying both sides' costs if the case is lost. Therefore, they take on only good cases. That should be an important factor in reducing the number of compensation claims that are not based on a very good case.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who has just entered the Chamber, is 90 years old today?

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Hear, hear!

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My Lords, I was not aware of that, but I should like to wish the noble and learned Lord a happy birthday and many happy returns of the day.