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Dr. Vis: That is right, Mr. Speaker. I am talking about the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). You are younger than me, Mr. Speaker, so I could have been in the Chamber when you made your maiden speech, but I was not.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Is my hon. Friend advocating that we should vote against the motion? There are many of us who, like me, have not studied the provisions in detail but are concerned because we have received briefings from bodies such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which are concerned because some of the provisions will be detrimental. Does my hon. Friend support the provisions in the code of practice, or does he not?
Dr. Vis: I am grateful for that intervention. I am sorry to say that I will not vote for the motion. I believe that the old code was superior in a number of ways to the draft code of practice. If the vote goes against the Government we shall still have the old code, and we shall be better off. I shall vote against the motion, and I hope that my side will win. I hope that there will then be a reinvestigation of the three areas that I wished to mention.
It is necessary for children with medical needs to be treatedbut I shall finish with that, because one of the Government Whips is signalling to me that I should, although I have a great deal to say about these matters. It seems that the code does not pay sufficient attention to the treatment of children with medical needs.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) raised three particular concerns: quantification, the obligations of local education authorities and the treatment of medical conditions. A number of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have expressed concern about quantification. I will reflect on the points that have been made on that subject. I emphasise that the assurances given by my right hon. and hon. Friends in debates on the matter have all been fully reflected in the draft code that is before us. I refer hon. Members to paragraph 8:35 and those that follow. It is important that we permit flexibility in order to ensure that the needs of children with special educational needs can be met in the best way. We do not want always to have an over-rigid quantitative approach to meeting those needs, as another approach may be more appropriate.
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or European Union documents).
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss such an important topic. Before launching into the debate, however, let me say that the ballot for end-of-day Adjournment debates this week seems to have thrown up something unusual. Yesterday's debate was initiated by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend), and tomorrow's will be initiated by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). It seems to be central Berkshire week.
Tonight's debate concerns health and safety in school sports events. Let me begin by stressing the importance to me of the involvement of pupils in sport. We often hear nowadays of the increasing obesity of younger people. In 1999, the Department of Health revealed that obesity had risen dramatically in the previous five years. In 1999, 17 per cent. of men were obese, compared with 13 per cent. in 1993, while nearly 20 per cent. of women were obese, compared with 16 per cent. in 1993.
Similarly, the report "The Health of Young People '95-97" showed that among young people aged between two and 15, 29 per cent. of girls and 44 per cent. of boys did not participate in physical activity lasting at least 30 minutes in any given week, excluding activities at school.
There are public health concerns about problems being stored up for the future health of our nation. As a result of those concerns, the Department of Health launched a number of initiatives aimed at nutritional standards for school meals, the promotion of healthy travel to school, including cycling and walking, and the promotion of more exercise for childrenfor example, an hour's exercise every day.
School sport obviously has a key part to play in encouraging pupils to be active. Active children are more likely to be active adults. Involvement in sport through school offers young people the chance to get exercise, and to do good to their health. Sport in schools offers much more as well: learning about team work, learning about and achieving personal excellence, and the discipline that is needed for pupils to do well. For those and many other reasons, I believe that it is important for school sports to happen and for pupils to be offered a chance to take part in them.
I do not want children to be wrapped in cotton wool and prevented from gaining the benefits of sport that I have described. I had rather a robust view of safety when bringing up my own children. I believe that children learn through experience about the boundaries of what they can do safely. If they are cut off from that experience, they will not learn about those boundaries, and may put themselves at risk in their future lives. The obvious counter-argument is that we do not want to encourage reckless behaviour. We want to make sure that, where possible, risks are reduced.
At my first advice surgery after the general election, in Woodley library, I was visited by Alison Mendes, a resident of east Reading. She had come to see me because she was concerned about what had happened to her daughter. She felt very uninformed about what had really happened.
On 14 May, Mrs. Mendes's daughter, Bianca Halliburton, took part in an inter-school athletics event representing her school, the Blessed Hugh Faringdon Roman Catholic school in Reading. Bianca had volunteered to fill a vacancy in the school hurdling team. According to the school, she had received no training in hurdling this year. The school says that she had represented the school athletics team the previous year, and had previously competed in a hurdles race. I have not been able to discover whether she was trained in hurdling the previous year, before taking part in a race. The fact is, however, that on 14 May Bianca took part in a hurdling event, and fell. She broke both legs very badly, and Mrs. Mendes wants to know why.
The school is keen to stress that Bianca was not pressurised into taking part in the event. It is also keen to state that she had not been training this year. If the fact that Bianca had not been training is not relevant to what happened, why mention it? If it is relevant, there are serious questions to be asked about why the school put her forward for the event.
I had not intended to go into any detail about the correspondence that I have had with the schoolI did not think it necessarybut it happens that today the school wrote to another of my constituency neighbours, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), in whose constituency it is situated. I should point out that the incident happened in my constituency, not at the school itself. The school told him that it might well experience "detrimental effects" as a result of this debate. The school is concerned that its position may be misrepresented.
Consequently, I have decided that I will share with the House the school's representations to me, so that there can be no misunderstanding or misrepresentation. The school has been clear that Bianca volunteered to participate in the event, that she had not been in training and that it felt that the event in which she participated and broke both her legs was conducted correctly.
My constituency neighbour has written to me on the matter and undertaken, as I understand it from his letter, to ensure that the Minister replying to this debate is fully briefed. Such an approach to an Adjournment debate is rather interesting, and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, may wish to offer some guidance on it. We have had some very helpful guidance from Mr. Speaker on the conduct of Adjournment debates.
Reading borough council, which runs the sports stadium where the accident happened, has investigated the matter. That investigation shows that the hurdles for the race were set at the correct low level and were facing the right way. Having formerly, as a Reading borough councillor and chair of the arts and leisure committee, been responsible for the council's sports service, I would be surprised if the answer were any different. It is a professional and well-run service.
The fact that the hurdles were set out correctly is backed up by the astonishing photograph in today's Reading Evening Post, which shows Bianca as she falls towards the athletics track. Behind Bianca one sees a hurdle in the next lane beginning to fall over, and one sees the hurdle in Bianca's lane beginning to fall over. It is not possible to see from the picture whether Bianca has already had the accident that hurt her so badly, whether it is in the process of happening or whether it is still to happen. However, that still does not answer Mrs. Mendes's question about what happened to Bianca on 14 May.
I could not get an answer from the council on the matter other than on how the hurdles were set out. I have been told that the papers of the officer who investigated the accident were now with the council's insurer, Zurich Municipal, and that it was not possible to find out anything more about what had happened.
I then spoke to Zurich Municipal. It said that it had been notified of an event at which a childBianca Halliburton is 12 years oldwas injured and that it has asked an inspector to investigate the matter. As the investigation has not yet started and no claim has yet been lodged, I have not been able to obtain a clear answer about what happened to Bianca. However, I have established that an internal Reading borough council report has stated that the hurdles were set out correctly.
Has Mrs. Mendes had more luck than I have in obtaining an answer? When she came to see me, she said that she had spoken to the school, but that she felt that she had not been told what had happened. It seems that no one at the sporting event saw what really happened. The starter of the race did not see what happened because he had just turned away to put down the starting pistol. Other pupils from the school could not see what happened because they were on the other side of the stadium from where the accident occurred. Mrs. Mendes has, however, managed to find the brother of someone taking part who might have seen something. He said that he thought that Bianca staggered or hesitated just before the hurdle, but he could not say much more.
Mrs. Mendes then found a teacher from another school who was present at the event. She said that Bianca was about to jump the hurdle and fell. That version seems to fit in with the picture in today's local newspaper. However, the remainder of that teacher's comments are worrying. It is of course essential for a first aider to be present at any such sports event. After Bianca had her accident, the first aider asked her to try to stand up. However, it was only when it became clear that she could not stand up that an ambulance was called. It is fortunate for Bianca that, as the doctor who saw her said later, the treatment that she received from the first aider did not worsen her condition.
Bianca was off school from the date of the accident, 14 May, until yesterday, 9 July, and had to use a wheelchair for most of that time. I am very pleased to say, however, that her school put in place measures to assist her in returning to school. She is now getting on with her life. I hope that this awful thing that has happened to her will not have a lasting impact.
At 12, one is growing very fast, and it is important to be able to be active at that age. I hope that Bianca grows up fit and healthy and able to take part in sport in the future. I know that Mrs. Mendes is not seeking to blame anyone and is not seeking retribution. I do not respect the
As I have said, I have not been able to identify exactly what happened to Bianca on 14 May, or why it happened. The Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 require reports of such incidents, a proportion of which are then investigated. That applies to workplaces, but it is not clear whether it applies to sports venues such as Palmer park stadium in east Reading, where the accident occurred.
The Health and Safety Executive told me that it had not had a report under the regulations and that it was not clear that there was a requirement for such a report. In talking to a number of bodies such as Sport England, the Youth Sports Trust and the Health and Safety Executive, I have been pointed to one source for guidelines on safety in sport. There is what is considered to be standard guidance, issued by the British Association of Advisers and Lecturers in Physical Education. The guidance covers many matters: the setting up of hurdles; the correct spacing; that they must be facing the right way; that they are not too high; and that they are correctly weighted. I have referred to all those matters.
The guidance also states that someone taking part in such an event should have had previous progressive practice. That means that people should have become used to the stride in, the height and the technique necessary for hurdling. It also states that people competing should have previous experience and, on the day, should have the appropriate attitude and be warmed up. In this case, the school states that Bianca had had previous experience in competing in hurdles. I do not know what training she had had; there appears to have been none this year. In itself, this leaves me uneasy. I remain to be convinced that someone should be allowed to take part in an event that they have not taken part in for a year without at least some refresher training.
My approach is a positive one, to try to get everyone working together. It is clearly important that we find out what happened to Bianca so that we can find out if we can prevent it from happening to anyone else's son or daughter. I would like to get everyone together locally from the council, the school, people present at the event and anyone else concerned to try to establish what happeneda summit meeting.
I would also like to see the British Association of Advisers and Lecturers in Physical Education invited, as it is used to giving expert witness. The aim of the summit would be to identify everything that is known about what happened on 14 May and to try to work out what happened. That should establish whether anything can be done to prevent it from happening again.
If that is not possible, I will search with Mrs. Mendes for a way to establish an independent inquiry to do the same. Either way, I hope that we will learn more about what happened to Bianca Halliburton on 14 May. That is where the Government come in. If anything comes up that requires Government actionI wonder whether some further regulation of school sports might be necessaryI would like to be able to feed that to my hon. Friend the Minister. I also hope that the Minister will undertake to try to find ways of creating greater awareness of the
As I began by saying, school sport has an important part to play in our society. We must not let what happened to Bianca Halliburton prevent people from taking part in school sports, but we must learn from it and find if anything can be done to prevent it from happening to anyone else.