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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I welcome the order, as I did the Bill which created the Venture Activities Licensing Authority on the British mainland. At this moment I speak from the perspective of a canoeing instructor and hillwalking leader.
The order clearly extends to Northern Ireland an administrative approach to ensuring the safety of young people who are being introduced to, or being trained for, higher attainment in outdoor adventure activities. I have two points to make in connection with the introduction to outdoor activities. Firstly, I remain unconvinced that it is possible to draw a distinction between novices of any age. The new activity is just as unfamiliar to a 15 year-old as to a 25 year-old. The safety issues are just the same. The canoe is just as unstable and the rockface just as daunting irrespective of one's age. Secondly, there is a particular issue in respect of those who are undertaking outdoor adventure activities without their direct consent. The circumstances would be that the individual had been placed in a scheme, often by a court or a school, or even by an employer, programmed for some outdoor activities. Having worked on an intensive probation project I can say that we took all those committed to the project out on outdoor activities without their own individual consent. Inspecting the activity centre for its ability to deal with these potentially reluctant novices would be a useful extension of the inspection process.
I am pleased at the mention of an optional registration scheme for activity centres dealing with people over 18 if, indeed, any emerge in Northern Ireland. As the Minister said, this is in place in Scotland and has proved popular as a form of accreditation. It is seen by several centres in Scotland as being a useful business asset. Those points aside, I welcome the order.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am sure that all right-thinking people will welcome the order, designed as it is to safeguard young people engaged in adventure activities. I trust that the experience gained by under 18 year-olds will implant in their minds the need for a degree of caution in later life so that adults will be less likely to challenge the elements either in the form of a rock face or of the cruel sea. Irresponsibility on the part of such adults not only endangers their own lives but puts seriously at risk those who have to come to their rescue.
I am afraid that the nanny state has a rather odd sense of proportion and priorities. We are told repeatedly that smoking is bad for our health. Eating is under a degree of scrutiny. I might say that if I had my way I would add mobile telephones to the list. Why is it laudable to court danger oneself and perhaps risk death to searchers and rescuers? I trust that the safeguards contained in the order will change the climate of opinion and persuade not just young people but all age groups to exercise a greater degree of responsibility.
To whom will the legislation and the new licensing system apply? Article 3(2)(b) suggests to me that if no instruction or leadership is involved in the adventurous activity, it cannot be the subject of licensing. The one thing that will not be covered by the licensing system as a result of the order is unsupervised activity of that character. It seems rather odd, unless I have misread the order.
The next question concerns the fees to be charged. The Minister said a little about it in the course of introducing the order and described what had happened in Great Britain. Having perhaps a suspicious mind, I notice that Article 3(3)(g) provides for payments to be made by the licensing authority into the Consolidated Fund. That implies to me that it will make a profit out of all this and have a surplus which it can pay into the Consolidated Fund. That is not quite the understanding we gained from what the Minister said.
A more substantial point is that hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in referring to the nanny state. We need to consider carefully whenever we pass new regulations and put new restrictions on activities whether those restrictions are worth it. We all know about the Lyme Bay disaster. It was a great tragedy. But, as I recall it, the law took its course after the tragedy and people were punished following the incident by the existing law, long before all that is now before us was invented.
I also believe that the deregulation task force asked for a cost benefit analysis of the licensing activity in Great Britain. It suggested that if the conclusions of the cost benefit analysis were similar to the initial conclusions that the task force reached, Parliament should be invited to repeal the Great Britain legislation. If that is so, I will be interested to know if the cost benefit analysis has been done with regard to Great Britain legislation. If so, with what result and what are the implications for extending the provisions--worthy as they are in their aim--to Northern Ireland?
First, I deal with the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. I acknowledge his experience. He gives instruction and therefore has perhaps more direct experience than anyone else who has spoken. The point related to the age of 18. In fact, in Northern Ireland we have not identified any centre which is liable to be covered by the legislation which does not involve people under the age of 18. All the centres we identified will be covered by the legislation and therefore perhaps I can treat the noble Earl's question as theoretical rather than actual in relation to Northern Ireland.
The general answer is that we are dealing with people who are not adults and therefore people who cannot exercise more responsibility for themselves. The noble Earl went on to acknowledge that there was a voluntary scheme which might be brought into place on the lines of the one in Wales and the one being considered in Scotland. We have therefore gone some way to covering his point, should there be centres that emerge in Northern Ireland that cater only for persons over the age of 18.
The noble Earl also talked about novice centres. I believe he meant individuals who might be there as part of a probation scheme or something similar. Those particular circumstances will be considered during the drafting of the regulations and I thank him for having drawn attention to the point.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made the comment that there was an element of the "nanny state" in the order, but went on to acknowledge that this particular measure would help with the safety of young persons and therefore gave it his approval. The point about the nanny state was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I say simply this. We are talking about giving parents, schools and others who send young people to activity centres the assurance that the standard of tuition and supervision in those centres is adequate; that the quality of the equipment and the instruction is adequate to assure the safety of the young persons taking part. That cannot really be called "nannying" people; it is simply giving them certain safeguards which might, until the tragedy in Lyme Bay, have been taken for granted.
I want to deal with some specific questions which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, raised. He referred to unsupervised activities not being covered. I believe I said in my opening that the greatest responsibility lies where there is instruction and leadership for activities. It is that aspect that we have sought to address in the legislation.
The noble Lord also said that the legislation was vague. He wondered when it would start and to whom it would apply. I believe I indicated that there is an expected timetable and we hope that the regulations will be completed by Christmas of this year. Article 3(2) sets out the broad scope, but further detail will be covered in subsequent regulations.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but can I take it that I am correct in assuming that if there is no element of instruction or leadership and young persons are to be allowed to climb a rock face or whatever on their own, then no licence will be required? Indeed, the legislation cannot be extended to those activities.
Lords Dubs: My Lords, that is my understanding. Indeed, if it were to be made as wide in its scope as the noble Lord suggests, we would be going rather further than is appropriate for government to do. After all, the mountains of Scotland, of the Lake District and of Wales are all there and one can hardly apply legislation simply to mountainsides. One has to assume that where there is no supervision the normal standards of common
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. When I read the order I was very happy that it referred to organisations, such as the Youth Hostels Association, which encourage young people to go to mountainous areas but do not intend to instruct them or to take them on mountain walks and so on. They merely provide an accommodation service.
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