HC Deb 24 March 1995 vol 257 cc600-26 9.36 am
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 16, leave out '18' and insert '17'.

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 18, at end insert— or (c) facilities provided as part of the training of full-time or part-time military personnel.

Mr. Leigh

It will be apparent from what I said on Second Reading that, while I fully appreciate the necessity for some action to be taken because of the terrible tragedy at Lyme bay, I am worried about the Bill's regulatory nature. That worry lies behind my amendments, which should shed some interesting light on the Bill. My amendments simply suggest that the Bill should not cover facilities provided as part of the training of full-time or part-time military personnel.

I wish to insert the age of 17 rather than 18, because as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be aware, it is perfectly possible to join the Territorial Army or the Army and to die for one's country at the age of 17. I shall make some general comments to introduce my speech, then make some legal points, as I think that there is some slight ambiguity about the scope of the Bill. Lastly, I shall tell the House the nature of the detailed regulations covering Army training.

It would be absurd and ludicrous if the Health and Safety Executive were in any way involved in the training of soldiers. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Education, will be able to tell me that he does not intend the measure to cover soldiers. I shall deal with that in a moment and demonstrate that my research shows that there may be doubt about that.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

My hon. Friend may be coming to this point later, in which case I apologise. He is probably aware that in many parts of the country, including my constituency, there is an active and popular air training corps. I understand that the future of the air cadets has recently been in question. Would the activities of such an organisation come within the scope of amendment No. 3?

Mr. Leigh

I hope that the words full-time or part-time military personnel include air cadets. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening, because he makes the point for me.

The purpose of this little debate is to show that, when a tragedy occurs, enormous pressure is put on the Government to act. That inevitably leads to the publication of a Bill, then to a measure such as the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill. Often when a Bill is rushed through, it includes many classes of persons because insufficient consideration was given to its drafting. That is my worry about any regulatory Bill.

I do not deny the appalling nature of the Lyme bay tragedy. Parents rightly want something done. Awful mistakes were made, and a price was paid. I do not know who drafted the Bill. As it is a private Member's Bill, I presume that it was drafted by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson). I do not know whether or not he was assisted by the Government. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will say. Does the hon. Gentleman have the legal expertise to ensure that the Bill is so tightly drafted that it will not have unforeseen consequences?

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), in an excellent contribution, said that the number of regulators already in place in an outdoor activity centre in his constituency totalled seven or eight. The hon. Member for Devonport intervened to suggest that they would be replaced by one regulator—the Health and Safety Commission. We know that that does not happen in the real world. Regulation will be piled on regulation, with the result that some activity centres, which provide an inexpensive service and are highly regarded, may be forced out of business.

My hon. Friend the Minister may say that he does not want military training included in the Bill's ambit and that there can be consultation, but that is not good enough. Why pass legislation in a rush and consult on it later? Why not include appropriate provisions now, by stipulating in clause 1(3)

facilities provided as part of the training of full-time or part-time military personnel"? The House will pay tribute to the close interest paid in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), who has shown himself to be an excellent parliamentarian. After we discussed my amendments together, I went to the Library, telephoned the Ministry of Defence and, with the Library's assistance, spoke to the Army.

Nobody could tell me whether the Bill embraces the Army, yet here we are on the last day for consideration of the Bill, without knowing whether the Bill encompasses our huge military training establishment, which costs hundreds of millions of pounds and has hundreds of years of experience. I will describe later—but briefly, of course—how carefully drafted are Army regulations.

Many Army cadets are under 18. Army regulations are submitted to the House every five years. Even where they cover safety aspects, doubt remains. A civilian who goes on a one-day Army course would not be employed by the Army or even be an Army cadet. Will he be covered by the Bill?

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)

One of the most miserable weekends that I ever spent was on the Brecon Beacons in a massive blizzard in the dead of winter, under the auspices of the Combined Cadet Force. I was sent by my school. It is interesting to hear my hon. Friend talk about lack of consultation with the Army, but schools will have a major input. Is it not curious that this matter has been a blank area for so long?

Mr. Leigh

I will leave that point for the hon. Member for Devonport. He will probably reassure my hon. Friend that schools are in loco parentis and covered by existing Education Acts, and therefore not covered by the Bill. It worries me that that is not on the face of the Bill.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Several years ago, I went to Crickhowell, and the scars remain with me. It was an extremely long weekend, during which we took part in an assault course. The Army put us through that misery because it wanted to attract us to the Army's way of life. One cannot imagine anything less attractive than that weekend at Crickhowell. However, youngsters are encouraged to go on such assault courses to make men of them. Hon. Members can see what it has done for me. It should be made clear whether or not Army assault courses would be covered by the Bill.

9.45 am
Mr. Leigh

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I think that experience did him the world of good. He is a fine, upstanding fellow. Can he imagine some little chap from the Health and Safety Executive standing by while my hon. Friend was forced over a jump, saying how horrible the sergeant-major was? I am sure no one wants an HSE inspector wandering around Army training courses. That might be dangerous.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), who has a long-standing interest in military matters, ensured Crown immunity from certain Acts of Parliament. Earlier legislation—such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment Act 1991 and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974—took great care to ensure that the Crown was excluded. Schedule 7(1) to the 1991 Act states: The power of the Secretary of State under section 48(4) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 (Crown exemptions) shall include power to provide for exemptions, in relation to designated premises or activities carried on by a contractor at such premises, from all or any of the relevant statutory provisions within the meaning of Part I of that Act. I looked for such a schedule to the Bill—I hope that the House is convinced by my arguments that the Army should not be covered by it—but could not find one. Perhaps that is because the Bill was rushed through, and the Government have not been able to vote sufficient resources to it.

Section 48(1) of the 1974 Act specifically applies to the Crown: Subject to the provisions of this section, the provisions of this Part, except sections 21 to 25 and 33 to 42, and of regulations made under this Part shall bind the Crown. That makes it clear that parts of that Act will bind the Crown, but subsection 2 states: Although they do not bind the Crown, sections 33 to 42 shall apply to persons in the public service of the Crown as they apply to other persons. Given the detailed nature of that previous Act, is the Minister not convinced that there is a lacuna in this Bill? There is at least some ambiguity about whether people undertaking courses who are not employed by the Crown are covered by the Bill.

Section 48(3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act says: For the purposes of this Part and regulations made thereunder persons in the service of the Crown shall be treated as employees of the Crown". That is specific and clear.

The parliamentary draftsmen who drew up previous legislation were clearly aware of the problem to which I have alluded, so I hope that the Minister will deal with that point. This is not a dry legal argument among lawyers which does not matter very much but which may be interesting in terms of jurisprudence: it is actually quite important.

I am sorry that she is not here today, but my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), who so often on Friday mornings makes excellent speeches, served on the Standing Committee. I was not fortunate enough to serve on it, but I have researched its proceedings. She said in Committee: I shudder when I think of the total confidence I had when I allowed my then 15-year-old son to take part in a Royal Navy exercise. He was taken on a frigate to the North sea in wild, tossing waters, lifted by a helicopter, swung on the end of a rope and dumped heartily into the sea. I am glad to say that my son was well equipped, wearing a life jacket and a dry suit—he was totally safe. When I think back, I am horrified because it never occurred to me to quiz the Royal Navy about its safety procedures and first aid procedures to be implemented should things go wrong. I was lucky. My son was in expert hands and came home".—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 1 March 1995; c. 52.] I am sure that the House is grateful to the Royal Navy for looking after my hon. Friend's son so well. Here we have an example of a mother who placed her son in the hands of the armed services. Nothing could be more dangerous than going up in a helicopter, being dumped into the sea—and all in the hands of total strangers.

What goes on in most activity centres is on a wholly different scale. I have taken the trouble to get in touch with the British Activity Holiday Association, the trade association involved. It is small, and lacks the resources to fight the Government, the hon. Member for Devonport or this House. The organisation told me that many people do not realise that many of its activities involve simply going around a swimming pool in canoes, and other indoor pursuits. Much of what goes on is not very dangerous. That is quite different from being taken up in a helicopter and dumped in the sea.

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

I would not want this moment to pass with the House thinking that the British Activity Holiday Association was opposed to my Bill. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Education Select Committee's report on activity centres, which I am sure he has read assiduously. Mr. Hudson, the chairman of the organisation, told the Committee: We feel that there has got to be a structure to which activity centres have got to work, and let me say, from the start, that we welcome Mr. Jamieson's Bill and we support it.

Mr. Leigh

I have not denied that, but the organisation would like regulations to be applied with as light a touch as possible. I, and presumably other hon. Members, have received a letter from Mr. Hudson in which he says: We feel that many people envisaging our industry from outside think in terms of activities on the sea or in wild country. Many centres do work in this sort of open environment, along with some private centres, but most BAHA centres operate in a closed environment providing introductions to activities in highly controlled conditions, eg within centre grounds or on a school campus. Of course the organisation has to welcome the Bill—in a sense it has no choice—but I should have thought that it was concerned, rightly, about a whole new layer of regulation to be imposed on the industry.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

My hon. Friend might like to know that I too spoke to Mr. Hudson recently. Of course, the association supports the principles of the Bill, but it has a number of concerns, not least the possible cost implications of the new regulations. Operators have some anxiety, and my hon. Friend is right to draw it to the attention of the House.

Mr. Leigh

That is precisely what worries me about the Bill. Many of these organisations are very small indeed. I am disappointed that the Government, who are committed to the deregulation initiative, could not find some way of ensuring self-regulation of the industry. This is a sad debate: sad because of the original tragedy, and sad that we are now regulating a whole new industry.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to get back to the amendment.

Mr. Leigh

I am happy to do that.

I have obtained the Army cadet force regulations of 1973. A casual glance at them shows that there is no more comprehensive supervision of those undertaking training exercise than that carried out by the armed forces. They have a wealth of experience; often the training that they perform is very dangerous indeed. It is absurd to contemplate the idea of subjecting the armed forces to the strictures of outside bodies.

Section 0207 of the manual states: training is carried out at a steady rate, compatible with the increasing abilities of a growing boy and to maintain his interest; the training syllabus should form a sound basis for planning unit training programmes … He must therefore be given progressive responsibility in training, instruction and administration. Section 0218 states: Courses of instruction for officers, other adults and cadets are arranged at Ministry of Defence Training Establishments or by districts/areas". That suggests to me that people who are not necessarily employed by the Army may be involved in instruction.

Although my hon. Friend the Minister may be able to assure me that those directly employed by the Army may not be covered, I should have thought that Army regulations show that civilians may be involved and thus may be subject to the ambit of the Bill.

The manual further states that the aim of the annual camp is to give adults and cadets training of a more interesting type by carrying out an exercise on a higher level. Those of us who have been on these annual camps know that sometimes the courses can be extremely exhausting. Far more deaths and injuries have been recorded in Army training than in any civilian centres.

I fear that, following the passage of this Bill, nannying political pressure will build up. People will ask whether it is right to put our young men under such strain in these Army camps. There will be, perhaps, well-publicised cases of men on long route marches coming to grief. Then, as a result of this Bill, people may say that the law should be involved. The regulations, in section 0234, deal in some detail with unexploded missiles. That shows that the Army is well aware that this sort of training can be far more dangerous than anything envisaged in the sort of activities conducted under the auspices of the trade association to which I have referred.

I hope hon. Members will think, whatever the instant reply by the Government, that I have shown that, although it is right to be concerned about a particular tragedy, legislation, if not carefully drafted, may have unforeseen consequences. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give me some reassurances on this matter.

10 am

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I have discussed the amendment with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). He had the courtesy to discuss the tabling of his amendment with me, as I was a member of the Standing Committee and he was not. I knew from Second Reading that he had an interest in the Bill. Our views differ slightly on the need for the Bill and the extent to which it should run, but his concerns about the area covered by the amendment are valid.

Perhaps I should refer to my hon. Friend as my hon. and gallant Friend, bearing in mind that he served for a short while as a student in the Royal Navy. In fact, we were at university together. I well remember that he disappeared during holidays. When I entertained myself, my hon. Friend went to sea. He was at sea for a considerable period. Indeed, some say that he is still at sea.

My hon. Friend was training to be a member of the Royal Navy. He was under military regulations and was serving on a naval vessel. He was training and taking a considerable risk. It would be amazing if the Bill were to be extended to cover the armed forces, with the result that regulations in the Bill or a health and safety official instructed them not to take the risks that military training necessarily involves.

One of the most important parts of the Bill is the need for instructors and supervisors—those providing "leadership", to adopt the word used in the Bill—to have proper qualifications. That is something that we shall consider in more detail when we come to a later amendment.

The requirements that the Bill seeks to introduce are already catered for in other areas of life. I have much in mind the high quality of training that instructors in the armed services receive. The regulations and systems that they employ have been developed over many years to ensure as much safety as possible. The existing regulations and safeguards are sufficient for military personnel, and the Bill should not extend to the armed forces.

I am not certain to what extent the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and my hon. Friend the Minister have considered the possibility of the Bill being extended to have force in the armed services. They may be able to reassure us in a few moments that they have thought about military training and have specifically excluded it from this measure. I hope that they will be able to give us that assurance.

At the same time, I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle in pressing for such an exclusion to be included in the Bill, and not in the form of a reassurance, so that, at some future date, we do not find that, despite the original intention of the House, the Secretary of State extends regulations to include military personnel.

The Army, the Navy and the Air Force could conceivably use private organisations to provide facilities for the training of their personnel. The use of such facilities is referred to as "adventure activities" in the Bill, but training activity is entirely different. For children at school, "adventure activities" are a form of education and fun. For military personnel, training is an entirely different matter. Training is designed to equip military personnel to face the most difficult odds. They may have to face situations in which they are killed while fighting for the country. They have to face various forms of military activity.

We know that cadets and young soldiers are sent to the Brecon Beacons, where they have to go through extremely tough training. Unfortunately, there are injuries. It is sad that occasionally personnel undergoing training are killed. I know of many who have gone to the Brecon Beacons for training, either people who are full-time personnel in the armed services or, more often, people who serve in the TA. They all attest to the fact that the training is rigorous. They are expected to undergo things that I hope children at school would never be expected to experience. The training of military personnel is an entirely separate form of activity. It would be most unfortunate if the Bill were used to limit, define or regulate such training.

I do not believe that it was the intention of the hon. Member for Devonport, bearing in mind the development of the excellent clauses that are now set out in the Bill, for military training to be covered by the regulations that will ensue. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, I think that a specific exclusion is needed. My hon. Friend's amendment is therefore apposite.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle talked about combined cadet forces and schools. Traditionally, many quite young boys and some girls join their CCF while at school and undergo a form of military training. When young people join a CCF, it is always made clear to them—although the CCF existed at my school, I did not join it—[Interruption.] Yes, I was always regarded as something of a wimp. I think that my hon. Friends still take that view, judging by their sedentary comments. I preferred to serve in the school library.

Mr. Waterson

A trustie.

Mr. Merchant

Yes, I was regarded as a trustie. My service in the library gave me useful training for surmounting the obstacles posed by the House of Commons Library.

When children joined the CCF or its equivalent, it was always made clear to them that they were joining as young soldiers. They were told that, once they wore the uniform, they were expected to behave as soldiers. Equally, they were expected to undergo the training—perhaps in a milder form—that full-time soldiers underwent. It would be most unfortunate if the protection that the Bill will give to children undergoing education and adventure activities were to be extended to those who join the CCF. Different forms of activity are involved. The Bill could easily be extended to include CCF activities.

I sympathise with the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle that the Bill should not be extended to cover areas outside its original limits. He is right to draw attention to well-intentioned Bills that the House has passed that later became broadened to cover much wider areas than originally intended. It is right that we should scrutinise the Bill with that in mind. We should consider amendments to limit the Bill. We should not accept the rather uncertain future of ministerial regulation.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister would not seek to widen the Bill more than necessary. In future, however, a different Secretary of State—perhaps, Heaven forbid, from a different party—might have other motives and might use the Bill to extend regulations to cover the armed forces, possibly even as a deliberate attempt to weaken the sharp edge of the armed forces.

That Secretary of State might introduce well-intentioned regulations that would undermine the effectiveness of the armed forces. He might introduce some namby-pamby training system that led to health and safety officers jumping out of foxholes to issue warnings.

We are talking of men who are trained to face the rigours of war. The men who served in trenches during the first world war had to take unbelievable risks in defending their country. They had to be trained. There were no health and safety officers jumping out of trenches saying, "No, don't put your head over the top, you might get shot. It is rather dangerous. You might slip on that mud and break your leg."

Training in the armed forces is entirely different from education at school. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle said, however, that some of those who undergo army training are of school age. It is important that clear distinctions should be set out in the Bill to ensure that its provisions do not apply to the armed forces in any sense. Its original purpose—that of protecting children undergoing ordinary education—should remain.

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

It is regrettable that the Bill has to be introduced as a result of the tragedy at Lyme bay.

I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might allow me, while speaking to the amendment, to congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on presenting the Bill.

Amendment No. 2 specifically refers to full-time and part-time military personnel. I too have had experience, similar to that of my hon. Friends, of some of the cadet force jolly jaunts to which they referred, and when I was a serving officer, I sat on the other side of the fence, as an instructor having to organise them.

The Army Cadet Force, the Air Training Corps and similar organisations that understudy the other services, are, of course, designed to bring out the latent potential for self-reliance, physical courage and so on of young people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said, there is some concern—quite rightly—that the Bill may impinge on Her Majesty's forces, and that, of course, particularly by default, would be entirely wrong.

I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, and the hon. Member for Devonport, will tackle that point, because I believe that it should be resolved, if possible, today. We have to be careful that we do not indulge in some knee-jerk reaction simply because of the tragedy at Lyme bay—or, indeed, any other tragedy.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle that, as the Bill currently stands, we may well be over-reacting. It is entirely appropriate that we take time today and in the future to consider the matters carefully. It would be entirely absurd if the Health and Safety Executive or the Health and Safety Commission were to have any say in the activities of adventurous training relating to soldiers and service men and service women, not just in the Army but the other services as well.

I venture to suggest that service instructors are in fact much better qualified than their civilian counterparts. I honestly believe—without meaning to make any disrespectful remarks whatever about civilian instructors who instruct in adventurous training but who have never served in Her Majesty's forces—that the best instructors in the voluntary sector are former members of the services.

I referred specifically to the ACF, of which I have most experience. I notice that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) is in his place on the Opposition Front Bench. I have had the pleasure—although at times it was a rather dubious one—and privilege of instructing the children of many of his constituents, at camps in the Isle of Man, Scotland and southern England.

The whole purpose of the adventurous training activities with which the amendment is concerned is to provide a firm foundation, to bring out the latent potential, to which I referred, of physical courage, self-reliance and so on, through a variety of activities, which might include abseiling, canoeing, hill walking, orienteering, general physical training and fitness.

The purpose of those activities, in the military context to which the amendment refers, was to provide an environment that was challenging for those young people, to test their abilities to a particular limit, whatever their age and physical capabilities, and to push them to that limit so that they would be better able to understand their own capabilities and to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses, and to do so in an environment that was as safe as it possibly could be.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle and for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), referred to the ages of many of the cadets in the cadet forces. The majority are under 17 years of age. I am particularly concerned, in relation to the amendment, that we consider whether the HSE, for example, should have some role in the competence of civilian instructors who were instructing Army cadets or cadets from the other services, and to compare that role with the instructors who wear a service uniform and are subject to Queen's regulations. It would be a nightmare if there were to be one rule for one set of instructors and another rule for another.

10.15 am

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle mentioned the ACF training manual. I believe that he is entirely right to say that it is one of the most comprehensive documents that we could possibly have to deal with the training of our young people. He specifically referred to a number of sections in the regulations which referred to training being organised at a steady rate—I think those were his words—compatible with the age group in question.

Bearing in mind the fact that those cadets are often trained by service personnel, who are, as I have already intimated, in my view better qualified than civilian instructors, it is important that we make it quite clear that the HSE should not have a major say in the way in which that training is carried out, because if it did, it would make a mockery of the way in which the Army and the other services carry out their adventurous training.

Mr. Leigh

Is my hon. Friend aware that, such is the detail of the regulations, which may, apparently, be covered by the Bill—there are more than 2,000 of them—that, for example, regulation 1135 says: Soap is not to be issued from Army sources. The cost of purchase is to be charged to the consolidated grant"— no doubt, the Treasury Bench. That is the detail that the Army has amassed over two centuries and which may perhaps be covered by the ambit of the Bill. It is absurd.

Mr. Banks

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who makes his own point in his own way.

When the Army sets about training its young soldiers and the Army cadets it looks after from time to time at annual training camps and so on—and the cadet training teams throughout the country, who do such a splendid job during the week, either at school-combined cadet forces or ACFs; the same is true for the other services—it is very much dealing with a military scenario. The whole point of adventurous training—this is pertinent to my hon. Friend's amendment—is that the bottom line is that one needs to train young soldiers and Army cadets to know their own capabilities, to push them physically to a particular limit when they are young, and to "the" limit, whatever that may be, when they get older.

When one joins the services—my hon. Friend gave the Army as an example—one knows that one may well be put into an environment that is extremely hostile, in which one's life may be put on the line, and one knows that one will potentially be doing a very dangerous job. That is why it is important that, in the adventurous training activities to which I referred, particularly the physical activities—my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) referred to his experiences on the Brecon Beacons—unless there is an element of danger, unless young people are pushed to a particular limit, whatever it may be at a particular time—it will vary depending on age, and will be much greater and much more arduous when one joins the services full-time—unless one is pushed, one will not understand what it will be like to be pushed into a hostile environment.

Although there is physical danger in activities such as canoeing and abseiling, fortunately one is not usually being shot at while engaging in them. However, in that kind of controlled environment, it is important for young people to have the opportunity to understand what the real thing will be like. It is also important that, in that environment, the instructors of young cadets and young soldiers can see precisely what they are like, where their strengths and weaknesses are. It is a vital part of training.

My hon. Friends mentioned some of their experiences. I shall mention one. While listening to them, I was mindful of the fact that, every time I went abseiling as an instructor, whether in the Brecon Beacons or in a quarry with a small drop, I knew that we would break for lunch. When I dropped off the side in the afternoon after a good lunch, I was just as nervous as when I was undertaking the activity in the morning. Given the worries and difficulties that went through my mind as an instructor, I was perfectly able to understand what it was like for a young cadet.

Mr. Nigel Evans

My hon. Friend was here when I relived the nightmare of the weekend in Crickhowell. Deep scars remain. Does he agree that, when the armed services are giving youngsters who are perhaps not part of a cadet training force a weekend taster for the services, they pay due regard to the health and safety of the youngsters in their charge?

Does he further agree that we do not want to go to the ridiculous length of a sergeant saying to me or to a 12 or 14-year-old youngster, "I want you to climb this 12 ft wall and jump from it using just a rope," and giving the youngster the opportunity to say, "Well, sergeant, I would rather not—it's dangerous"?

Given my hon. Friend's obvious expertise in this matter, can he say what regard the armed services pay to the safety of youngsters, because—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is a long intervention.

Mr. Banks

I think that I have the gist of my hon. Friend's important point. The amendment specifically mentions the armed forces, and I—and, I think, many of my hon. Friends—agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle that the armed forces should not be subject to the Bill's provisions. That is why he moved his amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) asked specifically about training. Bearing in mind my earlier remarks about pushing cadets and young soldiers to their limit, I can reassure my hon. Friend that, in my experience, cadets who were seen to be getting into physical difficulties were told to stop. The training was organised by serving soldiers and officers in a controlled environment, and they could say to people in difficulties, "Don't move. We will come and pick you up." That would be done if the cadets were close to a road in the Brecon Beacons or perhaps on an assault course.

Although it is necessary to push cadets to the limit, the limit will vary in individual cases, because of age and physical strength. If a cadet being trained by a serving soldier rather than a civilian instructor is seen to be getting into difficulties, it would be possible for the military instructor to call a halt. But it is a fine balance, and the training is designed to be tough.

I sometimes wonder how I managed to do some of the things that I did. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) was extremely lucky that there was not 6 in of snow on the ground when he engaged in whatever he was doing—he did not say who it was with—in the Brecon Beacons.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Banks

I was hoping to come back to the amendment, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Ainsworth

I thought I had made it clear that I was in the Brecon Beacons with the combined cadet force.

My hon. Friend spoke about assault courses. I can assure him from my own experience that, although sergeant-majors are not noted for their light touch in dealing with schoolboys who get stuck at the top of those unpleasant rope things which one has to climb, after five minutes of shouting and abuse, the penny dropped for me. They took control of the situation in the way that my hon. Friend has described, and got me down. I was relieved, and almost applied to become a librarian like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant).

Mr. Banks


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman said that he hoped to get back to the amendment. I also hope that he will do that.

Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for relating his further experiences.

It is important to recognise all this, and to take the time and trouble to look more closely at the Bill, so that the clause does not result in a knee-jerk reaction. It would be absurd if serving soldiers and members of the other services were subject to its provisions.

As I have said, the whole point of the training is to recognise the potential of each cadet. Perhaps, if my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East had been encouraged even more aggressively, he might have made it to the top of the rope and come back down again. That is the point of such activities, and the firm foundation of the military is to push cadets and young soldiers—I distinguish between the two—as far as they can go.

That makes young people begin to realise that they are able to undertake a particular activity and achieve an objective that they never thought they were physically able to achieve. That is the sort of training that the military tries to provide for its cadets, so that, when they join the services, they better understand how they tick, and will understand a hostile environment.

I have drawn a distinction between the qualifications of a serving soldier and civilian instructors. Training is usually carried out by non-commissioned and warrant officers, who are usually young. They form the cadet training teams which do such a tremendous job. Civilian instructors have a different set of qualifications, but I shall not trespass on your good will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because we shall later come to amendments which deal with the qualifications of civilian instructors. No doubt I and some of my hon. Friends will wish to speak at that time.

Any suggestion that serving soldiers, service men and service women should be subject in such training to the general provisions of the Bill is absurd. I hope that the Minister will recognise my genuine concern and that of many of my hon. Friends.

10.30 am
Mr. Waterson

I want to be brief on the amendment, and I wish to associate myself with the congratulations given to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson). It is important that the Bill passes what remains of its parliamentary assault course today, and I shall not detain the House any longer than is absolutely necessary.

It is important to bear in mind some crucial matters when tackling the kind of tragedy which spawned the Bill. As my constituency is on the south coast, I am conscious of the dangers faced by those going out to sea in whatever kind of craft, or without proper supervision or experience. But it is equally important to avoid legislating in haste on an important matter, and reference has been made to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in that regard. The Bill must be applied not only to the tragedy that we are discussing, but to future tragedies which may!be different.

I referred in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) to the Air Training Corps, which has a popular and lively group in my constituency. With all due respect to my hon. Friend, we have not yet had a satisfactory answer as to whether air cadets, for example, will come outside the amendment. I shall only put down a marker on that point, as I hope that the promoter of the Bill or the Minister will be able to deal with those points in their speeches. I should say that there is also a thriving and long-established Territorial Army unit in my constituency.

Like several of my hon. Friends, I have served my time in the schools cadet force, where I learned such timeless skills as being able to take apart and put back together a Bren gun with a hood over my head. Unfortunately, the Bren gun became obsolete shortly after I mastered that skill, and it became as much use to me as my lessons in the quickstep and the foxtrot at roughly the same age.

I also had the benefit of annual summer camps with the cadets, although "summer" is an elastic word in that context, because the camps tended to take place in parts of the country where summer obviously meant something different from what it meant where I lived.

It is important to decide where we are drawing the line when we use the phrase "part-time military personnel". We have heard about those who are involved in full-time military training, and it is of course right that those people should not be concerned by the provisions of the Bill. That is common ground, and there has been no dissention from that view so far in the debate.

The real problem comes with the question of part-time personnel. Young people fall into two distinct categories with regard to the activities, and I am keen that these matters are dealt with in detail in the wind-up speeches on the amendments. There are those young people who have volunteered for the cadets or for the Air Training Corps. They are therefore regular members, who go once or twice a week to meetings, regular weekend events and annual camps.

There is a persuasive argument that those young people—or, perhaps more realistically, their parents—are aware of the different risks to which they might be exposed. There may also be a different structure of training and supervision, as was eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks), who is very much an expert on the issue.

The second category of young people needs to be addressed, and I am not sure that it would be right if they were drawn into the amendment and were therefore excluded from the Bill's provisions. That category is made up of young people who occasionally—certainly not regularly—go to military-run facilities for a day or a weekend, possibly through an arrangement with their school. I am a lawyer myself, and I can see how difficult it would be to draw a line, but I should have thought that those young people should be subject to the full benefits and rigours of the legislation.

Perhaps it is not beyond the wit of man—or the parliamentary draftsmen—to make that clear in the wording of the Bill. Some children and parents may be unable to see a realistic distinction between activities which the children perform both in school and out of school, such as canoeing or boating, and the kind of day or weekend trip about which we are talking.

We have heard a lot this morning about military matters. Someone once said that the trouble with the military was that generals were always preparing to fight the last war, not the next war. That could apply equally to this debate. We have discussed the Lyme bay tragedy, and it must he remembered that it is now two years and two days since that tragedy occurred.

There have been similar tragedies with different details. At Land's End in 1985, four children were swept into the sea and died, and four schoolboys were killed on a trip to Austria in 1988. It is not entirely clear whether such activities are covered by the Bill.

It is important that we do not tailor the Bill to one particular tragedy, desperately sad though it was. We must look forward to other possible incidents, and make a realistic assessment of where the provisions of the Bill should fall. That is why it was important for my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle to table the amendment, although I think that further work needs to be done on it.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth)

The debate has been interesting and welcome, as it has enabled many of my hon. Friends who have not so far been able to participate in the detailed consideration of the Bill to show their interest and involvement in it. I very much welcome that, as, I am sure, does the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson).

The debate has illustrated the value of the scrutiny process which Bills undergo in the House of Commons and in another place, because an item which now—having listened to the debate—seems to be so obvious to us all had never been raised previously during debates on the Bill. It was not raised on Second Reading or in Committee, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who identified the matter and brought it to the attention of the House.

Before I get into the meat of the issue, I wish to outline some of the background to the Bill, as it is relevant to the consideration of the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle said that he thought that there was a danger of the Bill being rushed through without proper consideration. I would contest that, because the Bill has received not only a lengthy Second Reading debate—which he will recall—but proper consideration in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) played a distinguished part in that Committee, and raised many questions. I hope that my hon. Friend was satisfied by the replies he received, not so much from me as from the promoter of the Bill, during those detailed discussions. It cannot be said that the Bill was at any stage rushed through, and the House should know that. I hope that that will reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle.

However, my hon. Friend referred to the key issue which we are talking about today. He said that the matter that he had raised in the amendment should be resolved in the Bill. That argument has run throughout the proceedings on the Bill.

It is important that the House and, in particular, my hon. Friend, should understand that, as I read the way in which the Bill has been drafted, it is a framework enabling Bill. It sets out the broad principles of what the hon. Member for Devonport wants to achieve, but—this is the crucial point—after the Bill has received Royal Assent and following a period of detailed consultation, regulations would be drawn up to give detailed effect to the main thrust of the Bill. Because of that, it would be wrong to put too much detail into the Bill now.

I am sure that my hon. Friends recognise that it has always been the case with legislation that, if we put too much detail into a Bill, that sets the Bill in legislative concrete and makes it extraordinarily difficult to adjust and improve it as circumstances demand.

We are in a new area of regulation—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle made most effectively and which I accept. I have always believed, ever since the hon. Member for Devonport introduced his Bill, that to put an excessive level of detail into the Bill would be wrong. Indeed, it would be wrong in principle, because it would set the Bill too rigidly and make it far too difficult for us to return to it subsequently were we to find that it needed improvements. It would also ignore the assumption that we have all made throughout—that there would be a period of consultation and then, on the basis of that, regulations would be introduced, subject to parliamentary approval, to give effect to the detailed requirements of the Bill.

That sets the scene, because it leads to the possibility that, were there to be the sort of errors or lacunae to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle referred, they would be picked up most effectively during the period of consultation.

Let us take the amendment as an example. In consulting everybody who might have an interest in the Bill, we expect many people to make observations on the relevance, for example, of extending the Bill's provisions to military facilities.

That brings me to the substance of the amendment. There is a danger of some confusion—if I dare say that to my hon. Friends. I noted carefully the comments of that distinguished war pensioner, my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks), who said that service instructors are better qualified than civilian instructors. I made a careful note of his words—something that I always try to do during debates such as this.

Therefore, I equally recall that one or two of my hon. Friends pointed out that, tragically and regrettably, there are injuries and even deaths in the course of military training or activities in military camps. As far as I can tell, such injury and death have been avoided by most of my hon. Friends in the searing experiences which they recanted to us.

We cannot have it both ways, can we? Well, perhaps we can, but it is a little odd. One of my hon. Friends says that military installations are all right because the service instructors are better qualified, while others of my hon. Friends say that injuries and deaths can occur at such installations. I am a little reluctant to go all the way with those of my hon. Friends who say that we should exclude, as a matter of course, all military facilities from the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Merchant

Surely the point is that the nature and the pressure of the training given to military personnel is that much more intense than in the civilian sector. It is a different sort of activity, and the personnel are stretched to a much higher level. That is why, sadly, injuries and deaths sometimes occur. It has nothing to do with the quality of the instructors.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is right. I had intended to come to that point later in my speech, but I shall deal with it now. The Bill refers to facilities which are provided exclusively for persons who have attained the age of 18 being excluded. In other words, any facility that might encompass an activity undertaken by someone under the age of 18 should, at least in principle, be a candidate for inclusion in the scope of the Bill. As we have all said, youngsters under the age of 18 regularly enjoy, in one form or another, the facilities provided by the military. Therefore, it appears that they would be candidates for inclusion in the Bill.

The Bill then refers to facilities to some element of instruction or leadership. Again, that appears to encompass the sort of activities provided by military facilities. Therefore, despite the distinction that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) makes, in principle it appears that military facilities are candidates for inclusion in the scope of the Bill. We should at least accept that there is a debatable point; the matter is not entirely black or white.

10.45 am
Mr. Matthew Banks

My hon. Friend's cogent arguments are most persuasive. Can he satisfy my hon. Friends and me that his reference to opportunities in subsequent guidance if the Bill is passed would tackle some of the concerns that we have expressed?

Mr. Forth

Yes, I very much envisage that to be the case. I am trying to explain that I do not want to pre-empt the consultation and regulation-making process. However, I have no doubt that, during that process, these matters will be resolved. One reason why I cannot give the answers that my hon. Friends want is that we have yet to undergo the consultation process.

It is entirely possible that, at some stage, we may want to make a distinction between occasional part-time involvement in military activities and the involvement of full-time military personnel, albeit very young military personnel. I can envisage that possibility, although I do not want to pre-empt the consultative process or the making of regulations.

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend's comments are causing me slight concern. I am not a parliamentary draftsman, although I am a lawyer. I thought that my hon. Friend would say that I need not be concerned because the military would be excluded from the scope of the Bill. He actually said the opposite—that it may be included, which I find rather worrying.

I think that my hon. Friend accepts that some of our points about the nature of Army training are valid. Therefore, I hope that, as he develops his speech, he will give an assurance, on behalf of the Government, that his aim is to use his power during the consultation exercise and the regulation-making process to ensure that the military is excluded from the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend pre-empts what I had intended to say. I can help him by referring to a note that I have been given by my experts, which may reassure him. He has forced my hand, but I will answer his question.

The Bill does not apply to the Crown, so if the Army provides facilities for adventure activities, the Bill probably would not apply. I emphasise the word "probably". That is the bad news. The good news is that regulations can always make it clear that, if the Army provides facilities for adventure activities, it does not need a licence. That is the nub of the matter—the licensing is the key, as I expect the hon. Member for Devonport will tell us.

I cannot be as unequivocal as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle would like, but it is clear that, in all likelihood, military installations would not be automatic candidates for the licensing regime specified in the Bill. I want to leave the door slightly ajar, for the reasons that I have given. We want to be satisfied, do we not, that there is no possibility of young people of school age being in any way vulnerable to anything that would expose them to an unacceptable level of danger?

If, as all my hon. Friends have suggested, during the consultation and regulation-making process, reassurances can be provided in relation to military facilities, I have no doubt that exclusion from the regulations would be entirely appropriate. I hope, however, that my hon. Friends will agree that we want that level of reassurance, despite everything that has been said about the expertise of the personnel, the instructors, and the relevance, or not, of the regulations, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle is such a master.

I hope that the sequence of events that I have described, and the flavour of my comments will reassure my hon. Friends. Equally, however, I hope that they will agree that we should not shut the matter out by putting an explicit exclusion on the face of the Bill at this stage, especially given some of my hon. Friends' doubts about the amendments.

The amendment's wording would be sufficient to cover all relevant military or militarily related facilities—there should be no doubt about that. However, it is unnecessary to include it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle will accept the reassurances that I have tried to give today. Allowing a proper role for the consultation and regulation-making stage would be adequate. In the light of that, I hope that he will not feel it necessary to press his amendment this morning.

Mr. Jamieson

I thank Conservative Members for their kind words of support for my Bill. I am pleased to see that a number of hon. Members who were unable to speak in Committee and on Second Reading are in the Chamber to support the Bill, because undoubtedly its strength lies in the strong cross-party support that it has in the House, and in the enormous support that it has outside among many organisations that are involved with the safety of young people.

I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification of a number of points. I shall not attempt to repeat the arguments that he has so eloquently outlined. A number of hon. Members said that we would not wish to act in haste after a tragedy. I think that it was the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) who said, rightly, that the Lyme bay tragedy occurred exactly two years ago this week. During that period, I have met the Department for Education and the Secretary of State for Education twice, once nearly two years ago, and much careful time and consideration has been given to legislation to assist the safety of children in activity centres.

I therefore reject the comment of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) that the Government may have rushed into this matter. They have had an opportunity to give full and proper consideration to the legislation. As the Minister said, we have in front of us not detailed provisions, but enabling legislation.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle tabled the two amendments. Of course we all accept his experience in the military, just as we accept the experience of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) as library monitor at Nottingham high school. He also made some useful comments about the amendments.

Amendment No. 2 would reduce the Bill's scope from the age of 18 to 17, so it would cover people aged 16 and under. I have listened to a number of arguments on that point. Just as I have had suggestions that the age may be lowered, I have had a considerable amount of correspondence from universities and higher education establishments suggesting that it should be raised. I have an almost equal balance of arguments from both sides. By putting the age at 17 and below, therefore, we may just have it about right.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle makes the point that people under the age of 18 are sometimes required to die for their country in the armed services, but I remind him that, equally, they cannot vote in elections, even for the hon. Gentleman, much as they may wish to do so; nor can they enter into a legal contract for a loan.

It is especially important that we identify people in an age group of immaturity and inexperience. We must protect them in particular. That is what the Bill seeks to do. A great difference exists between young people aged 17 and those aged 18. Those aged 17 are more likely to be in full-time education than those aged 18. Although I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman had excellent motives in tabling amendment No. 2, the Bill keeps the balance about right.

As the Minister said, we all have an ambition to anticipate what will come next in the legislation, the regulations and the legislation's next phase. Throughout Committee, hon. Members tabled amendments, and we had lengthy discussions about organisations that might be written in or out of the Bill. As the Minister said, a danger exists in putting too much detail in enabling legislation, lest we find later that we want to amend the primary legislation and that we have not got it right.

Comments have been made about the haste with which the Bill has been introduced. Two years of thought have been given to the Bill, but a further period of consultation will follow. Then there will be another period when the House can consider the detailed regulation that will come before it. Of course, that will have the full and proper scrutiny of the House, stage by stage.

At that time, hon. Members who have made valid points today about the armed services will have an opportunity to debate those regulations fully and properly, so the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle will have a further opportunity to return to the matter. What happens today will not close debate on it.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

I would welcome clarification of what will happen at a later stage. I understand that the regulation comes back by way of a statutory instrument, which will be considered, presumably, by a Committee upstairs, and therefore not on the Floor of the House. The opportunity for the wide debate that the hon. Gentleman envisages may not arise.

Mr. Jamieson

Should the Bill receive Royal Assent, I am sure that the Department for Education will undertake wide consultation to ensure that all the bodies that have a proper and legitimate interest in the matter are consulted fully and properly on the regulations. Those regulations would then be brought, as other regulations regularly are, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to the House.

In Committee, I expressed the view that a Committee upstairs was the proper place for full scrutiny of the statutory instruments. If hon. Members are concerned about matters contained in those statutory instruments, they should take the opportunity, perhaps unusually, to discuss them with more thoroughness and diligence than is usually the case.

Mr. Waterson

I sit on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and on the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. We consider about 3,000 statutory instruments a year, and we are primarily concerned—sometimes I would it were other—with the form and the vires of the regulations. I cannot envisage the prospect of a discussion on this issue in the course of such scrutiny. Unless some way is found of debating the regulations on the Floor of the House, that discussion is a forlorn hope.

Mr. Jamieson

I do not have the hon. Gentleman's experience and I am grateful to him for bringing his experience to this debate. However, I have sat on Committees in which there has been a full and proper debate, and I should have thought it possible for that to occur in this case. As we are dealing with primary legislation, and considering the secondary legislation that will flow from it, I should have thought it eminently possible to have a full debate in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments to explore and tease out of the Minister all the details that may be required.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, if the House so wishes, the statutory instrument can be taken on the Floor of the House anyway?

11 am

Mr. Jamieson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. Should the House wish to have a fuller debate, it is possible for the statutory instrument to be taken on the Floor of the House. I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle that the next phase will be given proper consideration. I believe that that aspect of the legislation should be given close consideration, so that we get it right and rule out those bodies and organisations that we wish to rule out, while ruling in most firmly those that we wish to rule in.

We have this morning debated matters related to the military. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle said that he would not want members of the Health and Safety Executive wandering around assault courses, but I am sure that he will accept that he would not expect young people on assault courses to be put at unnecessary risk. We expect the very highest standards of safety measures from the military when young people are involved. It would not be in the interests of any commanders to put their soldiers, sailors or airmen at unnecessary risk, especially those who are young, immature and inexperienced.

I draw an analogy with what I understand to be the position in schools. The Bill would not apply if a school undertook adventure activities led by teachers skilled in those activities. It would already be covered by the line of responsibility that runs from the teacher through the head teacher to the governors and, in most cases, to the local education authority. There is a chain of command and, as I understand it, safeguards exist because schools act in loco parentis.

I believe that the training of military personnel employed by the Ministry of Defence would fall into a similar category. There is a duty of care on the employer to the employee, and the Bill would not cover people employed by the military on active service.

As the Minister said, the grey area is whether those working in a part-time capacity and perhaps offering amateur services to the Air Training Corps and other cadet forces which successfully involve hundreds and thousands of children are or are not covered by the Bill. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) specifically mentioned the training of such personnel. Many civilian instructors are former military instructors and therefore of the very highest standard, so I should not necessarily draw a distinction between the two in terms of quality.

Mr. Matthew Banks

It is important to clarify what I said. I specifically said that some of the best—if not the best—civilian instructors were former service men and women.

Mr. Jamieson

I accept that, and I am glad that we agree on this point as well as on other matters.

I trust that, when we go through the consultation stage, we shall hear compelling arguments from the Army cadet forces and the Air Training Corps as to whether they should or should not come under the remit of the Bill. At that stage, many bodies will, quite properly, make a forceful case for why they should or should not do so.

To accept amendment No. 3 at this stage would be unnecessary, although I understand why the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle has, as the Minister said, raised a matter that has not been discussed previously. Now that he has raised it, I am sure that it will be given careful consideration in the consultation period, and when we reach the most important stage of setting out the fine detail of the regulations.

Mr. Leigh

In view of the assurances given by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) and by my hon. Friend the Minister—in particular the Minister's assurance that this is simply an enabling Bill and that it is not the Government's intention to include military training in its ambit—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Merchant

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'and'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 22, after 'appeals', insert— '(m) the minimum qualifications required by staff employed by persons providing facilities for adventure activities.'.

Mr. Merchant

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for selecting the amendment because it gives the House the opportunity to hold a short debate on qualifications. The matter was raised in passing in Committee. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) will know that I sought at various points in Committee to strengthen the Bill, and I hope that he appreciates my motives in doing so.

Amendment No. 8 deals with an important issue of principle—the standard of qualifications that instructors and others who work in activity centres should hold. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give more detail about his plans. I accept that putting a specific requirement may not be the best way to proceed, but I hope at least to tease out of the Minister his intentions in this regard.

I also accept that I have probably not drafted the amendment as well as I should have, as I omitted to include a reference to establishments that had been licensed or, alternatively, to state that qualifications should be part of the licence requirement. It is my intention that the amendment should apply only to those centres that have been formally licensed under the Bill.

The issue of qualifications was widely discussed in relation to the safety of activity centres and in connection with the Lyme bay tragedy. Indeed, the issue played a central part in investigations after that unfortunate event just over two years ago and was discussed at great length in the investigations of the Select Committee on Education. It was also discussed in Committee. The regulations should cover staff qualifications. The amendment stresses that by including them in the specific list of requirements.

The qualifications of staff at activity centres are a matter of long-standing concern. Children who attend activity centres are effectively placed in the hands of staff who may be very highly qualified but who, regrettably, in some cases, are wholly unqualified or who have only part qualifications, some of them inadequate. Although there are other causes of disaster and problems even when children are in the hands of fully trained staff, a mishap is far less likely to occur if the staff supervising and leading the activities know precisely what the risks are.

Qualifications should include full training in all aspects of safety, full training on equipment, how to use it and how it operates, full training in all emergency procedures and full training in the skills involved in looking after young people—what might be called the skills of leadership. Training in dealing with people in difficult situations is of prime importance. It is important for instructors to keep their head and to ensure that those around them do likewise because panic is often the greatest contributory factor to disaster. It makes the problem far worse.

I am not being over-dramatic in saying that training is at the core of the Bill. Most accidents and disasters do not stem from criminal intent. There is an outside chance that a person who runs an activity centre deliberately runs it in a dangerous way. I would, however, be hard pressed to find a motive for that; it is extremely unlikely. The real problem is recklessness. Organisations may cut corners, believing that in so doing, they are not taking a serious risk.

Another problem is plain ignorance. When the Bill was in Committee, we were entertained by a long account of how the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) got into difficulties in a boat. The incident was described entertainingly, but there was a serious undertone. It is easy to take part in an activity with which one is not familiar and suddenly get into extreme difficulties. The problem stems from ignorance. If the instructors at a centre are not skilled, they may take their charges into areas of great risk simply because they do not realise what is going on. Trained people will not make that mistake. They know precisely what is at stake and they know how to handle it. Even if, under the Bill, regulations were introduced to provide for every potential problem, untrained staff might not know how to apply them properly. They might not even know that the regulations existed. Qualifications and training are important to uphold the regulations.

I accept that what I have described is a fringe problem. I accept that even today, without the Bill, in the vast majority of activity centres, staff are properly qualified. I am also aware of how strict activity centres have become in the past two years in ensuring that staff are properly qualified. We are, however, dealing with the fringe; so often, that is what legislation is about. It is important for qualifications and training to be stressed in the Bill.

Qualifications and training are in the interests of all. It is very much in the interests of the owners and operators to be able to show that there is full protection and that their centres have staff who are fully qualified. It is important that everyone can be reassured of that. Qualifications and training are also important for teachers, parents and local authorities. They are all involved and they need to have confidence and faith in the centres that they use and especially in the personnel and their qualifications.

After the Lyme bay tragedy, at the inquest and the subsequent trial, considerable reference was made to the fact that the staff involved were wholly unqualified. In a nutshell, that underlines the importance of having proper training and qualification standards.

According to the Select Committee on Education: Some doubts have been expressed as to how far the Act the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974— extends to the competence of staff in relation to the safety of centres' clients. The Act may well be deficient in ensuring that qualifications reach the highest standards.

The Select Committee, in referring to staff competence, said: ACAC witnesses defined competence as including qualifications, experience and training. We expect that the criteria which are eventually set either in regulations, or by the licensing authority, will take account of all these attributes, rather than relying solely on technical qualifications. The Select Committee widened the scope of training and stressed its importance. It also said that the licensing authority should give support to the providers of outdoor education in terms of qualification standards.

The Select Committee report put great stress on the importance of national vocational qualifications and on ensuring that they were available in all the necessary areas and activities. The Committee believed that NVQs played an important part in ensuring that standards were maintained.

The Select Committee especially stressed summer centres—part-time centres—because it was felt that they were less likely to have high standards for staff. The Committee said:

In assessing the competence of staff, the licensing authority should pay particular attention to centres where the seasonal pattern of employment is more likely to involve staff of a lower calibre than larger, full-time centres. 11.15 am

I draw attention to two important factors which strengthen my argument. My local authority, Bromley, which was keen that the Bill should be enacted, drew it to my attention and increased my interest in it. In a summary that the authority has sent me, it stresses:

Parents have the right to expect that when children go to centres they will be taught by qualified staff'. The adventure and activity centres themselves have shown how significant the Bill is and how much importance they attach to it. It is noticeable that in all their circulars to schools, they put great stress on the qualifications and standards of instruction required for their staff. I have a circular from Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays which lists the activities, sites and minimum instructor qualifications on their various adventure holidays. It goes into great detail. That stems partly from the criticisms after the Lyme bay tragedy and partly from the focusing of attention on qualifications. It is also a reaction to some of the previous malpractice.

Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays is honest in admitting that it previously had problems, although it has none now. I do not suggest that the company now employs anyone other than the highest-qualified staff. However, the company says that some years ago, it employed a chief instructor who was with it for some time—

Mr. Jamieson

Who sent the hon. Gentleman the letter from Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays?

Mr. Merchant

The letter was sent to me by a teacher. It is a circular letter which Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays sent to group leaders and teachers in many schools. It is clearly a circular letter. I would rather not tell the House the teacher's name, not because there is anything confidential about the letter, but simply because when I was given this material, I did not ask the teacher's specific permission to quote from it. I feel that I should not reveal the teacher's name.

Mr. Jamieson

Has the hon. Gentleman had any direct communication with Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays? If so, which member of that organisation has he had direct contact with? Is any member of that organisation mentioned on any of the correspondence? I do not want the hon. Gentleman to give away who the teacher was. Can he, however, name the person from Devon and Dorset Adventure Holidays who has written the letter?

Mr. Merchant

Yes, with pleasure. The name at the bottom of the letter is Chris Reynard and there is a signature. I am taking the letter at face value and I have every reason to believe that it is accurate. If the hon. Gentleman has any difficulties with the letter, I would obviously be delighted to hear them. It seems to be a perfectly valid letter on letterhead. In any event, the reference to the instructor is merely illustrative of a practice that has been known to have occurred at other centres and one of the purposes of the Bill is to prevent any such lax standards.

The letter, which I was going to quote, claims that a previous chief instructor provided forged instructor certificates and was later found to be fraudulently qualifying staff. So long as such activity is found to be necessary or is carried out, there is a problem from which those involved in activities—children, teachers and schools—must be protected. If there is a clear and proper requirement for minimum qualifications, if those qualifications are known to be above board and if they are the result of a recognised scheme with proper validation, all concerned—operators, clients, schools and children—would be fully protected.

As I said, such protection is at the core of the Bill and that is why I stress it in the amendment. I hope that either my amendment will be accepted or that the promoter of the Bill the hon. Member for Devonport and my hon. Friend the Minister will give an assurance that the whole question of qualifications will be properly and thoroughly dealt with and included as an essential part of the working mechanisms of the regulations which will stem from the Bill.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham raises an absolutely key element which should be covered by the Bill and he is quite right to stress the importance and the central role that can and must be played by qualifications of staff. I need not repeat—indeed, I do not want to repeat—the many examples that have been given of the problems relating to inadequate qualifications and the like. There can be no difference between myself and my hon. Friend on that matter.

I point out to my hon. Friend, however, that clause 1(4)(b) says that regulations may make provisions to any requirements relating to safety (whether applying to facilities for adventure activities or to other facilities) which must be satisfied by an applicant for a licence". That phrase "any requirements relating to safety" is very broad. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) will no doubt confirm that a deliberately broad statement of the requirements relating to safety is envisaged to address the problems of safety in activity centres. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Bill as drafted would enable us to cover whatever matters may arise relating to safety. So the power, as it were, is already in the Bill.

Our next consideration is whether qualifications should in some way be singled out as being of exclusive or even primary importance. That need not and—probably—should not be the case, because under the phrase "requirements relating to safety" there will inevitably be a wide range of requirements, all of which are interlocking and important. I would include in a list, which is not intended to be comprehensive but to give my hon. Friend a flavour of what I mean, training, competence, experience and management systems in addition to qualifications. If my hon. Friend thinks for a moment, he will realise that time and again we have heard examples of how a significant failure in any of those areas may lead to a shortfall in the delivery of effective safety measures.

Qualifications alone are not sufficient. They are necessary, but not sufficient. People may be qualified, yet their qualifications may be rather ancient, outdated and not strictly relevant. With the best will in the world, it is very difficult to identify simply through qualifications all necessary measures. Training is very closely related to qualifications, self-evidently, but may be required in addition to qualifications, competence is certainly relevant, experience, especially, is always relevant and the effectiveness of management systems and procedures—a factor which is often neglected—which have to be in place to supplement the straightforward qualifications that staff may have is vital. Again and again we have heard examples of how the failure of management systems or procedures have—probably—been the key element in giving rise to the sort of tragedies of which we are all too well aware.

Clause 1(4)(b) already contains ample provision to cover my hon. Friend's requirements and I hope that he will accept my contention that to single out qualifications may, in some senses, be almost counter-productive because it would imply somehow that the mere possession of qualifications by staff would be sufficient and that we could forget all other elements. Having given my hon. Friend assurances of what we shall have in mind as we enter the consultation process and shape up to making the regulations—qualifications are central, but the other factors are, too—I hope that he will be sufficiently satisfied and will not feel the need to press his amendment.

Mr. Jamieson

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) for tabling amendments Nos. 7 and 8 and for making his points. I know that he has great concern for his constituents and that he has contact with his local education authority. He, like so many of us here, is also concerned as a parent. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a parent because I came across his two children recently in the Strangers' Cafeteria. Unfortunately, when they espied me, thinking I was an old socialist, they scurried under the table for cover. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But once they were told that I was new Labour, they came out with smiles on their small countenances, they felt assured and they cooed. So, I know that the hon. Gentleman is very sympathetic to the Bill. Indeed, his carefully crafted amendments on report and in Committee have been extremely well received.

I remember the hon. Gentleman making a powerful and welcome speech on Second Reading. I noticed that at the beginning of his speech he said that he was instinctively reticent about supporting extra regulation."—[Official Report, 27 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 630.] I am sad to inform him that I am equally reticent about accepting his amendment. He can tell from my tone that, just as in Committee, he is heading for disappointment if he thinks that he has won us over on this matter.

As the Minister rightly pointed out, clause 1(4)(b) and, possibly, clause 1(4)(a) cover training and qualifications, about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned. In clause 1(4)(a), it is conceivable that a centre would be signing up for a licence to a code of practice. That code of practice would contain, if it were worthy, details relating to qualifications required by staff. As the Minister says, the qualifications in themselves are not a guarantee that children will be safe. A far more important issue is the management and culture of safety within the centre.

The Lyme bay tragedy occurred in relation to the St. Alban's centre, which had instructors who were qualified in canoeing. Sadly, they were not involved in that activity on that day, but were round the corner dinghy sailing. That was a management problem, not a problem of not having the staff to undertake the task. The amendment would be tautologous as the matters are already covered in the Bill.

11.30 am

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Beckenham used in support of his arguments information from Devon and Dorset Holidays. The hon. Member for Beckenham clearly did not hear the Radio 4 programme, "Face the Facts", about three weeks ago. I can happily provide him with a tape of that programme so that he can listen to it.

I raised the subject on Second Reading. Mr. Chris Reynard was interviewed by the BBC in relation to the claims that he made in his brochure about his centre, particularly about the staff qualifications and the endorsements that he said he had received from various organisations. He states in his brochure that his was "voted the best centre". When asked by the BBC who had voted, the man lapsed into a period of Trappist silence and could not or would not answer the question. When pressed by the interviewer several times, Mr. Reynard was silent—he could not give the names of those who had voted his the best centre in Britain.

Mr. Reynard covers his literature with endorsements that he says that he has received from various organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. He quotes as supporting him people like Alan Cottle, the outdoor education adviser for Surrey. I believe that Mr. Dane Oliver is also quoted as supporting him. I believe that all those people have written sharp and pointed letters to Mr. Reynard saying that in no way were they supporting his organisation, particularly the poor, ill-thought-out scheme for giving people qualifications. That scheme was not recognised by anybody.

On the same programme, when Mr. Reynard was asked about who recognised the qualifications that he had given out, he again fell into silence. The broadcast is most interesting and anybody interested in any part of outdoor activities should listen to the tape. I strongly commend it as it is revealing. It illustrates why we need the Bill. There are people like Chris Reynard around, albeit in the minority. People exist who are prepared to use bogus safety claims and comments from other people out of context and without their permission to try to sell their product on the market. We need the Bill to provide protection from those people.

I ask the House to reject the amendment as the issue is adequately covered in the Bill.

Mr. Merchant

I am grateful for the various comments of the hon. Member for Devonport, not least his comments about my children. As a father, I am concerned in a personal way, as well as being concerned for my constituents and their children. I want to ensure that anything in which my children participate, now or later in life, should be properly controlled and supervised.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I support his Bill. My reference on Second Reading to my natural instinct against regulation can be seen as a compliment to him and his Bill in that I nevertheless find it attractive and support it. I can also reassure the hon. Gentleman that, while it is true that my children hid under the table when they saw him because they thought he was an old-style socialist, they came out not because I told them that he was new Labour, but because I told them that he was the Bill's promoter. They were delighted to hear that.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring at length to Devon and Dorset Holidays and Mr. Chris Reynard. He is obviously better informed than I am on that subject. I initially thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to say that the letter that I had received was not genuine and there was some forgery involved, in which case I intended to say that I had quoted from it in good faith, the teachers had given it to me in good faith, and we all believed that it was an accurate letter. I now realise that the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are even more problems attached to that organisation. Perhaps the qualifying remark that I made at the beginning of the quotation—that the holiday centre was now operating to the highest standards—was inaccurate. Obviously, it is not operating to such standards and the problems are worse than I suggested. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that clear and I fully share his concern.

I am reassured by what the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Minister said about qualifications. I have achieved my objective by drawing attention to that subject and receiving the reassurances that I sought. I fully accept the comments of both my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman that the qualifications themselves are not sufficient. I was not intending to suggest that they were, but was simply trying to stress one aspect. I accept, and always have done, that qualifications are merely a starting point—there must be good practice, good management and continued experience. I would not want to be party to anything that appeared to suggest that only qualifications were important.

I have succeeded in my main objective of drawing attention to the importance of qualifications and given the House the opportunity to discuss that subject. I have put the matter on record, which is important for the implementation of the legislation and the drawing up of regulations. I am satisfied that my main purpose has been achieved. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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