HC Deb 20 May 1996 vol 278 cc39-41
Mr. Murphy

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 12, leave out lines 21 to 24.

This matter was discussed in Committee and relates to voluntary training and other voluntary duties in Britain and elsewhere. This is a probing amendment with the aim of urging the Minister to tell the House the reasoning behind the clause. Voluntary training is unpaid, of course, and sports, competitions, social events and the raising of funds for charities might be described in the normal run of things as voluntary and unpaid. However, training which is individual, which is for the purposes of the trades concerned and which is promotional and regimental should be matters for payment.

Where Territorial Army facilities are hired on a private or on a commercial basis by reservists, the individual is off duty and military law should not apply. The danger is—the Minister referred in Committee to a number of examples which could be regarded as voluntary training, including moving ammunition by truck—that the line between what should be voluntary and what is paid can sometimes be an interesting and delicate one. Our fear is that if we are not careful we could end up with training for our reservists on the cheap. That is undesirable. It is not the Bill's purpose and I look forward again to the Minister's reply.

Mr. Soames

Again, we discussed this in Committee, and the hon. Member for Torfaen is right that it is a difficult matter. I hope that we have done enough in the Bill to put on the record the fact that there is little between us. Again, it may help if I repeat the explanation that I gave in Committee on the background to clause 27.

If each volunteer reservist carried out only his or her 19 or 27-day annual commitment, the volunteer reserve forces could hardly function. That means that reservists, especially officers, warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers, need to do more than that.

Clause 27(1)(a) replicates the effect of section 43 of the Reserve Forces Act 1980. It permits reservists to undertake additional voluntary training. The effect of the Act has been to restrict reservists' activities when not called out to those activities which can be classified as training. That has proved irksome and the purpose of clause 27(1)(b) is to extend the power to include "voluntary duties".

The wording makes it clear that the provision applies irrespective of whether the initiative comes from the individual or from the services and irrespective of whether the activity could be described as training. Voluntary duties would cover a wide range of activities. A most mundane example might be, as we said in Committee, collecting a new truck from the storage depot—an example mentioned by hon. Gentleman. Towards the opposite end of the scale, it might involve a Territorial Army regiment moving ammunition from a depot to a port ready for loading for an operation. The list is endless.

As I have said, the formal restriction of reserve activities when not called out to those which can be classified as training has proved irksome. The wording makes it clear that an individual is allowed to perform such training or duties and can lawfully do so irrespective of whether the individual asks to perform the training or duty concerned or is asked to do so by the services. It is lawful for an individual to perform such tasks, regardless of whether the activity can be described as training or duty. That allows the deep well of enthusiasm for such tasks within the volunteer reserve to be tapped with minimum bureaucracy.

Without the clause, it would not be explicitly clear that individuals are permitted to undertake such additional voluntary training or duties. It would be a pointless restriction to prevent the reserve forces from harnessing the enthusiasm and keenness of the volunteers, but without the words in the clause, it would not be beyond all doubt that such activities were permitted. That ambiguity should be avoided. I hope, therefore, that I have said enough to persuade the hon. Gentleman to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Murphy

I understand the reasoning behind the clause and I do not intend to divide the House on the matter, but I still think that it is important for this country's reservists to understand that there is a difference between voluntary training and what they should properly be paid for in terms of training. There could sometimes be very considerable grey areas. That is not the Bill's intention. However, I am encouraged by the Minister's words and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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