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House of Commons

Friday 24 March 1995

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Rail Services (Scotland)

9.34 am

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a brief point of order, particularly as I raised a similar one only last week, and you were also indulgent on that occasion.

The written answers that I received from the Scottish Office and the Department of Transport last night further reveal that the possible outcomes of promised consultation on the future of threatened Scottish rail services--for which hon. Members on both sides of the House have been pressing--have not been costed by Ministers and Departments. Closing the services, mothballing the services or restarting them if the consultation process is successful all have cost implications.

In light of that, have you, Madam Speaker, been given any sign as to whether Ministers want to make a statement later today in the House? Obviously, those written answers completely give the lie to the assurances that we were given about consultation.

Madam Speaker: I know that the hon. Gentleman has frequently raised the issue in the House. I have not been informed by the Government that they are seeking to make a statement, but they have until 10 o'clock to inform me of their intentions.


Madam Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Meat (Hygiene and Inspection)

That the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 (S.I., 1995, No. 539) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the Poultry Meat, Farmed Game Bird Meat and Rabbit Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 (S.I., 1995, No. 540) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Activity Centres (Young Persons' Safety) Bill As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1

Adventure activities: licensing

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--


(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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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