Promotion of Volunteering Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Brazier: I am happy to accept amendments Nos. 28 and 29, but I urge the Committee to resist amendments Nos. 30 and 31, which deal with cadets, farmers and landowners.

On cadets, some members of the Committee may have received letters from the cadets movement. I know that the Air Cadets have written to many hon. Members, and I have received verbal views from the Army Cadets. It may be helpful, however, if I focus my remarks on the Sea Cadets, because I have a particularly apt example to cite.

I wish to clarify a matter for the benefit of the Committee. I am sure that the Minister did not mean to mislead us, but part of her presentation could have been misconstrued. Cadet movement instructors are not serving members of the regular armed forces. Most of their activity is unpaid, but from time to time in more extended periods, they receive pay for going away for an extended camp, for example. It has been made clear to me by people at all levels that they are anxious to be included in the matters under discussion. I am not talking about instructors; in some cases, people at the top of the cadet movement are serving officers and are not allowed to speak publicly. All the soundings that I have taken show that they want to be included in such matters.

If we leave the Bill without specifically declaring such people to be volunteers, the technical effect will be that they are sometimes covered by its provisions, and sometimes not. That would not be helpful to them, and I am anxious for them to be included in the provisions.

For what it is worth, I hope that members of the Committee will forgive me if I describe a personal experience. For a brief time at school, I was a cadet, but my much more vivid memory is as a Territorial Army officer in Cowley, where we were close to some tough estates—the Blackbird estate came to national prominence as the origin of joyriding—and then in the east end of London. In both cases, we shared barracks with cadet units, who took kids from the most deprived areas and made men of them. I saw kids coming in aged 13 who were potential little tearaways, and saw them leave four or five years later with discipline, leadership and all the things that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would want to encourage.

Mr. Wyatt: How do you know?

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman speaks in jest, of course.

The cadet movement is also a vital pillar for recruiting for our regular and reserve armed forces. One statistic says it all: 45 per cent. of today's front-line fast jet pilots started as air cadets—a remarkable figure.

Much of the training of sea cadets is about sailing, which is clearly extremely important. The sea cadets in

Column Number: 033

my area in Whitstable are part of the oldest unit in the country, which is having its 150th anniversary in a month's time, but they are so hemmed in by legal advice, rules and so on that they have abandoned sailing on the sea. Their centre is situated next to a yacht club, of which I am a member, and only a few hundred yards from a sea scout organisation which is also hemmed in and anxious for this Bill to be passed, but which is still able to sail on the sea. However, all the naval cadet sailing is done on lakes, which involves travelling four or five miles.

Let me give an example from the civilian yachting world, which illustrates that this Bill is not about perceptions, but about huge legal problems. I shall read from information about a case that was sent to me by a barrister from the insurance world:

    ''A lightweight 25 ft racing yacht manoeuvring to leave a marina berth in Plymouth. Skipper realised that the yacht had been caught by a gust of wind and might hit an adjacent moored yacht. Asked an (experienced) crew member to run forward with a fender. Crew member stumbled going forward. Three months later had bad leg and sued for damages. After a 5-day trial, the Court found the skipper liable on the grounds that a reasonably careful skipper should have pre-briefed the crew on this manoeuvre, and had a crew member pre-placed on the bow with a fender.''

I am trying to keep a straight face because I come from a sailing family. That was the case of Richards v. Wanstall at the Queen's bench, High Court in 1995, and it was heard by Mr. Justice Longmore, on whom I am restricted from making any comment by the Standing Orders of the House.

If I were running a naval cadet organisation, a sea scout organisation, a yacht club or anything else, that ruling by a judge in this country would terrify me. There is probably no sailing manoeuvre easier than putting a fender out. I cannot believe that a judge in this country thinks that a five-day trial should take place over that incident, and that damages should be awarded.

Mr. Reed: I want to bring the hon. Gentleman back to the amendment, although I agree entirely with what he says about the law in this respect and how stupid it appears to those of us who seek common sense. I am concerned about the wording of the amendment and whether or not the person referred to should be paid. Believe it or not, we have sea cadets in Loughborough; we have an excellent sea cadet organisation, and we could not be further away from the coast. The river and a few canoes are about as far as many of those cadets get on a weekly basis—but they do travel.

In the light of my other experience, there is also the matter of whether we have part-time or paid coaches. If we are considering some people—for example, Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force cadets—is it right to highlight them, or should we also be extending the specifics of this measure to others who are part-time paid coaches? Perhaps the Minister is right and there is a distinction between someone who is a volunteer and someone who is paid. Could the hon. Gentleman clarify his reaction to that problem?

5 pm

Mr. Brazier: My aim is to protect. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The problem that he describes would arise with the organisation rather

Column Number: 034

than with the individual in a civil case. The question for the Committee is whether it wants to recognise such organisations as principally being equivalent to voluntary bodies. The fact that some of the cadets' instructors are sometimes paid for more extended activities leaves a grey area that I do not want to leave to the judges. I would like such organisations to be treated as voluntary organisations. I am talking about defending the organisations, rather than the individuals.

I do not want to repeat the same points on Air Cadets and Army Cadets, because I want to make progress.

Lembit Öpik: I sympathise with the views that have been expressed, and I ask my question neutrally. Would this matter be best resolved in the hon. Gentleman's Bill, or is it a more endemic problem with the litigious society in which we live? If that is so, would it be better resolved at a macro level across more areas than just volunteering?

Mr. Brazier: I do not want to try your patience, Mr. Amess, as some of us did a couple of hours ago. Broadly speaking, I think that there is a wider issue, but it has huge ramifications. I thought that I was being a bit bold, in the ''Yes, Minister'' sense of the word, in taking on this issue at all, but to broaden it to cover the whole litigation culture would have been very bold, to use Sir Humphrey's words.

Mr. Dobson: Courageous, even.

Mr. Brazier: Verging on that, yes.

I should like to say something to the Minister about farmers and landowners, because this is the first time that we have disagreed on a point of fact that is related to intentions. I am concerned about people riding horses, bicycles and motorcycles on private land, and about landowners still being willing to let them do so. I am even more concerned about landowners being willing to allow farm visits. My local branch of the National Farmers Union has lobbied me on that. It is concerned that fewer and fewer farmers are willing to allow school visits.

There is a wider issue. If people want a scouting movement, Girl Guides and school trips, such things should be considered. The Field Studies Council is very enthusiastic; its representatives were here this morning for another meeting to support this measure. People must have somewhere to go. In some cases, the best and most accessible sites are on private land. By bringing in farmers and landowners, we could deal with that issue. It is clear when we consider the Bill even after accepting many of the Government's amendments that the farmer would have to say something.

Let me give a clear, specific example. There is an extremely kind farmer who lives next to me who allows my two 14-year-old sons—well, three sons, because the third one now likes to do it too, with my supervision—to shoot rabbits and pigeons with air rifles on his land. One small part of his land is potentially a little dangerous for children, because it is an old dump from the 1950s, which has some broken motor cars and glass in it. He has a wooded area as well as other land.

Column Number: 035

Suppose that he were considering allowing boy scouts to camp there. With a statement of inherent risk—he does not need one from me, because after all the times that I have gone on record about the subject, I could hardly bring a case—he could say to the boy scouts, ''There is a danger from this one small area; the understanding is that no one will go into that area during the camping weekend.'' I would like farmers and landowners to be included in the provisions for that very reason.

This has been a friendly Committee and we have all tried to get on, so I shall not labour my point, but I urge the Committee to resist the last two amendments in the group.

Lembit Öpik: I am pretty interested in the protection of farmers and their interests, because I hear at first hand that farmers in Montgomeryshire are concerned about the liability that they incur for doing what they believe is in the public interest, often without any remuneration. They therefore need a strong explanation from the Minister of the protection that they have, not least because members of the public have sought to litigate against farmers who have acted in good faith in allowing them on to their land. She explained her concerns, but I would be grateful if she could briefly provide a pointer towards where a farmer could go in her imagined legislative regime to protect him or herself from what might result from acting in good faith for the organisations that the hon. Member for Canterbury described.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 6 May 2004