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Outward Bound Trust

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 10 December 1987

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Dorrelll.]

10.3 pm

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a matter that affects two charitable bodies. I am calling for a measure of justice between them. By appointment of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I am chairman of the trustees of the Community Projects Foundation, which is a charitable body that exists to apply community development techniques to social problems. It has been in existence for 20 years and some hon. Members have been connected with the foundation during those years. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) was one of the first directors of the organisation in its original form.

The sequence of events that I shall describe occurred in 1986. One of the projects that is organised by the Community Projects Foundation is in Dundee and is called the Dundee work start scheme. In the course of its work, which was to help unemployed people in an area of Dundee with a high incident of unemployment, a journalist was contracted to write a pamphlet that showed how the ideas that had been developed in the scheme might be extended to include the prospect of work overseas. In the pamphlet he used the term "outward bound activities" without using capital letters. In a summary at the end of the pamphlet he included in a list the term "outward bound training".

The people in the project then became aware of attempts to obtain a copy of the pamphlet. I shall shortly describe those attempts. After a time a copy was supplied to the person asking for it, and it appeared that that person was no less than a representative of the solicitors of the Outward Bound Trust, who objected to the fact that these terms had been used in the pamphlet. There was a terse exchange of correspondence and we were accused of unauthorised use of the terms. It was said that there was damage to the good will and the name of the Outward Bound Trust. The director of the Outward Bound Trust spoke in an affidavit of protection of the trademark. We believe that this was not correct and we found ourselves, in attempting to contest this, facing a writ. Our director received a summons.

At that point it became obvious to me that we had to proceed to a settlement. Despite the legal advice I had been given, it appeared that, as the Community Projects Foundation is almost wholly dependent upon a grant of the voluntary services unit of the Home Office, that being taxpayers' money, it could have been putting at risk some £20,000 by proceeding to legal action. I did not feel that that was proper for a charitable body funded by the taxpayer. Settlement was eventually reached out of court, which nevertheless meant that the Community Projects Foundation has lost in legal costs to both its own and the Outward Bound Trust solicitors a sum in excess of £6,500.

I do not doubt the good work that the Outward Bound Trust does and has done for many years; I make no assault on that whatsoever. Nor would I object to its right to defend its legitimate interests if it believed they were threatened, but it could have dealt with the matter altogether differently.

While this may not be the main thrust of my argument, I maintain that there was not really a case to be brought by the Outward Bound Trust against the Community Projects Foundation. The term "outward bound" is in free use by practitioners of education and training, almost as a generic and often figurative term. I believe that people would be genuinely surprised to be summonsed for using the descriptive term "hoovering the carpet". By the same analogy, it is absurd that a term which has come to be used as widely as outward bound should be the subject of threatened legal action.

In attempting to look at how widely the term is used, various examples were uncovered. In an article in The Guardian education section, Michael Schweitzer, a former Gordonstoun pupil and bursar of Atlantic college, wrote:
"You won't find a comprehensive not doing some element of outward bounding. The Outward Bound Schools are less important now—the dye has come off and run into the mainstream of schooling."
I uncovered a more absurd example, which refers to a training programme for zoo-bred rare monkeys to prepare them for the return to the wild state in Brazil. The language used is:
"seven tamarins were enrolled in a primate's outward bound, a back-to-basics training programme."
One could add to those examples many times over to show that it was preposterous that there was thought to be a basis for any action. The advice I received was that there was no basis for action and that no damage had been suffered by the Outward Bound Trust.

The point to which I draw the attention of the House is the conduct of the Outward Bound Trust in handling this matter and the conduct of its solicitors, Messrs Humphreys and Co. of Bull Wharf, Redcliff street, Bristol, B 1 . I find it difficult to describe that firm of solicitors, on the basis of their handling of this, as other than grasping and deceitful. I believe that their conduct has been entirely unethical and ought to be reported to the Law Society. There was a totally undercover approach to the foundation in the search for a copy of the pamphlet. At no time was there a straightforward communication from the Outward Bound Trust, its director or chairman, simply to ask for this and say why they were asking for it, or to exress any concern.

The unorthodox and deceitful approach appeared to begin with Mr. Ian Fothergill, the director of the Outward Bound Trust. In an affidavit that he signed in 1986 Mr. Fothergill states that he instructed the trust's solicitors to try to obtain a copy of the material. Thereafter he states in the affidavit that in July 1986 Mrs. S. Nicholas, an employee of Humphreys and Co. telephoned the Dundee office of "Work-start Overseas" and asked to be sent some publicity material. She did not identify herself. Then, according to Mr. Fothergill, at the beginning of August 1986 a second telephone call was made by Mr. Humphreys giving the name Jenkins, asking to be sent publicity material. It is incredible that a firm of solicitors should behave in that way and moreover that they should do so at the behest of an organisation like the Outward Bound Trust, which we have always believed to be an entirely reputable organisation. Further attempts were made in other telephone calls on an anonymous basis.

The first that the foundation knew that a problem existed was when a formal letter arrived from Messrs Humphreys and Co. The solicitors for the foundation felt throughout their dealings with Messrs Humphreys and Co. that they appeared to be dealing with lawyers who were bent on trouble, who did not appear to want to hurry to a settlement. Was the behaviour of Humphreys and Co. directly condoned by the Outward Bound Trust? Was it controlling the solicitors or were the solicitors simply taking hold and running with it?

Some clue about the nature of the solicitors can also be found in the fact that, when the settlement was reached, they filed costs of £7,057·15, which were deemed by the foundation's lawyer to be absurd. It was recommended that at further expense the matter should be taken before a taxing master, and that happened during the course of 1987. The amount was reduced to £4,483·21. That was a sign of the excessive approach adopted by that firm of solicitors, with or without the express approval of the Outward Bound Trust.

The question is not whether that was the right way for the Outward Bound Trust to behave towards the Community Projects Foundation. However, when Mr. Fothergill states in his affidavit that as director of the trust it is one of his responsibilities to follow up and prevent the use of the name "outward bound" by third parties who without authorisation use it to refer to activities that are unconnected with the trust, he should discharge that responsibility on a totally even-handed basis.

I discovered that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) described his impressions of the 1986 Labour party conference in an article in The House Magazine. He included a passage reading:
"So conference is really a multi-function event, a meeting with old friends, a test of the mood of the party, a rally, an Outward Bound course (I survived), a beer festival and a launching pad for egos and ideas".
I understand that the hon. Gentleman was not pursued by the Outward Bound Trust or its solicitors.

On 5 January 1987, an article appeared in The Independent by its labour correspondent, Mr. David Felton. It described courses run by Ashridge management college. It included a passage which referred to "outward-bound type activities" without using capital letters. I sought the views of the editor of The Independent and was later assured by Mr. Whittam Smith that he had not been sued by the Outward Bound Trust.

It appears that the Outward Bound Trust may be selective in whom it seeks to tackle in terms of any alleged infringement of its trade mark or familiar name. If that is so, it is an absolute disgrace, because in this case the trust was picking on a body that is almost entirely reliant on taxpayers' money: money given for a specific purpose, which has ended up in the hands of solicitors. That is a scandal, and it shall not go unnoticed by those who support the Outward Bound Trust—who include Her Majesty's Government.

My hon. Friend's Department funded the trust to the tune of some £13,000 in 1985. Presumably a similar amount was spent in 1986, and it has also received grant from the Scottish Office. I find it incredible that a body that is supposedly trying to do good work in the community should tackle another body with a similar purpose, as the trust did, to cause such a loss.

In raising the matter on the Adjournment, I seek not only to draw the matter to wider attention, but to suggest to my hon. Friend that, if the Government continue to fund the trust, they seek assurances on its future conduct and establish whether it will refrain from taking further action of this kind. I believe that justice would truly be done if a sum no greater and no less than £6,528·91—the amount of taxpayers' money needlessly wasted by the trust—were deducted from its future grant, and perhaps, through the realms of Government, brought back into the coffers of the Community Projects Foundation, so that it could do its work as the Government intend.

10.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Bob Dunn)

Let me begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) on his success in obtaining the Adjournment debate. In the traditional role of Back Bencher, he has raised some serious issues.

Until as recently as July, I was the Minister responsible for the youth service. In that role, I became increasingly aware of the valuable part that voluntary youth organisations can play in assisting young people to become responsible adults. The ministerial brief for the youth service has now passed to my noble Friend the Baroness Hooper, but I am handling tonight's motion.

The debate provides me with an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of the voluntary youth organisations, and to reaffirm the Government's commitment to supporting and encouraging their work. My noble Friend's responsibilities in the Department of Education and Science include supervision of the grant aid of about £3 million a year which the Department makes available to 64 national voluntary youth organisations. At present, grant is given to support the headquarters administrative costs of those organisations, new developments in their work and the capital cost of regional and national projects.

There is a wide range of such organisations, national and local. Some, such as the major uniformed organisations, are household names, and most of us have experienced their useful influence, either directly or through our children. It is estimated that 90 per cent. of children and young people have some contact with a voluntary youth organisation in their lives, and that at any one time those organisations reach 6 million young members and users. About half a million adult volunteers are generally recognised to be involved in their work.

Some of the household names among those organisations are particularly famous; some are less well known, but they have a very large membership. Others — the Outward Bound trust is one — have established a reputation for undertaking a particular type of challenging work with young people, and, in some cases, with adults.

It is for the trust and other voluntary bodies to define the essence of their work and the routes that they believe will best lead to success in working with young people. Each organisation has an individual approach, but one element of this work is taking young people away from their day-to-day concerns and facing them with challenge. Those challenges have often been in the natural environment — trekking, mountaineering, orienteering and learning survival skills.

One of the keys to the success of these organisations is that young people are given opportunities to think about their experiences and achievements as individuals and as a team. This helps to increase understanding, confidence and motivation. Increasingly, different challenges are being introduced, including those that arise from giving social service in hospitals, homes for the elderly and disabled, and work with other young people.

I did not detect in my hon. Friend"s remarks a wish to call into question the value of the Outward Bound Trust's work. What I have said shows the value that is placed by the Government on the work of that trust and other organisations working in like sectors and, more generally, our support for development, in local authority and voluntary sectors, of the youth service and of constructive activities that increase young people's confidence, motivation and skills.

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot offer a qualified opinion about the use by one organisation of a term that is directly or indirectly associated with another. That is not a matter for Ministers.

My Department gives headquarters grants for specific purposes and on condition that they are applied solely for those purposes. The grant that my Department has made available to the Outward Bound Trust represents only a part of its total income—less than 10 per cent. of its income for headquarters operations.

We have yet to determine the total amount available for distribution for headquarters grants for the 1988–89 financial year, but we have begun to consider individual organisations' applications. We are currently considering the Outward Bound Trust's application for grant for 1988–89. The House will understand that I am unable to say what the result of that consideration will be. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall carefully consider all relevant factors, including income that it receives from other sources.

I undertake to draw this debate to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes past Ten o'clock.