Scouts accused of turning Tory MP away due to 'controversial' politics

A backbencher said Robert Baden-Powell would be turning in his grave

Published

A Conservative MP said she was asked not to attend a Scouts event by one of the organisation’s district commissioners so its “non-political” message would not be “muddied by recent controversial incidents and policies”.

Sarah Atherton, who represents Wrexham, was speaking in the House of Commons, where a fellow Conservative backbencher could be heard saying Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, “would be turning in his grave”.

Commons leader Mark Spencer said he was “disappointed” to hear Ms Atherton’s comments and said Scouts is a “non-political organisation that shouldn’t get involved and traditionally has not got involved in politics”.

Sarah Atherton
Sarah Atherton

Ms Atherton said: “I’ve always been a strong supporter of the Scouting movement, either as an MP and prior.

“Indeed, my son achieved the Queen’s Scout Award.

“But, however, last week the district commissioner asked me not to attend an event, and I quote: ‘The Scouts is a non-political movement. I would not wish this positive message to be muddied by recent controversial incidents and policies.'”

Backbench Conservative MPs could also be heard saying “outrageous” and “disgraceful”.

Ms Atherton was speaking during a session of questions to the Leader of the House of Commons and asked for advice on how she can continue to support the Scout movement.

Mr Spencer said: “I think colleagues across the House will recognise the great contribution that Scouting makes to young people in this country.

“As a former cub and scout myself, I thoroughly enjoyed my time.”

Best Rover Scout Matthew Trott salutes a statue of Robert Baden-Powell on Poole Quay in Dorset
Best Rover Scout Matthew Trott salutes a statue of Robert Baden-Powell on Poole Quay in Dorset

He added: “And I hope the leader who wrote to her will reflect upon his comments and encourage colleagues across the House to engage with the Scouting movement.”

Speaking to the PA news agency, Ms Atherton said she was “shocked” when she found out she could not attend the event, held to celebrate fundraising for a charity.

She said she has previously attended a Scout event in her area without incident.

Ms Atherton said she was planning to attend on April 14 to congratulate the Wrexham Scouts for helping the Maelor Voluntary Service, which she said is a charity she supports and which provides a cafe service at the Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

She said she intended to praise the fundraising effort and highlight the work of the charity, but “a few hours before I was due to go” she said she received an email asking her not to attend.

“I was absolutely shocked, floored, and really, really disappointed, particularly with our support for them in the past and all the years I’ve been supporting the Scouting movement. I suspect this is one person’s political bias spoiling it for everybody else,” she said.

Ms Atherton said she is not sure which incidents or policies were referred to, but said the email “made it political”.

“I think it’s a shame. I think perhaps the district commissioner should realise what the role of the Member of Parliament actually is, and recognise all the support I have given the Scouting movement not just in Wrexham but over the years. My son was in the Scouts, I was in the Brownies, and my husband was in the Scouts — we’re very pro supporting this.”

A spokesperson for the Scouts said: “Scout groups reflect the communities where they operate. In this case our local volunteer withdrew an invitation to their local MP based on the feelings of their local community.

“Scouting does not support any one political party and regularly engages with representatives from across the political spectrum.”