Promotion of Volunteering Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 5th May 2004.

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[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:30 pm, 5th May 2004

I remind the Committee that a money resolution is necessary for debate on clause 2(5) to commence. However, I note that the Minister has tabled an amendment that would remove that subsection. The Committee can agree to that amendment and continue to consider the rest of the Bill.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I beg to move,

That, if proceedings on the Promotion of Volunteering Bill are not completed at this day's sitting, the Committee do meet next Wednesday at 9.30 am and thereafter on Wednesdays at 9.30 am and 2.30 pm

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. I have served on many Committees with you, but never before under your chairmanship.

I thank all hon. Members who have volunteered to serve on the Committee. I thank my supporters in all parts of the Committee and thank the Minister for the time that she has given up for a series of helpful meetings. I am sorry that we have been unable to reach agreement, but that is not for want of trying on either side.

The sittings motion proposes that we should meet next Wednesday at 9.30 am and, should it be necessary, on subsequent Wednesdays at 9.30 am and 2.30 pm. The reason for the last moment change is not deliberate discourtesy to the Committee on my part, but the fact that the Minister said that she wished to move the money resolution on the Floor of the House next Wednesday. On the basis of that agreement, I am happy to restrict our sittings to the morning only next Wednesday, although that means that I will have to resist her proposal in respect of the money resolution, because there would be no point in the deal otherwise.

Sittings motions should always be debated briefly, and I know that under your eagle eye, Mr. Amess, I will not be able to depart very far from the text. However, it is worth saying that the Committee is dealing with one of the great tragedies of our era. A country that prided itself on sport and fitness is now the third worst in obesity terms in the developed world. The many messages that I have received expressing support for our deliberations are a touching tribute to our work. For example, the chairman of the National Council for School Sport said:

''I am one of tens of thousands of teachers who freely give their time and enjoy''—

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I reluctantly have to remind the hon. Gentleman that we are, strictly speaking, debating the sittings motion. I am sure that all members of the Committee understand his desire to widen the debate, but I ask him to resist that

temptation, because the amendments will give plenty of scope for him to do so.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Indeed, Mr. Amess. In fact, I was just drawing my remarks to a close. I wanted to give that quote because I thought that it summarised what we are all about.

I hope that we will finish our deliberations next Wednesday morning. If we finish them in satisfactory fashion, the Minister will not require the money resolution to be dealt with in the afternoon, but if we are still running on, we will resist the amendment on the money resolution and have our outing next week on the Floor of the House.

I commend the amended motion to the Committee.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

I am delighted to be serving the interests of the Bill and the hon. Gentleman. The timing that is proposed seems sufficient. I hope that those who are concerned about the content of the Bill will recognise that it is not the quantity of time spent but the quality of outcome achieved that matters. I hope that we will achieve something that is in the interests of the organisations, individuals and volunteers who desperately need action on this issue.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess.

It is very tempting to follow the lead of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and deal with the general issue. I shall briefly do so, but not because I am seeking to delay the proceedings. It is important for Committee members who were not present on Second Reading to be aware that the Government accept that the issue is very serious and should be addressed. The hon. Gentleman, being a very honourable chap, will confirm to the Committee that the matter has already taken up a significant amount of my time in meetings I have had with him and with bodies that have sponsored the concept of such legislation.

We recognise that there is a question of adventurousness and risk in relation to the Bill. The question concerns whether the world is becoming a ''vanilla world'' in which we have become overprotective and driven out opportunities for young people in particular to experience active, adventurous sport and other activities. The Government are at one with the hon. Gentleman in wishing to ensure that people get that experience.

That is why we took the bold—as some of my colleagues might say, having seen the consequences—and, for me, tiring decision not to do the usual thing on Second Reading. We decided that because the issue was so substantial, we should see whether the Bill could be a vehicle for resolving it. That is why so much time has been spent on trying to resolve it in a series of meetings with the hon. Gentleman and his supporters, and with other Departments. On Second Reading, we alerted the House to some substantial problems in the Bill, and we will have an opportunity in Committee to consider some of those problems carefully.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which, when he has been confronted by some of the substantial problems in the Bill, he has said, ''Okay, out of the window with that one.'' I wish to acknowledge his constructive response to my attempts to be constructive. We have gone a long way in a partnership, but I am concerned about my optimism. As a new Minister, I have to say that optimism is a good way place to start but a tiring way to continue. I was optimistic that in Committee, and prior to it, we could achieve a consensus on how to proceed, but that has been very difficult in practice.

We have explored the issues in depth with the hon. Gentleman and with the sector, which I think everyone would agree is key, in an attempt to reduce barriers to volunteering. The main barrier that the legislation is designed to tackle is a perceived one. I have to tell the Committee that there is an increasing recognition that the perception does not match the reality, although the effect of that perception is substantial.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. Again, I hesitate to intervene, but I hope that the Minister will keep her remarks closely relevant to the sittings motion, which is very narrow.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; it obviates the need for me to contribute other than by intervention. Having convincingly and to my satisfaction established her bona fides in respect of her intentions, does she agree that it is incumbent on her at some stage, if not now, to drive this matter towards an acceptable legislative conclusion? That would allow us all to get on with the job of volunteering and ensure that we have a watertight package that is deliverable.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

That is precisely the point that I was getting to. One of the things that has become clear in these discussions is that I am not certain that a legislative solution is best. We will address that issue during our deliberations. However, I am certain that we need to drive to a solution; I agree with the hon. Member for Canterbury on that, and I have tried to find ways of arriving at a solution through this Bill.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing to adapt his proposal so that we do not face the possibility of an extended Adjournment in connection with a money resolution, which would have been the consequence of what he originally proposed. He has responded helpfully to that. The money resolution was not tabled in advance of this sitting because we hoped until the last minute that we might achieve consensus on a solution that would not necessarily require it. I know that there is a problem and I want to find a solution.

In this Committee, we can work together to explore the issues and think them through. The proposed timetable will give us a reasonable opportunity to do that. We should ensure that we use the process to build confidence in the commitment of politicians from all parties to enabling volunteering to occur and risk taking to be part of our lives, to having a fitter society and to working together to—

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Given that we are talking about a sittings motion, cannot the Minister be more positive? All the words she is uttering are supportive of the concept. Surely, in forthcoming sittings she can come to terms with the fact that there needs to be legislative change. If she were to embrace that idea, as well as uttering warm words, she would find that we made much more progress towards encouraging volunteering.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman interrupted me before my last two words, which were going to be ''deliver that''. None the less, his intervention deserves a response. I have moved towards the view that the issue will not necessarily be best resolved through legislation. That view is not a device. Some of the organisations, such as the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which have been urgent supporters of the Bill and have contributed substantially to the discussions, have come to the view that the issues raised could be properly dealt with by non-legislative means.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

I am very interested in what the Minister has just said about the CCPR. Is she saying that it does not support the Bill?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I have an extract from the CCPR's website:

''For these reasons, we take the view that, rather than continue to support the Bill through Committee stage, we should use the raised awareness of the issues created by the Bill''—

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Canterbury for raising that awareness—

''to work cooperatively with partner organisations and government departments and agencies, towards positive solutions to a wider range of problems than can possibly be covered by the Bill. In particular, we see the Russell Commission as a means of exploring the issues around risk, blame and insurance, especially for the voluntary sector; and look forward to being able to access resources, shortly to be available to the voluntary and community sector, to establish support structures for volunteers and their organisations.''

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 2:45 pm, 5th May 2004

The Minister says that that statement is from the CCPR's website. Having heard about that possible outcome, I rang approximately a dozen of the different governing bodies and members of the CCPR and no one seemed to know anything about the statement. I presume that it has come from Margaret Talbot. Was the decision made democratically by the CCPR?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I have been very generous in my chairing so far. Before the Minister replies, I remind the Committee that the sittings motion is very narrow, and there is plenty of opportunity for those other matters to be debated when I call amendments later.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett Labour, Denton and Reddish

On a point of order, Mr. Amess. Surely, it is reasonable for us at least to explore those matters a little. We want to know whether we will have to be present for several sittings or whether we can truncate the proceedings. It is reasonable at least to air those issues at this point.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

It is for me entirely to make a judgment on such matters. Having listened very carefully to what has been said, I ask hon. Members

again to draw their remarks much more closely to the sittings motion.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I cannot answer for the CCPR. The existence of the Bill has created a belief—legislation often does this—in the wider sector that there is a magic wand somewhere that will solve such substantial problems.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

I am most grateful to the Minister, and I take your strictures on board, Mr. Amess. Does the fact that the CCPR is prepared to talk and the fact that—one assumes from the Minister's comments—it expects to receive some funding after today's announcement, mean that the Minister is asking for a shorter—

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Hon. Members say that they have been listening very carefully, but I have made several rulings. I ask the Committee again to draw remarks closely to the sittings motion, and I ask the Minister not to respond to the point that has been made.

Lembit Öpik rose—

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. We cannot have an intervention on an intervention.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I find it difficult to obey you, Mr. Amess. I will explain why and we will see what happens.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Does the Minister feel that the sittings motion will allow her sufficient time to provide us with a clear understanding of the CCPR's views and any issues that it has raised as we go through the various clauses?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

It is not the job of the Committee to deal with such matters. Nevertheless, it is worth dealing with one specific point that is relevant to the sittings motion, because it relates to how we timetable sittings and how procedures work in this place. Despite your warning, Mr. Amess, I was about to address that point.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

I have listened very carefully to your rulings, Mr. Amess. The logic of the Minister's position is that we should not attempt to change the law at this point. If we are not going to attempt that, the sittings motion could state that we will knock off in five minutes. Conversely, are we as a Committee prepared to consider changing the law and sending an amended Bill back to the House? In that case, perhaps this sitting and another might be required, but if the Minister says that this is no time to legislate, why are we sitting around pretending that we are going to do so?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

That point connects directly to the one that I am trying to make about the experience of dealing in detail with the implications of different provisions in the legislation. Frankly, people's expectations about a huge range of things have been raised enormously by the Bill. Only yesterday, I received a letter from someone who thought that it would mean that more farmers would allow their land

to be used for riding. I do not believe that that is the intention of the hon. Member for Canterbury, but that expectation has been raised by the Bill. Therefore, it is proper to ensure that there is enough time carefully to examine its consequences.

On Second Reading, I was the person who was largely responsible for our being able to convene as a Committee. I share the ambition to resolve the problems.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; she is being very tolerant. Is she saying that we need the sittings so that she can better understand the arguments of those who are in favour of the Bill, the more easily to reject them by voting against them?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

No; I have no deficit in understanding. We should not underestimate the important role of private Members' legislation to enable people to understand the scope of a problem and to examine ways of resolving it. I believe that everyone in the Committee accepts that we are dealing with a real problem that needs to be resolved. It is proper that we should use the Bill to do that.

I have been generous in taking interventions because I believe that the issue is important, but I am not trying to spin out debate excessively. I have not done that at any point during the process, although the opportunity to do so was open to me. The Bill is a serious attempt by the hon. Member for Canterbury to deal with a serious problem, and I have made it clear that the Government accept that it is a serious problem. We have sought to work with the sector, and not, as has been suggested, to offer anyone any inducements to agree. The references in the letter from Margaret Talbot and in the statement on the website were not to yesterday's announcement, but to the funds that were announced in the cross-cutting review following the 2002 Budget. It is not new money.

If the sittings motion is amended, we will be able to examine the issues. The hon. Gentleman himself has recognised that some ways of removing barriers to volunteering are not necessarily the best, which is why he seeks to withdraw certain parts of his Bill.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That, if proceedings on the Promotion of Volunteering Bill are not completed at this day's sitting, the Committee do meet next Wednesday at 9.30 am and thereafter on Wednesdays at 9.30 am and 2.30 pm

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I beg to move,

That the Promotion of Volunteering Bill be considered in the following order: Clauses 3 to 5, Clauses 1 and 2, Clauses 6 and 7, remaining proceedings on the Bill.

To assist members of the Committee, I have prepared a short promoter's brief that lists the various amendments and the approach that I am minded to take with regard to them. One crucial issue is the money resolution, which I dealt with in my speech on the sittings motion.

The purpose of the order of consideration motion is to allow us in double-quick time to drop clauses 3, 4 and 5, all of which have real merit but will detract from our debating a part of the Bill that has attracted

a huge amount of attention and support from the sporting and adventure training community—the statement of inherent risk. My purpose in tabling the motion is to enable us to get rid of the rest of the Bill. As we deal with each clause, I shall take about 30 seconds to explain why I thought that it had merit. I hope that the Minister will not speak to her amendments to those clauses, on the basis that none of them will be pressed. Conveniently, the amendments are grouped with the clauses, mostly in single groups, so they can be quickly disposed of. That will give her the opportunity to show the good faith that she has shown throughout this process. We can then get on to the main business in clauses 1 and 2.

I want to focus on clauses 1 and 2 because I have received a huge number of letters, messages and testimonies of support for this Bill that focus on that single feature. I do not want to try your patience, Mr. Amess, by going back to the earlier debate, but suffice it to say that this morning, representatives from the Campaign for Adventure, which represents the guides, scouts and a whole mass of other outward bound organisations, were part of a group that discussed the Bill. Representatives of the girl guides were also present, as were representatives of the Field Studies Council, which has such an important position in respect of school trips. The Royal Aero Club, which has half a million members, was also represented. Written and verbal testimonies have come in again and again. For that reason, I aim to focus on the two main clauses and to drop clauses 3, 4 and 5, although each of those has merit.

Clauses 4 and 5 involve potential clashes with the European convention on human rights. It may be helpful to clear that up at this point; it will save us from doing so later. It will save the Minister's time if we deal with the provisions immediately after we have finished with this motion.

There are copies of the Library's excellent briefing in the corner of the Room. The Library has been particularly helpful. I would like to put on record how grateful I am for the huge amount of work that it has done. I also thank your excellent Clerk, Mr. Amess, who has worked intensely hard to get everything ready.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The Government are of the view that this order of consideration is a sensible way to proceed. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for recognising that it is sensible to deal quickly with the additional points, and to focus on the main issue. We know that that is the ambition of those who have supported the Bill.

On Second Reading, I said that the Government were taking a neutral position. However, they perceived some problems with the structure of the Bill and felt that it was right to see whether such problems could be overcome. I have therefore tabled stand part debates so that we could leave out all the clauses that have been referred to, because I did not believe that we could achieve the result that we wanted. However, to cover the possibility that those clauses might remain part of the Bill, I have tabled a number of amendments that seek to improve the Bill, and to avoid changing established law.

I am willing to co-operate with the hon. Gentleman on how to do that. We can then get through nearly all the additional business during today's sitting, and in our next sitting we could start on clause 2. If today is the prelude, clause 2 is the main event.

There are real problems as far as the Government are concerned about the way in which clause 2 is drafted. It aims to ensure that more sporting and adventurous activity can take place, particularly involving young people. However, there is a risk that, by reducing the liability of participants in the event of injury to someone to whom they have a duty of care, we allow negligence. Just as I have said that I think that all members of the Committee share an ambition to enable more sporting and adventurous activity to take place, I do not believe that any Members would want to pass legislation that might open the door to negligence. That is not our ambition, but I am concerned that that might be the consequence of what we seek to do.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:00 pm, 5th May 2004

When we debate clauses 1 and 2, I will offer evidence from abroad, past practice in this country and open testimony that there is a huge problem, which other people have sought to address in a different way, and that, above all, by reducing the scope for properly structured and organised recreation sport and adventure training, we are driving less adventurous youngsters into obesity and more adventurous youngsters into dangerous and frequently illegal extra-curricular activities.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's view that we must avoid the consequences of reducing the scope for adventurous activity, and that is why I have expended as much energy as I have in working with him on the Bill. I am disappointed that we have not been able to resolve the matter, but it is not for want of trying, as I am sure he will confirm. I am prepared to agree that the clauses should be taken in the order that he has proposed, as long as I can briefly make clear that the Government are concerned about the potential impact of the Bill on the established law of negligence.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend, who has been trying her best to get various Departments to agree. Getting them to agree on a date is usually a fairly difficult matter, so getting them to agree on something difficult is a daunting task. However, large numbers of activities were until recently recognised to be lawful, and the actions of a limited number of parents and lawyers, augmented by a few daft judges, has extended the law of negligence. We must retract that law, but only to such an extent that we do not encourage negligence. We must accept that we intend to retract the recent judicial extension of that law. Parliament can decide what the law is, and in this respect we must take those powers back into our hands and away from the judges.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

My right hon. Friend would not expect a Home Office Minister to echo his words, because I can think of one Home Office Minister who recently took the route that he suggests and caused quite a lot of fluttering in the dovecotes. The word

''bonkers'' was employed at one point, so I will not go down the road that he generously offers for describing the behaviour of the judiciary.

My right hon. Friend knows better than most, however, about the difficulties of getting government to agree, and his account must be acknowledged. The hon. Member for Canterbury knows that that has been part of the difficulty with the Bill. It is not the universal view in the Government that the law of negligence has been changed by the judges, and it would be interesting to see the evidence to which the hon. Gentleman intends to refer.

As I said, no one wants to open the door to negligence. I recall a previous private Member's Bill on the connected subject of adventure activity centres. There had been a complete collapse of confidence in such centres because of a serious incident involving young participants. It was only as a result of private Members' legislation that established a regulation scheme for such centres that confidence was rebuilt and that young people re-engaged in those activities.

That is a reminder that problems can be resolved by private Members' legislation. However, it is difficult to do that across a broad front and in a way that affects not just tens of centres, as in the previous case, but thousands of small organisations and probably millions of volunteers, which is what the Bill aims to do. That is a particularly complex undertaking, and it must be done carefully. Although we all share the same ambitions, we need to ensure that we do not produce unintended consequences.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I have been listening carefully to the Minister, but may I ask her to explain to the Committee how her remarks are drawn specifically to what we should be discussing—whether proceedings on the Bill should be taken as is proposed in the motion?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

We need to look at how the clauses relate to the impact on other legislation, and it is important that the Committee considers the impact of such matters on the basis of wide consultation. However, the order of consideration is sensible and I am happy to support the hon. Member for Canterbury in proceeding in the way that it proposes.

I should take this opportunity to inform the Committee that parliamentary counsel has been instructed to draft a money resolution, which the Bill will require. The resolution will be tabled so that by following the order of consideration, we can ensure that the debate on it next week does not delay the Committee's progress. I am sorry that it was not drafted beforehand, but we had thought that the possibility of conducting matters differently might mean that it was not required. It is only recently that it has become apparent that a money resolution would be necessary.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Promotion of Volunteering Bill be considered in the following order: Clauses 3 to 5, Clauses 1 and 2, Clauses 6 and 7, remaining proceedings on the Bill.