Clause 1 - Interpretation

Promotion of Volunteering Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 5th May 2004.

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Amendment proposed: No. 26, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, leave out

'a voluntary organisation or volunteering body'

and insert 'that organisation or body'.—[Fiona Mactaggart.]

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

On a point of order, Mr. Amess. It might help the Committee if I tell the Minister that I am delighted to take on board the next two small drafting amendments. If she feels able to speak briefly on them, we can move on to the main group of amendments.

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

That is a very helpful point of order.

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

I shall follow the hon. Gentleman's example of brevity. The amendments on this clause are significant because they are important for the whole of the volunteering sector.

I need to make clear to the Committee what a volunteer is. Until I became Minister with a responsibility for volunteers, I did not realise what a contested term it was.

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

It used to be a well-known name for public houses.

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

I thank my right hon. Friend. I cannot help feeling that that was a reference to the role of volunteers in the armed forces rather than to the type of volunteer that we are discussing.

As the Bill is drafted, the term could not apply to any person employed by a volunteering organisation or volunteering body who engaged in voluntary work in that organisation or body. It is entirely possible that an employee of such an organisation or body might give voluntary time to the organisation outside his or her contracted hours, and that possibility must be recognised in the interpretational terms. Our amendment is intended to clarify the description of a volunteer by tidying up the drafting of the definition.

Are we also considering at this point the amendments to leave out paragraphs (b) and (c)?

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

Order. I think that I am in the Chair. We are taking amendment No. 26.

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

Thank you, Mr. Amess. I just wanted to make clear what we were discussing, and I have made all the points that I wish to make.

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

I am happy to accept the amendment, and I apologise for intervening.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 4:45 pm, 5th May 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert—

' ''institution'' means a body corporate or unincorporated association that is formally constituted;'.

The amendment deals with the definition of a volunteering organisation and, in this case, an institution. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking the matter on board and agreeing with the view that we have taken. We are again trying to make it clear that an institution covers all those organisations in the sector that are commonly understood to be volunteering organisations in the usual meaning of the term.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in clause 1, page 1, line 21, leave out

', other than an employee,'.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 29, in clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert

'(other than a person acting in his capacity as an employee of that organisation or body)'.

No. 30, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 31, in clause 1, page 2, line 7, leave out paragraph (c).

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

The purpose of the amendments is to clarify the term ''volunteer''. Under paragraph (b) of the part of the clause defining the term, it could be extended to a farmer or other landowner who permits his land to be used for voluntary or educational activity. As I have already stated, that provision has led me to receive a letter from an eager horsewoman who thinks that it will make more land available to ride on. I am concerned that that is an example of the ways in which the Bill has raised expectations that are unfounded, and I say to the hon. Member for Canterbury, who is frowning, that they will not be fulfilled.

As it is currently drafted, the Bill would allow a person to permit their land to be used for an activity even if they knew that it was inappropriate for some reason—it could be dangerous or unsuitable, for example—but to seek exemption from liability in the event of an accident that was directly caused by their

negligence. The Bill could also encourage recklessness on the part of landowners in allowing the use of their land. Far from encouraging adventurous activity, it would open the gates to dangerous activity. I am sure that that is not the intention of the hon. Gentleman, but this is the territory on which we should debate the Bill.

Farmers and landowners must remain responsible for the condition of their land and ensure, insofar as they are able, that it is safe. If such persons are to allow their land to be used by others, they should ensure that it is in a condition that is appropriate for that use. It would not be right to allow farmers and landowners to abdicate their responsibilities and effectively neglect others.

Paragraph (c), as drafted, would afford instructors from the armed forces and the police, whether during paid employment or not, the status of volunteer. There are two issues at stake here.

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

The paragraph refers to the cadet movement and to people in their capacity as instructors to cadets. I am sure that the Minister would want to clarify that.

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

Indeed, but the point is whether or not those instructors are paid. That is an issue of importance to the volunteering sector, which is slightly different from the voluntary sector. There is much shared activity and concern, but some worries are specific to the volunteering sector and are not necessarily relevant to the voluntary sector, much of which is run mainly by professional staff. Let us suppose that an instructor is undertaking the supervision of an activity as part of his paid employment. As he is an employee, even if that supervision were of the training of cadets and so on, his responsibility in that capacity would be likely to be covered by the provisions of health and safety at work legislation.

If legislation arises from the Bill, it is important that it should not cut across health and safety at work legislation. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and that must remain intact. I am certain that it is not the hon. Gentleman's intention to remove that duty in respect of employees who are undertaking a particular part of their job. However, that would be the effect of the provision. Furthermore, I do not believe that he intends to lessen the impact of the Bill for cadet leaders or trainees in such services. They all require discipline, and introducing the proposed statement of inherent risk in such circumstances could open the gates to recklessness. I do not believe that he would want that either.

If an instructor from one of the services were acting in a voluntary capacity and other than in his paid employment, he would in any event be covered by the term ''volunteer'' as it is clarified under my previous amendment, provided that the organisation in which he is working is covered by the definition under the Bill. In those circumstances, there would be no need to identify him specifically.

The amendments are intended to ensue that the Bill is more clear about what a volunteer is and to tidy up the drafting of the definition, which has an impact beyond that of the Bill in terms of the way in which the sector uses the term ''volunteer''.

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

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.

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

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

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.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour/Co-operative, Loughborough

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?

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

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

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.

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 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?

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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 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.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

I listened carefully to the Minister's explanation of why she opposed the paragraphs to which the amendments apply. I was struck by her clear reason for excluding the cadets on the grounds of the Health and Safety Executive's duty of overriding care to the employee, which I absolutely accept. I was also struck by the importance that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury placed on the position of these organisations. It is not beyond the wit of the Committee to agree with both sides of the argument, because if there is an overriding duty of care to the employee, all that is needed is the addition in the relevant paragraph of the acceptance of that duty. I am not in the business of drafting legislation—there are greater experts on that subject than me—but in the spirit of compromise, and given that we believe that there is a need to ensure that the—

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

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive my interruption, but we must be clear: the powers of the HSE are completely unaffected by the Bill. They deal only with criminal law, while we are dealing with a civil matter.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

I am grateful for that additional advice. My hon. Friend is a much greater expert than I am, but I am trying to be helpful and to show that we recognise that there is a duty to the employee under HSE legislation. If we could recognise that point in some way, that might be a way of gaining agreement on including—rightly, in my view—his intention to recognise the slightly anonymous role of the cadets. That is very easy for us all to do, because I am sure that we all have cadets in our constituencies. My

constituency is in leafy suburbia, but it is suburbia none the less. It has sea scouts, air cadets and army cadets, and police cadets are being re-established. Those groups are always looking for somewhere to go for adventure training. It is just as important for my cadets to have access to adventure training as it is variously defined in the Bill as it is for those in the constituency of my hon. Friend in rural Kent, where access to the sea in particular is much easier.

It is very important for us all to ensure the continuation of the cadets. I would hate us inadvertently to be unable to allow the cadets to thrive for the very reason given by my hon. Friend—the tremendous help that they can give to so many youngsters who come from difficult backgrounds. Leafy Beckenham has plenty of children who come from difficult backgrounds.

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

An amendment was tabled for exactly that reason, but I struggle to find the number—my hon. Friend will have to bear with me. Clause 2(3)(b) already states:

''not purport to exempt or exclude the volunteer, employee, voluntary body or voluntary organisation or any of its servants or agents from any criminal liability''.

The amendment in question is therefore redundant, as that would be the effect of the Bill without it. I am, however, happy that the amendment was tabled.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for helping the Minister to solve these problems, which is what we are in the business of trying to do. I do not have a difficulty in principle with what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve.

Another query concerns farmers. I am conscious that, under the changes in the common agricultural policy, more and more farmers are establishing nature reserves on their own private land. Such reserves are not tourist attractions and are not managed as such, but they are managed under the countryside stewardship scheme and, by their nature, many of them are re-establishing marshlands, lakes and ponds to attract wildlife. My hon. Friend referred to a similar matter. We must ensure that a farmer would not be affected by groups such as sea scouts or, as the Minister mentioned, the lady who went riding through a nature reserve that is open to the public. There are some lawyers in the Committee who can clarify the matter.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour/Co-operative, Loughborough

One thing that I am not is a lawyer. I am on record in the House as being as fervent about lawyers as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

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

I represent thousands of them.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour/Co-operative, Loughborough

I am sure that there are plenty left. I shall not repeat what I said earlier.

Like many hon. Members here, I am sympathetic to what is being attempted. Having heard the Minister and the hon. Member for Beckenham, I would like clarification on how much effort a farmer or landowner should make to ensure safety in the light of the blame culture. The example of the neighbour of the hon. Member for Canterbury comes to mind; if something happened with a rusty old car or whatever,

who would be responsible? Even with a statement of inherent risk, how much effort should the farmer make to reduce that risk? If, despite that, there were still a problem, how much responsibility should the farmer take? Should that be highlighted in the Bill as a separate entity compared with other activities that are provided for elsewhere? I should be interested to hear the hon. Lady's interpretation. I am thinking of people who are not landowners or farmers, but may own educational establishments or buildings.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury might say, ''How long is a piece of string?'' We are trying to deal with a particular situation. I was extrapolating from nature reserves and the hon. Gentleman is extrapolating from other

areas. We might prefer not go down that route in this Committee, but it brings up a point made by the Minister. My first reaction was that the Countryside Act 1981 defines who has access. On who has responsibility, we would all like to think that people were sufficiently responsible, but I see difficulties. Rather than continue down this route, which would expand the Bill, the best thing might be for me to allow my hon. Friend to clarify the answers to those questions.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Brazier.]

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Five o'clock till Wednesday 12 May at half-past Nine o'clock.