Clause 2 - Statements of Inherent Risk

Promotion of Volunteering Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 12th May 2004.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 10:15 am, 12th May 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 37, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out from 'person' to 'who' in line 24.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

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

No. 45, in clause 2, page 2, line 33, at end insert—

'( ) If the person undertaking the activity is aged less than sixteen, the Statement of Inherent Risk must require the person's parent or guardian to explain the risks set out in the Statement to that person.'.

No. 48, in clause 2, page 2, line 46, at end insert—

'(3A) The Statement of Inherent Risk shall be signed—

(a) by or on behalf of the person presenting the Statement;

(b) if that person is an employee, on behalf of the voluntary organisation or volunteering body by whom he is employed;

(c) if the person undertaking the activity is aged at least sixteen, by that person;

(d) if the person undertaking the activity is aged less than sixteen but at least eleven, by that person and by his parent or guardian;

(e) if the person undertaking the activity is aged less than eleven, by his parent or guardian.'.

No. 50, in clause 2, page 2, line 49, leave out from 'and' to 'in' in line 1 on page 3 and insert

'the Statement has been duly signed in accordance with subsection (3A),'.

Amendment No. 59, in clause 2, page 3, line 25, at end insert—

'( ) In this section ''guardian'' means a guardian of a child within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 and includes a special guardian within the meaning of that Act.'.

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

We come to the core of the Bill and the critical issue on which we need to focus. We have all agreed that there is a problem and the debates and discussions so far have highlighted the key problems.

The focus of the Bill is on sport and adventure. In those areas, the key issues are fear of litigation, growing insurance costs, anxiety about volunteering numbers, and dumbing down of activities in order to deal with those other problems. The hon. Member for Canterbury pointed out the health and safety impacts that that can have—for example, the impacts on child obesity and on opportunities to take part in activities.

On Second Reading, I said that the Government wished to do things to deal with those issues and that we hoped to explore what they might be in Committee. I worked hard with the hon. Gentleman to see whether we could find a way of dealing with those issues, and we still want to do so, but we believe that this Bill is not the right way to achieve the ambition that we all share.

The key issues are linked. It is inevitable that we have focused on litigation, as that is at the heart of the problem. However, the real heart of the problem is the perception of litigation. I have put a lot of energy into trying to find out the figures on litigation. As hon. Members know, I was tempted to take a similar approach to that of the hon. Gentleman by introducing legislation to deal with the problem. Therefore, I needed to be clear about precisely what the problem was. It seems that there is a significant difference between reality and perception.

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

I want to make two points. First, I am happy to accept all of the amendments in this group. Secondly, while we strongly disagree on the issue of

perception versus reality, may I put it to the Minister without usurping your authority, Mr. Taylor, that it would be better to debate that when we address later groups of amendments about which we have real arguments? I am very happy to accept this group of drafting amendments in its entirety without complaint.

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

I understand that. I am not trying to take up the Committee's time unnecessarily. I was seeking to use this opening discussion on clause 2 to address these matters because it is important to understand the heart of what the Government are trying to do. As clause 2 sets out the heart of the problem, I thought that it would be helpful if the Committee were to understand where we are coming from and what our concerns are. I am not playing a game here. The hon. Gentleman is generous in accepting the amendments but it would help our debate on later amendments on which we disagree if I set out the Government's approach now, because it has shifted since Second Reading. We have tried to look at the details.

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

Would my hon. Friend like to convince me that perception and reality are different?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 10:30 am, 12th May 2004

Yes, I will try to do that. I have spent a lot of time looking at what is actually happening. All Committee members have spoken as if the compensation culture is leading to a substantial increase in the number of claims made, the number of claims litigated and the number of claims settled out of court. Those are the sort of assumptions on which the debate has proceeded. However, figures provided by the compensation recovery unit, which has to have figures on every claim made because it deals with recovery in terms of benefits and so forth, show that claims declined by 9.5 per cent. in 2004 and that public liability incidents, which is what this sort of claim relates to, were down by 16.7 per cent., which means that there were 20,000 fewer claims.

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

We are talking about volunteers, and about the fact that people do not volunteer, whether it is because of the claims or because they believe them. However, that makes no difference to the fact that they do not volunteer.

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

That is true, which is why we need legislation or action that deals with that perception, rather than focuses on what happens if there is less litigation.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

We touched on this issue on Second Reading. I do not believe that the compensation recovery unit has the figures, and the Minister might correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the problem is the huge amount of claims that are settled before proceedings and the gargantuan pay-outs that are involved.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right. There has been a consequence in terms of the increases in the sums that are paid. However, that has happened partly because of the increases in costs for people who

are facing a lifetime of disability following negligence. Nobody in the Committee wants settlements not to meet the proper costs of someone who is affected, and I do not think that that is his intention. I accept that there has been a consequence in terms of the sums that are paid out. Nevertheless, the perception of an increasingly litigious culture is not well founded.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

I cannot understand that. Not only many lawyers, but many claims assessors and amateur claims pursuers are involved in such matters. There is a plethora of people touting for business throughout the country, which is an indication that something is amiss. Those people advertise on television all the time and in the newspapers and other media. There is a huge compensation culture, and there are many reasons for it, not least including the introduction of conditional fees. All the same, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) rightly said, perception is just as important as reality. Can the Minister explain why there has been a massive growth in insurance and insurance cover, whose cost is unaffordable for most organisations, if they can get it?

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

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the cost and availability of insurance cover must be tackled, and that there is a perception that litigation is the source of the cost. That is why the Bill deals with what happens at the point of litigation, but I contend that the problem lies more with the points that he made, including, for example, the way in which litigants are funded—[Interruption.] I should like to deal with this intervention before giving way again. I am trying to follow the way in which these processes are made. Perhaps it would be more sensible to deal with the way in which insurance is worked out and how cases are dealt with. We have been taking those matters forward in the public liability review by the Department for Work and Pensions, and they are also being taken forward in the Clementi review. These issues are ways of dealing with the real, rather than the perceived, problems.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the figures that I cited dealt with claims that are settled or those that do not get anywhere. The best I can do on that is to mention the annual report of Datamonitor, which is generally accepted as the best source of independent business information on such things. That report showed that accident claims made to insurers rose by 0.2 per cent. in the most recent available year. Although the decline in litigation that I was talking about is true, there has been a tiny increase in the number of claims being made. There is a belief that part of the reason for the increase in claims is the growth in accident claims companies, the new way of funding cases and the perception about which we are talking, whereby people believe that large pay-outs will be made. In practice, however, that happens less.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the cost of insurance. It is generally accepted in the insurance business that—

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Order. The Minister's comments are straying a little wide of the amendments that are being discussed. Perhaps she could return to the content of statements of inherent risk.

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

I am sorry, Mr. Taylor. I was trying to respond to the intervention of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon, and I was coming to his final point.

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

The hon. Gentleman asked why the cost of insurance had risen so much. Part of the reason was 9/11 and the fact that the insurance sector pushed up costs across the board, and not merely in the area that we are discussing. That is probably the most significant reason for the costs.

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

I return to the issues of the statement of inherent risk and of perception. Does the Minister understand that perception is vital, because action follows from it? In many instances, perception will be based on the reality of only one or two cases, but it is enough for a whole sector to feel the fear of being the next test case in that particular area. Therefore, although perception might well be just that, it can be based on a reality that has an enormous impact across the business. The statement of inherent risk does not just kick in at a later stage, but gives people confidence to undertake the activities.

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

Absolutely. I understand that that is what people want out of this, but frankly, that is not what legislation is for. If the problem is misperception, we must deal with it. We should not create legislation that allows negligence, but it is my contention that that is what the Bill does. I do not believe that any hon. Member in this Committee would like to allow negligence, but that is what it does in practice in order to deal with an issue of perception. Hon. Members are right that we must deal with the issue of perception.

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

The fact is that the courts, following the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, have extended the definition of negligence. If we in this Room are being honest, we must accept that we wish to retract the concept of negligence by introducing the statement approach. We are not afraid to say that we wish to restrict the concept of negligence; we do. However, only we can do that. No procedural changes, agreements with the insurance industry or anything like that will do it; only the courts or ourselves can do it. The courts are moving the matter in the wrong direction and we want to bring it back.

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

I understand that, but I think that it is largely an issue of perception about the way in which the courts have operated. In most cases where a defence of volenti non fit injuria has reached the senior courts, it has been clear that a reasonable person who is behaving sensibly and has undertaken a risk assessment is not liable in the way that it is generally assumed that people are.

Hon. Members have been asking me what we are doing to deal with the issue of perception. I think it is an important issue, and I had hoped to see whether there was a possibility of using the sort of mechanism that we are discussing without opening the door to negligent or reckless behaviour, but I believe that that is what the measure does as it is presently constructed.

We need to deal with the issue, and it is important that I answer that point.

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 have been listening to the Minister, but aside from the fact that I know that Pete Jones in the Redbridge centre perceives the risk to be so great to his business that he is disinclined, in the real world, to take on volunteers, I am not clear in what way she has been talking about the amendment. So far as I can understand, everybody in the Committee agrees with the amendments. I am uncomfortable about spending so much time having a Second Reading debate when we should be examining the detail of the Bill.

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

I am not dealing with the amendments, because I am responding to interventions. When Committee members intervene on me, I have a responsibility to respond. I was speaking to the amendments, but I have so far made no progress because I have been dealing with interventions. When I have done so, I shall return—

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

We have been seeking to find ways of dealing with the issue of perception. The Government have taken a key set of actions. First, we have established the insurance cover working group, which is developing sharing schemes for insurance in a range of voluntary organisations. Those have been more robustly developed in other sectors, but they are beginning to develop in sports. Creating better relationships between providers and insurance companies has made a real difference.

We have also established the Russell commission, which is considering a youth volunteering scheme. Part of its brief is to investigate barriers to volunteering. The Department for Work and Pensions is working on employer liability insurance and has identified solutions to the perceived problem of inaccessibility of employer liability insurance. The Better Regulation Task Force is shortly to report on the compensation culture and, following last week's sitting of this Committee, I have arranged a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism to examine how insurers are treated under existing legislation.

We are trying to ensure that we have the best possible risk management. That is the key to the amendment. We want to embed risk management and to ensure that there are opportunities to learn lessons from the present arrangements. Take the example of the insurance broker who works closely with the Central Council of Physical Recreation, but had feared that caving practices were too unsafe to insure. Having met experts from the sector, he is now willing to insure the sport, which is rigorously regulated by its governing body. Such mechanisms can deliver the changes that we require.

The aim of amendment No. 45 is to clarify the circumstances in which a parent or guardian will be required to sign a statement. It makes it clear that a counter-signature is required only when the person undertaking the activity is aged under 16, and that, rather than taking full responsibility when not present, the parent or guardian should explain the risks to the

child. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Canterbury for accepting that.

Amendment No. 48 makes it clear who should sign the statement. Such people include those aged 11 to 15 who are capable of understanding the nature of the risk and the explanation that has been given by the parent or guardian—the hon. Gentleman and I discussed that earlier in the proceedings. We are eager to get youngsters to recognise that they have responsibilities where there are risks, and that they can conduct their activities in a way that helps to minimise risk. I hope that that will be the consequence of the amendment, and we shall discuss later what the signature should mean in practice. Amendment No. 50 is a consequential amendment, while amendment No. 59 is intended to clarify the definition of a guardian. We are trying to make things clearer. I am unsure whether we have achieved all that we wanted, and some matters will be dealt with later.

Our aim is to set out in clear terms who will sign the statement and what the signature will mean. That does not sound like a difficult task, but it has turned out to be one, particularly where discussion touches on the application of these matters to children and the legal effect of signed documents.

With these amendments, I have sought to achieve what the hon. Gentleman wants, so I am glad that he has agreed to support them. However, I still do not think that they are perfect, and we may have to revisit them when the Bill proceeds to later stages. This group of amendments is intended to address the issues that he and I discussed at length with regard to whether this mechanism can be used.

I have expressed my anxieties, but I did not do so fully because you, Mr. Taylor, were keen for us to deal with specific points. I will express them again and more fully when we address later amendments that deal with the impact of the statement of inherent risk. In these amendments, I am seeking merely to clarify the role of the adult and the role of the child and to deal with who is signing rather than the consequences of that signature, although the Committee will need to address that point as well.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:45 am, 12th May 2004

The amendments cover genuine concerns about the idea of shared responsibility that were raised on Second Reading. I am delighted to agree to all of them. I congratulate the officials who drafted them and the Minister on her wisdom on this matter.

At this stage, I am not going to try your patience further, Mr. Taylor, by entering into the debate on perception versus reality. I cited a striking real case that resulted in a real pay-out last week. I shall refer to several more cases when we address coming groups of amendments, as I want to do so where they are relevant to particular amendments, rather than here.

Amendment agreed to.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 38, in

clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out 'activity or activities' and insert 'sport or adventure training'.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

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

No. 39, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out 'activity or activities' and insert 'prescribed activities'.

No. 55, in clause 2, page 3, line 12, at end insert—

'( ) In subsection (1) ''prescribed activities'' means such activities as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

( ) Any such regulations shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

( ) Before making any regulations under this section the Secretary of State shall consult such representative and other organisations as appears to him appropriate.'.

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

In these amendments, I seek to clarify the scope of the activities covered by the statement of inherent risk, and specifically whether the statement should cover all voluntary activities, only activities prescribed by the Secretary of State or only sports and adventure training.

The hon. Member for Canterbury and I spoke on Second Reading and in later discussions about the activities that were most affected. His continuous contention was that the many voluntary organisations that had expressed profound concerns about the Bill were, in general, not in the sports and adventure sector and would therefore not be most affected by it. Since then, some organisations in that sector have felt, as I have done, as I have looked further into the matter, that this apparent solution might not solve the problem.

We need to see what the scope of the Bill should be and to consider whether it should cover all volunteering activities or focus on activities where there is the highest risk of the kind of accidents and events about which the hon. Gentleman is most moved. It is not just I who have moved away from feeling that the approach set out in the Bill might deal with the problem. Other organisations, such as the Central Council of Physical Recreation, feel that their original support for the Bill—[Interruption.]

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

The Minister must not misconstrue what the CCPR has said. I spoke to it this week and received something in writing from it saying that it is not opposed to the Bill, but that there may be other ways in which it would want to explore these matters if the Bill were not passed. However, it is not opposing the Bill, and it is wrong for the Minister to say that it does so.

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

I think that the hon. Lady misunderstood me. I said that the CCPR had moved its position, and it has. It said:

''We are also aware of the opposition to this particular piece of legislation which is being proposed, from across the wider voluntary sector and some government departments: this opposition is based on concern that there has been insufficient time to test the effects of the proposed legislation, and that there could be unforeseen consequences which could make matters even worse for volunteers and their organisations. For these reasons, we have taken 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, 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.''

That is the CCPR's view. That is not to say that it is completely certain that the Bill will not, in all circumstances, have the end for which the hon. Member for Canterbury hopes, but it is clear that it fears, as I do, that there might be unintended consequences and that using the proposed legislative mechanism to deal with perception could create problems that might more effectively be resolved by other action. That is what I am arguing for.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Does the Minister think that the CCPR has listened to her comments and is simply reacting in anticipation of the reality, which is that despite the appearance that she gives of being in favour of some of our concerns, she intends to kill the Bill?

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

There is some of that in it—[Hon. Members: ''Oh!''] These organisations came to the view that if resources could be put into tackling these issues—that is one of the offers that I made to them—and if there were ways of using the Russell commission, the insurance cover working group and the report of the Better Regulation Task Force to resolve these problems, such an approach might be more likely to produce the results and it would be in their interests to collaborate.

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

I am being honest. It would be in those organisations' interests to collaborate with the Government to produce results as swiftly as possible, rather than to go for a legislative solution that might open the door to negligent behaviour, as I am advised that it will. Nobody would want the Bill to have such a consequence, including the hon. Member for Canterbury and I.

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

I have some sympathy with the Minister on this point. The best way forward and my favoured option is an insurance scheme. I know that Sport England has put such a proposal in its latest document. I would be greatly reassured if there were a further message from the Government that that is the route that they want to pursue, and that they want to do so quickly. The situation in Queensland works well, especially for sports and other clubs. I support the Bill, but if there were a better option on the table, I would take it, because some parts of the Bill would add burden to sports and other clubs. I hope that the Bill's promoter will address those points.

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

That is exactly what I have sought to do. The hon. Member for Canterbury, being such a very honourable gentleman, will ''fess up'' to the fact that when I came to the conclusion that the legislation would not achieve the ends that we wanted and that it risked achieving the opposite by creating additional litigation, costs and bureaucracy, I offered alternative proposals that would include progress on insurance and other things.

I shall be completely honest. This issue is being pursued by a relatively small unit in the Home Office, which is providing me with the bits of paper that I am using today. We had to make a choice when the hon. Gentleman decided to pursue his Bill, and I have not said that that there is no way in which I would continue to work on proposals. I believe that the issue should be addressed. I am not putting resources into addressing it at the moment, because resources are properly being put into dealing with other legislation that is before the House. That is what hon. Members would expect a Department to do. Nevertheless, I have offered a range of solutions, including substantial progress on insurance, which I believe is possible.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Order. May I ask the Minister to return to the subject of the amendments, which is replacing ''activity and activities'' with ''sport or adventure training'' and so on?

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

My concern is that the Bill could impose a significant administrative burden that may have a severe impact on a wide range of activity in the voluntary and community sector as a whole. Although clauses 3 and 4, which deal with bureaucracy imposed by the Financial Services Act 1986 and the Data Protection Act 1998, have been deleted, we would all agree that the Bill should not place additional bureaucratic or regulatory burdens on the sector. I know that that is the ambition of the hon. Gentleman.

The Bill would have a severe impact, especially on the wider sector, because many activities carry risks that are relatively negligible compared with those of sports and adventure activities. For the organisations involved in such activities, the benefits of a statement of inherent risk would be vastly outweighed by the administrative burden, which could take time away from the important community work that those organisations carry out. Many of them have expressed substantial concern to the Government.

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

What sort of organisations is the Minister talking about?

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

There is a range of them. For example, CSVCommunity Service Volunteers—said:

''We feel that the bill, in particular the Statement of Inherent Risk, will lead to highly bureaucratic processes that would exclude many young people from the activities that they enjoy.''

CSV suggests that the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance would agree.

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

St. John Ambulance was virtually the first organisation to send me a strong letter of support, and it has never retracted that support, so I am surprised to hear it mentioned. An amendment in a later group deals with the Minister's very point; it would make it clear that if people do not want go down this route, it cannot be taken into account by a court.

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

In my view, that amendment would cause further problems.

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

Does the Minister not concede that at the beginning of clause 2 there is no obligation on a voluntary organisation at the margin of these activities to provide a statement of inherent risk, and also that there is also no obligation on any voluntary

organisation that undertakes such activities to provide a specific statement of inherent risk if, in its judgment, there is no such risk in the activity covered?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 11:00 am, 12th May 2004

The problem, and it is a profound problem, is to do with the consequences of litigating in this way. If the statement of inherent risk is as valuable as the hon. Member for Canterbury believes, insurance companies may start insisting on one for every activity. I have constantly said that one of my anxieties about the Bill is its possible unintended consequences; something akin to mandatory statements could end up being created. Volunteering England, an umbrella body for volunteering, has said:

''The bill, as drafted, may in fact contribute to bad practice. If volunteers are encouraged to sign a disclaimer or waiver, a volunteer-involving organisation may assume that it has discharged all of their legal responsibilities for volunteers, participants and those in their care. It may also discourage volunteer-involving organisations undertaking a risk assessment of their activities.''

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

Will the Minister confirm that Volunteering England is not an umbrella body but a Government quango? Does she accept that the issues that she is raising will be dealt with in a later group of amendments?

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

It is not fair to describe Volunteering England as a Government quango. It has conferences and is accountable to other volunteer-involving organisations. It plays a quango-type role at times, but it is an independent organisation quite capable of poking the Government firmly in the eye on behalf of volunteers. It has done that to me, as Minister with responsibility for volunteers, a couple of times.

Photo of Derek Wyatt Derek Wyatt Labour, Sittingbourne and Sheppey

In 2002, more than 10,000 volunteers helped in the Manchester Commonwealth games. At the Olympic bid presentations in July next year, the International Olympic Committee will ask where our volunteers insurance Bill is. We will not win our bid for the Olympics unless that is covered. If the Minister is not going to cover that with this Bill, will the Government introduce their own Bill, as the hon. Members for Canterbury and for Montgomeryshire asked this and last week? Without that, we will not win our bid for the Olympics.

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

We believe that we can resolve the insurance issues in a voluntary way. We have made great progress through the insurance cover working group.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Order. I hesitate to bring the Minister back to the amendments under discussion, which relate to activities and sport and adventure training and not to insurance, but I must.

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

I accept your ruling, Mr. Taylor, but I was trying to answer an intervention relating specifically to sports and adventure activity volunteers, and the impact that a lack of them might have on the UK's capacity to win the Olympic bid. I would like to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt). He is right

to focus on insurance, but I believe that we can deal with the insurance issue through policy action. I have already demonstrated that the number of insurance claims has not gone up, as is perceived. I assure the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon, who asked whether the figures that I cited included all claims, that they do.

I agree that we need a robust mechanism that can ensure that sporting volunteers are properly insured. The work of the insurance working cover group is one way of sorting that out, as is the work of the Minister responsible for supporting community amateur sports clubs. We are making progress through such work, which is where we should be putting our energy, rather than allowing providers of activities to be negligent, which is the risk under the Bill.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I was just coming to that. I was trying to deal with the interventions as swiftly as I could; the hon. Gentleman will notice that I was speaking as fast as I could in order to get back to that point.

Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 are either/or amendments; that is, they might be acceptable in their own right, but not together. Amendment No. 38 ensures that the activities covered are restricted to sport or adventure training. That is clear and succinct, but I suspect that we might need to clarify the meanings of ''sport'', ''adventure'' and ''training''.

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

Restricting activities to sport and adventure training would leave out play, but most children spend most of their time not on sport or adventure training but playing. Many voluntary organisations provide for play, and if we do not cover play, we will not cover many people who believe themselves to be at risk.

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

I understand that point. That is precisely why we offered amendment No. 39 as an alternative. One problem with the procedure governing private Member's legislation is that there is no opportunity for extensive consultation about who should be covered and who should not. We know that the wider voluntary sector has reservations about that procedure, and parts of it do not want to be covered by it under any circumstances. Amendment No. 39 therefore makes provision for secondary legislation to define the scope of the activities covered.

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

In the spirit of pre-consultation, may I offer for the Minister's consideration the question of education, whether formal or informal? Many of the activities undertaken in this country are related to the activities of schools, and in my earlier contribution, I may have mentioned that I am a vice-president of a country trust, which was set up with the specific purpose of encouraging school children to visit farms to learn about what happens in the countryside. That, too, is an important function, which should not be excluded under any circumstances.

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

I understand that. The Bill would not cover school activities undertaken in

school time by teachers. I have discussed that extensively with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, who shares the desire of everyone in the Room to ensure that schoolchildren have opportunities to take risks and be adventurous while they are at school and beyond the usual curriculum. He believes that that is an important part of learning. The hon. Gentleman may remember the speech that the Secretary of State made to, I believe, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, in which he referred to the importance of that. So the Government are seized of the need to encourage that.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

I have discussed this with Farms for City Children—an organisation similar to the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Daventry. The chief trustee is Michael Morpurgo, the children's laureate. The organisation arranges for children from inner cities to visit farms to see what happens on them, but it cannot get insurance, or the cost of insurance is massive. It has two or three farms. Young children go with their teachers to the farms to learn about agriculture and farming. It is a tremendous experience, but Michael Morpurgo tells me that the organisation will have to pack up unless something can be done. That would be a crying shame. Surely something must be done? That is what we are trying to do through the Bill.

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

I have taken groups of children to Treginnis farm, which is run by Farms for City Children. That is an excellent organisation, but it is also capable of not doing things safely at all times. I can recall an example of that. In that case, no one sued, which was a good thing, but there was an issue of risk. We need to ensure that risks are properly assessed and managed; the Government are committed to that, and I believe that it is important.

It would not be right for any organisation, even one as wonderful as Farms for City Children, to be in any way negligent about risks to children. Let us be clear that we are talking about serious accidents—in some of the cases that we have discussed, people have broken their necks. When those things might happen to children, it is important that we balance the need for children to have the opportunity to be adventurous with the responsibility held by the providing organisation to ensure that their activities are as safe as possible. I am profoundly concerned that hon. Members are seeing the matter from only one end of the telescope, and not seeing that the providing organisation has a real responsibility to make things safe.

We are supposed to be trying to deal with what is covered by the Bill. I am trying to return the Committee to the subject of the debate. Amendment No. 39 is an alternative to saying that the only area covered should be sport and adventure. It provides for secondary legislation to define the scope of activities. I know that the hon. Member for Canterbury is worried that such secondary legislation could be used in a devious way—I suppose that the word devious is probably not parliamentary language, but I am quite

certain that that is what he thinks—deliberately to make the scope of the legislation negligible. That is not the Government's intention. We seek neither to limit the provision to sport and adventure activity, nor, if that is not sufficient—for example, because of issues such as city farms—to provide for proper consultation within the sector before we legislate. The amendment has its disadvantages: it might add complexity, and it could use up extensive resources on consultation about what should be included, but it would give us flexibility now and in the future as well as time to consult on whether organisations feel that it is appropriate for them to be in or out.

Amendment No. 55 sets out the scope of the proposed regulations, which will be subject to the negative procedure.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Going back to the Minister's previous arguments, is her argument about the difficulty caused by the need for a gap between the extension of the Bill over everything and a more narrow scope? Obviously, she is also discussing whether there is a halfway path. If there were not some form of limitation, there would be pressure on organisations that otherwise would not wish to obtain a statement to do so because, she feels, the insurance companies would insist on it. I am trying to clarify: is that her main argument?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 11:15 am, 12th May 2004

We have been informed by a number of volunteer-involving organisations that they do not think that a statement of inherent risk is appropriate in their sector and in the activities that they undertake. A number of different regimes would be running, because the hon. Member for Canterbury does not intend to make the measure mandatory. We felt that our approach would be appropriate, because the desire for the measure has come from particular areas of activity, not from all activities involving volunteers; it has not come from people running fêtes or advisory organisations, for example. There is such a range of volunteer-led activities, and many of those involved with them are concerned that the provisions would be expensive, bureaucratic, and a problem for them.

In our estimation, the statement would allow negligence. If insurance companies saw that, they might want to lean on that provision. If that is how they respond, a requirement would effectively come about on organisations for whom the bureaucracy is not appropriate.

In the two amendments, we offer ways of allowing organisations that do not want to be part of the measures, and who think that they are not appropriate to them, to be confident that they are outside the regime, and I do not believe that even the promoter of the Bill particularly wants to include all voluntary organisations. One way would be to limit the provision to sport and adventure activity. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras points out, that would not necessarily include play, and that would be a problem. The second way is to allow the list of what is to be included to be defined in secondary legislation.

We are talking about a concern felt by the organisations themselves. The Scout Association says that one of the practical problems with the Bill—although it does offer some support for it—is that insurance companies may require organisations to use the facility that the Act provides to produce such a statement. We seek to prevent that from happening by circumscribing the conditions in which such a statement can be used, and that is in tune with the intentions of the promoter. If he trusts the Government not to use the provision deviously, he should accept amendments Nos. 39 and 55, which would allow regulations to be made. That would let us consult the sector and engage with people about whether they wanted to be in or out. Otherwise, I suggest amendment No. 38, which focuses on ''sport or adventure training'', as the alternative.

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

I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but I shall urge the Committee to resist all three amendments.

I hope that the hon. Member for Loughborough will forgive me if I come back to his points on insurance in a later debate, although a central point has already been made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras: insurance premiums reflect real risks in courts, and we are dealing with real cases.

The central reason why I cannot agree to the secondary legislation route, on which we have had many discussions, is that the Minister still believes that the Bill is about perception and not reality. I am simply not happy to delegate matters to secondary legislation.

There are two problems with restricting the measures to sport and adventure training. The first has been outlined by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras: that route would exclude recreation, which is a large part of the Bill. The second is that, as I am told by my legal advisers, ''adventure training'' might be construed rather narrowly.

Let me give a few real examples directly relevant to the amendments. I asked the Girl Guides, at 24 hours' notice, to give me a list just before Second Reading of a few cases of actual payouts that its insurers have had to make recently. A girl caught her foot on a slide in a park, injuring her ankle. Her parents alleged insufficient supervision: £800 was paid out. As it has 500,000 members, one can imagine the consequences for the organisation and its willingness to use playgrounds. Another girl slipped on a wet drain cover. She was not adventure training; I understand that it happened in the guide hut. The parents alleged that the area was not safe for play: £3,500 was paid out.

The next case is directly and clearly relevant. A girl was cooking sausages over an open fire, an activity that would clearly be preparation for adventure training if she was going out for the weekend, but which happened in this case in the environs of the guide hut. My legal adviser tells me that that probably would not be covered as adventure training, because it

happened in the environs of the guide hut, but £5,000 was paid out.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

Were proceedings taken, or was the case settled by the insurance company beforehand?

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

I do not know, unfortunately; the list was prepared rather quickly. However, to return to an earlier point raised by the hon. Gentleman on out-of-court settlements, every case was agreed on the advice of the legal adviser to the Girl Guides, whose view was based on previous court cases. The vast majority of payouts are the result of out-of-court settlements.

Another case involved a girl who fell out of a bunk bed at 2 o'clock in the morning. The youth hostel is obviously a place from which adventure training is organised, although not in the narrow, technical way in which a court might interpret adventure training. Another teenager slipped on an organised walk on an uneven footpath: £5,000 was paid out.

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

That is exactly my point. Bunk beds might not be safe or not properly risk assessed, and children might fall out.

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

No, no. I mean it. A child who has not used a bunk bed before, who might sleep walk or something like that, should have a bunk bed with a raised side. I speak as a former primary school teacher; when I took the children to Farms for City Children, I made sure the children were safe. We do not know the facts of those cases, and it is important that we should. The problem is one of perception.

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

The Minister will know that I do not mean it uncharitably when I say that no intervention has more clearly illustrated the divide between us.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

I feel concerned. Reference was made earlier to fetes. Could not accidents happen equally easily at them? Without some limitation, would not those organising almost any event or activity feel that they absolutely had to have a statement of inherent risk? It worries me that, without some limitation, pressure could be applied across the board.

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

I am grateful; we shall return to that subject on a group of amendments that address that specific question.

Although the Scouts were initially wary of coming on board, I have received a charming letter from their legal adviser saying that they are strongly behind us. I urge the Committee to oppose the amendment.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

I apologise for not having been here for the first day's debates. I had constituency engagements, which I could not avoid, before the Committee's business was announced. I may therefore have missed some of the argument.

I am anxious that the Bill may have too wide a scope. The argument is valid that pressure could be applied and that people could insist on a statement, whatever the organisation or activity. I doubt whether the amendments would deal with that.

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

It may help the hon. Lady if I mention two later amendments. The first would provide that no

court was ever to take account of the fact that no statement of inherent risk had been made. The second would make it clear that statements are to be used sparingly, and not for every activity.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

I understand the tenor of that argument. However, personal experience of how insurance companies deal with some constituency

matters relating to companies and liability insurance, and some of the ridiculous—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till Wednesday 19 May at half-past Nine o'clock.