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Session 2003 - 04
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Standing Committee Debates
Promotion of Volunteering Bill

Promotion of Volunteering Bill

Standing Committee C

Wednesday 5 May 2004

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Promotion of Volunteering Bill

2.30 pm

The Chairman: 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.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): 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''—

The Chairman: 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

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

Mr. Brazier: 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.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): 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.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): 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.

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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.

The Chairman: 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.

Fiona Mactaggart: Indeed, Mr. Amess.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): 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.

Fiona Mactaggart: 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—

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Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): 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.

Fiona Mactaggart: 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.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I am very interested in what the Minister has just said about the CCPR. Is she saying that it does not support the Bill?


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