|Promotion of Volunteering Bill
Fiona Mactaggart: 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.
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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.
Mr. Brazier: 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.
Fiona Mactaggart: 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.
Mr. Dobson: 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.
Fiona Mactaggart: 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
Column Number: 011''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.
The Chairman: 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?
Fiona Mactaggart: 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.
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