Promotion of Volunteering Bill

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Mr. Boswell: I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. Does he agree that the danger in this kind of arrangement is that, in the absence of a statutory obligation on the sports body to take out insurance—the Minister may want to comment on that—the effect of further regulation is to make it less likely that it will do so? That will make it much more likely that difficulties will be caused for someone involved in an accident.

Lembit Öpik: That is right. Not only would the individual suffer as a result, but so too would sport and recreational activities as a whole. An alternative for the organisations on which the legislation is being imposed is to give up completely and say, ''We won't bother.'' Certainly, no one will be more inclined to offer recreational activities on account of the regulations. It stands to reason that some people making decisions at the margins will decide that the regulations are the final straw. They will either close down their activities or not commence them in the first place. I merely expect the Minister—and I am sure that she has made considerable preparations—to explain how the Government will handle that pressing issue.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): What sort of madness is there in our society when we have to say ''Be careful in case you're not insured'' before our families can do the things that we want them to do? The whole basis is crackers. We should welcome the fact that national governing bodies take out insurance; that gives us an assurance that we can go and play with our children. Like the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), I would like to know what the Government's plan is. If we are right about the FSA's intent, what is the Government's response to it?

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the sentiments of the hon. Members who have just spoken; I was playing rugby at the weekend, and I have a number of injuries from that game, although I think that we were wholly and completely insured.

It is a sad indictment that matters have got to this stage. We are talking about outside bodies, and I have worked quite hard in the past few years with community and amateur sports clubs. One of the particular fears and frustrations of Back Benchers is that we take positive steps forward, but all the time, outside this place, other organisations that we have established and let loose are, drip by drip, slowly bleeding dry sports clubs up and down the country.

Sometimes, the first that we hear of such cases is when people come and complain to us in our surgeries. I hope that now is the time, as part of the Bill—perhaps the Minister can reassure us on this—that we will at last be able to take back control. At the end of the day, we are the ones who get the blame. For too long we have been passing the buck to someone else to take the blame for us. Let us bring the blame culture back in here; let us take control. It is a shame that we are losing the clause, but I hope that the Minister or

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others will find another route via which we can make amendments to the Financial Services Act 1986 and bring organisations such as the Financial Services Authority back into line.

3.15 pm

Mrs. Lait: I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister, because she has had a barrage of complaints, to which I would like to add. I am sympathetic because she should not be answering for the FSA. Somebody who is responsible for that organisation should be present. We are all well aware of the number of sporting activities and businesses that are affected by FSA regulations, some of which are sensible, while others lead us to raise an eyebrow.

By coincidence, I also spent part of the weekend at my local rugby club, where the new club house was being opened; the club had successfully raised enough funds and the occasion was a very happy one. However, as constituency MPs, we all know that on such occasions someone inevitably comes up, pokes us in the chest and asks, ''What about this?''. The angriest exchange that I had at the weekend was over insurance. Some 250 youngsters under the age of 17 play at Beckenham rugby club every Sunday morning. Fathers, mothers and people who have played rugby all their lives voluntarily give up Sunday mornings to teach the kids. However, the schools have backed out, possibly because of the blame culture, and it will now be left to the rugby clubs to try to recreate the triumph that we saw last year. The people with whom I discussed the issue were very angry and bitter at the thought that they would have to take out their own insurance and that the club would not be able to do so or that the bureaucracy involved would put it off. If we continue like that, we will not have an international rugby team worth the game.

Although the clause is seemingly innocuous, I am happy to support its not being insisted upon in order to get clause 2 through. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us, certainly by the end of the Committee stage, that whichever Department is responsible for the FSA—whether it is the Treasury or the Department of Trade and Industry—is going to tell us that the FSA will withdraw such a thoroughly daft proposal.

Fiona Mactaggart: What has been described is one of the problems with the Bill and one of the reasons why it has been difficult for us to resolve some of the issues that the hon. Member for Canterbury raised in introducing it. The Bill deals with issues that reach across a number of Departments and which require their collaboration, and not just their agreement, to settle. For example, I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism about what role community and amateur sports clubs can play in helping to resolve some of the insurance problems that sporting bodies face. He has been actively negotiating with community and amateur sports clubs to see whether they can take steps to resolve some of the issues. That is one example of how we are seeking to make progress.

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One of the problems is that the bogey often gets bigger than it needs to be; I am not sure that that is the case, but it is possible. The changes that are causing concern among those in rugby football and others are a consequence of the introduction of regulations resulting from the insurance mediation directive. Standards in voluntary organisations should be as high as those in professional organisations. As the Minister with responsibility for the voluntary sector, I hold that that is a fundamental principle that we must find out how best to implement in practice.

Mr. Brazier: The voluntary sector shares the Minister's concerns about standards. However, we are dealing not with the matter of standards, but with legislation that is designed to prevent organisations that exist for profit from exploiting vulnerable individuals. There is no question of rugby clubs or other sporting clubs exploiting anybody through the insurance market, so it is inappropriate that they should have to carry these burdens.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), I feel sorry for the Minister in having to pick up so many points from different Departments. However, members of the Committee will feel a heavy heart if I have to withdraw clause 3 because the Minister cannot offer us more than she already has.

Fiona Mactaggart: To some extent, the sense that the voluntary sector is amateur and therefore does not need professional standards has held it back and often created an inappropriate power relationship between funders of voluntary organisations and the organisations themselves. It has sometimes created a feeling—not in the sector, but for those on whom it depends for resources—that things can be half well done. That is not the case in insurance. Nevertheless, it is important to start with a belief that minimum standards should universally apply across voluntary as well as professional organisations.

Sometimes, those minimum standards are designed to prevent profiteering and exploitation. For example, the insurance mediation directive requires that individuals or companies who carry out insurance or reinsurance mediation should be registered on the basis of the following minimum requirements: appropriate knowledge and ability; good repute; possession of professional indemnity insurance or any other comparable guarantee against liability arising out of professional negligence; and sufficient financial capacity in the case of insurance intermediaries who handle customers' money. Those requirements are designed to guarantee a high level of professionalism and competence on the part of insurance intermediaries across the European Union. That is why the directive has been developed.

In the directive, the intermediaries are defined as persons who take up or pursue their activities for remuneration. That is where the concern arises. We want to ensure that standards are adapted appropriately to the needs of the sector in question. That often happens in voluntary organisations, although it happens less in sporting organisations, for practical rather than bad reasons. As voluntary

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organisations such as law centres and councils for voluntary service grow, they recognise that there is an infrastructure issue with supporting front-line volunteering. They need a more robust back-room infrastructure that can resolve some of the collective problems of the sector. Those problems are not easily fixed by the person doing the front-line service; the people who give advice in citizens advice bureaux or referee at rugby matches are not the ones to do that. There is a need for a back-office operation with the professionalism and infrastructure to provide umbrella network services.

Lembit Öpik: I am listening with interest, and two words come to mind: ''wood'' and ''trees''. While, technically, I can see where the Minister is going, it sounds as if she expects much more than we should realistically require from organisations that have not, fundamentally, been set up to sell insurance. If I am to be persuaded by the hon. Member for Canterbury to vote in favour of rejecting the clause, I must also be persuaded that, strategically, the Government understand that we do not need to copper-bottom every aspect of the matter.

The Minister said to begin with—I paraphrase slightly—that the question is not one of risk elimination, but one of risk management. I want her to acknowledge that point in the context of this insurance business. Perhaps she could take a step back and give a little more latitude to the organisations in question, which never will intend to get rich by selling insurance.

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