Promotion of Volunteering Bill

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Fiona Mactaggart: I do not want to give them latitude, but to create the right kind of support mechanisms to ensure that they can provide through umbrella organisations such as community amateur sports clubs advice of an appropriate standard, so that insurance can be provided. I do not think that the answer is to say that it is all right to provide badly run insurance schemes. I am not saying that that is what happens at the moment, but it could happen.

Andrew Bennett: My hon. Friend's defence is that Europe is now imposing a directive, but as I understand it, she said that that applies only where there is a charge. Surely a national body that gives advice about particular insurance schemes is not covered by the directive as long as it does not charge for the advice.

Fiona Mactaggart: I think that that is probably the case, but I am nevertheless arguing for standards that I think players of sport have a right to expect. I suggest that, while we might need to establish some interim support arrangements to help those who are facing this question at present, the longer-term solution is to try to bring about in the sporting sector what was developed in the advice-giving sector. The two are not hugely different in terms of the way in which many people operate within them.

Exactly the same problems have been faced in the advice-giving sector. It is possible that the advice that is given can give rise to liability for negligence, with high costs. However, umbrella organisations have developed that have provided schemes that comply with the requirements in question in ways that are in

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tune with the voluntary nature of the activities and that produce the results that we all want.

Mr. Boswell: I strongly endorse the Minister's general comments about the need for appropriate professionalism in the voluntary sector. However, first, will she concede that one aspect of the voluntary sector is, by its nature, that it is often run on a shoestring? The operation need not be amateurish, but any accretion of costs makes a significant difference to its viability. That is the practical reality.

Secondly, will the Minister at least commit herself to exploring with her ministerial colleagues a way of finding sensible protocols for handling this matter in future? Again, we are not wedded to the clause—if it goes, it goes—but we need an answer to the problem that it identifies.

Fiona Mactaggart: There is an answer in what I have been saying. The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 sets out what the powers of the FSA cover. The key question is whether the voluntary organisations carry on the activities in question by way of business. If not, the activities are not regulated by the FSA. The problem arises at the point when there might be a margin of appreciation about whether they are doing so, and that is where I am right about raising the level of professionalism in the umbrella bodies.

I undertake to the Committee to seek to work with those bodies. In that context, I am going to haul in the my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism, who is the key person here, because the issue affects sport differently from other voluntary sector organisations. We shall work with sport's umbrella bodies—he regularly does that—and the new community-owned sports clubs. They will be key to resolving ways in which the infrastructure of sport can meet desirable standards.

3.30 pm

Lembit Öpik: I apologise if I came on a bit strong to the Minister earlier; I happened to feel strongly about the subject at that moment. I must control my blood sugar level because I have not eaten today.

I understand what the Minister is trying to do, and it is logical enough, even if I have different views about the level of risk management. However, how many times has something gone wrong as a result of bad advice on, or mis-selling of, insurance in the circumstance that the Bill seeks to tackle? I understand that she may not have that statistic, so perhaps she could write to Committee members to give us an idea of the size of the problem. It is quite plausible that there will be cases of which I have not heard, but it is also possible that the answer will be a very small number indeed.

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman is right, but he must accept that it is difficult to determine an accurate figure. I shall try to find such a figure and, if I do, I shall share it with the Committee, but I am not undertaking to write to every Committee member as it is not the business of Government to give best estimates, and I have a feeling that we are in that area.

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Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and sorry if she feels that I am hounding her—I am not—but I am interested in the tenor of her remarks as the Minister with responsibility for the voluntary and charitable sector. She talks about the need for amateur and voluntary bodies to have the highest possible standards, and nobody disagrees with that. However, the implication is that that will add significantly to their costs. Those of us who are involved in charity work know that it is hardest to raise money for back-office costs. Does she think that there are implications for the base costs of amateur and adventure bodies? If those costs are raised, the market will come into operation and we will lose even more of those bodies than we will if they do not have a proper statement of inherent risk, for instance.

Fiona Mactaggart: That is exactly the reason for the £80 million investment in infrastructure. As money for back-room activities is the hardest to raise, for too long there has been a kind of conspiracy—not a deliberate one—of operating on a shoestring. There is the risk that things will be done badly and possibly dangerously, although I do not think that there is any evidence that that is the case for insurance. That is not acceptable. It is, however, acceptable to have the highest standards of professionalism, compatible with amateur and voluntary activities, which would also develop the sector's capacity to do more and be more ambitious.

Mr. Dobson: I perfectly understand the Minister's desire to ensure that the insurance arrangements that any club, collection of clubs or sporting body might have will be effective and provide the cover that people want. However, if that is the case, rather than imposing the duty on Bloggsville rugby club, or whatever, would it not be best for the Financial Services Authority simply to lay out advice to all such clubs on what would be covered by their policies? Then they would not need any damn bureaucracy. If people did not comply, perhaps they would be subject to legal action.

Fiona Mactaggart: That is a sensible suggestion. In fact, it follows the Government's approach to the Bill. Many of the issues that the Bill raises can best be dealt with by policy and advice. Clear advice, which sets out the requirements for people, will help to overcome some of the myths that have created a perception that there will be an enormous burden to meet and a level of regulation that is not actually necessary.

Andrew Bennett: Would it not be a good idea, then, to leave the clause in the Bill? My hon. Friend the Minister could talk to the FSA and tell it to come up with the guidance by next week, and then we could remove it.

Fiona Mactaggart: I am making this contribution on the basis of supporting the desire of the hon. Member for Canterbury to remove the clause. Were he not to do that, I would press my amendments forcefully, but I hope that I will not need to do so. I have given the Committee an undertaking, which I will fulfil, that I will contact the FSA and try to ensure that guidance, in a form that can be understood by the referee on the front line and that properly assists the

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umbrella bodies to provide the services that they want to provide, is issued.

Mr. Brazier: There is one other thing that the Minister, who has been very helpful in dealing with our points, could promise the Committee. She could make a pledge to write to us to let us know whether there has been any instance at any time in the past few years of the problem that we are discussing arising. It would help if she could promise to let us have that information in writing.

Fiona Mactaggart: If such a case is drawn to my attention, I will certainly do that.

I sound as though I am trying to extend debate; I am not, as hon. Members looking at my wilting spine can tell. Either the clause is not necessary because the vast majority of those giving advice are not regulated by the FSA, or it risks creating an uneven playing field between the voluntary and the professional sectors, which we have sought to overcome. Going in a different direction that ensures the highest standards for all, with appropriate back-room support and delivery mechanisms—I understand that the FSA is designed more for commercial companies than rugby football associations—means that withdrawing the clause is the sensible thing to do.

Lembit Öpik: Rather than continuously intervening on the Minister, I thought it better to express my frustrations in one go. Up to this point, she has been unable to provide any evidence of an actual problem; she has talked only of a theoretical one. It reminds me of something that a physicist once said when he was not totally convinced of something: ''That's all very well in practice, but does it work in theory?''

We are in the same situation with this legislation. The Government are defending insurance arrangements and bureaucracy to solve a problem that I suspect barely exists in reality. They could take the same approach to other dangers, such as insufficient wood protection and termite control on the floor of a rugby bar, which could cause people to fall through the floor when stamping their feet and singing rugby songs. There is probably legislation somewhere to prevent that—perhaps in the building industry. I am sure that there is a health and safety regulation on noise to ensure that there is an upper limit to the level at which people can sing to avoid damaging people's hearing. There could also be regulations on potentially offensive words in such songs.

We can take the point further ad absurdum, but surely the Government's responsibility is to draw a line somewhere. The politics of common sense should intervene. Sadly, as my father said to me all too often when I was young, ''Sense is not common.'' I proved that by not really understanding what he meant for three years. If the Minister wants to convince the Committee that the Government are really cognisant of the problem that we are highlighting and, as she said at the beginning of this discussion, accept that we are not trying to eliminate risk, but to manage it in a

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responsible way, we deserve a better response than we have had so far.

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