Promotion of Volunteering Bill

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Mr. Dobson: Nevertheless, the perception exists and those involved in sporting spheres recognise that there is a danger that people who have had an accident will just be left alone. If we do not legislate, it will look as though nothing is happening and nothing has changed, and the idea that someone might end up in court for trying to help will not be dashed by anything that is said in this Committee. What are the Government going to do to change the public perception?

The situation has changed. The advice that the Minister has received seems to be based on the assumption that things are as they have always been, but they are not—they have shifted in one direction. The intention of every proposal in this short Bill has been to reverse that extension. The perception to which I have referred remains, and if we do not do anything about the law or the perception of it, people will not get the helpful treatment that they would have otherwise have received.

Fiona Mactaggart: That is exactly why I have worked as hard as I have to find a way of dealing with that point and why I have offered to set up, within the framework of the Russell commission on the future of volunteering, a study about the barriers to volunteering that we are discussing, such as risk. It is also why I have had a number of meetings with the Department for Constitutional Affairs about how litigation is dealt with. I recognise that the perception exists, but we have a duty to think carefully about the problem. If it is a problem of perception rather than

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reality, what is the best mechanism to deal with that perception? If there is a real problem, we will require effective legislation to deal with it, but we can manage a perceived concern without legislation; indeed, legislation would be a bad solution in such circumstances because it would be unnecessary, and legislation that is not needed should not be introduced.

Mr. Brazier: I have a lot of sympathy with the point made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). However, the key distinction between this clause and clause 2 is that, whereas the latter trawled up a huge number of unsatisfactory court cases and out-of-court settlements, which we shall come to later, none of the people to whom I have spoken about issues arising from this clause has given an example of the law going wrong. The clause was drafted with the assistance of Roy Amlot QC, who made it clear that he drafted it as he did because, given the experience in America, he was concerned about the way in which future judgments might turn rather than because of any actual judgment.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 5 disagreed to.

Clause 1

Interpretation

Amendment proposed: No. 26, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, leave out

    'a voluntary organisation or volunteering body'

    and insert 'that organisation or body'.—[Fiona Mactaggart.]

Mr. Brazier: On a point of order, Mr. Amess. It might help the Committee if I tell the Minister that I am delighted to take on board the next two small drafting amendments. If she feels able to speak briefly on them, we can move on to the main group of amendments.

The Chairman: That is a very helpful point of order.

Fiona Mactaggart: I shall follow the hon. Gentleman's example of brevity. The amendments on this clause are significant because they are important for the whole of the volunteering sector.

I need to make clear to the Committee what a volunteer is. Until I became Minister with a responsibility for volunteers, I did not realise what a contested term it was.

Mr. Dobson: It used to be a well-known name for public houses.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my right hon. Friend. I cannot help feeling that that was a reference to the role of volunteers in the armed forces rather than to the type of volunteer that we are discussing.

As the Bill is drafted, the term could not apply to any person employed by a volunteering organisation or volunteering body who engaged in voluntary work in that organisation or body. It is entirely possible that an employee of such an organisation or body might give voluntary time to the organisation outside his or her contracted hours, and that possibility must be recognised in the interpretational terms. Our amendment is intended to clarify the description of a volunteer by tidying up the drafting of the definition.

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Are we also considering at this point the amendments to leave out paragraphs (b) and (c)?

Mr. Brazier: It is just amendment No. 26.

The Chairman: Order. I think that I am in the Chair. We are taking amendment No. 26.

Fiona Mactaggart: Thank you, Mr. Amess. I just wanted to make clear what we were discussing, and I have made all the points that I wish to make.

Mr. Brazier: I am happy to accept the amendment, and I apologise for intervening.

Amendment agreed to.

4.45 pm

Fiona Mactaggart: I beg to move amendment No. 27, in clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert—

    ' ''institution'' means a body corporate or unincorporated association that is formally constituted;'.

The amendment deals with the definition of a volunteering organisation and, in this case, an institution. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking the matter on board and agreeing with the view that we have taken. We are again trying to make it clear that an institution covers all those organisations in the sector that are commonly understood to be volunteering organisations in the usual meaning of the term.

Mr. Brazier: I am happy to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Fiona Mactaggart: I beg to move amendment No. 28, in clause 1, page 1, line 21, leave out

    ', other than an employee,'.

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

No. 29, in clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert

    '(other than a person acting in his capacity as an employee of that organisation or body)'.

No. 30, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 31, in clause 1, page 2, line 7, leave out paragraph (c).

Fiona Mactaggart: The purpose of the amendments is to clarify the term ''volunteer''. Under paragraph (b) of the part of the clause defining the term, it could be extended to a farmer or other landowner who permits his land to be used for voluntary or educational activity. As I have already stated, that provision has led me to receive a letter from an eager horsewoman who thinks that it will make more land available to ride on. I am concerned that that is an example of the ways in which the Bill has raised expectations that are unfounded, and I say to the hon. Member for Canterbury, who is frowning, that they will not be fulfilled.

As it is currently drafted, the Bill would allow a person to permit their land to be used for an activity even if they knew that it was inappropriate for some reason—it could be dangerous or unsuitable, for example—but to seek exemption from liability in the event of an accident that was directly caused by their

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negligence. The Bill could also encourage recklessness on the part of landowners in allowing the use of their land. Far from encouraging adventurous activity, it would open the gates to dangerous activity. I am sure that that is not the intention of the hon. Gentleman, but this is the territory on which we should debate the Bill.

Farmers and landowners must remain responsible for the condition of their land and ensure, insofar as they are able, that it is safe. If such persons are to allow their land to be used by others, they should ensure that it is in a condition that is appropriate for that use. It would not be right to allow farmers and landowners to abdicate their responsibilities and effectively neglect others.

Paragraph (c), as drafted, would afford instructors from the armed forces and the police, whether during paid employment or not, the status of volunteer. There are two issues at stake here.

Mr. Brazier: The paragraph refers to the cadet movement and to people in their capacity as instructors to cadets. I am sure that the Minister would want to clarify that.

Fiona Mactaggart: Indeed, but the point is whether or not those instructors are paid. That is an issue of importance to the volunteering sector, which is slightly different from the voluntary sector. There is much shared activity and concern, but some worries are specific to the volunteering sector and are not necessarily relevant to the voluntary sector, much of which is run mainly by professional staff. Let us suppose that an instructor is undertaking the supervision of an activity as part of his paid employment. As he is an employee, even if that supervision were of the training of cadets and so on, his responsibility in that capacity would be likely to be covered by the provisions of health and safety at work legislation.

If legislation arises from the Bill, it is important that it should not cut across health and safety at work legislation. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and that must remain intact. I am certain that it is not the hon. Gentleman's intention to remove that duty in respect of employees who are undertaking a particular part of their job. However, that would be the effect of the provision. Furthermore, I do not believe that he intends to lessen the impact of the Bill for cadet leaders or trainees in such services. They all require discipline, and introducing the proposed statement of inherent risk in such circumstances could open the gates to recklessness. I do not believe that he would want that either.

If an instructor from one of the services were acting in a voluntary capacity and other than in his paid employment, he would in any event be covered by the term ''volunteer'' as it is clarified under my previous amendment, provided that the organisation in which he is working is covered by the definition under the Bill. In those circumstances, there would be no need to identify him specifically.

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The amendments are intended to ensue that the Bill is more clear about what a volunteer is and to tidy up the drafting of the definition, which has an impact beyond that of the Bill in terms of the way in which the sector uses the term ''volunteer''.

 
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