Promotion of Volunteering Bill

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Mrs. Lait: I listened carefully to the Minister's explanation of why she opposed the paragraphs to which the amendments apply. I was struck by her clear reason for excluding the cadets on the grounds of the Health and Safety Executive's duty of overriding care to the employee, which I absolutely accept. I was also struck by the importance that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury placed on the position of these organisations. It is not beyond the wit of the Committee to agree with both sides of the argument, because if there is an overriding duty of care to the employee, all that is needed is the addition in the relevant paragraph of the acceptance of that duty. I am not in the business of drafting legislation—there are greater experts on that subject than me—but in the spirit of compromise, and given that we believe that there is a need to ensure that the—

Mr. Brazier: I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive my interruption, but we must be clear: the powers of the HSE are completely unaffected by the Bill. They deal only with criminal law, while we are dealing with a civil matter.

Mrs. Lait: I am grateful for that additional advice. My hon. Friend is a much greater expert than I am, but I am trying to be helpful and to show that we recognise that there is a duty to the employee under HSE legislation. If we could recognise that point in some way, that might be a way of gaining agreement on including—rightly, in my view—his intention to recognise the slightly anonymous role of the cadets. That is very easy for us all to do, because I am sure that we all have cadets in our constituencies. My

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constituency is in leafy suburbia, but it is suburbia none the less. It has sea scouts, air cadets and army cadets, and police cadets are being re-established. Those groups are always looking for somewhere to go for adventure training. It is just as important for my cadets to have access to adventure training as it is variously defined in the Bill as it is for those in the constituency of my hon. Friend in rural Kent, where access to the sea in particular is much easier.

It is very important for us all to ensure the continuation of the cadets. I would hate us inadvertently to be unable to allow the cadets to thrive for the very reason given by my hon. Friend—the tremendous help that they can give to so many youngsters who come from difficult backgrounds. Leafy Beckenham has plenty of children who come from difficult backgrounds.

Mr. Brazier: An amendment was tabled for exactly that reason, but I struggle to find the number—my hon. Friend will have to bear with me. Clause 2(3)(b) already states:

    ''not purport to exempt or exclude the volunteer, employee, voluntary body or voluntary organisation or any of its servants or agents from any criminal liability''.

The amendment in question is therefore redundant, as that would be the effect of the Bill without it. I am, however, happy that the amendment was tabled.

Mrs. Lait: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for helping the Minister to solve these problems, which is what we are in the business of trying to do. I do not have a difficulty in principle with what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve.

Another query concerns farmers. I am conscious that, under the changes in the common agricultural policy, more and more farmers are establishing nature reserves on their own private land. Such reserves are not tourist attractions and are not managed as such, but they are managed under the countryside stewardship scheme and, by their nature, many of them are re-establishing marshlands, lakes and ponds to attract wildlife. My hon. Friend referred to a similar matter. We must ensure that a farmer would not be affected by groups such as sea scouts or, as the Minister mentioned, the lady who went riding through a nature reserve that is open to the public. There are some lawyers in the Committee who can clarify the matter.

Mr. Reed: One thing that I am not is a lawyer. I am on record in the House as being as fervent about lawyers as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

Mr. Dobson: I represent thousands of them.

Mr. Reed: I am sure that there are plenty left. I shall not repeat what I said earlier.

Like many hon. Members here, I am sympathetic to what is being attempted. Having heard the Minister and the hon. Member for Beckenham, I would like clarification on how much effort a farmer or landowner should make to ensure safety in the light of the blame culture. The example of the neighbour of the hon. Member for Canterbury comes to mind; if something happened with a rusty old car or whatever,

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who would be responsible? Even with a statement of inherent risk, how much effort should the farmer make to reduce that risk? If, despite that, there were still a problem, how much responsibility should the farmer take? Should that be highlighted in the Bill as a separate entity compared with other activities that are provided for elsewhere? I should be interested to hear the hon. Lady's interpretation. I am thinking of people who are not landowners or farmers, but may own educational establishments or buildings.

Mrs. Lait: My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury might say, ''How long is a piece of string?'' We are trying to deal with a particular situation. I was extrapolating from nature reserves and the hon. Gentleman is extrapolating from other

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areas. We might prefer not go down that route in this Committee, but it brings up a point made by the Minister. My first reaction was that the Countryside Act 1981 defines who has access. On who has responsibility, we would all like to think that people were sufficiently responsible, but I see difficulties. Rather than continue down this route, which would expand the Bill, the best thing might be for me to allow my hon. Friend to clarify the answers to those questions.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Brazier.]

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Five o'clock till Wednesday 12 May at half-past Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Bennett, Andrew
Boswell, Mr.
Brazier, Mr.
Burnham, Andy
Dobson, Mr.
Hoey, Kate
Hoyle, Mr.
Lait, Mrs.
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mountford, Kali
Öpik, Lembit
Reed, Mr.
Taylor, Mr.
Wyatt, Mr.

 
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