Promotion of Volunteering Bill

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Judy Mallaber: Given that the Bill now covers the whole range of volunteering organisations, and the scope is not limited, does the hon. Gentleman believe that his definition is relevant to all those areas that have nothing to do with adventure and sports, and that all the other volunteering groups could be brought within the Bill's scope?

Mr. Brazier: Apart from the very distinguished report on the wider issue of recreation, which covers a very wide spectrum of activities and comes from the review chaired by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, which I understand was established by the Government, some of the strongest submissions that I received were from voluntary organisations such as St. John Ambulance, which believe that it is unfair that the same level of negligence should apply to

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voluntary organisations and those who work for them in carrying out voluntary activities. Members of the Committee may genuinely disagree, but it seems fair to protect volunteers and voluntary organisations in this way. Relatively few cases have nothing to do with sport, adventure training and recreation. Is dancing a recreation? I argue that it is, and that it is perfectly reasonable to include it in the context that we are discussing.

Amendment No. 8—my final amendment in this group—simply makes it clear that no one needs to have an SIR, and that a court should not take it into account if people do not have them. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that we do not make things harder for people who choose not to produce SIRs.

Unless we have a stand part debate for this clause, this will be the last debate to deal with the heart of the Bill. We still have significant debates to come on additional provisions, but I want to tell Committee members, who have toiled long and hard on this voluntary activity, something about coming to a Committee on a private Member's Bill.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a bit hazardous.

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Mr. Brazier: Indeed. Today's events on the Floor of the House have shown it to be more hazardous than we realised.

The problem has sprung up in the past 12 years, and it is one of the great problems of our era. As the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, it appears to stem from legislation that has lain dormant for a long time. It stymies voluntary activity in sport and recreation in this country, and it is the reason why 80,000 are children waiting to become guides and boy scouts, but cannot do so. It is also the No. 1 cause of people leaving the voluntary sector. The Bill is designed to tackle the problem, and this clause is at the heart of the Bill.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate. As well as being a Government stooge, I have a few views of my own to add. I have played a lot of sport and have been on the receiving end of a few reckless knocks. I have probably also given a few out. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough and I are playing on the parliamentary football team tomorrow; we are playing the Iraqi national team, so some inherent risk may well be involved in that encounter.

I have a huge passion for and interest in sport, and I believe that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is right to address this problem, which is besetting sport. My constituency has a lot of rugby league clubs, as does that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). In recent years, insurance premiums in rugby league have soared from a few hundred pounds into the thousands. I have heard stories about ex-players being contacted and asked whether they want to bring a claim for an injury that they sustained when they were playing. There is no doubt that there is a genuine issue to be addressed.

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However, I must say to the hon. Member for Canterbury—perhaps he will not like this as much—that I foresee problems with the solution that he has proposed in clause 2. I see three problems with the system of the statement of inherent risk. First, a lot of bureaucracy will be involved in ensuring that all the paperwork is in order. There will be lots of pieces of paper flying around, and clubs will have to find out who has signed what.

Secondly, being asked to sign statements could put people off sport, especially with regard to children whose parents have doubts about their playing certain sports. We must consider that it might turn people off rougher sports. People who would currently go into such sports with their eyes open and knowing the risks might decide not to do so if their attention were focused on the risks.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. There was a case involving a Leigh Miners player and a player from Wigan St. Patrick's in which one player's mouth was damaged and his jaw was broken in a tackle when the other player kicked out too hard. Witnesses were asked to give their views, and even though the tackle was thought to be quite legitimate, it ended up with one player being sent to jail. The referee and people in the crowd had to give statements and come forward as witnesses. Everyone was involved. If anything is likely to put people off rugby league, it is incidents such as that. I hope that we will never have to see such an event again. People in rugby league are aware of what can happen, and about having to fill in forms and make witness statements. They have seen that already. That case arose in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh.

Andy Burnham: I am grateful for that intervention, and the club in my constituency that my hon. Friend mentions has a proud tradition in rugby league. He has put his finger on the problem: where does the rough and tumble of sport end and wilful harm and negligence begin? That is the crucial issue that we are discussing.

Under the Bill, there is the potential for confusion because people can define their own statement of risk. Two opposing teams could have different statements because they view the risks involved in their sport differently.

Mr. Reed: I know that we discussed this point earlier, but I have some difficulties with it. I understand my hon. Friend's point about everyone in a team signing up, but what would happen in a rugby game in which one team had signed a statement of inherent risk and the other had not? The referee would be trying to referee a game in which there were contradictory elements. Would it not be better for each national governing body to take responsibility so that people could buy into a whole scheme when they registered for a club? In the same way, when I sign up with my local rugby team at the beginning of the season, I buy into the whole process.

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Andy Burnham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which I was coming to. He highlights a real problem with the Bill, because we may have different certificates or one team may be covered while the other is not. That would raise real issues about the legal status of each team.

Mr. Brazier: There is a solution, as the hon. Member for Loughborough suggested. Just as all the national governing bodies are free to lay down the insurance requirements involved in tendering, they could lay down requirements for an agreed standard certificate of risk.

There is one additional point. Anyone who joins a club at the moment—my sons recently joined Whitstable rugby club and Whitstable yacht club—already signs a document. We are simply putting some legal force behind the kind of documents that people already sign.

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman is coming to the solution that I am going to propose. I have carefully considered the issue—indeed, I was thinking about it anyway—and we are coming to almost the same conclusion. Whether it can be made to work is a matter for the Minister, and perhaps she will advise us. However, there is an issue on which we could agree.

We must rope off the rough and tumble of sport from the lawyers. As I said, those who seek to generate claims have sought to get into that territory, but the issues that they raise are simply sporting issues. Those who contact ex-players and encourage them to make claims should not be venturing into that territory, because some things are just part of playing sport. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, we need to protect sport from such things, but we do not want to create a whole new raft of paperwork for clubs, which feel that they already have too much to deal with. Crucially, we do not want to leave people exposed when they take to a sports pitch; we want to ensure that they are adequately covered and that the statement to which they sign up does not give too much away.

I hope that I am being helpful to the hon. Member for Canterbury when I say that there is a simpler solution. Indeed, he just mentioned it, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough. The risks involved in each sport vary, and tennis is less dangerous than cricket, as far as I can see. It should therefore be for the governing body of each sport to define the risks inherent in it and to set them out in a clear statement to all potential participants.

Judy Mallaber: How would that principle apply to areas other than sport that are in the Bill's purview or which the promoter wants to include? Play has been mentioned many times, and there could be different statements in different play facilities throughout the country. The idea of talking about reckless disregard, to return to a previous point, fills me with some horror. How would my hon. Friend's principle apply to areas that have no sports governing body, such as all the other voluntary groups, some of which will have things in common, such as different playing facilities?

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Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend has put her finger on an important point, and I would not profess to say now that I have a full answer to it.

My experience is in sport, and I am looking principally at the governing bodies of sport and how they seek to regulate and protect the interests of those who play their sports. There is an issue about the broader scope of the Bill and the range of activities that go well beyond competitive sport. There are umbrella organisations and associations for voluntary activities, such as the Scout Association, and I can think of many others. If the proposed system is acceptable for sport, there is potential to read across.

I will not detain the Committee too long, but I want to develop the thinking. If each sport produced the agreed statement of inherent risks—cricket would be different from tennis, which would be different from football, which would be different from rugby—the statements would be incorporated into the registration forms referred to by the hon. Member for Canterbury, which each player signs at the start of a new season. I am a Football Association registered player, with a club that I play for locally; I am sure that the my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough has signed forms that register him with the Rugby Football Union.

If the signing-on forms for all players incorporated the statement of risks and the acceptance of those risks, we would have a far less bureaucratic system. We would also not sign away too much, as that would leave those people not properly protected under a more ad hoc and hazardous system at grass-roots level. When anything happened in a game, it would then be for the courts to decide whether the instance in question went beyond the rough and tumble that one would expect to find as a player of that sport or whether it was a case such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley, in which the intent was to harm and to cause injury and what happened went beyond the playing of the game. In football, such a case might involve a reckless two-footed tackle, for instance, which is prohibited under the laws of the game. It would be for the court to make the judgment—as it would have to make the judgment that my hon. Friend referred to, concerning the reasonable risk taken on by a spectator—as to whether the action went beyond the risks normally involved in pursuing an activity and, if so, who would be liable for exposing that person to risk.

In the spirit of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, could the Minister take away the idea and think creatively about the correct point that the hon. Member for Canterbury is trying to address? Is there not a more simple, straightforward arrangement, which could be regulated top down by the governing bodies of sport? After all, they are the people who regulate what goes on in sport and we should empower them to control what goes on beneath them. Could we not agree that rather than creating a statement, the Bill could place a legal duty on governing bodies to define the risk that

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their sport exposes people to? We could require them to sign all participants up to that standard, so that the participants knowingly sign up to the risk.

That would help governing bodies. They would not lose players who are frightened off by talk of great risk, but they would also be helped in their negotiations with the insurance industry. If they could show that the registration forms contained that statement and that all players had to sign up to it, and if there were no question of a player being not covered, which would include every footballer in the country from 40,000 football clubs—just think how many registered players there are—we would know that every single one of them had signed up to the principle of having accepted the inherent risk of their sport. The FA would be able to go to the insurance industry and secure better terms for its member clubs than it can secure under the current system.

I strongly support the discussions that we had in an earlier sitting about the Financial Services Authority looking flexibly and leniently at how sports pursue their insurance cover. The two go together: the British Amateur Rugby League Association handles cover for rugby league clubs, and if the governing bodies were to have that control, they would get better, cheaper insurance and we would have achieved the aim of the Bill, which is not to lose volunteers or people who play sport. There is a lot in what the hon. Member for Canterbury said, but there is a slightly simpler solution and I hope that the Minister will give it some consideration.

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