Promotion of Volunteering Bill

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): That was a helpful contribution, because, in effect, we were seeking a version of my hon. Friend's suggestion in the earlier discussions with the hon. Member for Canterbury. That is why the Government did not get in the way of the Bill on Second Reading. We recognise that there is an issue and that is must be addressed. One of the probable reasons why the CCPR said in the letter from Margaret Talbot that it felt that this issue could be progressed through policy was because there might be ways other than legislation to achieve the end. My hon. Friend described one such way.

To some degree, the problem is to do with timing. We could try to develop practice in governing bodies that includes not only the kind of proposal that has been made, but collective insurance schemes, which we know help in other parts of the voluntary sector. We have a problem with insurers loading premiums, but they nevertheless help to drive down excessive premiums. We need to drill through those things as policy.

I hope that it will help the Committee if I say that, although we are resisting the Bill, we have not given up on examining other ways of trying to achieve those ends. That might include the kind of approach that the hon. Member for Canterbury suggested. We did not resist the Bill on Second Reading because we accepted that there is an issue to be addressed. Our concern is that the particular way of addressing it that we are

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discussing permits negligence, although not reckless negligence. If his amendments were accepted, it would be a dangerous solution that would create alternative problems.

Before the Bill came before the Committee, we did not have time to get agreement across the voluntary sector about how we can find an alternative way of progressing these matters. I will have a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism next month to discuss the FSA, and we will also discuss the proposal to which I referred. I gave that commitment to the Committee. We are not saying, ''Do not touch this issue with a barge pole'', because we want to fix it.

There is a specific issue about sport, which is probably slightly different and in some ways easier to manage than issues relating to some other adventurous activities. That is a further problem that we must address. In sports there are rules of the game and so on, so many things can create clarity about how one manages risk. In most games, the rules are about risk management to some degree. They are not all about that; they are mostly about how one wins, and who wins and loses. None the less, the question of who can be involved in a scrum and so on are classic risk management on the part of the rugby regulations. The idea of protecting the right to the rough and tumble of sport is one that the Government can be enthusiastic about. Does the Bill do that? I think that it does not.

The hon. Member for Canterbury suggested that the 1962 case gives us a test on reckless negligence. It is unlikely that the courts will follow a case that is that old. I tried to understand this matter, and being a non-lawyer, like most people in this Room, it was quite hard to do so. What is the difference between manifestly unreasonable and reckless negligence? What is the difference between negligence and reckless negligence? I asked for examples, because I can only think in examples. I was advised that if a leader leaves children doing gymnastics unsupervised for a couple of minutes while he puts the kettle on and a child falls and is injured, he will have been negligent, but probably not reckless. If he spends a long time away it will probably be reckless negligence.

As I said, if someone has been warned about safety equipment, the weather forecast or some other risk, it may add an element of recklessness. It is a problem that needs to be solved. When it comes to children, I think that we need to solve it through policy rather than by permitting negligence, which is what the Bill would do.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I welcome the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham); his suggestion would help sports with national governing bodies whose rules are broadly followed by all their practitioners. It would not, however, cover the legions who play the non-competitive but challenging sports in which individuals and groups deliberately do exciting and risky things.

I hope that, roughly speaking, we can report the Bill as originally set out, but I would support the amendments proposed by the hon. Member for

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Canterbury. Before Report, Government lawyers should try to come up with a formula that will incorporate in the Bill a sound proposal for dealing with major competitive sports that have national rules.

Andrew Bennett: Before my right hon. Friend gets too enthusiastic about national rules, may I ask about those on a Sunday school outing to Scarborough who decide to play cricket? Would it count as cricket if they used a tennis ball?

Mr. Dobson: As ever, my hon. Friend has put his finger on the point—and better that I was doing. Such children would not be covered by the national rules or laws of cricket; it would be a casual effort. As things stand at present, if one of them fell over something on the beach, I suspect that those who had organised the Sunday school trip would be frightened that mad lawyers, foaming at the mouth, would go running round to the parents trying to make money out of it. That is the world that we live in, and we need to protect people against that.

Mr. Reed: I accept what my right hon. Friend says, but I think that the difficulty can be addressed through national associations. I cannot imagine that, just before the children started playing, someone would rush around with a form saying that everyone needed to sign a statement of inherent risk. That is where the difficulty lies. At what point do we sign a statement of inherent risk? Would a Sunday school teacher have to plan the cricket game on the beach for later in the day?

Mr. Dobson: It is not the Bill that will cause Sunday school teachers to wonder whether they need to protect themselves against lawyers. It is the present circumstances that make people bothered about it. The Bill is an attempt to address that problem.

We need to promote risk taking by young people. I remember, some years ago, that Nadia Comaneci, whose nationality I cannot remember—she may have been Czech, or perhaps Romanian or Hungarian—

Hon. Members: Romanian.

Mr. Dobson: Right; she was Romanian. Nadia Comaneci was a star gymnast. She was chosen to represent her country because she was taking the most alarming and breathtaking risks, but in a rough adventure playground littered with broken cars and other such things. It was that risk-taking element that made her name, and it was encouraged. Society is now deliberately discouraging risk taking; but we cannot afford to allow that to happen, as it will affect the mental and physical health of young people.

As Report is not for the best part of a month, I hope that we can get together and come up with a formula that would take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh. There is a great deal of good will on both sides, not least from the Minister, who has been working hard on this. Possibly we will have to stick to what we have done for the other activities; there are no national bodies for many risk-taking activities.

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Mr. Hoyle: There is a slight anomaly. The national office does not cover some of the rugby league teams when they play; I used to play rugby union sevens. Sometimes, national bodies will not cover the insurance, so safeguards have to be built in.

I hope that what is suggested will allow for that, and cover those national bodies that would not be covered under their constitutional rules, but would need special provision. The Minister could take that on board and come back at a future date to say how we could overcome the issues for those kinds of games as well.

Mr. Dobson: My hon. Friend has put his finger on something. We live in an imperfect, strange world, in which things overlap and fall short. We need to make sure that whatever law we pass is fairly simple and straightforward and to encourage folks who are just trying to organise a bit of sport or something else to occupy young people who may otherwise not occupy themselves in a way that is beneficial to the rest of society or themselves.

Andy Burnham: On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, it would be unlikely for those young people to sign a certificate before going off to Scarborough, Whitby or wherever. That is the danger with the system.

We have the kind of society that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras is rightly worried about. We are all panicking and filling in forms; one cannot do anything without signing something away. I have proposed to use the systems and structures that are already in place and that regulate all those activities.

Let us be honest: almost all such activities have a regulatory structure, either with a light touch or, with the main sports, a more heavy touch. That is a way of reaching them. A person does not want to be in the position of having bits of paper flying around when all they want to do is take a few kids for a kick around on the beach.

Mr. Dobson: We are talking about what in old-fashioned times used to be described as competitive games. Nearly all competitive games have national bodies with national rules, and my hon. Friend's proposition would cope with them.

However, as I understand it, there are no national rules for rock climbing, caving, orienteering or other activities coming under the old-fashioned definition of sport or adventure activity. There may be some bodies; in some cases, confusingly, there will be several national bodies with a few rules about how one ought to go about things, but those rules do not apply as the rules for organised games do. We need to come up with something that would cover both the area for which my hon. Friend's proposals are apt and useful, and the other areas for which they are not.

My final point is that young people need to do things that excite them. The worst thing that a young person can say about anything we offer is that it is boring; that is the ultimate insult to grown-ups. If we de-risk things to such an extent that the reputable and organised

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things are boring, young people will do risky things outside the system. That will be a hell of a lot more dangerous for them, and with the devil making work for idle hands, it will probably be a lot worse for the rest of us as well.

3.15 pm

 
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