Promotion of Volunteering Bill

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Fiona Mactaggart: The amendments deal with the provision of training courses about volunteering for members of the judiciary. Although I have joined hon. Members in criticising the lawyering class, the Government are not persuaded that a statutory programme of specialist training for members of the judiciary is required or justified. As I have pointed out,

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the judiciary in its most recent cases and at the most senior level has made it clear that it accepts and understands the concept of inherent risk. Under current law, there is already a defence of volenti non fit injuria—the voluntary assumption of risk. We have discussed that a lot. It is well recognised that that defence can be relied on in cases involving dangerous activities, such as sports. Judges are also expected to take into account any contributory negligence, as has happened in many of the cases.

One difficulty in discussing such cases is that many do not go to court. However, I found a 1995 case of a Girl Guide and spitting sausages. Contrary to the hon. Member for Canterbury, the claim made on her behalf did not succeed, even though it was recognised that sausages do spit. We need to look at what really happens when things get to court, rather than what people do when they bring a claim. Hon. Members have rightly sought to take action to diminish the number of claims. The Government are enthusiastic about that. I have mentioned various reviews and studies that we are trying to put in place to reduce the number of claims. That is the best way to deal with the problem.

How do we train judges? The Judicial Studies Board is an independent body funded by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and it is in charge of training. Although it is not set out by statute, the board is responsible for such matters. It decides on training requirements and delivers that training to judges. The board's objectives include the provision of high-quality training to full and part-time judges in the exercise of their jurisdiction in civil, criminal and family law, advising the Government on the training requirements of judges, if proposed changes to the law, procedure or court organisation are to be effective, and providing and advising on the content of such training. A memorandum of understanding between the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Judicial Studies Board sets out how the board will operate its business and how its relationship with the Lord Chancellor and Parliament will be conducted.

That is why the Government are pressing this group of amendments. The proposed regulations would add nothing that the board's remit does not already cover. Its job is to decide on the overall balance of courses and to ensure that it protects judicial impartiality. It would be disproportionate and inappropriate to require the Secretary of State to prescribe specific training by way of regulations in this area—or, for that matter, in any such area. That would raise the issue of the relationship between the Government and the judiciary. It is being proposed that Sport England, the Central Council of Physical Recreation or other such bodies as the Secretary of State sees fit may establish training courses under subsection (5).

The JSB believes that that task is its job, that it has the resources to provide judicial training and that it has the administrative expertise to do so in a legal way. The JSB invites outside speakers to attend its events. When I was the chairman of the all-party group of

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which the hon. Member for Canterbury was vice-chairman, we tried to feed people into judicial studies training who had first-hand experience of dealing with people with learning disabilities who had been abused.

There was some engagement in the training of people with experience of working with people with disabilities, although not perhaps in quite the detail that we had wanted. Nevertheless, it is clear from our experience of that group that the JSB is willing to invite appropriately experienced people to contribute to its training courses. The overall balance of its courses is rigorously maintained by the course directorate and it is important that the independence of the judiciary and its separation from Parliament is regarded as one of the valuable aspects of our constitution.

The proposal under the Bill to mandate the provision of the training of judges by such bodies will be a break with the long-standing and acceptable method of delivering their training, which is designed to protect judicial impartiality. There is an obvious problem, for example, of creating a perception of bias. Let us suppose that a judge heard a case that had been brought against an organisation that was funded and trained by Sport England. Not only would that undermine potential confidence in the judiciary, but it could lead to further litigation, a problem that we are trying to avoid.

I have worries about the principle of the proposal, although I know that its motives are good. If the Bill were enacted, I hope that the JSB might consider our discussions and make the decisions. There could be practical problems with how that could be done, how it will be funded and how will it deal with the practical problems of providing courses and selecting judges for training. Clearly, such decisions will have to be made by the JSB. The structure of the proposal has problems.

I suggest that the training that the JSB might wish to mount under the Bill forms part of a larger event. Stand-alone courses could be extremely expensive because of the additional costs of travel, judge release and so on. For reasons of principle, practicality and cost, we suggest that clause 2(6) is at best unnecessary and that it could be harmful.

Under clause 2(7), the Lord Chancellor shall

    ''lay a report before each House of Parliament setting out''

the training courses provided and the number of judges who attended them. I assure the Committee that the JSB is already required under its memorandum of understanding to publish by 30 June each year a report to the Lord Chancellor on its activities and place copies of it in the Library of both Houses of Parliament. The report sets out the number of judges who attended the courses and the topics that were covered in each course. Given that the requirement is already covered, clause 2(7) is unnecessary. The Government believe that subsections (5), (6) and (7) are disproportionate, which is why our amendments would delete them.

Mr. Brazier: I recommend that the Committee accepts the Government's amendments. However, I do so with a heavy heart. I have been truly shocked by some of the cases that have been unearthed during our

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proceedings. Incidentally, the case of the Girl Guides is different in that £5,000 was paid to the parents—this is the case about which I was notified—but it was a disguised case, so unlike most of the cases to which I have referred, I cannot give chapter and verse about it.

The judiciary has suffered severe problems. I am willing to accept the Minister's amendments without further ado for two brief reasons, one of which is positive, the other negative. On the positive side, unlike the half of the Bill about which we disagreed over whether the judiciary could be tackled by non-legislative means, there is to some extent a non-legislative route whereby the problems could be sorted out. The Minister and I had a happy experience, which she has described accurately. When we establish the all-party group on adventure training and recreation, which I hope that all members of the Committee will join, we can get the JSB to talk to it. That is the positive reason.

The negative reason could be stated much more succinctly. I am assured that if the subsection were to remain in the Bill, it would not have the smallest chance of getting through another place, because every Law Lord would be there to oppose it.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 57, in clause 2, page 3, line 16, leave out subsection (6).

No. 58, in clause 2, page 3, line 19, leave out subsection (7).

No. 59, in clause 2, page 3, line 25, at end insert—

    '( ) In this section ''guardian'' means a guardian of a child within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 and includes a special guardian within the meaning of that Act.'.—[Fiona Mactaggart.]

    Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

    The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 3.

    Division No. 11]

    AYES
    Bennett, Andrew
    Boswell, Mr. Tim
    Brazier, Mr. Julian
    Dobson, Mr. Frank
    Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
    Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
    Mallaber, Judy
    Öpik, Lembit

    NOES
    Burnham, Andy
    Mactaggart, Fiona
    Mountford, Kali

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 disagreed to.

Mr. Brazier: On a point of order, Mr. Amess. There are many confused faces. Clause 6 would have been necessary only had we kept provisions that we agreed to remove. There is no money involved in the rest of the Bill.

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The Chairman: Order. That was a very helpful point of order.

Clause 7

Short title, commencement and effect

Fiona Mactaggart: I beg to move amendment No. 61, in clause 7, page 4, line 22, at end insert—

    '(1A) This Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order and different days may be so appointed for different purposes.'.

I do not intend to press the amendment, but I tabled it because it is important to consult on how to make these things work in practice. That has become clear in our debate. Everybody in this Room believes that there is a problem that ought to be addressed, but we have had disagreements about how to deal with it and concerns about to make it work in practice. That is why the Government have tabled a common type of amendment.

One of the reasons why the hon. Member for Canterbury and I have not been able to find a common position is that in order to try to find ways of resolving the matter the Government need to address issues such as consultation. It is important that bodies affected by new legislation should be given sufficient notice to prepare for the smooth implementation of its provisions.

3.45 pm

However, I have seen the hon. Gentleman's notes. He is concerned that the Government should not be at liberty to determine when or whether the Bill comes into force. As he was not willing to allow us to consult on the range of providers that should be within the scope of the statement of inherent risk regime, and to include them in secondary legislation, I do not see a great deal of point in moving the amendment at this stage. We need to undertake further consultation if we are to make the proposals work. However, I do not want to pick a fight on an issue on which the hon. Gentleman has no trust in me.

 
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