Educationalists, Volunteers and Landowners should gain from Private Members Bill on Volunteering – House of Commons debate, Friday 5th March. 2004 [Compare this with the new  2006 Compensation Bill]

Ian Lewis, Director of the Campaign for Adventure, argues that a fully collaborative mind-set lies too far below the surface in political parties and government departments to benefit from most opportunities. Yet Friday's debate showed opportunity could be grasped by willing ministers and departments who must work together when imaginative solutions beckon. The second reading of Julian Brazier's private member's Bill on the facilitation of volunteering achieved unusually complete support from across the house.

It was voted through to its committee stage. According to Japan's 'Dr Gadget' (inventor of the floppy disk, and of over 3000 other patented ideas) there are two types of invention -'visible' and 'invisible'.. Last Friday morning 'volunteers' (for MP's are volunteering if in the House on a Friday) in the Commons were treated to a wealth of invisible invention within the Bill. All present enjoyed exposure to the social entrepreneurs world, the world of invisible inventions: opening doors to an evolving society through new awareness and creativity. Most stunningly, Home Office Minister Fiona MacTaggart "..welcomed, complimented, adopted and offered to work on this 'imaginative and sensitive Bill'.".

The Bill was already subject to cross-bench sponsorship from Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Smith, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Ian Taylor, Lindsay Hoyle , Bruce George, Charles Hendry, Jimmy Hood, Nick Hawkins, Tim Boswell and John Burnett, as well as support from eleven key organizations including The Campaign for Adventure, UK Youth Parliament, Skills Active, CCPR, St John Ambulance, YMCA, Youth Hostels Association, National Council for Voluntary Youth Service, UK Youth, Guides Association and London Association of Clubs for Young People. Amid the heated agreements operating in the house throughout the debate, Ian Taylor, stated, "£62bn was the researched value to UK society of volunteers and volunteering – more than the annual NHS spend in England and Wales. The other vital contribution was the feeling of well-being many gained by individuals through giving their time and skills to professional activities" The Minister replied "…that the Active Communities Unit was working on 'The Compact', which seeks to raise delivery awareness by volunteering organizations, ensuring they properly value their contribution and to ensure their professionalism is honoured."

The diverse clauses in the Bill – the main reason for its creativeness – transcend traditional boundaries of government thinking. For instance, the Bill would establish a certificate of 'Recognition of Inherent Risk' to help protect volunteers and organisations from unreasonable litigation, where sensible safety standards had been adhered to. This would not apply in cases of criminal liability. With regard to bureaucracy, the Bill seeks to remove the charges incurred by voluntary organisations for registering with the Criminal Records Bureau and for processing their paid staff; this would not reduce any protection for children, but would lighten the burden no voluntary organisations; it would protect umbrella organisations who provide compulsory insurance from their Members, from unreasonable regulation; provide for encouragement for the judiciary to undertake training to fully understand the implications of the act and better comprehend the inherent dangers associated with adventure sports; it would require The Lord Chancellor to report to both House of Parliament the numbers of judges attending such courses; it also seeks to introduce a 'Good Samaritan Act' to protect members of the public who assists those who are injured or suffering from later being sued for accidental injury or damage to property.

Finally it would establish a 'kitemark' for employers who encourage volunteering. Justifying the presentation of the Bill, Mr. Brazier stated "We must give volunteers a chance to help our society. They contribute so much and they want to do more. The whole tenant of the Bill is towards a more healthy society. More healthy physically – with less obesity, greater fitness, better sporting prowess, healthier lifestyles; more healthy socially – with less litigation, more support, more self-responsibility, less blame and more awareness of sensible risk-taking." Mr Brazier continued: "Volunteering has always been a crucial part of the British way of life. Today 10 million people volunteer each week and 22 million are involved each year. 60 per cent of volunteers say volunteering gave them an opportunity to learn new skills and 90 per cent of people agree with the notion that a society with volunteers shows a caring society". " Many of these are involved in sports or adventure training. Yet today one third of youngsters between the ages of two and 15 are overweight, including one in six who are clinically obese. Of all the 26 major countries in the developed world, Britain is now the third worst in clinical obesity after the United States and Mexico, with roughly one quarter of the population now obese."

In a recent presentation the Campaign for Adventure demonstrated that the threat of litigation and the growth of bureaucratic red tape are making it harder and harder for volunteers to offer challenges, especially to young people. At the same time Sport England has issued a joint press release with the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR ) pointing to the threat to volunteering from the same two factors. Ian Lewis, Director of The Campaign for Adventure quoted visionary writer E.M Forster in his "The Machine Stops". "Forster predicted so much about 21st century life, over a century ago, and not only televisions. Forster saw a society of couch-potatoes protected from even healthy risk-taking by the nanny state; where access to fresh air was forbidden (there are far too many unknowns out there – you could even get hurt!); where fitness was a crime (it could lead to overly adventurous spirits – a real problem for a well structured society!). It is the very freedom to commit to self-responsibility, to volunteer, to give, to make a contribution, to try new things and to evolve ourselves through diverse new experiences and new understandings – physical, intellectual emotional, spiritual and social – that is at the heart of being fully alive today."

Julian Brazier concluded: "Volunteering is a crucial part of our national way of life. People choose to give their time to help their communities; we owe it to them to minimise the red tape and risks of litigation associated with their work. Yet, whenever I talk to volunteers – ranging from those working for small charities through to teachers organising extra-curricular activities – they tell me that more and more of that time is absorbed in red tape, detracting from the essential work their organisations exist to provide." Contacts: Skillsactive: Tim Joiner 07734 717035 [Ian Lewis 07802423502] CCPR: Judith Wood 207 854 8532 Julian Brazier 02072195178