PROMOTION OF VOLUNTEERING BILL – 17 July 2004

Dr Julian Lewis: It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), primarily because every word she said reeked of common sense, as is usual when she makes a contribution. This is no exception. I believe that the absence of common sense among certain members of the judiciary, coupled with greed among certain members of the legal profession, have made it necessary for my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Julian Brazier) to introduce such a measure.

To this day, I have a healthy respect for glass doors because, when I was about seven and a member of a youth group, I had an accident involving a collision with one. I carry the scars to this day. It never crossed my mind that that accident was anybody's fault but my own, yet if it happened to somebody today I have no doubt that there would be a huge temptation for that child and the parents to see what could be done to extract a large sum from the group concerned.

That in itself would not matter if the judiciary took a robust, common-sense and reasonable view of how it ought to treat cases, without merit, of that sort; but it does not. There is a separation of powers, as we all know, between this Chamber and the judiciary, so I will not pursue that line of argument further other than to say that one sometimes wonders what sort of world some judges inhabit.

I have only a single extra point to add to the debate: when one is cocooned as a child, one is living in an artificial world, but when one becomes an adult one is living in the real world. The question that parents and youth group leaders have to decide – in their different ways, their different spheres and their different contexts – is how much cocooning must be done and how much preparation there must be for the real world.

I say to those who believe that children must not be exposed to any significant risk that they should ask themselves a single simple question, which is: "What sort of favour are you doing for that child, who will eventually, whether you like it or not, have to go out into the real world, face real risks and live with real consequences?" The more those people delay a child having to face up to the consequences of his own actions, the more they expose that child to the risk of having to live with the much more serious consequences of his actions when he becomes an adult.

This problem is being seen not only in relation to children, but even in relation to something called the Working at Height Directive, which was dreamed up in Europe for the perfectly good reason that people working in industry on high buildings needed maximum protection. In this country, however, there are moves to gold-plate that by saying that people engaged in mountaineering or caving must have double the number of ropes and ladders. As usual, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and ideas that are meant to promote safety will ultimately make the activities more dangerous.

I do not wish to stray further from the new clause other than to observe that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has achieved a coup in securing the valued support of right hon. and hon. Labour and Liberal Democrat Members (Frank Dobson and John Burnett) who have made a convincing case. If the Bill and new clause are judged on their merits, there should be no doubt that they will proceed.