I have been largely out of action for a short while following the sudden and untimely death of my daughter Lydia in a tragic car accident in Australia in May, which has knocked me and my family for six. I am back working now, and I am reminded what a privilege it is to be part of the APIL team. Our vice-president, Jonathan Wheeler, in particular, has covered my responsibilities in my absence, and to impressive effect.
I come back to the many challenges we face, and I’ll be taking forward our objectives, which we will be working hard to meet.
A Bill to protect heroes. The concept is populist and eye catching, but the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill is at best needless, and at worst dangerous.
The Bill represents a re-statement of the law as it currently stands in the Compensation Act 2006. It is therefore literally superfluous, and unnecessary. If that is not enough, the impact assessment of the Bill claims that: ‘There is some evidence to suggest that worries about risk and/or liability can deter people from participating in voluntary or charitable activities’. This is based on a 2006/7 national survey of just under 300 respondents. This evidence is apparently contradicted by a more recent and extensive survey referred to in a Cabinet Office press release issued in February last year, which stated that a survey of 2000 adults showed a ‘sharp rise in volunteering, which reverses the steady decline since 2005’.
In fact, the law will offer no new protection to ‘heroes’. True heroism should not necessitate negligent behaviour, and any accommodation of negligence is wholly inappropriate.
Thankfully the Bill does not change the law of negligence. However, more worryingly, those employing volunteers might be encouraged to relax rigorous risk assessment which could put children and other vulnerable people in harm’s way Consider for a moment the possibility of corner cutting by a chairperson of a children’s football club, in vetting the suitability of volunteers in the belief that they are afforded protection because they are ‘acting for the benefit of society’, under the terms of the Bill. Children under the care of such volunteers might be made more vulnerable as a result of corner-cutting.
This proposed legislation is poor from every angle, and gives the very clear impression that meaningful statutory change is being by-passed in pursuit of courting populist appeal.