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Acting for the Public Good

Volume 583: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2014

4. What steps he is taking to tackle the perception that people taking voluntary action for the public good can run the risk of being sued for negligence. (904566)

We want people to feel able to take action for the public good without worrying about being sued if something goes wrong. We have therefore introduced the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill to provide reassurance that if that does happen the court will take full account of the context and the fact that they were acting for the benefit of society. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) saying that it is rubbish, so he is opposed to clamping down on the health and safety culture and to backing our citizens. I would rather be where I stand than where he stands.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right. There is a growing perception that people risk being sued for things like clearing snow from their path, leading a school trip or helping in an emergency situation. I know he would agree that the Government should protect everyday heroes in our constituencies who get involved in such things. What further steps would help to address these important issues and the lack of common sense that people think takes place in the system at the moment?

As the Bill moves through the House and on to the statute book, I hope every hon. Member will make their constituents aware of the change that we are pushing through. But there is another important part of the Bill that my hon. Friend has not mentioned, which is the responsibility pieceā€”the ability for us to provide a deterrent to an employee who tries it on in the face of a responsible employer who has done the right thing, when someone in their employment has done something stupid and still tries to sue. As part of our long-term economic plan, I want to see those responsible employers protected against spurious claims, and that is what the Bill will do.

The Minister will know of my great interest in a proper system of citizenship training in this country and citizen service. Given the recent statement by a senior officer from Manchester that it was a dangerous place to be after a certain time of night at the weekends, surely the officer is not suggesting that volunteers should replace policemen.

I noted those comments with a little disappointment, because as far as I can see, incidents of crime and antisocial behaviour are falling not rising. If there is a particular problem in Manchester, that is clearly something that the police and crime commissioner there will have to deal with. However, I am encouraged that throughout the country our communities are becoming safer, not more dangerous.