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31 Jan 2003 : Column 1147—continued

Company Directors' Performance and Compensation Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.53 am

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 23.

Division No. 70
[11:54 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Jim Knight and
Mr. Mark Hendrick


Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Browning, Mrs Angela
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Forth, rh Eric
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Maclean, rh David
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Thurso, John
Wiggin, Bill

Tellers for the Noes:

Phil Hope and
Huw Irranca-Davies

Question accordingly negatived.

31 Jan 2003 : Column 1147

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for Labour Members to use a parliamentary device to kill a Bill that has widespread support from all parties, simply because the Government are embarrassed to hear the case against compensation for company directors who have failed in their role? They have taken no action in the past and hope that, by obscuring debate, they can take the matter off the table and ensure that their inactivity receives no press attention.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it extraordinary that about 30 or 40 Labour Members are in the Chamber and have chosen not to go through the Division Lobby? By that strange device, under the Standing Orders of the House, they have allowed the Bill to fall. If we were in a Standing Committee, the number of people present would be counted, not the number of people who voted. Should not the Procedure Committee examine that?

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not there a convention in the House that the vote and the voice should go together? Is not it slightly extraordinary that no one voted in the No Lobby having shouted?

31 Jan 2003 : Column 1148

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If none of the interpretations offered by my hon. Friends the Members for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) is correct, the only remaining possible explanation is that a number of hon. Members who came this far with the intention to vote were somehow physically prevented from entering the Division Lobby, to which problem we would obviously need to attend.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I understand the disappointment of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) in the circumstances, but nothing out of order has taken place. If hon. Members are dissatisfied with any aspects of the procedures of the House, there are opportunities for pursuing that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir N. Winterton), as Chairman of the Procedure Committee, would always be willing to entertain approaches for matters to be examined by his Committee.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given the turn of events, which must have taken many hon. Members who are in other parts of the parliamentary estate watching what is happening by surprise, will you consider suspending the sitting briefly to give them time to attend the next debate? They will have assumed, in all reasonableness, that the debate on the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) would have taken some time. Surely in fairness, given what has just happened, a brief suspension of the sitting is in order to allow colleagues to gather themselves properly for the next debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, who is punctilious in matters of attendance in the House, would expect the same standard to be observed by all hon. Members. Everyone is expected to know the Order Paper for the day and to make themselves available within the normal periods of time that the House allows for both Divisions and debates.

Mr. Bercow: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course the interpretation of the rules that you offer is not to be disputed or contradicted in any way, but I wonder whether it might be courteous and germane to take account of the fact that, despite the unparalleled assiduity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), he does have to trouble himself only to come in from a London residence in Kennington. Is the inclement weather not a relevant factor in the circumstances and might we not allow for it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Of all the matters of which the Chair has to take account, inclement weather is the least of them. Indeed, it might be said that some hon. Members are closer to the parliamentary estate than they might otherwise have chosen to be, with constituency duties in mind.

31 Jan 2003 : Column 1149

Health and Safety at Work (Offences) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.59 am

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

May I extend my thanks to the House for allowing me this privilege today? The Bill's purpose is self-evident in its title. If it is successful, it will have an impact on every workplace, not only in my region, but across the rest of England, Scotland and Wales. It would also influence the best safety practices in Northern Ireland.

My message is simple and I am sure the House will agree that it is common sense. Anyone who breaks safety law should pay for that breach. Parliament has responded to the changes in workplaces over the past 30 years since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

I hope to explain in a nutshell the Bill's principal provisions. It seeks to raise the maximum level of fines for most health and safety offences to £20,000, thereby allowing for more fines to reach that level. It also makes it possible to imprison employers for the most serious offences, and raises the fine for not being properly insured. If these measures receive the support of Parliament today, I hope that the Bill will then receive a fair wind and become law by the autumn.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I take account of what the hon. Gentleman says about the ambition to increase fines and to provide for the possibility of imprisonment in the most serious cases. It is obviously incumbent on him to take account of the likely impact of that proposal. Can he tell the House what assessment he has made of the likely effect on prison overcrowding of the Bill's provision for imprisonment?

Lawrie Quinn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He anticipates the next phase of my speech, and if he will allow me to continue I shall speak not only from my professional experience in these matters, but from the perspective of my region of Yorkshire and the Humber.

In doing so, I should like to begin by reviewing aspects of the health and safety record in my region. In the past three and a half years, 29 employers in Yorkshire and the Humber have had to pay fines of more than £20,000. As the published record of the Health and Safety Executive shows, only 10 of the 291 criminal convictions for health and safety offences in my region between 1 April 1999 and 1 December 2002 resulted in fines of £20,000 or more. Most of the convictions led to fines of less than £5,000, which is why it is time for the level of fines and the tariff in the primary legislation to be examined, revitalised and increased significantly. This legislation is some 30 years old, and it is about time that Parliament attended to its duty to revisit it.

Mr. Bercow: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way again. Punishment for breaches of the kind that the Bill is designed to address should certainly be condign, but has

31 Jan 2003 : Column 1150

he based the intended fines on the increase in the retail prices index in the past 20 years, or has he used a factor such as company turnover as his guiding criterion?

Lawrie Quinn: Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; one would almost think that he has helped me with my speech, because I am coming on to those matters, too. If he will show some patience and allow me to progress, I will willingly deal with any interventions that he cares to make. If he examines the issue, he will doubtless discover that workplaces in his own region of the south-east have a similar record and experiences.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, 19 of the top 29 fines were for accidents resulting in fatalities. Tragically, they included the death of one child, so these are very serious matters that I am rightly bringing to the House's attention. Other offences resulting in prosecution involved amputations, paralysis below the neck, serious electrocutions, bad burns and the exposure of workers to fatal asbestos fibres. Regrettably, the latter issue, which the House considered recently, is a particular problem in my region.

Eight of the top 10 fines, four of which were for incidents resulting in fatalities, were for exactly £20,000. That begs the question: what value a life? The highest fine in the region was £400,000; regrettably, it was for a fatal electrocution.

In my constituency, there have been only six convictions during the three and a half year period of my research, with penalties ranging from a fine of £5,000 to a conditional discharge. As the people responsible for these important health and safety issues, we are giving the wrong signal.

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