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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall answer Questions 9 and 10 together. We warmly welcome the recent talks between India and Pakistan
We warmly welcome the recent talks between India and Pakistan and the significant improvement in their relationship. During my recent visits to India and Pakistan, I congratulated President Musharraf, Deputy Prime Minister Advani and Foreign Ministers Kasuri and Sinha on that. We recognise that the talks, due to begin after the Indian general election, may be a long and difficult process, but I very much hope that they will, in due course, lead to a durable settlement of all the outstanding issues, including Kashmir. On 27 January, I wrote to all colleagues in the House spelling out in more detail the progress that had been made in respect of Kashmir.
Mr. Luff: In answer to an earlier question, we heard about the importance that cricket can play in international relations, so will the Foreign Secretary join me in expressing pleasure that the courage shown by the leaders of India and Pakistan has been mirrored so dramatically by the behaviour of the cricket fans of both countries during a thrilling one-day series and, again, during the ongoing test series? Given that those two countries were on the brink of nuclear war, some said,
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to the importance of confidence-building measures, including cricket. The fact that the tests have gone as well as they have, without any violence, has greatly strengthened each side's confidence in the other, after years of enmity. The best that we can do is to support both sides in the process. Of course there are international dimensions to the process, which were terrifying two years ago, but it is essentially a bilateral conflict, so our role is one of support, not interference.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): As a Member of Parliament who represents people of Indian and Pakistani heritage, as well as a fairly substantial Kashmiri community, may I say how much I welcome improved relations between India and Pakistan, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we can bring India and Pakistan around the table to discuss the thorny issue of Kashmir, all shades of Kashmiri opinion should be taken into account, and that we should eventually involve Kashmiris themselves in any final solution?
Mr. Straw: The Governments of both India and Pakistan recognise that Kashmir can have a stable future only if that future and its arrangements involve the communities on both sides of the line of control.
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South) (Lab): As he looks forward positively and not backward negatively about Cyprus, my hon. Friend will be aware that negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem are in their final, delicate stages, and we hope that the outcome will be that a united Cyprus will enter the European Union on 1 May. The negotiations may well be subject to some final adjustment by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Will my hon. Friend give his assurance that Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to ensure that any final outcome of the negotiations will not include any permanent derogations from the EU's founding principles, such as one with respect to the settlement of Greeks in northern Cyprus and the permanent placement of foreign troops on the island?
Mr. MacShane: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. He is right. Today in Bürgenstock in Switzerland, the closing stages of negotiations are taking place and the authority is now with the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, because Greek and Turkish Cypriots could not come to an agreement. We must wish him well.
I accept the point about European norms, but there are exceptions in many countries to EU acquis and rules. It is important to ensure that EU unilateralismif I may put it that wayis not seen as superior to the decisions taken by Kofi Annan. The House has an enormous role to play once a decision leaves Bürgenstock. We should use all our influence and power with all our friends in Cyprus on both sides of the green line to urge them to say yes to this and to allow a united Cyprus to enter the EU and start a new and peaceful era in its history.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I raised with Madam Deputy Speaker the anxieties of my constituents near Heathrow, bearing in mind that the last time there was a crash at Heathrow, the plane landed in my constituency. Those concerns arose from articles in Sunday newspapers. As I suspect you are aware, Mr. Speaker, there have been anti-terrorist actions around Heathrow this morning, which raise further concerns among my constituents. The Metropolitan police are putting a significant amount of information into the public domain, so would you use your good offices to have a word with the Home Secretary so that he will tell the House as much as he can about what has been going on this morning? My constituents and others are deeply worried because they feel at risk.
In the late 1980s in the United Kingdom, there was a series of disasters, each of which shocked the nation. Even today the roll-call is painful to recite. In March 1987, the Herald of Free Enterprise ran aground off Zeebrugge, with 192 dead; in 1987, the King's Cross underground fire left 31 dead; in July 1988, the Piper Alpha oil platform disaster left 167 dead; in 1988, the Clapham rail crash left 37 dead; in 1989 the Kegworth airline crash left 47 dead; in 1989; the Hillsborough football stadium disaster left 97 dead; and in 1989, the Marchioness river boat sinking left 51 dead.
Those disasters involved different companies and occurred across a diverse range of industries, but the public inquiry that followed each one had a common thread: the disaster could have been prevented had the company involved taken steps to ensure that its organisation operated safe systems of work within a strong safety culture.
The disaster with which I am most familiar is Piper Alpha. I will not rehearse all the background to it; suffice it to say that Lord Cullen, who carried out the public inquiry, made fierce criticisms of Occidental, the oil company operating the Piper Alpha oil platform. He said that there were
The accumulation of disastersand inquiry conclusions that suggested, at best, that there was a widespread problem of a poor safety cultureled to demands for improvement. There was also increasing concern about the inability of the law to punish those responsible for the perceived negligence that led to many unnecessary deaths. There is a common law offence of corporate manslaughter or culpable homicide in Scotland. In England, the offence may be committed by companies or individuals. An individual commits manslaughter if it can be proved beyond reasonable
In practice, the offence is extremely difficult to prove. The Piper Alpha case was considered under Scots law, under which the tests are similar. The Lord Advocate refused to instruct a prosecution. He decided that there was insufficient evidence on which to base a successful prosecution, despite all the harsh words of, and the evidence placed before, Lord Cullen. Indeed, after most of the disasters in the 1980s on which an inquiry was held, there was noor inadequateinvestigation of criminal offences.
In 1996, the Law Commission for England and Wales produced a report on involuntary manslaughter that recommended two offences of unintentional killing which were based on different fault elements: reckless killing and killing by gross carelessness. The commission prepared a draft Bill. The Labour party manifesto in 1997 gave a commitment to introduce legislation, and that was reinforced after the election by the then Home Secretary. Since then, there has been a consultation process and several statements confirming that commitment, including a further manifesto commitment in 2001.
During consideration on Report of the Criminal Justice Bill in 2003, the Home Secretary said that the Government would announce a timetable for legislation and that they intended to publish a draft Bill. That timetable has not yet been provided, and there is no sign of the draft Bill. Indeed, the rumblings from inside Whitehall are not positive. It is suggested that there are still serious difficulties with the Bill and there is speculation that the main problems centre on the issue of Crown immunity. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether that is true or simply gossip, but if there is a problem, the Government need to resolve it quickly.
My Bill would provide that a corporation would be guilty of corporate killing if a management failure by that corporation was the cause, or one of the causes, of a person's death, and if that failure constituted conduct that fell far below what could reasonably be expected of the corporation in the circumstances. The Bill would also apply to a Crown body. It should apply to the Crown and it would considerably strengthen the health and safety culture in this country.
Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster made it clear that there were substantial and significant failings in the way in which the Department of Energy too, which was then responsible for enforcing safety offshore, carried out its responsibilities. A short time before the disaster, a worker was killed on the Piper
I have always been concerned that there was no prosecution of Occidental, the oil company that operated the Piper Alpha platform. If my Bill had been in force at that time, there would have been a prosecution. There is no question in my mind but that if Occidental had been prosecuted, it would have been appropriate to prosecute the Department of Energy. We cannot have a system that punishes operators for poor safety if we do not apply the same standards to those who are required to regulate the safety system. If the Government are still wrestling with how Crown immunity might apply in the case of corporate killing, I urge Home Office Ministers to contact their colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions.
In June 2000, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions published "Revitalising Health and Safety", which was described as a strategy statement, and which included a number of action points. Action point 15 states:
My Bill would extend to Scotland, which I think is important. Although responsibility for legislation lies with the Home Office, the Bill is a health and safety measure that will apply in the main to companies and businesses throughout the UK. Both health and safety law and corporate law apply across the UK, and uniformity is vital, especially within larger corporations.
The main purpose of my Bill is not to create queues of recalcitrant company directors, or even civil servants, being brought before the courts to be punished for their poor safety records. Its purpose is to act as a disincentive to poor safety systems and to encourage companies and others to recognise that poor safety is far more expensive, in every way, than good and strong safety cultures and practices. My earnest wish is that the Government introduce their legislation as soon as possible, but in the meantime, I recommend the Corporate Killing Bill to the House.