|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Scottish law has different penalties for such matters. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary clearly saidhe spent some time on the issuethe expert group met and came to conclusions in its report in November. However, it wanted to move
into the area of health and safety, which is clearly a reserved matter, not a devolved one. There is no confusion on the point.
The second concern is the limitation on private prosecutions. Under the Bill, one would have to obtain the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions before one could take a private prosecution. I know that several business organisations prefer that, but it does require some explanation by the Government as it could limit access to justice in some of the serious offences.
I have been critical of elements of the Bill and rightly so, because many experts in the area share my concerns. However, we are at least making progress. It has taken a long time, but we want to ensure that the Bill receives a Second Reading tonight and that our proposals receive a fair hearing in Committee. I hope that the House will work at its best to strengthen the legislation.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): Like the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), I am not a lawyer, but I have to say that if he had not told me that he was not, I would not have known. He made a few valid points, some of which I agree with and some that I do not.
All my adult life, I have championed the cause of safety and health in the workplace. I was 23 years a miner, 14 of them as a union official and a workmans inspector. Safety and health is an inspirational issue that has guided working class people in their trade unions and in their representation in Parliament for the best part of a century. I recognise the need for the Bill to be improved, but I welcome the fact that it will receive its Second Reading tonight.
The Government are fulfilling the promise that they made a few years ago. We would have preferred to have it sooner, but we should not forget the good work of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in 2000, after disasters on the railways such as Hatfield. He introduced culpable homicide legislation, and this is a further step on the way that we should welcome.
For a lad brought up in a mining community, the trauma of miners killed in pit disasters and gas explosions, and dying from mining diseases, was commonplace. As a young boy, I saw my father come home too many times from the pit to tell us that a workman had been killed. Sadly, mining communities knew how to respond in solidarity to the loss of one of their own, because it was all too common. Miners lives were a price that the coal owners thought was worth paying for the pittance in wages that miners got at the time.
On too many occasions as a mining union official, I had to go and tell a wife that her husband and father of her children would not be coming home. That personal experience influences everything that I have said and done in this place for 20 years. I know, in my heart of hearts, that had there been a law that told the director of the colliery where I worked that he could be held
personally responsible for the loss of life, many of those mining disasters would have been averted and a lot of lives saved. So I do not make anything small of this important step. We will want to tweak and improve parts of the Bill, but it is an important step.
For those in other parties who are less enthusiastic in their support for the Bill, I shall end with a few words about the 1999 Larkhall gas explosion. On the evening of 22 December 1999, a mother and father and their two children went to bed, looking forward to Christmas. At 5.30 in the morning, their house was blown up in a gas explosion and their lives were extinguished. That familyDrew and Janette Findlay with their two children, Stacey, 13 years old and Daryl, 11 years oldwas lost. The Home Secretary mentioned Transco, the corporation that was held responsible for the explosion.
Nothing that I had experienced prepared me for the trauma of that perplexing tragedy. It was not a workplace accident; it happened in the sanctuary of a young couples home. A family with everything to live for was taken from us by what we now know was a disaster that should not have happened and would not have happened were it not for Transcos corporate negligence.
Transco was fined a record £15 million under health and safety legislation. It was not convicted under Scots law of culpable homicideit got off on that. Fifteen million pounds is double the highest fine in England, which was £7.5 million, as was mentioned earlier. Although £15 million may sound a lot of money, Transco was found guilty and culpable of the deaths of the family in Larkhall because of its corporate negligence in not spending £350 million in renewing the pipelines that would have prevented the deaths of the Findlays. It is claimed that a fine of £15 million could be viewed as a deterrent, but it does not appear so when compared with the £350 million that the corporation did not spend. The only deterrent would be a law that holds someone responsible and influences such peoples decision making so that they know that, when they give an executive order, if lives are lost, the price is their freedom. They have to be accountable.
It is no comfort to families who have lost their loved ones to hear of fines to corporations. That would not give the Findlay family in Larkhall comfort. We need legislation that protects our families. That is just. I welcome Second Reading but my test in Committee and on Third Reading will be, Are families safer because of the Bill? Will families, such as the Findlays, who went to their beds looking forward to Christmas, be safer because of the legislation that we pass? I hope that the answer is yes.
Clearly, there is a case for action, but what sort of action? My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) made a good case for amending the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. However, I understand that there may be good reason not to do that. If a member of my family had been killed in a
tragedy such as those that we are considering, I would find it insulting that the matter was covered by health and safety legislation. Equally, having met families affected by other tragedies, who are getting over a period of grief, I know that getting justice quickly is important. It worries me that introducing a new Bill rather than amending the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 could increase the time for bringing about justice. If a prosecution under corporate manslaughter fails, there may be another two-year wait for a health and safety prosecution.
I am not a lawyer, but in reading around the Bill I kept reverting to a basic question. Why are we pushing the Bill forward? Is it to punish corporates or for the purpose of prevention? Although there is clearly a link between the two, the question is important because of the criteria for success when we look back in future. If we are trying to punishthere is good reason to punish some of those evil corporateswhy do we predict only 10 or 13 prosecutions a year? Those are simply prosecutions, not necessarily successful ones.
Perhaps a punishment argument makes sense if it pump-primes change and makes more corporates think carefully about what they do. However, if that is the point of the Bill, the regulatory impact assessment would involve significant change and extra cost. I do not mean negative cost but cost such as the £350 million that could have saved lives, which was described earlier. If prevention is the key, perhaps that bolsters the case for amending the 1974 Act and examining corporate manslaughter through that prism rather than a new measure.
I was worried about the identification principle and trying to find a directing mind in an organisation. Clause 2, which defines senior managers, would effectively create the same problems that exist in current legislation. The Home Secretary started to reassure me and I believed that he had taken on board all the Select Committees comments. However, in Committee we must examine the wording in detail because, at the end of his contribution, the Home Secretary referred to some form of judgment about the majority of senior managers. He used the words that he had appeared to try to avoid. Like the Centre for Corporate Accountability, I am worried that health and safety will be relegated in an organisation to below the level of senior managers, to avoid overall prosecution. None of us supports that.
I congratulate the Government on the welcome removal of Crown indemnity. However, they can go several steps further. Perhaps they should not include all public bodiesthere is a compelling case about emergency services and the armed forcesbut several hon. Members mentioned the Prison Service. Pauline Day, a constituent of mine, had a son, Paul Day, who died in a segregation unit. That led to one of the longest death-in-custody inquests in the United Kingdom. It is difficult to explain why, in such cases, the Government are effectively looking at themselves. If something is right for the private sector, why is not it right for the public sector? That applies even more to privatised prisons. A benefit of providing a public service at a distance from Government should be that the Government have greater control and can exercise greater accountability over that prison. It is ludicrous
that we can put services out to private prisons, but not gain the full benefits of doing that.
The Joint Committee, chaired ably, I am sure, by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), said that exempting public bodies may even contravene article 14 of the European convention on human rights. We have looked at this matter for some 12 years and I am amazed that something so fundamental should have emerged only so recently. Clearly, there remains an awful lot of work to be done.
I turn now to the Bills impact on company structures. Does the Minister anticipate that they will change? Will companies contract out risk? For instance, will service industries that get involved in dirtier, more risky pursuits contract out the work to avoid the risk of prosecution? That might happen even with good companies, and even when the risk is quite small. Does the Minister agree that large corporates could set up shell companies to isolate the risk? Even good companies might do that to mitigate the health and safety risk.
What is the statute of limitations in these cases? What types of case could be prosecuted under the corporate manslaughter provisions? In the past, we have had cases involving asbestos, but what will be their equivalent in the future? Will corporates that promote smoking in new markets be prosecuted?
Will customers or employees waive their rights under this Bill? If I go bungee jumping, most people would accept that it is right for me to be able to waive some of my health and safety rights, but wrong to waive them all.
I turn now to the fines. The Select Committee suggested that they should be based on turnover, but that would be wholly inappropriate, as some companies produce high-margin goods, and others low-margin goods. It would be much better to hit shareholders and investors where it hurts, and change the dynamic by moving to prevention.
The impact assessment makes little mention of the cost of prosecution, but there is a significant gap in the expertise available to the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. The HSE says that it does not particularly want to be involved in prosecution, but it is the Ministers responsibility to say that it is the Government body with the relevant expertise in these matters. He should therefore compel the HSE to be much more involved.
I could raise many more questions, but I am conscious that other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate so I shall draw to a close. It is clear that a
number of issues remain unresolved, and that we should not push forward with the Bill as long as they remain unanswered.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I begin by saying that I disagree fundamentally with the final comments of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), as I very much hope that we will push forward with the Bill. Of course, we must try to improve it, and I shall make some observations later about how I think that can be done. Indeed, I suspect that at some time in the future we will have to go beyond the current proposals, but first I want to return to what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at the beginning of the debate when he paid tribute to a man called Maurice de Rohan, who died a few days ago.
I first met Maurice de Rohan in the context of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. He lost his daughter and son-in-law in the accident, but the marvellous thing about him as a human being was that he channelled his very real grief at the totally avoidable outrage committed against his family into a search for creative answers to the problems posed by the breaching of peoples rights under the existing health and safety framework. I continue to be inspired by the humanity that he displayed in that search.
There have been many incidents over the years, such as the Piper Alpha tragedy, the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, various rail crashes and so on. We call them accidents, but really they happened as a result of gross and culpable negligence. Unfortunately, in many cases it was never possible to prove that culpability.
Lord Justice Sheen conducted the official inquiry into the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. In his decision, he said that the capsizing of the vessel was partly caused or contributed to by serious negligence in the discharge of their duties by the captain, the chief officer and the assistant bosun, and partly caused or contributed to by the fault of Townsend Car Ferries Ltd., the owners. The court went on to suspend the certificates of the captain and the chief officer for varying periods, but no other penalties were imposed, even though 180 people died in a disaster that should never have happened.
top to bottom the body corporate was infected with the disease of sloppiness.
That is a very serious charge. The House must consider what a difference this Bill would have made had its provisions been applicable to the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, or to the various other disasters that have taken place. The prosecution of P&O was contemplated in the Herald of Free Enterprise case, but could not be pursued under the existing legislation. However, it would be possible under the terms of this Bill. I believe that it would be right and proper for a
large company responsible for a disaster to be subject to salutary action and fines, as that would give expression to the genuine public outrage at the fact that any company could behave in that way.
However, this Bill is not likely to have the same impact in cases such as the Kings Cross disaster, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) referred. It is worth asking whether the Bill goes far enough in terms of covering everything that Parliament should do on behalf of the people who lose family members in the many different types of disaster that occur.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will look at some of the technical issues that arise from the Bill. It is certainly true that we need to look into the question of incorporated as opposed to non-incorporated bodies. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) made a good case when he explained why he thought it inappropriate to make that the operable distinction in these matters. In addition, the Committee must look in detail at the narrow definition of management. I hope that the Minister will consider extending that definition, and I know that he has already indicated that he is prepared to do so.
When the Minister winds up the debate, will he give specific guidance why clause 18 is needed? It abolishes the application of the common-law offence of manslaughter to corporations. I understand that lawyers are reluctant to have more than one offence covering any particular incident, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary earlier argued that the Bill would allow the prosecution, in the most serious cases, both of a corporation and of individuals. Clause 18 appears to weaken that power, and we need to consider whether it is wise to retain it.
Mr. Garnier: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me intervene, because although it is not for me to respond for the Government, it seems to me that if the Bill has any merit at all it is that it gets rid of the confusion and difficulties caused by the need to find in a corporate manslaughter prosecution an individual or group of individuals who can be identified as the directing mind. Removing that confusion and replacing it with the measures in the Bill is sensible, because it relieves the court and the prosecution of that hurdle. I agree that the Home Secretary did not have full mastery of his Bill, but he was clear about this point, which he made a couple of times: the individual personal liability for manslaughter by gross negligence remains. If the Bill has merit, it is that of getting rid of the confusion that has led to many wasted prosecutionswasted time, emotion and costchasing corporate defendants through the principle of identification, so I urge the hon. Gentleman to reconsider his criticism of clause 18.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|