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May I say how pleased I am to see that the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), is in his place to listen to my argument? I know how strongly he feels about this subject.

I wonder how many Members realise the extent of domestic abuse in this country. Let me give some figures. One in four women in Britain are abused in some form or another. More particularly, one in nine suffer physical abuse on a regular basis, and, worse, every week two women are killed as a result of such abuse.

When I first discovered those figures, I was absolutely horrified. That happened as a result of my involvement with the Centre for Social Justice. I had discussions with Sandra Horley of Refuge, who explained the full extent of such abuse to me. I pay tribute to Refuge for the remarkable work that it does in helping those who have been, or are being, abused, and in particular to Sandra Horley, the chief executive, whose energy and commitment is phenomenal.

I urge the Government to think positively about including an offence of liability for suicide in any new legislation, and also carefully to consider expanding the definition of diminished responsibility so that it includes a proper recognition of psychological injury. That would allow the courts properly to take account of a broader range of psychological impacts on victims of abuse.

Research undertaken in the UK and abroad demonstrates that there is a causal link between attempted or completed suicide and concurrent experience of domestic violence. In 2000, UK statistics showed that between 30 and 40 per cent. of female suicides were committed by those who had been subjected to domestic violence. In the United States, research has shown that there is a temporal connection between suicide attempts and hospital treatment for injuries resulting from domestic violence. Importantly, this research went on to show that, of the victims of domestic violence who had attempted suicide, nearly 70 per cent. had done so within six months of hospital treatment, and, staggeringly, that nearly 40 per cent. had done so on the same day, after discharge.

Let me illustrate all this by outlining the recent case of Mrs. Gurjit Dhaliwal, who hanged herself at the family home in Southall, west London, on 22 February 2005. Mrs. Dhaliwal’s brother, Nav Jagpal—I understand that he is here today—said that he and his family had watched helplessly while his sister had suffered abuse over a sustained period, going back to 1979. Mrs. Dhaliwal had temporarily left her husband on a number of occasions because of the abuse; however, each time she returned. When the police found her after the suicide, they noticed that she had fresh cuts to her forehead, and they also discovered on searching the house a journal that she had kept over the last five months of her life, in which she harrowingly alleged physical and emotional abuse
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by her husband. In fact, Mr. Dhaliwal even admitted on questioning that he had hit her on the evening that she died. Because of that admission, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to proceed against Mr. Dhaliwal on a charge of manslaughter, on the basis that this behaviour caused his wife to kill herself.

It might assist the House if I try to explain some of the incredible twists and turns necessary under existing English law in trying to prosecute this case. There are various routes to achieving a verdict of manslaughter. In this case, the CPS tried to prove that the defendant had done something “unlawful” and “dangerous” that had caused Mrs Dhaliwal’s death. However, as a foundation for such a charge of an unlawful act in English law, a prosecution has ultimately to prove that the act or those acts caused, or contributed significantly to causing, the death of the deceased.

To do that, the prosecution had to use a definition established in an Act of Parliament passed in 1861, together with more recent case law equating “psychiatric injury” with bodily harm, the proposition being that Mrs. Dhaliwal had suffered psychiatric injury as a result of this pattern of domestic violence, and that that amounted to bodily harm in the meaning of the legislation—a complicated scenario. Interestingly, on the evidence of a number of experts, who disagreed throughout the case, the court had to rule that Mrs. Dhaliwal had suffered psychological injury, but because that fell short of “psychiatric injury”, it did not amount to the bodily harm definition necessary according to the law.

Let me quote what the Court of Appeal judge, Judge Roberts QC, said in summing up:

However, it was ruled that under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, it was not possible to stretch the definition of psychological injury so that it could count as bodily harm. Recognising the problem, the Court of Appeal said that it would be more satisfactory if the law provided a less convoluted route in a manslaughter conviction in cases of this kind. The following is the most apposite quote from the judge:

I would add that in fact, that is common sense. Surely there is hardly anybody in this Chamber or among the general public who has not long believed that there are often connections between suicide and things that have gone on before.

Refuge’s recent experience of supporting Mr. Nav Jagpal in the case of his sister, Mrs. Dhaliwal, and of other cases, has led it to believe that the law as it stands offers little or no justice to such women, or to the families whom they leave behind.

I know what the House will say. Many will say that hard cases make bad laws, but I am not trying to persuade the House or the Government to change the law simply because of one case. It is not an isolated case. I offer up this case because it is such a high-profile example of what Refuge and many other campaigners believe is a failure of natural justice. It is absurd to have to rely on an Act that was passed in 1861, before psychiatry was even born and before the link between physical and mental trauma was fully appreciated. That
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position is supported by a number of national newspapers, including The Sun and The Times, which featured articles on this matter.

Surely the law should recognise that there are some assaults that, taken in isolation, may not appear to be life threatening, but which, when combined with a pattern of behaviour over a period of time, could result directly in the victim taking their own life. Abuse is not just about the physical effect. Someone who is regularly attacked suffers psychological problems, and that psychological damage can ultimately be more harmful than the individual and often isolated instances of physical abuse.

I know that it is tempting for someone listening to this speech to say that they do not understand what the problem is, and that someone being abused should just leave. I suppose that in a simplistic and perfect world that would be the case every time, but I am afraid that the world is not that simple, and the situation is much more complex than that. Far too many victims of abuse make qualified decisions to stay with their abuser because they cannot leave. Perhaps the fear of leaving their children behind is part of that, or the fear of having no one to turn to and no place to go, or the absence of any money. Perhaps most of all, there is the fear that should they fail to get away cleanly, the abuse that they will suffer on their return will be much greater.

Domestic violence is a major problem—in some cases, possibly because of changes to the way in which people live today, with more single women bringing up children on their own. However, domestic abuse is also
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found in what appear to be some of the most stable households. The key point that we should all admit and accept is that we must never make any excuse for the abuser. Abusers have no excuse. Their abuse is their responsibility, and they should face the consequences of that abuse. That is why I ask the Government to help us and the House genuinely to consider this motion for a new law of liability for suicide. We should not have to watch as any further cases collapse because the abuser’s victim is dead and thus unable to testify. After all, even in financial terms, domestic violence is estimated to cost the country at least £23 billion a year.

I will leave the House not with my words, but with those of Mrs. Dhaliwal’s brother, Nav Jagpal, who has campaigned strongly on this matter. After the failed attempt to prosecute, he said:

He concluded, movingly:

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Nadine Dorries, Dr. Liam Fox, Mrs. Louise Ellman, Lembit Öpik, Justine Greening, Mr. Edward Vaizey and Jim Dobbin.

Liability for suicide

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about liability for suicide; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 229].

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Orders of the Day

Companies Bill [ Lords]

[2nd( )Allotted Day]

[Relevant document: The Twenty-eighth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06, Legislative Scrutiny: Fourteenth Progress Report, HC 1626.]

As amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

New Clause 1

Contents of directors’ report: business review (No. 2)

‘(1) Unless the company is subject to the small companies’ regime, the directors’ report must contain a business review.

(2) The purposes of the business review are to inform members of the company, help them assess how the directors have performed their duty under section 173 (duty to promote the success of the company), and assist potential investors to decide whether to invest in the company.

(3) The business review must contain—

(a) a fair review of the company’s business, and

(b) a description of the principal risks and uncertainties facing the company.

(4) The review required is a balanced and comprehensive analysis of—

(a) the development and performance of the company’s business during the financial year, and

(b) the position of the company’s business at the end of that year,

consistent with the size and complexity of the business.

(5) The business review must, in a manner consistent with the size and complexity of the company, include—

(a) the main trends and factors likely to affect the future development, performance and position of the company’s business, and

(b) information about—

(i) environmental matters (including the impact of the company’s business on the environment),

(ii) the company’s employees,

(iii) social and community issues, and

(iv) persons with whom the company has contractual or other arrangements which are essential to the business of the company,

including information about any policies of the company in relation to those matters and the effectiveness of those policies.

If the review does not contain information of each kind mentioned in paragraph (b)(i), (ii), (iii) and (iv), it must state which of those kinds of information it does not contain.

(6) The review must, in a manner consistent with the size and complexity of the company, include—

(a) analysis using financial key performance indicators, and

(b) where appropriate, analysis using other key performance indicators, including information relating to environmental matters, employee matters, supplier matters and social and community issues.

“Key performance indicators” means factors by reference to which the development, performance or position of the company’s business can be measured effectively.

(7) The review must, where appropriate, include references to, and additional explanations of, amounts included in the company’s annual accounts.

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(8) In relation to a group directors’ report this section has effect as if the references to the company were references to the company and its subsidiary undertakings included in the consolidation.

(9) Nothing in this section requires the disclosure of information about impending developments or matters in the course of negotiation if the disclosure would, in the opinion of the directors, be seriously prejudicial to the interests of the company.’.— [Jon Trickett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.44 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to the proposed new clause, at end of subsection (2), insert

‘and potential customers to decide whether to purchase the company’s goods or services.’.

New clause 2— Reporting standards—

‘(1) A business review must—

(a) state whether it has been prepared in accordance with relevant reporting standards, and

(b) contain particulars of, and reasons for, any departure from such standards.

(2) In this section, “reporting standards” means statements of standard reporting practice which the Secretary of State shall ensure are issued and which—

(a) relate to business reviews, and

(b) shall be issued by a body or bodies specified in an order made by the Secretary of State.

(3) References in this section to relevant reporting standards, in relation to a company’s business review, are to such standards as are, in accordance with their terms, applicable to the company’s circumstances and to the review.

(4) Where or the extent that the directors of a company have complied with a reporting standard, they are presumed (unless the contrary is proved) to have complied with the corresponding requirements of this Part relating to the contents of a business review.’.

New clause 75— Requirement for audit of business review—

‘The auditors must state in their report—

(a) whether in their opinion the information given in the business review for the financial year for which the annual accounts are prepared is consistent with those accounts; and

(b) whether any matters have come to their attention, in the performance of their functions as auditors of the company, which in their opinion are inconsistent with the information given in the business review.’.

Amendment No. 1, page 196, line 30, leave out clause 423.

Amendment No. 760, in clause 423, page 197, line 2, leave out

Government amendments Nos. 821 and 822.

Jon Trickett: New clause 1, which I tabled, has been signed by 51 other hon. Members. That significant body of opinion indicates the strength of feeling about the subjects with which the proposal deals.

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One of the historical roles of the House has always been to attempt to protect the general social interest against specific actions of private interests. The Bill is an attempt to do that, but with a light touch. It is clear that corporations have become increasingly important actors both inside the United Kingdom and on a global scale. Many of the world’s largest companies are absolutely enormous. The fact that Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest corporation, is larger than 150 nation states shows the size of the private interests that are emerging. It is for nation states and national Parliaments to reflect on private power and its consequences and to attempt, albeit in a way that is not too burdensome, to protect the social interest.

I noted that the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) claimed in the House yesterday that corporate social responsibility, which is the name that we give to the attempt to encourage companies to behave more responsibly, is now taken more or less seriously by all the larger companies based in this country. That was a sweeping and—some might say—complacent statement, given that there are companies whose actions still cause problems both in the United Kingdom and abroad. For example, I draw the House’s attention to the UK-based mining giant, Anglo American. A recent report indicated that poor communities in Ghana were seriously afflicted by environmental pollution that was a by-product of the company’s operations. The water supply was poisoned and the farming land was degraded, so the local people could not carry out their traditional pursuits of fishing and farming.

I do not want to give the impression that I am vilifying the whole of the UK corporate sector, but we must be honest in the House about the fact that, unfortunately, there are widespread examples of such actions. For example, it is said that Shell is in breach of statutes in the Niger delta by flaring off the by-products of its activities, which produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that damage the environment. It is suggested that Shell is producing as much pollution through its activities in the Niger delta as the rest of west Africa. It is also said that Tesco is using unfortunate techniques in relation to female workers in South Africa. The list goes on, so I do not need to strengthen my point. We should simply reflect on the fact that private power cannot be left totally unaccountable in this modern world, and that is the context of our debate.

The Conservative party has been seen to represent the narrow class base of shareholder interest, but the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), at least, has realised that the party needs to break with that narrow sectional interest. He placed an advert in the newspapers in which he said that it was his business not to stand up for big business,

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