Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

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Ian Stewart: It is good to hear that the Minister is prepared to consider the concept of corporate probation. I forewarn him that my hon. Friends and I will be tabling an amendment to assist him in his deliberations.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am ever grateful for my hon. Friend’s warnings about what he proposes to do. I will consider it with a great deal of interest.
Amendment No. 33, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North, dealt with what could be done to affect a company’s brand, including registering at Companies House. I do not think that the idea is quite right as it is set out in the amendment, but there are possibilities to consider, and I will be happy to do so during debate.
This has been a useful debate that has shown the genuine attempt by all parties to come up with solutions. More work needs to be done. In that spirit, I urge hon. Members not to press their probing amendments.
Mr. Davey: I apologise to the Committee for rising again, but there is a substantive point that I failed to mention in my earlier remarks—how sanctions would apply to public sector organisations. It is important that we discuss it. Professor Macrory’s view, as I understand it, relates primarily to private sector corporations. The Bill is intended, as I believe we will discuss at length, to apply to bodies in the public sector. That is a concern, because fines on a public sector body, if that body provides an important public service, could hit the wider community and be almost a community punishment for something that the public sector managerial team got wrong. The Treasury might decide that it did not want a cutback in that public service and make good the money taken by the fine. Hon. Members will see the conundrum in simply applying fines to public sector bodies.
I hope that the Minister will explain the Government’s thinking on the matter, because innovation is clearly needed. Obviously, there are other forms of accountability for public sector bodies. We shall have such debates when we discuss Crown immunity and the various exemptions under the Bill, but the Minister should not allow those types of accountability system to be seen as a sanction in the context of the Bill. There needs to be innovation in respect of sanctions and public sector managers. Clearly, people’s reputations and careers can sometimes be hit, but the mistakes that I have seen made by public sector managers do not seem to have affected their careers. Indeed, they have often been promoted to other bodies in other parts of the country. Public sector bodies can sometimes get away with it and, if the whole purpose behind the Bill is to make sure that people do not get away it, that the victims of gross negligence and their families receive retribution and that there is a feeling that justice has been done, we need to be innovative in such areas, too.
Mr. Davey: I certainly did not want to give that impression, so I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has enabled me to put that on the record.
The fines on a corporate cannot easily be passed on to the consumers, unless they have monopolistic power. It is hoped that, in a competitive market, fines will affect the profits of the company and, thus, hit the shareholders in some way. As the hon. Gentleman implies, whether or not the fines hit the directors would depend on whether the shareholders wreak their retribution for lower profits as a result of the fine. My point in wanting to extend the debate a little longer than I had intended originally is to show that that type of mechanism does not work as well in the public sector. I am not suggesting that the public sector is insulated because, as the Minister and councillors will be aware, when a public sector body has behaved badly there are often political results and great embarrassment, and rightly so. I am still not convinced, however, given this debate and what the Bill is trying to do, whether that is sufficient. I should be interested to know whether there is some thinking in the Minister’s Department about how we can be innovative with respect to public sector bodies.
In no way did I wish under amendment No. 100 to give the Home Secretary the power to produce sanctions under such a procedure. I wanted to tease out from the Minister—I am not sure whether I did—what sort of timetable he proposes to give to the House. Yes, we have the view of Professor Macrory and that of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that there will need to be a serious reflection on the practical implications of new types of offences, but given how close that is to what we are debating now, it is sensible that the Committee hears what plans the Government have in mind.
Mr. Sutcliffe: As for how we would approach the matter, we could do so through secondary legislation and the affirmative resolution procedure at the appropriate time when we have looked at the various issues that I outlined earlier in respect of the Macrory proposals. Such matters do not have to be outlined under the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman said, we would not want the powers to be so wide-ranging. When we reach that position, we shall hold the appropriate discussions.
On the public bodies issue, the Bill removes Crown immunity. We shall debate the extent and the appropriateness of that later, but I am sure that there will be an informed and detailed discussion on the way in which the Bill deals with public bodies. Fines are already available in relation to public bodies, in so far as many local authorities face fines for corporate offences, and I am not against innovative ways of dealing with them, because it is important that Crown bodies do not escape sanction for what is a serious offence. There is the issue of recycling of funding if public bodies are fined, and I shall be happy to examine matters in greater detail during the passage of the Bill, and to discuss matters with Committee members. With that in mind, I would ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
Ann McKechin: We have had an interesting debate, and it has been good to see some degree of cross-party consensus on the need to consider a wide range of penalties, so that the courts are not limited in their ability to impose appropriate sanctions in each case. I welcome the Minister’s comments about the possibility of a corporate rehabilitation order, which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. To some people it may sound similar to the principle of corporate probation, but it is worth considering, though it needs to be properly tested, and examples and enforcement in other jurisdictions should be considered. Nevertheless, I believe that an essential part of the range of penalties that needs to be on offer is that the courts be able to retain some sort of control over companies for a period, to ensure that practices change. That should happen either now, in the Bill, or, in light of the Minister’s comments, after the Macrory review results are known.
On amendment No. 32, I accept the Minister’s comments on admonition. Realistically, admonition would happen only if the victim were a direct relative of a company’s directors, and if the company had very few assets. I appreciate the Minister’s comments that the power already exists, however.
I accept the Minister’s comments about the law in England on compensation orders, and that that penalty is already available to the courts, but that is not the case in Scotland. Regrettably, the level of damages in Scottish civil cases has historically always been lower than the English average. So the issue of compensation orders is important—particularly, as I mentioned, in the case of single people with no dependants, for whom the level of damages that can be expected in a civil court may be very small. If a company has been so grossly negligent as to deserve a conviction for corporate homicide, it is appropriate that the penalty constituted by a compensation order is available. Will either the Minister, or the Advocate General, Lord Davidson, make a direct submission to the Sentencing Commission for Scotland on that point, and request that the commission consider the matter when it makes its final report? Obviously it will have to wait until enactment, but it is important to flag it up now, because consideration of the Bill for Scotland has happened very quickly and it may well be that the members of the Sentencing Commission are not fully aware of the implications of the Bill.
On amendment No. 33, I am pleased that the Minister indicated he would make some further comments later. Putting notices in the register of companies is a very important sanction that would have a salutary business effect on some companies. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hornchurch, it may be appropriate not only for manslaughter and homicide but for other serious offences. In my own constituency, a company was convicted of selling weapons of torture, and I regard that as a serious offence that would be worthy of note in the register of companies.
I welcome the spirit in which the Minister has addressed Members’ concerns today. I certainly hope to see further progress as we go forward in the Bill, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will be raising the question of individual liability. That is an important matter which, as they say, has to be considered as a separate issue. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
11.45 am
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient totake the following: Amendment No. 75, in clause 24, page 13, line 2, leave out ‘Manslaughter’ and insert ‘Killing’.
New clause 2—Amendment of Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974—
‘(1) The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (c.37) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 33 insert—
“33A Offences committed by corporate body etc.
(1) Any failure by—
(a) a corporate body,
(b) an unincorporated body,
(c) a department or other body listed in Schedule 1 to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2006 (c. ), or
(d) a police force,
to discharge a duty to which it is subject by virtue ofsections 2 and 3 of this Act whereby a person’s death is caused shall be an offence.
(2) The offence under this section is called—
(a) corporate killing, insofar as it is an offence under the law of England and Wales or Northern Ireland;
(b) corporate homicide, insofar as it is an offence under the law of Scotland.
(3) A body corporate or unincorporate that is guilty of corporate killing or corporate homicide is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine.
(4) The offence of corporate homicide is indictable only in the High Court of Justiciary.
(5) The offence of corporate killing is triable only on indictment.”.’.
Amendment No. 74, in title, line 2, leave out ‘manslaughter’ and insert ‘killing’.
James Brokenshire: The new clause tests the approach being taken by the Government in relation to the Bill to establish whether it is the correct one and whether there may be more elegant and effective ways of addressing the issues before us. At the outset, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said that he aimed to provide a simpler alternative, although he noted that he would not ruthlessly pursue that objective, and I will reflect my hon. Friend’s approach.
Building upon those general duties—established under existing health and safety law—the new clause take this established law as the starting point, and applies it to a situation in which a specified organisation or body fails to discharge the general duty set out in sections 2 or 3, resulting in a person’s death which constitutes an offence. There is merit in examining this approach. We have seen from our debate thus far, the challenges and difficulties of seeking to frame the legislation within the concept of manslaughter, and it may be more effective—more elegant and easier—to create an aggravated offence under the existing Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, which will reflect the gravity of the matters before us.
Tony Lloyd: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what the impact of the new clause will be? As I read it, the new clause would do nothing more than the existing Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, except to give the label of corporate manslaughter in England and corporate homicide in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Under the current law, any failure by any of the organisations as listed would already be a breach of the duties under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. Although the label is different, the fact that on conviction or indictment the organisation is liable to a fine is equivalent to the existing legislation. I am not clear how that provision differs from current legislation. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would clarify the way in which, apart from the labelling, it differs—I do not dispute that labelling can have some importance, but it is not a huge change.
James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but what are we changing by virtue of this corporate manslaughter Bill? We are effectively creating a new offence with a title of corporate homicide or corporate manslaughter. The penalty that is leviable in relation to a breach of the terms of the Bill would be a fine equivalent to provisions under the existing health and safety legislation. That is why, in my initial comments, I was talking about stepping back to consider the changes we are seeking and to find out whether there are more elegant ways in which to take it forward. I will listen to further comments and consider whether I can explain that thinking more fully.
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