Previous Section Index Home Page

Policing and law enforcement remain another difficult matter—to my mind, more difficult than custody—but they cannot be brushed under the carpet. The actions of the police in some settings may require us to amend the Bill in another place, but we will listen carefully to the Government’s arguments about that. I do not have a closed mind on the issue and I emphasise in passing that I would not have pressed the amendment that I tabled to stimulate debate, because I
4 Dec 2006 : Column 119
was aware of its shortcomings, although it was well intentioned by the organisation that proposed it.

The Government have substantially tightened the law on emergencies, for which I am grateful. We had tabled amendments, which we had no opportunity of considering. Although I am sorry that we were deprived of the Minister’s presentation of the amendments that he tabled, I believe that they satisfy us. I shall consider them carefully. What should happen in respect of private emergency services is more problematic. I continue to be anxious that we are being unfair to such organisations, which have to make exactly the same decisions in an emergency as statutory bodies.

We have not been able to revisit child protection on Report and I appreciate the Government’s difficulty with the matter. The arguments that the Minister presented in Committee were persuasive. However, that brings us back to the central issue that, when an organisation or Department takes over someone’s care, which happens in a custodial setting or once a care order has been made, I find it especially difficult to justify exempting social services departments from the Bill. That is different from circumstances in which decisions have to be made about whether to intervene to take a child into care. They are of a slightly different nature and often extremely difficult.

We are pleased that the Government have moved on remedial orders, and we shall have an opportunity of considering that more carefully. Earlier, the Minister discussed some of them. Again, I am sorry that we have not had an opportunity for a fuller debate on them.

I do not want to take up more of the House’s time. The Bill is capable of doing good. That is why we have been happy to support it and are happy to support Third Reading. Improvement is needed and I ask the Government to continue in a spirit of dialogue and not to follow the Home Secretary’s example this evening of suddenly behaving like a scalded cat when we are happy to continue the consensual nature of our debate.

The subject is challenging but the key is that the public must be reassured that the measure will be fair and evenly applied. If it fulfils that test, it will make a powerful contribution to increasing health and safety generally. On that basis, it is worthy of support.

9.29 pm

Tony Lloyd: Let me begin where the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) left off. In Committee and for most of this evening, there has been an attempt to reach consensus. However, the aspects of the Bill on which I seek improvements are not necessarily those that others want improved. We need to acknowledge that my hon. Friend the Minister has some difficulty in pulling everything together and achieving genuine consensus. Nevertheless, let us start from where we are.

The Bill as it leaves this House is still an improvement on no Bill at all. That is something that everyone ought to say. There is no doubt that the Bill plugs the kind of large hole in the law that ought to be filled, in recognising the many disasters that we have discussed during its course, such as the Herald of Free Enterprise, the various railway disasters and the many
4 Dec 2006 : Column 120
cases in which manslaughter takes place on so small a scale that they do not hit the national radar screen. Those cases are where we ought to legislate, because they involve the types of firms and organisations that need the legal challenge.

I hope that the many commitments that my hon. Friend the Minister has made during the Bill’s various stages will be honoured. We have, I am afraid to say, accumulated rather a long shopping list between us and, whether the issue be remedial orders, probation, naming and shaming, the role of directors or director disqualification, there probably is a wide-scale consensus that we could make some movement forward.

There are other issues that I hope the Minister will consider. There was real merit in the debates on the types of other bodies—the non-incorporated bodies—and on the amendment that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) moved about the cascading effect, particularly when we consider the new corporate structures that are becoming important and might end up being the dominant large-firm structures in this country. It would be ridiculous to pass legislation in this period only to find that it is outpaced by the speed of corporate change or, even worse, that we have given companies a perverse incentive to look for corporate forms to avoid the impact of the law. That is almost the most inappropriate signal that Parliament can ever give.

However, there are areas of concern. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider the question of exemptions. As hon. Members who took part in the debate on exemptions pointed out, there are some interesting questions about where they should and should not apply. My hon. Friend the Minister will be challenged—if not personally, then at least through his colleagues in another place—and I believe that by the time the Bill returns in some months’ time it will look a little different from what leaves us tonight. It is difficult to know exactly how the noble Lords intend to make those changes, but we all know that they will challenge the status quo that leaves us today.

I shall play my part in encouraging the noble Lords in certain directions, although they might not always be the directions that my hon. Friend the Minister wants. We can still make the Bill better. The biggest difficulty—which has been referred to, for and against, all the way through Bill’s stages—is whether we couple individual liability with the concept of corporate liability. I simply repeat for the record that the demand to bring to justice the individuals who fail to create the safety culture in an organisation as well as the corporation will continue to be made, and not only by the trade unions. My hon. Friend the Minister accused my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) and me of speaking for the trade unions. I assure him that I never speak for the trade unions—they have to speak for themselves—but I always listen to them. When they make sense, I am prepared to use equivalent language. There are occasions on which they do not make that degree of sense, and then they have to find a different voice.

Ian Stewart: Like Ministers, sometimes.

Tony Lloyd: My hon. Friend says, rather unkindly, “Like Ministers, sometimes”, but not this Minister. I say that not simply because he is my hon. Friend, but
4 Dec 2006 : Column 121
because he is also my friend, which is an important distinction that we occasionally have to make in the House.

My final point is that the House is at its best on this kind of legislation—when it is serious of purpose and when, even if we cannot agree on the final conclusion, we at least have a common aim. We still have some way to go, but our aim is to provide a piece of legislation that is fit for the 21st century, and that says that corporate manslaughter is gross and unacceptable in our society and that those who are responsible for a lack of a safety culture and who allow corporate manslaughter to take place must be brought before the law one way or another, whether as corporations or individuals, and whether through the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 or the Bill, as we shall continue to debate. The Bill is a good piece of work, but it is not yet the piece of work that we need. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to reflect on how we need to improve it, to ensure that it is fit for that 21st-century purpose.

9.35 pm

Mr. Davey: This is a good Bill. It deserves a Third Reading, and has been improved since Second Reading. The whole House will pay tribute to the Minister and his officials for their hard work on this Bill and for listening, for the most part, to the comments that have been made. The Minister should feel proud of what he has achieved. Obviously, he has brought his trade union background and experience to consideration of the Bill. The Bill was a long time coming, and many of his predecessors failed to bring it forward, so I pay tribute to him and his colleagues for doing that.

From Second Reading onwards, the Minister has reminded us of the many disasters, particularly in the 1980s, such as the Herald of Free Enterprise, King’s Cross, Clapham, Piper Alpha, Paddington, Hatfield, Potters Bar—there is a long list—for which this type of legislation would have been useful. Not only would it have assisted in making sure that justice was seen to be done but, arguably, had it been on the statute books before those disasters, it would have acted as a deterrent. He feels strongly that, as with the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, putting this sort of legislation on the statute book sends a signal to employers and directors that they must take their health and safety responsibilities seriously.

In my surgery this morning—I do a Monday morning surgery in Surbiton at 8 o’clock, if anyone is interested—a Thames waterman came to see me. He was worried that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is watering down the licence regimes that currently apply, and that a new licence, the boat master’s licence, will not be as strong. He was concerned about the bureaucracy and inadequacy of its implementation. That brought to mind this Bill, as when such licence regimes are watered down, we need to ensure that other legislation can catch those who behave in a grossly negligent way.

The Bill is very much a step forward but, of course, it is not perfect. The Minister will probably be the first person to admit that, as he has been refreshingly honest. He has struggled and worked to try to improve the Bill. We heard tonight about the debates on custody
4 Dec 2006 : Column 122
and individual liability. Because of time constraints, we have not dealt with some issues about which I was particularly concerned, such as statutory duties. It is worrying that one can breach a statutory duty in a grossly negligent way but still be outside the ambit of the Bill, because the duty of care in negligence—the framework for the Bill and the foundation of the offence—would not necessarily apply. The Minister was concerned in Committee that tying the statutory duty offence to the duty of care offence would not provide certainty. The purpose of my amendment was therefore to show that Parliament could set down those statutory duties that should be linked to the new offence. I recommend that the Minister examine that proposal before the Bill is considered in the other place.

There is a lot of debate about the adequacy of the exemptions. The Government have been good in trying to remove the catch-all provision in relation to Crown prosecution. That is a step forward, on which they should be congratulated. However, like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), I still have concerns. I am worried about the child protection provisions, which, as the Minister will admit, were not in the draft Bill. The Bill has benefited from pre-legislative scrutiny and those new parts that did not have that scrutiny deserve even more attention from the Minister, his officials and the other place, with the child protection provisions probably the most significant in that regard. I am also concerned about the issue of offences being committed by an organisation based in the UK in relation to a death that occurs abroad.

Like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, I note that Government amendments have dealt with some of the problems. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) raised the issue of the Wacker case, in which it would have been impossible to meet the duty of care test in the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for seeking to deal with that. He also deserves credit for what he said about the emergency services, particularly in relation to medical treatment: it represented a real step forward.

Some imperfections remain, but this process has improved the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) that we have seen this place working at its best, and I hope that the other place will also get its teeth into the Bill. The Minister may be less keen for that to happen, but to be fair to him, outside our formal proceedings he has engaged with both Opposition parties and his own Back Benchers very constructively. He will probably be eager to use the opportunity provided by the other place to add even more innovative, progressive measures to the Bill, and I wish him luck.

9.41 pm

Ian Stewart: On Second Reading, I said that the Bill was half-baked and we hoped to take it further. Let me now say that I believe it is baked, but baked lightly.

I congratulate the Minister and his officials on the way in which they have worked with—among others—the Opposition, the trade unions, Labour Back Benchers and families who have suffered as a result of the deaths of loved ones. This is an extremely serious subject, but we have taken what was a reasonable Bill and, collectively, made it better. My hon. Friend the
4 Dec 2006 : Column 123
Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) mentioned a number of key issues that we would like to be addressed further. I take heart from the Minister’s warm words, and indeed his intent. I welcome his offer of support in regard to the key issue that we have still to resolve: what can sensibly be done about duties and the spectrum of penalties, perhaps through the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act or any other relevant Act.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) gave a full assessment of the Bill’s passage, and the Chairman who presided over the final Committee sitting in the last Session said that he considered both the Bill and the way in which it had been handled by all concerned to be exemplary.

I am reminded of a conference on citizenship and democracy that I chaired. The key speaker was Professor Bernard Crick. One of the sixth-form delegates—a young person—asked me for my definition of politicians. I said that I concurred with Professor Crick’s definition: politicians were imperfect people trying to run an imperfect system. The sixth-former then asked me for my definition of politics, and because I was in such eminent company as Professor Crick, I found myself developing a rather flowery definition. Politics, I said, is the art of the visionary. We all need people to push the boundaries of ideas, but the doing of politics is the art of the negotiator, and we must achieve the most sustainable and appropriate settlement in the circumstances.

I believe that tonight we have achieved the most sustainable and appropriate settlement in the circumstances. I hope—indeed, I know—that the Minister will be true to his word, and I feel sure that we shall be able to make this an even better Bill in the future.

9.44 pm

Ann McKechin: I too congratulate the Minister and his officials on the way in which they have conducted the debate on Second Reading, throughout the Committee stage and this evening. The Bill makes a significant advance in terms of health and safety. I think that during its passage we have managed to achieve some substantial improvements, not least in the definition of the senior management test, which caused some concern on Second Reading. The Minister and his officials have worked hard to ensure that that core part of the Bill stands up in law.

I welcome in particular the fact that the new definition will allow the issue of aggregation of circumstances to be considered. That was a key element in the Transco exclusion case, where it was found that the issue of aggregation could not be dealt with under the common law definition of the crime.

The Minister has been welcoming and positive about extending the range of penalties. I look forward to hearing about further amendments to the Bill in the other place. A good point has been made about compensation orders, which we did not discuss when we looked at penalties earlier. Under the civil system, the amount of compensation or award that families receive for the loss of loved ones who were unmarried with no children and dependants is very low. In Scotland, awards are lower than in England, so that
4 Dec 2006 : Column 124
case is even more exaggerated. Therefore, compensation orders can be appropriate, particularly where there are young victims with no dependants. I hope that the Minister will consider that issue over the next few weeks.

Other hon. Members may have received, as I did today, a letter from the chair of the Health and Safety Commission, Bill Callaghan, about the 2005-06 statistics. That raises a number of interesting questions about why the Bill is so important. Mr. Callaghan indicates that the Health and Safety Commission is largely on track to meet two of the three targets: reducing the incidence of work-related ill health by 20 per cent. by 2010; and reducing the number of working days lost per worker due to work-related injury and ill health by 30 per cent. by 2010. Unfortunately, the figure for reducing fatal and major injuries shows “no clear change”.

That suggests that the way we approach the issue of fatal and major injuries is different from our approach to the issue of improving ill health statistics. Last year, 212 workers were killed at work, 32 of whom were in Scotland. Again, unfortunately, Scotland is above the United Kingdom average in terms of fatalities. It has remained so almost throughout the last decade, which reiterates the force of the case for the strongest possible co-operation between the Government, the Health and Safety Executive, the Health and Safety Commission and the Scottish Executive, who are in control of the prosecution system in Scotland—prosecutions are brought by the procurator fiscal and not by the Health and Safety Executive—to ensure that that statistic, as well as the overall figure for the entire UK, is reduced.

We have gone quite a considerable way with the Bill. It is an important marker for many families in terms of hope that we may be able to reduce significantly the number of fatalities over the next few years. Again, I thank the Minister for having the good grace to listen to everyone in the debates over the past two weeks.

9.48 pm

Mr. Dismore: I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the good humour with which he has conducted the debates, apart from perhaps the debate on the last group of amendments, when it got rather silly— [Interruption.] The Government’s approach got rather silly, which was not necessary in my view, but there we are. I have appreciated the fact that he has approached the debates with his usual good humour.

To continue the culinary analogy of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart), I do not talk about the Bill being baked or half-baked. We started with a Bill that was a cup half empty and now it is slightly more than half full. However, there is still a lot more to be done. The Government must be congratulated on making some major changes, particularly in relation to Crown immunity, which is a huge advance in the criminal law. However, that is hedged with an extremely large number of cautious exemptions, not least the one that we have just debated, which takes some of the shine off the ball.

Next Section Index Home Page