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Lords amendment: No. 22.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 25.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Amendment No. 25 goes to an important aspect of the Bill that we considered in some detail in our debates in this House—the question of what sanctions should apply to an organisation convicted of corporate manslaughter. As an offence is committed by the organisation itself, and not an individual, the principal response to date has been a fine and that is the only sanction available for companies convicted of manslaughter under the current law. The Bill goes one step further by introducing the possibility of remedial orders, currently only available under health and safety law.

Hon. Members urged the Government to think more imaginatively and I pay particular tribute to the efforts of my hon. Friends the Members for Eccles (Ian Stewart) and for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) in this respect. The Government reflected on those arguments and were persuaded to bring forward amendments in the other place to provide for the
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innovative sanction of publicity orders in the Bill. The publicity orders received the backing of Professor McRory’s review of regulatory penalties, which found that organisations were likely to take them very seriously.

Lords amendment No. 25 therefore gives the court the power to order an organisation to publicise the fact of its conviction and to specify particulars of the offence, the amount of any fine imposed and the terms of any remedial order that has been made. Prior to setting an order, and depending on the circumstances of the case, the judge will be required to ascertain the views of the appropriate regulatory authority—such as the Health and Safety Executive—and of the prosecution.

That will ensure that the judge receives practical assistance in setting the order, and provide an opportunity to establish the views of the victim’s family. As with other penalties, the defence will also be able to make representations to the judge before the order is made.

In setting an order, the judge will be able to require the organisation to supply evidence that it has complied with the order to the appropriate regulator, if that regulator has been consulted. That provides a means of ascertaining that the order has been implemented. Similarly, Lords amendment No. 22 improves the monitoring of remedial orders by giving courts the power to order an organisation to provide evidence of compliance to the regulator consulted when the order was drawn up.

While we expect that the health and safety regulators will monitor closely the safety regime in any organisation convicted of corporate manslaughter or corporate homicide, Lords amendment No. 22 builds in an extra safeguard to provide that the organisation takes positive action to demonstrate its compliance if the court considers that appropriate. The amendment is important, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Grieve: I am delighted with Lords amendment No. 25, which will be a very powerful tool in shaming organisations convicted of corporate manslaughter. My experience as a prosecutor in health and safety cases is that, much more than fines, adverse publicity has always been the principal anxiety for larger corporations. Although the fine penalties in these cases are likely to be higher than those in health and safety cases, they will remain perfectly bearable. I have noted in the past the care with which corporations try to handle the media at the court when they are convicted, and that shows that adverse publicity is something that really matters to them.

The Bill now provides some really inventive possibilities. Requiring large corporations to take out advertisements in national newspapers to publicise their own conviction, and the nature of it, is a very powerful tool. I am wholly comfortable with that, but the courts will ensure that the requirement is proportionate.

I welcome the provision very much, and I am glad that the Government have made use of the extensive discussions in this House and the other place to take a very important step forward.

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Mr. Dismore: I agree with what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) has just said. It is difficult to envisage fines much higher than the £4 million levied in relation to the Ladbroke Grove train crash, although that should be contrasted with the £5 million that West Ham had to pay over unregistered players. That shows that victims’ families will still face a degree of injustice when they seek reparation for an incident.

That is important, because the media operations surrounding such convictions have become increasingly professional in their attempt to downplay or minimise what happened. If a court order can be used to get around a company’s PR machine, that is very welcome. However, I shall go further than the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, as I hope that the judges who issue the orders will be a little more imaginative too. They should do more than require newspaper advertisements to be taken out. In big incidents that receive worldwide television publicity, they should ensure that the ensuing apology and conviction are also the subject of a TV advertisement.

Regardless of the adverse publicity that would be incurred, that could be quite expensive for the organisation that has to pay the bill. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that publicity orders cover a much wider range of media than merely newspapers.

Mr. Davey: I rise to agree with the contributions from the hon. Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). This provision is a welcome addition to the Bill, and for large corporations it may even have more impact than the fines that might be imposed. We should recognise that such organisations spend millions on their PR departments: for some, PR and brand management are critical to their business, so ensuring that corporations that commit serious offences get the bad publicity that they deserve is exactly the right thing to do. The provision will have a major deterrent impact, because it gives corporations an incentive to get things right in the first place so that they are not responsible for a death. The amendment will have exactly the effect the Minister wanted, and I congratulate him and those in another place for proposing it.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to Members for their support. I agree that the amendment will be a significant part of the Bill.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), we shall be looking at forms other than newspapers. In the world of corporate social responsibility, where companies use a range of gambits to show that they are being socially responsible, the provision will be a wonderful tool to bring them to book. It will do one of the things we wanted the Bill to do—ensure that prevention is considered in the procedures of corporate bodies.

I commend the amendment to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 23 to 29 agreed to.

After Clause 16

Lords amendment: No. 30.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

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In similar vein to the amendments on unincorporated bodies and publicity orders, the Government introduced the amendment in the other place in response to concerns raised in the House. On Report, a question was put as to whether the new offence might have the perverse effect of decreasing individual convictions on a secondary basis for health and safety offences if a successful prosecution for corporate manslaughter meant that health and safety charges could not be put to a jury. That would be an unintended consequence of the new offence. After reflection, we decided that there was merit in making the position clear on the face of the Bill by expressly stating that a conviction for corporate manslaughter would not preclude an organisation’s being convicted for a health and safety offence on the same facts if it was in the interests of justice.

As a result, it is clear that, in appropriate circumstances, proceedings can also be taken against individuals on a secondary basis for health and safety offences, notwithstanding a successful corporate manslaughter prosecution. The provision does not impose new liabilities on individuals, but makes sure that existing liabilities are not inadvertently reduced by the new offence.

With that explanation, I hope that the House will support the amendment.

Mr. Grieve: I certainly welcome the amendment. It responds to concerns that I raised in the course of our discussions, which may have been raised by other Members, too—that the Bill might have the unintended consequence of making health and safety convictions more difficult. Above all, we wanted to ensure that there was a possibility of offering juries a hierarchy of convictions when they were considering an offence all in one trial: that, the amendment does.

I confess that, although I am completely happy with subsection (2), I find it difficult to envisage a circumstance in which a corporation convicted of corporate manslaughter might be prosecuted at a later stage for a regulatory breach arising out of some or all of the same facts. I simply flag that up. It would be rather undesirable if that were to happen, because of the costs involved. It would clearly mean looking in the second trial at facts that were looked at in the first. If this is a belt-and-braces provision, I certainly will not stand in its way, but I hope that the Minister will provide me with some slight reassurance about the circumstances in which it is envisaged that the provision would be used, because in reality it is unlikely that it would be required. Subject to that, the broad thrust of the new clause—and of subsection (1) in particular—is one with which I am entirely comfortable and which I welcome.

6 pm

Mr. Dismore: We need to look at the reasons why the amendment was necessary. It was necessary because of the biggest single flaw in the Bill: the lack of individual liability. That is where the Bill falls dramatically short. When the public hear that we are introducing an offence of corporate manslaughter, they expect the consequence of a conviction to be that directors and senior managers will be locked up, but that is one thing that the Bill will not deliver. The Bill will not meet the public’s expectation. The amendment is a half-hearted way of trying to address that expectation. I certainly do
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not disagree with the amendment; in fact, I support it. But it is a weak, mealy-mouthed, half-way house when it comes to what the public expect from a new offence of corporate manslaughter.

The amendment was necessary because the way in which the Bill was originally phrased meant that directors were less liable to face prosecution than if the new offence had not been introduced in the first place. To charge a health and safety regulatory offence on the same facts as corporate manslaughter would effectively be a duplicitous indictment and could not therefore be sustained in the Crown court. So, now we have to amend criminal law procedure to allow a duplicitous indictment, so that the offence under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 can then be charged against the individual director. That whole weird chain of events follows on from the fact that the Government did not draft the Bill sufficiently strongly in the first place to ensure that it delivers what the public expect.

The amendment means that an individual director could be charged under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act with the circumstances giving rise to the corporate manslaughter conviction. But, under that Act, they could be charged only with what is effectively a much less strong regulatory offence. With clause 16 of the Bill excluding individual liability for secondary offences, I believe that one of the main targets for reform has been dramatically overlooked. The purpose of the Bill must be to act as a deterrent and without individual liability, it is far less likely to do so.

I understand that the Government are considering amending the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act to create some new individual statutory duties on directors to take reasonable steps to comply with health and safety requirements. I welcome that and perhaps the Minister can explain how far those discussions have gone when he replies. But I am not quite sure how much that will add to the section 37 liability under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, which provides for an individual offence by a director if the company is convicted.

What I find really irksome is that we are prepared to go behind the corporate veil and convict a director if his company commits a health and safety at work regulatory offence, but we are not prepared to go behind the corporate veil if his company commits corporate manslaughter. That cannot be right. That is where the Bill falls dramatically short of what the public expect and therefore, although I have campaigned for the legislation for 20 years and very much welcome it, in the end I can give the Bill only two, rather than three, cheers.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May I endorse everything that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) has said? The test of the Bill will be whether families feel that justice has been done. I had a constituent, Simon Jones, who was a student at Sussex university. To augment his grant, he worked at Shoreham docks. On his first day, tragically he was put in a place of work in the bowels of a ship, where no one could see what was happening. In effect, he was decapitated. I sat with his family in the public gallery at the Bailey when the prosecution was brought, but no one was ever convicted, so the family got no closure.

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I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon that it is perverse that we will go behind the corporate veil on health and safety offences, yet that no individual in any circumstances, however gross, will be liable for prosecution for corporate manslaughter. The test for the Bill—I hope that it will not be 20 years before the House considers the matter again—will be whether families in our constituencies whose loved ones have been killed at work through negligence for which people are culpable feel that the Bill is capable of providing that justice will be done.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to hon. Members for their support. I would not minimise in any way the effect of such deaths on families, which is the motivation behind the Bill and the wider health and safety package.

We have debated individual liability extensively throughout the Bill’s passage. The Government and the official Opposition agreed that individual liability was not appropriate for this Bill —[ Interruption. ] I understand that others took a different view. However, this takes nothing away from the many years of campaigning undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). He should take great heart from the fact that he has helped to shape the Bill, even though it falls short of his requirements. He is right that we want to examine individual liability through a review of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. My hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) and for Eccles (Ian Stewart) are pursuing that matter with Work and Pensions Ministers.

It is the case that directors may be liable. In Committee, I said that the Health and Safety Commission had examined in depth with stakeholders the idea of statutory duties for managers on health and safety management. Work is being carried out on guidance, and there are already provisions on disqualification under health and safety legislation, which is why that is appropriate route through which to deal with individual liability.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is right that this is a belt-and-braces provision. The measure is designed to deal with a situation in which an individual defendant cannot be identified in a jurisdiction at the point at which corporate proceedings are brought.

The spirit of our proceedings on the Lords amendments has shown how Parliament can bring things together positively, despite the notable occasion on which there was disagreement. I am grateful to hon. Members for their participation and to all the officials who have worked to try to get the Bill into its present shape. I hope that the House will support the Lords amendment.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 31 to 35 agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

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Competition: Retail Banking

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 25 (Periodic adjournments.),


Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 22B(2)(Notices of questions, motions and amendments),

Question agreed to.

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