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Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

3.22 pm

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move,

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Straw: I am going to speak to the motion as well.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not have to speak to the motion, which is on programming rather than the substantive matter. I will, of course, be guided by what he wishes to do.

Mr. Straw: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My mind was elsewhere.

I think I owe the House a brief explanation of the motion —[ Interruption. ] No, just a brief presentation. The short story is that the business motion will extend the deadline for the Bill by just seven days. I am moving the motion because the Government have tabled quite significant amendments, which I hope will meet the anxieties expressed both in this House and the other place. If we are to complete the business, it is important that we allow ourselves an extra week beyond the existing deadline.

Let me explain the situation to hon. Members who might not be aware of it. There is a deadline because this is a carry-over Bill. Under Standing Order No. 80A, such Bills usually last for only one year; tomorrow would be this Bill’s deadline. The slight paradox is that hon. Members on both sides of the House support the principle of the Bill.

The remaining issue is whether and when the Bill should be extended to police and prison custody. The Government have tabled significant amendments in an effort to address concerns, but we will of course need time to debate them.

3.24 pm

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has moved the motion. As late as last night, Baroness Ashton, the Minister in the other place, said that the Bill was hanging in the balance and that there was

The tabling of the motion at the eleventh hour ensures that the Bill will not fall on Friday and that we will have more time to consider it.

We are in unusual, if not uncharted, waters. It is exceptional for the other place to ask this House to think again by insisting for a fourth time. The fact that the other place has voted to include within the Bill’s
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remit the deaths of people in custody in police and prison cells no fewer than five times shows the strength of feeling. Indeed, hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed their feelings about the matter.

The Bill received its First Reading in this House a year ago. It would have been quite wrong to allow the Bill to fall when the power to extend the timetable lay in the Government’s hands. The Secretary of State was therefore right to move the motion.

We will debate the substantive issue shortly, but the Government have already conceded the principle that deaths in custody should be covered by the Bill. At the moment, that will happen by order. We have been discussing when that should happen. There is no point in extending the time for debate if the Government are unwilling to move on the question of when that should happen, or to tell the House more about their concerns about the immediate introduction of such a provision. We will now have time to reflect on those issues. However, given that it is clear that the Government again intend to reject the Lords amendments that propose an 18-month time frame, I hope that they will make a constructive proposal for a reasonable time frame. If they do not do so, I hope that the other place will be robust in insisting that its proposal is adhered to. We will listen with interest to what the Secretary of State says about that. However, I welcome the fact that he has conceded that further time is needed for reflection and possible compromise on this important issue.

3.27 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I welcome the motion, of course, because the Bill deserves eventually to reach the statute book. As the Secretary of State said, hon. Members on both sides of the House support the Bill’s basic principle. In previous debates, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members were concerned about the suggestion that we were trying to kill the Bill. I am delighted that the Secretary of State has it made clear by tabling the motion that we were not trying to do that. We were trying to perform proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill. We were joining the other place to try to ensure that we had a Bill of the highest quality that addressed the concerns of hon. Members.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman is sincere about not trying to kill the Bill, he will give the matter a good airing today, but vote for the Bill to go through.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but we need to hear from the Secretary of State what the concession will be. In due course, we will debate a Lords amendment that appears to go in the right direction, but we have not heard anything about time scales, which have been the issue time and again, both in the Commons and in the other place. Until we do, the hon. Gentleman should listen to the debate. We do not know whether the motion is the first phase of injury time or the penalty shoot-out. I hope that when the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box, he will provide a genuine concession, so that, all together, we can hold up the cup.

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3.28 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I am not sure that I share the enthusiasm expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). The purpose of the motion is to extend the timetable by seven days—I do not mind that at all because, in principle, I am in favour of the Bill. However, I am not in favour of the Government’s position on the Lords amendments. The Secretary of State has tabled a package of amendments, which I studied with considerable interest. They are extraordinarily difficult to understand. If they were tabled as a basis for compromise, I rather doubt that they serve as such.

The first thing that the Secretary of State must do, either in this debate or in the subsequent one, is tell us the extent to which the present package of amendments—and there are many of them—differs in kind from amendments Nos. 10A, 10C and 10D, which we debated on previous occasions. Are they substantially different, or not? Secondly, and quite differently, it is difficult for a layman to attach the various amendments to the Bill. It would be very much better, as we have seven days in which to do so, to produce a consolidated document so that Members of the Commons and the Lords can see in the Bill what we have been asked to do. I have expressed doubt that the Government amendments serve as the basis of compromise, which is why I am sceptical about what we have been asked to do. If they had provided such a basis, I would have been the first not to rise to my feet.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I always hesitate to intervene on the right hon. and learned Gentleman on a matter of procedure, but there is a clear distinction between the matter that we are discussing—the extension of time—and the substantive matter that we will discuss in a short while. I rather sense that the remarks that he wishes to make are more appropriate to the debate that is to come, rather than to this Question.

Mr. Hogg: As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am the last person to bandy words with the Chair, but you phrased your comments to me in such a way that I believe I can make the following response. The Secretary of State has come to the House to ask for extra time, on the grounds that he has introduced new proposals that may provide the basis for compromise. One is therefore entitled, in reply to his argument in support of the motion, to ask oneself whether it is the basis of compromise and whether it is a new package. That is why I have ventured to identify a few brief points, because I know that you will hold it against me if I go on for long in the next debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had it in mind to say very briefly why I do not think it is a new package or a basis for compromise.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I will listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman patiently for a little longer, and see if we can ourselves achieve a satisfactory compromise.

Mr. Hogg: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not need to strain your patience, because the points I want to make are brief, and I can express them in headline form.

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First, the powers in amendment (h)—one of the amendments that we debated previously—are permissive, not mandatory. Secondly, a timetable has not been prescribed. The phrase, “any category”, means that the order that designates the categories may provide for a lesser set of circumstances than that provided for by the Lords amendment. Proposed subsection (2) enables the Government, in their order, to exempt circumstances and persons so that the categories are not covered in the same way as they are covered by the Lords amendments. Finally, the procedure to be followed is the affirmative resolution, which, while it is better than the negative resolution, does not allow for proper discussion or for amendment.

Those are the points that I wanted to make in support of my argument. I do not think that Government amendment (h) is different in kind from amendment 10A, which we have previously debated. In any event, it is not the proper basis for compromise. If those things are true, I query why we are extending the time by seven days, because we do not have the basis for a proper settlement.

3.34 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has raised an interesting problem, and I should like to ask the Government why they chose seven days. Do they know something that we do not that guarantees that there can be a resolution within seven days, or is it that seven days take us to the point at which they would like to adjourn the House for a stunning 10 weeks, which are completely free for proper scrutiny, analysis and questioning? I fear that it is the latter, and I should have thought that more time
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is needed, given the apparent gap that still exists between my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government.

3.34 pm

Mr. Straw: I think there is a rough consensus that we ought to have more time in which to debate the Bill. As for the point raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), I should have thought it was blindingly obvious that we sought the extra seven days because that would take us to the recess.

The right hon. Gentleman made an uncharacteristically cheap point about the length of the recess. I may be wrong about this, but I do not recall his being particularly vocal when I offered the House an opportunity to vote for September sittings.

Mr. Hogg: I certainly was not!

Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) tells us that he certainly was not. In any event, the offer was made, there was a free vote, and the House in its wisdom voted against a September sitting and in favour of the tabling of parliamentary questions in early September. So there is not much of a point to be made in that regard.

As for the substantive points that have been made, I think it best for us to proceed to the substantive debate, if the House agrees that we should extend the period by seven days.

Question put and agreed to.


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Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

Lords message insisting on amendments to which the Commons have disagreed, disagreeing to Commons amendments in lieu and proposing amendments in lieu of those Commons amendments.

Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 10P and 10Q.

3.36 pm

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move,

For the benefit of Members who may be wondering on which piece of paper to find the amendments—I understand the concern of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who has, as ever, been assiduous—they are on page 1663, as amended. As the rubric states, that is

Members—particularly those who have been debating it at some length—are familiar with the history of the Bill. We tabled it because we thought it important that there should be offences in respect of corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide. We have already accepted in principle the difference—which I shall explain shortly—between our amendment 10A, rejected in the other place, and the amendments that we are about to discuss.

The basis of last week’s debate—which was dealt with by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), and for almost all of which I was present—was not whether the Government had accepted the principle of the application of the offence to deaths in custody, but whether we would ensure that that principle was exercised at some reasonable time in the future. The difference involved is significant.

I understand the objection that was raised. While doubts may be expressed and debating points made about the time that it has taken to travel this road to Damascus, at least we are on track now. The objection to the wording of amendment 10A lay in the fact that the provision for the Act to extend to deaths in custody—as it will—was discretionary, and was in the hands of the Secretary of State. The amendment stated

to the law. It also stated what those amendments could cover, and proposed that the order should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendment (a) states that

Subsection (1A) defines the different categories of custody. Amendment (b) defines a custodial institution, in a very wide sense, and a detained person. It also gives other definitions. Also, there is under amendment (h) the power to extend, but never to subtract from, the scope of custody as laid down by what will become section 2(1A). By order, that section will be able to

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