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Mrs. McGuire: My intervention is not about the number of prosecutions, although we may well be able to come on to that subject later. In the interests of
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clarity, I point out to my right hon. Friend that in the Scottish legal system it is the Procurator Fiscal Service, not the Health and Safety Executive, that pursues cases involving breaches of health and safety legislation. I would not like my right hon. Friend to fall foul of any Scottish lawyer on that point.

Keith Hill: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. The last people in the world I want to fall foul of are Scottish lawyers of whom we have wide experience in the House, not least in our party. I am most grateful to her for correcting the record. I was aware that I was skating on rather thin ice at that point, and that was a most helpful intervention.

Mr. Dismore rose—

Keith Hill: I am anxious to get on to describing the contents of the amendments in greater detail. If my hon. Friend will simply have patience for one moment—

Mr. Dismore: It’s a good one.

Keith Hill: Then I will make an exception.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; he has been incredibly generous in giving way to me. My point has to do with the decision-making processes in the Health and Safety Executive. One of the criticisms made is that there is under-charging. There is a new offence of corporate manslaughter, which I believe has been extended to Northern Ireland, and he knows that I campaigned long and hard for that offence. Given the new unlimited fines and power of imprisonment, does he think there is a risk that the HSE, through the Crown Prosecution Service, may chicken out of a corporate manslaughter case and instead prosecute for a regulatory offence, and that the lesser penalties may have acted as more of a lever on the HSE to prosecute for corporate manslaughter in appropriate cases?

Keith Hill: I very much hope that the Bill will not, as my hon. Friend says, become an excuse for chickening out of any prosecution that ought to be mounted, either under current health and safety legislation or under the corporate manslaughter legislation. I ought perhaps to draw his attention to a comment that I made on Second Reading:

That case is an entirely separate argument.

Let me now deal with the amendments in detail. The proposed new offences regime, relating to both the mode of trial and the maximum penalty, is set out in new schedule 1. New schedule 1 would extend schedule 1 to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 as schedule 3A. As far as possible, the text of the Northern Ireland schedule duplicates that of the Great Britain schedule, with two exceptions. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised the issue with me, and I can now offer him the clarification that he sought.

First, in the column of proposed schedule 3A headed “Offence”, where the Great Britain version of the schedule refers to the relevant sections of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, the Northern Ireland schedule refers to the equivalent articles of the Health and Safety
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at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. The second and more substantive exception is in the column headed “Penalty on summary conviction”. In respect of each offence for which the Great Britain schedule specifies

or “51 weeks”, the Northern Ireland schedule specifies

So why is it not possible to provide for a maximum term of imprisonment exceeding six months in Northern Ireland, despite the intention to ensure overall parity between health and safety legislation in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, especially in relation to offence penalties? The explanation lies in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and corresponding legislation for Scotland, which changed the basis for calculating sentences in Great Britain, but which did not extend to Northern Ireland. An example of a similar divergence in maximum penalties is to be found in section 25 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, which provides for imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months. In its application to Northern Ireland, the reference to 12 months is to be read as a reference to six months. Perhaps I should add that the same financial penalties to be imposed on summary conviction can be applied in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as is the case for the penalties—both imprisonment and financial—applicable on conviction on indictment.

Mr. Dismore: My right hon. Friend explains very effectively why Great Britain provides for a sentence of 12 months and Northern Ireland provides for a six-month sentence, but ultimately the question is how long the convicted person will serve in prison. Given all the changes made to the primary legislation, is the amount of time served the same?

Keith Hill: My hon. Friend’s question involves speculating about the future. It is a matter for the courts, and as a legislator I do not want to get involved in giving the courts detailed advice on the lengths of custodial sentences to be set. That is a matter for the courts and is to be determined by future experience. If things prove unsatisfactory, I dare say that we will at some stage have the opportunity to turn to these issues.

As for the other amendments—

Mr. Dismore: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Keith Hill: No, I want to make progress, if my hon. Friend will allow me.

Amendment No. 1 amends the 1978 order by including the new schedule of offences, which is called schedule 3A in both the order and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 are consequential amendments. Amendment No. 3 deals with the making and amending of regulations under the amended order. Amendment No. 5 stipulates that where the Bill amends an Act or order that does not extend to the whole United Kingdom, that amendment has the same, more limited extent; in other words, it qualifies, where necessary, the basic proposition that the Bill extends to the whole United Kingdom. Amendment No. 6 is a consequential amendment.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 10 make changes for Northern Ireland that correspond to the amendments in the Bill to sections 40(9)(d) and 43 of the Explosives Act 1875. Amendment No. 11 brings into effect amendments to
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article 17 of the 1978 order on health and safety regulations and article 39 of the same order on remedy and forfeiture. The amendment to article 17 will omit a specified penalty in respect of an offence under the Offshore, and Pipelines, Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1992—to be precise, that contained in article 17(6)(e)—because in future any such penalty will be provided for in new schedule 3A. The amendment to article 39 will insert a new paragraph that will clarify the application of article 39(4), which would otherwise be incomplete following the proposed repeal of article 31(5). Both those changes, made by amendment No. 11, duplicate the amendments to the equivalent provisions for Great Britain, which are in sections 15 and 42 of the 1974 Act.

Amendment No. 12 makes an equivalent change to the Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 to that made to the Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) Act 1995 under schedule 2 of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are consequential. Finally, amendment No. 15 repeals article 6 of the Offshore, and Pipelines, Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which corresponds to section 4 of the Offshore Safety Act 1992, which is repealed as a consequence of the provisions that are to be introduced by the Bill.

10.30 am

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) for setting out so fully the basis of, and reasons for, his amendments, and for accepting a large number of interventions in order to clarify various details. I am the second signatory to these amendments, and I am pleased that they have come before us.

As a member of the Conservative and Unionist party, I take the view that, generally, if legislation is worth implementing in Great Britain, it should also apply to Northern Ireland. It was interesting that the right hon. Gentleman drew our attention to the fact that there was a four-year gap between the passage of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the introduction of the subsequent 1978 order. It seems that Northern Ireland quite often gets left out and then has to catch up with what we in this House do. Only on Wednesday, the House debated the draft Social Security (Students Responsible for Children or Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2008, which applied only to Great Britain and left out Northern Ireland. I asked what would happen to Northern Ireland, and I was told that it would catch up later. Therefore, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman for ensuring that in this instance Northern Ireland has not been left out.

Mr. Dismore: Does the hon. Gentleman not share my surprise that on a matter of such importance for Northern Ireland not a single Northern Ireland Member from the Democratic Unionist party or the Ulster Unionist party is present and wishing to speak?

Andrew Selous: All Members of this House always have to account to their electorate for their presence in, or absence from, the Chamber. No doubt those Members are dealing with important matters today, perhaps in the Province itself. However, a goodly number of Members of all parties care very deeply about Northern Ireland; it is an important part of our United Kingdom, and the measures we are debating today are important.

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As I have said, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having dealt with the amendments in considerable detail. We welcome them, and we take the view that the Bill is worth putting into law. It should apply to the whole of this United Kingdom of ours, and we give our support to the amendments.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I, too, thank the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) for his clear exposition of these amendments, and I support the move to ensure that Northern Ireland is included. I noted from his remarks that he visited Northern Ireland prior to introducing them, and that they have the full support of all the political parties in Northern Ireland. Although no Members of those parties are present today, that move to ensure that there is cross-country agreement on the application of these offences was important. Health and safety does not know boundaries. What happens in one part of the UK can affect another part, so it is very important to ensure that what happens in Northern Ireland is in line with what happens in the rest of the UK. I have no hesitation in supporting the amendments.

Mrs. McGuire: I echo the thanks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) for the cross-party support he has had on this element of the Bill, and I am particularly pleased that the hon. Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for St. Ives (Andrew George), for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) have been supportive of him in the tabling of these amendments on Northern Ireland. The Bill has, in some respects, undergone quite a journey, and my right hon. Friend has facilitated that to create cross-party consensus on what are very important measures.

To pick up on the comments of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland has a long-standing policy of maintaining legislative parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in respect of health and safety at work legislation. The main piece of legislation covering health and safety at work in Northern Ireland is the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, and this order essentially replicates the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, which covers England, Scotland and Wales. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there was a time lag between the introduction of these two elements of health and safety legislation.

The HSENI is an executive non-departmental public body currently sponsored by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which is part of the Northern Ireland Executive. It is the lead body responsible for the promotion and enforcement of health and safety at work standards in Northern Ireland. It works very closely with the Health and Safety Executive, which covers the other parts of the UK, to ensure that legislative parity with Great Britain is maintained. In practice, this means that regulations made in Great Britain are used as the template for Northern Ireland regulations; that is often the case in social security regulations, in which I know the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest. The aim is to keep the same substance and intent between different parts of the UK but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, with the appropriate Northern Ireland
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legislative references—he and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) had an interesting exchange on the legal processes.

Health and safety has always been a transferred—or, now, a devolved—matter. However, the substance of the Health and Safety (Offences) Bill relates to criminal justice, and specifically the creation of offences and penalties, which are reserved matters and therefore the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office.

Given that the Bill deals predominantly with criminal penalties and prosecutions, there was—as my right hon. Friend picked up, as his antenna are very sensitive on these matters—a strong desire within the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure parity with Great Britain, and the then Northern Ireland Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the hon. Member for Belfast, North, wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland seeking agreement to extend the Bill to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State subsequently wrote to my noble Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, on 10 March 2008 seeking his support for extending the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland. Our support for that was, of course, very much predicated on whether or not my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham gave his support, as it is his Bill. The Government were happy to support this request as it made a lot of practical sense. It will avoid the potentially significant time lag that there has sometimes been in aligning the Northern Ireland and Great Britain penalty regimes, and save resources in bringing this about in what is a straightforward parity policy area.

On 29 April 2008, Lord McKenzie gave his formal agreement to the Government supporting the extension of the Bill to Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend, as he has indicated, had extensive discussions with colleagues in Northern Ireland on that. He did not just take these amendments at face value; he investigated how they would impact in Northern Ireland—and I think that through his personal visit and discussions he gauged the significant support that there was for this extension to Northern Ireland.

Members might be curious about why Northern Ireland was not included in the scope of the original draft Bill, and I am happy to explain that. When the policy detail was agreed, in November 2006, for a potential Government handout Bill on health and safety offences, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions asked whether, although health and safety is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wished equivalent provision to be made for Northern Ireland. Therefore, there was already that sensitivity to keeping the legislation aligned across the whole of the UK. Like the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, I, too, am a Unionist, but I do recognise the subtleties of difference within the Union, so it was important to seek the approval and support of the Northern Ireland Secretary on that issue.

The then Secretary of State said that he would wish the Bill to be extended to Northern Ireland, and that the Northern Ireland HSE would indeed provide the necessary input to achieve this. In the event, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham is aware, the Bill was not picked up following the ballot, so its detailed drafting could not then take place. However, when it
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was picked by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) in early 2007 to introduce an ordinary presentation Bill, the drafting had to be undertaken at short notice. Unfortunately, because of that short notice the Northern Ireland HSE was unable to move quickly enough to provide the necessary draft clauses and accompanying explanation to allow parliamentary counsel to include the necessary changes to the Northern Ireland legislation. Accordingly, the text of a GB-only Bill was agreed in April 2007 without application to Northern Ireland.

In October 2007, DWP Ministers decided to put the Bill forward again as a handout Bill, in almost the same draft as that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly. The ballot took place on 15 November and I am absolutely delighted not only that my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham was successful in the ballot, but that he also picked up the Bill, because he has piloted it and driven it through its stages in an exemplary fashion. Of course, we well remember the day, 5 December, when he introduced it to this House.

The relevant Northern Ireland penalties are those set out in the 1978 order and in the health and safety regulations made under the order. I want to advise the House, in case it is not obvious from what I have already said, that the Government support the amendments proposed today as they will alter the current framework of maximum penalties set out in the 1978 order to ensure that the courts in Northern Ireland have the same penalty regime as in Great Britain. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) clearly indicated, it is important that we have that uniformity, not least because health and safety breaches are a danger wherever they occur in this United Kingdom.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend says that the objective is to secure the same availability of penalties in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom. The question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), on which he touched, is why we have a maximum term of imprisonment in Northern Ireland of six months, compared with 12 months for the rest of the UK. Is that in practice because of the impact of the way that sentences are imposed, or because of the way that they are administered? Will this mean that people in Northern Ireland spend less time in prison for the same offence, as in the rest of the UK, or will it amount to the same thing in practice?

Mrs. McGuire: We are in danger of encroaching on what is the legitimate responsibility of the Northern Ireland legal process. I said at the beginning of my remarks that we obviously wanted parity as far as possible, while recognising that there are different elements within the system in England and, as I pointed out to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in the process of the courts and the law, but I suspect that these issues are rightfully vested in the slightly different process that exists in Northern Ireland. However, what is important is that the offences regime and the penalties regime be similar across the UK, so that it does not matter whereabouts in this United Kingdom people are tempted to break the law: they will be dealt with appropriately in that—

Mr. Dismore: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Mrs. McGuire: No, I do not want to go down the road of the courts system or the legal process in Northern Ireland. Forgive me, but we want to get on to Third Reading. I know that my hon. Friend is an expert in all these matters; perhaps he can develop some of the points that he wishes to raise if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, during Third Reading.

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