|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The power to impose a fine of up to £20,000 is already available in respect of some offences under the 1978 order, such as breaches of the general duties, as was mentioned. The difference in respect of the six and 12-month periods was also clearly highlighted.
I am delighted to be able to offer to my right hon. Friend the Governments support for these amendments. As I said, the way in which he has investigated the amendmentsensuring that the genuine and deep feeling within the Northern Ireland Executive, as well as within our own Secretary of State for Northern Irelands Office, is recognisedhas been exemplary. I commend the amendments to the House, along with my right hon. Friend.
(3A) The Department concerned (within the meaning given in Article 2(2) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9))) may make any amendments to existing regulations that it considers necessary or expedient in consequence of the amendments made by section 1(3) and (4).
, Scotland and Northern Ireland (except that an amendment or repeal made by this Act has the same extent as the provision to which it relates).. [Keith Hill.]
|Offence||Mode of trial||Penalty on summary conviction||Penalty on conviction on indictment|
or Article 31(4) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978.
(a) in the sentence beginning A person who manufactures as it extends to England and Wales and Scotland, for and liable to the penalties specified in section 33(3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 there is substituted and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (mode of trial and penalty for offence under existing statutory provisions for which no other penalty is specified);
(b) in that sentence as it extends to Northern Ireland, for and liable to the penalties specified in Article 31(4) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 there is substituted and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (mode of trial and penalty for offence under existing statutory provisions for which no other penalty is specified);
(c) in the sentence beginning If any explosive is imported or sold, for and liable to the penalties specified in section 33(3) of there is substituted and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to..
(3A) Paragraph (4) applies where a person is convicted of an offence consisting of acquiring or attempting to acquire, possessing or using an explosive article or substance (within the meaning of any of the relevant statutory provisions) in contravention of any of the relevant statutory provisions.
Activity Centres (Young Persons Safety) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1069 (N.I. 5))
I do not wish to detain the House with a lengthy recital of the virtues of this short Bill. It has met with a large degree of consensus, for which I am most grateful. As a consequence, in the course of our exchanges on Second Reading and in Committee, I sense that its merits have been sufficiently adumbrated. Nevertheless, in one respectin relation to an undertaking that I made in CommitteeI need to bring the House up to date with the approach that I made to the Sentencing Guidelines Council in connection with the Bill. In that context, and in anticipation of possible debate elsewhere, I would like to make a final attempt at responding to what I take to be the single outstanding reservation about the Billthe CBIs continuing objection to the extension of the option of imprisonment for most health and safety offences and their prosecution in the lower courts.
Let me begin by acknowledging and welcoming the CBIs support for the principle behind the Bill, which is to bring financial penalties for breaches of specific duties to safeguard health and safety in line with general duties, and to bring the financial penalty framework for health and safety offences in line with other offences. On the mode of trial, I am also grateful for the CBIs support for the Bills provision to make two offences relating to the powers of inspectors, under section 20 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, either way offences.
What are the reasons, therefore, for the CBIs opposition to the option of imprisonment for most offences? It seems to me that there are various arguments, but I hope that the following is a fair summary of its opposition. First, the CBI is opposed because imprisonment applies to individuals, and health and safety offences are rarely the fault of one individual. Secondly, it is opposed because it believes that neither the protocols of the enforcement authorities nor existing sentencing guidelines provide sufficient safeguards to ensure proportionality. Thirdly, it is opposed because it says that the protocols or the pressure of publicity often encourage a rather arbitrary choice of whom to prosecute. Fourthly, it suspects that the wider availability of imprisonment will raise the stakes and encourage more challenges to prosecution. Fifthly, and finally, it takes the view that such cases should be heard only in the higher courts.
Perhaps I may deal with those arguments in reverse order, and begin by pointing out that the option of a custodial sentence imposed by the lower courts has been available since 1974 for failing to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice, or with a court remedy order, and for a number of offshore offences under the Act since 1992. In addition, imprisonment is widely available under other regulatory legislation, including
the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Food Safety Act 1990. Given that those arrangements seem to have worked well and without objection for many years, it seems unreasonable for the CBI to challenge the principle now.
On the other hand, the wider availability of the option of imprisonment in both higher and lower courts may lead to more challenges to prosecutions. Who knows? It is a matter of speculation, but I shall make two points on that. First, the availability of higher fines and custodial sentences in the lower courts ought to relieve pressure on the Crown courts and therefore make for speedier and more efficient justice overall. Secondly, the scope for challenge on the part of the accused depends in large measure on the strength of the prosecutions brought by the enforcing authority. The Health and Safety Executive for Great Britain has a successful conviction rate of more than 95 per cent. and the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Irelands rate is, as I have said, 100 per cent., so the scope for challenge would seem to be strictly limited. Those extraordinary statistics must be good evidence of the very high quality of the prosecutions brought by the HSE and they serve to undermine the CBIs suggestion that the cases brought by the HSE tend to be either arbitrary or not proportionate.
In Committee, I described the very strict guidelines applied by the HSE in its approach to the prosecution of health and safety offences, and I shall not detain the House by rehearsing the details of the commissions enforcement policy statement now, save to make three points. First, proportionality, which means relating enforcement action to risk, is the primary consideration in the bringing of any case under health and safety legislation. Secondly, the guidelines are even more rigorous and detailed in the standards of proof they say should be sought in the prosecution of individuals. Thirdly, it should be remembered that not only health and safety inspectors, but the courts exercise strict criteria in the approach to custodial sentences. The Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 stipulates that a court may not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence or the combination of the offence and others associated with it was so serious that only such a sentence could be justified.
So, the standards of proof required of both the inspectorate and the courts in the pursuit of custodial sentences are very high, which makes it unlikely that imprisonment will be a frequent sentence in health and safety cases. There is also another reason for that. The CBI is right to say that health and safety offences are rarely the fault of one individual; for the most part they are the result of a combination or sequence of actions or inactions, and a negligent culture. So, there is a very low probability, in any circumstances, of the imprisonment of individuals. That will occur only in such serious cases as are likely to cause public outrage, as the regulatory impact assessment puts it. We think that under the new provisions of this Bill the rate of imprisonment could rise from three or four a year to six to eight.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|