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19 Jan 2010 : Column 166

Health and Safety (Company Director Liability)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

3.49 pm

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): I beg to move,

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was beginning to think that someone was trying to talk the Bill out. Over the past 12 years, we have made substantial progress on health and safety at work issues. I am particularly pleased and proud that this Government passed the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, but that Act did not address all outstanding issues, and there are still gaps. My Bill is intended to fill one of the more significant ones, relating to the responsibility of company directors under the current legislation.

Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, primary duties are placed on an employer. Where that employer is a company, the duties are placed on the company as a separate legal entity, and not on the directors or shareholders. There are some areas in which it could be argued that there is some responsibility on directors. Section 7 of the Act, for example, places duties on all employees in respect of their own safety or that of others. However, that seems to operate only when an individual is acting as an employee, and not as an officer of the company, which is what a director is.

Section 37 of the Act imposes specific duties on directors. Subsection (1) states:

There have been prosecutions under this section, but only a handful each year compared with the number of industrial accidents.

The problem with section 37 is that, before there can be a successful prosecution, the prosecutors are required to prove that a company director was aware, or should have been aware, that an offence had been committed. There is no obligation on any company director to take action to inform themselves of any offences being committed by the company or to take steps to prevent offences from being committed.

The duties imposed under the 1974 Act on employers across the board, including companies, are positive. In general, those duties require the good management and common sense that a sensible employer would employ anyway-namely, the need to look at and assess risks associated with any task, and to take sensible measures to tackle them.

This general duty is in stark contrast to the position of directors of a company. The legislation imposes no positive obligations on directors. The responsibilities placed on directors by section 37 have been very narrowly interpreted by the courts. Companies that decide not to place specific safety responsibilities on directors, or that
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can draft requirements in such a way that they can be easily complied with, can therefore avoid prosecution without too much difficulty. The approach in section 37 in respect of company directors is totally contrary to the whole ethos and philosophy of the rest of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, which encourages good practice.

The Health and Safety Executive attempted to correct this anomaly in 2001 by introducing a voluntary code of guidance. Among other provisions, the code provides that


Despite the enthusiastic reception of the code by business organisations, the majority of companies have not implemented its recommendations. In 2007, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians commissioned a study of the role of directors in health and safety. The report, "Bringing Justice To the Boardroom", is an excellent and important piece of work, and the union is to be congratulated on commissioning it. I have leaned on it heavily in my own research.

One of the report's most significant findings, based on HSE data, is that only 44 per cent. of organisations have a health and safety director at board level. That is obviously disappointing because, again using HSE data, the report shows consistently positive effects from attaching direct responsibility for health and safety to a named director.

The report contains a list of organisations that complied with the guidelines. Those organisations showed reduced accident rates ranging from a 4.3 per cent. reduction in the one year at Neales Waste, through to a 100 per cent. decrease in recordable incidents-down from a seven-year average of nine to zero in 2004-at Esso's Fawley refinery. Other well-known business names showed equally impressive reductions. Debenhams reported a 20 per cent. reduction in accidents in a one-year period, and Sainsbury's showed a 28 per cent. reduction in reportable incidents over three years. British Sugar had a 43 per cent. reduction in lost-time injuries over two years, and Zurich Insurance-we always like to see the insurance industry doing well in this area-reported a 46 per cent. reduction in its accident rate over two years.

The payback on health and safety investment is not just about reduced accident rates. Such investment improves efficiency and staff morale, reduces costs and increases profitability, but, despite the best efforts of the HSE, the support of employer organisations, and these results, the UCATT report shows that only 44 per cent. of organisations have adopted the voluntary code.

The voluntary approach is not working, so more encouragement is needed to persuade employers to take health and safety much more seriously. Further research commissioned by the HSE shows how important legal regulation is in comparison with the voluntary approach.
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Following a critical report by the Work and Pensions Committee in 2004, the HSE commissioned a report from Professor Philip James. After a review of the evidence, he found that

That is direct and to the point. Further HSE research shows that 61 per cent. of directors or managers agree or strongly agree that individuals' belief that they could possibly be imprisoned constitutes an essential or important argument for enforcement to have the deterrent effect, while 52 per cent. cite individual legal consequences as essential or important.

Despite consistent improvement in the years since the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 was introduced, the number of deaths, serious injury and illness recorded in the workplace is still far too high. In 2008-09, 180 workers were killed at work, 131,895 suffered serious injury, a further 246,000 suffered reportable injuries and 551,000 new cases of illness caused at work were recorded. The numbers of death, injury and illness are high, but the number of prosecutions is low. The HSE prosecution database indicates that, on average, only seven directors or senior managers have been convicted of health and safety offences in each of the five years up to 2007. Over the five-year period in which around 350 construction workers died and 9,000 suffered major injuries, only 13 construction company directors were convicted for a health and safety offence.

All of the evidence points very clearly to the fact that the voluntary approach is not working. We desperately need another approach-one that will bring the responsibilities of company directors into line with all other employers under our health and safety legislation, and one that will be of benefit not just to the work force but, as the HSE's own research shows, to employers as well.

My Bill will place a positive duty on all company directors to take all reasonable steps to ensure health and safety in all aspects of the company's activities-effectively to put them in the same position as all other employers and to remove a glaring anomaly in our health and safety laws. The evidence clearly shows that this will save the lives and livelihoods of people across the UK. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Frank Doran, Tony Lloyd, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, Rob Marris, Jim Sheridan, Mr. Ian Davidson, Judy Mallaber, Natascha Engel, Miss Anne Begg and Mr. Lindsay Hoyle present the Bill.

Mr. Frank Doran accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 April, and to be printed (Bill 51).

19 Jan 2010 : Column 169

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

3.59 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): I beg to move,

Third day
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings

    Clauses 24 to 28, new Clauses relating to Part 2, new Schedules relating to Part 2, Clause 35, Schedule 5, new Clauses relating to Part 4, new Schedules relating to Part 4, new Clauses relating to the effect of section 18(7) of the Electoral Administration Act 2006.

    The moment of interruption on the third day.

Fourth day


Time for conclusion of proceedings

    Clauses 29 and 30, Schedule 4, Clauses 31 to 34, new Clauses relating to Part 3, new Schedules relating to Part 3, remaining new Clauses, remaining new Schedules, Clauses 59 to 62, remaining proceedings on the Bill.

    The moment of interruption on the fourth day.

As Members know, three substantive parts of the published Bill remain to be debated: part 2 on the ratification of treaties; part 3 on the House of Lords; and part 4 on protests around Parliament. As such, I believe it to be appropriate that we today consider parts 2 and 4, along with a Government amendment relating to the effect of section 18(7) of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 on the right of Commonwealth and Irish citizens to be Members of the House of Lords and holders of other offices. That would leave the remaining day of Committee free to consider part 3 of the Bill on the House of Lords, along with any remaining proceedings.

I am aware that some Members are concerned about the amount of time allocated to the Bill, should the Government bring forward any additional amendments. In relation, for example, to the report by Sir Christopher Kelly's committee, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House said at business questions last week that we are considering how much time would need to be given to the Bill in the light of any amendments to implement the Kelly report, and that remains the position.

19 Jan 2010 : Column 170

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Why does the Minister not do what always used to be done in this place: let us debate things for as long as they take? As this is a constitutional matter of some importance, what is the difficulty in doing that?

Mr. Wills: The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member for such a long time that I am sure he knows the answer to that question. He should not waste the House's time by asking questions to which he already knows the answer.

I believe that the amended programme motion provides the right amount of time-an adequate amount of time-on the Floor of the House for the Bill as it currently stands, and I hope that Members will support it. I also hope the House will accept my commitment that the Government will look again at the allocation of time if there are any further amendments.

Several hon. Members rose-

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I apologise to the Members who are hoping to intervene, but the Minister has concluded his speech.

4.2 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but I will not agree to this programme motion, which represents a fairly pathetic performance by the Government in relation to how they treat the House. This is a constitutional Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is absolutely right that, historically, there would have been open-ended discussion of such Bills on the Floor of the House.

We do not like internal knives, as the Minister knows, and the one merit of the second group of two days for consideration of this Bill was that there were to be no internal knives so that the House could debate the matter at its leisure, and if it were to have become clear that there was insufficient time for everything to be considered, I would, doubtless, have approached the Minister, through the usual channels, to ask him kindly to make more time available. On that basis, there is no rational reason for the internal knives now to be inserted.

Moreover, as the Minister has candidly admitted-I am grateful to him for that-the fact of the matter is that this Bill is far from finished. We do not know what will be in about 50 per cent. of it, although we have had some hints. It will be a very important measure, and careful debate will be required on the recommendations of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and how Parliament wishes to implement Sir Christopher Kelly's report. We have also been told that there will be a debate and opportunity to vote on an alternative voting system. Things could not be much more constitutional than that, but all these matters are deferred into the future, and we have no idea how much time will be allocated for us to consider them, or, indeed, how much time the House will then get on Report-I think the Minister would acknowledge that we will have to have a Report stage because the Government have amended their own legislation.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): In the context of the Report stage and IPSA, does my hon. and learned Friend agree with the suggestion that has been made
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that IPSA might be called upon under this Bill to consider the salaries and pensions of Members of Parliament, which would, of course, require a very considerable amount of discussion?

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend is correct: there has been talk of that. However, I am not aware of that possibility having been included in any current amendments.

There have been many rumours about how we are to tackle the setting up of IPSA. Indeed, as the Government know, we are sympathetic to and wish to be supportive of most of the measures that it will introduce, although there may be some that, being outside Sir Christopher Kelly's remit, stimulate more debate. Of course I also have to accept that this is a matter on which Members of this House will wish to express their own views, free from interference from any Front-Bench team, because they have a right to do so. For all those reasons, the Conservatives are very unhappy about the way in which this is all meandering.

May I make a final point to the Minister that I do not believe to be uncalled for? The length of time that this Parliament still has to run is rather short, so it cannot be outside the Minister's mind that unless there is a degree of consensus on these matters, there must be a danger that a piece of legislation that I assume has the Government's support, that in many respects has the Opposition's support and that I believe has the Liberal Democrats' support-there is support from all parts of the House-could get into difficulty with time if the Government do not have a proper timetable. As we also know from experience, badly scrutinised legislation that is passed in haste, for whatever reason, including because the Parliament is running out of time, is likely to cause nothing but trouble later on.

For all those reasons, it seems to us that the Government are moving in the wrong direction. I strongly urge the Minister to leave the timetable as it is and to work hard in the next 24 hours-or at least in the next week-to tell the House what the Government are going to do in terms of the further amendments that will be tabled, so that this debate can have some structure and we can have a reasonable certainty of concluding it. For all those reasons, the Minister leaves me thoroughly unpersuaded as to any valid argument for introducing internal knives at this stage of the debate. I urge him to allow the House to proceed with this debate in the usual fashion, so that the arguments may be put forward and the House does not feel that it is being hurried along for absolutely no reason.

4.7 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I was hoping to intervene on the Minister, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he was so quick in trying to get away from the Dispatch Box that I am now forced to make a speech.

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