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House adjourned at seventeen minutes past ten o'clock.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have today placed before Parliament the Government's response to the joint report of the Home Affairs and Work and Pensions Committees on the Government's draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill. This is a key step towards getting a Bill into Parliament and an offence on the statute book.
The draft Bill set out the Government's proposals for reforming the current law of corporate manslaughter. It would overcome the main obstacle to convictions under the current law by removing the need to attach corporate guilt to the criminal negligence of a single very senior individual within the company. This would allow for companies to be found guilty of manslaughter if grossly negligent management failures led to a death. The draft Bill also took the unprecedented step of extending the offence to Crown bodies, creating a level playing field between the public and private sectors in their liability for manslaughter and ensuring that workers in Crown institutions are protected by the offence.
The Government are pleased that the committees supported the basic tenets of the draft Bill and the Government's policy in this area: the need for reform, an offence aimed at the most serious failures in management of health and safety, and the lifting of Crown immunity.
The committees made a number of recommendations that the Government accept would lead to improvements in the Bill, in particular a re-framing of the test for management failure. They also recommended that the Bill should extend to directors whose negligence contributed to the death. The criminal law already covers those who grossly negligently cause death and those who contribute to health and safety breaches. The Government do not believe that that framework should be revisited in this Bill, but they also recognise that a conviction for corporate manslaughter will raise important questions about the overall management of a company and are looking further at the interaction between legislation on disqualification of directors and the new offence.
The committees welcomed the lifting of Crown immunity. They agreed that some issues should continue to lie outside the offence, such as public policy decisions but they were concerned that other exemptions were too wide. The Government think that they have got the balance right, but we will look again at precisely where the line has been drawn between those public functions whose management should be
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subject to scrutiny in the criminal justice system and those where strategic accountability lies properly though other means.
The Government believe that the result of pre-legislative scrutiny will be a better Bill before Parliament and are very grateful for the committees' careful but swift scrutiny, which will enable its introduction without delay.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): In a Written Statement in response to a Question by my honourable friend the Member for Pendle (Mr Gordon Prentice) on 28 November 2005, (Official Report, Commons, col. 165W), my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Mr Jack Straw) said that he hoped to make an announcement soon on his examination of the relevant diplomatic service regulations, with a view to making changes to ensure that they more accurately reflect the overall purpose of the regulations and conventions concerning publications by serving and former officials.
The Foreign Secretary has now approved a revised version of diplomatic service Regulation 5, which governs the use of official information or experience, and associated guidance. The new version brings the regulations into line with the Civil Service Management Code and has been brought to the attention of all FCO staff. The main changes are:
In addition, all contracts of employment and letters issued on retirement or resignation now explicitly draw attention to the rules on publication and the duty of confidentiality. This will be systematically redrawn to the attention of staff at key points in their career. Staff are also required to sign an undertaking which states that they have read, understood and agree to be bound by the rules on publication. David Warren, the director of human resources, has already written to all senior FCO officials to explain the revised requirements.
The regulations will be subject to regular review and revision in line with any future changes to the Civil Service Management Code. The Foreign Secretary will also take into account any relevant recommendations from the Public Administration Committee when it reports on the issue.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competitiveness (Barry Gardiner) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I will be attending the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 13 March. Martin Bartenstein, Austrian Minister for Economics and Labour, will chair the council in the morning and Elisabeth Gehrer, Austrian Minister for Education, Research and Culture, in the afternoon.
The first item on the agenda will be the Lisbon process and preparation for the Spring European Council. The Austrian presidency has prepared a key issues paper (KIP), based on the Commission's 2006 annual progress report on Lisbon. The aim is to hold an exchange of views on the KIP, and adopt it as the Competitiveness Council's contribution to the Spring European Council.
A debate on the competitiveness and innovation programme (CIP) will then follow, with the aim of agreeing a partial general approach. As there has been broad agreement in working group, the presidency believes that the council will be able to reach a partial general approach.
The next item on the agenda is the Services Directive. This item will also be discussed over dinner the night before the council, on Sunday 12 March. The presidency wants to have an exchange of views in the light of the recent vote in the European Parliament. The presidency is likely to provide a summary of the discussion to the council the next day.
The final item to be taken before lunch will be the regulation laying down the Community Customs Code (Modernised Customs Code). The Commission will give a presentation on this item, but a discussion is not expected.
After lunch, the council will discuss the specific programmes implementing the seventh framework programme (FP7) on research and development. The presidency will provide a progress report on the work done in working group. There will then be an exchange
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of views relating to the "co-operation", "ideas", "JRC" and "Euratom" sections of FP7. The presidency has indicated that it wants the council to focus on two issues: governance of the programme and stem cell research.
Next, the presidency will provide a progress report on the regulation laying down rules for participation under the seventh framework programme (FP7), which will be followed by an exchange of views based on a note prepared by the presidency.
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