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A number of points have been made with regard to exemptions and Crown immunity. It has been contended that the exemptions are too wide. As I have said, the removal of Crown immunity is an unprecedented step. My noble friends Lord Parekh and Lord Berkeley, the noble Lords, Lord Cotter and Lord Lee, the noble Baronesses, Lady D’Souza and Lady Stern, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, have all considered in their interventions the importance of this area, while not necessarily agreeing with the approach adopted in the Bill.

The Bill comprehensively covers duties to provide safe systems for employees in the workplace for the Crown and others. It does not exempt Crown bodies from these duties. The Bill is not about judicial scrutiny of the way core government or public

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functions are carried out. The offence will not apply to: public policy decisions, for example the allocation of limited public resources; decisions about regulation and standards; or difficult public responsibilities such as law enforcement, detention, child protection and emergency services, as there is already a strong framework of accountability in these areas. Ministers are inevitably accountable to Parliament. There are public inquiries, coroners’ inquests and independent investigations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and other bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Cotter, asked whether deaths caused through emergency services staff driving to emergencies would be covered. That raises the difficult point of determining where the line should be drawn in deciding what public responsibilities should be covered by the offence. The cases that we are talking about will be, by their nature, tragic. We need to be cautious. Public bodies such as the emergency services will seek to address those in peril. If they drive more slowly, they risk not arriving quickly enough at, for example, the scene of a fire. These are the difficult questions that arise in this area.

The noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, addressed deaths in custody. This matter was debated at length in another place. Division on this showed strong support for the government position. I submit that there is a reasonable expectation that the Lords will swim to a degree with the tide of opinion. Tackling deaths in custody is a key priority for government. Initiatives for making custody safer include: suicide prevention co-ordinators in all prisons; development of new safer prison design, including “safer cells”; and investment of £26 million, allowing physical improvements to be made at six pilot sites.

Removal of Crown immunity means that the Bill comprehensively covers duties to provide safe systems of work for employees and in the workplace for the Crown and others. Strong mechanisms for accountability exist. All deaths in custody are subject to an independent investigation; for example, by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Indeed, all deaths in custody are also subject to a coroner’s inquest, in public, with a jury. These wider inquiries produce recommendations which drive improvements in the custodial setting. That is precisely the area that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to when he discussed sloppiness in custody. Existing mechanisms can identify such sloppiness, were it to arise.

One accepts that there is a view from others who share our priority for improving safety in custody that we should add to this accountability through corporate manslaughter. We do not think that this will improve safety or that the courts are the right place to examine issues which go to the heart of government decision-making about matters such as funding of prisons and protecting the public. There is always a difficult confluence between operational matters and policy. It is important that these be kept separate, although it is not always easy so to do.

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The Bill is about the management of health and safety at work, not about scrutiny of the way core government or public functions are carried out. That, I submit, is Parliament’s role.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for giving way. I was interested to hear his statement about lack of public funds being an excuse for not doing something. I suggest that lack of funds could not be used as an excuse for a private sector company not to do something. Would this measure apply to local authorities as well if they said that they did not have enough money to do something? Would they not be charged with corporate manslaughter if an incident arose in those circumstances? It seems an odd reason to put forward for keeping Crown immunity.

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: My Lords, regarding the position of the Crown, the difference is that one is dealing with decisions that go far wider than those of local authorities. It will inevitably have to deal with the overall national Budget, national funding issues and the question of priorities that fall to be considered. With respect, I contend that that is not a proper matter for the courts to become deeply involved in.

The noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Lee, raised the question of the police. The offence has been extended to police forces, which are covered as employers and occupiers, except where they are dealing with very serious threats, such as terrorism and civil unrest. How the offence should apply to operational activities more broadly was discussed for some time in another place, with some recognition that the matter was not straightforward. The police do not owe a duty of care for many of their operational activities and, therefore, it is important that this area is treated with considerable sensitivity.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Cotter and Lord Henley, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to unincorporated bodies. The current law does not extend to unincorporated bodies. Evidence from the Health and Safety Executive indicates that only 2 per cent of HSE prosecutions are against unincorporated bodies. It is true that these typically involve smaller businesses such as building firms and sole traders, where individual prosecutions are likely to be possible. Very few prosecutions or other enforcement actions are brought against the office-based industries, such as estate agents, law firms or accountancy partnerships, to which reference was made. However, this area has been debated extensively and we are looking at whether there is a sensible way to extend the offence in some way.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked to see amendments immediately in relation to unincorporated bodies and sanctions. We are continuing to consider whether it would be sensible to extend the Bill to cover unincorporated bodies and alternative sanctions, and we will continue to do so. If we consider that amendments would be sensible, we will bring them forward, of course.

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Provisions relating to incorporated bodies mentioned in the schedule cover a number of government departments. Incorporated public bodies that are not listed are covered by the offence automatically, including local authorities, National Health Service bodies and other public bodies, such as English Heritage and so on. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, raised the question of Scottish partnerships. They will be considered in due course when we look at what may be dealt with in this area.

Turning to the question of jurisdiction, raised by the noble Lord, Lord James, the Bill already extends beyond the land of the UK in a number of important respects. It applies to deaths within territorial sea limits and would therefore apply to the circumstances of the Lyme Bay tragedy, when a number of canoeists were killed, which led to the first ever successful corporate manslaughter prosecution. It will apply also to deaths resulting from tragic accidents involving British ships, such as the Zeebrugge tragedy, and will apply to deaths on oil rigs, bearing in mind the Piper Alpha disaster. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked about foreign-flagged vessels. Scottish and English law does not apply to vessels outside British waters, and the new offence follows the approach that the law has adopted thus far. These are all circumstances in which British law already applies. Perhaps the point to bear in mind is that once one goes beyond British jurisdiction, difficulties will inevitably arise. The police are not in control of the investigation and have no formal powers to gather evidence, which will be collected by other countries’ police forces and possibly subject to other rules of evidence.

The question of director disqualification was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Cotter, Lord Hoyle and Lord Hunt. Directors can currently be disqualified if they are convicted of an offence. Perhaps I should say nothing further about that at this point. The area is already substantially covered.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, asked whether the Bill might lead to delegation of health and safety responsibility below senior level. It is clear that only organisations in which health and safety is managed properly at the senior level can be sure of avoiding liability for the offence. We do not think that the offence acts as an incentive to delegate responsibilities inappropriately.

A new offence of corporate manslaughter has been in the offing for many years. A number of high-profile cases have illustrated demonstrable flaws in current law. I am very pleased that we have at last brought this Bill before your Lordships’ House. It is a complicated area and has been difficult to get right. I look forward to having the expertise of noble Lords in ensuring that it receives proper scrutiny. I believe, having listened to this debate, that most noble Lords broadly support the Bill, for which I am grateful. We will have every opportunity to discuss the full details in Committee in the new year. It is no doubt a task for the Committee to consider the improvements to which the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis, Lord Hoyle, Lord Rosser and Lord Wedderburn, referred.

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I have been asked by my noble friend Lady Scotland to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his kind words about her. They are, if I may respectfully say so, highly accurate.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.

Royal Assent

4.12 pm

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Elton): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Consolidated Fund Act

Investment Exchanges and Clearing Houses Act.


4.13 pm

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to efforts to eradicate contemporary slavery.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who will contribute to this debate. I am also grateful that it takes place today, for it is a fitting advent for next year’s bicentenary of William Wilberforce’s parliamentary achievement in abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire.

However, we cannot celebrate the end of slavery. In 1998, the United Nations established the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to investigate the nature and extent of slavery today. The High Commissioner for Human Rights stated:

Twenty-seven million people are now enslaved. Behind each statistic is a human being, and behind that human being are a family and a community, devastated or destroyed by the horror of slavery. I am grateful to other noble Lords who I know will be addressing the many diverse aspects involving the eradication of slavery.

As real-life experiences speak louder than words, I would like to introduce some of the hundreds of people whom I have met who have endured modern slavery. These people are the “lucky” ones who have escaped. But, even then, the aftermath of slavery blights their lives. Often their families have perished and their homes have been destroyed. Girls may find it very hard to attract a “good” husband if they have been subjected to sexual relationships. And, for all, there is the memory of their ordeals and the stigma of having been a slave.

My examples come from three areas: Burma, Uganda and Sudan. First, I turn to Burma, where the military junta with the Orwellian name, the State Peace and Development Council, uses slavery in many ways. Over the past 12 years, I have interviewed scores of men, women and children from Karen, Karenni, Shan, Chin and Kachin states. Their testimonies have

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a chilling consistency: SPDC troops regularly round up villagers and force them to undertake unpaid labour, carrying 30 kilograms of rice or ammunition from dawn to dusk with little respite for food, water or rest. Elderly people and pregnant women are not exempt. If they fall by the wayside, they are beaten and sometimes killed. Some are used as human minesweepers; many die. A 35 year-old married woman with two children from a village in Karen state told her story:

The ILO has confirmed and condemned the Burmese regime’s policy of forced labour, but it continues unabated, as people in both Karen and Shan states told me when I met them last month. The use of sexual slavery by the SPDC as a weapon of war has been widely documented, and 70,000 boy soldiers have been abducted and forced to serve in the army. Escapees describe how they were kidnapped, taken to military camps and then sent into active service. Their parents are never informed of what has happened to them.

Those heartbreaking examples of slavery in Burma surely amount to crimes against humanity. Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the UN Security Council to take urgent measures to end slavery in Burma today?

Secondly, I turn to Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted over 25,000 children, brutalising them and forcing them to fight against their own people. One child’s story must speak for countless others, including the many who have perished and will never be able to speak for themselves.

Alur Florence, aged 15, from Patongo was abducted in 2002 and taken to Sudan. She was kept bound for one and a half weeks with virtually no food and was then given to an LRA commander as his “wife”. She was trained to become a soldier, given a gun and taken to Gulu. She had to fight and, on five missions, had to take other children into captivity, treating them as she had been treated. She said:

She has been told that her parents are dead. Four of her siblings were abducted; she is the only one to return, as the others were killed in battle.

Many children and young people are still missing. Those who return face grave difficulties, trying to be reintegrated into communities that are themselves displaced by war, and living in camps without adequate healthcare or education. These young people stress that their overriding desire is for

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education, which is essential to build new lives, but often they cannot afford the fees. Many well qualified teachers live in the camps and are eager to teach but there are no facilities. Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Ugandan Government to address this issue as a priority?

Finally, I turn to Sudan, where traditional practices of slavery, especially of Africans by Arabs, were reinstated, with the use of slavery as a weapon of war by the Islamist National Islamic Front regime. This regime seized power by military coup in 1989 to become the so-called Government of Sudan. It quickly declared military Islamic jihad against all who oppose it: Muslims, Christians and traditional believers. One weapon of jihad is slavery. In a typical raid, men would be killed and women and children would be taken away as concubines and slaves. They were exploited to fulfil the NIF’s objectives: the forced Islamisation of those not already Muslims and the forced Arabisation of Africans.

In October 1995, on a visit to Nyamlell and Manyiel in Bahr al Ghazal, we found evidence of widespread, systematic slavery. Manyiel was a place where Arab traders brought back enslaved women and children from the north. They described the Sudanese Government’s policy of encouraging attacks by Arab raiders on African southerners:

We interviewed many local Africans who had been enslaved. Adut Wol Ngor was caring for 62 victims of a raid in March 1995. She recalled that day:

The story of another family is typical. Mr Apin Apin Akot was away from home looking after his cattle when his wife was captured with two of their children, aged four and nine, in March 1995. His wife told us her story:

to pay for her release. Having lost all his possessions, that father could not raise the money to purchase the freedom of their nine year-old daughter, so we gave

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him the money he needed to rescue her. On a subsequent visit, he greeted us with joy, exclaiming:

CEAWC—the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children—has been established to rescue slaves, but it is not operating effectively. The NIF regime is abnegating responsibility, claiming that the Government of southern Sudan should be funding the rescue operation. According to James Aguer, a Dinka member of CEAWC, a further 35,000 children are still not free and tens of thousands of missing people are held in territory controlled by the northern regime. This is utterly unacceptable. The Government of Sudan promoted and funded the slave raids. The responsibility for freeing those enslaved lies entirely with that Government, who have massive oil revenues. I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will put great pressure on the Government of Sudan to fulfil their obligations to ensure the freedom of all Sudanese citizens enslaved in the previous war, and now in Darfur.

In conclusion, I return to this country. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the efforts of Her Majesty’s Government to eradicate slavery, and the preparations to commemorate the bicentenary of William Wilberforce’s parliamentary achievements. I hope that events will not be so focused on the past that we forget or ignore today’s realties. We should rightly condemn as shameful the undoubted horrors of the slave trade in which Britain played a role, but it is not theologically or morally appropriate to repent or apologise for deeds committed by other people in another age. William Wilberforce would, I am sure, prefer us to focus on our responsibilities to do much more than we are currently doing to try to complete his, as yet, uncompleted mission.

4.24 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, we all appreciate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, bringing up the question of slavery and all her examples. We have had quite a bit on this over the past 12 months and we will not let it go away. We are all committed to tackling it.

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