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I repeat that the Government have listened to Parliament. Two of the amendments from the Commons, which the noble Baroness suggested should be rejectedthey are mentioned in her Motionwould make the Cabinet Office in charge of the statistics legislation and operational matters. That is the very thing that this House voted for and which the Government have sought to comply with, hence the amendments, which the noble Baroness suggests we should not agree to.
Wherever possible, we have moved to meet the views of all sides and have made real changes to the Bill. We have done so on the governance of the boardin particular on the role of the National Statisticianand on where residual responsibility for the board should lie within government, which was the subject of earlier amendments. It will be recognised that the Government have been responsive. We have had further clarification of the boards important role in relation to pre-release. That is probably the last remaining area of contention. The Government are proposing real and significant reforms to the current pre-release regime, with a meaningful and strong role for the board in determining the new arrangements.
Although I have heard a great deal about the question of trust in statistics, let us not devalue ourselves too far. Despite the persistent belief expressed, there is little evidence to support systematic abuse of our current arrangements. The Statistics Commission, which
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I hope it will be seen that the Governments proposals create a significant role for the board with regard to pre-release. The noble Baroness derided the sanction that the board would have in identifying a national statistic produced outside the code of practice, the development and monitoring of which it would be responsible for. That would be a highly significant sanction for anyone who was responsible for such a statistic, and of course the role of the board is clearly identified.
The sooner the Bill receives Royal Assent, the sooner can begin the important business of making a reality of the new system. We have had very intensive debates about these issues, but the Minister in the other place expressed the view that the Government do not propose to move on this narrow issue. I emphasise that this Bill is too important to be put in jeopardy, and its definition has been much improved by debate here and in the other place. I hope it will be recognised that the best way to enhance confidence in our national statistical system is to ensure that the Bill gets a ready passage, and I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her Motion.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debatein particular, the noble Lord, Lord Moser, who paid tribute to a number of parties, including the Statistics Commission. I associate myself with those remarks.
The Minister referred to the commitments made at the Dispatch Box about the 24-hour period and consultation. We accept the force of those commitments, but that is not the issue. The issue is who should set the rules, and that can be seen most clearly in the wording of the Commons disagreement:
The Commons insist on their disagreement with the Lords in their Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10, do not insist on their Amendments 10C and 10D in lieu but propose Amendments 10F, 10G, 10H and 10I in lieu
We are again called on to consider the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. The issue remains the difference in position between this House and the other place on the appropriate way for the Bill to deal with deaths in custody. Your Lordships were due to consider this Bill last Monday. That debate was postponed while further consideration took place. I am extremely grateful for the time that the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Lord Dholakia and Lord Lee of Trafford, have taken to discuss this issue further with me.
This has also been a period in which new Ministers have taken up their posts. The Government have given extremely serious consideration to your Lordships concerns. We have explored the different options available with great care. The Government have offered considerable movement in response to your Lordships concerns. We have accepted the principle of the offence extending to custody and provided a means in the Bill to bring that about. That is a great deal of movement when measured against the Governments very clear view when introducing the Bill that the offence should focus on health and safety duties and not apply to the discharge of specific public responsibilities.
Your Lordships have therefore secured a very considerable compromise by the Government. Since that was adopted in the other place, your Lordships have asked the Government to reconsider the position twice. We have done so, and we have given careful thought in doing so. My discussions with noble Lords will, I hope, have demonstrated how seriously we have taken the issue, and that we have been prepared to look at the range of options. Nevertheless, there comes a point at which, as a responsible Government,
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Strong concerns have been raised by your Lordships on the issue of deaths in custody. The Government have taken those concerns seriously and have sought to steer a path between those who wish to see the offence extended and the Governments view that any such extension must be delayed while the implications of the lifting of Crown immunity in practice are considered. There are considerable uncertainties involved in applying the new offence to Crown bodies. The prosecution of government departments represents uncharted territory and there will inevitably be difficult questions about how exactly that will work in practice, not least what the consequences will be for extending the criminal law to the organisation and activity of very significant public functions.
The Bill steers a careful path and sets out a number of areas where the offence will apply across the board, private and public sector, Crown and non-Crown alike. These cover key responsibilities towards employees and in the occupation of premises, and other important health and safety duties in the provision of services and the use of plant and equipment.
Your Lordships House and the other place have both recognised that the exercise of some public functions must stand outside this offence. The Government have recognised the very strongly held concerns of a number of your Lordships on the issue of deaths in custody and have provided a means in the Bill for addressing them. In doing so, we have recognised the principle of extending the offence beyond the traditional ambit of health and safety matters to wider concerns. That is very considerable movement.
The arguments since put by your Lordships have rightly caused the Government to go back and consider their position, but we have reached the conclusion that it is not right to go further. That position is accepted by the other place, and I urge your Lordships to accept the clear insistence of the other place.
Before sitting down, let me bring two matters to your Lordships attention. Noble Lords will recall that following the concerns raised on deaths in custody in the context of this Bill, the Government offered to put the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on a statutory footing. I am pleased to inform your Lordships that a criminal justice Bill was introduced in the other place on 26 June and will give effect to that.
I also want to draw your Lordships attention to changes made to the amendments in lieu. The first is to address a point raised in the other place by the right honourable gentleman, Douglas Hogg. He was concerned about the inclusion of scope in subsection (2) of the proposed power to specify exceptions to the forms of custody to which the offence would extend. As we wish to address that concern, the scope to specify exceptions has been removed. Moreover,
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There is much that is good in this Bill. It will set out a new basis for holding organisations to account for gross corporate negligence. The identification principle will no longer present an obstacle to prosecution in such cases. The Bill will usher in a new type of sentence for organisationsthe publicity order. In passing the Bill, Parliament will send out a clear message that the law will bear down hard on those organisations that do not take their health and safety responsibilities seriously.
The Bill has come a long waynot just in discussion in this place and the other place, but in a long journey from a clear need to reform the law being identified to this House standing on the threshold of putting a new offence on a statutory footing. I urge this House to take that final step today.
Lord Ramsbotham: rose to move, as an amendment to Motion A, leave out from House to the end and insert do insist on its Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10 and do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10F to 10I in lieu.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful once again to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for the way in which she has explained her case and pay great tribute to her for the fact that she has been at great pains to consult and keep those of us interested in the amendments in the picturein the loop, as it wereof what has been going on. I know that it has not been easy for her, not least because, at the time, she has been taking over other responsibilities.
Therefore, we were extremely pleased when she came with the information that the Secretary of State for Justice was minded to include custody in the Bill and asked if we would be happy if there were a delay while he considered. We were immediately happy to give that assurance and did so. I wrote to him saying that I was extremely happy and glad that he was doing that. We were happy to consult with him if he would like that. Because time and if, as opposed to when, were mentioned in the previous letter, I suggested to him a date that might be acceptable to everyone in this House. That was a date sometime ahead, 1 January 2009, which gives a considerable amount of time for all the concerns that the Government have expressed to be considered.
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