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The amendment rests absolutely on the solid rock of principle. It is a question of absolute principle, which has been articulated by so many Members of the House. There can be no higher trusteeship than that which rests on the shoulders of an authority that is responsible for persons in custody. That trusteeship is of so high a level that I cannot describe it in any terms other than absolute.
The next question then is whether, in those circumstances, a distinction should be drawn between the position of governmental authority or governmental agency and that of an employer in the area of responsibility as defined by the Bill. It should not be; it must not be. The message that would be broadcast by such a decision would be that, somehow or another, powerful interests are able to have their own way and that in some way or another the life of a prisoner is not as valuable in the eyes of the community as that of persons who are not prisoners, or that some exemption should be made for the absolution of government that has never been properly proven or established. For those reasons, I wholeheartedly support the amendment.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, the Government have been defeated four timeson 5 February, on 22 May, on 25 June and on 9 July. Now we debate this issue for the fifth time. I intend to be brief. I would like first to pay a generous tribute to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, who has sympathetically listened to all our concerns. But obviously she is restricted by collective Cabinet responsibility.
The situation in our prisons today is a national embarrassment. It is primarily the responsibility of
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The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbothamspecifying the date of 1 January 2009is a most reasonable compromise that balances humanity with managerial concerns. If the opinion of this House is tested later, those on these Benches will support it.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, although this debate has ranged wide, I think it was right of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, to remind us that what is at issue here is the profound responsibility of the duty of care owed to those in custody. That a duty of care is owed to those in custody is not in doubt. The families of those who die in custody are owed the same recourse to justice as the families of those who die in any other avoidable tragedy. As the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will know, I have always been a very strong supporter of this Bill. It is necessary mainly because of its deterrent effect. We all hope that none of these incidents will ever happen. But it is necessary to have the sanctions in place to ensure that.
The Government appeared to concede the point of principle. For a time, we seemed to be debating not if, but whenthat has happened before in this place. Now it seems, following the most recent debate in the other place, that our optimism was misplaced. After the debate, a Member on the Labour Back Benches said, They call it ping-pong. After that speech, it was more pong than ping. He was referring to the speech of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, who was quibbling over whether it would be necessary at all to introduce deaths in custody into the Bill. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House says that the Government have conceded the point of principle. But what was being argued in the other place was, Let us put the principle to one side; we do not think it will ever be necessary to introduce deaths in custody into this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us, Chris Mullin pointed out from the Labour Back Benches that it will never happen unless it happens now. There is no better time to set out a timetable. Andrew Dismore, as the noble Lord reminded us, said that naming the day is more
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The events of today therefore do not relate to some great constitutional question of the law, with this House pitting itself against the party of government. The party of government is clearly divided on the issue. Most of the speeches have been in favour of what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is seeking to do. The date in the amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Lee, reminded us, has been mooted in debate many times. It would be interesting if the Minister indicated whether 1 January 2009 was an acceptable date or whether the Government wish for another date, which may be further away or nearer. In the absence of any expressed preference from the Government it is surely a right and reasonable date. Most importantly, it will allow those institutions to embrace fully the opportunity to prove that their standards match and exceed those set by law.
In conclusion, the noble Baroness warned us that the Bill could fall. It can fall only if the Government fail to move the necessary Motion. I give an undertaking to the House that I believe so strongly in the BillI have taken advicethat if the Government allow the Bill to fall this week, I will next week introduce an identical Bill, although I understand that I will have to call it the No. 2 Bill. I will devote my best endeavours to steering it through all the twists and turns of the parliamentary process so that it becomes law as quickly as possible. I give that undertaking in the hope that it may persuade the Leader of the House to concede this very important case.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I begin by saying that I absolutely understand the strength of feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and pay tribute to him for it. He has personally been committed for a very long time to the issues raised in the Bill. I sense the passion with which he made his commitment. My ambition is that he should not need to carry out the commitment; I want to get the Bill on to the statute book.
We are absolutely in the same place in terms of the principle. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, raised the essence of the principle. He will know from reading our previous debates in Hansard that that is well understood; we are discussing or negotiatingor whatever word noble Lords preferthe means to the end and not the end in itself. The difficulty that we have had in these final stages has been that the Government must sit in one place and your Lordships in another in terms of how we get there.
I shall try to deal with some of the specific points that noble Lords have raised. I again acknowledge the strength of feeling and the principled nature of the concerns. We have talked about the Prison Officers Association and the police. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall were at the same lunch today, although it felt like a rather different lunch when I listened to what was being said. It was important for the Prison Officers Association to talk to parliamentarians; I find it
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It is important to recognise that the Prison Officers Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers will have views. I know that the Prison Officers Association is already in discussion with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on a variety of matters. I have no doubt that this issue will be part of its agenda. It was not previously part of its agenda; as noble Lords who participated throughout the entirety of this Bill know, it was not the Governments initial intention to have this issue in the Bill. Therefore, the Government were not in discussion with it during the 10 years since we committed to put this in the Bill. As it is now in the Billthrough an order-making powerthose discussions will take place. I hope that answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, read out extracts from an undated letterwe think it was around 11 Maywhich I do not have. However, I would worry if the noble Lord felt that it was on the basis of a single sheet of A4 that my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Minister of Justice made their decisions. However much the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, would prefer not to have government by Ministers, none the less, we have a responsibility to consult those who will be affected by legislation and to ensure that we take into account their views in a series of ways, not merely by correspondence but also, as is more likely, by ongoing discussion. Then, as Ministers, we have to reach a conclusion on the basis of the information and evidence presented and we have to behave responsibly on the back of that. That is what my right honourable friends have done. They will have considered properly and correctly not only the representations from the organisations mentioned today, but also those from other organisations, other colleagues, officials, legal advisers and so on. They will have brought together those views and given them full consideration.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and others asked about the role of the Government as regards extending the date. It will be for another place to decide; it is not in my hands at all. I am not seeking to wave a paper tiger. Noble Lords are right: it is possible to extend, but the difficulty in considering extension is that it is in order to achieve something. I have to make it clear to noble Lords on all sides of the House that I can see no further movement. The Government have compromised; they have listened; they have identified the issues that are of concern to noble Lords; and I do not see anything else that will be done.
Extending time for this important piece of legislation would be in order to achieve somethingthat is the point I was trying to make. I am not waving paper tigers or making threats, but I am simply saying that the purpose is to achieve something. I do not wish to give the impression that, if another place chose to extend it, that would be because the Government wished to move or change their view.
We have debated this matter extremely well. Noble Lords have asked the Government to think again and they have thought again. Noble Lords asked the Government to think again especially in the light of
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One further point is the way in which legislation is conducted, certainly by me. I smiled as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, picked up on what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, implying that unless it is in the Bill it will never happen. That may have happened in the noble Lords Government; but it is not happening in my Government. We make commitments that we believe are important and that we wish to see through, but we make commitments in the spirit of understanding. We have to do them properly; we have to do them in a considered manner; and, where this Bill makes very radical, new changes, we have to take them into account and ensure that they are done properly and effectively in the area of public policy. That is what we have sought to do.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Government have made a commitment. Indeed, when the House last considered the Bill, we tackled the issue about which noble Lords have been worried the ability to exclude huge parts of the serviceswith our amendment preventing the exclusion of aspects within a category. The Government have taken an order-making power that would allow us to include custody within the corporate manslaughter Bill. As I have indicated throughout, we will do so after considering the impact of the Bill as it stands and after conducting further investigation with the stakeholders. I have no doubt that noble Lords and those in another place will ensure that the Government regularly report back on that and are held to account on that commitment.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again but this is extremely important. Is she saying that the Government are committed to making the necessary order at some time in the future?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Government are committed to bringing the custody issue forward through the order-making power when it is clear that we not only understand the implications of the legislation as it now stands but have taken part in discussions with those directly affected, in order to ensure that the implications of such a power are fully understood in public policy especially as it applies to the Prison Service and to custody in general.
My final point is on the conduct of legislation and I shall be quite personal in what I say. This is not about pushing me to a point where we give in and do
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We have a timing difficulty regarding the 48 hours but may be able to resolve it with the caveat I gave. But it is time to put the Bill on the statute book as it stands. The Government have done what is right and proper and what the House has reason to expect them to do. The Government have done their job. That is what this House is for, and we have done it. There is nothing further to do. As I hope noble Lords will recognise, bringing the Bill back again will add nothing to our deliberationsor, indeed, to the Housebut will only create further delay for all those who are waiting for the Bill to be put on to the statute book. I say that with absolute and utter respect for everyone who has been passionately committed to the Bill. Your Lordships have achieved a great piece of legislation which is better because of your Lordships. Now, however, it is time to put it on to the statute book.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for again setting out the Governments position with such clarity and conviction. All noble Lords respect her and the case that she represents, and the Government have clearly put their case. However, the comments of noble Lords have yet again demonstrated the wisdom, humanity and experience that exist on all sides of this House.
People will look at what this House has been doing and read all the evidence, including that quoted in another placeand all the evidence is thereand ask, When? When are you going to do this?. I do not think that people will understand why we have not gone as far as our duty requires of us by insisting on a firm date and a commitment to which people can relate. A date has been referred to in connection with the Prison Service, for example, in order to help it work out what it needs to do and by when, and the same applies to government. That applies also to the discussions mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. I know that the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Lee, Lord Dholakia, and others would be only too happy to take part in such discussions. So much the better if the Prison Officers Association, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, were included. I welcome wider discussion because many people are involved.
Yet again, the issues could not have been stated more clearly. My noble friend Lord Dear spoke about the police and my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan made a most moving contribution about the duties of this House. I am ashamed to say that the only contribution that I found myself disagreeing with was, yet again, that of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who has totally misunderstood the purpose of what we are doing. We are not seeking to reduce deaths in custody; we are seeking to improve the management of custody so that
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I fully understand where we have got tothe Leader of the House has so clearly explained where we stand. However, I was comforted by the words of the Secretary of State last night. Although he mentioned that our discussions were off the record, his final remark was: Nothing is dead until the last day. I therefore think it right to test the opinion of the House.
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