Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 18th July 2007.

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Lords message insisting on amendments to which the Commons have disagreed, disagreeing to Commons amendments in lieu and proposing amendments in lieu of those Commons amendments.

Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 10P and 10Q.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 3:36 pm, 18th July 2007

I beg to move,

That this House
insists on its disagreement with the Lords in their Amendments Nos. 2,3,5,6 and 10;
does not insist on its Amendments 10K to ION in lieu but disagrees with the Lords in their Amendments 10P and 10Q in lieu of those amendments;
and proposes Government amendments (a) to (j) in lieu.

For the benefit of Members who may be wondering on which piece of paper to find the amendments—I understand the concern of Mr. Hogg, who has, as ever, been assiduous—they are on page 1663, as amended. As the rubric states, that is

"due to the omission of a word in the Government motion."

Members—particularly those who have been debating it at some length—are familiar with the history of the Bill. We tabled it because we thought it important that there should be offences in respect of corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide. We have already accepted in principle the difference—which I shall explain shortly—between our amendment 10A, rejected in the other place, and the amendments that we are about to discuss.

The basis of last week's debate—which was dealt with by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Maria Eagle, and for almost all of which I was present—was not whether the Government had accepted the principle of the application of the offence to deaths in custody, but whether we would ensure that that principle was exercised at some reasonable time in the future. The difference involved is significant.

I understand the objection that was raised. While doubts may be expressed and debating points made about the time that it has taken to travel this road to Damascus, at least we are on track now. The objection to the wording of amendment 10A lay in the fact that the provision for the Act to extend to deaths in custody—as it will—was discretionary, and was in the hands of the Secretary of State. The amendment stated

"The Secretary of State may by order make amendments" to the law. It also stated what those amendments could cover, and proposed that the order should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendment (a) states that

"a duty is owed to a person who, by reason of being a person within subsection (1A), is someone for whose safety the organisation is responsible".

Subsection (1A) defines the different categories of custody. Amendment (b) defines a custodial institution, in a very wide sense, and a detained person. It also gives other definitions. Also, there is under amendment (h) the power to extend, but never to subtract from, the scope of custody as laid down by what will become section 2(1A). By order, that section will be able to

"include any category of person (not already included)".

In both cases, that must be done by affirmative procedure.

That is a significant change. Members of this House and the other place might argue about whether it is sufficient, and I will deal with the vexed issue of timing, but there is a significant difference between where we were and where we are now.

It is clear—not least in respect of the civil injuries compensation measures of a few years ago—that where a Bill is extended by inserting the word "shall" instead of "may", legitimate and understandable expectations may arise that the measures concerned must be exercised. Neither I nor any other Minister proposes to add this duty to the Bill with the cynical idea that it will not be activated.

I now wish to address the anxieties that were abroad—

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Before the Secretary of State moves on, let me say that his remarks highlight one of the problems in trying to relate a package of amendments to a Bill. I am unable to find in either the package or the Bill a statutory requirement that the Secretary of State should make an order implementing the duties in respect of the persons now designated as being covered. That is what I am looking for, but although it may well be in the package or the Bill, I cannot find it.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The precise wording that the right hon. and learned Gentleman searches for is not in the Bill, so it is unsurprising that he cannot find it. I do not accept the gravamen of the point. [Interruption.] As I have said, I will come on to the timing issue.

As has been explained, the problem lies in some of the complexities of bringing the proposed legislation into force in respect of police services and the Prison Service. That has been debated at length. The issue is not whether the power should be extended to custody—that has been conceded—but the exact circumstances. I must take account—as must the Home Secretary in respect of her responsibilities—of the current environment in which both the police and the Prison Service operate. They do not wish for it suddenly to become okay for there to be deaths in custody—unexplained deaths, not deaths by natural causes—and for them not to be inquired into, or for those responsible for negligence or worse in respect of those deaths not to be subject to any sanction.

I hope that all Members concede that there has over recent decades been a huge improvement in the treatment in police custody of persons arrested, from the moment of arrest. In my experience, there were never significant problems in the charge room; problems arose at the time of arrest, during transport to the police station and in the cells. Before we changed the law, one of the tasks that I, when I was Home Secretary, had to perform was act in effect as a final court of appeal on serious disciplinary appeals by police officers, some of which related to events in custody and dated back some years.

There was a sea change as a result of the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the codes under it, changes in police culture, the courts rightly becoming less tolerant of improper behaviour inside police stations, and the introduction of closed circuit television—and subsequently an understanding by the police that they would be much better served if their behaviour in the custody areas and interview suites was recorded. Moreover, if there are unexpected or unexplained deaths in police custody, in almost all circumstances there is an immediate inquiry by the independent Police Complaints Authority. With the Prison Service, the circumstances are different, in that by that stage people have been sentenced—or at least, if they are awaiting trial, are not under interrogation.

There have been significant improvements in the treatment of prisoners, as I have observed in the 10 years in which I have been in contact with the Prison Service. Improvements had been made before that as well, but we now have an effective inspectorate. The Bill will also place the Prison Service ombudsman on a statutory basis, which is another sign that we have listened to representations.

There are anxieties in the police and the Prison Service that unless they have time to understand fully the extent of these obligations and take steps to implement them, the services—not at a senior level, but at a lower level—will start to become risk averse, and that could have many adverse consequences.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 3:45 pm, 18th July 2007

All of us have to accept that the police and the Prison Service will not be included immediately in the Bill when it becomes law. We have no illusions about that. What worries us—I am sure my right hon. Friend knows that the concern is widespread among Labour MPs and is by no means limited to the Opposition—is that it will be some considerable time before the police, and especially the Prison Service, are included. If my right hon. Friend could give some indication that inclusion will happen not too far in the future—perhaps in five or 10 years' time—it might satisfy some of us. I know that he is doing his best to try to find a compromise with the Lords, and I am pleased about that.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members who have expressed their concern in robust but restrained terms. My colleagues and I have listened with great care and this has been an iterative process —[ Interruption. ] Mr. Grieve agrees with that.

I ask my hon. Friend and the House to listen to what I am about to say before saying that the period is too long. My concern is to ensure that the proposal is implemented, but that that is done without the police and the Prison Service seizing up because they become too risk averse. Such things take time. Let me make it clear that we are not allowing the services some sort of bye for a period during which they are not under scrutiny. As has been accepted by everyone, those services are always, and properly, under intensive scrutiny, both in terms of their systems and when, tragically, an unexplained death in custody occurs.

A reasonable period for managing the extension of the offence would be, we believe, something between five and seven years. I also believe that we should work on the basis of implementing the extension within an earlier time frame if at all possible. The pledge that I give to the House is that I will make every endeavour, as will other Ministers, to get it done in less time if that is at all possible. However, I ask the House not to underestimate the difficulties facing the Prison Service, which were the subject of some exchanges during Prime Minister's questions, and the police. I should be happy to have a knockabout about why the Prison Service is at capacity, but the truth is that that imposes its own pressures and demands on staff. I have the responsibility of managing those pressures in a way that is safe for both staff and inmates.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and also for the approach that he has adopted, but the period of time that he has identified is troublingly long. The problem is one of management, but he is suggesting that a structural problem exists. Given how the police and the Prison Service have operated over the years, I am very pessimistic about whether structural problems will ever be removed from the system. In respect of management difficulties, however, properly targeted plans and projects ought to be able to deliver the necessary changes in culture and practice within a reasonable time frame. I believe a period of five to seven years is excessively long, and it raises in my mind the anxiety that we are dealing with a structural problem. That should not be the case, because even under pressure, the police and the Prison Service should be able to deliver a level of service that would normally ensure that officers are not exposed to the risk of prosecution under this Bill.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I do not disagree with the burden of the hon. Gentleman's argument, and that is to some extent why I believe that what we are arguing about is not a great deal. As things stand, officers in the police and the Prison Service could easily be exposed to the risk of prosecution, if incidents of the kind that have been described in the past were to happen repeatedly. For example, a prison or police officer who commits an unlawful act that leads to death or injury has always been liable to prosecution: that has happened at various times in the past, and other offences are available that could apply to people responsible for outcomes of that sort.

Thankfully, however, there are only a tiny handful of homicides in prison every year. In addition, there are about 60 to 70 incidents of self-inflicted harm and suicides annually. That is 60 or 70 too many but, tragically, such things are going to happen in the best ordered prison. We are doing a great deal to get the numbers down, and we are also working very hard with the police service to the same end.

I agree that we should try to find a reasonable time that is less than five to seven years. I assure the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that I have no intention of sitting on my hands and saying, "Okay, that's fine." However, although I have a lot of experience of the Prison Service, I have in effect been abroad for five years, and I need to take some time to go into the detail about how long the period should be. The same is true of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at the Home Office.

Finally, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asks whether we are dealing with a structural or a management problem. One can never be certain, as some problems can be both. Structural changes can be dealt with by changes in management practice that are followed by changes in the culture. I do not want to argue about that, but the other truth is that we will benefit if we take some time over the work in hand. Bluntly, I do not want us to find ourselves in the situation that has faced certain organisations in respect of health and safety.

The House of Commons is a famous example of that. An awful lot of time was spent on a risk assessment as to whether someone could go out through the double doors and run up a flag on the mansard-roof of Portcullis house. It was not until I insisted on taking the risk myself that we were able to break through the problem, with the result that the flag is now flying. Funnily enough, the introduction of a bolt changed everything.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Of course I will, in one second. Some of the cultural issues involved in the problem need to be dealt with in any event, and that is why I promise the House that I shall pursue the matter as quickly as possible. However, I will not promise an overall time scale that I am not presently satisfied can be delivered. It may be uncomfortable for me to say that now, but that is better than being quite properly accused later of saying something just to get the legislation through, and producing a time scale that, for various reasons, we are unable to meet.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The time scale does seem rather long, but as I have said before, the date is more important than the length of time. May I put two suggestions to my right hon. Friend? First, will he consider coming back to the House with regular reports—say annually—on the progress towards implementation, which might make a significant contribution? Secondly, has he considered the possibility of different dates for different parts of the service? For example, the date for the police could be earlier than the date for the Prison Service, because the police could probably comply with the provisions much more quickly.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

First, I am happy to provide regular reports. I am open to suggestions, but I am certainly happy to ensure that there is a report at least once a year and, if there is a demand for it, more often than that. I hope that that is acceptable. That is a reasonable way of keeping us all on our toes on the issue. Secondly, it is perfectly possible for the introduction to take place on a phased basis. I certainly have it in mind that we might be able to do that.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

As a criminal lawyer, I was involved in the implementation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that Act was phased. Although the Act involved a huge cultural change, it has worked perfectly well. The whole package came in, however, in a matter of one year to 18 months. I agree with Mr. Dismore: the police might be able to come up to speed sooner than the Prison Service. However, this is a worthy Bill, and providing too long a delay for the Prison Service tends to give the wrong message outside the Chamber.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and he is absolutely right about PACE. I was in practice for only a short while in the 1970s, but the situation then was patently unsatisfactory. People said we should move away from the judges rules and the rather informal arrangements that allowed all kinds of short cuts to be taken, and which ultimately undermined confidence in the police, as well as in the criminal justice system. However, I disagree with him slightly—well, more than slightly—on the time scale. He may recall that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was introduced in the Parliament of 1979 to 1983, but fell and had to be reintroduced, and then the codes had to be put together. So in practice the time scale was longer, although it may not have been as long as the one that I have suggested in this instance.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Minister without Portfolio

The Secretary of State needs to understand what he is asking the House to agree to. First, he is asking us to agree to a time scale that is not going to appear in the Bill. Secondly, he is asking us to agree to a very long time scale, but he has given us no real justification of why that is needed. He has hinted and implied, but the House deserves to hear the detail of why he thinks we should accept such a long delay. Without that sort of detail, which we have not heard at any stage, the House cannot agree to what he is asking.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman has to make a choice and so, with great respect, has the other place. As a result of the concern that has been expressed by both sides, there has been a significant change in the nature of the Bill. There is a big difference between the inclusion in the Bill of a power that says "may", and the inclusion of custody in the Bill—where the only issue is when that is introduced. I have made quite significant and categorical remarks about the time scale for phasing in. As the hon. Gentleman may know, those remarks can be adduced in any proceedings if there is an issue of ambiguity.

If I had the detail of exactly why we should have a certain time scale, I would bring it before the House. It is precisely because I have not got that detail, and I need time to produce it, that I have to be cautious in the time scale that I am offering. I am being perfectly frank with the House. Of course, if there were some calculation that showed the time scale should be x rather than y, the House should and would be allowed to see it. However, because of my concerns, the concerns expressed to me by the Prison Service, and the concerns expressed through my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in respect of the police service, we have had to be cautious; I would like not to be so cautious. I have set out an overall time frame of five to seven years, but I have said that if we can get that number of years down, we will do so. I have agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon that we will provide reports on the situation at least annually, and from my experience of government I can tell Mr. Davey that that will provide its own momentum, regardless of whether I am still in place leading on the Act in future, as I hope to be.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 4:00 pm, 18th July 2007

Will the Secretary of State forgive me for reminding him that I have been the Minister with responsibility for prisons? I have had the advantage of presiding over the Prison Service, as has he; in my case, it was at the time when we moved to a private contract for transport to courts. The idea that it takes five to seven years to put in place new systems, give appropriate directions or ensure proper supervision is for the birds. That should be done in a year or two, not five to seven years. That, I am afraid, is a failure on the part of Ministers not to insist. The Secretary of State has got to insist; that is what he is there for.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Well, I am quite sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was altogether a more effective Minister than I am. He was an effective Minister, if I may say so—I will cut out the sarcasm. I would like to be in the position that he set out, but I am not, although I hope to be. Meanwhile, it would be wrong of me to offer a time scale to which we could not adhere. I do not think that there is a great deal of difference between the parties on that point. The last thing that I shall say, because others wish to contribute in this relatively short debate—

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I wonder whether I might just wind up, as I am taking up other people's time. We have moved a great deal, and we have extended the time, so that we do not have to consider the matter in the terrible rushed manner that I have sometimes seen used by both parties when in government. We have shifted; there is no question about that.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very patient. It might help his case if he told the House what changes would need to be made to custody arrangements to allow custody to be included in the legislation.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

If I knew that at this stage—I have been in post for just under three weeks—I would tell the House. I see the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham screwing up his face, but it is precisely because I do not know the answer that I am having to be cautious, and so is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. That is the truth of it. If I had the information, why would I not give it to the House? Neither my ministerial colleagues nor I have any wish to be in a situation in which there is distrust and suspicion about our motives. It is thought that we have made up our concerns and our caution in respect of the police service and the Prison Service, but we have not. What I have said is not everything, but it is certainly a great deal, and I hope that the House and the other place will now accept the amendments, and what I have said on the record, in the spirit in which they were intended.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I have to admit that there is a certain irony to this debate. I wonder what would have happened if the Government had originally included deaths in custody as part of the body of the Bill—that is the form in which it now appears—and if the provisions on death in custody had come in with all the other orders. The usual assumption made in Parliament is that if the Government are legislating, they wish to implement something. My experience, from my five or six years' involvement with criminal justice legislation, has led to the realisation that much of the legislation that the Government pass never gets implemented; indeed, at times in the past five years, I have participated in the repeal of legislation that, having been put on the statute book two or three years earlier, was never brought into force by order.

In a sense, the Government are hoist with their own petard. They displayed massive intransigence about the whole concept of deaths in custody, particularly in the persona of the previous Home Secretary, who came to the House on Report and expressed himself in vituperative terms on the mere suggestion that deaths in custody should be included in the body of the legislation. The Government now find themselves facing a serious crisis of confidence over their willingness ever to implement, or at least within a reasonable time frame, what many Members on both sides of the House regard as a very important part of the legislation.

So we find ourselves arguing over a single issue: how long it will take to implement what is now pretty much in proper form for deaths in custody. Although we have never laid a benchmark for the implementation of other parts of the Bill because we are confident that the Government will move swiftly to observe the terms of the Warwick agreement, quite apart from the consensus across the House that it is a beneficial piece of legislation, we are arguing over the fact that the Government have been dragged reluctantly into including deaths in custody and now wish to postpone the evil day for as long as possible. I am not surprised that the other place has become increasingly insistent that 18 months ought to be sufficient.

That raises a difficult issue for the right hon. Gentleman. Throughout the passage of the Bill, the last thing that I have wanted to do is to make party political capital, but a period of five to seven years is a long time.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

As the hon. Gentleman asks about the date of implementation of the main part of the Bill, I am happy to announce that it is our intention that it be implemented on 6 April 2008. As he knows, it is for the convenience of business that Acts like this, which affect business, are implemented on one of two set dates in the year. I hope that is helpful.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

That is indeed helpful, and it is exactly the sort of time frame that I would have expected. It highlights, if I may say so, the difference between what will be done to everybody else, and what will affect the Prison Service, the custodial environment and the police. The right hon. Gentleman earlier prayed in aid the health and safety legislation. As I think he knows, that is the area in which I practised in the years before coming to this place [Interruption.] I did not introduce the legislation. I prosecuted on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive or local authorities, or represented those who got had got themselves into trouble.

Defendants who had killed their own employees—that happens all the time—used to say, "It's all so difficult. Bringing about the culture change in our organisation has proved so problematical. We do our best, but sometimes things go wrong. We accept that, and if we only had longer, we might have avoided this." There are great lamentations, to which Parliament has responded serially with the word "Tough"—that is, "Tough maybe, but we want to bring about the culture change, and you are going to have to take the necessary steps to meet the requirements."

What troubles me is that what we are hearing from the Government is, "The culture is going to be so difficult to change and we don't want to press the services all that much." This is not an issue that can be dictated by the current problems in the Prison Service. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman why. I am sure he would be the first to admit that the idea that over the next 100 years the Prison Service or the police will not have to cope again with periods when there are problems of overcrowding is a fantasy. That has been a perennial issue for a long time, yet I detect that he is waiting for a magical moment when suddenly the problems of the Prison Service are sufficiently assuaged that the measure can be implemented.

However, the issue is a managerial one, and it is precisely in periods of difficulty that the services will be put on their mettle. The idea that that will lead to some terrible problem is wrong. If they carry out their duties properly, even if there are deaths in custody, there will be no risk of prosecution. It is in cases where there has been gross negligence, which is what we are discussing, that the services will be called to account.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

My hon. Friend constantly says that the problem is a managerial one and in a sense it is, but ultimately it is one that requires the exercise of political will, because the managers will never want to do what the measure requires of them. It is a ministerial, political problem, not primarily a managerial one. Managers will respond to what they are told to do.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Yes, I entirely agree. It is necessary for the Government to show leadership in this matter. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that the provisions that we have put on to the statute book will not lead to individual prosecutions—the prosecutions will be of the corporate entities involved. That may lead, I suppose, to resignations and public shaming, but those are the very things that the Government say—I happen to agree with them—will be a good thing as regards the commercial sector, so why are these particular organisations being mollycoddled and protected in a wholly excessive way?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

It is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to pray in aid the line that the Government took when he argued in Committee that there should be no named person and no imprisonment sanction. I am wholly in favour of considering this complex matter, but not at the expense of the Bill, which it is imperative that we get through. He understands that a trade-off was involved when the Lords tabled these amendments, which meant that other issues important to some of us, such as corporate probation, fell off the end of the table. This is a compromise situation, and I urge Members not to push it to the point where we lose the Bill.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

First, I wish to see the Bill on the statute book, and I hope that the way in which the Opposition have conducted themselves throughout its passage illustrates that hugely. Secondly, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point but do not think that it is a particularly good one. The Bill does indeed have compromises embodied in it. He was minded to include personal liability of directors and would have been happy for them to go to prison for their part in corporate manslaughter offences. Apart from the fact that I did not support that—I thought that it was wrong in principle and explained why—if we had it in the Bill now, that might colour my view of the extension to the custodial environment, but it is not there, and for very good reason. As a result, we are not talking about prison governors, or managers, going to prison but about the corporate responsibility of these bodies.

I want to bring my remarks to a close as we have little time left. Let me say this to the Secretary of State. The Government need to show leadership and to give an assurance to this House, or in the other place when the Bill returns there, on a reasonable time frame for implementation, as five to seven years is inordinately long. It may be a period that is much further away than next April but nevertheless clearly shows the Government's will to implement immediately the steps that are required at a managerial level and ensure that these services come on board within a reasonable period. I urge the Secretary of State to do that, because if he does not there is a risk that this ping-pong will continue. Listening to his remarks, many in this House and in the other place will remain profoundly depressed— [ Interruptio n. ] I will happily give way to him if he wishes to intervene.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, as he knows, but he is advancing a very weak argument. I did give a time frame, although he does not agree with all of it. I said that the maximum period was between five and seven years, and I very much hope to do it in less than that. I have said that we will have an annual report. I will deal with some of the other points that he raised in terms of getting that time down. However, it seems that he is now trying to find excuses for continuing to block the Bill, and I find his arguments unconvincing.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am sorry about the right hon. Gentleman's tone, because that is the very thing that I do not seek to do. I am actually trying to show him the way home. I think that we are very close to resolving this issue, but I respectfully suggest to him that that requires the Government to be a little more proactive on the timetable than they have been.

I cannot support the measures this afternoon and I urge my colleagues to maintain their support for the Lords amendment. However, before the Bill goes back to the other place, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consult his colleagues and point out to them that the time frame is too long, so that even if an assurance that the time frame will be shorter cannot be given here, it can be given in the other place.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice) 4:15 pm, 18th July 2007

Perhaps I can help the Government, through my hon. Friend. I have noticed during the past 18 months, in visiting about 25 prisons and young offender institutions, that the health service system there is overloaded by mental health patients and those affected by substance abuse, which may be causing the Government to want to pause. If we were to come to an agreement with the Government about what might be a reasonable time frame within which they could mend health services in the prison system, we might reach a proper agreement. However, I urge my hon. Friend not to allow anything anywhere near five to seven years to be part of such an arrangement.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I can reassure my hon. and learned Friend that for us, five to seven years is far too long. However, and I want to emphasise this, the Secretary of State is going in the right direction; I just urge him to take an extra leap of leadership to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's feelings about five to seven years being too long. Will he tell us what he thinks would be a reasonable length of time?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I have had discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice and he knows my views on this matter very well. I do not think that it will be difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to find a formula, and he can speak to us at any stage if he wishes to, or come to the Dispatch Box. I heard some voices shouting out various suggestions. We are not involving ourselves in an auction here; it would not be difficult to find a solution that is reasonable for him, the services and the integrity of the Government. I say to him that otherwise, it would look as if leadership had vanished in this area.

Those are my concluding remarks. I thank the Secretary of State for what he has done because I am aware that it might have taken quite a lot even to get this far, but I ask him to go the extra mile, or perhaps the extra year or two.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

We are, as Mr. Grieve said, inching forward in the right direction. I have been present on half a dozen occasions when this issue has been visited and it is the first time I have heard any form of time frame escape from the lips of a Minister. That is progress, therefore, and we must acknowledge it. It is also a recognition of the fact that my right hon. Friend has got a grip on an issue that has been drifting for a long time. He is well known for his extremely sensitive political antennae, and he is also a leading exponent of the political principle that when one is in a hole, one should stop digging. I have a great deal of confidence that we are moving in the right direction.

My right hon. Friend referred to cultural change. That is what is required; it was what was required in 1983 before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and it is required here. We are up against a mighty vested interest in the shape of the Prison Service and, as Mr. Hogg said, when we come up against a vested interest, we have to face it down. It is not a management issue, but one of political will.

The five-to-seven-year period mentioned is, as others have said, a disappointingly long period, progress though it is. On past form, I think that we shall have to run through three or four Secretaries of State before we reach five or seven years. If one looks at the record in certain Departments—not necessarily the ones that my right hon. Friend has occupied—there is a high turnover of Ministers. After three or four Secretaries of State, one can end up far removed from the original good and sincere intentions that my right hon. Friend doubtless has.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

What I have said, for those who appreciate the way in which the courts view such matters, is significant. The Secretary of State's functions continue, regardless of the person who occupies the position. As a matter of correction, I was Home Secretary for four years and Foreign Secretary for five years.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

I am well aware of that, and I regard my right hon. Friend's career as one of the most successful of any member of the Government. However, if he considers other Departments, he will realise that we are on our seventh and eighth Minister for various responsibilities. Time is short and I therefore ask him not to provoke me into listing them, but I could do that.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will take up the sensible suggestion of my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore on phasing in.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

I am glad to hear that. If it is easier to deal with the police, perhaps that could be done first.

I shall support my right hon. Friend today, but in the hope that the extra time that he has won will be used to nail down a credible time scale and to include it in the Bill. I am confident that, with him in charge, we will get there in the end. I hope that I shall not be disappointed.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Minister without Portfolio

Grossly negligent management that leads to the death of somebody in custody is wrong now; it was wrong last month and it was wrong five years ago. Why is the Secretary of State not prepared to make it an offence for another five years? When the issue is presented so starkly, one realises that the Government's position is not strong.

The Government appear to be prepared to make some sort of concession, but it has been dragged out of them and, even now, it is not clear where we will end up. The Government must do better than the Secretary of State's offer today. He rightly said that we are considering a maximum—I am grateful for that—and that he wants to lessen the time. He also said that he wants annual reports.

However, other Departments have been braver and more certain about what they can achieve. I have examined many public service agreement targets and I remember one from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to reduce the production of poppies for opium in Afghanistan by 60 per cent. in three years. The Foreign Office did not achieve that, but it was its main target. It intended to do that brave thing. Yet the Ministry of Justice claims that it cannot sort out in five to seven years the management failures to which it now admits in the Prison Service and the police service. I am sorry, but that it is not good enough. It is wrong and the Government need to push harder.

In previous debates here and in the other place, we asked why the Government are not prepared to move faster. Why were not they previously prepared to give even an indicative time scale? We have not received good answers. The only answer that we received before today was that they were worried about creating an incentive for risk aversion in the services that we are considering. When we debated the matter, convincing examples of risk aversion were not given. Risk aversion in the case of someone who may be vulnerable and prone to attempting suicide is a good idea. One must err on the side of caution to ensure that that person does not take their own life. The Government's argument could therefore be reversed. The sooner the proposals are introduced, the more likely prison governors and senior police officers are to take action to ensure that such deaths do not occur.

I accept that the Secretary of State has to deal with senior managers who will tell him that they are under extreme pressure in trying to deliver other Government objectives and worried that they cannot deliver the new provision safely for him.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about risk aversion. Perhaps he would care to remind the House that the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is a necessary pre-condition of prosecution. That would take account of many anxieties that underpin the Secretary of State's demand for five to seven years.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Minister without Portfolio

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an important point. It is why the Secretary of State should say to senior managers, who, frankly, represent vested interests, "I am sorry, but we want leadership." Mr. Grieve stressed the need for that. The Secretary of State, as the politician in charge, should demand that senior managers get their act together. I do not think that that is an unreasonable request of a Secretary of State to make of senior managers.

The Secretary of State has a good reputation in all parts of the House for showing leadership. The fact that he has already been prepared to concede in a way that his predecessor was not is very welcome. However, his reputation will be even stronger and will deserve great praise if he moves further. I urge him to do that. When those in the other place reflect on this debate and all the voices that have been heard throughout the House, they will say that the Secretary of State has further to travel.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

May I say in response to earlier comments in the debate that everybody in the House wants to see the Bill passed? Indeed, I have been campaigning for it for 20 years, and I do not think that anybody is trying to frustrate it. Also, the amendments before us are a major change from the original position, which is very good. Personally, I would always like to see "shall" rather than "may". My right hon. Friend referred to the criminal injuries compensation case. In fact, I was the solicitor in that case on behalf of the appeal of the applicants against the then Conservative Government, and I was pleased that we beat them in the House of Lords.

Putting that to one side, I have to say that the real issue that we are talking about is the timetable. Like others, I am concerned about the timetable, but giving a date is at least a starting point. I saw that Lord Hunt, speaking on behalf of the Opposition in the other place, agreed with me that

"naming the day is more important than the specific date."

I therefore hope that the Opposition will not resile from that. In response to the debate, my right hon. Friend Baroness Ashton said:

"the Government are committed to bringing the custody issue forward through the order-making power"— as it then was—

"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."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 17 July 2007; Vol. 694, c. 146-49.]

That is absolutely right. That is what should happen: we should work out what the implications of the proposal are and then come forward with the date when we are going to implement it. That has not happened, but if it were to happen, we would come up with a much earlier date. I understand the position that my right hon. Friend is in, however. He cannot do that. In the seven days that we have, perhaps more work could be done on that and perhaps we could find a compromise timetable—three to five at the outside perhaps, but with the proposal being implemented much earlier, as I have suggested, for the police, for example, who do not have the problem of overcrowding in police cells. We heard about the problem of risk aversity, but there is no issue of risk aversity in some of those places. What we are looking for is the deterrent effect, which the proposal would bring into effect, to ensure that things are done properly.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's undertaking that we will have regular reports on implementation, so I shall certainly be voting with the Government. There is still a little way to go, but they have moved significantly by naming the date, which was the key demand when this battle started many months ago.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

You were kind enough to call me in the first debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know that other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall be brief.

First, it would be churlish not to welcome what has been done thus far, and I think that the House would acknowledge that. Secondly, it is the view of most hon. Members participating in this debate that five to seven years is too long. To take up the point that Mr. Davey made, it is worth reminding ourselves that unsafe systems, which are basically what we are talking about, are wrong in principle.

I recognise that the Secretary of State is concerned about what, for brevity, I would loosely refer to as unfair prosecutions, which would come at a time that was oppressive to management. That is what is really worrying him. However, that concern is actually met to a very high degree by the requirement in the Bill that the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is a necessary precondition to prosecution.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That is one anxiety and it takes some time—I hope as short as possible—to work through, but another anxiety is that which people who have not been party to these debates feel inside such complicated systems. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was all a matter of political will. If it were all a matter of political will, things would be dead easy, but there must also be judgments, which is why, if I may say so, the target on drugs in Afghanistan did not quite work out as intended, so the issue involves both. That is what we are having to manage, but we will do it as quickly as we can.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I was coming on to my fifth and last point. I accept what the Secretary of State has said, but culture changes have to be driven from above because they will always be resisted. I recall being the Whip in the Home Office when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was introduced and there was enormous resistance from within the police to many of the changes, particularly interviewing, forced through by PACE. The Secretaries of State insisted and the management will always respond to insistence. If the Secretary of State were to put forward a 12-month or 24-month period, I suspect that that would be longer than need be, but I am sure that the House and the other place would agree to it. That is the sort of period that is required—not five to seven years. That is all I want to say.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 4:30 pm, 18th July 2007

I, too, believe that the Secretary of State for Justice has moved in the right direction and I thank him for that. He is one of the few Labour Ministers I would trust: I think that his word means something in this House and I am sure that he is well intentioned. He must understand, however, how difficult it is for us to accept his word when it relates to a period after the next general election. It is extremely unlikely that either he or a Labour Government would then be in office— [Interruption.] Yes, I obviously hope that there will be a change of governing party to the Conservatives, but there might be no overall control in the House of Commons—and there are all sorts of possibilities that would make it very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to honour his pledge.

In the meantime, as the Liberal Democrats so rightly pointed out on this occasion, it must be a matter of grave concern to all of us that a decent man who is Secretary of State for Justice cannot reassure the House that custody in this country is being sufficiently well managed for it to be under this legislation. He is newly in post and trying to get to grips with it. He tells us that his officials are telling him that there could be acts of gross negligence leading to death in custody, but that they do not feel that anything can yet be done about it. Surely that is a matter of grave urgency.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Let me explain to the right hon. Gentleman that no official has said that to me and I do not believe that any officials have said it at any stage to any of my right hon. Friends. At no stage has that argument been advanced. None of us wants to see gross negligence or failure in systems. A huge amount has already been done in the police and prison services to ensure that such a situation does not develop.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am glad to hear that reassurance, but it makes it even stranger that we are dealing with a period of five to seven years. I shall therefore vote with my Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

This has been an interesting debate and I am grateful for the acknowledgement of the changes made as a result of this set of amendments. I am pleased better to have informed the right hon. and learned Member for—is it still Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)? [Interruption.] Well, it changes every election. [Interruption.] I had forgotten that Grantham is Labour now! It is significant that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is better informed about the amendment.

A number of slightly odd claims have been made. Mr. Grieve talked about the Prison Service over the next 100 years—a much longer time frame than I have in mind. He then said that there would always be pressure on the Prison Service. I have clocked that; we bear it mind, because at some stage over the next 100 years, there may well be a Conservative Government. I can offer the hon. Gentleman some fraternal advice—not to be too free and easy with the suggestion that if there were a Conservative Government, there would never be any problems with prisons. I do not believe that that would be the case.

The hon. Gentleman then said that implementing the law quickly could lead to some "terrible problem". That is nonsense. I never said that it would lead to a terrible problem. I have been careful in what I said, as have my right hon. and hon. Friends. What I have said is that we need time to assess the situation, and we do. I apologise to the House for having to say that, but it just happens to be true.

To my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I say that as well as undertaking to publish at least an annual report on progress, which I am happy to do, we will certainly look carefully into implementing these measures by stages. I am grateful to Mr. Redwood for saying that he at least trusts me—he then made it clear that he certainly would not trust a Minister in a Conservative Government, and we have noted that too. We do intend to take such action; otherwise, we would not put such a provision in the Bill. The quicker we can make progress, the less people will have to look into a crystal ball, because they will be able to see from the action taken that we are doing it.

I urge the whole House to recognise that considerable progress has been made, and that it is now time for agreement, both on what is in the Bill, as we hope, and on what I have said.

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Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 301, Noes 188.

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Division number 192 Orders of the Day — Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

Aye: 301 MPs

No: 188 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


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Question accordingly agreed to.

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