Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 17th July 2007.

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Votes in this debate

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Commons Amendments

[The page and line references are to HL Bill 19 as first printed for the Lords.]

MOTION A

Page 2, line 29, at end insert-

"(d) a duty owed to anyone held in custody."

Page 3, line 12, at end insert-

""custody" includes being held in prison, secure mental healthcare facilities, secure children's homes, secure training centres, immigration removal centres, court cells and police cells, and being subject to supervision by court, prisoner and detainee escort services;"

Page 3, line 37, leave out "or (b)" and insert ", (b) or (d)"

Page 3, line 40, leave out "or (b)" and insert ", (b) or (d)"

Page 5, line 8, leave out "or (b)" and insert ", (b) or (d)"

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 10F, 10G, 10H and 10I in lieu but propose Amendments 10K, 10L, 10M and 10N in lieu.

Page 2, line 31, leave out "subsection (1)" and insert "this Act"

Page 3, leave out line 25

Page 13, line 3, at end insert the following new Clause:-

"Power to extend meaning of "relevant duty of care"

(1) The Secretary of State may by order make amendments to this Act to the effect that a "relevant duty of care" includes a duty of care owed by an organisation under the law of negligence to a person of a specified description who-

(a) is in custody or detention, or otherwise is required by virtue of a statutory provision to remain or reside on particular premises, or is subject to some other form of restriction of his liberty, and(b) is by reason of that fact a person for whose safety the organisation is responsible.

(2) An order under this section-

(a) may amend this Act so as to restrict or disapply exceptions as regards the application of any provision contained in this Act as a result of such an order;(b) may make any amendment to this Act that is incidental or supplemental to, or consequential on, an amendment made by such an order.

(3) An order under this section is subject to affirmative resolution procedure."

As an amendment to the Clause inserted into the Bill after Clause 19 by Lords Amendment No. 33:-

Line 30, at end insert-

""premises" includes land, buildings and moveable structures;"

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10, to which the Commons have disagreed, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10K to 10N in lieu.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill returns to us from another place once more. The Bill now hangs in the balance. Your Lordships first sent it to the other place to consider the extension of the new offence to deaths in custody at the end of February. At that point, the other place was content to accept a number of significant changes to the Bill proposed in your Lordships' House, and on the question of deaths in custody, the Government sought to make substantial, positive progress. Measures were proposed to improve the investigation of deaths in custody by putting the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on to a statutory footing. That commitment is now in a Bill introduced in the other place. The Government also offered to consider how the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody could be strengthened. That goes directly to the issue of seeking to reduce the occurrence of these tragic events in the first place.

Since bringing forward these proposals, the Bill has been sent to your Lordships' House four times. On the three previous occasions, your Lordships indicated dissatisfaction with the movement offered in the other place and asked the Government to reconsider their position. We have done that. I am grateful, as I have indicated on every other occasion on which we have discussed the Bill, for the time that the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Lee and Lord Dholakia, have taken to discuss with me the important issues in the Bill. Again, I pay tribute to them for their time.

As noble Lords will recall, debate in your Lordships' House was postponed a fortnight ago for further discussions and consideration. A new Administration and new Ministers recognised that very strong concerns had been expressed during the passage of the Bill, and that it was right for the Government to allow a further pause. Ultimately, however, they reached the same view: that the Government had quite properly paved the way for the Bill to extend to custody in the future, but that to go further at this stage would not be right.

The Bill now has two further days before proceedings in the other place must be completed. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, pointed out previously, that period can be extended. However, we must look at the possibility of doing so against the experience of the Bill's passage between your Lordships' House and the other place to date. For nearly two months, the Bill has passed between the two. The Government have put a solid compromise on the table. I recognise that this does not deliver all that the amendments adopted by your Lordships would deliver. It is a compromise, and I recognise it as such. That compromise has not yet proved acceptable. In practical terms, there appears to be little to be gained by extending the time available for the offence, simply to prolong the passage of the Bill between this House and the other place. I consider the compromise to be a good one and one on which this House should accept the passing of the Bill.

For the Government's part, the concession that we have offered takes the offence further than we have considered is its appropriate ambit. The compromise opens the door to the offence applying to custody. Recognising the principle of extending the offence, and providing a means of doing so, is a very large movement. On the other hand, the compromise asks that, although the principle of the offence applying to custody is accepted, the power to extend must rest in the hands of the Government. That is entirely appropriate.

The further amendments proposed today provide for a specific timetable. It is already clear that the other place is not content to accept amendments that put custody directly in the Bill. Noble Lords must consider how very unlikely it would be, therefore, that in those circumstances, it would agree to the more advanced proposition that puts custody in the Bill and sets a specific timetable for implementation.

I want to bring your Lordships' attention a difference between the amendment in lieu that we are considering today and that which we considered last week. The power to extend the offence applies slightly more widely than to those strictly in custody or detention, and includes people on specified premises. This is to ensure that the order-making power is sufficiently wide to cover, for example, local authority secure accommodation, where residents are not necessarily in custody. It might also be desirable to cover certain other circumstances, which are not custodial, such as approved probation premises.

The drafting of this aspect of the power has been improved by showing that it is now clearly targeted. I have nothing further to say.

Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendments 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 10K to 10N in lieu.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 3:15 pm, 17th July 2007

to move, as an amendment to Motion A, Motion A1, leave out from "House" to the end and insert "do insist on its Amendments 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10, do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments 10K to 10N in lieu and do propose the following amendments in lieu of Commons Amendments 10K to 10N—

Page 13, line 19, at beginning insert "Subject to subsection (1A),"

Page 13, line 20, at end insert-

"(1A) The following provisions of this Act come into force on 1 January 2009-

(a) section 2(1)(d);(b) sections 3(2), 3(3) and 5(3) so far as they relate to section 2(1)(d)."

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I am conscious that this is the fifth time that I have tabled an amendment that is concerned with trying to ensure that custody, and those held in custody, are subject to the same purposes of the Bill as victims of gross management failure, for which private companies are to be held responsible. I am conscious, too, that many noble Lords feel that the Government have gone as far as they can in giving way on the principle, and their other concessions over investigation and prevention of deaths in custody. These are enormously welcome in themselves, given the current situation in our prisons. However, they are not strictly relevant to the purpose of the Bill. Pressing for a date could therefore be felt to be somewhat ungracious, but we owe a duty to the victims, whose cause the Government so support. That duty requires us to press, as far as we can, for this one last phase.

I am conscious that time is running out; only two days before the rolling-out procedure are available to the Government. Once again, I am enormously grateful for the willingness of the Ministry of Justice, mentioned already by the Leader of the House. I had a very frank and friendly meeting last night with the Secretary of State, Jack Straw. It showed a new, fresh approach to these matters since the Ministry of Justice took them over. This is entirely to be welcomed, given the complexity, relevance and urgency of these issues. He explained to me that he had only been in his current post for two weeks and was not responsible for the earlier passage of the Bill. I then reminded him that we had had discussions about Prison Service management, particularly in the context of suicides, when he was Home Secretary. I explained that in now formally proposing a date some time ahead, I was allowing time for what the Minister, Maria Eagle, had said in the other place were significant changes to the management of the duty of care that would be required.

Personally, and from experience, I do not believe that any changes to managerial responsibilities are required, only to the way in which those responsibilities are exercised. As I have said previously, it is inexcusable that there should be deficiencies in the duty of care that those currently responsible for running our prisons owe to those committed to their care by the courts. Those responsibilities apply whatever the problems imposed by overcrowding or lack of resources. They are incumbent on all managers at all times wherever they are. I also repeated to the Secretary of State that the last thing that any of those of us who voted against my amendments wanted was to kill the Bill, which was why I was now suggesting a staged rather than a simultaneous implementation of the Bill to the private sector and custody to satisfy all parties.

From these Benches it is easy for me to say that in making one last effort to obtain acceptance of the need for a more definite commitment than the word "may" to the application of the Bill to the managers of those held in custody, I am not playing party politics. I say that because I was intrigued to read in the latest debate in the other place that, with the exception of the Minister, not a single Member spoke against the amendment.

Let me quote Mr Andrew Dismore, chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in particular. He said that if the Prison Service is against the introduction of the Bill, it is the wrong position for them to adopt. He continued:

"A well run Prison Service has nothing to fear. The Bill is not about prosecuting people, but about acting as a deterrent to make sure that things are run properly in the first place ... It is not about individual liability but management liability ".—[Hansard, Commons, 11/7/07; col. 1569.]

He went on to say that he did not find the Government's arguments persuasive and that:

"The Government may win the vote, but I do not think that they have won the debate".—[Hansard, Commons, 11/7/07; col. 1570.]

Mr David Winnick asked the Minister whether she was,

"aware that some Labour MPs, including me, are very unhappy ... that the Government will give no indication whatever of a time when the Prison Service will be included".—[Hansard, Commons, 11/7/07; col. 1562.]

The Minister did not answer the direct question of the Shadow Attorney-General, Mr Dominic Grieve, as to whether the problem about agreeing a finite date for implementation lay with the Prison Service, the police, some other organisation or the bureaucrats in the departments. I found that interesting because in an earlier debate in the other place, Mr John Denham said that a date would help the Prison Service because it would have a clear timetable for putting in order whatever was needed to be put in order.

When we debated this issue last week, because of time I deliberately did not mention the police, although I realise that their views must have influenced the new Home Secretary in her reported reaction to the Bill. Fortunately, my noble friend Lord Dear is well aware of what these are and I will leave him to explain them to the House.

I suspect that like many Members of the House I have been inundated with messages from those who are understandably very concerned about the outcome of our debate on this welcome and important Bill. I have made it clear to all of them that in pursuing my amendments as far as I am constitutionally allowed, I am doing so in the interests of victims of gross management failure for which the Government are ultimately responsible, trying to ensure that they are not treated any differently from the victims of a similar failure of private sector management.

The Government appear to have something of a blind spot over disciplining those guilty of management failure while responsible for people held in the custody of the state. Frankly, I do not believe that to be an honourable position for any Government of any civilised nation to maintain. Therefore, one final time, I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to Motion A, Motion A1, leave out from "House" to the end and insert "do insist on its Amendments 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10, do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments 10K to 10N in lieu and do propose Amendments 10P and 10Q in lieu thereof.—(Lord Ramsbotham.)

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs

My Lords, I support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I shall be brief because I have to go to the Grand Committee shortly for three orders. I simply want to inform the House about the lunch earlier today arranged by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, at which the first question put was about the corporate manslaughter Bill. It was obvious from those who spoke at that meeting, particularly those from the Prison Officers' Association, that they saw no objection to implementing this aspect of legislation, and the sooner, the better. That came from the Prison Officers' Association. That now leaves only the police, and I look forward to reading tomorrow what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, has to say on this matter. I have spoken to a number of senior police officers and their reaction was more or less the same as that of the Prison Officers' Association. I therefore support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, I, too, have just been to the meeting with the Prison Officers' Association. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will confirm—and this rather surprised me—they said that this was the first meeting they had ever had with parliamentarians. That is astonishing considering they are in the front line of all these problems. They are very open-minded about the Bill's provisions and the extension to prisons, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has said, but that is in the Bill with the order-making power so let us not talk at cross purposes. They said—and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, may confirm this—that they needed to judge the extension to prisons in the light of the manifold problems they have to face, not least the radicalisation of some classes of prisoners, which has been debated in this House, and the lack of work and educational facilities. The balance of all these problems is a factor for consideration.

If we want to change the culture of prisons—and that is prima facie what this Bill is in part about—it is obviously not just a question of adopting a clause or not. It is a hugely more complicated matter. The Government have themselves made the point that the talks which need to take place and be a precondition for triggering the order are not yet taking place. I would like to put the emphasis on those talks.

The Prison Offers' Association—let me put it another way for those people who have rather fixed ideas about what a trade union is, what it is for and what it does: the representatives of the prison officers are in the firing line. The responsibility they have for the day-to-day handling of many difficult problems is not just a question for the prison governors—and we may hear from a former prison governor—but there is the significant matter of the morale and involvement of the Prison Service if that culture is to change. I hope that my noble friend will be able to say that full and, I trust, positive consideration can be given to the request that the Prison Officers' Association should be involved in any talks—not hypothetical talks but talks which we will be assured will take place in the not-too-distant future, sooner rather than later. But defining our terms is not for today; in the light of all those considerations, putting a date in the Bill is not the right way to proceed.

Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Spokesperson in the Lords (Tourism), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

My Lords, the Bill represents a commitment made in the Labour Party's 1997 election manifesto. Is the noble Lord seriously suggesting that there has not been time for the Labour Government to bring about any talks that were necessary?

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 3:30 pm, 17th July 2007

My Lords, I should point out to the noble Lord that we in the TUC have been campaigning for this Bill for years. It just happens to be a fact of life that we were largely talking about something different. How the relationships between prison governors, prison staff and prisoners should be handled in this context is rather different from the manslaughter liabilities of an employer when someone falls off the top of a building. It is much more complicated. I abstained last time, and I gave my reasons. The trio or perhaps now the quartet of ping-pong sessions back and forth has been quite productive, because it has shed light on some of these issues. Given that, rather than making this a yes or no proposition, I say that this is now a matter of interpretation and a consideration of how we move on from here.

In conclusion, therefore, I am not asking my noble friend to respond to my broad remarks about the ideas that talks are about to start. However, the discussion I had with the Prison Officers Association is one I would like him to respond to. How are these people to become involved? The genie is now out of the bottle and there is no going back. The Bill is quite radical, and, wearing my TUC hat, I must say that there can be no question of this Bill falling. In the light of the conversations that have taken place, I consider that the Bill should pass, not least because rejection now would somehow not be proportionate to all the considerations that have already taken place. The process is now going forward and I hope that my Labour colleagues who like me abstained last time or voted against will now vote on the basis that I have outlined—for the recommendation made by the Leader of the House.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, I support much, but not all, of what the noble Lord has just said. I agree that this amendment brings into relief the question of management. Management here is dependent on the relationship between prison governors, the prisoners and the POA. I will not go into the details, but that is the effect of legislation passed long ago and interpreted by the High Court. It has broken the manner in which those considerations can advance, and it is because of that that we find ourselves having to devise working rules of crucial importance by way of amendments instead of by the ordinary process of negotiation. But we are here, and certainly that requires attention.

We are now presented with a situation which has to be dealt with. The Government say, "Oh, give it to a Minister". We have had enough government by Ministers. This is a matter for Parliament, and I shall support the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Dear Lord Dear Crossbench

My Lords, I have spoken before on this issue, always in support of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, and I support him again in Motion A1. Like him and others, I am acutely aware of the constitutional importance and significance of the game of ping-pong that we play, and the ramifications of what might happen if we return this Bill to another place once again.

Not to have this clause in the Bill would indicate a lack of care and concern for those who are in a place where they are almost more vulnerable than in any other place within our constitution, and in a place where duty of care is absolutely paramount. As I have asked before, and ask again, what message would be sent within this country, within the organisation and outside, and within our borders if we do not include this matter? In particular, what message would it send to those countries which we seek to influence at a particularly sensitive time in the world's history when we are trying to demonstrate that the western democracies of this world have more to offer than they do? I wonder how they would see this exclusion.

As a young student reading law at university, and later as a young police officer beginning to grapple with the requirements of that job, it was emphasised to me that arrest and detention of a citizen is absolutely fundamental within the constitutional framework. We are talking about people detained in prisons and in police cells, although more are detained in prisons. I have said before and say again in preamble that a prime test in any civilised country is how you deal with those who are locked up by the state. We should keep that at the forefront of our minds. We know that it is rare in this country for things to go wrong, but things can and do go wrong, and when they do one must ask what recourse those people or their relatives have.

We believe that police objections have borne on the Home Office's decision. From memory, I think that was mentioned about three months ago during our debate. The Association of Chief Police Officers provided me with a letter which it sent to the Home Office. It is undated but I understand that it was sent very shortly before 11 May this year on behalf of ACPO. It is a short letter. If you take away the heading and the spare space on the back of the second page, it would come to exactly—I have measured it—one side of close-typed A4. That is the weight and the length of the police response on this matter. It pains me to say that it is a poorly constructed letter. It is more a statement of position than anything else. It comprises seven paragraphs, four of which state the obvious. I refer to statements such as one that says that the police have to,

"deal with difficult and dangerous incidents".

It goes on to say that they have to take,

"critical decisions whilst under extreme pressure".

We know that. The letter states that they are responsible for,

"those who pass through police custody", who,

"are amongst society's most volatile and vulnerable, often after they have been failed by agencies better equipped to provide appropriate care and support".

It goes on to say:

"It is quite right that the police should be held to account".

I suspect that we would quarrel with none of that. The letter concludes with the rather strange three lines:

"Extending the provisions of the Corporate Manslaughter Bill would only serve to impose an unnecessary additional level of scrutiny and, in practice, could serve to foster a 'risk averse' approach to operational policing".

Only one paragraph in this very short letter could reasonably be called an argument and that, as I said, is more a statement of a position. The police case appears to be that they are trying to distinguish their position vis-à-vis custody from the position vis-à-vis operational policing. Noble Lords may remember that, under Clauses 4 and 5, operational policing and indeed operations by the Armed Forces, which are very similar in some respects, are specifically excluded from the Bill. I spoke in support of that, as did other noble Lords, and it is not now a matter of dispute or debate. However, the police are concerned about the point at which operational policing ends and custody begins. That is what appears to be inserted in one short paragraph of the letter. My own guess—not tritely—is that custody could begin when the cell door shuts or slightly before, when the charge is accepted. I would be happy to leave that to judicial decision. Your Lordships might wish to insert such a description into the Bill, even at a late stage, but I do not think it needs to go in.

On reflection and after a long history with the Home Office, I am confused—others may well be too—how on so many times the Home Office has rejected well argued, heavily argued and lengthily argued submissions by the police on a range of issues, but it is prepared to stand its ground on this one, which I have already sadly described as a poorly argued paper. I can understand where the police are coming from. They must have fears on that division between operational and custody. I understand the position, but I regret that I do not support the ACPO line. I support everything that has been said—although I will not repeat it—by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, most of which applies to prisons, but some of which can also apply to those in police cells. I urge your Lordships' support for the Motion.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Labour

My Lords, I have spoken previously on the issue, when I declared my interests, as set out in the register. I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, commented that when the matter was last discussed in the other place no one, in effect, stood up or spoke against his amendment. I certainly wish to speak against his amendment.

We need to be sure that the application of the Bill does not have the opposite effect to what many appear to have assumed. The assumption for the Prison Service appears to be that it will reduce deaths in custody. There is no hard evidence that this would be the result. It would be easier for the Prison Service to avoid corporate manslaughter charges being laid for gross negligence where the death is self-inflicted—by a prisoner in a cell on their own, but being regularly checked. It only takes a few minutes for someone to take their own life. With a death in a shared cell, the Prison Service might find it more difficult to resist charges being laid—even where the decision not to leave a recently arrived prisoner in a cell on their own was taken for the best of motives, such as being of help to the prisoner concerned in the light of their state when they arrived at the prison. It is thus possible—possible, not certain—that we would put the Prison Service in a position where it decides to play safe from its point of view, but minimising the risk of corporate manslaughter charges could increase, not decrease, the number of self-inflicted deaths.

The desire to hold those who are grossly negligent to account for a death is understandable and right. However, I suggest that we do not start fixing dates until we have evidence—which we do not have at the moment—that the consequence of so doing in the Prison Service will not be to change the operational culture in such a way that it increases, not decreases, the number of self-inflicted deaths.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House two questions. First, if she accepts that it is perfectly open to her to table a Motion to extend the carryover date, would she stop waving around the paper tiger of the Bill lapsing, when it is entirely in her hands to prevent it doing so? Secondly, does she accept that, if no date is inserted, it is perfectly open to the Government never to bring forward an order putting into effect the clause relating to manslaughter and custody? Even if the Government bring forward some form of order, they could do so containing any form of exceptions, restrictions or limitations that they like that rendered the duty virtually irrelevant. The House would have no choice but to either reject the order in its entirety or pass it with all those exclusions and limitations. If she accepts that, does she not accept that it is necessary for her, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others to get together and devise something—if she does not like the amendment—that means that, within a reasonable time, the Government must bring this clause into effect, subject only to any genuine restrictions that they really need to impose?

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 3:45 pm, 17th July 2007

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive a very brief intervention. I have not taken part before because of other priorities. However, as a former Minister for police for a year, I have always thought that the police were properly responsible for the lives of any prisoners that they had in their custody. As Minister for the Prison Service for three years, it was clear to me that the Prison Service was responsible for the lives of the people who were entirely in its control. As an ex-Minister in a number of other departments, I am equally aware that if you do not put a date in a Bill you do not get it. The Government are always subject to the inertia imposed by the necessity to do other things on which there is a date, and the result is that those things on which there is not a date get put to the back of the queue indefinitely until the next election.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House shakes her head sadly at me. I can only say that I was in the job—I cannot interpret her mood, she is now wreathed in smiles. I hope that bodes well. If this House were to be content with something that could be interpreted worldwide as saying that the actual rights to life of our citizens are at their least when they are in the care of the state, it would say something about the state too horrible to contemplate.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, I will ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House a short question. Has there not been a rise in suicides this year of people in custody? Surely something must be done about that. I think I read it in the press this week.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, for a very few years in the late 1960s, I, too, had the pleasure of being a junior Minister in the Home Office, and I wholeheartedly endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I have not taken part in the earlier discussions on the Bill, having been absent for unavoidable reasons. With great respect, I do not think that this is in any way a choice between one set of alternatives and another set of statutory alternatives, one being superior to the other.

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.

Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Spokesperson in the Lords (Tourism), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

My Lords, the Government have been defeated four times—on 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 Government. Similarly, if this Bill fails—we all want it to succeed—then once again it is primarily the responsibility of Government, not of those who support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. As has been said by a number of noble Lords, virtually no support for the Government's position has been expressed in speeches made in both Houses—with one or two exceptions, such as the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. The Cross-Bench Peers, the Conservative Peers, the Liberal Democrat Peers and many Labour politicians are clearly in favour of including deaths in custody in the Bill. Outside bodies such as Liberty and Justice are in favour and today we have had support from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with his experience of prisons, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, with his great experience of the police force, and my noble friend Lord Dholakia, who spoke of his recent conversations with the Prison Officers' Association. Virtually everyone is lined up on one side, so what is holding the Government back?

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—specifying the date of 1 January 2009—is 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.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative

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 when—that 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 important than the specific date. I believe that there is consensus on all sides of the House and in both Houses.

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 Bill—I have taken advice—that 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.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

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 negotiating—or whatever word noble Lords prefer—the 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 difficult to believe that it was the first such occasion. It was an important occasion.

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 Government's 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 Bill—through an order-making power—those 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 letter—we think it was around 11 May—which 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 something—that 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 the fact that there were to be new Ministers and a new Administration within a Labour Government who might have different views and who might wish to look at advice differently with fresh eyes. My right honourable friends have done exactly what noble Lords asked them to do. They have looked again; they have consulted again; they have thought about it again; they have talked to each other again; and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice did, they have talked to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. There is no question but that the Government have done what this House has every right to expect them to do.

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 Lord's 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.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 4:00 pm, 17th July 2007

My Lords, can the Leader of the House say what the Government's commitment is in this connection?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

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 services—with 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.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

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?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

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 something different; I do not do legislation that way. As noble Lords will know, my ambition is never to get to the point where we are pinging anything back three or four times, because that is not the best way of approaching legislation. My ambition is always to resolve everything that can be resolved long before we reach that stage. Noble Lords may feel that it is a matter of having one last heave or push or trying one final time, but that is not the position.

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 deliberations—or, indeed, to the House—but 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.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for again setting out the Government's 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 place—and all the evidence is there—and 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 unnecessary deaths do not occur. That is not the same thing at all. As for talks on the culture, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, my conversation last night with the Secretary of State went back to discussions about management that took place eight years ago. In those years a number of people have died unnecessarily in the care of the state.

I fully understand where we have got to—the 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.

On Question, Whether the said Motion (No. A1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 186; Not-Contents, 157.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

Aye: 184 Members of the House of Lords

No: 155 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion A1 agreed to accordingly.

Motion A, as amended, agreed to.