Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 19th October 2006.

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[Mr. Roger Galein the Chair]

Hon. Members:

Good morning.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

You can put the apples on my desk later.

I have a couple of housekeeping notes for the Committee. First, hon. Members have my permission to remove their jackets if they wish. Secondly, I remind the Committee that adequate notice should be given of amendments; as a general rule, Mr. Benton and I will not call starred amendments, including any starred amendments that may be reached during the afternoon sittings.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, the Standing Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.00 a.m. on Thursday 19th October) meet—

(a) at 2.00 p.m. on Thursday 19th October;

(b) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 24th October;

(c) at 9.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. on Thursday 26th October;

(d) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 31st October;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clause 1; Schedule 1; Clauses 2 to 21; Schedule 2; Clauses 22 to 24; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday 31st October.

I am glad once again, Mr. Gale, to have the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship and that of your esteemed co-Chairman, Mr. Benton. I am sure that our discussions about the Bill will be extremely constructive. I welcome the hon. Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey); I look forward to our debates. Indeed, I welcome all members of the Committee. I hope that they agree that the motion will gives us sufficient time to enable proper scrutiny of this short but significant Bill.

I welcome the broad support for the new offence that was expressed on Second Reading, although I note that the support of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield takes the form of attempting to delete almost all of the Bill.

The Bill will create an important new offence, specifically targeting the worst health and safety breaches—those that result in death—and properly labelling them. We have considered the many ways of achieving it, but we  believe that merely making additions to the regulatory framework for health and safety would not be good enough.

The Bill will create a new offence to deal adequately with the gross organisational failings that cause death, and employees and service users in both the public and the private sectors will be protected by its provisions. It also addresses the imbalances between small and large companies; in practice, the current law is truly effective only against small companies. It puts the public and private sectors on an equal footing, and it penalises companies that seek to gain competitive advantage by cutting costs on health and safety.

I look forward to the opportunity to explain more fully the purpose of the Bill, and as always I shall listen carefully to the Committee. I hope that our scrutiny will improve the Bill. I believe that it represents a good compromise in a contentious area.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I thank the Minister for his kind words of welcome. I join him in welcoming you, Mr. Gale, to the Chair; I look forward to your chairmanship and that of your co-Chairman, Mr. Benton.

May I say at the outset that the programme motion is one of the few during my time in Parliament that will allow adequate time for scrutiny? I am grateful to the Government for having provided what I believe will be sufficient time, and also for the fact that we do not have internal knives, which will be very helpful in allowing us to make progress.

Finally, I can tell the Minister that although the amendments that I have tabled would constitute a substantial rewriting of the Bill, he should not assume that that indicates an intention ruthlessly to pursue such an objective. What I seek will become apparent: I wish to compare the relative complexity of what is proposed with the possible simplicity of an alternative. It was to highlight those two things that I thought it worth while tabling two brief amendments—one that would delete the rest of the Bill, and another that would give the Committee the chance to consider the possibility that there might be a better way to proceed. However, I am mindful of what the Minister said about the Government’s preferences in the matter.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I welcome you, Mr. Gale, to the Chair. It seems that you may be taking a headmasterly approach in your chairing of our meetings. I have not brought an apple today; I hope that it does not mean that I am out of order.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

The hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that I have not brought my cane.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I thought that such things had been outlawed.

I thank the Minister for his welcoming remarks. I and my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who will bring a Scottish dimension to our scrutiny of the Bill, look forward to a constructive series of sittings.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is on the Committee, not least because he has genuine expertise in the area, as we discovered on Second Reading. It is always good to serve on a Committee in the knowledge that at least one member has a detailed understanding. Lest the hon. Gentleman feels that that means we will bow to his authority, I assure him that we shall scrutinise his rewriting of the Bill, and the Bill itself, in equal detail. The Conservatives seemed on Second Reading to take a position that was very critical of the clumsiness of the Bill, and the hon. Gentleman made some trenchant remarks, but there was a hint of unwillingness to take action on the substantive point. We shall be interested to learn, when he tables his amendments, whether the Conservatives are interested in doing anything about the issue at stake.

Liberal Democrats certainly think that an offence of corporate manslaughter is needed. The Minister was right to say that there was a degree of consensus about that. We also feel, however, that the present proposals need to be significantly improved if we are to improve on the current legal position; I think that all hon. Members will know about its weaknesses. We particularly want to make sure that the Bill’s deterrent effect will work. The whole point of health and safety legislation and of putting an offence of this type on the statute book is to prevent accidents and deaths and to send out a clear signal. We shall judge the Bill and the amendments to it with that in mind.

I should like to welcome Labour Members to the Committee, because it is clear that they want to play an active part in the scrutiny of their Front Bench’s proposals. Judging by the amendments that they have tabled already, Mr. Gale, it appears that the Minister will be regaled—no pun intended—on all sides with efforts to ensure that the Bill fulfils its purpose. I hope that we can form some interesting cross-party coalitions, in the interest of the public.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Good morning, Mr. Gale. It is good to see you in the Chair—as it will be to see Mr. Benton, also. I have served under your chairmanship, and Mr. Benton’s, in previous Bill Committees; I enjoyed them and they were informative. I and my hon. Friends welcome the Bill. We heard it said on Second Reading by some commentators that the Bill does not itself do much, which is, I think, the reason for some of the amendments tabled by the official Opposition. I do not accept that. The Bill does improve the current situation. However, I and some of my hon. Friends accept that it can be improved. The purpose of our amendments and new clauses is to help in examining and probing the thinking behind the Bill, and to suggest ways of making it better.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I am always fascinated as Chairman by how few of the opening remarks have anything to do with the programme motion.

Question put and agreed to.