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(b) amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) saidand he has said it probably two, three or four times nownot every death in custody will render the organisation to which we are referring liable for corporate manslaughter. There are plenty of accidental and self-inflicted deaths, as well as deaths by natural causes, in the custodial estate under the control of the Ministry of Justice, but they would never render it or its subordinate organisations liable for corporate manslaughter under the criminal law.
The Government therefore have no need to worry that a huge collection of criminal summonses will rain down on the Department and capture the Prison Services director general and senior management. I suspect that only a very few cases will be caught by the law, and they will not only be of the type described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) from his previous experience. In cases such as he set out, in which a police officer goes over the top, that officer could be personally liable for assault, or something worse.
The number of cases is likely to be low, and the Government appear to have accepted the principle that corporate manslaughter should, at some date as yet unknown, cover prisons and other forms of involuntary custody. That leaves us with the task of working out the real reason why they want to push the
date into the distant future. If we analyse what the Government have said, both here and in the other place, in an attempt to understand their responses to the arguments put to them, it is clear that there is no principle involved in their decision. There may be some element of political expediency, but that is not a principle to which our countrys courts would be attracted, and it should not be described as such by a Minister of the Crown. As a politician, I fully accept that political expediency plays some part in how we organise our affairs, but to raise it to the level of a matter of legal principle is a mistake, and a mistake that the Government seem to make more and more often.
When the previous Government came to an end the other day and were replaced by what we were told would be a new, exciting and reforming Government, I hoped we would see some new, reforming and exciting applications of legislation, but we have merely seen the same tired old Ministers, reshuffled, coming up with the same tired old arguments that were introduced on the past several occasions. I am sorry, because I had thought better of the hon. Lady who is now dealing with the arguments on behalf of the Government, but I have to suggest that when she read out her speech she was reading it for the first time; if a woman of her calibre had thought about it more carefully [ Interruption. ] The duty of the Whip is to keep quietoccasionally to listen, and perhaps to learn, but to keep quiet. The duty of the Minister is to learn from experience and from the mistakes that the Government made in their previous guisebefore the changeover from last time.
I shall stop, because I have been sufficiently clear and also because the member of the silent service sitting in front of me wants the Minister to do her best to respond. I hope she does, because she and the Government are in trouble if they do not learn the lessons that the other House has taught them and that this House is gently trying to persuade them to remember.
Maria Eagle: I was rather enjoying the hon. and learned Gentlemans speech until just before the end when he became somewhat condescending and patronising, but I shall try to take his remarks in the best possible way.
I want to respond to the points that have been made and I shall do my best to get through as many of them as possible. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made some specific points about the wording of the amendment in relation to proposed subsection (2). To give proper effect to extending the custodial functions under clause 2, certain exemptions in the Bill need to be disapplied. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was correct when he said that proposed subsection (2) provides for exemptions to be disapplied, but it does not provide for exceptions to be made to the forms of custody to which clause 2 is extended. Proposed subsection (2) provides no power to restrict the duties to which the offence is extended under proposed subsection (1). I hope that that assists the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for
Somerton and Frome to understand the precise wording of the amendment.
Mr. Grieve: I do not want speculation. I would like the House to know where the problem lies, because plainly there is one or the Government would have implemented the provisions immediately. Is the problem with the Prison Service, the police, some other organisation or the bureaucrats in the Departments? Who are the people saying that the Government should give no finite date for the implementation of the provision?
Maria Eagle: All Members should remember that the Government have accepted the principle of the offence extending to custody and have provided a means in the Bill to bring that about. There are always practical difficulties. We are ending Crown immunity for the first time, so organisations will have to deal with significant changes. It is not sensible to try to rush such things.
A number of organisations responsible for custody have publicly expressed concerns about the extension of the offence. The Government clearly set out their views during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The Association of Chief Police Officers expressed similar concerns in its evidence. Therefore, concerns have been publicly expressed on the record during the progress of the Bill from its draft stage through to the ping-pong that we are now engaged in. I do not wish to go any further than saying that.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) made some points about deaths in prison hospitals that I want to reply to. The offence as it is currently set out applies to the supply of services, which would include the supply of medical treatment where a death relates to gross corporate negligence in the provision of that treatment. The offence would apply wherever the death occurs, whether in prison or otherwise. To that degree, I hope that I can reassure him.
What the Bill excludes is the exercise of certain uniquely public functions, such as the management of prisoners in custody. However, we have not said that we will never extend the Bill in the way that hon. Members on both sides have indicated that they would like us to. We want to do things properly and in the right way. We need to make sure that we do that. Now is not the time to put a stop to the Bill in total.
That the draft National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (Amendment) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 7th June, be approved.
That the draft National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999 (Amendment) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 4th June, be approved. [Mr. Alan Campbell.]
That this House takes note of the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum from HM Treasury dated 6th June 2007 relating to the Preliminary Draft Budget of the European Communities for the year 2008; and supports the Governments efforts to maintain budget discipline in the Communities. [Mr. Alan Campbell.]
That the Motion in the name of Ms Harriet Harman relating to the Electoral Commission shall be treated as if it related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice has been given that the instrument be approved. [Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to present this massive petition containing 16,243 signatures collected by the great men and women of the constituency of Broxbourne door to door and on the forecourt of Tesco. Each name contained in the petition represents someone expressing their concern about the scaling back of health services in Enfield, north London and the county of Hertfordshire. The petitioners fear that these cuts will worsen health inequalities in the constituency, where outcomes are already behind those in the leafier part of the county.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Health to use his powers to reverse the continued scaling back of health care provision at Chase Farm Hospital and across the County of Hertfordshire and asks that he visits the constituency of Broxbourne at his earliest opportunity in order to address residents concerns.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I present a petition of more than 4,000 signatures from the people of Bournemouth, East, who are concerned about the pace of development and the effect that that is having on the character of our town. I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) who, I understand, is also collecting signatures.
Our concern is not with developers per se, but with the limited powers of local authorities to ensure appropriate and managed development. Powers have shifted from the town hall to the South West regional assembly, which is imposing unrealistic development targetsa situation exacerbated over the past four years by a Liberal Democrat council that has failed to resist those targets, allowing more than 1,000 dwellings to be built every single year.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will reconsider the impact that present planning policy is having on our town, introduce legislation to protect back gardens from overdevelopment, place more emphasis on supporting off-street parking facilities and ensure that Bournemouths green belt and the flood plains are not threatened.
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