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Crown Immunity

Volume 80: debated on Tuesday 11 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received about removing Crown immunity from workplaces covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act; and what consideration he has given to the matter.

The General Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union has sent my right hon. Friend a report on this subject. This followed our meeting with the trade union, the right hon. Member and other right hon. and hon. Members on 17 April. We have asked the Health and Safety Commission for its considered view of the case set out in the report.

I welcome that request to the Health and Safety â–¸Commission. However, is the Minister aware that Crown immunity protects from criminal prosecution so-called Crown institutions, such as hospitals, when they break the law under the Health and Safety Acts and that this is gravely damaging to patients? Can he give one good reason why a hospital which food-poisons its patients should be immune from prosecution when a hotel which food-poisons its visitors can be prosecuted?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the food hygiene regulations are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I cannot give him a good reason, but I can give him a true reason. It took two years, from 1977 to 1979, for the Labour Government to take no action. I therefore believe that we are pursuing the right course in asking the commission for its advice, and we shall then consider the advice that it gives.

Does my hon. Friend realise that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that inactivity in this regard is quite shameful? Frankly, the deaths from food poisoning at the Stanley Royd hospital in Wakefield cannot be tolerated. At present, patients going into hospital face possible danger. However, there is no question of environmental health officers being entitled to go into hospitals—they go in by invitation. I therefore urge my hon. Friend seriously to hold talks so that Crown immunity is stripped away to ensure that patients enjoy the same privileges as they do if they dine in a hotel or restaurant.

As I have said, we shall give serious consideration to the advice for which we have asked. Although there are differences between Crown and non-Crown premises, there is a shadow procedure for Crown notices similar to statutory notices, which ought to have a great effect.