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Industrial Accidents

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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How many successful manslaughter charges have been brought in each of the last three years by the Crown Prosecution Service in cases of fatalities in industrial accidents. [115014]

I am afraid that the figures that I can give the House are not 100 per cent. reliable. However, on the basis of national figures held by the Crown Prosecution Service, I understand that in the last three years, 39 defendants were charged with corporate manslaughter. Ten were found not guilty, 13 guilty, and 16 are yet to be completed.

Can the Solicitor-General explain why, after 3,000 deaths at work over the last six years—a third of them due to negligence—and from the cases that she mentioned and others, only one executive or director has gone to prison for manslaughter? If it does not reflect a failure in the prosecution system, it reflects a failure in the legislation. Can she explain why the Government have this week introduced legislation on corporate killing that specifically excludes named individuals?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to concern about that matter. Two aspects need to be taken into account: the substantive law itself, and the implementation of the law. On implementation, it is important that all the prosecution agencies—the Crown Prosecution Service and the Health and Safety Executive—work closely with those who are investigating the problem, which includes the British Transport police as well as the police. Enforcing the law as it stands is vitally important. Whether the substantive law is right is another question. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my Home Office colleagues are introducing legislation to ensure that those whose actions result in the death of employees at work are called to account.

May I draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to the case of Steven Parsons, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Parsons in Warmsworth in my constituency, who died aged 18 on 7 March 2000? He was working under a 16-tonne fairground lorry when it fell and crushed him. He was a trainee mechanic working under supervision, and the Government vehicle examiner, Peter Moses, stated that the method used to carry out the job was "unsafe and reckless practice". The case went to court under health and safety legislation, but the family feel that the issue of manslaughter should be taken much more seriously in such cases. This was a life that did not need to be put out.

I will write to my hon. Friend to explain why it was decided that insufficient evidence was available to mount a prosecution for corporate manslaughter. However, my hon. Friend has just brought this case to my attention and I would like to express my condolences to the Parsons family for the loss of their lovely son at such a young age. I also commend them because I understand that they are working to improve health and safety generally across the board. For our part, the Government will ensure that the substantive law is improved and that no stone is left unturned in the investigation and prosecution of cases.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that there would be an increase in successful prosecutions for manslaughter and for other offences if there were a more rigorous case management regime for criminal trials? That is one of the recommendations made by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and it would involve the legal aid regime recognising the importance of the pre-trial phase. Incidentally, does the Solicitor-General believe that a new UN resolution could provide a defence to any unlawful actions that preceded it?

I detect that the hon. Gentleman has raised two issues. On the first, he is right. We must get the substantive law right, but the success or otherwise of a prosecution depends on issues such as how the cases are investigated, whether the right charges are laid, whether the police are given the right legal advice about what the charges should be, whether the evidence at the scene is properly preserved, how the case is managed and how promptly it is brought to court. As for his other point—