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Corporate Manslaughter Bill

Volume 457: debated on Monday 19 February 2007

11. What plans he has to bring forward amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter Bill following the decision in the House of Lords on 5 February; and if he will make a statement. (121300)

The Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and I are consulting on how we should take the Bill forward. The House will have a further opportunity to consider the Bill when it has completed all its stages in the House of Lords.

On immunity for the police and the Prison Service regarding deaths in custody, may I gently put it to my hon. Friend that he is in a bit of a pit and ought to stop digging?

I do not feel that we are in a pit at all. There is complete disagreement about how we should take the Bill forward. The Bill came about due to a health and safety issue and the corporate manslaughter aspect of it was to apply to incidents such as train crashes. I understand that people are concerned about deaths in custody. However, there are opportunities for the Independent Police Complaints Commission and a variety of bodies and agencies to examine such matters and thus separate the question of deaths in custody. We, as the first Government ever to examine the issue of Crown immunity, will clearly have to examine the impact of the situation on other services, whether regarding the Ministry of Defence or others. I will consult and listen to what is said, but we are very worried that major advances on corporate manslaughter might be lost.

The Minister will know, following the meetings that I have had with him about my constituent, Paul Day, that I am especially interested in segregation units. Will he consider examining liability in the Prison Service in the context of different types of prisons? For example, there is a material difference between introducing liability for an open prison and doing so for a segregation unit.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point and the way in which he has handled the case of Mr. Day on behalf of his family. He highlights the point of concern: how do we deal with deaths in custody in different types of prisons and police custody? That matter should be seen differently from the way in which we approach corporate manslaughter in the context of health and safety. I am happy to examine what we are doing in open and closed prisons and to consider the impact of deaths in custody and the way in which we can work more closely on safer custody. However, we need to examine corporate manslaughter in terms of health and safety, which is why there is a difference regarding the Bill.

May I urge my hon. Friend to examine closely the case of young Gareth Myatt, who died in Rainsbrook? Will he consider the lessons coming out of the inquest and reflect on the need to achieve proper legislation to deal with deaths in custody through the kind of amendment about which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has talked?

We are not arguing that there does not need to be a look at deaths in custody. As I explained, existing inspectorates are involved. Independent reports are also written and we know of coroners’ views on deaths in custody. However, we argue that a consideration of the matter is not appropriate for the Corporate Manslaughter Bill and that other vehicles might be needed to deal with it. We are clearly concerned that we are in a position in which it is said that Crown immunity should be removed so that the situation is as it would be for the private sector when dealing with such issues as employers or owners of property, with deaths in custody thus being seen differently. I am sure that we will return to the matter and discuss it further when we receive the Bill from the other place.