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Health and Safety (Offences) Bill

Volume 477: debated on Friday 13 June 2008

Not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Clause 1

Health and safety offences: mode of trial and maximum penalty

I beg to move amendment No. 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—

‘(3) In Article 31 of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9)) (offences), for paragraphs (1A) to (5) there is substituted—

“(2) Schedule 3A (which specifies the mode of trial and maximum penalty applicable to offences under this Article and the existing statutory provisions) has effect.

(3) Schedule 3A is subject to any provision made by virtue of Article 17(6)(c) or (d).”

(4) After Schedule 3 to that Order there is inserted the Schedule 3A set out in Schedule [New Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978] to this Act.’.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 2, clause 2, page 1, line 15, leave out ‘1’ and insert ‘1(1) and (2)’.

Amendment No. 3, page 1, line 18, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Department concerned (within the meaning given in Article 2(2) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9))) may make any amendments to existing regulations that it considers necessary or expedient in consequence of the amendments made by section 1(3) and (4).

(3B) The power conferred by subsection (3A) is exercisable by statutory rule for the purposes of the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order 1979 (S.I. 1979/1573 (N.I. 12)).

Such a rule is subject to negative resolution within the meaning of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 (c. 33 (N.I.)).’.

Amendment No. 4, page 1, line 19, leave out ‘subsection (2)’ and insert ‘this section’.

Amendment No. 5, clause 3, page 2, line 6, leave out ‘and Scotland only’ and insert

‘, Scotland and Northern Ireland (except that an amendment or repeal made by this Act has the same extent as the provision to which it relates).’.

New schedule 1—New schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978—

‘New Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978

“SCHEDULE 3A

OFFENCES: MODE OF TRIAL AND MAXIMUM PENALTY

The mode of trial and maximum penalty applicable to each offence listed in the first column of the following table are as set out opposite that offence in the subsequent columns of the table.

Offence

Mode of trial

Penalty on summary conviction

Penalty on conviction on indictment

An offence under Article 31(1)(a) consisting of a failure to discharge a duty to which a person is subject by virtue of Articles 4 to 7.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(a) consisting of a failure to discharge a duty to which a person is subject by virtue of Article 8.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(b) consisting of a contravention of Article 9.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(b) consisting of a contravention of Article 10.

Summarily or on indictment.

A fine not exceeding £20,000.

A fine.

An offence under Article 31(1)(c).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(d).

Summarily only.

A fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

An offence under Article 31(1)(e), (f) or (g).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(h).

Summarily only.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(i).

Summarily or on indictment.

A fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.

A fine.

An offence under Article 31(1)(j).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(k), (l) or (m).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(n).

Summarily only.

A fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

An offence under Article 31(1)(o).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under the existing statutory provisions for which no other penalty is specified.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.”’.

Amendment No. 6, schedule 2, page 4, line 48, leave out ‘of regulation’ and insert ‘of—

(a) regulation’.

Amendment No. 7, page 5, line 1, at end insert ‘or—

(b) regulation 26(18) of the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (S.R. 2006/425),’.

Amendment No. 8, page 5, line 3,  after ‘1974’ insert

‘or Article 31(4) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978’.

Amendment No. 9, page 5, line 4,  after ‘Act’ insert ‘or Schedule 3A to that Order’.

Amendment No. 10, page 5,  leave out lines 8 to 15 and insert—

‘(a) in the sentence beginning “A person who manufactures” as it extends to England and Wales and Scotland, for “and liable to the penalties specified in section 33(3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974” there is substituted “and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (mode of trial and penalty for offence under “existing statutory provisions” for which no other penalty is specified)”;

(b) in that sentence as it extends to Northern Ireland, for “and liable to the penalties specified in Article 31(4) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978” there is substituted “and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (mode of trial and penalty for offence under “existing statutory provisions” for which no other penalty is specified)”;

(c) in the sentence beginning “If any explosive is imported or sold”, for “and liable to the penalties specified in section 33(3) of” there is substituted “and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to”.’.

Amendment No. 11, page 5, line 25, at end insert—

‘Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9))

(1) In Article 17 (health and safety regulations), paragraph (6)(e) is omitted.

(2) In Article 39 (remedy and forfeiture), after paragraph (3) there is inserted—

“(3A) Paragraph (4) applies where a person is convicted of an offence consisting of acquiring or attempting to acquire, possessing or using an explosive article or substance (within the meaning of any of the relevant statutory provisions) in contravention of any of the relevant statutory provisions.”

(3) In paragraph (4) of that Article, for the words from “a person” to “there mentioned” there is substituted “the person is convicted of the offence”.’.

Amendment No. 12, page 5, line 28,  at end insert—

‘Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1069 (N.I. 5))

In Article 4 (offences), in paragraph (4)(f), for “, (2), (2A), (4) and (5)” there is substituted “and (2) (and the related provisions of Schedule 3A)”.’.

Amendment No. 13, schedule 3, page 5,  leave out lines 32 to 35.

Amendment No. 14, page 5, line 37, at end insert—

‘Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9))

Article 17(6)(e).’.

Amendment No. 15, page 5, line 38, at end insert—

‘Offshore, and Pipelines, Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 (S.I. 1992/1728 (N.I. 17))

Article 6.’.

I am grateful for hon. Members’ support for the group of amendments, which would extend the Bill to Northern Ireland. Since the criminal justice aspect of health and safety legislation is a reserved matter, the Bill already applies to England, Scotland and Wales.

The cross-party nature of the support is consistent with the House’s historic bipartisan approach to health and safety legislation. The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 was largely drafted under the Heath Administration and introduced and enacted under the first Wilson Government of 1974. I am especially grateful for the support of the two main Northern Ireland parties represented in this place: the Social Democratic and Labour party, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) served on the Standing Committee and intervened in the proceedings to call for the Bill’s extension to Northern Ireland; and the Democratic Unionist party, of which the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), in his capacity as Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, welcomed me to Stormont when I visited Belfast on 2 June, and offered his enthusiastic support for the measure’s extension to Northern Ireland. I am most grateful to him for the warmth of his welcome and his generosity in finding time to meet me when there were other serious demands on his attention.

I also express my thanks to the chairman and chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland, Professor Peter McKie and Jim Keyes, who were my excellent hosts on my Belfast visit. It goes without saying that they are delighted that the opportunity has arisen to add the amendments to the Bill.

I was impressed by what I learned about the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland—the HSENI. Its mission is, of course, underpinned by the three principles of supporting the weakest, recognising the best and challenging the worst. Given the importance of agriculture in the Northern Ireland economy, the HSNI faces some distinctive challenges from its counterpart in Great Britain.

Although no fatality in the workplace can ever be acceptable, both Great Britain and Northern Ireland can take justifiable pride in being at the top of the international league table and having the lowest rate of workplace fatalities not only in the European Union but in the world.

One of the reasons for the Bill is to try to maintain and improve that record. What discussions has my right hon. Friend held with Northern Ireland employers and trade unions about the proposals?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention—I was about to deal with exactly that point in my brief remarks.

I was grateful to the HSENI for arranging my meeting with David Mills of the Institute of Directors and Nigel Smyth of the CBI. The Institute of Directors has worked closely with the HSENI. In October, the two organisations published a joint guidance document, entitled, “Leading Health and Safety at Work: Leadership Actions for Directors and Board Members”. Indeed, Mr. Mills has been a member of the Health and Safety Commission since 2002 and I was pleased to receive assurance of his support for extending the Bill to Northern Ireland.

I was also grateful to Mr. Smyth for finding time for our lengthy discussion. The Northern Ireland CBI, like its Great Britain counterpart, supports the principle of the Bill, but continues to have several concerns about provisions to widen the imprisonment powers of the lower courts. I hope to respond to those broader issues in my speech on Third Reading.

Meanwhile, I hope that it will be for the House’s benefit if I set out the process whereby the amendments appear before us.

Earlier, my right hon. Friend mentioned accident statistics, which he aggregated between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Does he have separate figures for Northern Ireland? Is Northern Ireland’s record better or worse than that of the rest of the country?

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention because it enables me to put on record the precise statistics for Great Britain and for Northern Ireland and to compare them with those for the European Union. In 2002-03, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the rate of fatalities per 100,000 workers in Great Britain was 0.8 per cent. In Northern Ireland, the figure was 0.9 per cent., and the statistic for the European Union as a whole was 2.1 per cent. That shows that our record for health and safety not only for staff in workplaces but members of the public who visit workplaces is excellent compared with that of our neighbouring countries. I commend the work of the Health and Safety Commission and all the partners involved in the process. We must remember that it is a three-way process, which involves not only the health and safety enforcement authorities, but business and the trade unions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many silent partners support the Bill, including environmental health officers, who have witnessed severe breaches of health and safety laws and desperately hope that the Bill reaches its final stages today?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the sentiment that she expresses. My sense is that it is the will of the House that the measure reaches the statute book. She is right that a large health and safety community is following its progress in detail. I hope to be able to pay tribute to organisations that have expressed active support for the Bill.

My right hon. Friend provided some interesting statistics on fatalities for Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. Does he have similar figures for serious accidents?

I am afraid that I do not. We know that, for 2005-06—the last year for which separate statistics are available for Great Britain—there were 241 fatalities, some 30,000 serious accidents and approximately 100,000 less serious accidents in the workplace. That is a reminder of the need for constant vigilance and an important reinforcement of the purposes of the Bill—to ensure the appropriate punishment of those who are negligent and to deter those who would seek to cut costs by infringing health and safety arrangements.

I will, but then I want to make some progress before becoming available to take further interventions.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify whether, for example, breaches of fundamental requirements to conduct risk assessments for breaches of asbestos regulations would be included?

Order. Perhaps the House might usefully have a little guidance. We have essentially two debates today, one of which is on the group of amendments that we are now discussing, which relate to the Bill’s applicability to Northern Ireland. This debate must concentrate on that. There will, I hope, be an opportunity, if the House makes progress, to have a more general debate on Third Reading.

I am grateful for your guidance and for the opportunity that you signal for a wider discussion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Briefly, the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes, and that will apply in Northern Ireland as well as Great Britain. However, I hope to say a little more about those matters in due course.

My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. He gave us the most up-to-date figures for Northern Ireland, which were from 2002-03, yet he gave much more up-to-date figures for the rest of the United Kingdom—although even they seem to be rather out of date, if I may say so. Does he think it a matter of concern that we do not have real-time numbers, in this day and age of computers, to allow us to know much more accurately the position in Northern Ireland, as opposed to the rest of the United Kingdom?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as he allows me to clarify an observation that I have made. I will make progress after this, but he should bear it in mind that the statistics that I gave for 2005-06 were the numbers of fatalities and accidents in the workplace. The figures that I gave for the earlier period were, of course, comparative percentages. I am confident that we in Great Britain and Northern Ireland maintain our statistics on such matters as efficiently and in as up to date a way as possible, but one must also wait for the publication of other countries’ statistics when engaged in the business of comparative analysis.

Let me turn to the amendments before us. The health and safety authorities in Northern Ireland have a long-standing policy of maintaining legislative parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in health and safety at work legislation. In fact, the health and safety regime in Northern Ireland is governed by the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which essentially replicates the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 covering England, Scotland and Wales. Thus, although the 1978 order originally allowed for different administrative arrangements, it otherwise transposed in their entirety the general duties and the enforcement and offences aspects of the 1974 Act to Northern Ireland.

In 1998, the 1978 order was significantly amended, to create a Health and Safety Commission and Executive for Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, the order remains the controlling legislation, and so needs to be amended to extend the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland.

Over the years, the health and safety authorities in Northern Ireland—now the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland—have worked closely with the mainland Health and Safety Executive to ensure that legislative parity is maintained. In practice, that means that regulations made in Great Britain are used as the template for Northern Ireland regulations, with the substance and intent remaining the same, but with the appropriate Northern Ireland legislative references.

As hon. Members will recognise from that brief history, health and safety in Northern Ireland has always been a transferred—now a devolved—matter. However, as hon. Members will also appreciate, the substance of the Bill deals with the criminal justice system, and specifically the creation of offences and penalties, which are reserved matters and the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office. I am assured that there is no requirement for a legislative consent motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly, given that the Bill deals predominantly with criminal penalties and prosecutions, and that primary legislation here in Westminster is the most appropriate way forward.

As a consequence, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have agreed to seek support to have the Bill extended to Northern Ireland. They have done so for three reasons: first, to ensure parity across the United Kingdom for penalties and offences; secondly, to avoid a potentially significant time lag in bringing about consistency between the Northern Ireland and Great Britain penalty regimes; and thirdly, to save resources in what is a straightforward parity policy area.

Having described the process by which the amendments have reached us, let me turn to their purpose, before briefly explaining their content. As I have said, the relevant Northern Ireland penalties are those set out in the 1978 order and the health and safety regulations made under that order. The effect of the amendments that we are considering is to amend the order in exactly the same way as the Bill amends the 1974 Act.

The key amendments in the group would alter the current framework of maximum penalties set out in the 1978 order, to ensure that the courts can more easily set sentences for health and safety offences at a level that is likely to deter those tempted to break the law and which will deal appropriately with those who have done so. The amendments seek to raise the maximum fine that may be imposed in the lower courts to £20,000 for most health and safety offences.

The explanatory notes to my right hon. Friend’s Bill contain a helpful annexe, which sets out a comparator between the present mode of trial and maximum penalties and those proposed by the Bill. However, I understand that the explanatory notes were produced before the amendments that we are discussing. Will he confirm that the present mode of trial and maximum penalties in Northern Ireland would be the same as those that apply to the rest of the United Kingdom, as set out in the annexe, so that we can see what we are dealing with?

I am again grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises an extremely important point. My response is to say, first, that we hope to be able to provide a further set of explanatory notes to deal with the extension of the Bill’s application to Northern Ireland before it proceeds elsewhere. Secondly, there are one or two fairly minor differences between the schedule applying to Great Britain set out in the Bill and the schedule that will form part of the amended Northern Ireland order. I hope to identify those differences in due course, if my hon. Friend will exert the patience for which he is famous in these precincts.

The power to impose a fine of up to £20,000 is available already, in respect of some of the offences under the 1978 order, such as breaches of the general duties on employers arising under articles 4 to 7. However, the current maximum penalty for specific breaches of health and safety regulations, which may be just as serious as breaches of general duties—exactly the sorts of issues to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) alluded—is a £5,000 fine, hence the extension to the new maximum of £20,000.

Secondly, these amendments serve to make imprisonment an option for most health and safety offences in both the lower and the higher courts. At present, imprisonment is an option only in certain cases—for failure to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice or court remedy order or, in the High Court only, for failure to comply with licensing requirements, explosive provisions or disclosure of information in breach of the 1978 order. These amendments will extend the option of a custodial sentence to a greater range of offences, thus responding to the fact that in several cases over the years judges have remarked on the lack of imprisonment as an option and have said that they would have jailed the offender had they been able to do so.

I have been looking at the explanatory notes. I assume from what my right hon. Friend said that they provide a reasonable guide to what we are dealing with in Northern Ireland. I am particularly concerned about an offence under section 33(1)(a) in respect of the duties of employees under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. I do not know the exact equivalent in Northern Ireland, but no doubt my right hon. Friend will be able to tell me where it fits into the 1978 order. A breach of a duty under section 7 carries quite significant penalties under his proposals for Northern Ireland, but is it fair to impose on conviction such high penalties on employees who have only been doing their job, albeit negligently or recklessly, as on neglectful employers who have the responsibility to make profits?

I am grateful once again to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He raises an important philosophical and moral question, to which I have to say that my instinctive answer is yes, it is. Employees who behave in a way that leads to the loss of life or limb or that puts the lives and limbs of fellow workers in danger deserve an equal level of punishment. It is their neglect and negligence that is at fault. Quite frankly, for a victim of such negligence it hardly matters whether an employer or an employee is responsible for the injury, and the same applies to a member of the family of someone who has died. What those affected want in those circumstances is proper justice. I thus have no hesitation in saying that the provisions in the schedule are entirely right.

I have listened to what my right hon. Friend said about acts and omissions by employees who should be prosecuted because they cause a hazard to others, but what about hazards to themselves? For example, should someone be prosecuted for not wearing goggles when operating a grinding machine? That would be a health and safety offence under the Act and the regulations. In those circumstances, the only person actually at risk is the employee. It is quite right that they should be prosecuted if it is a repeat offence, for example, but is it right that they should face imprisonment for something like that?

I make two points in response to my hon. Friend. The first, which I want to develop at greater length, probably on Third Reading, is about the likelihood and frequency of imprisonment. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me and wait for those exchanges, which will provide a further opportunity for an interesting dialogue. Secondly, I very much doubt that there are ever circumstances in the workplace in which a single solitary employee is at risk. If the health and safety provisions are not being properly exercised, it is my strong suspicion that that presents a risk for every person who is operating in that workplace. To that extent, it is right that those who are negligent in respect of themselves should be punished because they are potentially negligent of other people in the workplace as well.

Let me continue to describe the effect of these amendments to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. The third change is that certain offences currently triable solely in the lower courts will in future be either way offences—in other words, like most health and safety offences, they will be triable in either the lower or higher courts. Those would include the offence under article 31(1)(e) of contravening any requirement imposed by an inspector under article 22 on powers of inspectors, and the offence under article 31(1)(f) of preventing or attempting to prevent another from appearing before an inspector or from answering an inspector’s questions.

Just to complete that thought, I should add that under these amendments those offences could in future attract the tougher penalties available in the higher courts.

I am grateful yet again for my right hon. Friend’s generosity in giving way. I am afraid I do not know enough about the Northern Ireland criminal process in comparison with that of England and Wales, but under the either way procedure in Northern Ireland, is it possible for the defendant to opt for jury trial as opposed to a magistrates court if he wishes to do so? Is it a matter only for the prosecution or is it an option for both sides to decide whether to go for jury trial in Northern Ireland at their wish?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I hesitate in my response for two reasons. First, he is, of course, a lawyer and a good deal more familiar with the judicial process than I am. Secondly, I can answer only on the basis of an impression that I have formed rather than on certain knowledge. My impression is, however, that as in Great Britain it is possible for the accused to opt for a trial in a higher court. If I prove to be wrong about that, I would be delighted to write to my hon. Friend to set the record straight.

I shall expand on this point in my subsequent observations, but it is important to note that the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland has a superb record of successful convictions. Indeed, it runs at 100 per cent. Interestingly, it adopts a somewhat different procedure from the Health and Safety Executive and the inspectorate in Great Britain in that it gives all its cases to the Crown Prosecution Service rather than bring the prosecutions directly as an enforcing authority. It finds that to be an efficient and effective way of dealing with the matter.

I am about to come on to the detail of the amendments, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend just one more time at this juncture.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. He tells us that the prosecution success rate in Northern Ireland is 100 per cent., but 100 per cent. of what? How many prosecutions have been brought in Northern Ireland on average year by year? One of the real criticisms made of the Health and Safety Executive on the mainland, if I may put it that way, is that it is far too timid in bringing prosecutions and should be prosecuting more vigorously, more effectively and more often. In comparison with the rest of the UK, are more offences prosecuted in Northern Ireland? An answer to that would help to explain what is meant by a 100 per cent. success rate; of course, if only one case were successfully prosecuted, that would still be 100 per cent.

I am grateful yet again to my hon. Friend, but on this occasion I have to throw myself on his mercy—and that of the House—because I do not know the particular number of prosecutions brought in Northern Ireland. I shall expand on the point later, but I do not condemn enforcing authorities if they have extremely high thresholds in respect of the rigour of the criteria that they apply before bringing prosecutions. The rigour of those criteria will become even more important in future when, under the Bill, the option of imprisonment will become far more widely available.

I rather suspect that my hon. Friend the Minister may have the answer, so I happily defer to her.

My intervention is not about the number of prosecutions, although we may well be able to come on to that subject later. In the interests of clarity, I point out to my right hon. Friend that in the Scottish legal system it is the Procurator Fiscal Service, not the Health and Safety Executive, that pursues cases involving breaches of health and safety legislation. I would not like my right hon. Friend to fall foul of any Scottish lawyer on that point.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. The last people in the world I want to fall foul of are Scottish lawyers of whom we have wide experience in the House, not least in our party. I am most grateful to her for correcting the record. I was aware that I was skating on rather thin ice at that point, and that was a most helpful intervention.

I am anxious to get on to describing the contents of the amendments in greater detail. If my hon. Friend will simply have patience for one moment—

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; he has been incredibly generous in giving way to me. My point has to do with the decision-making processes in the Health and Safety Executive. One of the criticisms made is that there is under-charging. There is a new offence of corporate manslaughter, which I believe has been extended to Northern Ireland, and he knows that I campaigned long and hard for that offence. Given the new unlimited fines and power of imprisonment, does he think there is a risk that the HSE, through the Crown Prosecution Service, may chicken out of a corporate manslaughter case and instead prosecute for a regulatory offence, and that the lesser penalties may have acted as more of a lever on the HSE to prosecute for corporate manslaughter in appropriate cases?

I very much hope that the Bill will not, as my hon. Friend says, become an excuse for chickening out of any prosecution that ought to be mounted, either under current health and safety legislation or under the corporate manslaughter legislation. I ought perhaps to draw his attention to a comment that I made on Second Reading:

“it is not my intention that the new powers of imprisonment—if we obtain them—should become grounds for resisting the case for mandatory safety duties on directors.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 616.]

That case is an entirely separate argument.

Let me now deal with the amendments in detail. The proposed new offences regime, relating to both the mode of trial and the maximum penalty, is set out in new schedule 1. New schedule 1 would extend schedule 1 to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 as schedule 3A. As far as possible, the text of the Northern Ireland schedule duplicates that of the Great Britain schedule, with two exceptions. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised the issue with me, and I can now offer him the clarification that he sought.

First, in the column of proposed schedule 3A headed “Offence”, where the Great Britain version of the schedule refers to the relevant sections of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, the Northern Ireland schedule refers to the equivalent articles of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. The second and more substantive exception is in the column headed “Penalty on summary conviction”. In respect of each offence for which the Great Britain schedule specifies

“Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months”

or “51 weeks”, the Northern Ireland schedule specifies

“Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months”.

So why is it not possible to provide for a maximum term of imprisonment exceeding six months in Northern Ireland, despite the intention to ensure overall parity between health and safety legislation in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, especially in relation to offence penalties? The explanation lies in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and corresponding legislation for Scotland, which changed the basis for calculating sentences in Great Britain, but which did not extend to Northern Ireland. An example of a similar divergence in maximum penalties is to be found in section 25 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, which provides for imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months. In its application to Northern Ireland, the reference to 12 months is to be read as a reference to six months. Perhaps I should add that the same financial penalties to be imposed on summary conviction can be applied in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as is the case for the penalties—both imprisonment and financial—applicable on conviction on indictment.

My right hon. Friend explains very effectively why Great Britain provides for a sentence of 12 months and Northern Ireland provides for a six-month sentence, but ultimately the question is how long the convicted person will serve in prison. Given all the changes made to the primary legislation, is the amount of time served the same?

My hon. Friend’s question involves speculating about the future. It is a matter for the courts, and as a legislator I do not want to get involved in giving the courts detailed advice on the lengths of custodial sentences to be set. That is a matter for the courts and is to be determined by future experience. If things prove unsatisfactory, I dare say that we will at some stage have the opportunity to turn to these issues.

As for the other amendments—

No, I want to make progress, if my hon. Friend will allow me.

Amendment No. 1 amends the 1978 order by including the new schedule of offences, which is called schedule 3A in both the order and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 are consequential amendments. Amendment No. 3 deals with the making and amending of regulations under the amended order. Amendment No. 5 stipulates that where the Bill amends an Act or order that does not extend to the whole United Kingdom, that amendment has the same, more limited extent; in other words, it qualifies, where necessary, the basic proposition that the Bill extends to the whole United Kingdom. Amendment No. 6 is a consequential amendment.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 10 make changes for Northern Ireland that correspond to the amendments in the Bill to sections 40(9)(d) and 43 of the Explosives Act 1875. Amendment No. 11 brings into effect amendments to article 17 of the 1978 order on health and safety regulations and article 39 of the same order on remedy and forfeiture. The amendment to article 17 will omit a specified penalty in respect of an offence under the Offshore, and Pipelines, Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1992—to be precise, that contained in article 17(6)(e)—because in future any such penalty will be provided for in new schedule 3A. The amendment to article 39 will insert a new paragraph that will clarify the application of article 39(4), which would otherwise be incomplete following the proposed repeal of article 31(5). Both those changes, made by amendment No. 11, duplicate the amendments to the equivalent provisions for Great Britain, which are in sections 15 and 42 of the 1974 Act.

Amendment No. 12 makes an equivalent change to the Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 to that made to the Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) Act 1995 under schedule 2 of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are consequential. Finally, amendment No. 15 repeals article 6 of the Offshore, and Pipelines, Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which corresponds to section 4 of the Offshore Safety Act 1992, which is repealed as a consequence of the provisions that are to be introduced by the Bill.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) for setting out so fully the basis of, and reasons for, his amendments, and for accepting a large number of interventions in order to clarify various details. I am the second signatory to these amendments, and I am pleased that they have come before us.

As a member of the Conservative and Unionist party, I take the view that, generally, if legislation is worth implementing in Great Britain, it should also apply to Northern Ireland. It was interesting that the right hon. Gentleman drew our attention to the fact that there was a four-year gap between the passage of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the introduction of the subsequent 1978 order. It seems that Northern Ireland quite often gets left out and then has to catch up with what we in this House do. Only on Wednesday, the House debated the draft Social Security (Students Responsible for Children or Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2008, which applied only to Great Britain and left out Northern Ireland. I asked what would happen to Northern Ireland, and I was told that it would catch up later. Therefore, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman for ensuring that in this instance Northern Ireland has not been left out.

Does the hon. Gentleman not share my surprise that on a matter of such importance for Northern Ireland not a single Northern Ireland Member from the Democratic Unionist party or the Ulster Unionist party is present and wishing to speak?

All Members of this House always have to account to their electorate for their presence in, or absence from, the Chamber. No doubt those Members are dealing with important matters today, perhaps in the Province itself. However, a goodly number of Members of all parties care very deeply about Northern Ireland; it is an important part of our United Kingdom, and the measures we are debating today are important.

As I have said, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having dealt with the amendments in considerable detail. We welcome them, and we take the view that the Bill is worth putting into law. It should apply to the whole of this United Kingdom of ours, and we give our support to the amendments.

I, too, thank the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) for his clear exposition of these amendments, and I support the move to ensure that Northern Ireland is included. I noted from his remarks that he visited Northern Ireland prior to introducing them, and that they have the full support of all the political parties in Northern Ireland. Although no Members of those parties are present today, that move to ensure that there is cross-country agreement on the application of these offences was important. Health and safety does not know boundaries. What happens in one part of the UK can affect another part, so it is very important to ensure that what happens in Northern Ireland is in line with what happens in the rest of the UK. I have no hesitation in supporting the amendments.

I echo the thanks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) for the cross-party support he has had on this element of the Bill, and I am particularly pleased that the hon. Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for St. Ives (Andrew George), for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) have been supportive of him in the tabling of these amendments on Northern Ireland. The Bill has, in some respects, undergone quite a journey, and my right hon. Friend has facilitated that to create cross-party consensus on what are very important measures.

To pick up on the comments of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland has a long-standing policy of maintaining legislative parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in respect of health and safety at work legislation. The main piece of legislation covering health and safety at work in Northern Ireland is the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, and this order essentially replicates the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, which covers England, Scotland and Wales. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there was a time lag between the introduction of these two elements of health and safety legislation.

The HSENI is an executive non-departmental public body currently sponsored by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which is part of the Northern Ireland Executive. It is the lead body responsible for the promotion and enforcement of health and safety at work standards in Northern Ireland. It works very closely with the Health and Safety Executive, which covers the other parts of the UK, to ensure that legislative parity with Great Britain is maintained. In practice, this means that regulations made in Great Britain are used as the template for Northern Ireland regulations; that is often the case in social security regulations, in which I know the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest. The aim is to keep the same substance and intent between different parts of the UK but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, with the appropriate Northern Ireland legislative references—he and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) had an interesting exchange on the legal processes.

Health and safety has always been a transferred—or, now, a devolved—matter. However, the substance of the Health and Safety (Offences) Bill relates to criminal justice, and specifically the creation of offences and penalties, which are reserved matters and therefore the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office.

Given that the Bill deals predominantly with criminal penalties and prosecutions, there was—as my right hon. Friend picked up, as his antenna are very sensitive on these matters—a strong desire within the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure parity with Great Britain, and the then Northern Ireland Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the hon. Member for Belfast, North, wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland seeking agreement to extend the Bill to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State subsequently wrote to my noble Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, on 10 March 2008 seeking his support for extending the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland. Our support for that was, of course, very much predicated on whether or not my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham gave his support, as it is his Bill. The Government were happy to support this request as it made a lot of practical sense. It will avoid the potentially significant time lag that there has sometimes been in aligning the Northern Ireland and Great Britain penalty regimes, and save resources in bringing this about in what is a straightforward parity policy area.

On 29 April 2008, Lord McKenzie gave his formal agreement to the Government supporting the extension of the Bill to Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend, as he has indicated, had extensive discussions with colleagues in Northern Ireland on that. He did not just take these amendments at face value; he investigated how they would impact in Northern Ireland—and I think that through his personal visit and discussions he gauged the significant support that there was for this extension to Northern Ireland.

Members might be curious about why Northern Ireland was not included in the scope of the original draft Bill, and I am happy to explain that. When the policy detail was agreed, in November 2006, for a potential Government handout Bill on health and safety offences, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions asked whether, although health and safety is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wished equivalent provision to be made for Northern Ireland. Therefore, there was already that sensitivity to keeping the legislation aligned across the whole of the UK. Like the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, I, too, am a Unionist, but I do recognise the subtleties of difference within the Union, so it was important to seek the approval and support of the Northern Ireland Secretary on that issue.

The then Secretary of State said that he would wish the Bill to be extended to Northern Ireland, and that the Northern Ireland HSE would indeed provide the necessary input to achieve this. In the event, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham is aware, the Bill was not picked up following the ballot, so its detailed drafting could not then take place. However, when it was picked by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) in early 2007 to introduce an ordinary presentation Bill, the drafting had to be undertaken at short notice. Unfortunately, because of that short notice the Northern Ireland HSE was unable to move quickly enough to provide the necessary draft clauses and accompanying explanation to allow parliamentary counsel to include the necessary changes to the Northern Ireland legislation. Accordingly, the text of a GB-only Bill was agreed in April 2007 without application to Northern Ireland.

In October 2007, DWP Ministers decided to put the Bill forward again as a handout Bill, in almost the same draft as that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly. The ballot took place on 15 November and I am absolutely delighted not only that my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham was successful in the ballot, but that he also picked up the Bill, because he has piloted it and driven it through its stages in an exemplary fashion. Of course, we well remember the day, 5 December, when he introduced it to this House.

The relevant Northern Ireland penalties are those set out in the 1978 order and in the health and safety regulations made under the order. I want to advise the House, in case it is not obvious from what I have already said, that the Government support the amendments proposed today as they will alter the current framework of maximum penalties set out in the 1978 order to ensure that the courts in Northern Ireland have the same penalty regime as in Great Britain. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) clearly indicated, it is important that we have that uniformity, not least because health and safety breaches are a danger wherever they occur in this United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend says that the objective is to secure the same availability of penalties in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom. The question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), on which he touched, is why we have a maximum term of imprisonment in Northern Ireland of six months, compared with 12 months for the rest of the UK. Is that in practice because of the impact of the way that sentences are imposed, or because of the way that they are administered? Will this mean that people in Northern Ireland spend less time in prison for the same offence, as in the rest of the UK, or will it amount to the same thing in practice?

We are in danger of encroaching on what is the legitimate responsibility of the Northern Ireland legal process. I said at the beginning of my remarks that we obviously wanted parity as far as possible, while recognising that there are different elements within the system in England and, as I pointed out to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in the process of the courts and the law, but I suspect that these issues are rightfully vested in the slightly different process that exists in Northern Ireland. However, what is important is that the offences regime and the penalties regime be similar across the UK, so that it does not matter whereabouts in this United Kingdom people are tempted to break the law: they will be dealt with appropriately in that—

No, I do not want to go down the road of the courts system or the legal process in Northern Ireland. Forgive me, but we want to get on to Third Reading. I know that my hon. Friend is an expert in all these matters; perhaps he can develop some of the points that he wishes to raise if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, during Third Reading.

The power to impose a fine of up to £20,000 is already available in respect of some offences under the 1978 order, such as breaches of the general duties, as was mentioned. The difference in respect of the six and 12-month periods was also clearly highlighted.

I am delighted to be able to offer to my right hon. Friend the Government’s support for these amendments. As I said, the way in which he has investigated the amendments—ensuring that the genuine and deep feeling within the Northern Ireland Executive, as well as within our own Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s Office, is recognised—has been exemplary. I commend the amendments to the House, along with my right hon. Friend.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2

Consequential amendments and repeals

Amendments made: No. 2, page 1, line 15,  leave out ‘1’ and insert ‘1(1) and (2)’.

No. 3, page 1, line 18, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Department concerned (within the meaning given in Article 2(2) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9))) may make any amendments to existing regulations that it considers necessary or expedient in consequence of the amendments made by section 1(3) and (4).

(3B) The power conferred by subsection (3A) is exercisable by statutory rule for the purposes of the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order 1979 (S.I. 1979/1573 (N.I. 12)).

Such a rule is subject to negative resolution within the meaning of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 (c. 33 (N.I.)).’.

No. 4, page 1, line 19, leave out ‘subsection (2)’ and insert ‘this section’.—[Keith Hill.]

Clause 3

Short title, commencement and extent

Amendment made: No. 5, page 2, line 6, leave out ‘and Scotland only’ and insert

‘, Scotland and Northern Ireland (except that an amendment or repeal made by this Act has the same extent as the provision to which it relates).’.—[Keith Hill.]

New Schedule 1

‘New Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978

“SCHEDULE 3A

OFFENCES: MODE OF TRIAL AND MAXIMUM PENALTY

The mode of trial and maximum penalty applicable to each offence listed in the first column of the following table are as set out opposite that offence in the subsequent columns of the table.

Offence

Mode of trial

Penalty on summary conviction

Penalty on conviction on indictment

An offence under Article 31(1)(a) consisting of a failure to discharge a duty to which a person is subject by virtue of Articles 4 to 7.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(a) consisting of a failure to discharge a duty to which a person is subject by virtue of Article 8.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(b) consisting of a contravention of Article 9.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(b) consisting of a contravention of Article 10.

Summarily or on indictment.

A fine not exceeding £20,000.

A fine.

An offence under Article 31(1)(c).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(d).

Summarily only.

A fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

An offence under Article 31(1)(e), (f) or (g).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(h).

Summarily only.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(i).

Summarily or on indictment.

A fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.

A fine.

An offence under Article 31(1)(j).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(k), (l) or (m).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under Article 31(1)(n).

Summarily only.

A fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

An offence under Article 31(1)(o).

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

An offence under the existing statutory provisions for which no other penalty is specified.

Summarily or on indictment.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.

Imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.”’.

—[Keith Hill.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Schedule 2

Consequential amendments

Amendments made: No. 6, page 4, line 48, leave out ‘of regulation’ and insert ‘of—

(a) regulation’.

No. 7, page 5, line 1, at end insert ‘or—

(b) regulation 26(18) of the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (S.R. 2006/425),’.

No. 8, page 5, line 3 , after ‘1974’ insert

‘or Article 31(4) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978’.

No. 9, page 5, line 4, after ‘Act’ insert ‘or Schedule 3A to that Order’.

No. 10, page 5, leave out lines 8 to 15 and insert—

‘(a) in the sentence beginning “A person who manufactures” as it extends to England and Wales and Scotland, for “and liable to the penalties specified in section 33(3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974” there is substituted “and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (mode of trial and penalty for offence under “existing statutory provisions” for which no other penalty is specified)”;

(b) in that sentence as it extends to Northern Ireland, for “and liable to the penalties specified in Article 31(4) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978” there is substituted “and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (mode of trial and penalty for offence under “existing statutory provisions” for which no other penalty is specified)”;

(c) in the sentence beginning “If any explosive is imported or sold”, for “and liable to the penalties specified in section 33(3) of” there is substituted “and liable as mentioned in the final item of Schedule 3A to”.’.

No. 11, page 5, line 25, at end insert—

‘Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9))

(1) In Article 17 (health and safety regulations), paragraph (6)(e) is omitted.

(2) In Article 39 (remedy and forfeiture), after paragraph (3) there is inserted—

“(3A) Paragraph (4) applies where a person is convicted of an offence consisting of acquiring or attempting to acquire, possessing or using an explosive article or substance (within the meaning of any of the relevant statutory provisions) in contravention of any of the relevant statutory provisions.”

(3) In paragraph (4) of that Article, for the words from “a person” to “there mentioned” there is substituted “the person is convicted of the offence”.’.

No. 12, page 5, line 28, at end insert—

‘Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/1069 (N.I. 5))

In Article 4 (offences), in paragraph (4)(f), for “, (2), (2A), (4) and (5)” there is substituted “and (2) (and the related provisions of Schedule 3A)”.’.—[Keith Hill.]

Schedule 3

Repeals

Amendments made: No. 13, page 5, leave out lines 32 to 35.

No. 14, page 5, line 37, at end insert—

‘Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (S.I. 1978/1039 (N.I. 9))

Article 17(6)(e).’.

No. 15, page 5, line 38, at end insert—

‘Offshore, and Pipelines, Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 (S.I. 1992/1728 (N.I. 17))

Article 6.’.

—[Keith Hill.]

Order for Third Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I do not wish to detain the House with a lengthy recital of the virtues of this short Bill. It has met with a large degree of consensus, for which I am most grateful. As a consequence, in the course of our exchanges on Second Reading and in Committee, I sense that its merits have been sufficiently adumbrated. Nevertheless, in one respect—in relation to an undertaking that I made in Committee—I need to bring the House up to date with the approach that I made to the Sentencing Guidelines Council in connection with the Bill. In that context, and in anticipation of possible debate elsewhere, I would like to make a final attempt at responding to what I take to be the single outstanding reservation about the Bill—the CBI’s continuing objection to the extension of the option of imprisonment for most health and safety offences and their prosecution in the lower courts.

Let me begin by acknowledging and welcoming the CBI’s support for the principle behind the Bill, which is to bring financial penalties for breaches of specific duties to safeguard health and safety in line with general duties, and to bring the financial penalty framework for health and safety offences in line with other offences. On the mode of trial, I am also grateful for the CBI’s support for the Bill’s provision to make two offences relating to the powers of inspectors, under section 20 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, either way offences.

What are the reasons, therefore, for the CBI’s opposition to the option of imprisonment for most offences? It seems to me that there are various arguments, but I hope that the following is a fair summary of its opposition. First, the CBI is opposed because imprisonment applies to individuals, and health and safety offences are rarely the fault of one individual. Secondly, it is opposed because it believes that neither the protocols of the enforcement authorities nor existing sentencing guidelines provide sufficient safeguards to ensure proportionality. Thirdly, it is opposed because it says that the protocols or the pressure of publicity often encourage a rather arbitrary choice of whom to prosecute. Fourthly, it suspects that the wider availability of imprisonment will raise the stakes and encourage more challenges to prosecution. Fifthly, and finally, it takes the view that such cases should be heard only in the higher courts.

Perhaps I may deal with those arguments in reverse order, and begin by pointing out that the option of a custodial sentence imposed by the lower courts has been available since 1974 for failing to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice, or with a court remedy order, and for a number of offshore offences under the Act since 1992. In addition, imprisonment is widely available under other regulatory legislation, including the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Food Safety Act 1990. Given that those arrangements seem to have worked well and without objection for many years, it seems unreasonable for the CBI to challenge the principle now.

On the other hand, the wider availability of the option of imprisonment in both higher and lower courts may lead to more challenges to prosecutions. Who knows? It is a matter of speculation, but I shall make two points on that. First, the availability of higher fines and custodial sentences in the lower courts ought to relieve pressure on the Crown courts and therefore make for speedier and more efficient justice overall. Secondly, the scope for challenge on the part of the accused depends in large measure on the strength of the prosecutions brought by the enforcing authority. The Health and Safety Executive for Great Britain has a successful conviction rate of more than 95 per cent. and the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland’s rate is, as I have said, 100 per cent., so the scope for challenge would seem to be strictly limited. Those extraordinary statistics must be good evidence of the very high quality of the prosecutions brought by the HSE and they serve to undermine the CBI’s suggestion that the cases brought by the HSE tend to be either arbitrary or not proportionate.

In Committee, I described the very strict guidelines applied by the HSE in its approach to the prosecution of health and safety offences, and I shall not detain the House by rehearsing the details of the commission’s enforcement policy statement now, save to make three points. First, proportionality, which means relating enforcement action to risk, is the primary consideration in the bringing of any case under health and safety legislation. Secondly, the guidelines are even more rigorous and detailed in the standards of proof they say should be sought in the prosecution of individuals. Thirdly, it should be remembered that not only health and safety inspectors, but the courts exercise strict criteria in the approach to custodial sentences. The Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 stipulates that a court may not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence or the combination of the offence and others associated with it was so serious that only such a sentence could be justified.

So, the standards of proof required of both the inspectorate and the courts in the pursuit of custodial sentences are very high, which makes it unlikely that imprisonment will be a frequent sentence in health and safety cases. There is also another reason for that. The CBI is right to say that health and safety offences are rarely the fault of one individual; for the most part they are the result of a combination or sequence of actions or inactions, and a negligent culture. So, there is a very low probability, in any circumstances, of the imprisonment of individuals. That will occur only in such serious cases as are likely to cause public outrage, as the regulatory impact assessment puts it. We think that under the new provisions of this Bill the rate of imprisonment could rise from three or four a year to six to eight.

Nevertheless, I recognise the concern expressed about the extension of the option of imprisonment in the Bill, which is why I undertook in Committee to approach the Sentencing Guidelines Council with a view to its issuing fresh guidelines to the courts in response to the Bill’s new provisions. I have approached the SGC, in the form of a letter dated 3 June 2008 to its chairman, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers. As I gave a specific undertaking to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) to do so, I shall read it into the parliamentary record. It stated:

“Dear Lord Phillips,

I am contacting you to bring to the attention of the Sentencing Guidelines Council my Private Members Bill—the Health and Safety (Offences) Bill 2007-08—which has its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on Friday June 13.

This Bill would amend Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. In particular, it would:

Raise the maximum fine which may be imposed by the lower courts to £20,000 for most offences

Make a prison sentence an option for most health and safety offences in lower and higher courts

Make certain offences that can currently only go to trial in lower courts, triable in either the lower or higher courts.

In working to ensure that the Bill has a successful passage through both Houses, I have met with a range of interested parties, including Government officials, MPs from all sides of the House, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the Health and Safety Executive and the Engineering Employers Federation. In particular, the EEF, while supporting the principles of the Bill, raised concerns over the potential application of the Bill. I therefore undertook to contact the Sentencing Guidelines Council to ensure that the courts have the right guidance to help them to respond proportionately to the new health and safety offences.

I note that you have recently issued revised Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines, to be implemented on 4th August 2008. I also note that you are minded to do further work on environmental and regulatory offences when you come to review your work programme for 2008-09. It is clear that if my Bill becomes law, the Sentencing Guidelines Council will need to produce new guidelines based on these penalties, as both the current and proposed guidance will be out of date and inappropriate. I am also aware that the revised guidelines have sparked concern from both the HSE and the Office of Rail Regulation, in that the ‘slimmed down’ guidelines risk undoing the previous helpful guidance on adopting a proportionate approach that appeared in the earlier version of the guidelines.

I therefore believe it would be extremely timely if the council were, as a matter of priority, to draft new and improved guidelines in this area that take into account the provisions in the Bill and the concerns of the EEF, the CBI, the HSE and the Office of Rail Regulation. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter further. In the meantime, please find enclosed further details of my Bill.”

Should the Bill become law, I trust that a consultation on the new sentencing guidelines will ensue, and I shall work to ensure that all interested parties are involved in that consultation.

Let me draw my remarks to a close by expressing my thanks to the organisations and individuals who have helped me in the passage of this Bill. First and foremost, I thank the Health and Safety Executive here in London and the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and the Engineering Employers Federation. I thank also the Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), and my noble Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton—and their officials for their stalwart support throughout the process.

I offer particular thanks to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, for his enlightened and generous support, for lending his name—others did so too—to the Northern Ireland amendments, and for his advocacy of an appropriate level of publicity for, and a campaign on, the new provisions of the Bill should it be enacted. Again, I should like to thank my assistant, Joe Moll, for doing most of the work behind the scenes.

The United Kingdom is the world leader in health and safety, but we must always strive to do better. I hope that this short Bill will play its part in that endeavour. Its purposes are clear—to punish the criminally negligent who put life and limb in danger in the workplace, to deter those who are tempted to cut costs by breaking the health and safety law, and to render faster and more efficient justice. The Bill seeks to do all that with no new regulatory requirements or new compliance costs in any sector, and I commend it to the House.

It is a pleasure again to respond to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill). I think that we all hope that the powers in this Bill never have to be used, but that they will have a strong deterrent effect to ensure that our fellow citizens can go to work and come back at the end of the day without having been injured or, God forbid, killed.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, 241 of our fellow citizens were killed at work in 2006-07, with another 30,000 suffering serious injuries and 100,000 other injuries. Although our health and safety record in this country is very good, as he said, we should note that the 2006-07 figures for fatalities sadly show a 17 per cent. increase on the year before, so there is no room for complacency.

The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that worldwide there were some 355,000 workplace fatalities, according to the International Labour Organisation, half of which occurred in agriculture. Overall, we can take considerable credit from the fact that although we are the fifth largest economy, only 241 of those deaths—still too many—occurred in the United Kingdom.

We have rehearsed the reasons why we need the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee. It is no part of my personal political philosophy to deny judges the powers that they berate this House for not having given them when it comes to serious cases in which people have been killed and injured, so I am pleased that we are giving the judges what they tell us they need.

The Bill will also go some way towards reducing unwelcome bureaucracy and burdensome regulation, to which the McCrory report drew attention. We can say that this is a pro-business Bill, and we have to remember that it is businesses that pay all our salaries in this House. The Bill will also support those decent businesses that are already doing the right thing. It will stop them being undercut and ensure that they have a genuinely level playing field on which to operate.

Some specific concerns remain, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reading out his letter to the Sentencing Guidelines Council. He is right that both the CBI and Network Rail have remaining concerns. The CBI brief on the Bill comments that

“the enforcer’s choice of who to prosecute is often simply a matter of protocol or pressure from publicity”.

I do not personally believe that to be the case, but I can understand why people who run businesses are worried. They need to try to make profits every day and they have many other things to worry about, so they do not want the unnecessary worry that they might wrongly end up in prison when they were not personally at fault.

Network Rail made the reasonable point in its briefing that it trusts that

“imprisonment of an individual, in whatever capacity, is only a relevant possibility where there is personal fault”.

Everything that I have heard from the right hon. Gentleman and from the Minister has reassured me and others with those concerns that that will be the case. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not enlighten us as to the response from the Sentencing Guidelines Council, although he said that he hoped that it would make work on this issue an urgent priority in its programme. Perhaps when the Minister responds, she will be able to update the House on whether she has had any communication with the council. If not, I hope that she can confirm that it will be an urgent priority for her Department, so that we can reassure people who still have some worries about the issue.

My final point relates to the publicity campaign that the Department will need to run on this legislation. As I said earlier, we hope that the Bill will act as a deterrent, and will not need to be used, but it will have that effect only if people know about it. There is a tendency for Members of Parliament to think that the public hang on our every word, but the sad truth is that that is not the case. They have busy lives and do not always catch up with everything that we do. I hope that the Minister can tell me how the Department will inform businesses, small and large, about the Bill so that the deterrent effect works and the provisions never have to be used.

I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) on the work that he has done on this important Bill. Health and safety knows no boundaries, and there is a strong cross-party consensus on what we need to do to make health and safety law more effective. When I looked at the provisions in preparation for this debate, I was surprised to find that much of the relevant law is delivered by regulations. The Acts, such as the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, are enabling legislation. I was also surprised that magistrates in the lower courts cannot impose the maximum fine of £20,000. It is not that I expect that fine to be imposed on every occasion, but as the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, much of what we do in health and safety is about deterrence.

People need to be aware of the possible penalties that they face, although it is lamentable that the penalty for failure to follow asbestos regulations is only £5,000 if the offence is dealt with in the lower courts. I represent a constituency that contains what used to be the world’s largest asbestos factory, and we still live with the problems, so I know that it is hugely important to have an education programme so that employers, employees and directors of companies understand their responsibilities. The maximum fine of £25,000 sends a clear message that we are concerned to ensure that the directives and regulations are followed to the letter.

I know that the media like to suggest that some health and safety regulations are pointless and banal, but that is not the case when we consider some of the incidents and accidents that occur. Recently, for example, we have been trying to ensure that young people entering jobs for the first time get the appropriate support, advice and education. Health and safety regulations are important, and the £25,000 fine will send a clear message.

On the imprisonment option, I can understand the CBI’s concern on one level, but again I do not expect that that option will be used on many occasions. It is right for the judges to berate us when they do not have that option.

As we said during the debate on the Northern Ireland amendments, it is not for us to tell judges how to do their jobs, but we need to provide them with the tools to do so. In particular, in serious cases where loss of life can clearly be put down to negligence on the part of a named person, the option of imprisonment should be available to the courts, whether the director of a company has failed to ensure that a piece of legislation is enacted or a prohibition order has been deliberately ignored, resulting in the loss of a life. People should know that when a prohibition order has been served it is their responsibility to implement it. If their failure to do so results in loss of life, it is right for the judge to be able to give a custodial sentence. That sends a clear message from us about the importance of health and safety regulation and it shows that we are serious when we say that such regulation must be not only looked at and left on the shelf, but followed.

I welcome the legislation. I would be interested to know what the Minister has to say about her discussions with the Sentencing Guidelines Council, because it is important that we allay CBI fears. However, once we have the law in place—I hope that the Bill now gets a speedy passage in the other place—we can ensure that we have the right sentencing guidelines to make it clear in which circumstances a custodial sentence will be imposed. I am glad to be able to support the Bill.

I cannot think of a better reason to be in the House on a Friday morning than to support this excellent Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) on his work.

I have had a long-standing interest in health and safety matters. As a councillor with Crawley borough council, I chaired the environment committee for nine years and worked closely with not only environmental health officers but the Health and Safety Executive. Nothing was more distressing than to have a clear understanding that someone’s safety had been disregarded by their employer but the feeling that no adequate prosecution could follow. That is why I am delighted to support these proportionate and sensible initiatives. By ensuring that all quarters of the House feel able to support the Bill, my right hon. Friend has succeeded where other Members have failed in the past. I believe and sincerely hope that consensus will lead to success today.

After looking at the provisions in the Bill and hearing the arguments on Report, I believed that it was crucial that the Bill should address the important issue of Northern Ireland, and it is truly a measure of success that some sensible amendments have been made to the Bill to that effect. To those of us who are true Unionists and who want to ensure that all our UK countries have protection under the law, it was vital that work was undertaken today to approve the amendments. I am delighted that we have ensured that people in Northern Ireland who work in construction or other dangerous professions, and are under the same pressures as workers elsewhere in the UK, have the protection offered by the Bill.

I do not think that I will intrude on private grief, particularly this week. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to talk to his colleagues to see whether they support the legislation.

The Bill has three clauses and three schedules. I think that the most important is schedule 1, which covers the mode of trial and maximum penalties. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Yes, the hon. Lady is my friend.

My hon. Friend rightly points out that aspects of the Bill are, for some of us, more important than others in terms of the signal that they will send out. Good employers will not be worried about the legislation one bit because they will say that it is the right thing to do, that they do their best for their employees and that they would therefore expect other employers to do the same. I hope that my hon. Friend also agrees that good employers will expect their colleagues who might be running similar businesses to raise their game and to think about the issues identified in the Bill. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) rightly pointed out, the effect of the publicity that the Bill will receive will be almost more important than the fact that it could be used to prosecute. In fact, most of us agree that we hope that the provisions will not need to be used, but the deterrent effect is as important as the fact that the measures will be on the statute book.

I am particularly interested in health and safety matters, because, as I am sure that the House will know, Gatwick airport is based in the Crawley constituency. Some 30,000 workers derive their living from an industry that has an excellent safety record. However, as in most matters, we can improve that record—that is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham has introduced the Bill. Many contractors and subcontractors work on the site, particularly because of the renewal programme at Gatwick and the airport’s 50th birthday this month, and it is a huge task to keep an eye on them, to ensure that they are all properly protected under the law and to ensure that their employers do all they can to guarantee that they are working in a safe environment.

Sadly, we have seen an increase in the number of injuries in the aviation industry, and we must address that. Things have been going in the wrong direction, and trade unions at the airport, which care deeply about their work force, have highlighted the problem to ensure that that record improves.

I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, will have received correspondence that shows that the trade unions are pleased that employers now have to carry out a fundamental risk assessment in the workplace. Often, their failure to do that results in accidents that could have been avoided.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. It all contributes to the atmosphere that the Bill is trying to promote, which is, “Do the right thing and, as an employer, you will be protected and you will also, much more importantly, be protecting your employee.” There is no better method of doing that than conducting a risk assessment programme. May I have some water? I am getting rather a dry throat.

The Bill will really make a difference to the entire work force, but closer examination of the categories of injuries and deaths that occur in the construction industry and throughout heavy industry reveals that the main sufferers are young people. It is the most appalling thing when a family have to face the death of a young person who only recently started work. Sadly, that group is disproportionately affected by accidents at work. So, I view the Bill as an important part of a package of Government measures that will ensure that young people are safe at work. That is why it was timely that my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham brought forward this legislation at the same time as the Department for Children, Schools and Families brought forward legislation to ensure that young people will remain in education until the age of 18. That also gives—

Order. I hope that the hon. Lady is not going to tax her voice unduly by straying outside the terms of the Bill. It is not a general debate about health and safety, however important that is; it is a debate about the Bill, and on Third Reading remarks should be very tightly drawn, to fit within the terms of the Bill.

I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was just trying to point out that it is important for us to use a panoply of legislation to improve the health and safety of workers.

The crucial part of the Bill is the provision for either way cases. Most of us would agree with the sentiment that justice delayed is justice denied. Therefore, particularly for the families of those who have been seriously injured or have been killed at work as a result of negligence, it is important that those cases are dealt with as quickly as possible. The Bill allows that to happen, by giving the power for the lower courts to deal with cases more swiftly, instead of passing them on to a higher court.

The provisions of the Bill need to be widely explained. There is a huge community out there, who are watching with interest, but we need to ensure that the message gets through, especially to hard-pressed employers. As the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) pointed out, this is a pro-business Bill, but we must accept that many smaller businesses have their head down, working hard, and may sometimes miss what we believe to be incredibly important legislation passing through the House. They may miss what I sincerely hope will happen—the enactment of this Bill.

To help those small businesses especially, the Health and Safety Commission has local environmental health officers, whose role is preventive. The Bill adds to that preventive function, so employers should not fear the Bill, but should implement it in order to prevent accidents.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The lives of most people working in the health and safety sector are dedicated to preventing injury and death. They will be able to use the Bill as a deterrent, to make employers think more carefully about aspects of their business that might put someone at risk.

I hope that I am in order here, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I do not know whether hon. Members have been listening to the Radio 4 serialisation of “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” on Sundays. I raise this point because on Report, the issue was raised of whether employees should be subject to the Bill’s provisions. I firmly believe that they should. If an employee puts other employees at risk, they should find themselves in the firing line. I mentioned that serialisation because it happens to be running at the moment, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is playing the police officer—rather magnificently too. It is a fantastic book anyway, but specifically it is relevant to the debate because “Old Misery”, as the works manager is called, puts huge pressure on the people who work for the company to do things that they probably would not wish to, and he is doing it on behalf of someone else. I suspect that many employees today, who are trying to deliver and may be subject to a bonus, may be caused by such pressures not to do the right thing.

I do think that my hon. Friend is putting the cart before the horse, and I hope, if I catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I can make this point in more detail. She argues that working practices are putting pressure on employees to cut corners and potentially commit health and safety offences. Whose fault is that? Is it the fault of the employee, who often has no option, or of the employer who puts the employee in that appalling position?

Of course it is a sticky issue, but in my opinion it would not be sensible to exclude an employee from the measures in the Bill, because I have no doubt that a disreputable employer would quickly find someone who was employed in the company to, as they say, take the rap on the Bill. They would put the blame on them and say, “I gave the right advice, but sadly my employee—the manager—did not follow it.” To allow that would be a mistake because it would send the wrong message. Let us remember that this is a pro-business Bill. On the whole, we are talking about really good employers who care about the people in their work force, but we know—we are not stupid—that there are people out there who do not.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving away again; she has been very generous. The Bill deals with prosecutions, but it is reserved for the most serious offences, so does she agree that employees should not fear if they are doing their job correctly? Only the most serious offences would go to court.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. A theme runs through this Third Reading debate that if it is a pro-business Bill—a Bill that supports good employers—only those who are guilty of clear negligence or disregard for their work force will be affected by it. That is why I return to the point that the hon. Member for Rochdale raised about publicity. I believe that the Bill’s deterrent factor will be enormous. I sincerely hope that the Bill becomes law. Important work has been done recently and in the past to enable us to reach this point. We have a responsibility to go out there and share the news with the community who will be most affected. We all have contacts with our business community, and I think this is a good-news story, which Members of Parliament could help our business community to understand.

Scare stories about such Bills often suggest that everyone will end up in prison, when we have clearly said, certainly in preceding debates and today’s debate, that that is not true and that such provisions apply to the most severe cases. There is a real sense of public interest in the Bill. It is important as Members of Parliament to say, “We are on your side. This is important legislation that helps to protect you and your family at work,” and the Bill certainly does so.

We have talked a little about the partners who have been involved in the legislation. Certainly, in my time in the House of Commons, I have worked closely with IOSH—the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health—which is, again, very supportive of the Bill. It spends most of its time trying to dispel myths about not being able to take schoolchildren on trips because it is unsafe. It has a fantastic website, which has a myth buster about health and safety legislation. Its core business is ensuring that people remain safe at work.

We all have a right to think that the House is prepared to protect us on our behalf when we do difficult jobs. We have a right to expect that, when we go to work, those who employ us have legislation on their shoulder to remind them that it is important that we do the right thing in the workplace. That must be coupled with education and training, because that is how we move legislation forward.

Order. The hon. Lady is beginning to generalise again. I urge her to remember that this is a Third Reading debate on this Bill.

Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your help and guidance.

Once again, the Bill’s provisions are sensible and proportionate. They allow us to understand that health and safety law in this country supports what is an excellent record. The Bill takes us forward and ensures that the message that we send out is one of caring about those in the workplace. We are determined to ensure that that is a record of which we are proud. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham on giving hon. Members the opportunity to support the Bill at this crucial stage, and I hope very much that it becomes part and parcel of health and safety law in the United Kingdom.

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) on bringing this very worthy Bill before the House and, as an ex-trade union official, it is a pleasure to support it.

Last year, employees in Britain suffered nearly 250 work-related deaths, nearly 30,000 major injuries and well over 100,000 lesser injuries. As hon. Members can imagine, that has caused great grief to the families of those who died, but it has caused a huge economic impact on industry, with a lot of people being off work sick. Many people have been compensated, but many others have not. In industries where some health and safety measures could have been implemented but have perhaps been overlooked, the Bill will help to focus the minds of those employers to ensure that they make the necessary amendments to their workplaces.

In 2006-07, more than 120 members of the general public were killed and nearly 17,500 people reported injuries in the workplace. It is therefore important that the House debates the Bill to ensure that not only employees but members of the general public are protected. The Bill will help to make public life safer. It is apt to discuss the Bill, as we are lucky enough to be hosting the Olympics in 2012. We have had many debates on the Olympics; we have major construction on the way in east London and all around the country. As part of the Olympics, we hope to leave a lasting legacy, and we must ensure that part of legacy is not an increase in the number of work-related deaths. The Bill will help to avoid such an increase.

The Bill also adds to protection, as I have said previously. I hope that, as we have a diverse work force, employers will ensure that different languages are used on health and safety notices in the workplace. We must recognise the importance of the impact of such incidents on the employees who suffer the injuries and on their families. Whether the injury is big or small, its impact is lasting—so I thank my right hon. Friend for introducing the Bill.

My hon. Friend rightly raises the issue of different languages. Does the House have a role in reaching the different communities in our constituencies to try to ensure that the Bill’s provisions are sent out and discussed in those different languages? Is there any value in calling meetings with our constituents?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As my constituency is the most diverse in the UK, I think that it is powerful and important point. We must ensure that everyone understands the legislation and their responsibility, and that might mean that we need to translate aspects of the Bill. Ignorance is no excuse for not obeying the law, and employers cannot cite ignorance in that respect. I hope that the House and perhaps the Minister in responding will take forward that recommendation.

My hon. Friend mentioned the HSE earlier. It is has always been clear about the need to increase the fines to make them relevant and cost a fair bit, so that an employer cannot easily dismiss them as a trade-off for not making improvements. The fines must make employers think again.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Does she agree that the introduction of a prison sentence will prevent some of the trade-off from going on? Many of us were fearful that someone might pass off a fine as a cost to their business. A prison sentence is very much more serious.

Absolutely; a prison sentence certainly focuses the mind. In 2005, Philip Hampton noted in his report on regulation and enforcement for the Treasury that the existing maximum fine of £5,000 was “an insignificant sum” for most businesses. That point was reiterated in 2006 by Professor Macrory in his regulatory justice report, subtitled “Making Sanctions Effective”.

On the option of imprisonment, there is a history going back to the mid-1990s of judges expressing discontent at being unable to impose jail sentences for health and safety offences. Indeed, on 8 January, my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) cited just such a case in his Adjournment debate on carbon monoxide detectors. He noted that, in 2006, a judge in Nottingham Crown court complained of being able only to fine a man whose negligent work on a gas boiler had led to two deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning. The threat of prison will indeed focus the minds of those employers who avoid making the necessary corrections.

It should be stressed that the Bill is pro-business. Its purpose is not to punish businesses, especially small businesses, but simply to protect the health and safety and well-being of employees and the public in general.

There are considerable disparities between fines imposed for health and safety offences and those imposed for other regulatory breaches. In 2007, British Airways was fined more than £121 million for illegally fixing fuel charges on passengers; the postal regulator fined Royal Mail nearly £12 million for service standard failures; and in 2005 the Financial Services Authority fined Shell £17 million for serious misconduct amounting to market abuse. The biggest ever United Kingdom fine for a health and safety offence is the £15 million that Transco was fined following the Larkhall explosion which killed a family of four in 1999. The Bill will help to end such discrepancies. It will also remove fear from those who are not doing wrong, while ensuring that those who are doing wrong become fearful.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is not about revenge or about getting back at employers, but about improving practice in the workplace? I think that that is the message we should send.

Absolutely; it is important for the House to send a clear message about what is expected of employers and a clear message to workers and the public that we will protect their rights, and the Bill will enable us to do that.

Breaches of financial and competition regulations should be punished heavily when appropriate. As a trade union official, I often felt frustrated when suitable punishments were not imposed. Although employees sometimes noted health and safety breaches in the accident book, they would frequently not bother, thinking “What is the point? Nothing will be done.” I hope the Bill will empower people by assuring them that something serious will be done, that they need not fear that they are doing something they ought not to be doing, and that they will not risk losing their jobs or being alienated in the workplace.

It has been a pleasure to support the Bill. Let me end by reiterating that it is important for the House to send a message to those who seek to flout the health and safety regulations and put at risk the safety of employees and members of the public, through either their desire for profit or their incompetence, that the House considers such actions unacceptable.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) on having achieved so much that has been attempted on many previous occasions without success. It is a tribute to his skill and diplomacy that he has built such an amazing consensus among people and organisations, particularly those who have tried to block similar Bills in the past. I understand that he intends to retire at the next general election. Perhaps his swansong will be the achievement of what many others have been unable to achieve: a successful private Member’s Bill. I assume that the House will give it a Third Reading today, and that there will be no difficulties in the other place.

My right hon. Friend has, as I have said, built a consensus across the divide between employers and employees. There may be arguments to be had about matters of detail, particularly the question of imprisonment, with which I shall deal later; but the fact remains that there is general agreement that the existing penalties, which date back to 1974—or even earlier, to the Robens report, which my right hon. Friend did not mention and which gave rise to the Act—have proved inadequate. It might be interesting to think about the possible reasons for that.

In 1974, money was worth rather more than it is now because of appalling inflation under previous Governments—I will not proceed down that route, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know you would stop me if I did—but there was also a whole new way of dealing with health and safety in the workplace. The traditional way had been much more regulatory, involving the Factories Act 1961 and many similar Acts and subordinate regulations. The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 provided a new way of regulating more generally through the more general duties that it imposed. It contained no provisions for civil compensation; its effect was purely criminal. That may well be why the penalties that were available in 1975, when the Act came into force, were somewhat less than they might have been had some thought been given to that aspect.

I was interested to read that earlier in proceedings on the Bill some Members suggested that it would be a good idea to uprate the penalties over time to ensure that they remained relevant. Has my hon. Friend a view on that?

I think that my hon. Friend is right in principle, but in practice I am not sure that it would make a great deal of difference. The penalties available to the magistrates court are still limited, although broader than the original 1974 proposals, but in the Crown court, where the more serious cases will be prosecuted—because that will be the prosecution’s option—the penalties, both fines and imprisonment, are limited.

Before I came to the House, I was a personal injury lawyer. I suppose I still am: once a lawyer always a lawyer, and I still have my practising certificate so I ought to declare an interest to that extent. I should add, however, that I have never actually prosecuted a case. That is one of the problems with the existing law: it does not allow private prosecutions. Prosecutions can be brought only by the Health and Safety Executive or by others on its behalf, and I believe that in more serious cases they must be authorised by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Certainly that applies to private prosecutions. I do not think it has ever been done, although I once tried to do it on behalf of the Fire Brigades Union. We found that it was impossible to prosecute, which may be a matter for a future Bill. If my right hon. Friend is successful in next year’s ballot, he may wish to take it up.

The “etc.” in the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 should not be forgotten. The Act also covers various matters related to welfare, which I suspect are caught by this Bill’s amendments to existing penalties. I am not entirely sure that there have been many prosecutions under the welfare provisions.

Currently, magistrates cannot impose a fine higher than £20,000 if the offence relates to a breach of the 1974 Act or to similar Acts, or higher than £5,000 if the offence refers to a breach of regulations, such as those that have become known as the six-pack regulations as they have been updated. Most prosecutions tend to relate to the regulatory offences rather than to the Act itself. If sentencing takes place in the Crown court, there are no maximum fines. The Bill before us will raise the maximum fine for breaches of the regulations to £20,000 in the magistrates court, and in both the lower and the higher courts it will make imprisonment an option for health and safety offences.

The courts will be able to pass a custodial sentence if it is felt that the gravity of the offence justifies it. That is entirely appropriate, because if we consider the records so far, statistics show that the average penalty per conviction in 2006-07 was £15,370, which to me and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is quite a lot of money, but to some of the companies involved it is peanuts. Fines in excess of £100,000 are very few and far between, so if we exclude from the calculations the very few very high fines, because they distort the norm, the average is only £8,273, which is considerably below the maximum possible figure of £20,000. That prompts the question whether, even with my right hon. Friend’s very welcome amendments to the regulatory regime, we are going far enough.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) mentioned publicity, and perhaps we could look at the proceedings of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, in which we were able to introduce, as part of the penalty arrangements, a publicity order requiring an employer who had been prosecuted under the provisions to publicise the fact. There is a strong case for saying that even if we cannot make that provision part of the regime under discussion, the publicity that surrounds those convictions is important, as my hon. Friend said. I hope that local newspapers will start to report such offences with rather more vigour than they sometimes have done. If the penalties are higher, they will inevitably—I hope—attract more publicity.

There is also the question of holding the directors of a company to account. As we heard during the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill debates, we have a parallel system whereby small employers are more likely than big companies to face severe penalties of imprisonment, because the small one-man band has the controlling mind of the company. If there are only one or two employees, it is pretty clear who is responsible. The company may even be a partnership, or, indeed, simply an unincorporated business—somebody operating on their own account. In those circumstances, the employer will be prosecuted and may face imprisonment. However, if the company is a big multinational, that does not happen, unfortunately, and we do not have any equivalent penalties to impose on it. All we can do is fine the company.

When a company is prosecuted, the dock is empty. At the very least, we ought to ensure that the directors are sitting in the dock to hear what is said about their company, as opposed to sitting outside the dock, behind their lawyers, which is what normally happens. That, in itself, might start to concentrate directors’ minds and bring to them a degree of shame for what they may have done—or rather what the company, for which they are responsible, may have done, because, hiding behind a corporate veil, they cannot be held personally accountable. That is wrong, and my right hon. Friend earlier adumbrated the need for a director’s health and safety duty. I very much share that view. Perhaps my right hon. Friend, if he is successful in next year’s ballot, can also try that as an alternative. Perhaps I shall be successful and I can add it to my list of private Members’ Bills to bring before the House because, again, it is an important feature of the process of holding companies to account.

There is no doubt that the best way of concentrating the mind of a recalcitrant director is the fear that he may be held personally liable for what his company does. When we consider some of the offences under the Companies Act 2006, it is instrumental to note that, in respect of the regulation of companies, a director can be held personally liable, but that he cannot be held liable if he or his company kills or maims one of his employees.

I agree that some directors and employers do need to be brought to book. I do not know about the hon. Gentleman’s experience when he has been out with construction inspectors, as I have, but the breaches that we uncovered were brought about—unknown to management—by employees themselves who wanted to finish their job more quickly. The employees had been given the correct equipment, but they were not using it as they had been told to. It is important to get that point on the record, because I should not want the tenor of the debate to be that all breaches of health and safety are just about evil directors; many employees are themselves responsible for breaches of health and safety.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It relates to the duties under section 7 of the 1974 Act, to which I hope to refer shortly, and how we should approach employees who misbehave. As I said earlier, we should examine the system of work that might put an employee in the position of having to cut corners. As the hon. Gentleman says, some people might behave in that way because they want to skive off early, but some might be put under pressure through a system of work that requires them to cut corners. The best example of that is white van man, who is often given impossible delivery schedules and ends up speeding and having road accidents because he is driving negligently or is too tired. A serious flaw in the operation of the Health and Safety Executive is that it does not—or did not until recently—consider such road accidents to be accidents at work. I think it has recently changed its policy, but there is still an awfully long way to go in terms of how those accidents are recorded and investigated. The HSE still sees them primarily as a matter for the police to investigate, and may start to investigate only when a major system flaw is found. It has not always seen them as a major priority.

We have to look at the other side of the coin. If someone is issued with goggles and told time and again to put them on but does not do so because they find them uncomfortable, that is significant. However, even those cases prompt the question why the employer has not taken disciplinary action. In the end, even if the employee is 90 per cent. at fault, the employer still bears some responsibility for having not ensured that the rules are properly enforced. They cannot entirely abnegate their responsibility for what happens on building sites, in factories or at other workplaces under their control. There is always a reason why these things happen. It may be a result of cutting corners; it may be because of how the wages are calculated—piece rate, job and finish or whatever. All those things are part of the systems that can lead to the taking of shortcuts and, therefore, health and safety risks. On the face of it, it may look as if it is clearly the employee’s fault, but we sometimes need to delve a little deeper.

Let me return to the responsibility of directors. We need to consider how we can make directors personally liable for some of the things that happen in the name of their company. At the moment, if a fine is imposed, even an unlimited fine, it will merely be passed on to the company’s shareholders by being paid out of the potential profits, which may be a little lower, with the result that the shareholders lose out. The shareholders, who have no control, de facto, over what is happening, end up paying the penalty, while the directors escape scot-free. I hope that as the Bill progresses we can see some progress in this respect, and if not in this Bill then in future legislation.

The real goal of the Bill is to embed a health and safety culture in every workplace in the country. It is inequitable if some workers are placed at risk by the negligence or carelessness of their employers. Contrary to many press reports, health and safety is one of the hallmarks of a civilised and cohesive society where every person looks after the safety and welfare of their fellow citizens. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said, the 1974 Act imposes not just duties in the workplace but, under section 6, duties on those who employ people, and it extends to the wider general public as well. If somebody is injured as a result of activities on a construction site—the proverbial person walking in the street who has a 2-tonne weight land on them and squash them—the employer will potentially be liable for a breach under the Act, if a prosecution follows.

The new penalties are not only about protecting employees in the workplace but protecting the contractor in the workplace and, more importantly, they are a vital protection for the general public. We have seen that in some of the prosecutions to do with train crashes. There has always been an argument about whether, in those cases, prosecutions should have been brought for corporate manslaughter. I am pleased that we now have the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which could well provide the answer to that. Families were concerned that when prosecutions were brought under the 1974 Act, the penalties imposed might have been very large—fines in excess of £1 million in relation to the Ladbroke Grove train crash—but the directors did not face personal liability. That is one of the flaws, which I pointed out on several occasions during its passage, of the 2007 Act. However, we are considering an important measure tonight—[Interruption.] It may be tonight by the time I have finished.

To achieve the full benefits of the approach that we are considering, there must be a cultural shift in the workplace. Health and safety must become central to the way businesses are run, and businesses must accept that any breach of those laws rightly results in sanctions—severe sanctions if necessary.

I note from Hansard that there has been some debate about the human rights aspects of imprisonment for some offences. Given my hon. Friend’s expertise, has he considered whether the provisions breach human rights?

My hon. Friend asks an important question. If I put my Chairman’s hat on, I can say that article 5 of the European convention on human rights applies. It provides for imprisonment of those who have committed a criminal offence, as long as they have a fair trial in accordance with the law. My hon. Friend does not therefore need to worry about the matter—so far as I understand it, the Bill complies entirely with the convention’s requirements. I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham or the Minister have published a certificate to that effect, but my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley does not need to worry about incompatibilities with or infringements of the convention or the Human Rights Act 1998. However, it is a good point because I believe that private Members’ Bills should go through the same process as Government measures to ensure, as far as is possible, compliance with the Human Rights Act, through the publishing of the certificate, which the Attorney-General and the relevant Minister usually sign. Hon. Members would be advised to follow that process because, in the past, some private Members’ Bills have given rise to strong questions about their compliance and compatibility with the Human Rights Act.

Health and safety law does not want primarily to achieve more prosecutions, but to prevent accidents from happening. The goal is positive prevention on the one hand and deterrence on the other. The Bill is geared very much towards deterrence and it is important that the Government, through the Health and Safety Executive or other means, embark on a publicity campaign to ensure that employers, especially in industries that have a poor safety record, know about the consequences of committing an offence. The small one-man-band construction company could face imprisonment and other sorts of company could face higher fines. As I said earlier, I believe it is unfair that there is a two-tier system whereby the small employer is more likely than a larger one to face a serious penalty, but it is nevertheless important to do all we can to ensure that employers know that they are more at risk now than in the past.

On prevention, it is interesting to note the way the scale fits together, with improvement notices, prohibition notices and now prosecution through the Bill. We must examine the system under the 1974 Act as an entity; we should not simply lift out one piece and ignore the overall picture. Enforcement will take place generally through improvement notices. Prohibition notices are important when a major breach that is likely to cause injury is detected. I hope that the Bill means that the courts will impose significant sentences when people are in breach of a prohibition notice—I believe that that is a consequence of the schedule. Non-compliance with an improvement notice is different, and a matter for employment tribunals, as I recall.

However, prohibition notices are very serious. They are not issued that often—perhaps they ought to be issued more often—but a breach is a serious matter that should lead to prosecution and the more significant penalties under my right hon. Friend’s Bill. One of the fundamental purposes of any legal sanction for wrongdoing is deterrence, which applies equally to health and safety law.

Many commendable organisations already take health and safety seriously, but there are rogue companies that do not. In 2006-07, 241 people were killed at work, which was an increase of 17 on the previous year. That is a worrying trend and may reflect the fact that the Health and Safety Executive’s resources are inadequate. That is not a matter for today’s debate, although it is an important factor that we must take into account, because as we take less enforcement action, so it becomes more important that we should take stronger enforcement action, with stronger penalties.

I apologise for not being here earlier, but we on the Labour party’s national executive committee have been discussing, one with another, the vanity ballot that will take place some time in July in Haltemprice.

I had a case a few years ago involving a young lad who had a finger cut off by wood-cutting machine in Clumber park. No action was taken, despite all our efforts, because we were told that the owner of the machine was not worth pursuing, as he did not have any money. Is there any way in which such action could be taken under the auspices of the Bill that my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) has introduced?

My hon. Friend makes more than one point; he makes two points. The first is that it is especially tragic when young people are maimed, injured or killed at work, particularly when they are on work experience. As I recall from our proceedings on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, there was one case in which somebody was killed on their very first day at work. That case shows—although my hon. Friend’s example perhaps illustrates this rather better—that employers owe a particular duty to people with no work experience to speak of who are put in an alien environment and face hazards that they were never aware of before. Indeed, without the appropriate training and proper health and safety precautions being taken, they might not even appreciate the fact that they are in a hazardous environment. My hon. Friend’s first point is therefore about a class of people who need particular protection under the 1974 Act.

My hon. Friend’s second point is about what happens to the prosecution if the employer is not worth a bean. The answer to that is in the Bill: the employer may not be worth a bean, but he can still be locked up if the court concludes that the offence is sufficiently serious to warrant a term of imprisonment.

Ultimately, the Health and Safety Executive would have to form a view, based on the facts of the case, on whether the employer was worth prosecuting, because the decision on the penalty is a matter not for the prosecution, but for the magistrate or the Crown court judge on conviction. The Health and Safety Executive could take the view that the court would be unlikely to impose a custodial sentence, but it would still have the opportunity of a suspended sentence and the range of similar penalties that flow from that. However, I would hope that the availability of a heavier sentence, involving custody, would be an incentive for the Health and Safety Executive to prosecute those cases that would previously not have been worth the candle. My hon. Friend therefore makes an important point.

Before my hon. Friend’s intervention, I was talking about the problem of rogue companies and how the Bill will act as an additional deterrent against them. The difficulty is that the rogue company cuts its costs and undercuts good employers by providing the same goods at a cheaper price, but at the expense of its workers. That is another reason why the additional penalties are so important. They will enable the good employer to compete on a more level playing field against those who take the risk at the expense of their workers.

My hon. Friend prompts me to refer to the fact that the work environment is changing dramatically. As he knows, I used to be involved in the mines. There were about 700,000 workers and we were all unionised; and every pit had compensation agencies. Now people work mainly in the service industry and many firms are private. My hon. Friend referred to rogue companies and all the rest of it. I think there is a minefield out there. That is another reason why my right hon. Friend’s Bill is so important. Does he believe that the Bill can catch all these people now changing the face of the industrial environment?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. There is no doubt that the nature of employment has changed from heavy industries towards service industries. In accepting that, we need to recognise two things. First, even working in an office is not quite as safe as we may sometimes think. There is repetitive strain injury and strain induced by using computer screens, along with other hazards that we take for granted—tripping hazards, for example. In the health service, severe prosecutions have been brought in respect of injuries caused to staff. I believe that we have also started to see prosecutions being brought in connection with stress on the work force. A couple of years ago, the Health and Safety Executive brought what I think was the first prosecution of that sort against a health trust somewhere in the west country. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that was the first time a prosecution was brought over stress-related illness.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the significant change in the nature of industry, within which a whole new raft of hazards in the workplace, particularly stress-induced health hazards, need to be taken into account. At the same time, in the traditional industries, new machinery and new chemicals are presenting new hazards. Indeed, some of the older chemicals have proved to be hazardous in a way that was not originally understood. The explosion of asbestos claims is a good example. Forty or 50 years ago, people did not think that asbestos was much of a problem; but they do now, and we have seen a raft of similar conditions starting to work their way through the system.

Let me deal with the other issue that arises from what my hon. Friend said. The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for prosecutions in factories and building sites, but prosecution in respect of shops and offices is a matter for the local authority. I am afraid that local authorities are very poor when it comes to the amount of effort and resources they can put into prosecution. My right hon. Friend’s Bill does not draw a distinction between prosecutions brought by local authority enforcement agencies and those brought by the Health and Safety Executive. The Bill provides for stronger sentences under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act wherever the offence is committed, but we know from statistics that the prosecutions brought by local authorities are few and far between. That brings me back to my earlier point about publicity, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that local authority chief executives are notified of these significantly stronger consequences that flow from prosecution, which should incentivise local authorities to take their responsibilities more seriously and bring prosecutions more frequently where appropriate, which they may not have done in the past. I hope that the Bill will incentivise local authorities to step up their enforcement activities more generally. So far, as I said, they have been lax.

The sanction system simply does not provide a suitable deterrent for breaches of health and safety law, so the strengthening of sanctions is long overdue. It cannot be right when implementing health and safety systems can cost more than the fines that apply to them. Unfortunately, the fines are sometimes far less, with the net result that the employer can make more money by breaking the law than complying with it. It cannot be right for that to become simply part of the business risk—an assessment of how much it will cost to fix the machine as opposed to how much it will cost in fines if a finger is chopped off. That must be corrected. The stronger penalties in the Bill will go a long way towards achieving that.

Conscientious companies that take health and safety seriously should not be penalised by rogue companies receiving paltry fines. Profitability should never be part of the equation, because people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. In that context, perhaps I might pick up a point that has been made several times today in relation to offences under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. The early sections of that Act set out offences, and section 33 relates to prosecution. Speaking from memory, section 7 provides for the prosecution of an employee. It should be borne in mind that the duties in the Act are, of course, not absolute; the duty is only to take steps

“so far as is reasonably practicable”.

That in itself has been a cause of concern to those of us who dealt with health and safety in our previous lives. It is not a very high standard, so we are not asking employers to do a great deal. The provision is not to take steps “so far as is practicable”, which is a higher standard, and it is not the absolute standard that we thought would be imposed under six-pack regulations, which will, in large part, be subject to reasonableness tests.

On section 7 offences, the issue comes down to whether it is appropriate for the employee to be subject to the same penalties as the employer. I take some exception to what my right hon. Friend has proposed in that respect. Should the worker—the building-site labourer—face the same penalty as the multi-millionaire company owner? Is that fair or right? That is not to say that prosecution is not appropriate in the right sort of cases. Only a few dozen cases a year, if that, are prosecuted against employees directly. Usually, they are for more serious breaches such as the persistent refusal to wear goggles, which I mentioned earlier.

It would be very unfair if employees were to be scapegoated and prosecuted for the failings of their employers. The cases that come to mind are one or two of the train crash cases, in which the train driver was prosecuted. I think that my right hon. Friend may be aware of those cases from experiences in his previous life. I think that it was in the case of the Clapham train crash that the train driver was prosecuted. I think that in the end, a long time later, he was exonerated, but I may be wrong about that. Similarly, in the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, employees were prosecuted for the failings of the system imposed by P&O. The ferry disaster is perhaps a better example; the company was prosecuted for corporate manslaughter, and the prosecution failed. However, the ship’s captain and some of the seamen on the ship were prosecuted for offences, which I thought very unfair. It would be a bit disproportionate if they were to face significantly higher penalties as a result of my right hon. Friend’s Bill, but of course I would not oppose his Bill just because it raised that concern. The fact is that an employee on indictment could still face significant penalties.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that if employees were exempted under the Bill, it might be likely that an employer would come to an arrangement with an employee whereby the employee would say that an incident was their fault? The employer could therefore escape prosecution.

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I think that the idea is a little fanciful. I am not for one minute suggesting that an employee should be exempt from prosecution. The part of the regime in question goes back to the original 1974 Act, and even beyond that to some of the old regulatory offences. My only question is whether it is appropriate in employee cases for the significantly higher penalties to become available in place of the existing penalties. Should an employee be liable for an unlimited fine? Or should they be liable for the £20,000 fine—an awful lot of money to the average working person?

As my right hon. Friend says, the present position is that they face a £20,000 fine. His Bill provides for unlimited fines and potential imprisonment. My basic question is whether it is fair to impose those significantly higher penalties on the working person, as opposed to the employer, who ultimately has control over the workplace.

I am not entirely sure whether I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but if he is talking about compensation claims—

Well, I am not sure that it is that different. In a compensation claim, the chances of an employee being sued are pretty slim because they have not got any money. As a personal injury lawyer, the basic rule was, “Don’t sue anybody who ain’t got no money or insurance.”

It is mainly, but not entirely, different because, for example, in the pits somebody might have not erected the proper pit props and as a result somebody else might have finished up with a broken thigh, and a negligence claim might then have been pursued, but throughout the 21 years I was working underground there was never one case taken out against the employee for negligence; the employer who was employing that person was regarded as negligent.

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who has great experience of these debates, will not allow himself to be diverted too widely. I have to say again to the House that we are discussing the Third Reading of this Bill.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would simply say that I understand now what my hon. Friend is talking about: it is vicarious liability for the negligence of an employee. You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that strays a little far from the Bill, because the Bill is about the criminal side of health and safety, whereas my hon. Friend’s intervention was about the civil compensation side, which is a separate issue. One of the general failings of the 1974 Act is that we cannot bring civil cases based on the obligations under it. That is a digression, however, and we must now return to the detail of the Bill.

A useful comparison can be drawn with the level of fines for breaches of financial law and regulations. The Financial Services Authority is the regulator that performs a similar role in the financial sphere to the HSE in health and safety. In 2006-07, the average fine imposed by the FSA was £232,000 and the average fine for the five years to the end of 2006 was £712,000. Two recently reported cases demonstrate the discrepancy I wish to highlight. On 16 January this year, the FSA fined HFC Bank Ltd £1.085 million for failing to take reasonable care to ensure that the advice it gave to customers to buy payment protection insurance was suitable. On 20 January—four days later—Asda was fined a mere £225,000, less than a quarter of the earlier amount, after a customer was killed by a car park barrier that smashed through his windscreen. That highlights the disparity in how our enforcement system in this country works. How can it be right that someone being killed by a car park barrier falling through his windscreen is worth less than the negligence—or improper advice, rather—given by a bank to its customers and it not taking reasonable care?

I hope that one of the consequences of the Bill will be that we see a bit more of a level playing field between these financial regulatory offences and health and safety regulatory offences. I do not deny that serious financial offences should be punished accordingly, and be subject to significantly higher fines, but it is the glaring difference between the level of fines that causes most concern. Breaches of health and safety often lead to death and serious injury and cause great distress to the person concerned and their family, and that must be reflected in the sanctions imposed on the negligent party, which is what the Bill provides for.

It is one of the guiding principles of the British justice system that victims of negligence should receive appropriate redress for the wrong that has been done to them. This is not just a question of natural justice. Many families involved in health and safety cases are more concerned that similar events do not befall other innocent people. That is an important factor. We recently talked about inquests, and one of the key issues is that people want to know not necessarily that they will get compensation, but that steps will be taken to ensure that the same thing does not happen again to some other unfortunate person or family. The additional penalties that provide the deterrent effect in the Bill—and, if there is a prosecution, that lead to widespread publicity and the naming and shaming of the company or employer involved—can only help to send a message to the whole of society that breaches of health and safety will not be tolerated and, it is to be hoped, that lessons will be learned when offences occur. The point is that the measure will, I hope, at long last start to make it more expensive not to adopt health and safety measures than to adopt them, which is the problem that we now experience.

Of course, it is all very well our legislating in this way, but ultimately, enforcement is a matter for the courts. The penalty is a matter for the judge or the magistrate. Instrumental was the fact that it was previously acknowledged by the courts, the Government and the HSE itself that fines for breaches of health and safety laws and regulations are too low. Judicial support for this view came in the case of the Crown v. Howe & Son (Engineers) Ltd in 1999. The judge said:

“The objective of prosecutions for health and safety offences in the work place is to achieve a safe environment for those who work there and for other members of the public who may be affected. A fine needs to be large enough to bring that message home where that defendant is a company not only to those who manage it but also to its shareholders.”

So there is some judicial support for the suggestion that fines are not as high as they could and should be. I therefore hope that we will see judges taking on board the new powers that the Bill will provide, assuming that it becomes law.

The Health and Safety Commission itself, in its response to the draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill, said:

“Before looking at new penalties there is a need to ensure the level of fines imposed under current penalties act as an effective deterrent: current levels are too low”.

That is the point: at the moment the courts are not imposing the penalties that they could within the powers that they have. The maximum is £20,000 and as I said earlier, if we take out the very big cases, that is about half what they should be fining. Let us hope that the House is sending a clear message to the courts today that we are not satisfied with the level of fines being imposed, that we are giving them the discretion to impose much higher penalties, and that they should use those powers much more vigorously when they convict somebody and the penalty is imposed.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s Bill. In introducing it, he has done a service not just to the House but to every single working person in the country by hopefully making their place of work a little safer and their employers take safety a little more seriously. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s initiative and I, for one, think that this Bill has enormous merit.

In the last weekend of Easter, there is always a very moving ceremony outside the Minster in Rotherham, the parish church, at which the vicar of Rotherham—together, usually, with a Muslim imam—gathers with workers and trade unionists to lay wreaths to commemorate all the people who died in workplace accidents in the past year in Britain. Workers’ memorial day has grown from being a very small event into quite a large gathering. The Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), which is achieving its Third Reading with all-party support, will be warmly welcomed by employees and workers in Rotherham.

I am of course conscious that my right hon. Friend has a distinguished trade union background, serving the railway workers of Britain in particular before entering this House. It worries me slightly that the same number of people with such background and experience are no longer to be seen on the Benches of either side of this House. It is important that the difficulties that employees and workers face are adequately reflected in this our House of Commons.

As the MP for Rotherham—for that great steel, engineering and mining town—I am of course extremely conscious of the devastating toll that workplace accidents still take on the lives of people in my constituency and in the whole of south Yorkshire. I could regale you with stories of some of the major workplace accidents that have taken place in Rotherham, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I suspect that you would not allow me to do so. I strongly commend a marvellous new book called “Black Gold”, which is about the Fitzwilliam family, who owned much of the land and the mines of Rotherham. They were actually a very progressive and socially conscious family. On a visit to Rotherham, King George V became the first monarch ever to descend down a mine. Everything was set up and carefully prepared for him. A day or two before that happened, there was a terrible mining accident, which shocked the whole community, but the King still went to greet the miners. I think that he understood from that moment some of the real difficulties faced by working people in Britain, of which the Governments of the day, whose representatives came principally only from what one might call the bourgeois, employer or capitalist class, had no idea.

It is important that the House acknowledges that far too many people still die or are seriously injured at work in our country—according to the latest available figures, 241 people were killed and 28,267 were injured in the workplace in 2006-07. That death toll is extraordinary. We rightly draw to the House’s attention the death of any one of our public servants—our brave military in Afghanistan, our police officers or our fire officers—when they give up their lives for us in the course of their duty, but we rarely hear mention at the Dispatch Box of anyone who has lost their life simply because we are not able to alter our mentality to prevent preventable accidents. The Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham is an important step forward in that direction.

I shall not adumbrate the Government’s efforts in the past 11 years to help the working people of Britain, which started with the minimum wage and the signing of the social chapter, and continued with last week’s agreement, thanks to a good example of working social partnership between the CBI and the TUC, on the agency workers question. It was endorsed by the European Council after 15 hours of long negotiation by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs.

I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) attack that deal, saying that it was about a Government getting on the backs of employers. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), all of whose contributions to this debate I have read carefully, has been very supportive of the Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham and of the Government’s support for it. We need to place on record the fact that were there to be a change of Government, the workers of Britain would need to watch out—we have already heard the language of withdrawing from the social charter obligations of Europe and altering the strike law in this country. There is no doubt that the men of immense wealth who sit in the shadow Cabinet and represent the Conservative party have no real care for the broader interests of Britain’s working people. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire is put up to support this Bill, and we welcome his presence, although he is, of course, alone in the House with a string of Labour MPs.

I very much resent the tenor of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks. If he had been here earlier, he would have appreciated the considerable degree of cross-party consensus, which, as the right hon. Member for Streatham will confirm, has been in place all the way through. I am not being put up to be here; I am here because I believe in this, and I resent the tenor of those remarks.

I just praised the hon. Gentleman. If he reacts to praise in that manner, I fear that perhaps I am gently getting under the collective skin.

I shall leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) our chance to make these points in a different way.

There is a substantial fear in our nation about any return to the kind of approach to this matter that was on offer before 1997. This law has been on the statute book since 1974. It would have been possible in 1981, 1982 or 1983—right through to 1997—to bring in the changes that my right hon. Friend proposes. The moment I hear about cross-party consensus, I tend to run for shelter, so perhaps I should say that it is also sad that it has taken 11 years for a Labour Government to find time for this Bill.

The important point is that the Bill puts the onus on employers to think a little harder about health and safety. It will raise the maximum fine that the lower courts can impose to £20,000. It will allow both lower and higher courts to make imprisonment an option for most health and safety offences. The whole idea of law in our country, in any sphere in which it mandates behaviour, is that examples are set in the courts, and an example is worth a thousand pages of earnest health and safety leaflets sent out by the HSE and other organisations.

The Bill will also give those concerned the chance to take certain offences from the lower courts to a higher level. If hon. Members had come with me to talk to those families who gathered in front of the Minster in Rotherham at the end of April, they would understand why those families would have liked this law to have been on the statute book some years ago.

Health and safety is the most concrete and explicit way to create partnership in the workplace. I think of the former US Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, who served for a couple of years under President George W. Bush. Before becoming Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. O’Neill was the boss of Alcoa, the giant US-based global aluminium company. During his tenure as chief executive officer, he insisted that each year his managers had to report a certain percentage reduction in workplace health and safety incidents. If they did not, they were fired. The job of a subordinate manager is usually to report more sales, more profit or more market share, but Paul O’Neill wanted his managers to report as few deaths and accidents as possible. That approach massively improved the productivity and performance of the American aluminium industry. He saved that industry and, to some extent, the world aluminium industry by his leadership. He also found that the trade unions came to respect him and were prepared to reach agreements in other areas, such as wages and manning levels, that they might otherwise have resisted. When he became Secretary of the Treasury, he insisted that—[Interruption.]

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is now straying somewhat from the Third Reading of the Bill, which emphasises the increase in penalties for health and safety offences.

I am sorry that I am upsetting Opposition Front Benchers, who are getting excited about what is happening in Ireland. The fact remains that Mr. O’Neill is a shining example of how, under good and creative management, the penalties in the Bill become less necessary. Alas, many people do not share his point of view. For example, Corus, now owned by Tata, which is the principal steel employer in my constituency—it is doing well and is setting on extra shifts, because British industry is doing better than people realise at the moment—starts any presentation with the accident rate in its workplace. We need to ensure that that culture, which already exists in the best British firms, becomes much more widespread.

Earlier, we heard mention of the fact that although 26 per cent. of British GDP is produced by industrial production, 70 per cent. is produced by the service industry. It is now in the so-called service industries—such as transport and delivery—where many of the worst accidents happen. For example, they are caused by the white van boys who cut corners. In the companies, from newspaper offices to others, that are based on data input, repetitive strain injury is a real problem.

I remember that when RSI first arose as an issue in newsrooms, employers and editors simply dismissed it. They suggested that their journalists should type a little less and have a break or two or a drink now and then, but RSI reduced men and women to agony. They would be unable to open a bottle of milk or to use a can opener as that very worrying industrial injury, which people did not recognise, suddenly took hold. I believe that if this law had been in place during the 1980s and early 1990s, it would have been possible for employees to use it to send out clear messages much earlier on that RSI was a real industrial workplace injury.

Over time, employers, in particular in the media industry—about which I know a lot as a former president of the National Union of Journalists—accepted that RSI was a genuine workplace problem and that they would have to start treating it as an industrial injury, not as a bit of malingering or an example of people who could not be bothered to do all the typing that was required, especially on the new keyboards as the electronic technology came in.

I hope that the Bill, once it becomes law, will give clear signals to employers up and down the country that they could face penalties, including imprisonment, if they do not work to improve health and safety in all areas of their employer responsibility. In the wider borough of Rotherham, which covers Rother Valley and Wentworth as well as the Rotherham constituency, we have about 4,000 VAT-registered firms. Most are small companies. Some are big, important firms such as Corus, Beatson Clark, Yorkshire Windows and other companies that take a very responsible approach to their work force, but some are small companies that have been created recently.

Those small companies face an awful lot of cash-flow pressures, time-management pressures, employee-relation pressures and form-filling pressures. I accept and understand all that, but none of those pressures could ever be an excuse to cut corners on health and safety. That is why I hope that maximum publicity—not just a little story in the Financial Times—should be given across the country to the importance of my right hon. Friend’s Bill, just to make certain employers stop, pause and think.

I accept what the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire said about employees’ responsibility. I made a TV film for the BBC once about health and safety at work. We went into the paint shop at Ford in Dagenham, which was a filthy place with fumes and the most disgusting atmosphere. All the men there had to wear spacesuit-type giant plastic helmets locked into a breathing apparatus before they could go into the paint shop. We filmed a man who had very calmly drilled a hole in the front of his plastic visor so that he could smoke through it while on the job. I cannot blame the managers of Ford for that lunatic who was embracing an early death.

It is very responsible for us all to wear safety helmets and other safety gear if we ever go on to any industrial site. Sometimes we think that that is a bit crazy, and ask why we have to wear those glasses or that silly helmet, as the site is perfectly safe. Again, it is about sending out a signal, just as I wish that a certain former Member of this House might wear his crash helmet more often when he bikes around London to tell the children of London that wearing a helmet when they are on a bike is a very good idea.

The Bill has passed through the House and I believe that it will be welcomed by all. It is an important step forward. I accept that it has received all-party support and I congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, whose speeches I have read. His sincerity, his straightness, is not in question, even if some of us worry about the fate of the working people of this country if by some tragedy there was to be any change of Government.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, who is leaving the House at the next election—unless he is going off to pull some weird stunt by calling a by-election. I hope that his services are not lost to public life, and indeed to parliamentary life, but that is a matter for other Bills that may be before the House. It is a tribute to his service as a trade unionist that he leaves the House having piloted this measure on to the statute book. We cannot abolish workplace deaths and injuries, but if as a result of the Bill, in a few years’ time there are 100 rather than 241 deaths, and 15,000 rather than 24,000 injuries, there will be families that will honour the name of Keith Hill for generations to come.

I am delighted to make what I hope will be a shortish contribution to the Third Reading debate. Once again I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) on his efforts in piloting the Bill successfully through the House. I appreciate that praise has been showered on him throughout the process—[Hon. Members: “More!”]—but all of it is justified, as my hon. Friends have indicated, notwithstanding the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).

A great deal of effort was made to ensure that we were more successful on the Bill’s latest journey than we had been in previous expeditions on this important issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham showed a willingness to consult widely with a range of stakeholders, and to take on board the views and concerns of hon. Members. The very fact that when, as we hope, the Bill has completed its parliamentary process it will be extended to cover Northern Ireland is a case in point. As was said earlier in the debate, there had previously been a time lag between Great Britain and UK legislation, and I know that my right hon. Friend was very keen to ensure that that did not happen in this case. He also went out of his way to ensure that parliamentary colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly and their officials were involved in the discussions, and that is to be commended.

I also express my gratitude to all hon. Members who participated in the process, and to those who have participated today, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), for Brent, South (Ms Butler), and for Hendon—who gave us the benefit of his extensive legal knowledge—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). It would be churlish of me not to extend my thanks to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous); to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), who helped to shape the Northern Ireland amendments; and of course to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), who made valuable contributions to the debate.

Obviously, it is not my responsibility to reply in any detail to the debate—that honour falls to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham—but I should like to address some of the issues that have been raised with which it would be appropriate for me to deal as the Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions.

I should like first to underline again the fact that the Government very much welcome the Bill. It is the fifth time that such a Bill has been introduced in the House. The issues identified in the Bill are entirely consistent with Government policy, the HSE health and safety strategy, which the Government fully support, and the wider consideration of regulatory sanctions identified in both the Hampton and the Macrory reports.

Although hon. Members who have spoken have identified the number of people killed or injured in Great Britain, we cannot overstate the importance of continuing to reflect on those situations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham and other hon. Members have highlighted, each of those statistics involves an individual who has a network of family and friends and represents a personal tragedy to that network and, indeed, to the working community in which they exist.

In fact, 241 people were killed at work, about 270,000 suffered serious or major injury and some 2.2 million suffered from work-related illnesses. In Northern Ireland, 18 people were killed, more than 3,000 suffered an injury and some 30,000 suffered from a work-related illness. I always think that it sounds a bit harsh to put that in economic terms, but we need to address the economic impact. The UK lost 36 million working days due to ill health and injury. Of course, as we all recognise, many workers and their families lost much more.

Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham highlighted that the UK has a good comparative record on health and safety at work, it is fair for us to say that the situation is unacceptable and that we need to do more to improve it. The UK needs every business or organisation to be well managed, and a vital part of that good management involves looking after health and safety.

I shall give an example from my personal experience of visiting an offshore oil rig in the North sea. The story starts in the oil company’s office. As we went downstairs, I was told to hold the rail while walking down the stairs. Apparently, the rule in that company, whether onshore or offshore, was that everyone had to hold the handrail when walking downstairs. Everyone in the organisation had to accept that responsibility. If someone was not prepared to hold the handrail—it did not matter whether it was the chief executive officer or the most junior member of staff—they could be advised by anyone in the company to get their hands on to the handrail. It was not just a pedantic issue; it was an important health and safety issue, for which everyone took responsibility. I am sure that we all recognise that many accidents, both onshore and offshore, are caused by falling downstairs. Of course, none of us ever thinks that we will ever fall downstairs, but we know how easy it is to trip.

Looking after health and safety is a vital part of good management. People should be able to go to work, expecting to return home again at the end of the day and to do so healthy and uninjured. That is morally right, and it is right for business. It is what the public expect. When people die or are injured or made ill as a result of poor management, society expects justice to be done. The HSE strategy makes it very clear that health and safety enforcement—enforcing the law—remains an important part of HSE and local authority work. That is reflected in the HSE’s annual business plan, and the Government are wholeheartedly behind that approach.

We expect the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities to be tough on businesses that wilfully break the law and put people at risk. It is very much a matter of enabling justice, so that those who put others at risk by failing in their duties can be held to account. To that end, the HSE and local authorities will continue to prosecute when it is proportionate to do so, for example when failures to comply with the law are serious and when serious risks are not prevented. In the light of some of the experiences that have been described today, I hope that that will afford some comfort to Members who have highlighted starkly some of the issues that can arise when health and safety issues are not taken seriously.

This approach is in line with the HSE board’s policy, with enforcement principles supported by the Government, and with the Government’s statutory regulators’ compliance code and regulatory principles. The Government fully support the proportionate, targeted, consistent and transparent approach that is set out in the HSE’s enforcement policy statement. Each year the HSE encounters some 60,000 organisations and individuals with duties in health and safety law. Its inspectors’ response to most breaches is to give advice and information, or where necessary to use enforcement notices to require a change. In 2007, 1,141 offences were prosecuted, which demonstrates that the cases that are eventually brought to court represent the most serious breaches of health and safety legislation. The prosecutions were in line with the code for Crown prosecutors, and it is clearly in the public interest to mount a prosecution in such circumstances.

As has been explained, the Bill’s purpose is to increase the penalties for the most serious health and safety offences that come before both the lower and the higher courts, primarily to ensure that the lower courts have available a level of punishment that constitutes a proportionate response by fully reflecting the seriousness of the offences, but also to deter irresponsible behaviour and further encourage employers and others to comply with the law. The Bill will also ensure greater efficiency in the dispensation of justice. Extending the £20,000 maximum fine to the lower courts and making imprisonment an option should make it possible to resolve more cases in the lower courts. As my right hon. Friend said, justice will be faster, less costly and more efficient.

Furthermore, the Bill will resolve the problem of cases involving serious breaches when, even in the higher courts, it is not possible to impose a custodial sentence except in very limited circumstances. I shall say more in a moment about custodial sentences, and will deal with points raised by the CBI. Every year, approximately 25 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed or maintained. Recent HSE initiatives against unregistered gas installers have led the courts to impose sentences that have generated significant local and national publicity on gas safety issues. However, imprisonment is available only in limited cases, when there has been a death and the police can find evidence with which to bring a case for manslaughter, or when a gas fitter has failed to comply with an enforcement notice previously issued by the HSE. There are still cases in which the courts cannot impose what they consider would be a proportionate sentence.

The availability of stiffer sentences would strengthen the deterrent to those who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley suggested, may think it worth their while to continue to benefit from carrying out work that puts innocent people in danger. By making imprisonment an option for the judiciary and the courts on a wider range of serious breaches of health and safety legislation, we believe that justice will be better served and, very importantly, that it will act as a deterrent to wrongdoers. In turn, that will benefit the vast majority of businesses that make real efforts to protect their workers.

Most prosecutions take place in the lower courts, and the average penalties for convictions, excluding fines of more than £100,000, have tended to increase year-on-year since 1990-91, with occasional exceptions. The average penalty is still less than £9,000, however, despite the possibility of fines of up to £20,000 on summary convictions for breaches under section 226 of the 1974 Act. Those breaches make up just over half the HSE’s prosecutions. The Court of Appeal’s view, expressed in 1998 but still relevant, was that the general level of fines in health and safety cases was too low. It also identified that particular aggravating circumstances could be taken into account, such as whether death resulted from a breach, whether the defendant failed to heed warnings—including, for example, previous HSE advice or action, including improvement or prohibition notices—and whether the breach was deliberate with a view to profit in order to save money.

In the Friskies Petcare case, the Court of Appeal also made a recommendation about how the prosecution and defence should assist the case by setting out in advance the aggravating and mitigating factors in it. May I assure Members that the HSE now ensures that the courts are made fully aware of those factors before sentencing? That has resulted in some improvement to the level of fines, but health and safety fines are still generally lower than those imposed on companies by financial regulators for regulatory breaches, for competition offences or for insolvency.

The Court of Appeal in 1998 is not the only one to have said as much; case after case can be cited to justify my right hon. Friend’s Bill. For example, in a case in 2006 the magistrate, Richard Clancy, told a Mr. Jarnell, who was up on a health and safety charge, that his conduct was “disgraceful” and that a hearing in a higher court would undoubtedly have resulted in a prison sentence. Further, Judge Roger Scott in 2006 branded Paul Regan “dangerous”, saying that in the case in question:

“The family were put at risk of death by poisoning or explosion.”

Judge Scott also said:

“I wouldn’t allow you within 150 miles of my house. You should go to prison for 18 months but as it is I can only fine you.”

In 1996, 1998 and 1999, there were all sorts of cases. One judge said:

“These matters are so serious that a court should consider imprisonment. But Parliament has given us no such powers to pass such a sentence”.

During the same case, in the 1990s, the judge also said that

“such abuse of young children is wholly unacceptable”.

Another judge, in opening his sentencing remarks, said:

“These offences do not carry imprisonment, if they did I wouldn’t want you, nor the public, to be under any delusions that I would sentence you to prison and I would send you to prison for a substantial period of time.”

The reaction is clear from our judges and Law Lords. They have asked that this particular piece of legislation—although, obviously, not identifying all its detail—be put through the House, so that it opens up the opportunity for them to deal specifically with serious health and safety offences. For that, my right hon. Friend deserves nothing but praise. While breaches of financial and competition regulations should be punished because of the impact on society as a whole, corporate health and safety crimes need more serious sanctions such as increased fines and, in more serious cases, imprisonment to address the personal cost and suffering attached to every single injury or fatality.

I remind the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire that the Bill does not change the requirements on business by introducing any new duties or obligations. However, it does ensure that sentences for health and safety breaches relating to the current duties can more easily be set at a level to deter those who attempt to flout the law.

The hon. Member for Rochdale asked about our view of the comments made in the CBI report. There are other regulatory regimes whereby imprisonment is available as a sentencing option. For example, the maximum sentence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is five years, and two years under subsidiary regulations, and there are maximum sentences of two years under the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Food Safety Act 1990. Before the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire rises to claim the credit, as those pieces of legislation were introduced under a Conservative Government, I hope he will accept that we give credit where it is due. There were other situations in which previous Governments recognised that some breaches were potentially so serious that they needed to attract a prison sentence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentioned the various legal systems. I should like to clarify that matter for the House because it is important. The Scottish judicial system differs from that in England and Wales. In Scotland, cases that would be taken by the HSE or by local authorities are taken by the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service. Health and safety cases heard in the magistrates court in England and Wales will in Scotland usually be heard in the sheriff court before a sheriff under summary proceedings, and will on conviction attract the same penalties as in the magistrates court in England and Wales. Cases taken on indictment, which would be heard in the Crown Court in England and Wales, are usually heard in the sheriff court before a sheriff and a jury—my hon. Friend asked about jury trials—and will on conviction attract the same penalties as in the Crown Court. There is that read-across. The sheriff, for the benefit of anybody who has not come across that law qualification, is a legally qualified officer of the court who is appointed from the Scottish Bar or the solicitor profession.

Will the hon. Lady respond to the point about the time scale within which the Sentencing Guidelines Council will respond to the letter from the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill)?

The hon. Gentleman is impatient; I still have some bits and pieces to say. I will come to sentencing guidelines shortly.

In Scotland, the most serious cases are heard in the High Court, and exceptionally health and safety cases may be referred to the High Court for sentencing. Trial in the High Court is on indictment and heard before a judge and jury. I thought it important to put that comparison on the record.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire and the hon. Member for Rochdale mentioned the Sentencing Guidelines Council. My right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham read into the record the full text of his letter to that body. If the Bill is enacted, it will clearly necessitate changes to the guidelines. As has been said, my right hon. Friend and the Health and Safety Executive have already informed the Sentencing Guidelines Council. No meetings have yet taken place, but HSE and Sentencing Guidelines Council officials have agreed to work together to ensure consistency and proportionality in sentencing. The council will keep the matter under review, and the guidelines are binding on all courts. Courts in Scotland and Northern Ireland also have regard to the guidelines, although no bodies similar to the guidelines council have been established there.

It is almost an urban myth that Parliament is not subject to health and safety law. Sometimes we forget that, although there are 650-odd Members, Parliament is the workplace for hundreds more people who work to support us. Laws such as the 1974 Act and associated legislation do not apply to Parliament. However, I wish to give an assurance that the parliamentary authorities undertake to comply with relevant health and safety legislation to ensure the health and safety of Members, visitors and staff in the precincts. Parliament is not a Crown body, so its position is different from the immunity that some Crown bodies, such as Departments, have.

A couple of points were made about proposed publicity if the Bill is enacted. Of course, it must go through the other place first. I may be speaking out of turn, but I believe that my right hon. Friend has identified an eminent Member of the other House to pilot it through—[Hon. Members: “Himself.”] I hope not, because that would cause all sorts of complications. Assuming that we give the measure a fair wind shortly—I believe that we will—I am sure that the other place will agree that the Bill is worth while.

On publicity, I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham that we will not put the measure on a shelf and dust it down every so often, with only the 10 or 15 or so people who have been actively involved in its progress knowing about it. The Government intend to spread the message about the Bill’s implications. It will underpin the work of the HSE and local authorities in ensuring that employers take health and safety management seriously and act to keep people safe and healthy. Department for Work and Pensions and HSE officials are drawing up plans to publicise the new Act and the increased penalties.

We will maximise press interest because the Bill constitutes a significant change in response to judges and those who sit on the bench in our various jurisdictions. The HSE website, which is well used, especially by small and medium-sized employers, will specifically refer to it.

Meetings and discussions will take place with key bodies, such as the Sentencing Guidelines Council, as I have already said, the Ministry of Justice, the Courts Service, the Judicial Studies Board, the Magistrates Association and the Justices Clerks Society, as well as similar organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There will be meetings with key HSE stakeholders, including the CBI and the Small Business Trade Association Forum. Perhaps more importantly in relation to targeting the information, there will be articles in relevant magazines and journals. Our inspectors will be updated on the guidance and our advocates, such as solicitors agents, local authorities and others, will be well aware of the new situation when they take cases through the courts and will be able to advise magistrates appropriately.

Throughout the progress of the Bill, I hope that I have set out clearly the fact that the Government welcome it. It has been supported by the trade unions and the CBI, although the CBI has raised concerns about the opportunity to imprison. However, I hope that I have also drawn the CBI’s attention to the fact that the situation is not unusual. There are other regulatory regimes where imprisonment is on offer to the courts when sentencing.

Again, I am unstinting in my praise for my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, who has taken forward the Bill with gusto. I knew that he had gusto when I was one of his Whips in the Government Whips Office, but his energy and commitment throughout these proceedings, as well as the patience that he has shown in talking us through some of the detail, are exemplary. I do not wish to use that old Scottish expression, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”, but we may not have another formal occasion to comment on his extensive parliamentary career. He will be remembered as the Member of Parliament who piloted a significant change in our health and safety legislation and brought our sentencing policy into the 21st century. For that, I wish formally to congratulate him.

With the leave of the House, I shall forgo my opportunity to respond at length. My dear and hon. Friend the Minister has dealt with all the points raised during the debate. I merely thank her and other colleagues for the praise that has been showered upon me. I have not done all the work alone, however, so I thank all those who know the contributions that they have made. I hope that we have made a piece of history and that people’s lives will be better for it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.