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Charities: War Zones

Volume 721: debated on Monday 25 October 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will clarify the responsibilities of charities under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 when placing representatives in war zones.

My Lords, charities have responsibilities when placing representatives in war zones, but the Act referred to in the Question applies only when the harm that leads to a death occurs in the UK, UK territorial waters, or on a British ship, aircraft, hovercraft or an offshore installation covered by the UK criminal law.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he share my concern that this somewhat difficult Act contains within it a form of Catch-22, whereby any attempt to try to increase accountability might have a knock-on effect on charities to the extent that they cannot afford the risk of sending abroad the people to administer the money that they raise, which would have very serious effects to the detriment of British charitable support? Can we find a way round that problem of increased accountability?

My Lords, I read the report of the Committee on that Bill of 5 February 2007, when my noble friend raised a similar doubt, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, gave him reassurances on this matter. I do not think that we can go beyond those reassurances, as we do not believe that the Act has the adverse effect on charities that he feared then and evidently still fears.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, although, as he says, the 2007 Act and criminal law do not apply to staff of charities working in war zones abroad, civil law and common law apply and the law of negligence is very much alive to those circumstances? Do the Government offer any advice or assistance to overseas charities having to make very difficult judgments vis-à-vis their staff when they are put into highly vulnerable circumstances?

Yes, my Lords, we do. The issue is difficult and is a matter of judgment for the charities and for the individuals concerned, but we do not say that those very brave individuals should not go. I pay tribute to those who are willing to go into places of danger on behalf of charities. The Department for International Development draws the attention of NGOs to FCO travel advice for the area and the Charity Commission provides guidance to charities working internationally on how to manage the risks to their staff.

Will the Minister kindly tell the House, since the Act came into operation three and a half years ago, how many prosecutions there have been, how many civil actions have been commenced, and if so with what result?

They can be insured, but if they are going into very dangerous places it may be very difficult to get comprehensive insurance, which I suspect is the issue behind that question.