Monday 9 October 2006

Corporate Manslaughter Bill Copout

Tomorrow (Tuesady 10th October) the House of Commons will debate the first stage of the legislative process for the Government's Corporate Manslaughter Bill.

This legislation was promised by Labour in opposition and has appeared in each of its election manifestos since 1997.

After 9 years, two detailed consultations and a strong campaign within the trade union movement the Government is finally presenting its Bill to Parliament.

Unfortunately the overwhelming view of those organisations such as the TUC, Justice, Liberty, the Centre for Corporate Accountability and Families Against Corporate Killers, is that the proposals in the Government's Bill are so weak that, to quote the ultimate voice of moderation, i.e.the TUC, "without considerable changes its effectiveness will be considerably compromised."

The CCA says " We are concerned that after 12 years of debate the Government has brought forward a bill that may well not result in increased accountability of large organisations." FACK describes the Government's Bill as "totally inadequate and will not hold negligent employers who kill to account nor will it act as an effective deterrent." The Hazards Campaign states that "As it stands the Bill will make little difference."

Why are so many disappointed with the Government's Bill?

At present companies can only be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter if there is sufficient evidence to charge a director or senior manager for the offence of manslaughter. If not the company cannot be prosecuted for the failures of the company as a whole.

The new Bill maintains virtually the same senior management test in that the only people covered are those who play a significant role in making decisions about or actually managing the activities of a company as a whole or a substantial part of it.

In complex organisations with various sub divisions and subcontracts it will be almost impossible to demonstrate a person is responsible for a "substantial" part of the operation of a company.

There is nothing in the bill which will lead to the directors of companies being held liable.

People who connive, conspire, collude in an act which results in a death i.e what is described as "secondary liability" will also get off scot free.

The only penalties against an organisation will be an unlimited fine or remedial order, no different from those under existing Health and Safety laws.

There is one organisation which has welcomed the Government's approach and described it as "sensible." No surprise it is the bosses' union, the Confederation of British Industry.

After tomorrow's debate the Bill will go into committee and when it returns in a couple of months time to the floor of the House of Commons I and others will be moving amendments to radically improve the Government's proposals.

I heard today however that the line coming from some senior members of the Trade Union Group of MPs in Parliament is that some want to draft amendments but not push them to the vote in Parliament.

Let me make it clear. This Bill must be amended if it is to be of any use in bringing corporate killers to justice and if it is to help prevent further deaths at work. I and others will table amendments at the appropriate time and will demand the Government amends the Bill.

If the Government refuses I will vote against the Government and for amendments which fulfil the promise made in three election manifestos and to the trade union movement in the Warwick Agreement that we would legislate against corporate killing.

I urge other Labour MPs to follow this strategy and I call upon all trade unionists and Labour Party members to press their local Labour MPs to support this approach.