Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Questions (37)

Brendan Howlin


111 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress made in her consideration of the recommendation made in the recent discussion paper from the Law Reform Commission that there should be a new offence created of corporate killing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3822/04]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

The Law Reform Commission published a consultation paper on corporate killing in October last. The commission recommends that a new offence of corporate killing should be established which would be prosecuted on indictment, without exclusion of any entity, whether incorporated or not. The offence would apply to acts or omissions of a high managerial agent, which would be treated as those of the undertaking. This is much wider than in the context of workplace safety. The commission also recommends that the legislation should provide for an unlimited fine, in order to reflect the gravity of the offence or in certain circumstances an individual high managerial agent should also be subject to imprisonment of up to five years.

I welcome the recommendations of the commission. In order to give practical effect to these recommendations, I am taking the opportunity to provide for the creation of this new offence in law in the Bill on occupational health and safety now being prepared. This will have to be subject to the final views of the Law Reform Commission when its consultation process is complete and also subject to the advice of the Attorney General.

My Department is in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel at present and I hope it will be possible to include an appropriate provision in the new Bill, which I expect to be in a position to publish next April.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister of State because there has been some confusion on whether the Government accepted the Law Reform Commission's report.

We have been waiting almost two years for the amending safety, health and welfare at work Bill. The Minister of State said in December that it was a very lengthy Bill, it would have many clauses and it was very difficult to construct. Will the inclusion of the new offence delay the Bill, because he gave the original date of publication as March or April? Will he have discussions with the social partners in advance of finalising the Bill, in other words, by circulating heads of the Bill? Will he give the same courtesy to the Committee on Enterprise and Small Business? If the Minister of State's original comments are accurate, it appears to be a very important Bill which we might have an input into at an early stage. When does he expect to be in a position to present the Bill to the House?

I expect to be able to publish the Bill in April. I do not anticipate a great delay as a result of the inclusion in the Bill of this provision. We are already in consultation with the social partners on aspects of the Bill. There will no be problem continuing with the consultations prior to its publication. If there is a request from the Oireachtas committee to have a discussion on aspects of the Bill, I will be happy to facilitate that.

I welcome the response of the Minister of State. He will get an invitation to present his thoughts on the Bill to the Oireachtas committee.

Is he satisfied with the volume of inspections currently being carried out under the existing health and safety legislation? Is he satisfied with the number of inspectors currently employed? Is it in tandem with tightening the legislation to broaden the scope for inspection and provide resources to the Health and Safety Authority to ensure that the more rigorous regime implemented in the new Bill will also be met by more rigorous enforcement?

There is a rigorous and effective inspection and enforcement regime in place at present. We are happy that there have been considerable improvements in the inspection process. As I stated in the Dáil some time ago, we wish to have more inspectors in the field. There are currently approximately 130 inspectors. Obviously resources are always an issue. In the context of the new Bill, we have considered providing for a regime whereby the Health and Safety Authority could provide an information and advice service to industry, which would involve remuneration. This would enable us to employ an increased number of inspectors. This is currently being considered.

I am satisfied that the Health and Safety Authority is doing an effective job. There is a reduction in the numbers of fatalities. Thank God, so far this year we have had quite a good record, which indicates that there is a good regime in place. In the end, it is all about prevention and thinking safety, which is our main priority. This is now happening in the construction and agricultural sectors, where there have been the greatest number of fatalities. Both industries are to be complimented on the significant efforts they are making by way of prevention. I would like to see greater co-ordination between the agencies involved in road safety, water safety and health and safety in the workplace so we can get the message across more effectively. The television advertising campaign by the Road Safety Authority should be extended to all sectors.

The insurance industry representatives indicated to the Oireachtas committee that they funded some of their own health and safety initiatives. Is the insurance industry included in the new Bill and is there a role for it in making the workplace safer and reducing premiums for all industries and industrial users?

I have had discussions with the insurance industry about contributing to campaigns to improve the preventative approach and on rewarding companies in the public liability and employers' liability sectors that have good records.

A reward scheme was promulgated but nothing came of it.

There is clearly a system in the insurance industry whereby companies with good safety records enjoy lower premiums. We have impressed on the insurance industry that, in the context of health and safety, it must recognise good practice and records in the premiums being charged.