<Li>Bill to reduce red tape also welcomed
<LI>CIC warns against scapegoating firms on corporate killing

The government unveiled plans for a corporate manslaughter bill in this week’s Queen’s speech, a step industry figures have greeted as long overdue.

In her first speech of the new parliament, the Queen said that the government would “take forward proposals to introduce an offence of corporate manslaughter”. This commits the government to moving the issue beyond its current draft bill stage and introducing proposed legislation.

The bill was one of several measures that could affect the built environment sector. The others include:

  • Olympics bill: to enable the delivery of the 2012 Olympics should London be chosen, by establishing an Olympic Delivery Authority
  • Company law bill: to reduce red tape, especially for small businesses
  • A commitment to sustainable development and supporting rural services.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said he was not surprised that the government had made its commitment to corporate manslaughter legislation in this session, despite reports that suggested it would be shelved.

He said: “This isn’t a surprise despite some commentators suggesting that it would be dropped from the legislative programme.”

Watts added that the CIC supported the legislation as long as it was not used to scapegoat firms. He said: “Provided that the legislation is policed and enforced responsibly and not simply used as an expedient, then we support the principle of accountability where there is a corporate ethos of promoting and encouraging bad health and safety practice as a means of cutting corners.”

The RICS said that the issue should now be brought forward quickly. Brian Berry, head of policy for land and construction, said: “We are disappointed that the government didn’t commit to this earlier, bearing in mind it had committed to improving health and safety on construction sites. But now it has a real chance of going through, particularly as the draft legislation compromises on contentious issues and abandons the idea of individual responsibility for offences.”

However, the Chartered Institute of Building claimed that the legislation now under discussion does not go far enough, as it omitted an “individual responsibility” clause.

A spokesperson said: “We welcome any health and safety legislation, but we backed the recent directors’ duties private member’s bill, so we will be disappointed that individuals will not be held accountable. That would have had a serious impact on accountability.”

We support accountability where there is an ethos of cutting corners

Graham Watts, CIC

A number of organisations are concerned that the government has not yet done enough to address industry fears over the legislation’s implementation, and say they will use the remaining month of the consultation period to lobby for improvement.

A key concern, voiced by the Construction Confederation, is that the legislation could increase red tape.

A Construction Confederation spokesperson said: “We are keen to ensure that the implementation of legislation will not detract from other preventative measures such as inspection. We will be looking for assurances to this effect.”

There is also concern over the impact of the legislation on small businesses, despite the fact that the bill is designed to target large complex companies that can evade responsibility under current law.

Trevor Mole, president of the Association of European Building Surveyors, said this was partly the result of ambiguous terms in the draft bill, such as “reasonable care”.

The Federation of Master Builders said it would wait to see how the corporate manslaughter bill affected small companies, but welcomed other measures, particularly those to decrease regulation.

A spokesperson said: “Anything that is a meaningful reduction will be helpful, although there is one caveat: the government needs to be careful that in doing this it does not dramatically increase the risk that companies can remain in business even though they cannot pay bills.”

‘My government will …’

  • Take forward proposals to introduce an offence of corporate manslaughter

  • Introduce measures to streamline regulatory structures and make it simpler to remove outdated or unnecessary legislation

  • If London is selected to host the 2012 Olympics, introduce legislation to establish the necessary powers to ensure the delivery of the games

  • Introduce legislation to reform support for housing costs

  • Commit itself to achieving sustainable development and supporting rural services

  • Bring forward legislation to ensure the better management and protection of the natural environment and to provide support for rural communities

  • Commit itself to creating safe and secure communities, and fostering a culture of respect. Legislation will be taken forward to introduce an identity cards scheme