§ Mr. Meacher
The average fine imposed on employers and others convicted in Health and Safety Executive cases heard in 1998–99 was £6,654, per defendant. The average fine in such cases, per individual offence, was £5,038. These are provisional figures. The average fine per individual offence following local authority prosecutions in health and safety at work cases was £2,224 in 1997–98. Providing a figure for the average fine in cases against employers for offences involving their workforce would entail disproportionate cost.
The general level of fines imposed by the courts for health and safety at work offences has been far too low to properly reflect their true seriousness. In November 1998, the Court of Appeal said in a judgment that health and safety fines were too low and set out factors which should guide future health and safety sentencing. I welcome the Health and Safety at Work (Offences) Bill introduced to Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) which is taking forward the Government's intention to raise the maximum penalties for health and safety offences, especially making imprisonment available for a wider range of these offences. I hope this measure will send a clear message to all employers that society will not tolerate failures to safeguard health and safety.