HC Deb 06 March 1963 vol 673 cc413-20

4.15 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. John Hare)

I beg to move, in page 43, line 19, to leave out "or".

I wonder, Sir William, if it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I discussed with this Amendment the following Amendment:

Clause 58, page 43, line 21, after "Power" insert: or an officer appointed under section (Provision for securing discharge of local authorities' functions in uniform manner) of this Act by the Minister". and also the new Clause—Provisions for securing discharge of local authorities' duties in uniform manner. The second Amendment and the new Clause are consequential on the Amendment I am moving.

The Chairman

I expect that would be for the convenience of the Committee.

Mr. Hare

Thank you, Sir William. During discussions on the Bill in Standing Committee, an Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) which had as its object the appointment of a small central Government inspectorate to supervise the work of the local enforcing authorities under the Bill. The idea was based on a recommendation in paragraph 292 of the Gowers Committee Report. It received strong support from both sides of the Committee. This strong feeling was expressed on Second Reading and was re-echoed clearly when the hon. Member's Amendment was discussed.

It has been made clear that the aim of such an inspectorate should be to promote the effective and uniform enforcement of the Bill. At the same time, it has always been emphasised, quite rightly, that such a central body of inspectors should not attempt to cover the duties of local authorities nor to dictate to them, but should assist them by advice and guidance and generally help them to succeed in what will be quite a difficult task. Although my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary explained to the Committee that it was always our intention to co-ordinate the activities of the local authorities by informal guidance, there was, as I have indicated, a uniform demand in the Committee for some statutory powers on this matter. As hon. Members who were on the Committee will remember, my hon. Friend promised to report the feeling of the Committee to me and, on that assurance, the hon. Member for Ogmore withdrew his Amendment.

I have studied the matter further and decided to accede to the wishes expressed on this matter. The new Clause, which I shall move later, will enable the Minister to appoint inspectors for the purposes we have in mind and to provide them with the powers to do the job if in practice such powers are found to be necessary in particular cases. Observant hon. Members will have noticed that the form of the powers is very similar to that contained in Clauses 41 to 47 of the Weights and Measures Bill. The Minister will be able to make recommendations about how the duties are to be discharged and how reasonable assistance and information can be given, not only by the local inspector or his authority, but by other persons, for example, employers as a whole.

There is also provision that in cases where the Minister so directs the central inspector shall report in writing the results of his inquiry and that a copy of the report shall be sent to the local authority concerned. If he thinks fit the Minister may publish the report, either in whole or in part. In addition, central inspectors will have the same powers as are conferred by Clause 45 on local authority inspectors and they will also have to carry some evidence of their authority. The consequential Amendments to Clause 58 are necessary to secure that impersonation of one of the central inspectors shall be an offence in the same way as impersonation of other inspectors will be an offence under the Bill.

I wish to make plain that the powers will not be used to carry out a general routine inspection of the manner in which local authorities administer the Bill. The powers are taken to meet the argument put forward that there might be the need for such powers where difficulties cannot otherwise be resolved. I fully expect that a close liaison between the central inspectorate and local officers will be established, and not only established but maintained, on a basis of good will and co-operation. It is my intention that these powers should not be exercised in a way which would undermine the independence and responsibility of local authorities.

Mr. R. E Prentice (East Ham, North)

In welcoming this Amendment and the new Clause to which it refers, may I be permitted to comment that this is the first of a long series of Amendments which the Minister will be moving during the course of the day and which, in fact, reflect ideas advanced by some of my hon. Friends in Committee upstairs. We were very keen to get this new Clause and central inspectorate and to make other improvements in the Bill. It is, therefore, perhaps not too partisan for me to say that this Amendment, and many of the other Amendments in the Minister's name, ought to have had some of our names attached to them. We welcome the late conversion of the Minister to this and some of the other ideas which should have been in the Bill originally.

This is a relatively important point, because enforcement is the whole crux of the Bill. The Bill when it becomes a Statute can be effective or not according to the way in which it is enforced and the way inspection is carried out. The Minister, although he has conceded our main argument, has, I think, from what he said just now, left us in doubt as to how many inspectors he intends to appoint and what kind of scope they will have. No doubt his answer will be that we shall have to wait for the regulations referred to in the Clause.

We are anxious that when this proposal is carried into effect we shall not see the existing Factory Inspectorate given another duty to perform without any addition to its numbers. In our view, the Factory Inspectorate at the moment is too small to carry out its many duties. Industrial safety is one of growing seriousness, and it requires more vigorous enforcement than there is at present. Therefore, in taking on this new power, we are anxious to see a team of new inspectors appointed.

I was a little worried when the Minister said that there would not be routine inspections by this new inspectorate but that he was taking, as I understood him, a kind of reserve power which might be used in cases where it seemed that local authorities were not doing their job properly. What many of us envisaged when we raised this matter in Committee was something like the relationship that exists in the matter of education between Her Majesty's Inspectors of Education and the local inspectorate. We think that there should be inspectors who will be working on this, not necessarily a very large number in total, but sufficient to see that the job of every local authority in the country comes under review from time to time and that there will, as a result of this work, be a standardisation of the way in which it is carried out, so that laggard local authorities can be brought up to scratch.

I hope that the Minister will seek your permission, Sir William, to speak again and give us a little more indication of the number of inspectors that he has in mind and the scope of the work they will be asked to carry out. We, of course, welcome the Amendment, but we intend to be very vigilant about what it will mean in practice, because this is the key to the whole success of the operation of the Bill.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

I should like to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and to ask the Minister to enlighten us a little further on what he has in mind. As I read the proposed new Clause, the inspectors that he is taking power to appoint would have two rôles to perform. One would be an advisory one to the local authorities and the other a supervisory one. Clearly it is desirable, if possible, that they should operate entirely through their advisory functions.

We all want to see enforcement of this Bill when it becomes an Act and of comparable Acts carried out as far as possible with full co-operation on all sides, and if this object can be achieved purely by the inspectors acting in an advisory way, well and good. As I understand it, the Minister is taking, as it were, reserve powers to bring a certain amount of pressure on, and a certain amount of control over, local authorities if he feels that they are not enforcing these powers as intended.

What concerns me is this. Is he proposing only to appoint inspectors under this Clause if he finds that he needs them in order to exercise supervisory powers?

Mr. Hare

indicated dissent.

Mr. MacDermot

I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman shook his head. If he were to do that, it would mean that all the advisory work, which is bound to crop up in any event, would be thrust upon the existing overworked staff. One of the points which we raised expressly in Committee, and which the Minister has not dealt with so far, is that we were very anxious that the already overworked Factory Inspectorate Department should not have thrust upon it any duties for the enforcement of this Bill, and that it should be clearly understood that his Department would set up a new, additional staff to deal with any functions which his Ministry has to perform under the Bill. That is certain to include substantial and extensive advisory work, with so many provisions in the Bill, and local authorities requiring responsibility for its enforcement are likely to be inundated with inquiries for advice, guidance and assistance. We want to be sure that there will be an adequate staff to deal with all that. If the Minister finds that they need rather stronger powers to achieve their objects, I hope that he will give them those powers.

Mr. Sidney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I apologise to the Committee if I have got this proposed new Clause out of focus. I do not pretend to have been a close student of this Bill. I was not on the Committee, and it may be that I have failed properly to understand the Bill. If I indicate that I have, I hope that the Minister will not hesitate to interrupt me, because I would not wish to waste the time of the Committee on a false point.

Am I right in supposing that the change proposed by this Bill is to relieve local authorities in the exercise of their statutory functions under the Bill from the supervision of factory inspection?

Mr. Hare

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his assumption.

Mr. Silverman

Then I had perhaps better wait until the Minister has spoken again, because I should like to understand exactly the change proposed by the Clause. My interest in the matter is that I have been asked by my own local authority to look at this rather closely. It is rather indignant about the original proposal. It claims to have exercised in its own area for many years a very much higher standard than this Bill imposes, and it rather resents that it should be subject to the supervision of the factory inspectors. I leave the matter there for the moment, because it is quite possible that if I go further I shall be wasting the time of the Committee. I hope that the Minister will speak again and explain exactly what the proposed change means and how it will work.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

Does the Minister envisage, as did the Gowers Committee, that there should be established something in the nature of regional offices from which the newly appointed inspectors will operate? We have not been given sufficient information yet as to how the right hon. Gentleman's proposals will operate from a practical point of view.

While I am not quarrelling with his ideas, I am trying to discover if, immediately the Bill becomes law, a new set of inspectors will be appointed and bow they will operate. I am sure that I speak for my hon. Friends when I say that we would have liked to have seen the whole of this inspection service in the hands of a specially created inspectorate. It seems that the Minister does not intend to go to those lengths, but I hope that he will at least say whether he intends to create a new inspectorate and whether the inspectors will be based at regional or local level.

I would also like to know what kind of supervisory and other duties these people will have and if such an inspectorate will have anything to do with railway premises. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to create a new inspectorate, I hope that he will realise the importance of appointing people with practical knowledge of the premises covered by the Bill so that they will have first-hand experience of the problems which are likely to confront them. It is important that the inspectors should have wide knowledge, not only of the provisions of the Bill but also of the practicalities involved, because, by the nature of the problems with which they will be faced, they will have to advise local authorities on such matters as the structure of buildings and so on.

Mr. Hare

I will, with permission, reply to some of the points that have been made. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) made what I thought was a partisan point. I said in my opening remarks that strong feelings had been expressed by hon. Members of both sides of the House on Second Reading, and the hon. Member knows perfectly well that his hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) got considerable support from some of my hon. Friends. Thus I do not think that we need argue too much on that point.

The hon. Member for East Ham, North welcomed "this conversion", as he called it, and felt that my proposals will make enforcement more effective. He is right, and that is why I have introduced them. In this connection, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) was right in his remarks. As I explained, I hope and believe that the central inspectorate will work in close harmony and co-operation in an advisory capacity with local authority inspectors. I will have powers to investigate any troubles that may arise.

The hon. Member for Derby, North was also correct in saying that unless I had created a new corps, so to speak, I would be merely placing, in advice alone, extremely heavy additional burdens on the existing factory inspectorate and it is my intention, therefore, to create new posts to cover these new responsibilities. I think that the point which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has in mind will be covered by a later Amendment—number 121 on the Order Paper—in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) to Clause 44, page 34, line 17, at end insert or, in respect of premises occupied by themselves, to comply with. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) made a good point when he asked if the new inspectors will be placed regionally. My intention is that they should be placed in Factory Inspectorate divisions and that they should have local knowledge of their areas. He also asked if railway premises would be covered. The answer is "No" because railway premises are already inspected by my own inspectors. He also made a practical point when he asked me to ensure that the inspectors would know something about what they were doing and would have knowledge of shops and offices. That is certainly a point which I will keep in mind.

Mr. Prentice

Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate what will be the numbers in the new inspectorate?

Mr. Hare

I cannot do so now, but I have, I think, in the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Derby, North, indicated that I am creating extra posts to meet the extra work.

Mr. S. Silverman

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to refer earlier to the Amendment numbered 121, in the name of the hon. Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus)?

Mr. Hare


Mr. Silverman

Is the right hon. Gentleman sure?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. William Whitelaw)

My right hon. Friend referred to the Amendment numbered 121 on page 1508 of the Order Paper.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 43, line 21, after "Power" insert: or an officer appointed under section (Provision for securing discharge of local authorities' funtions in uniform manner) of this Act by the Minister".—[Mr. Hare.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.