HC Deb 05 December 1972 vol 847 cc1079-83
5. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made on his consultations with interested persons about the Robens Report on industrial safety.

19. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made in the consultations with interested bodies about the recommendations of the Robens Report on Safety and Health at Work.

20. Mr. Holland

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made in his consultations with interested parties about the Robens Report on Safety and Health at Work.

69. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what consultations have been held between the Government, the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress and others concerned with the implementation of the Robens Report on Safety and Health at Work.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

In my statement in the House on publication of the Robens Report, I promised to consult the CBI, TUC, local authorities and other interested bodies to obtain their broad reactions to the proposals. Over 80 organisations have submitted comments or discussed the proposals with us.

Mr. Archer

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that any consultations on this matter are constantly being overtaken by newer proposals, such as that arising from the discussions on thalidomide? As the revision of the Factories Act has been under discussion since 1967, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that necessary medium-term proposals arising from the report, such as statutory provision for workplace safety consultation, will not be delayed until everything there is to be said on safety has been finally said?

Mr. Macmillan

The whole concept of the approach contained in Lord Robens' report is that it will be possible to bring forward relatively quickly enabling legislation setting up the type of body which is now under discussion with the unions and employers and within the Government, in order to prevent the sort of delay to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers.

Mr. Skeet

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate has very distinct and technical responsibilities, and as it has fairly close affiliations with the Department of the Environment, will be concede that this is an argument for keeping it as a separate entity and away from the unified inspectorate which is recommended by the Robens Committee?

Mr. Macmillan

The problem of accepting that type of argument, which has recently been shown in one or two practical cases, is that there is a danger that one inspectorate may say that a poisonous substance must be pumped out of a factory in order to protect the workpeople and another inspectorate quite properly may say that, in order to protect the environment, the poisonous substance must not be pumped out of the factory.

It is to avoid that sort of anomalous situation that the Robens Committee suggested unifying all the measures of protecting both safety and health at work. While I fully accept the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for the protection of the environment, it could be probably better considered in the light of a joint authority rather than try to separate the two in a way which could continue the previous anomalies.

Mr. J. T. Price

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most controversial aspects of the Robens Report is the encouragement given to the substitution of codes of practice for mandatory provisions and statutory orders concerning safety? There will be a good deal of opinion, from the Opposition and no doubt from the Government side of the House, which will query these factors. We find it very difficult to enforce, for example, in the building regulations, the safety precautions which already have a statutory and mandatory basis. Any tendency to substitute the sort of codes of practice that have become so notorious in the Ministry of Agriculture concerning animal welfare will be very critically considered by many hon. Members, including myself.

Mr. Macmillan

I have discussed this matter with various representatives of the unions. The hon. Gentleman's criticism rests very largely on a misunderstanding of the nature of the so-called voluntary codes of practice suggested in Lord Robens' report. I think that what Lord Robens was suggesting is non-statutory codes which would be worked out by unions and employers together and which would be backed by statutory sanctions.—[Interruption.] I am grateful for the correction of my pronunciation, if not of my principles. These codes, which would be worked out to suit each industry concerned, would have sanctions which would be legal in nature.

Mr. Holland

When the time comes for drafting the promised comprehensive safety legislation, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the need not only to establish properly qualified industrial safety engineers in all situations where that is economic but also to give positive support and stimulus to training in accident prevention on a much broader basis in terms appropriate to each industry?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, indeed. The emphasis which Lord Robens and his Committee have put in their report was mainly on prevention and on using a joint approach to prevention. That is the importance of the joint safety committee and other proposals contained in the more detailed parts of the report.

Mr. Prentice

Will the Secretary of State recognise that the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) represents the anxieties of a large number of people? There is concern that in changing over to the kind of pattern suggested in the Robens Report there might be some weakening of statutory protection for certain groups of workers, which course we should all avoid. Further, in view of all the discussions taking place between the right hon. Gentleman's Department and all the organisations he has mentioned, will he recognise that there ought to be an early debate in the House and that it should be in Government time, because the Robens Report was made to the Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Leader of the House about this matter in order that we may have a debate at a fairly early stage?

Mr. Macmillan

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is absolutely no intention, in either Lord Robens' proposals or the Government's interpretation of them, of weakening the statutory safety regulations. As for a debate, that is a matter for my right hon. Friend and I shall talk to him about it.

11. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will seek to encourage firms to award safety prizes in the interest of promoting safety consciousness at work.

Mr. Dudley Smith

This is a matter for individual firms to decide. Safety prizes may produce marginal benefits in some cases, but only as part of a properly conceived and executed safety programme, which my Department is naturally concerned to encourage.

Mr. Eadie

Surely the test of the hon. Gentleman's Department is the concern it shows for safety by trying to encourage firms and employees to be safety-conscious. What does he think, for example, about the fact that the Inland Revenue has decided to tax a man's safety prize? Is not this a classic example of a Government taking leave of their senses?

Mr. Smith

I do not have detailed knowledge about that but I would be happy to look into it. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is a matter of having an effective safety policy. While prizes may be one strand of that policy, a lot of other back-up work is needed as well. We try to encourage as many firms as possible to have a sensible and cohesive safety council.

Mr. Concannon

The National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers have had a lot to do with safety drives and competitions and it is ludicrous that the Inland Revenue should tax these prizes. Will the hon. Gentleman, although it is not his Department's responsibility, press this matter on the Treasury so that in the next budget it gets rid of this ludicrous situation?

Mr. Smith

I cannot undertake to press the matter but, as promised, I will look into it. I echo the hon. Gentleman's words about the National Coal Board because the safety performance of the mining industry is extremely good and very commendable.

14. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take steps to ensure the standardisation of industrial safety signs.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Steps are already being taken to standardise the symbols used to identify dangerous substances. My Department has no evidence that differences in other types of sign give rise to significant risks, but the matter will be kept under review.

Miss Fookes

Will my hon. Friend do a little more than that? Is he aware that several different systems are in use? May I as a former teacher give him a little visual aid lesson and show him three different signs for a fragile roof? Will he look at this again?

Mr. Smith

If my hon. Friend likes to have a word with me afterwards I will certainly undertake to look into that matter. Most industrial safety signs include simple words, and differences in the pictures are unlikely to cause confusion. But if my hon. Friend has specific cases in mind we will investigate and see whether we can get an improvement.