§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is a brief, simple and, I hope, relatively uncontroversial Measure. Basically, it leaves industry undisturbed, affecting only one small aspect of industrial life. That effect is the involvement of employees of the specified companies in the promotion of factory safety.
The objects of the Bill are to reduce the number of injuries in British factories, and I do not think that anyone will argue with that laudible aim. It is an attempt that has been made in terms of a similar Bill three times in this House in the last five years. On no occasion when the Bill has been presented have there been votes cast against it. That is because we all subscribe heartily to the need to reduce the number of accidents in British industry, a need which becomes instantly apparent when we remind ourselves of the rate of accidents, industrial injury and death in any year.
It is gratifying to report—and I am sure that the Minister will report in more detail than I can—that the figures for 1970 are an improvement on those for the previous year. That year, 1969, saw the peak of a depressing trend of increases, with 649 deaths and 322,000 notifiable injuries. In 1970 the figure for deaths decreased—dramatically is not an inappropriate word—to 556, and the number of notifiable injuries reduced to 304,000.
But despite that most welcome decrease, those are still appallingly high figures. They are appallingly high in terms of lost production, though lost production is not the only, indeed, not the principal, concern of the Bill. The figures are appallingly high in terms of human pain and suffering. They are appallingly high in terms of human hardship, because all those who have been employed in manufacturing industry know that almost inevitably the result of severe injury at work is hardship for the injured man and his family who have, perhaps for weeks 834 and in some cases for months, to live at a standard below that which they enjoyed when he was at work.
The purpose of the Bill is to attempt to reduce the number of deaths and injuries. It seeks to do that by encouraging the involvement of employees in the promotion of safety procedures. That is done in the Bill in two simple ways. First, there is a provision for factories with ten or more employees to have safety representatives nominated by recognised trade unions selected from among the employees of the factory.
The second provision is that a factory with more than 100 employees may, if the factory safety representatives so wish, constitute a joint safety committee to be composed in part of the safety representatives, and in part of the management's representatives. The committee constituted on that joint basis would then be given the opportunity—this is dealt with in Clause 2 (1) (a)—of supervising in a general and tentative sense certain aspects of factory safety.
It will be the task of safety representatives to make periodic inspections of the factories—no more than once every three months. It will be the task of safety representatives to inspect and inquire when a notifiable accident has occurred, and it will be the duty of factory representatives, together with the employer's nominees on the safety committee, to promote the improvement of general safety conditions in the factory. Clause 2 (1) (b) describes them asto carrying out from time to time inspections in the factory",and later in the Bill as promotingco-operation in achieving and maintaining safe working conditions".These simple procedures have three objects. The first is to make sure that the expert knowledge of the employees on safety matters, sometimes obtained by very hard experience, is put at the disposal of the company's management. I draw one example from a current case. Hon. Members have naturally been concerned by affairs at the factory of Rio Tinto Zinc of Avonmouth and reports of the difficulties which that factory is now facing, including a maintenance bill of £180,000 while safety is re-established.
One of the conditions which brought pollution about was that some conveyors 835 were so narrow that dust was thrown up into the atmosphere. Another was that extractor fans were so placed that dust was not quickly removed. The third is that, during periods of breakdown, which were frequent, various noxious materials were left lying about on the factory floor. These are three points which one would expect a practical man involved in the factory, working there himself, with the strongest vested interest in avoiding this difficulty, simply to bring to the attention of management—not, one would hope, in a disruptive or aggressive way, but simply as a man who knows the difficulties of working in such a plant and is able to say with authority that this is a mistake which may appear trivial but may turn out to be fatal.
The second object of the safety representatives and the safety committee is to provide an informal and, I believe, moderate additional check on the observation of the Factories Acts. In the Avonmouth situation, there would have been no difficulty. If it had been pointed out to the management, I believe, it would have been cleared up almost at once. But in other factories and other industries it would be a deterrent to sloppy management who might consciously disregard the Factories Acts unless they knew that their employees had some rights to see what they were doing and to report on it to the local authority.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
Would the safety representatives be full-time or part-time, and on what basis would they be employed? One representative in a factory of ten would be expensive if he were full time.
§ Mr. Hattersley
There is no question of his being full time. The task which the Bill will cover would not justify a full-time representative. The Bill specifies that such representatives should be employees of the factory, practical men working on the shop floor, who will do this task from time to time.
The most important task of the safety representatives will be creating an atmosphere in which all the employees in the factory feel that they are genuinely involved in the processes of safety improvement. I read with great interest the report of the debate on this Bill when 836 it was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) a year ago. During that debate the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Bray) talked of experience within his own recent past, of employees who had taken a casual view of the promotion of safety.
I do not argue with the hon. Member's judgment about how some employees behave. When I began work 16 or 17 years ago in the steel industry—in the drop forging part of the industry, which is prone to particular sorts of unpleasant accidents—I was struck by the casualness with which some employees regarded safety. They regarded safety regulations as the ideas of theoreticians in the Ministry of Labour, as it was then, and other quasi-academic institutions. They were not impressed by the occasional safety poster or safety drive.
My Bill seeks to convince employees that the provision, improvement and constant supervision of safety are things in which they are rightly involved and in which they should take an intimate and continued interest. The main object and the principal advantage of the Bill is the creation in the minds of employees of a feeling that safety is their business, that they should be involved in it, and that their involvement is vital and necessary if their protection is to be adequate and their working lives secure.
I regard this as a most modest Bill. The powers of the safety representatives and the frequency of their inspection are rigorously limited. The provisions ensure, I think, that the safety representative is directly involved with the problems on which he should be reporting. There is no question of people from outside the industry intruding in an ignorant fashion.
In many ways my Bill is no more than an extension of the powers laid down and approved by the House in the Iron and Steel Act, 1967. One can argue that it is no more than an extension of a principle which began with the Mines and Quarries Act, 1918, over 50 years ago.
§ Mr. Ronald Bray (Rossendale)
So far, the hon. Member has used the word "factories". Are we to take that word in its narrow concept or in accordance with the broader concept of public works and other activities?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The definitions in the Schedule are very precise. They are basically the definitions of the Factories Act, 1961. The hon. Member will also find references to other specific inclusions like Section 127 of the Factories Act, which deals with building and engineering and Section 126, which deals with ships tied up at docksides.
§ Mr. Hattersley
If they are tied up at docksides it does, but if they are at sea it does not.
This Bill is a great deal less ambitious than a similar Bill moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) four years ago and it is certainly a great deal less ambitious than some of my hon. Friends would have wished. For instance, in order to avoid controversy, I have omitted a number of matters with which I could have dealt. An example is the safety of handicapped people in employment.
If the Bill receives a Second Reading, I shall be more than happy, in Committee, to accept Amendments to extend its scope. But what I have sought to do today is to produce the lowest common denominator of dissent and the highest common denominator of agreement. Anyone who wants to extend the Bill is more than welcome to do so but it is couched in its present terms in the hope that it will offend no one and frighten very few.
Two aspects of the Bill will come under some criticism. First, some people will say that we should await the Report of the Robens Committee. I believe that the Under-Secretary will say that Robens is only just around the corner, because he said that a year ago, when he said that the Bill was slightly premature.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
With great respect to the hon. Member, who is anticipating my speech, I did not say last year that it was just around the corner. I said that it would come during the lifetime of this present Parliament. Obviously, today, I hope to be able to give later views.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I spoke of the hon. Gentleman's comments metaphorically 838 rather than literally. He said that the Committee "had made considerable progress" and was anxious to complete its work in the very near future. I do not complain about what he said. I have stood at that Box, in the same job, waiting for the Royal Commission on Trade Unions to report and quoting to the House the words of my right hon. Friend, that he hoped for good news in the spring. I was able to quote that for three years, hoping for confusion about exactly which spring he had in mind.
I merely draw attention to the fact that waiting for official reports is a little like waiting for Godot—not simply that one has to wait for a very long time but that at the end of the drama one is still not sure whether anything has happened. Therefore, since the Bill cannot possibly conflict with the Robens recommendations, it should stand on its own feet and should be proposed and supported independently.
We would also find it difficult to understand the Government's argument, if they should use it, that it would be difficult to anticipate Robens. The Committee's terms of reference were to review the provision made for the safety and health for persons in the course of their employment. The Employment Medical Advisory Services Bill, which has just passed through its Committee stage, is directly concerned with the work of the Robens Committee. If it is said that we should not anticipate the Robens Report, then clearly the Government should not have brought that Bill forward. I make no complaint about that, except that the presentation of that Bill shows that we need not wait for Robens before acting in this way.
I come to the second area of criticism which the sponsors expect to receive, and that concerns the argument between compulsory safety committees and voluntary committees. I gather that no one apart from a few extreme Luddites opposes the idea of joint safety committees. However some say, "Let this be done voluntarily rather than compulsorily."
We ask for voluntary committees in the widest terms and compulsory ones in a much more limited sense. What we ask of compulsion is limited, narrowly defined and carefully circumscribed. The 839 Bill specifies the opportunity for employers and employees to make voluntary agreements to extend the minimum provisions of the Bill.
On the general concept of voluntary committees as opposed to statutorily backed committees, the idea of voluntary versus statutory was first argued in this House in July, 1966. On that occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) said, referring to a speech made outside the House by the then Minister of Labour:unless there is satisfactory progress over the next few years in the setting up of joint works committees on a voluntary basis, he will feel obliged"——that was the then Minister of Labour—to seek power to require the establishment of machinery for joint consultation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1966; Vol. 731, c. 954–5.]When my hon. Friend made that statement there were 21,200 factories employing more than 50 people, of which fewer than 6,000 had voluntary joint safety committees. What my hon. Friend said in this House on that occasion and what her right hon. Friend had said outside seemed to work like a charm, because by 1969 the number of factories with joint safety committees had jumped to 9,487, still less than 50 per cent. of the firms examined—but resulting in the much-vaunted 63 per cent. increase which the C.B.I. always mentioned when discussing statutorily-backed safety committees. That was three years ago, but I gather that in the last three years virtually no further progress has been made.
I was in touch with the C.B.I. yesterday but the officials there were unable to give me any more up to date figures. They said that they had not collected them since 1969. However, they would not argue that the figure was now more than 50 per cent. When people say with absolute justification that many firms, the progressive and best ones, have already provided such committees, they admit by that statement that the worst companies have not followed suit. When one says that voluntaryism has achieved the establishment of these committees in those progressive and best firms, that is tantamount to saying that this Bill is needed all the more in view of the other companies which have not established them.
Our provisions are intended to deal with and improve factory safety and to 840 promote an idea which I know commends itself to hon. Members in all parts of the House, an idea which cannot be regarded as representing an industrially aggressive policy. This is a simple system allowing people to have some say over a central issue in their daily lives—allowing them to make a contribution to factory safety; and this should be in the interests of all concerned, both management and labour.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on introducing this Bill and I look forward both to it receiving a Second Reading today, and, in Committee, to the extension which he invited.
The only apprehension I have about the Measure is that the hon. Gentleman may have inadvertently in Clause 1 excluded a group of factories which may be in the greatest need of its provisions, because the wordsby the recognised trade union or unionssuggest, I hope wrongly, that if all the employees are non-unionists, that Clause will not apply to the establishment in which they work. However, that might be an establishment which is particularly in need of the benefits of a Bill of this kind. I hope, therefore, that the inclusion of those words will not have that exclusive effect.
I make no apology for participating in this debate because I served a graduate apprenticeship for several years in industry and during that time I was in various machine shops, drop forges and different types of foundry. I also worked in engine test-beds and similar facilities where accidents could and did happen.
That experience brought home to me that accident prevention has two elements, the first being physical—organisation and arrangements—and the second, and even more important, being a continuing state of mind by all engaged in industry, whether on the shop floor or in management, and in whatever capacity they serve. It is a continuing state of mind and it is always dangerous to believe that because one has an effective organisation, that is a substitute for safety consciousness among everyone.
As I read the Bill after it was published, I was put in mind of the various types of accident of which I was made 841 aware during my time in industry. I suppose that the most obvious is that caused by persons falling. This is a well-known cause of accidents, not only in industry but particularly in the home, with people literally tripping or slipping.
Many accidents are caused by objects falling and striking people, while others are caused by mechanical entanglement. It is well known that machinery should, as far as possible, be equipped with guards, but these can generally be removed for, for example, cleaning and the fitting of new cutting tools. Guards often have a slight but definite disadvantage from the employee's point of view; they may affect the bonus rate which he or she is able to earn.
There is then a positive incentive in many cases for the guard to be disengaged, despite the notice which such machines bear saying, "Please engage guard before operating machine." I recall someone returning from a holiday and placing over that sign another one saying, "Please engage brain before operating mouth," which was a somewhat happier holiday poster than one sometimes comes across.
Another source of accidents, which is perhaps less obvious than the others I have mentioned, is penetration by waste. It is not news to be told that swarf is sharp. This material is formed of the bits and pieces or strips of metal that are cut off while the machine is in operation. These little objects are extremely sharp.
However, in the years since I was directly concerned with these matters, swarf has taken on different characteristics. It can now cause septic eruptions in the skin of operatives, particularly when dealing with metal like high-temperature alloys and many of the nimonic nickel-based alloys that are used in the aircraft industry. It is particularly difficult to guard against this when cleaning out machines, a task that normally takes place at the end of the day, when the employee is at his or her most fatigued, and may be anxious to get the job done and get home.
Another danger is exposure to heat. In addition to working with or near molten metal, there is a more insidious type of exposure to radiated heat where a burn can result without the exposure having been noticed at the time. 842 Yet another danger is from inhalation. Particles of gases or dust, which are the most obvious examples of danger in this respect. I know of few more unpleasant places in which to work than a magnesium factory, unless the processes have altered since I worked in one as an apprentice. The means of preventing oxidisation of the surface of the molten metal is the lamentably primitive method of using an open mesh sack and shaking down flowers of sulphur, so that a layer of sulphur dioxide is formed to prevent oxidisation of the surface.
This is very effective in preventing oxidisation, but when the gas which results from those flowers of sulphur coming into contact with the white hot metal reaches the eyelids, lips or any damp part of a person, it turns into sulphuric or sulphurous acid and can inflict unpleasant burns. Those gases are also inhaled, however good the fan system, by the persons operating there. I found that to be the most unpleasant single industrial process of which I had personal experience.
There are many other unpleasant processes of that kind, some of them in tyre manufacture, for instance, where again sulphur is used in the mix. In many types of casting sulphur is included with the sand in the mix for making cores and moulds, and when the molten metal is poured in, this rather offensive gas is generated automatically.
I come next to poisons and corrosives. The Factory Inspectorate are very careful about those that are known, but some poisons are so slow acting that their effect on the employees concerned is not noted, in many cases, until the employees have retired and therefore, when they are not subject to regular examination by a works doctor, as those who are still in employment can be. We all know of cases of chemicals which result, for instance, in cancer of the bladder after many years of exposure, although at the time of exposure it was by no means obvious; it could not be obvious that the employees concerned were exposed to any risk.
There are the well-known risks associated with tar-based products in skin cancers. These are now well known, and can be very easily guarded against. More recently, since the war, there has been a greater realisation, outside the hospital 843 service, of the danger of exposure to radiation. During the first war much damage was caused, particularly to women in factories who applied luminous paint to weapon dials which needed to be read in the dark. It was not realised that this was a carcinogenic substance. When the women concerned licked the brushes to make a finer point, they transferred some of the luminous paint into their persons. The effect of the radioactive paint was cumulative, and was with them for the rest of their lives.
That brings me to another form of accident, perhaps less publicised, and rarer, and because it is continuing, rather than instantaneous, it needs to be guarded against. That is addiction to some substance used in industry. A form of addiction which I encountered, for example, was addiction to trichlorethylene. In many metal-working factories the degreasing plant system is by trichlorethylene tanks, and it is well known that operatives can become addicted to sniffing trichlorethylene. Apart from the effect that this has on the liver, leading to necrosis of the liver, this can result in employees becoming unconscious and falling into the tank, which results in death. This is now very widely recognised in industry, but for many years it was not recognised as a hazard. Indeed, people wondered why it was that attending to the trichlorethylene tank was a sought-after job, when it did not appear to be especially interesting. The reason was that operators became addicted to trichlorethylene.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
Is this also the reason why trichlorethylene is not now used in dry cleaning establishments and that perchlorethylene is used instead? In the kind of example my hon. Friend gives, is it not possible to use another fluid?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I do not know whether that is the reason in the cleaning industry, or whether it is because it damages some types of cloth, or whether it is more expensive. It would be an extremely good reason for not using it, if that is so.
The last type of accident which I noted is an insidious one. That is the development of allergy. It is insidious because there is generally not an event 844 which one can pinpoint, and enter in an accident book, as being the commencement or the conclusion of the process leading to the development of the allergy. Industrial injuiry and sickness benefit legislation is not as wide ranging as it should be on the subject of allergies which have been developed as a result of exposure to industrial hazards, largely because it is so difficult for a doctor to certify the casual sequence. He can certify the symptoms, the conditions in the patient, but to a large extent it is a matter of conjecture.
I have had recent cases in my constituency of eruptions of the eye apparently caused by irritation by woollen dust particles. To some extent this is conjectural and the employees concerned, who have had to give up their employment, becoming unemployed have not received an industrial injury benefit because of the inability to prove the casual sequence. Had there been penetration of the eye by some sharp object, such as a tiny piece of swarf, as the inaugurating event, that would have been entered in the accident book, and there would have been an event to record. But where this is a continuing process there is no entry in the book. That is why we must all bear in mind the necessity for this type of legislation.
It is not enough to have legislation, however wide ranging, to deal with the consequences of accidents, because we can never do that completely and no financial compensation can cover the human misery involved.
§ Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)
Is not the problem with allergies not only that some people are allergic to one substance and some to others but that sometimes some people are not allergic to a substance but become allergic to it after a few years, and that it is difficult to pin this down?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
My hon. Friend's point has been made to me by a number of physicians with whom I have discussed the problem. Some substances are widely known to cause allergies. There are other substances to which one simply cannot predict that a human being will be allergic. Hypothetically, it is possible to conduct in a hospital allergy tests on any human being, but this is immensely time consuming 845 and can involve as many as two hundred tests. This is not an effective preventive.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook deserves enthusiastic support for this Measure. I hope that it will not be restricted to factories which have a union organisation, for reasons which are self-evident. I look forward to the Committee which will examine the Bill—I hope that the Bill will obtain the Second Reading, which it merits—going into considerable detail to see how it can reasonably be extended, but not so that it becomes unpopular with the employees themselves. That is always a danger we must guard against. We all know, for instance, how often protective clothing is not used because it is so uncomfortable. One of the paradoxes is that when one is exposed to great heat, one needs insulated protective clothing. On a hot day, that makes one uncomfortably hot. We must always bear that self-discipline in mind when legislating.
With those observations I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
On 26th February, 1954, almost 18 years ago, the then Member for Dewsbury—Mr. William Paling—introduced a Bill on almost similar lines which was opposed by the Conservative Government. I had the privilege of being called to speak in that debate. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me now. Mr. Paling then spoke of the tragedy resulting from the heavy toll of employment accidents causing injuries and deaths.
Despite the passage of years, and despite all the legislation which has been enacted, the numbers have not diminished, Indeed, they have increased, and the problem remains as acute as ever. Obviously, any step which can be taken which may—I emphasise "may" ameliorate the problem and lessen the possibility of these accidents occurring should be welcomed.
The Bill seeks to secure the establishment of safety representatives and safety committees in the circumstances set out in the Bill. Surely no one will dispute that the workman, in his own interests and those of his mates, has a deep concern for his own safety and for the 846 safety of his mates and should be allowed a say in the measures taken for that safety. Moreover, no one can know as much about what safety measures are required as the person on the job.
Hon. Members on this side have made a number of efforts to get this Measure on to the Statute Book. I will mention those efforts, because my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley), introduced the Bill in very moderate terms. I feel a little bitter about it, in view of the history. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) introduced a Bill to secure this. The Labour Government introduced the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill, Part II of which contained similar provisions to those in the Bill. Unfortunately, the General Election in 1970 intervened and that Bill was lost. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), made a gallant effort last year, but his Bill was not allowed to get a Second Reading. What were the objections?
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
On a point of technical accuracy, in fact the Bill subsequently achieved its Second Reading and went to the Committee but fell because of the end of the Parliamentary Session.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I said that with regard to the Labour Government's Bill. I was latterly talking about the gallant effort, as I put it, of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West. My hon. Friend's Bill did not succeed in obtaining a Second Reading. What were the objections?
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
With respect to my hon. and learned Friend, the history is that my Bill did not get a Second Reading on the occasion when we debated it in the House. Later there was a change of heart on the Government side of the House and the Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading. The Bill thereupon went to Committee and we got it through as it stood in Committee. Then, because of the management of the House, we were not able to put it through its further stages.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I had looked up the details about his Bill and I thought that there 847 were not sufficient Members here on the Friday to see it through.
As to the objections, it was said that the Bill would in some way affect the voluntary system, that it was better to leave safety security to voluntary effort. No doubt there are many establishments where a voluntary system exists and is perfectly satisfactory; but there are many where it does not exist and the provisions of the Bill are aimed at such establishments. Moreover, Clause 1(5) contains this specific provision:Nothing in this Act shall be taken to preclude the making of agreements between employers and trade unions for joint consultation and co-operation as to matters affecting the safety of employed persons".It was said, second, that that Bill would have resulted in pressure being brought to bear on management and that there would have been interference which would have been resented. Clause 2(1) of this Bill specifically provides:The functions of safety representatives at a factory shall be—Surely no decent employer would resent such advice and co-operation.
- (a) to promote co-operation in achieving and maintaining safe working conditions in the factory between the management and the persons employed by the occupier to work in the factory".
I recognise that some criticisms can be made of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said that he would be ready to deal in Committee with the question, in particular, of handicapped persons. Some things can be done in Committee to strengthen the provisions of the Bill. For example, we must ensure that there are teeth in these provisions so that safety representatives or a safety committee are not used as a cloak for inactivity. The training of safety representatives is important and might well be done in conjunction with factory inspectors. There should be the utmost liaison between safety representatives and safety committees and the safety inspector.
In the debate on 12th February of last year the Under-Secretary of State for Employment put forward the plea that we should await the report of the Robens Committee. No doubt there are many problems with regard to safety measures and it may well be that some of them can be dealt with in Committee, but I say from my experience that there are 848 far too few prosecutions under the Factories Act. Perhaps because there are not enough factory inspectors, or because they have too much work to do, there appear to be cases where they are reluctant to use their powers.
The factory inspectors should be more aggressive. There should be a minimum period for inspection of factories by factory inspectors. Moreover, the fines imposed for breaches of the Factories Act are ludicrously small. Under Section 156, the maximum fine for an offence under the Act is £60, and where death or bodily injury may be caused it is £300.
I understand that the Robens Committee will report in the summer. Presumably there will be period of consultation and then the Government, if they are still in office, may well have to find time for legislation.
The Labour Government appointed the Robens Committee and also introduced the provisions of the Bill we are now discussing in Part II of the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill; so members of the Robens Committee must have been aware of the Government's view that there was no question of waiting for the report of that Committee on this question but that legislation ought to be enacted immediately.
I said in the debate in 1971 that, if one life could be saved or the injury of one person prevented by expediting this legislation, we should expedit it. Eighteen years have passed since the Paling Bill, two years since the Labour Government's Measure, a year since the effort of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West, and still we wait. The years pass, and accidents occur which not only mean injury and loss of life to many thousands of people but the inevitable colossal loss to industry. It is surely not enough to pay lip service and express sympathy.
It is disgraceful that this Measure should not be enacted as quickly as possible. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook on introducing the Bill, and I hope that at long last this effort will prove to be successful.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said that any steps to ameliorate 849 the problem of industrial accidents should be widely welcomed. I entirely agree with that general statement, of course. All I dispute is whether the Bill will ameliorate the problem.
Before I develop that theme I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) not only on coming top of the Ballot and introducing the Bill, but on the modest and moderate way in which he introduced it. His speech was a useful contribution to the educational process in industrial safety. I do not quarrel with his approach to the subject; I quarrel only with what is in the Bill.
As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the provisions of the Bill were thoroughly discussed in 1970 and 1971, and now they appear before the House once again for further consideration. Hon. Members who take a continuing interest in the subject, most of whom are present, may have noticed that when I spoke on Second Reading of the last Government's Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill in 1970 I raised strong objections to Part II, which dealt with the question of safety representatives to be appointed by the trade unions. I was not prepared to vote against that Bill or to advise my hon. Friends to do so because I warmly supported Part I, which dealt with the reorganisation of the factory doctor service, something I wanted to see enacted as quickly as possible.
I did not attend last year's debate when the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) moved the Second Reading of his Employed Persons (Safety) Bill. In case that might be interpreted as indicating a change of heart or of discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, I should like to explain that my absence was solely because I had accepted constituency engagements long before I knew what the business of the House was likely to be that day. That is the sort of difficulty in which many of us find ourselves from time to time, being in our constituency when we should like to be in the House, or vice versa. It is one of the occupational hazards we must face.
I remain as opposed as ever to these proposals. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity afforded by the Bill to discuss the subject of industrial safety. The cause of industrial safety is greatly helped 850 by focusing attention on it. Discussion helps the educational process. By means of education and training we can best bring down the level of industrial accidents. I very much welcome the new training promotion scheme introduced by the British Safety Council, its five-day safety training courses with a money-back guarantee if they do not prove effective. This can be a great stimulus to the spread and growth of industrial safety training.
I also welcome the considerable increase in recent years in the number of factories with arrangements for joint consultation on industrial safety. Like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook, I was unable to find any later figures than those quoted by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary last year, but the increase he announced for the three-year period from 1966 to 1969—an increase from 5,826 factories with more than 50 employees to 9,487 factories with more than 50 employees—showed a most encouraging trend. Even more significant was his information that about 70 per cent. of all employees in factories employing 50 people worked in establishments with voluntary arrangements for joint consultation on industrial safety. I have no doubt that with the encouragement of the annual legislative proposals for compulsion in each of the three years since 1969—I refer to the proposals before us—in spite of the slightly prejudiced estimate of the hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill, the figure must be noticeably in excess of 70 per cent. today. There is nothing like a spur of this nature to encourage people to get into the act on a voluntary basis. That is another very good reason for debating this kind of Bill at regular intervals, but it does not mean that I should necessarily like to see it put on the Statute Book.
In so far as what I regard as the objectionable proposals in the Bill remain a threat, they may act as a spur to the voluntary system. But implementation of the threat removes the spur and could damage the voluntary effort. When statutory obligations are imposed on people they may then simply observe the letter of the law and fail in some of the current voluntary activities. The great advantage of the voluntary system is that the arrangements are made with good will and co-operation on both sides, and 851 are therefore more likely to work effectively than if they are imposed willy-nilly by Statute. They are more likely also to cover a much wider section of the industry than the arrangements foreshadowed in the bill, which depends on the powers proposed only for trade unions to appoint safety representatives.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is right to believe that the Bill is exclusively for unionised establishments. Indeed, if the major manual unions carry out their threat to de-register, the Bill will apply to very few companies, since under the Industrial Relations Act the term "trade union" now has a specific legal meaning—an association of workers registered as a trade union with the Registrar. Massive de-registration would limit still further the application of the Bill. If the big industrial unions carry out their declared intention to de-register they will cease to be trade unions and cease to obtain the privileges and rights granted by the Bill.
Two years ago, when I objected to the exclusivity of the powers proposed, the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) said that my objections could be met by widening the scope of the proposals to give employees generally the right to ask for consultation on safety outside the establishments where the unions were recognised as negotiating bodies. He said it might be done in Committee if I were prepared to move an Amendment. I think he intended that as a threat, but I welcomed the suggestion. The proposals have been published twice since then, with ample opportunity to effect a suitable broadening of the approach, but no such change has been made. I find it difficult, in view of the history so far, to regard such a change as being likely to be acceptable to the hon. Gentleman or the sponsors of the Bill.
The T.U.C. wants the power of appointment of safety representatives to be vested in the trade unions alone. Hon. Members who represent the interests of the trade union movement in the House are trying to accede to that request. It is a legitimate aim and I do not quarrel with it so long as they do not try to suggest that their sole reason for proposing it is that they believe it to be 852 the best way to reduce industrial accidents. That is what I dispute. There is no proof that consultative committees have ever been instrumental in reducing the number of industrial accidents. Nevertheless, I believe that they can make an educational contribution when they consist of volunteers on both sides who are there because they want to be, because they have an interest in the subject and want to do something about the appallingly high rate of industrial accidents, and not because they are simply obeying the letter of the law, fulfilling their statutory obligation. I am not alone in believing this.
As hon. Members must be aware, when these proposals were first passed at the T.U.C. conference of 1964 they were opposed by the platform on the grounds that… safety is a matter on which equal partnership must be sought if it is going to be successful.That was said by Mr. J. O'Hagan, who added:Compulsion by itself is not the answer. There has got to be the fullest measure of joint consultation between the two parties, the employer and the worker, if we are going to succeed in our efforts for eliminating accidents".I quoted from Mr. O'Hagan's speech when I spoke in 1970. I make no apology for doing so again, because he expresses my own view on the matter so much better than I can. This is really the basis of my objection to the principle of the Bill.
First, I object to the conferring of power without responsibility in the way the Bill proposes to give full powers to a trade union-appointed safety representative to carry out safety inspections in all parts of the premises, inspect documents that he considers relevant, inspect the scene of any notifiable accident and any machinery or plant in the factory. Yet the only responsibility placed upon him, according to Clause 3(4), is to…take reasonable steps to inform himself of any requirements relating to the safety of employed persons which are imposed by or under the Factories Act 1961 …The Bill does not even define what are "reasonable steps". Nor is the representative required to make a written declaration that he has taken even undefined reasonable steps. No responsibility whatever is placed upon him.
853 Secondly, I object to intervention in the work of properly qualified safety engineers and factory inspectors; by what may be untrained and even unskilled personnel. They may be people without knowledge of the techniques or processes involved or of the technology. I do not see how this can possibly advance the cause of industrial safety.
Of course, not all companies employ qualified safety engineers but those that do are not exempt from the provisions of the Bill.
Thirdly, I object to the appointment of people for a specialist rôle whose only basic qualification has to be five years' employment in industry in any capacity, skilled or unskilled. I do not regard that as a necessary adequate qualification to pronounce on industrial safety matters, these people are not expected to give advice on safety or pronounce upon it, there seems no reason for their appointment anyway. If they are expected to give advice and if through ignorance—not necessarily their own fault but through lack of training or knowledge—they give bad advice, they may well do more harm than good.
Rather than pass bad legislation—and I believe this Bill to be bad both in principle and in substance—can we not, despite what the hon. Gentleman said about the Robens Committee, see what recommendations it produces? The report is due later this year, so I have been assured in answer to a parliamentary Question. The subject has been studied in great depth by the Committee. For the sake of a few more months, can we not get our sums right? Industrial safety is a very serious matter. We must beware of playing about with it on doctrinaire lines. I believe that useful and constructive proposals on health, safety and welfare will emerge in the Robens Report to provide the foundation for a real leap forward in the field of industrial safety. When that happens, I shall be one of the first to press the Government to produce comprehensive and effective legislation on the subject.
I should state plainly that my view on these matters is mine and mine alone. I do not know whether any other hon. Member feels as strongly as I do about the Bill or takes my view. I do not speak on behalf of anyone else. But 854 this is private Members' day and equally I owe no duty or ellegiance to Whip, party or Government. At the same time, however, if, at the end of the day, I am in a tiny minority I give the hon. Gentleman my assurance that it is not my intention wilfully or irresponsibly to waste the time of hon. Members. Our procedure for dividing the House makes it impossible for a single hon. Member to record his vote against any Measure he does not like.
I hope, of course, that many hon. Members take the same view as I do. If they do and are prepared to join me in dividing the House, I will be prepared to vote. But my undertaking stands. If support for the Measure is overwhelming, then I can only hope that the sponsors of the Bill will be prepared to modify its nature and broaden its base in Committee, because that would be a redeeming feature.
I referred earlier to the British Safety Council's new scheme to encourage safety training and I welcome it. I know that the hon. Member for Doncaster has also welcomed it on that earlier occasion. Writing in the publication Safety and Rescue in February the hon. Gentleman said:Safety is of paramount importance to all Members of Parliament hoping that the Employed Persons (Safety) Bill will, on the third time of trying, get through the House.I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that at least one hon. Member who is not hoping that the Bill will get through at the third time of trying is also greatly concerned about industrial accidents and equally regards safety as of paramount importance.
I am strongly opposed to the element of compulsion, with all the power but no responsibility vested in one section of industry, and with all the responsibility but no power vested in another section. This I find fundamentaly objectionable. Within the limitations of what I believe to be a reasonable use of our procedure for expressing a contrary view to that expressed by the sponsors of any legislation, I am prepared to show my opposition to the Bill.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I promise to be very brief and I ask indulgence for speaking for the first time about industrial safety. 855 The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) and I both have particular reason for wishing to intervene today—that is, in connection with the Bristol smelter case which has received wide publicity since it came to light.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the other sponsors of the Bill on bringing forward a Measure the need for which has been most amply demonstrated by the events brought to light by the Avonmouth smelter. There is no need for me to fill in any details, because it has been widely described. A big smelter costing a very great deal of money has turned out to have poisoned workers there and to have led to dangerous levels of pollution in the surrounding area. This has become a major hazard in a major industrial city.
I make no complaint about the way the Government have responded to the case. I congratulate Ministers on having indicated publicly their anxiety, and I pay tribute to Alderman Gervas Walker and others in the city who have drawn attention to the anxiety they feel and to the need for action. I am not looking for scapegoats or making any criticisms, but I do say that, where one gets a situation in which, for some years at any rate, there were internal warnings of the danger of lead poisoning and nothing was done, there is clearly a major failure in our safety provisions. Probably the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. This plant is in his constituency.
§ Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. Perhaps he has not had the opportunity to see the Written Answer I received today to a Question. It has just reached me. In it, my right hon. Friend announces that he feels the situation at Avonmouth smelter to be such as to merit a special inquiry, and he intends to set one up.
§ Mr. Benn
I am grateful to the hon. Member, because in the normal course of events it is not possible to know the response to a Written Question until the end of the day. The Minister's reply allows me to confirm my congratulations to the Government on acting with speed in answer to representations made by 856 the hon. Gentleman, by me and by Mr. Jack Jones of the Transport and General Workers' Union asking for an inquiry.
The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) made a speech on safety which was 20 years out of date. I do not believe for a moment that people are prepared any longer—I mean not just the workers but those living near factories where there may be danger of pollution—to accept that safety is the prerogative of management and is to be limited to those who have paper qualifications but no practical experience. The truth is that there has been a total change in attitude both towards pollution and safety questions. Increasingly local authorities want to be free to enter factories, to be sure there is no danger there, in addition to the right of entry by alkali or factory inspectors. Those involved in industry whether or not they have degrees feel themselves best able to determine whether the work they do is dangerous. This Bill in removing a barrier which has been set up in common law and tradition to workers having a say in responsibility for safety matters affecting them in their work is a notable advance in line with public feeling and with the desires of workers and people living in the areas of major factories.
§ Mr. Holland
The right hon. Gentleman must not imply that I was against consultation on safety in industry. I said nothing against that. I merely said that I did not like the compulsion in the Bill relating to a particular type of representative.
§ Mr. Benn
The compulsion at present lies in compelling workers to work in dangerous circumstances when they have no statutory powers to do anything about it. This Bill aims to remove that compulsion of men to work under dangers to which they cannot object. The Bill creates a large rôle for people as compared with management or experts. I strongly support it and wish it well.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
This Bill comes before the House for the third time in almost the same form as before. It is fair to say that repetition does not in itself make it a good Bill or any more attractive. What it does is to underline the earnestness and depth of feeling of the sponsors.
857 Although the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to it as a modest Bill, I feel that he is rightly proud of what it aims to achieve. He made clear that the prime objective of the sponsors is the improvement of safety standards and a reduction in loss of life and limb and the millions of working days wasted through accidents. In this objective the Bill has my fullest support by inclination and personal experience. What I am more doubtful about is the means that are sought to be used to achieve this objective and the timing of the Bill.
I want to make my position quite clear in supporting the aims and objectives of the Bill. The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) gave us a lengthy list of the many types of accidents that occur, and it may be helpful if I draw on my own experience to illustrate some of the hazards to which he referred and to say that this brought home to me at an early stage in my industrial career some of the types of accident which can occur even in the best-regulated factories and the attitudes of the management, on the one hand, and the men, on the other.
The factory to which I refer is involved in the production of man-made fibre. Associated with that are the hazards of chemical working as well as the more standard type of hazard found in any factory. One of the first stages—it has probably changed now, because this was 15 years ago—was the placing or dropping of sheets of wood pulp into a caustic soda bath. The immediate hazard is clearly the splashing of the caustic soda, which goes on to the clothing and causes little damage, but which can go into the eye. The safety precautions there are thick rubber gloves reaching to the elbows, and goggles. The second stage is a churning operation. In that shop the fire hazard was so acute that spark-free tools had to be used.
Further down the line there was the hazard of viscose, which is the spinning liquid, again with a strong caustic content, being spilled on the floor. I can recommend this as an excellent substitute for a banana skin because it is lethal if stepped on unawares. Safety shoes were needed because the caustic soda eats into normal leather soles. Later down the line the hazard changed from alkali to acid 858 and again there were dangers to hands and face and a real danger from fast-spinning high-tenacity rayon which is quite capable of inflicting very severe burns on the fingers.
There were the standard hazards of slippery corridors, gratings left loose, pipe fitters leaving old pipes in the wrong place and so on. These were established processes which had been in operation for 20 to 30 years at that time. The hazards were recognised by management who had learned, perhaps by bitter experience, where the dangers lay and what precautions were necessary. In such a circumstance the need to obtain advice from as wide a range of those involved in the operation as possible is less necessary. That factory was fairly typical of the group in which I was working and there were works councils in operation which dealt with safety matters from time to time.
If management were conscious of the hazards of the operation, so were we, as we worked. Very quickly we learned that goggles or gloves were not used. The responsibility rested with management because it was liable if accidents occurred even if there were notices on the walls or instructions given to men to wear these protections. In that respect we would always welcome works representatives, union officials, anyone in a position of authority, encouraging the fullest possible use of all safety equipment.
From that and more recent experience I am convinced of three points—and I do not necessarily put these in any special order. The first point is that management does not have a monopoly of wisdom in devising ways to improve safety procedures, nor, indeed in other matters—production methods, work flow: there is no monopoly of wisdom.
Secondly, workers have a legitimate right to be protected against unsafe conditions, because it is their lives, their limbs, their livelihood which are at stake. So it follows logically that they have a legitimate right to have a say in how their lives and limbs and livelihood can best be safeguarded. The third point of which I am convinced is that the prime responsibility is management's. These may seem truisms perhaps, but I am convinced on these points.
859 It is on point one that the crux of the argument in regard to the means which the promoters of the Bill are using becomes important. I said that mangement's responsibility was the prime one. The T.U.C., in this guide to negotiators entitled "Good Industrial Relations", says that the final responsibility for safety rests with management. So I find myself in a large measure of agreement, as I certainly do with some parts of that document which we debated on Wednesday when there was general agreement that there was common ground on a number of issues in the whole field of industrial relations. I find a lot of common ground between my thinking, the Government's Code of Industrial Practice, and the T.U.C.'s thinking as briefly put down in its document on the question of safety at work.
There is this point which that document makes:Management ought to have an equal interest in preventing accidents and promoting the health of workers.I should think it should, because—and this is not a point which has been accentuated this morning—to have 23 million days lost per year, or a number of that order, means a commercial loss to business, so if management is doing its job it must appreciate the loss of turnover and of profits resulting. So management certainly ought to have an equal, or possibly a prime, interest for commercial reasons in preventing accidents.
I pause at this point to agree, although I do not go the whole way with him, with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) on this question of where power and responsibility should lie. In the Factories Act and through legislation the management or employer, whatever we call him, is responsible for safety, and he must be allowed to exercise that responsibility; his power and his effectiveness must be encouraged and strengthened in all ways and not undermined; but that is what the Bill attempts to do, whether intentionally or not.
It is difficult at this point to keep out a reference to political doctrine because there is such a measure of accord between the two sides of the House, and certainly political doctrine should not stand in the way of achieving the common objective of improving safety, but, 860 whether intentionally or not, this Bill, if it went through unamended, would have the effect of establishing a degree of workers' control in our factories, and so, whether intentionally or not—it is not for me at this point to ask whether it is the intention or in the mind of the present promoters that that should be the case, it is not for me to ask whether it was in the mind of the Labour Government when they originally introduced—
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
Does not the hon. Member distinguish between workers' control and an element of industrial democracy? I think he is going sadly wrong when he equates the two so sharply.
§ Mr. Butler
This is what I read into the Bill, from the Clauses which I shall refer to. I have said this may not have been the intention because the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said that employers should not resent advice. This is quite true, and I think it was the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook who said that men should feel safety to be their business, and he may have felt that to introduce this element of control was necessary in order to induce that feeling. Personally I would disagree with him, because I think a sense of involvement can and should and would be achieved through the normal joint safety committee as it operates at present. I hope I have made it absolutely clear that I am in favour of and want to see an extension of joint safety committees.
I think—and this is a small point in my argument—that it is wrong to draw only upon union members or to chose only union nominees. I feel there should be some form of election, open to all workers, of the workers' representative part of the safety committee. That is not so important, but the Bill talks in terms of inspection by possibly one workers' representative. Regular inspection and inspection after an accident at regular intervals, while they are matters one can subscribe to, can be examined in Committee, as also can the point whether three months is the right period of time or whether six months would be better for regular inspection, and whether we should distinguish between different types of factories which have different hazards. 861 These are not matters for a Second Reading debate. Another of these matters is how the representative, whether of management or workers, should be fuly qualified. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton suggested that five years' experience whether of a skilled or unskilled nature was quite insufficient, and I think he is probably right. Also in Committee I believe we might do no better than follow the T.U.C. line. In that document to which I have already referred there is a positive statement thatAdequate training in their duties is essential for all members of joint safety committees.Positive training and standards, not just the requirement that one must be over 18 and have worked for five years in the factory. That is not alone a sufficient and suitable qualification.
Believing basically in the need for joint safety committees it seems to me a pity I have to query the point about workers' control, and I would ask that in Committee we can remove representation by one side of industry. Why should we impose through legislation the requirement on industry to set up legally workers' representatives when we do not attempt to do it through legislation in respect of management representatives? It does not make sense. I cannot agree with management or employer being told by workers safety representatives that he has got to form a safety committee. If anyone is to do that, it must be this House, through normal legislation.
One of the criticisms which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook tried to forestall concerned compulsion as opposed to the voluntary nature of the setting up of joint safety committees. My inclination is that we are reaching the point where compulsion should be introduced. Despite the growth that we see in joint safety and similar committees, I believe that compulsion is necessary. Therefore I am not opposed to the compulsory features of the Bill. However, I repeat that there should not be compulsion on one side rather than the other, putting into the hands of the workers' representatives in this comparatively small but vital way the power to control management. Workers' representatives are able to request managements. They are more likely to tell manage- 862 ments in factories of certain sizes that joint safety committees have to be set up. That is what I meant by my reference to workers' control.
We are waiting for the report of the Robens Committee. Certainly I cannot say what it will recommend in this respect. But it seems to me that it is a mistake to proceed unilaterally on this single Measure if we are to hear from the Robens Committee in the very near future. I am unfortunate in speaking before my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, but I hope that he will tell us that the Robens Committee will be reporting within a matter of weeks or at most a month or two. If we are not to have its report in that time, I hope that it will be encouraged to speed up its investigation. It is two years since it was set up under the previous Government. I appreciate the complexities of such an investigation, but we need the Committee's report urgently if we are to deal with all the aspects which it has been briefed to investigate.
I do not know whether the Bill will eventually be passed. Meanwhile, we have any amount of Government legislation. Most recently, we have had the Code of Industrial Relations Practice, which was debated in this House on Wednesday and which comes into force at the end of February. It is only fair to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, having quoted so extensively from the T.U.C.'s document, I should quote equally from the Government's Code. As the House knows, it is not mandatory, but it can be taken into account before the Industrial Relations Court. Therefore, the recommendations to management contained in the Code will have a positive effect in all directions.
If one looks in the Code for references to safety matters, one first sees that managements should brief young workers fully on the position in regard to health and safety. They should also brief new employees. That is common sense, but good sense. Then, coming to more general points, one reads in paragraph 47 that managements should aim at improving on the minimum standards laid down by the various Factories Acts, and that they should aim to achieve this in consultation and co-operation with employees 863 and their representatives. That is a statement in a very recent Government document supporting the principle which lies behind this Bill in terms of joint activity designed to improve safety.
Then there is a special reference to noise, and managements are encouraged to ensure that hazards are reduced to a minimum and that the work is done as safely as possible. That is followed by a paragraph which covers a point made by a number of hon. Members:Management and employee representatives should … take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees use protective equipment, for example, guards, safety helmets, goggles and ear defenders, observe the standards laid down by law and co-operate in agreed safety measures.We must all agree with those words.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
While we all welcome the words that the hon. Gentleman has just quoted, will not he join with men in regretting the omission of any words drawing to the attention of management the need to provide protective equipment in the first place?
§ Mr. Butler
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. However, I think that it is implied in the Code that managements have a responsibility for safety. If that is so, it will be necessary in many circumstances to supply safety equipment. In the case of protective guards on machinery, they are usually provided by the management. Protective clothing, on the other hand, tends to vary from factory to factory. My own experience is that goggles and gloves are supplied.
The Industrial Relations Code enables one to learn something of the Government's thinking and, in general terms, of their support for the principle of joint consultation in these very important matters.
I conclude—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I must apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House since I shall not be able to hear immediately succeeding speakers as I have another engagement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is a discourtesy for which I apologise in advance. Unfortunately, I have an official engagement, and I shall not be back—
§ Mr. Butler
It is pressing.
To all outward appearances, the Bill is estimable in its objectives. For that reason, I do not join my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) or anyone else in opposing its Second Reading—
§ Mr. Butler
However, if the Bill goes to Committee and is not amended in the important respects on which I have commented. I shall not be able to support its Third Reading.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
It is my intention to be a good deal more brief than was the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler), and I hope also to observe the usual courtesy of remaining in the Chamber to hear the speech of whichever hon. Member catches Mr. Speaker's eye after me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is to be congratulated not only upon his luck in the Ballot but also upon the very good use to which he has put it, namely, to introduce a Bill concerning the important principle of involving employed persons statutorily in consultation about and in the activation of measures dealing with occupational health and industrial accident prevention. In doing that, my hon. Friend is following something of a tradition, in that many attempts to do this have preceded his own.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) pointed out, as long ago as 1954 Mr. Wilfred Paling, the then Member for Dewsbury, introduced a Private Member's Bill of this nature. It is also important for us to be aware that outside this House there has been a considerable move in favour of this principle in that the T.U.C. itself supported it as long ago as 1964.
In that connection, perhaps I might take up a point raised by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland). The hon. Gentleman said that Mr. O'Hagan, who on that occasion spoke for the T.U.C., opposed the principle of compulsion in this matter. I should point out that Mr. O'Hagan was expressing 865 the view of the Executive, which was rejected by the Trades Union Congress which therefore adopted, and has had as its policy since, a policy in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook is seeking.
§ Mr. Holland
I was quoting Mr. O'Hagan's words as Mr. O'Hagan's words because I agreed with them. I was not trying to give them added importance by saying that they were the view of the conference, and I do not think that I said that. I was merely quoting his words, because they appealed to me. I would quote anyone's words if I thought they were appropriate to the discussion.
§ Mr. Watkins
I am quoting the T.U.C.'s policy to make it quite clear that it is not the policy of the T.U.C. to oppose, but to support the principle.
It is a matter for regret that if there is a long tradition of attempts to introduce a Bill of this nature, there have also been a growing number of attempts to frustrate the introduction of such a Bill. Things finally came to a climax in 1970 when the then Labour Government introduced a Bill, Part II of which embodied the principle of this Bill. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee will recollect how it was filibustered at great length by the then Opposition and was eventually lost on the dissolution of that Parliament.
Further reference should be made to events which happened in the last Session when my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) introduced his Bill. The Government did not oppose the Bill outright, but to all intents and purposes they killed it by procedural means.
I understand the thinking behind those who oppose measures of this nature. It has been expressed by several hon. Members this morning. They feel that what is called the voluntary principle works better. But in fact there is no concrete evidence to support that contention. The recent case of the zinc and lead smelter at Avonmouth, near Bristol, illustrates that point.
I note that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren), in whose constituency that smelter is situated, is present this morning. In the event of his 866 catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I look forward to hearing him on it. The hon. Gentleman may recollect that on one occasion I was his opponent in that constituency.
The plant at Avonmouth has had to be closed because of the inadequacy of the protective arrangements. This situation has not suddenly emerged; it has been building up for about two years. The Transport and General Workers' Union, which is the principle union involved, has revealed that during those two years the management refused to reveal the results of blood tests taken from employees. Because of this, the union had to call in its own doctor to conduct tests, and he exposed the deplorable situation which the management had seemingly sought to conceal.
This is not some little back-street sweat shop. This is the largest plant of its type in the world. It is owned by Rio Tinto Zinc, a great international corporation of the type which is frequently held out to this House as the kind of good employer who does not need the coercion of the law in the way that the Bill proposes. It is obvious that the reverse is the case: that even in an establishment of this nature the coercion of the law is manifestly needed because there was a refusal by the mangement to consult employees on this crucial matter. Consequently, we have seen the matter come to the sad conclusion about which we now know.
I think that the Bill is important in the general sphere of industrial safety and accident prevention, as well as in the specific instance which I have quoted which highlights the general situation. I think that the Bill is relevant and manifestly necessary. The principle of the Bill has been debated on numerous occasions in the House. It cannot be said that this is a matter which is hastily being put before Parliament. I very much hope that, in view of the support which has been expressed on both sides of the House today and the widespread support which exists outside—I think that the hon. Member for Carlton will be in a minority of one—the Bill will shortly receive a Second Reading.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)
It is certainly a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David 867 Watkins). As he said, we were once opponents in an election. I think that he is still resident in Bristol, so he has an interest in the case he was describing, to which I shall shortly refer.
I welcome the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley) on introducing it. The Long Title reads:To further the making in factories and elsewhere of arrangements for persons representing employees to participate in promoting the safety of employees".The operative word is "participate". There should be a sharing of responsibilities between the safety representatives and the management.
We find that again at the beginning of Clause 2 where the functions of safety representatives are described as beingto promote co-operation in achieving and maintaining safe working conditions in the factory between the management and the persons employed".It is rather like Clause 1 of the Parochial Church Council Rules which tells the Council that its job is to co-operate with the incumbent, not to pick quarrels with him. I hope that the spirit of the Bill will be that safety representatives will not set up as rivals of the management, but will collaborate on a friendly basis.
As has been said, there is an example in my constituency where the Bill might help. I refer to the Imperial Smelting Corporation at Avonmouth. That is the largest smelter of zinc and lead in the country, and it has recently been in the news. The company has had trouble with its new smelter since it was installed five years ago. Unfortunately, there have been some emissions of lead into the air, and there has been reason to fear that there may have been a risk to the health of workers in some of the processes.
I put a Question for Written Answer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment asking him to make a statement about this matter. I had the answer today. I am glad to note, and warmly welcome, that my right hon. Friend intends to set up an inquiry into this matter, in which the firm will co-operate, and that there will be a report in the near future. It is probably better not to judge these matters until we have the report of the inquiry. However, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has recognised that this is a serious matter.
868 The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who referred to Avonmouth, courteously informed me beforehand that he would do so. I am glad that he made those remarks this morning. It seems that Avonmouth is an excellent example of the kind of situation where safety representatives and safety committees would be valuable.
§ Mr. J. H. Osborn
I assume that the company has a safety officer and a safety committee. It is one of the more advanced companies. Is my hon. Friend saying that it does not have those safety provisions?
§ Mr. McLaren
I am sorry, but without notice I am not able to answer that. I think that, so far as it has been able, it has taken a great deal of trouble to deal with the situation, but the Bill will help in that direction.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) that managements do not have a monopoly of wisdom or knowledge. I have a feeling that in some situations the worker who is directly involved may know better where the shoe pinches and know more about the day-to-day conditions than managers who are one stage removed from the scene of action. If some prominent workers were given the status of safety representatives it would be that much easier for them to draw attention to any worsening of conditions and to any dangers.
I recognise that there are reasons which can be advanced why it would have been better if, in dealing with the Bill, we had had the Robens Report before us but, for the reasons which I have given, I welcome the Bill.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
I was pleased to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. MacLaren), especially in view of his recent experience. I am glad that he has given the Bill a welcome. I intend to be very brief. I spoke at great length when introducing a similar Bill a year ago, and I have in the past deployed the case for this Measure.
I must, first—as others have done—congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), both on his initiative in introducing this necessary Bill, and on 869 the moderate reasoned and unimpeachable way in which he argued his case today.
Had I been speaking immediately after the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) I might have been a little more controversial and polemical than I intend to be. I must, however, make one or two comments, because I know that there is a certain anxiety among some sections of management on the matters that he rasied.
First, does this concept of involving workers in settling their conditions of work impinge upon the prerogative of management? Safety is, and must in the final analysis remain, the responsibility of management. The Bill will not reduce the responsibility of management for safety, but it will emphasise the point that has been made that management does not always know best, that it has no monopoly of wisdom, particularly when it comes to deciding conditions of work. Those who know best are the men who use the machines, who know the problems which arise from the machines and, in addition, know their own shortcomings. The purpose of the Bill is to combine their know-how with the expertise and know-how of safety officers.
The second argument against the Bill is that it represents an undermining of management's authority. That is a familiar argument. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) when he says that the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) is 20 years out of date. The hon. Gentleman is exactly a century out of date, because in 1872, when Gladstone introduced the Mines Bill, the same argument was used. Speaker after speaker said that if legislation dealing with safety in mines was introduced the rights of owners would be removed. They were more direct in those days, because they spoke about removing the rights, not of management, but of the owners. For a century, therefore, we have been impinging on the rights of management, and so we should, because lives are involved.
The hearse calls twice every day at British factories. That is the rate of death at our factories. The ambulance 870 calls 1,000 times a day at British factories, because there are 300,000 accidents a year.
§ Mr. Buchan
I accept that. But let us leave it at the figure I have given.
Apart from that aspect, there is the point made by the hon. Member for Bosworth about the cost. For the last two years, night after night, and day after day, in this House we have been dealing with the problem of costs to industry of strikes and disputes. That is the reason for the Industrial Relations Act, and even this week we are dealing with the problem. We are told that because so much production is lost due to strikes and disputes the Government's legislation is necessary.
There are two other factors which cause considerably greater loss. One is unemployment. The House has had to deal with industrial relations legislation because of the loss of 10 million or 11 million working days due to strikes and disputes, but at present we are losing 250 million days of production through unemployment. In Scotland alone 40 million days are lost through unemployment, four times the amount lost through strikes in Britain as a whole. That is true also of industrial accidents, where 23 million working days are lost in Britain every year, twice as many as are lost through strikes and disputes. In terms of life and cost the situation is urgent.
The question is posed that we should wait for Robens. Clearly at some time Robens will make similar proposals, but that is only one aspect of the problem.
Already good management has introduced safety committees at its factories. The answer to the compulsory argument is that good management has already introduced safety committees. By definition legislation is always connected with bad behaviour and, therefore, with bad management. I do not know whether compulsion to bring bad management into line with good management is an infringement of management responsibility, but I do know that if managements are bad we should infringe upon their responsibilities.
871 I was disturbed to read in Lloyd's List this week a report of what was said by Mr. Meek, a director of Ocean Fleets:A shipowner who spends more than his competitor on safety measures is at a disadvantage because by doing so he pushes up the value of his ship and increases the insurance premium he has has to pay.…The fact remains that for ships insured on the market the value of the ship is the major parameter in calculating insurance premia. Therefore, if an owner expends more on safety features than his competitor does he will at present merely be increasing his premium instead of reducing it.In other words, there is a positive disincentive to bringing in safety measures. I hope that that idea will not extend to insurance valuations of other types of premises. It is serious indeed if there is an incentive to reduce safety measures in order to save costs.
Those are the basic points of issue. I have argued my case in the past, and I do not want to add to it today, but there is one other point that must be made. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must—as I believe the Under-Secretary of State does—appreciate the anger that was aroused in the trade union movement last year when we failed to carry through a similar Bill. Trade unionists felt that they were under attack in connection with the Industrial Relations Act. I am not arguing the merits of the case. I am merely informing the House of the feeling of trade unionists. If we are to heal the breach and bury the antagonisms which have arisen because of the Government's industrial relation legislation, the Bill provides one way of doing it. We must show that we care for the lives and safety of trade unionists so that the reaction which occurred last year when the House failed to pass a similar Bill into legislative form does not occur again this year. I cannot underline this too strongly. Hon. Members would have a disastrous effect on industrial relations if they prevented the Bill going through.
To end as I began, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative and on the manner in which he introduced the Bill.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
Perhaps I can clear up one point immediately. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) said about ship safety, but this is a responsibility under the Merchant Shipping Act.
872 However, I will draw what he has said to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
As several hon. Members have said, this is the third time within two years that we have debated this subject. We seem to have a remarkable capacity for reaching the debate at the same time every year. We have had it in March, 1970, February, 1971, and now February, 1972. I have been privileged to speak on all three occasions. Looking at my speech last year, I am horrified to see that I spoke for nearly an hour. But as long as I do not get a stream of interruptions, I promise to keep my remarks briefer than that today.
I begin by sincerely congratulating the hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley) on a typically moderate and helpful speech, which helps to reflect the real concern for health and safety at work which is felt by so many hon. Members. The hon. Member detailed the Bill with clarity and showed that it is possible to sponsor a Private Member's Bill without speaking for an hour or more. This was of great assistance to the House.
The question of Avonmouth is a matter of contention and difficulty, which impinges on the provisions of the Bill. It would probably be in the best interests of everyone, however, if I did not go into the matter today. As my hon. Friend the member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) said, the Secretary of State has today given an extensive Written Answer to his Question and has appointed a committee of inquiry. He will give details shortly of its terms of reference and membership and has said that he will publish the report as soon as possible. This is a very satisfactory outcome to the speculation and consultations of the last week, and it will be in the best interests of the truth being established and the difficulties being properly examined if I do not seek to discuss these matters now.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
I am sure that everyone will welcome the proposal to have an inquiry into the Avonmouth situation and an early report on it. Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that many of the representations made to him by the Transport and General Workers' Union and others have been in support of such an inquiry and 873 also of a longer term inquiry about the extent to which new industrial processes are creating new risks and new dangers for the workers involved? We need to consider both the Avonmouth situation urgently and, in the longer term, the rapid changes which may create changes in terms of the inspectorate and the law.
§ Mr. Smith
I agree. A number of people have requested an inquiry, but, as my right hon. Friend said earlier this week, he wanted first of all to get a full and comprehensive account from his Chief Inspector of Factories, with a minimum of delay. Within a matter of a few days, he has now announced the inquiry.
But there is the wider context. If the right hon. Gentleman reads this Written Answer, he will see that my right hon. Friend links this matter with the consideration which the Robens Committee has been giving to the wider aspects, including the new technology as well as the need to take precautions under the old processes of technology. This too will be a satisfactory way of dealing with the situation. That aspect is not overlooked.
I am sure that there is nothing between the hon. Member for Sparkbrook and me about the nature of the objectives which we all want to achieve. These are greater participation of work people in the maintenance of safety, working conditions and practices, greater involvement of those at work in the day-to-day details of accident prevention and, much more fruitful, co-operation between management and workers in assuring that work is done as safely as is practicable.
I am convinced that there is no real dispute about these aims. Practically every speech but one today has supported the principles of the Bill, although hon. Members may quarrel about some of the individual details. Where we differ is about the precise means which can best achieve these ends.
I see merits in the Bill and I do not intend to advise the House to vote against it. But it is only right to stress—I know that this will be appreciated by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker)—that we have a number of reservations. When I spoke for the 874 Opposition in the original debate in March, 1970, I said:Despite some marked objections to Part II of the Bill, I cannot advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against it. This would give the impression that we were against improving industrial safety and health, and we certainly are not that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 76.]That remains the position.
The Bill is based on the assumption that a system of safety representatives and committees is right for industry at large. It is not disputed that these institutions can make a valuable contribution in works and factories where the climate is favourable and the total organisation for safety is soundly conceived. But the objective which we are all seeking to achieve is the greater involvement in safety of all people at work. I recognise that safety representatives and safety committees may be a step towards this end and I know that there is a great deal of sympathy for such an aim on both sides.
As the hon. Member for Sparkbrook explained, the first main function of safety representatives, as defined in Clause 2, is to promote co-operation between management and employed persons in achieving and maintaining safe working conditions. The second is to carry out periodic inspections and to report the scene of any notifiable accident or dangerous occurrence.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the Minister's speech. The people of this country are getting very fed up with the failure of the Irish Government to control its mobs, not least the I.R.A. I understand that there is a report in the newspapers today of the burning down in Dublin last night and early this morning of the offices of British Rail. I wonder whether we could ask for a message to be sent for a Minister from the Foreign Office to make a statement on this today. Some of us would like to comment on that statement and to make it clear that the British people are getting as incensed here as some people say the people are in the Irish Republic. I think that we should have a statement.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
I am obliged to the hon. Member, who is entitled to raise this point. It is 875 not a matter for the Chair. There is nothing that I can do from the Chair in this respect. The hon. Member must take what other steps he deems right.
§ Mr. Smith
I was detailing the functions as put forward in Clause 2. I was going to say that the first, the promotion of co-operation, is generally welcomed. The Clause defines an objective which I believe we all endorse. There is no great difficulty in stating the end which we wish to see achieved. I agree with what the hon. Member said about getting everybody involved. This is very important.
It is much more difficult to set out the practical machinery that is needed to help industry to obtain this objective, and it seems to me that there is some conflict between the objective, which is the promotion of co-operation, and the means which are provided to achieve this end; periodical inspections and inspections of scenes of accidents.
The Bill provides that these inspections may be made by safety representatives unaccompanied by any member of management. There is nothing to encourage joint inspections. Indeed, it may be thought that, as the Bill is drafted, it may tend to frustrate the development of such joint inspections. One could draw this conclusion and I trust that it will receive further examination in due course, for if the development of joint inspections were frustrated in that way, it would be a retrograde step. There is no monopoly on wisdom in the matter of safety, as many hon. Members have pointed out. I accept that management often does not appreciate all the risks to which its workers are exposed, as the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) commented.
Equally, however, safety representatives may lack the expertise that is needed to understand the nature of the risk and the relevance of the precautions that are needed to control it. Often there are faults on both sides. Joint inspections could be a way by which both parties could profit by the other's knowledge.
A recent study conducted by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology showed that sometimes there was a failure to apply known safety techniques on the shop floor—again, in most cases a question of management and those 876 employed having a joint responsibility. It seems to me that the Bill contains a weakness in that it puts the emphasis on inspections by safety representatives instead of inspections conducted by both management and safety representatives in joint co-operation.
Clause 1 creates another possible obstacle to the promotion of co-operation between management and the totality of the work-force in that the right to appoint safety representatives is restricted tothe recognised trade union or unionsand my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) commented on this aspect. I do not wish to enter into an argument at this stage about the definition of "trade unions". This is very much a Committee point and although a difficult matter, the implications of which the hon. Member for Sparkbrook may not have fully appreciated, it should not frustrate the Bill's progress.
Accepting that the hon. Gentleman is referring to recognised trade unions or organisations of workers, whatever term one uses, I agree that in certain cases it may be proper that trade unions should be the people responsible. Where the great majority of workers belong to unions it may be assumed that the unions are entitled to present them.
However, in other cases only a minority of workers may belong to a union, and in those cases the Bill would not make provision for them to have safety representatives. Indeed, in a large works it could occur that only a small group of employees, perhaps the maintenance staff, are fully unionised. In that case they would have the right to appoint a safety representative and I do not think that this is necessarily the best way of meeting the problem.
I wish now to deal with the wider context of industrial accidents in Britain because this is relevant to the discussion we are having. The House will wish to know that the latest and, as yet, unpublished figures of accidents reported in 1971 under the Factories Acts show a welcome reduction compared with recent years.
The provisional total of 272,000 accidents is more than 10 per cent. below the figure for 1970 and is more than 15 per cent. less than the 1969 figure. Probably more important is the fact that the provisional total of fatalities, at 532, 877 is 24 less than in 1970, and this is the lowest figure recorded this century.
It is true—it is only fair that I should make this point—that there have been fewer persons at risk because of the unemployment situation. To make meaningful comparisons one must, therefore, look at the fatality rates per 100,000 persons employed. In the construction industry the rate increased from 19.9 in 1970 to 21 in 1971. On the other hand, in factories it declined, from 4.5 to 4.3, a rate which is less than one-half of what it was before the war and which is lower than in any other industrialised country.
I mentioned these figures not with the object of leaving the House with the impression that the Government are satisfied with the situation of safety in industry. On the contrary, we are far from satisfied with it. One death or injury is one too many and we are studying with the greatest care all suggested methods for reducing still further accidents and difficulties at work.
It is also necessary to be cautious in interpreting figures like these for a single year. The number of fatalities is relatively small—it is a high figure, but relatively small in the general context of those employed—compared with the number of accidents in other spheres; 7,000 a year killed on the roads and over 7,000 killed each year in homes. Even so, it is important that every possible attention is given to safety at work. Perhaps the picture is not quite as gloomy as some have supposed.
§ Mr. Ronald Bray (Rossendale)
I have a deep interest in the construction industry and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the latest figures which he has given. We hear a lot these days about the rate of unemployment in this industry and many Questions are asked in the House about various facets of the industry. Assuming that the accident figures in construction for the last two or three years have remained about static, can we assume that that is because the number of employees has dropped or because the quality of training, especially in safety matters, has deteriorated?
Is my hon. Friend aware that much more emphasis needs to be placed on safety training in the construction industry, not only at the various Govern- 878 ment training establishments but at the training schools which are operated by building firms? Only in this way will we solve this problem. A few months ago a film about safety in the construction industry was shown to hon. Members and it seems clear that far more acceptance of training in all aspects of safety is required.
§ Mr. Smith
It is all part and parcel of the problem. I should not like to ascribe the reasons why the figure has remained comparatively high in this industry. I do not think that the blame can be levelled at any one cause. However, the industry has of its own volition in recent years made strenuous efforts to improve its safety record. I have attended at least one seminar at which the safety techniques have been explained. We are, of course, dealing with a human problem and, of all industrial activities, construction is one of the most hazardous. I assure my hon. Friend that I have noted the point he made.
The House might like to make a comparison between the number of fatal accidents in Britain and the number in Sweden. The comparison is relevant in that there have been compulsory arrangements for joint consultation in that country for about 20 years. However, their figures are not directly comparable with ours because the basis used for the collection is different. We have had to convert the Swedish figures to our basis, which are the rates per 100,000 persons at risk.
To deal with the fluctuations in the number of fatalities from year to year, we have calculated average rates for a period of 10 years, from 1959 to 1968. We have chosen this period because no figures are available for Sweden later than 1968. Owing to their techniques, they seem to take a considerable time to get the figures out.
During this period the fatality rates in manufacturing industry were 4.4 in Great Britain and 10 in Sweden. In the construction industry the rates were 20 in this country and 23 in Sweden.
I stress that those figures ought to be treated with due reserve. They suggest one particular thing, and that is that legislation which is confined to the single element of accident prevention will not 879 result in a dramatic reduction in accidents in this country. That was the point brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland). It is a very valuable point, but should not, perhaps, have too much stress placed upon it.
Effective joint consultation is nevertheless the most important element in the control of risks at the place of work. As I have said, I am in no doubt about the need to develop existing arrangements and to stimulate actions where no arrangements have been made. I have, however, reservations about the timing as well as some of the content of the Bill. In every-day life no one would dream of engaging the services of a consultant and then reaching a decision before that consultant's advice had been received. Surely that is precisely what we are doing today.
I cannot resist saying that "Fair Deal at Work" was written whilst the Royal Commission on Trade Unions was sitting, announced by the hon. Gentleman's party to be its policy on industrial relations and implemented without consultation with the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Smith
That was not in the same category as a consultant. It was in drafting prospective legislation. The hon. Gentleman makes a debating point but I should have thought that in this case there is a world of difference, because the consultation to which we are referring is independent. It also has the merit of having been set up by the hon. Gentleman's Government; it was not set up by the present Administration. As the hon. Gentleman rightly anticipated in his speech, and as others have anticipated, I am referring to the Robens Committee on Health and Safety at Work, which was set up about two years ago by the previous Administration. That Committee has taken evidence from a very wide range of organisations, including the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. In the course of its detailed inquiries it has assembled a vast amount of material, a great deal of which is of vital consideration where this Bill is concerned. But owing to the timing of the introduction of the Bill—I make no complaint against the hon. Gentleman for that; he was fortunate enough to win the Ballot and is in some ways a 880 prisoner of the processes of the House—the Robens material is not available to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, nor is it available to hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth asked me when the Committee of Inquiry would report. From the very latest information I have, I understand that part of the Committee's report is already in draft form and is likely to be available in a few months' time. I cannot commit myself to an extact date, but I very much hope it will be sooner rather than later.
§ Mr. Smith
I can certainly give that assurance. Barring death and destruction, I can promise my hon. Friend that it will be published this side of mid-summer.
I have said earlier that it would be in the early summer. The provisional date was June. I hope that we can improve on June. But my hon. Friend will know that it is dangerous to commit oneself because one can always be accused afterwards, if something goes wrong, of not keeping faith. I am well aware of the urgency and my right hon. Friend is doing everything to hurry it along. Indeed, Lord Robens is very conscious of time with this particular report.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
This is a question I would have asked had I been called. Can my hon. Friend give an undertaking that the Government will take urgent action, after the production of the Robens Report, to produce some legislation which could be introduced during the next parliamentary year?
§ Mr. Smith
My hon. Friend has anticipated me. I was coming to that point.
I was saying that we are being asked to legislate in advance of this report. In many ways this is unfair to Lord Robens and his colleagues; not only to them, but also to the many people who have, very constructively and with a great deal of effort, gone to the trouble of providing detailed evidence, including the trade unions, to that particular Committee of Inquiry. The legislation which is likely to follow the Roben Committee report—I assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government will not be dilatory 881 in their consideration of the report—is likely to be some of the most far reaching and important we have had on this subject for a very long time. It is likely to affect the health and safety of every employed person in Britain for years to come. In the face of that, it is difficult to understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite in seeking to by-pass such prospective legislation by going ahead with this Bill now, although I appreciate the sincerity of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook. I know that some hon. Members opposite, particularly the hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the hon. Member for Doncaster, feel that the Government are being inconsistent in presenting the Employment Medical Advisory Service Bill, which we have been debating extensively over the past week or two, because this formed part of the previous Government's Employed Persons Safety Bill, particularly when we are now, at the same time, urging the House to wait for Robens with regard to the second part of that Bill.
As I pointed out during the Second Reading of the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill, that contained two entirely separate pieces of legislation. On the one hand we had the proposals, which the present Government have adopted, to reform the appointed factory doctor service; on the other hand, we had proposals which now appear before us, as we had last year from the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and now from the hon. Member for Sparkbrook, a Bill for conferring certain rights upon trade unions to appoint safety representatives and to seek the establishment of safety committees.
When I introduced the Employment Medical Advisory Service Bill at the end of last year, I went to some length to explain how it was that the Government felt able to bring forward that Measure then when the Committee on Safety and Health was still at work. This was an aspect which caused me some concern, and other hon. Members, and before I and my right hon. Friend came to a decision we felt it right to consult Lord Robens personally, as he is the person primarily responsible for the Committee which is still sitting. As I said on Second Reading, Lord Robens authorised me to say that his committee saw the reform of the appointed factory doctor service as a constructive measure which would not 882 prejudice his committee's recommendations on safety and health. But he was not able to give a similar assurance regarding the Bill before us today.
I think that the hon. Member for Sparkbrook is wrong when he says that his proposals cannot in any way be in conflict with what Lord Roben's Committee may propose. I know no more than the hon. Member does about what that committee is likely to propose. But Lord Robens made clear that the committee would feel a certain amount of embarrassment by legislation preceding its report.
The fact is that while joint consultation and involvement at work are two of the basic elements of accident prevention, they are only part of a complex whole which the Robens Committee was set up to consider and which it has tackled in a very expert and efficient way. It seems unwise to think of legislation in only the one respect, without taking into account the subject as a whole, as has been envisaged by the Committee.
But in the last resort, it is the behaviour of the management and the work people which determines whether everything that can be properly done to prevent accidents is done. The fundamental problem is how their behaviour can be influenced in ways which will ensure acceptable standards of safety. We know that the attitudes of management and workers are influenced by such things as legislation, the common law, training, the efforts of employers' associations and trade unions, the activities of voluntary organisations, and effective measures to secure participation by workers on the shop floor in the day to day details of safe working. We all know that there is scope for better managerial organisation and for developing in those at work a much greater appreciation of the pre-requisites of safe working. There is scope for influencing these people to conform with established systems of work and safety procedures.
I confidently expect that the Robens Committee will make constructive suggestions about the way in which these problems should be tackled. The problem of influencing management and work-people comprises various interconnected elements. It would be wrong to consider one of these elements in isolation.
883 It may indeed transpire that legislation for joint consultation on safety should be promoted. The Government are favourably inclined to the underlying objectives of the Bill, but, as I have stressed, they have considerable reservations about the wisdom of introducing its provisions at this time. However, this is a Private Members' Measure and it is up to the House to decide how to treat it. If hon. Members wish to give the Bill a Second Reading, so be it. I have explained what the Government's position is and why we cannot give our full blessing to the Bill, certainly not at this stage. However, I shall not vote against the Bill, because I favour every effort which is made to improve safety.
I apologise again for the fact that I have spoken at length, but it was important that I should state the Government's point of view and I have been interrupted several times. It is for hon. Members to judge.
Having said that, I appreciate the spirit in which many of the speeches have been made. There has been a genuine and growing desire in recent years to improve safety and health conditions in factories and other working places. This desire is in the traditions of the great humanities, and as time passes we shall be increasingly conscious of this. It is only a question of how this is best achieved. I believe that it can be achieved in a comprehensive form when we get the result of the expert committee of inquiry. No doubt we can have further discussions about all this.
I conclude by again congratulating the hon. Member for Sparkbrook on his initiative and on the extremely able way in which he introduced the Bill.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I will try to follow the good example which has been set by most hon. Members and be brief. I join those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on his choice of Bill and on his manner of presentation.
The Opposition welcome the announcement which has been made, in the form of a Written Answer, relating to the special inquiry into the situation that has arisen at the Rio Tinto Zinc smelter plant at Avonmouth. We shall study the 884 Written Answer with much interest. We hope that, in addition to the special inquiry, there will be a wider inquiry into the general problem and into the broader aspects of the question of environmental pollution in industry, particularly hazards arising from the use of new materials.
I note the Under-Secretary's reference to the considerations of the Robens Committee. The House is anxious to receive Lord Roben's report, but we do not want it to be less than the best job; we want it to be a proper report which has not been botched because of undue haste. It may be that Lord Robens has already recognised the need to consider this aspect of industrial safety. If Lord Robens has not gone into this aspect, in view of the recent newspaper reports, I hope that the Government and Lord Robens will not see it as an impediment to the production of the main report if the Robens Committee continues, possibly in the form of a sub-committee and produces a supplementary report dealing with this area of concern.
The Under-Secretary adopted an odd posture. He began by saying that the Government were not against the Bill, but he made it clear beyond doubt that the Government do not support it. The Under-Secretary tried to have it both ways.
In reply to the Under-Secretary's main defence that the Robens Committee has not yet reported. I am entitled to say that the moment of the establishment of this Committee was when the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill was presented to the House in March, 1970. As a result, the establishment of the employment medical advisory service and of workers' safety representatives and statutory safety committees were outside the terms of reference of the Robens Committee. The political decision was taken at that time that the Robens Committee would consider certain matters. It is no justification for the Under-Secretary to argue that this is a reason for not giving the Bill the support which the Government should give it.
The Under-Secretary also says that we must be fair to the many people who have submitted evidence to the Robens Committee—that we have engaged consultants and we should await their report. Should not Parliament be fair to all those who for many years 885 pressed for this legislation? It is not merely during the last three years during which we have debated this or like measures. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), reminded us, he spoke on an identical Bill 18 years ago. There have been repeated attempts over the years which have stemmed from general public disquiet.
Equally important, we must be fair to those who are being maimed by accident and to those who are being killed in industry.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
We want the most satisfactory and effective Measure on representation and consultation. There is no division about that. How much more sensible it would be to await the report of an independent committee of inquiry which might either confirm what is put forward in the Bill or propose something else which would turn out to be more efficacious.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman is implying that we are rushing matters without adequate consideration and that we should wait. Those who are concerned about these matters and who think that the Bill will make a useful contribution to improving industrial safety have been waiting for years. Much thought has gone into the preparation of these successive Measures. I hope that the House will reject that line of argument deployed by the Under-Secretary.
To some extent the original drafting of the Bill has been overtaken by the Industrial Relations Act. But these are marginal matters that can be dealt with in Committee. The obvious example is the changed definition of a trade union. The Bill will need a simple Amendment to include "other organisations of workers".
That brings me to the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) and to some extent echoed by the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler), which tie in with the point I have just been putting to the Under-Secretary and with his last intervention. It is suggested that we are seeking to break new ground, that the Bill is a pioneering exercise, that we do not have previous experience. The Minister says that we should wait for Lord Robens. Yet if we compare the Bill with the 886 Mines and Quarries Act, 1954 we see that the establishment of safety inspectors in the coal mining industry follows an almost identical legislative pattern. Coal mining is one of our most hazardous industries and its conditions are perhaps more injurious to health than those of any other industry in the country. It has a heavy toll of industrial disease, accidents and fatalities, even today. But the situation is vastly improved compared with the appalling toll in the industry not many decades ago. It is my view and that of many of my hon. Friends who have direct experience of coal mining, and of coal mining officials to whom I have talked, that one of the most significant contributions to the dramatic improvement in the industry was the establishment of the safety inspectors under the Mines and Quarries Act.
On Second Reading of the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill on 2nd March, 1970, when dealing with precisely this point, I quoted Section 123(1)(a) of the Mines and Quarries Act, which provides foran association or body representative of a majority of the total number of persons employed at the mine or quarryto be the body responsible for appointing the safety inspector. Section 123(1)(b) says that the appointment may be made:In any other case, jointly by associations or bodies which are together representative of such a majority.That is clearly analogous to the appointment by trade unions.
§ Mr. Holland
Will the hon. Gentleman also note two interventions immediately before that quotation from his speech, one by me and the other by the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer)? There are two distinct differences between what is proposed in that Act and what is proposed in the Bill, and those two interventions bring out the differences.
§ Mr. Walker
The passage from my speech to which I was referring was the reply to the interventions to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.
It is clear that the two major objections, both from backbenchers and the Government Front Bench, do not stand up to the test of this historical background of the existing legislation or experience in other industries. I will not 887 rely on the experience of other countries, although I could call it in aid. Nor does the Minister's argument about the relationship of what we propose to the work of the Robens Committee stand up to the facts of the situation.
I pledge to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook the Opposition's full support on the Bill. We are solidly behind him. The Bill is becoming an annual ritual. The hon. Member for Carlton seemed to think that its most useful function was to provide us with a debate on industrial safety every year. I am glad that we have a debate every year, and I hope that we shall continue to debate industrial health and safety at least once a year. But I hope that this will be the last occasion on which we shall need the Bill to provide a justification for such a debate. I hope that next year we shall be talking about the Act and not the Bill, and that this afternoon we have finally set the Bill on its way to the Statute Book.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on winning his place in the Ballot. But he has disappointed me slightly in producing the Bill unamended from its previous editions, as far as I can see. In his usual suave manner—combined with an ecumenical manner this morning—he tried to persuade us that the Bill is an all-party Measure to which no one could take objection. But then—and this is what pulls the carpet from underneath the feet of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker), who spoke about the debate as a ritual—we come to the fact that the Bill has been unaltered. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook presented it again, warts and all, just as it was before. Again and again we on this side have complained that the Bill seems to discriminate against the non-trade unionist, because where there is no recognised trade union there is no way for the workers to appoint safety representatives. Nothing has been done about that.
The hon. Member for Doncaster has bagged the bound copy of HANSARD, and I could not find another in which to read my own speech on the previous Second Reading. But I recall that I have 888 been making this complaint over the same number of years as we have all been going through this gavotte or ritual, and it is becoming rather boring for us all.
§ Mr. Holland
There is one slight change in the Bill before us. It is even more restrictive than the previous Bills in view of our new legal definition of "trade union".
§ Mr. Page
I had not proposed to vote against the Bill, but under the leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton I should not feel disinclined to "have a go" unless the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook gives an undertaking that he will propose an Amendment giving non-unionists the same rights as members of a registered trade union. That could be done by some form of election. It should not be difficult. When my hon. Friend was speaking I watched the hon. Gentleman's face with the care of a poker player and I thought I discerned a bit of a nod as if he would be inclined to take that step, which would make the Bill much more sensible.
Last Friday hon. Members opposite were shouting about discrimination against women; they shout about discrimination against coloured people; they shout about discrimination on religious grounds. But there seems to be no shout of indignation today about this brutal example of discrimination against people who do not happen to be members of a recognised trade union.
§ Mr. Hattersley
If the hon. Gentleman feels terribly concerned about this point, I give him the assurance that, while I do not doubt at all that where there is a recognised trade union it is the appropriate body to make nominations, I agree that there are problems about conditions where trade unions are not as powerful as I would like them to be. The problems of the Bill amount 889 to questions of definition rather than politics but they have been complicated by the Industrial Relations Act, which produced also but not quite insuperable difficulties for amateur parliamentary draftsmen. If we get the Bill into Standing Committee, we shall do our best to meet the point put by the hon. Gentleman. As I say, as the problems are drafting rather than political, we will try to meet the argument about the interest of companies where unions are not as well represented as I should like them to be, on the understanding that where unions are well represented they should be the nominating power and that the first right should go to them in normal circumstances.
§ Mr. Page
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is a great step in the right direction. I do not disagree with him about it except where he says that the Bill has been drafted by a parliamentary amateur. He has, however, been most helpful.
A second point to be considered is the objection about ships tied up alongside. This aspect would have to be looked at very carefully in Committee. Let us take the example of a coastal vessel. The dockers responsible for unloading it, even if they did not actually have to board the ship, would have the privilege of appointing all safety representatives and the safety committee. This could mean that every time the ship arrived at any port, providing it had not tied up alongside at that port within the previous three months, the safety committee could investigate it from bow to stern—which is as far as I can go on ships—or perhaps it should be from bilges to funnel.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Surely the correct over-all description for a vessel is "from truck to keel".
§ Mr. Page
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will try to remember that description for future debates. This is a serious but detailed point. It certainly seems sensible that ships tied alongside should be treated differently from industrial establishments. I think there could be an amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act. The question of the investigation and inspection of ships by a dockers' committee and of the rights of the master in such cases would be more appro- 890 priate to the Merchant Shipping Act than to this Bill.
§ Mr. Cormack
This point could be met if the vessel were given the equivalent of an M.O.T. certificate quarterly rather than annually.
§ Mr. Page
My hon. Friend has perhaps suggested another way out. Another difficulty concerns the definition of a ship tied up alongside. Would it apply to the Post Office cable-laying vessels, which have a different status under the Merchant Shipping Act?
§ Mr. Bray
Another issue in considering the position of shipping is the use of lighters. It may be old hat to discuss them in these days of container ships, but lighters are what one might call the "middlemen" between a ship and the ultimate destination of the cargo. They are relatively small boats. Are they catered for in the Merchant Shipping Act? If not, I should like some provision to cover them.
§ Mr. Page
I was raising a personal mare's nest. I did not know that so many stallions were about to take an interest in it. My hon. Friend has raised another point which must be considered. Indeed, it is obvious that the whole question of sea-going vessels must be closely examined in relation to the Bill. If they were excluded from its provisions, it would be a much simpler document.
My final objection is that the Bill is being presented before we receive the Robens Report. The hon. Member for Doncaster suggested that the Robens Committee may not have investigated the environmental and other new aspects of new techniques as deeply as it might. He sensibly suggested that in that case it might present a further report on these aspects. I can reassure him on this point. The scope of the Robens Committee specifically includes these aspects. The terms of reference say:… and to consider whether any further steps are required to safeguard members of the public from hazards other than general environmental pollution arising in connection with activities of industrial and commercial premises and construction sites;Those terms of reference were wisely chosen. I know from an indirect source that members of the Committee are taking particular care in looking at the 891 possibilities of environmental pollution and also at the hazards to which work-people are now subject because of new chemicals and new techniques.
The figures indicate that there is more consciousness about the ordinary handling of safety measures in factories, and we are all glad to see a reduction—not a dramatic reduction but nevertheless a reduction—in the number of fatalities and accidents generally. But I do not believe that the country, industry as a whole and this House in particular have begun to realise the long-term dangers which may accompany new industrial processes. The tragedy of such dangers is that the results may appear physically in such workers years after they have stopped using such a process or even when they have retired from work altogether.
In December, 1971, the Sunday Times carried an article about the dangers to the respiratory system of isocyanates, discovered following illnesses which had affected firemen at separate fires in plastic foam factories. This was found coincidentally, and I will later suggest a way over this. There are many new processes and chemicals, not only in the asbestos and coal-mining industry but in the footwear industry, the net-making industry, jewellery and others, the long-term effect of which are as yet unpredicitable.
I draw the attention of the House to a most interesting and important piece of information published in Environmental Health in November, 1971, called "The Workers' Environment" written by Dr. R. Murray, medical adviser to the T.U.C. This was an extraordinarily useful article discussing the controls which should be built in to new industrial processes so that hazards may be recognised. It should be studied by as many people as possible.
Dr. Murray suggests among such control measures the substitution where possible of harmless or less dangerous materials or processes. We all know in our industrial lives of such processes. There should be an examination of them. Where a dangerous material has to be used, the processes involved should be isolated. Dr. Murray suggests that where possible there should be mechanical handling of dangerous materials, that the methods of exhaust ventilation should be 892 improved, and that where dusty materials have to be used, they should be used as a slurry, thus avoiding the breathing-in of the dust. He concludesAs President of the Society of Occupational Medicine, Past President of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, Member of Council of the Ergonomics Research Society and Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Industrial Safety Officers I have to believe that this is right and proper, but I sometimes wonder … whether we should not have some common forum to reflect our common interest in the environment as a whole".I would particularly ask the Under-Secretary to consider this afternoon that in the same way as there is a Medicines Commission dealing with pharmaceuticals following on the Dunlop Committee, there should be an industrial processes board or an industrial environment board with a high-level membership whose duty it would be to inspect and evaluate new industrial materials and processes to see whether hazards in their use, which may be long term, could be avoided.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
The House will not be surprised if I share the feeling expressed by some of my hon. Friends that I have been here before. This is the third Second Reading speech I have made on this proposal and at a rough estimate the 103rd speech I have made on the subject. I begin by welcoming my hon. Friend to the select company of movers of Bills on this matter. I hope that on this occasion we might celebrate by instituting a club as the Measure reaches the Statute Book. It has indeed become a "Select Vestries Bill". Yet I hope that no one will take it unkindly if I say that I have not heard a single argument today which has not been ventilated on other occasions. The point raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) evokes considerable sympathy, and I hope that when the Bill reaches Committee we will have the collective wisdom of all Members to deal with that kind of problem.
But it does not make any easier the reflections of some of us on the history of this campaign which one day will form the subject matter of a Ph.D thesis. In 1927, factory accidents had risen to the alarming figure of 156,000 and it was felt that this was so intolerable that something must be done about it without delay. That figure is about half the 893 current figure. In 1927 the Government were impelled to propose that there should be draft Measures laid before the House to ensure that in certain selected industries the kind of proposals contained in my hon. Friend's Bill should become effective law.
Representations were made to the Government, and they said that in consequence they would give the voluntary system one more chance. In 1954 Mr. Paling, the then hon. Member for Dewsbury, introduced his Bill, which was narrowly defeated. In 1966 I ventured to introduce a Bill on the subject, which was not debated but which did not seem to evoke very much opposition among those with whom I discussed it. In 1970 we thought that at last we had made it. The Government introduced a Bill on the subject, which was passed by this House on Second Reading without a Division. Unhappily, when the House was dissolved it fell. In 1971 my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) introduced his Bill which, after an initial set-back, was actually considered in Committee and emerged from Committee but, owing to the unhappy vicissitudes of the Parliamentary timetable, still did not reach the Statute Book.
It is right that I should pay two tributes today to men who have been very intimately concerned with the whole history of this process. The first is Mr. John Williams who has over the years devoted his considerable powers of advocacy to steering this proposal towards what we now hope will be the haven of the Statute Book. The second is Mr. Geoffrey Clarke. It is a sad reflection on the story that, tragically, Mr. Clarke has not lived to see this Measure emerge. This is a lesson, not so much on the question of industrial safety as on the vicissitudes of parliamentary life.
The problem has not been making out a case. With the posible reservations of the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland)—and we respect his views because he has given a great deal of thought to these matters—we have not heard a voice raised in opposition to the basic principle of the Bill. It is now suggested that we ought to wait for Robens. I ought to say that I have a least as much interest in the declarations of the Robens Committee as anyone, and I should hate it to be thought 894 that we were in any way being unfair to anyone who has given evidence to that Committee, because I am one of those who did so. I pay tribute to the care with which the Committee has examined these matters. There is no doubt that its conclusions will be a great contribution to the task ahead.
As the hon. Member for Carlton said, then of course we would all look for what he called comprehensive and effective legislation. No one has suggested, least of all my hon. Friend, that his Bill is the last word on the subject and the complete answer to all our problems. No doubt then we shall look for the comprehensive legislation which we have been looking for since 1967. In 1967 a consultative document was circulated on the revision of the Factories Act, but that was four years ago. I was very pleased to hear what the Under-Secretary of State had to say about the speed with which legislation will follow the Robens Report, but one wonders whether it may be subject to further consultative processes and consultative documents and whether it may be subject to the vicissitudes of parliamentary life.
Meantime, nearly 1 million people are being injured in industry every year, and this is happening to human bodies. Every year, something like 300,000 people are being injured in the factories to which my hon. Friend's Bill applies, and all this 45 years after such a measure was first proposed in this House, 18 years after the first Private Member's Bill seeking to deal with the matter, and five years after the answer by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), and referred to by my hon. Friend this morning, to a Question of mine, when she said it really would become intolerable if the voluntary system did not produce better results very quickly.
It is true, of course, that meanwhile a great deal of good work has been done by organisations interested in this subject. Ro.S.P.A. and the British Safety Council, in its excellent publications, have done a great deal of work, with the results which have been mentioned today by the Under-Secretary of State. Meantime, people have been learning more about this subject each year. But there is evidence of accidents due to lack of 895 simple concern among someone at the workplace to reduce industrial accidents of the sort which have been referred to today. The National Institute of Industrial Psychology, in its shop floor study entitled "2,000 Accidents", indicates that. I am grateful for the Under-Secretary of State's answer earlier this week that we could soon expect the Advisory Committee's report on its proposals, since the Institute tells us of things which underline the need for my hon. Friend's Bill. It reports, for example:Over two-thirds of the injuries we observed were cuts on sharp edges. Most of these edges were on material or components but even parcels injured people. It struck us as absurd that a parcel, which is something wrapped for safe and convenient handling in transit, should have cutting edges. Yet in the dispatch department, there were over 150 injuries of this type.The Institute further found that a guard, which is designed for safety, had a razor edge on it.
We do not require any further evidence of the need for this Bill. We do not require further information. If this Bill fails to reach the Statute Book on this occasion there may be many people in the country who will feel that the parliamentary timetable is concerned less with the needs of human flesh and human bones than with esoteric political considerations. And the employees will not forgive us, the victims will not forgive us, and history will not forgive us.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
I have listened to this debate with great interest. I must confess that when I first read this Bill I decided that whatever happened I would not be inclined to vote for it. Indeed, I have been in two minds whether or not to vote against it. I bear in mind that the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer), the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) have been dedicated to the concept of improving industrial safety and safety in our factories. I also bear in mind what the hon. and learned Member just said, that no one has spoken against the concept of taking measures to improve safety in our factories—and I should not like it to be thought that because I came into 896 this Chamber in two minds, I was against taking whatever steps are necessary for improving safety in our factories and our industries.
However, what I find difficult is whether we should jump into the deep end now without having taken adequate advice, and on a Measure which half deals with the issue, or whether we should go in now ill-prepared, before the Robens report, and hope that we can amend things later. I sense that the House today will not have the courage to refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading. I certainly am in no mood now, I can assure hon. Members opposite, to vote against this Bill. The hon. Member for Sparkbrook will have various lines which he can take if the Bill has a Second Reading, because it may not do any harm to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State if there is a Committee stage on this Bill. If the Bill were to go through, perhaps for implementation in two years' time, it could then be followed by the legislation which has been promised.
This whole question of safety within the factory has been a matter of concern to progressive management. There are safety officers in most companies, and I will deal with some aspects of them. The most important consideration is that representatives from the shop floor should take part in the work of the safety officer because the person on the shop floor is well aware of dangers there, which may not be so obvious to those in management.
What I find a little difficult to assess is the statutory obligation. My advice is that there is no statutory obligation at this time to appoint safety officers; that there is no statutory obligation to appoint a safety committee; and that it has been dependent on voluntary endeavour by progressive managements to ensure that such safety arrangements exist.
The hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the casual approach to safety on the shop floor. I find his own experiences not unlike mine. When I was doing my apprenticeship, particularly in the melting shop attached to a foundry, those who had worked there for years would not move aside when a ladle of hot metal carried by a crane passed over their heads. This is probably the practice in many foundries today. Those brought 897 up in the foundry assume from experienc that a ladle will not spill—familiarity breeds contempt—but that experience has not been shared by me. At any time—then and now—there is a ladle of hot steel overhead, I made sure I was not and am not underneath, but at a reasonable distance away.
When I was involved in management, goggles were supposed to be used by those working on such dangerous processes as fettling or grinding, but goggles could steam us or become dirty, and they frequently did. Enforcement of the use of goggles to avoid eye accidents has always been a problem for safety officers, superiors and foremen in many factories.
Again, at some factories there is resistance to the use of safety helmets. There are people who find that even plastic helmets are heavy and uncomfortable to wear and who are tempted not to use them. These are all problems which have to be faced—how to enforce and stick to reasonable safety measures.
Questions have been asked about the Code of Practice. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) mentioned paragraph 49 of the Code which states:Management and employee representatives should take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees use protective equipment, for example, guards, safety helmets, goggles and ear defenders, observe the standards laid down by law and co-operate in agreed safety measures;Was he not unnecessarily niggling to imply that these words do not require management to provide the equipment? The very words in the Code of Practice imply persuading people to use the equipment, and that means supplying the equipment to be used. I should have thought there is in the Code the intent that management should apply the equipment which should be so used. I very much hope that we shall not disagree about this.
I have the impression that, perhaps, in our modern age, in our Welfare State, with the paternalism of our society and the extra care which modern and enthusiastic managements give to these matters, it could be that the new employee is looked after too well and that he has lost some of that sense of self-preservation which his forebears had to exercise if they were to survive in many 898 of the tasks they had to perform. This is particularly true in the pits.
I welcome what has been said about the Robens Committee. Until today, I have found it difficult to ascertain what has been happening. A year ago, Lord Drumalbyn made a statement in the other place dealing with the establishment of joint safety committees. He said:The second part dealt with the establishment of joint safety committees. This is a more contentious matter. As the noble Lord will recall, there was no agreement in the Advisory Committee on this and the present Secretary of State is not satisfied that compulsion is the right way to develop more effective joint consultation on safety."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 28th October, 1970; Vol. 312, c. 138.]It is a little late to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to comment on that. However, I wish to take up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) with reference to new processes and toxic substances. I have had brought to my attention an article entitled "Danger to Men at Work", in World Medicine for 10th November last year, dealing with the danger of asbestosis and other hazards caused by dusty substances. At one point, this is said:During the period covered by the report the medical inspectorate has continued to work through an advisory panel on asbestos-induced diseases.In the same connection, I note what is said in a Press release dated 21st December last, from the Department of Employment, about a medical survey of asbestos workers.
I shall not discuss the smelter at Avonmouth, though I wish to return to the point which I raised in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren). I asked whether he knew whether there was a safety officer and a safety committee there. I imagine that there must have been, in a factory established by one of our most up-to-date companies, and I very much hope that the inquiry will underline the importance of the work of both a safety officer and a safety committee.
Many years ago, I found that when X-ray examinations were made of workers in the fettling shop of a steel foundry with which I was connected, to check them for silicosis, for example, or other 899 damage to the lung, it was better that many of the employees were not told the results of the X-ray examination, since it could cause anxiety and apprehension. Surely, the same could well be true with blood tests. Unless backed up by medical knowledge and experience, a little knowledge in certain quarters could cause more apprehension than was actually justified. I hope that the inquiry will turn its mind to that aspect of the matter, too.
I wish now to tell the House an anecdote about lead poisoning so far as it affected me—and might still affect me today. When I had a new house built about 12 years ago, I found that I had chosen for the kitchen garden site the dump of an old lead mine in the Peak District of Derbyshire. There are in Derbyshire a number of diseases associated with the indigenous lead, including certain types of sclerosis and goitre, or Derbyshire neck.
Medical researchers looking into the matter, having discovered that my kitchen garden had been put on the waste dump from the lead mine, duly examined the lead content of the soil and of the vegetables I was growing and took blood-lead counts of my family and myself and those who were eating my vegetables. Because I spent some period in London when the House was sitting, it will be realised that I had least occasion to eat my own vegetables, and it may be thought that I should, therefore, be the one in the family with the lowest blood-lead count. In fact, I had the highest count. This was checked and found to be correct. The assumption is that the water in the Palace of Westminster or the other establishments at which I live in London has a high lead content because of lead piping or that the pollution from the high density of vehicles in London could be a cause of far more concern than the lead which might be taken up from the excessive lead content of the soil in my kitchen garden.
To turn to another subject, I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State about certain coroners' verdicts and the question of the availability of poisonous substances, particularly cyanide, in the Sheffield area. Over the years, in the cutlery industry, and in heat treatment processes, the use of cyanide in various forms has 900 been commonplace. I believe that the old-style worker was well aware of the danger of this and similar materials and the caution with which they should be treated.
The Sheffield coroner, Dr. Pilling wrote to me in January this year, following one more case, enclosing copies of inquisitions returned in each case, together with summaries of the relevant backgrounds. He says:In the first place, this was an unusually Large number for one year in my jurisdiction. Second, the availability of individual poisons varies from one district to another. Cyanide is more readily obtainable in Sheffield than in most places and is not, therefore, a national problem. On the other hand, I understand that industrial solvents, such as carbon tetrachloride, present similar problems elsewhere, and that paraquat is a not uncommon cause of death in agricultural areas.He adds that he realises that there are difficulties in controlling substances which are used in enormous quantities, but he is informed that such difficulties are not insuperable.
The coroner gave me an account of the four verdicts on people who had died after taking away cyanide, for one reason or another, from their place of work, and he suggested—I know that my hon. Friend has raised this with the Home Secretary—that it should be an offence for certain people to have unauthorised possession of toxic substances so as to discourage them from taking such material away from their place of work.
I have been in touch with the British Safety Council and RoSPA, and I have had a lengthy reply also from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I think it right to mention these matters in the context of the Bill before us. In his letter, my hon. Friend said:The Factory Inspectorate give advice to factory occupiers about storage of toxic substances such as cyanide. Users are normally advised to keep the stock of cyanide under lock and key, to ensure that process workers wear protective clothing and make use of washing facilities. A copy of the cautionary notice which, in general, is displayed in every factory with a cyanide hazard is enclosed.I have here the cautionary notice, and I see precaution No. 6:Cyanide must be stored in a place accessible only to authorised persons".Incidentally, this is Notice No. S.H.W.385.
My hon. Friend said that this matter was being looked into by the committee under Lord Robens. It is appropriate 901 that, when considering industrial safety, we should bear in mind the danger of toxic materials used in industrial processes. I have well in mind the point made by many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West, about the need to be careful with new materials and processes using new materials until we know very much more about them.
I readily acknowledge that there is now a far greater need for both management and shop floor to pay careful attention to safety precautions in our factories. Even so, I suggest that it can fairly be said that this country is more safety conscious and more desirous of not causing illness or injury at the place of work than is almost any other country in the world. But this still does not prevent the need to use any device possible to put this country in the van in this area demanding humanitarian considerations.
I am certain that a Bill of this type is useful and desirable. However, I urge that its implementation should wait until we have considered the Robens Report, though I agree that legislation of this nature reaching the Statute Book to become operative in two or three years might not do any harm, since there would be thereby the value of an intensive Committee stage. For that reason, although I cannot support the Bill, certainly I shall not vote against it.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
This debate has been about means rather than about ends. I do not think that any hon. Member has doubted the importance of the objectives of the Bill's sponsors. I say at once that I shall vote for the Bill if them is a Division, though I am a little alarmed to see that the benches opposite are so empty, since I do not want to find myself in a minority.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on introducing his Bill, even though he is not present at the moment. The hon. Gentleman did so with a great deal of moderation. I have only one point that I should like to put to him. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) can answer for his hon. Friend. How- 902 ever, if the Robens Report were to be published within the next month or two and the Government gave a firm undertaking to introduce comprehensive legislation quickly, would not it be a good idea to withdraw this Bill? I should like to think that the hon. Member for Sparkbrook had an open mind about that.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
Obviously I cannot answer on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley), but I shall draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's point before the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think that it is an important point.
Unfortunately, I was unable to take part in last year's debate. On that occasion, I had an Adjournment debate at 4.14 in the morning and an important constituency engagement in the afternoon. For that reason, I did not have a chance to be present. I wanted to take part because a Bill of this sort promoted by a private Member frequently helps to spur on the Government. In the case of this Bill, I hope that it will spur on the Robens Committee to produce its report fairly soon.
I have a personal interest in these matters. I come from the fishing town of Grimsby, and I represent a constituency which has many miners in it. There are no more hazardous occupations than fishing and mining, and I have always been very conscious of the enormous importance of industrial safety.
It is right at this stage that I should pay tribute to those engaged in the mining industry. In the face of tremendous difficulties and great odds, they have a safety record of which they can be proud.
Before coming to this House, I attempted to teach. For a brief period, I was also a training officer. In that capacity, I was partly responsible for mounting various training courses with safety as their theme. Of all the courses that we put on, none were more important and valuable than those concerned with safety.
Having been elected to this House, I found myself sharing a room with the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins), whose speech I listened to with 903 great interest. In view of the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of and enthusiasm for the subject of industrial safety, I could not help but be bitten by the same bug. Only a few months ago, the hon. Gentleman brought to the House an American, Mr. Frank Bird, who is probably the world's greatest expert on the subject, and he was able to talk to hon. Members and to make us realise the tremendous strides that we have taken. He also gave us to understand clearly that there are others that we still have to take.
When one goes round factories, as all hon. Members do regularly, one is impressed by the sincerity of managers, supervisors and shop stewards and by their determination to improve matters. But there are too many accidents. I do not wish to detain the House by quoting all the figures, but it so happens that I have before me a copy of RoSPA's annual report for 1970–71 which breaks down industrial injuries in diagrammatic form and points out that there were 12,000 injuries to the eye and 82,000 to the trunk in that year alone. That in itself is a damning indictment of the system.
I do not think that this Bill in itself will cut down the number of accidents. But any Bill which has as its object the cutting-down of them and any Bill which reduces the loss of life by one is worth supporting.
We are here dealing with that inherent carelessness or indifference to danger which is common to us all. How often does one see a housewife standing cooking lunch or dinner in a kitchen with a saucepan perched precariously and a small child playing round her? How often when I was a schoolmaster did I see boys sliding on ice, knowing that the consequences of a fall could be considerable injury?
A number of my hon. Friends have pointed out that in industry one can provide goggles and protective clothing, but that so often the people for whom they are provided prefer not to wear them. So often, too, posters drawing their attention to these matters are used for internal graffiti, which, of course, is not their prime purpose. Then again, when workers leave a factory, so often they do not bother to fasten their seatbelts. We are dealing with this basic, interent indiffer- 904 ence to danger. That is why the Bill is so important. It is seeking to tackle the problem at the right level. It is seeking to enlist the active participation of workers on the shop floor on a statutory basis. I, for one, should not want to see it withdrawn unless any new Bill contained similar provisions.
We are trying to inculcate an attitude of mind into waorkers. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) speaking about sharing responsibilities and giving information to workers on as many points as possible. This must include industrial safety.
Inevitably, the Bill is only a part Measure. It leaves out a great deal. I was reassured by the very helpful intervention of the hon. Member for Spark-brook in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) when the hon. Gentleman said that he would see how he could bring in a provision in Committee to cover nonunion labour.
There are many other activities which are not touched upon by the Bill. Any hon. Member who has a sizeable agricultural element in his constituency, as I have, is conscious of agricultural accidents. They are not within the province of the Bill. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who is himself a farmer, feels that there must be even stronger legislation in this regard. We all know, for example, what has been the effect of introducing tractor cabs and how they have cut down agricultural injuries.
I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook to raise a point about factory ships. Some of my hon. Friends who are less well versed in nautical matters thought that I was joking. I have sailed with the fishing fleet, and I know of the move towards the development of the giant freezer trawler, the factory ship. One realises that any legislation which does not include that eventually is defective. It is important that that point should be made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Bray), in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made an important point about safety courses. We know that the Government have rightly taken a serious view 905 of industrial training and are doing what they can to increase facilities and opportunities. I sincerly hope that the Under-Secretary will take to heart my hon. Friend's intervention and will do all that he can to make sure that safety courses are compulsory ingredients of all training schemes and that such grants and subsidies as may be available are not paid unless safety courses play a part in those schemes.
We should also recognise another possible defect in the Bill about which the House should pause to think. The Bill must be accepted in the right spirit. It is difficult to think of Amendments which might cover the point, but I should like particular attention to be paid to the fact that management must not regard the Bill lightly and must not resent it. Equally, workers must not regard it frivolously and they must not use imagined hazards to bolster up other legitimate grievances which they might have.
One of my hon. Friends privately mentioned to me earlier that we do not want the situation where, as a result of the Bill, factories can be needlessly brought to a halt and industry disrupted. We should be aware of that matter. I am not suggesting that it is in any way a reason for opposing the Bill—I repeat, I support the Bill—but we should consider these matters.
Time is creeping on. Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Spark-brook on introducing the Bill. I should like to express my appreciation for the fact that he has made it evident that all kinds of Amendments will be sympathetically considered.
I hope that the Bill will be overtaken by events. I hope that Lord Robens will report shortly and that his report will be comprehensive, will cover all the points which have been mentioned, and many others. I trust that when Lord Robens reports, the Government will not leave us in suspense too long, but that my right hon. Friend will quickly announce that he will accept the principal recommendations and will introduce comprehensive legislation. We can then perhaps have a real code of industrial safety which will make this country the envy of the world.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bray (Rossendale)
Last year I was pleased to participate in the debate on a similar Bill. I admit that after the debate today my thoughts on the subject have mellowed quite a lot. I voted against the Bill last year, but I shall not do so this year. Perhaps that is age getting the better of youth, which I had many years ago.
I still maintain my objections to the Bill in certain respects. Although the Bill is paved with good intentions, it is not paved with proposals which will ensure that safety is implemented. For that reason, I should like to see the Bill deferred until we have the report which has been mentioned so often today.
Let us consider, for example, those who are to be on safety committees. No standard of training is laid down for them. People who have been in an industry for a certain time with their eyes open, or with their eyes shut, will be eligible for membership of safety committees. There is no yardstick by which their competence can be measured.
By the same token, the safety committees hold no responsibility for their decisions. For example, if they approve a certain machine or process and the next day or the next week that machine or process blows up and people are seriously injured, they have no responsibility. But had it been, for example, a safety officer who passed that machine or process, I think it is fair to say that all hell would be let loose because it would have been passed by the management. That does not apply to the safety committees because they have no responsibility.
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) referred to safety inspectors being appointed under a previous Act. I was hoping that he would tell me the qualifications of the safety inspectors who were appointed at the various mines or factories, but he did not do so. Was it because they were skilled, qualified people who were trained for safety or had most knowledge of safety among their number? Or was it because there is a defect in the Bill which the hon. Gentleman did not want to highlight? That was the point which occurred to me.
907 I was glad that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that the Bill was not peculiar to trade unionists and that others would also be covered by the Bill should it become law, but my strong feeling is that the Bill should be deferred until such time as the Robens Report is to hand, when we can look at the whole issue more dispassionately and get a broader view of safety in all its aspects.
§ Mr. Cormack
We cannot defer the Bill this afternoon. We must get on with the job. We may be able to take other action if the Government introduce a Bill of their own dealing with safety, but we must not plead for deferment this afternoon.
§ Mr. Bray
I shall mellow to my hon. Friend's reasoning. The main defect is that the Bill does only part of the job. Let us hope that when the Robens Report is available another Bill will come before the House which overtakes this one.
An enormous amount has been done in the interests of safety, and an enormous amount is being done. The figures given by my hon. Friend showed the reduction in accidents over the last three years. They showed that the figures were 10 per cent. down on last year, and that last year was 15 per cent. down on previous years. That is a step in the right direction.
I agree with those who have said that the Bill does not go far enough. Many firms, particularly in the construction industry, are bending over backwards—if they can do that with safety—to make sure that the number of accidents is greatly reduced. I have in mind one firm, which is part of a group, which had an appalling accident record. It then went to town to put the matter right. It got a first-class safety officer, an ex-trade union man, who was pleased to join the firm because of the advancement opportunities available to him. The firm now has an excellent record, and that is true of the group throughout the country. Just before the recess I was pleased to sponsor a dinner at the House on behalf of the firm, at which awards were presented to the branches and departments which had won them by virtue of their outstanding safety records.
908 There must be co-operation on both sides of industry. It is no good legislating for committees here and there. The people at the top must be keen on safety, just as there must be co-operation by the people on the shop floor or on the contract.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the Bill, but I sincerely wish that it had the strength to implement the intentions written into it.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Grylls (Chertsey)
This has been a valuable debate and I should like to add my congratulations to those which have been offered to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The hon. Gentleman spoke with compassion and humanity and, perhaps above all, with great common sense about how this difficult and important problem could best be dealt with.
In modern Britain there must be few constituencies which do not have some form of industry. The issue of safety is, therefore, important to us all and it is a worthy ambition for any hon. Member to want to improve the lot and safety of his constituents who work in industry. My constituency of Chertsey is no exception. We have, perhaps, a surprising amount of light industry spread around many of our towns, and I want to ensure that no effort is spared to try to improve safety. However imperfect some people may think the Bill—any Bill can be criticised for not going far enough—it is an important step in the right direction and for that reason we welcome it warmly.
It is surprising that a country as highly industrialised as Britain should have no such legislation. It is a criticism of Governments of all parties, going back many years, that nothing has yet been done. It is not unfair to say that the Labour Government can equally be criticised for leaving it to the end of their six years before they did anything about it. However, it looks as though something may happen now. It may also be said that the timing of the Bill is wrong. Critics of any Measure always say this. But for an attempt to improve safety in industry the timing can never be soon enough.
However, it would be ludicrous and a little discourteous to the Robens Committee if we were to legislate quickly before its Report came out. It has done 909 a tremendous amount of research and has seen more than 300 individual items of evidence from about 150 different organisations. It has visited many independent industries here and in Europe and has also been to the United States.
The Committee is bound to recommend a thorough-going and comprehensive review of all the present legislation—like the Explosives Act, the 1928 Petroleum (Amendment) Act, the Nuclear Installations Act, the Radioactive Substances Act and so on. This hideous tangle of odd and conflicting legislation should be brought up to date and put into one reform. This will take a great deal of time, and we should be unwise to hurry anything until we have the benefit of the great work done by Lord Robens.
Second, it is vital that there should be co-ordination of all the Government's efforts in regard to safety. Responsibities at the moment are spread among so many different Departments that until today I was never sure who was responsible for what. We now know that the responsibility here is that of the Department of Employment, but other legislation comes under other Departments.
Once the Government have received the recommendations of the Robens Committee, I am sure that they will want to carry out, as swiftly as possible, the tidying up operation which is so badly needed. In years ahead, when we look back on this debate, I am sure that it will be said that the hon. Member for Sparkbrook has made perhaps a final contribution in raising this at the very right moment.
In the post-Robens era, which will not be long now, the Government can contribute the adjustments to the legislation which I have mentioned. We shall then want to consider the very modest fines which are at present levied on people, factories, or industries who commit offences or do not come up to the safety standards which we should like to see. Fines of between £60 and £300 for a factory are ludicrous.
§ Mr. Cormack
Would my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State for Employment might take the marvellous example given by the Secretary of State for the Environment in terms of the splendid penalties the latter has introduced for pollution offences?
§ Mr. Grylls
I am not sure that I would describe any penalty as "splendid", but certainly the penalties in this sphere should be brought up to date and made harsher because we are dealing with a matter of absolute life and death.
If we are to have the sort of reform about which we have been speaking today, many people will need to be trained in the right way, for it would be worse than useless to have a lot of union safety representatives floating around factories unless they are properly trained, and that means tackling the training problem with vigour. There is a great deal of extra scope for work in this direction.
§ Mr. Holland
Is it not all the more important that the Bill should contain a provision designed to ensure that any representatives who are appointed must be trained or must undergo a course of safety training?
§ Mr. Grylls
I agree, and when one is talking about the need for more training it is logical to go on to insist that any safety representatives should be fully trained for their job. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Sparkbrook nodding in agreement. There seems to be unanimity of view on this aspect. The Institute of Industrial Safety Officers has made a big conribution in the direction of training. I hope the Minister will consider giving an additional research grant to this Institute to help it carry out more work and see that the right type of training is given.
Throughout this debate there has been much community of view, despite the rather sparsely populated Friday House of Commons. This has been a valuable discussion and, certainly from my point of view, extremely interesting. Almost unanimity of thought has been demonstrated. Now we must get on with the job. The general feeling in the House is that this matter has been left for too long and that the sooner we deal with it the better. I give the Bill my enthusiastic support.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I, too, add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on his initiative on introducing the Bill. I also pay tribute 911 to the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) for the part he has played with previous Measures on this subject.
I support the Bill, with the one proviso mentioned by hon. Members on both sides, namely, whether this is the right time to introduce a Measure of this nature. The Robens Committee is expected to report before the Summer Recess and we do not want to jump the gun. I welcome the Minister's comment that he will neither support nor oppose the Bill because I, too, feel in two minds about whether the Measure should be allowed to go ahead.
Whether or not the Bill achieves a Second Reading today, there are certain omissions from it which need attention, and I gather that the hon. Member for Sparkbrook is willing to have the Measure altered in Committee to take account of at least some of them.
I have particularly in mind the omission to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) referred, namely, that there is gross discrimination in the Bill against those who are not members of trade unions. I accept the explanation of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook that it is not on political grounds that the Bill is drafted in this way but rather because of difficulties involved in connection with the new Industrial Relations Act.
If I am lucky to be a Member of the Committee which examines the Bill, I shall move Amendments to rectify what I regard as a very serious omission. This was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack). It is that the Bill contains no provision for the protection of agricultural workers. They have a very strong union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers. One of the Amendments which I should seek to make would be to reduce from the figure of 10 in the Bill to a much lower figure the number of employees in an establishment who would qualify for protection. Most farming establishments have fewer people than 10. The farm workers' union could doubtless provide the right number of trained safety officers. It is very important that provision for agricultural workers is made under the Bill in view of the serious number of accidents on the land.
The statistics relating to industrial accidents over the past 10 years show 912 that the number of employees killed per annum in Britain has declined by about 35 per cent. from what was in 1960 the very high figure of 1,281 to only—I say "only" but it is a big drop—832 in 1970. It is a remarkable achievement that annual fatalities in industry have decreased steadily over the last 10 years, while in that period we have multiplied our industrial output. But no hon. Member, least of all the hon. Member for Sparkbrook, will be satisfied while one person is the subject of an industrial accident or death caused through industrial activity.
The figures for agriculture are very different. In industry we have had an annual decline over the last 10 years of about 5 per cent. or 6 per cent., reaching that striking reduction of a 35 per cent. drop since 1960 in industrial deaths. But in agriculture over the same period the average number of deaths per annum has increased. Certainly over the last four years, the number of deaths among those engaged in their occupation in agriculture has increased. In 1968, there were 114 deaths in agricultural accidents. In 1969 the figure rose to 115. In 1970 it dropped to 105. In 1971 it rose to a record of 118. This is a fairly steady increase. Since 1956 there has been an average of over 110 deaths per annum in agriculture. What makes this particularly tragic and striking is that in the same period of 15 years the work force in agriculture has declined by a half; it has been reduced from just over a million to just over half a million. But the number of deaths has increased.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned death rates per 100,000 at risk. Is there any other industry in which the death rate per 100,000 at risk has doubled in the last 15 years? That is what has happened in agriculture. If there is another instance, I should like to know of it.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Does not this arise because agriculture has become more quickly mechanised than any other industry? These surprising figures are probably due to lack of training and an inability to use new mechanical equipment.
§ Mr. Farr
I am sure my hon. Friend is right. To some extent some of the 913 causes have been rectified by recent legislation. For instance, the Agriculture Training Board was established in 1970. Schemes have been adopted for the training of farm operators in the use of sophisticated machinery. However, recent legislation has not halted, let alone reduced, the rise in the number of deaths from accidents on farms.
In 1967 legislation required cabs to be fitted on all new tractors. The number of deaths arising from overturned tractors has been 20 per cent. of the total. There are many other causes of death in agriculture—28 out of the total of 118 in the last year were caused by tractors overturning, 15 by the operation of sophisticated power machinery, seven by drowning in liquid, four by drowning in grain, 11 from falling objects, and the remainder by various causes. It is clear that much needs to be done to reduce the number of accidents in agriculture. This problem seems to have been overlooked by successive Governments.
I hope that the hon. Member for Sparkbrook will look sympathetically on any suggestions designed to make the Bill more embracing. We look forward to more help and advice from the Agriculture Training Board. Without the regular visits from the farm safety inspector, the present accident figures would be even worse.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will take note of the startling figures I have mentioned. I know of no other industry in which the death risk per 100,000 employees has doubled since 1966.
§ Mr. Cormack
This is an extremely important matter in which I have taken great interest for many years. Will my hon. Friend invite the sponsor of the Bill to indicate that he will accept such Amendments?
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.914
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).