HC Deb 12 June 1973 vol 857 cc1185-8
8. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has for legislation to deal with the Robens Report.

14. Mr. Tom King

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now make a statement on the Government's intentions for implementing the recommendations of the Robens Report on Safety and Health at Work.

15. Mr. Holland

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now make a statement on the Government's intentions for implementing the recommendations of the Robens Report on industrial safety.

16. Mr. Adam Butler

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now make a statement on the Government's intentions for implementing the proposals of the Robens Report on Health and Safety at Work.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I would refer my hon. Friends to the statement made in this House by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on Monday 21st May.—[Vol. 857, c. 74–84.]

Mr. Marten

In view of the many points raised during the debate on the motion of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on this subject, may I ask whether we are to have an opportunity to discuss matters arising out of the consultations promised between the CBI and the TUC, especially as regards the Factories Inspectorate?

Mr. Macmillan

Any question of debate is one for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. In any case it would be wise to wait until the House has had an opportunity to see the consultative proposals, which I hope will be available by about the end of the month.

Mr. Kinnock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is already widespread dissatisfaction among trade unionists, doctors, lawyers and apparently even civil servants about the indication which the Under-Secretary gave that he accepts the central premise of voluntarism in health and safety arrangements embodied in the Robens Report? Before instituting legislation, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of trying to ensure that comprehensive health and safety laws are stringently enforced, rather than merely accepting the despairing and superficial contents of the Robens Report?

Mr. Macmillan

I do not accept that the Robens Report was either despairing or superficial. Nor do I believe that prevention is necessarily worse than cure. Nor do I accept that the enforcement procedures that we are proposing have fewer teeth than the ones now there. Under the arrangements that we put forward the inspectors will be able to secure more rapid improvements by using improvement notices or the possibility of closing down operations in cases of acute danger. We intend to provide stiffer financial penalties for offenders. There is no question of substituting codes of practice for regulations. There will be a considerable area where statutory requirements are clearly needed, and these will be retained and strengthened if necessary.

Mr. Holland

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the CBI and the TUC are not the only bodies in industry which can make a valuable contribution? In drafting the legislation, will he avoid the twin pitfalls of a narrow base and selective application?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes. It is important to recognise that there are a number of other people involved, not least because of the Robens Report, in which one of the main objects of unification was to avoid the confusion that the general public has had in dealing with dangers to health and safety not only for people at work but for those surrounding places of work as a result of activities carried on in factories and other establishments.

Mr. Molloy

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to look at the Adjournment debate on the sweat-shop activities in greater London, in which he will discover reference made to the paucity of inspectors which allows the growth of sweat shops with increasing danger to life and limb of those working in them?

Mr. Macmillan

I will look at that debate again. The number of factories inspectors which may be required in the future is one of the major questions that the commission will have to deal with when it is established.

Mr. Adam Butler

Does my right hon. Friend intend to follow the Robens recommendation about the need for a statutory obligation on employers to consult their workpeople? Does he agree that the shop floor has a great deal to contribute in this matter? Will he consider setting up some form of statutory factory safety committees?

Mr. Macmillan

I will consider that. It is important to recognise that the Government have accepted one of the major points in the Robens Report, that it is essential to involve workpeople in conditions about safety and health at work. I agree that the consultations which my hon. Friend suggests should be undertaken.

Mr. Harold Walker

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) has put his finger on one of the central anxieties arising from the statement on 21st May by the Under-Secretary of State? I refer, of course, to the problems arising from expanding the scope of legislation to cover all those in employ- ment and the public who are at risk as well without a commitment to increase the size of the inspectorate. This is bound to impose on the inspectorate an intolerably increased burden which will be borne satisfactorily only if the inspectorate is expanded or by introducing a system of worker safety representatives such as that advocated by a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Macmillan

I do not deny the value of what Opposition Members have put fonward. But the hon. Gentleman has mistaken the point, which is that the authority should be centralised. This is achieved by bringing under the aegis of one central authority the existing inspectorate—factories, mines and alkali. No extra work will be put on the organisation. It is simply a matter of getting its work organised more coherently. There will be some savings. There will be a greater capacity and ability in terms of centralised research and so on and a greater capacity to consult and to share expertise.