§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I beg to move.That this House considers that there is an urgent need for generally improved provision for safety and health at work including extensive education of workers and employers and new comprehensive legislation to deal with precautions against and consequences of industrial accidents and diseases.I have chosen to move this motion for two reasons. The first is personal. I am the first male member of my family for about three generations who can have reasonable confidence in expecting that I will leave this earth with more or less the same number of fingers, hands, legs, toes and eyes as I had when I was born.
I am unlikely to know the infuriating itch of dermatitis and if my lungs or my limbs do not function properly when I am 50 it will not be because I have been forced to work in an atmosphere in which I am obliged to breathe filthy air in cramped and unnatural working positions. My father, my grandfather, my uncles have all suffered from various industrial injuries and diseases I am fortunate, I suppose, in being the exception to what has become the general rule in mine and many other working-class families.
These injuries and diseases have been inflicted not as a consequence of some dreadful cataclysm but simply because the male members of my family like most other male members in families throughout the country, have done nothing more adventurous than go to work in the coal steel and engineering industries.
If working-class families were to take a kind of fitness survey, an injury inventory, of themselves, they would be able, without much difficulty, to list asthmatic, rheumatic, maimed and lamed female and male members, all the injuries and diseases having been collected merely by going to their places of employment.
But ordinary people would not undertake such an exercise. They would think that it was self-pity, a kind of hypochondria. Nevertheless, the scale of accidents and diseases puts into true perspective the kind of problem that is presented by the matter of health and safety at work. The sheer spread of the state of affairs that I have described is 63 appalling. It is awful in the truest sense of the word. It is sad. For this House the most important thing is that it is unnatural and unnecessary and we are in a position to do something about it.
My second reason for introducing the debate is rather less subjective. In July, 1972 the committee of inquiry into safety and health at work reported, and at the time of the introduction of the report the Secretary of State for Employment said:The Government are convinced that reform is now a matter of considerable urgency in an area of such great importance to all employees, and it is their intention to take early action towards achieving the broad objectives of the report. I am therefore giving urgent consideration to the specific recommendations of the Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July 1972; Vol. 841, c. 618.]The first birthday of the report is coming near, and I do not think we should let the anniversary pass without marking it.
The Prime Minister, in announcing the establishment of the Pearson Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury, repeated that the Government had given urgent consideration to the matter and looked forward, as he said in answer to a question, to makinga statement fairly soon after we resume in the New Year".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December 1972; Vol. 848, c. 1121.]It is now 21st May, and the delay in introducing a Bill or even debating a vital matter such as the Robens Report is outrageous. I hope that this delay, this prevarication, does not betray a reluctance by the Government to introduce necessary and major improvements in provision for health and safety at work, and we shall listen closely to every word that the Minister says this afternoon. I hope that he will give a more meaningful undertaking than that given by his right hon. Friends, for if he does not millions of workers at risk will feel that their essential interests have been betrayed.
This is a complex area for discussion. There are interests to consult and to accommodate. Any new legislation will form the basis of our provision for health and safety at work for many years to come. Haste would be most inappropriate, but any further delay 64 would be unacceptable, and I hope that we shall soon see an end to the delay that has meant that for many years we have made no major improvement in provision for health and safety at work.
Every year about 1,000 people are killed at work, about 500,000 are injured in accidents, and 23 million working days are lost as a consequence of accidents and industrial diseases. Outside those statistics, there are unmeasured thousands suffering from the effects of their working conditions. They are physically disabled, mentally distraught, and poisoned. They are physically reduced, their income is reduced, their lives are shortened and their family and domestic lives are disordered.
Unknown numbers—we are becoming increasingly aware of this—may be working in hazardous conditions or with treacherous materials and unaware of the risks being taken with their lives and their safety. Recent stories from medical laboratories serve to emphasise that. People are working with materials without realising they are at risk and without taking any real precautions against permanent, lasting and debilitating injuries.
There are new processes, new substances and new techniques which create new demands for extensive improvements in our provision for precaution against and prevention of injury and disease. But our system of safeguards, of supervision and of improvement has failed, is failing and will continue to permit avoidable tragedies until it is radically changed.
There are numerous instances of workers contracting cancer as a consequence of their work. Deaths from asbestosis over the past years are counted in hundreds. Deafness is still not classified as an industrial disease, although it is estimated that 500,000 workers are exposed to noise levels for long enough to place their hearing at risk. In the last 10 years an average of 16 men a year have died in the construction industry as a consequence of trenches collapsing. Bronchitis and respiratory diseases are not yet industrial diseases despite scientific proof that certain occupations cause or aggravate chest complaints. Dr. Treacher, of Bristol University, has estimated that one in three British workers is likely to he affected by mental diseases 65 of some kind during their lives, and David Ennals, of the Mind Campgain, says that 31 million working days were lost in 1970–71 as a consequence of mental disorders among working people.
Our system is obviously not fully committed, and never has been, to taking the risk out of work. Until it is committed to that aim we are not equipping ourselves to deal with the problem, in a way that can be expected of a civilised Parliament in a civilised society.
Against that background, we must consider the most recent and presumably the most authenticated proposals for changing the present system—namely, the Robens Report on Health and Safety at Work. Much of the report's analysis has been widely accepted for a considerable time: there is widespread apathy to health and safety provision in industry, much of the existing legal provision is unintelligible and obsolete, the administration of our health and safety system is fragmented, the subject fails to command the interest given to more dramatic aspects of industry—such as induistrial relations.
Anyone who had worked in a steel works or car plant for a fortnight could have told the committee that in 10 minutes, let alone the large number of experts from both sides of the industry, from the law, from the medical profession and from the inspectorates who were only too willing to let the committee know that.
Equally likely to bring agreement are the proposals to tidy up the provisions for health and safety at work. A unified inspectorate is sensible. A single comprehensive Act embracing the library of statutes which cover health and safety at work and other legislation is obviously necessary to deal with public health aspects of work. The proposal to extend legal coverage all Britain's workers must bring universal agreement, and a national authority for safety and health at work will provide a much-needed expertise, long-needed co-ordination and a welcome expansion of research.
But if my welcome for that aspect is somewhat guarded, I have to qualify it by asking the Minister whether his Department has given further consideration to extending the provisions recommended by Robens to agricultural workers. There is a great deal of disquiet among agricultural workers, including their union, that aspects of the national autho- 66 rity and, indeed, the new legislation in the health and safety sphere will not cover them, for extensive reasons. A great body of opinion amongst agricultural workers thinks that they should be treated in the same way as other workers when we come to improve health and safety provisions.
The proposal, probably long overdue, that company reports should include information about accidents and diseases and a statement of company policy about its attitude to accidents and diseases at work is also a step in the right direction. They are the sane, sober and unexceptionable aspects of the Robens Report.
Having said that, I submit that the report has a grievous deficiency which makes it an inadequate basis for the kind of action required. Audacity, the quality that is most sorely needed in bringing about a meaningful change in this sphere of affairs, is completely and totally absent from the report. Wherever possible, the report seeks to cajole rather than coerce. This would be ideal if we already had a system with a general and genuine will drastically to reduce accidents and disease, but we have not. The report is afraid to give any support to the concept of giving workers any meaningful power in matters of health and safety. The training of workers' safety representatives—we would need about 150,000 to do the job adequately—is completely ignored. The report makes no recommendations about the size of safety and health inspectorates. It appears to accept without reluctance that extra financial resources from industry and Government will simply not be made available for the improvement of these provisions.
The scale of the problem of industrial health and safety in Britain and the precedents set in American industry would have justified the suggestion by the Robens Committee that we should have a safety levy system that is comparable with the training levy system, but such a suggestion was much too audacious, apparently, for the committee and no such suggestion was made.
The report is completely negative about occupational medicine. When 314 million working days were lost because of sickness in 1970–71, when two committees of inquiry, a Royal Commission, a British Medical Association report, the International Labour Office and the Trades 67 Union Congress, along with many employers and even federations of employers, have all recommended occupational health services of various kinds, such an omission from this comprehensive report gives an accurate perspective of its weaknesses. Even where it tends to challenge parts of the existing pattern, as for example in its comments on the level of fines for offences against the Factories Acts, the report is cautious and inconclusive.
I believe that these major defects are the direct consequence of a fundamental confusion about the reason for the shortcomings in the present system. The report asserts that the most important single reason for accidents at work is apathy. There can never have been a safer truism in the whole history of report-writing. But the main reason given for this all-consuming and fatal apathy is the facile axiom that it has been brought about by having too much of the wrong kind of law in health and safety. Workers and employers rely too much on State regulation and rather too little on personal responsibility and voluntary self-generating effort, the report argues.
As a charter for the Outward Bound scheme those sentiments may be admirable, but as a diagnosis of a major killer disease in this country they are totally inadequate. Certainly our system of law fails to goad the lazy or the indifferent. It might even provide an alibi for those whose health and safety provision is grudging. But to suggest that the law is the main cause of apathy is a distortion of reality. It is like saying that the crutch has made the cripple.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
Does my hon. Friend agree with the proposition that it is not the law that is inadequate but the fact that the law has not been operated adequately and has not been enforced with the authority it needs in order to coerce employers to comply with it?
§ Mr. Kinnock
To the regret of the House, that is a point which I shall be pursuing at much greater length later in my speech. I agree with my hon. Friend. He made a true summation of the precise situation as it exists in British industry.
Apathy exists because it has one undeniable attraction for the feckless and 68 the reckless in industry. Apathy in the short term is a great deal cheaper than action. Listlessness, carelessness, and stupidity are all much cheaper than proper provision for health and safety at work. Full and rigorously observed safety precautions can slow down work. The provision of safety aids is expensive and the supervision of safety provisions is onerous. All demand specialist staff and costly materials. The penalties for permitting apathy to kill or maim or poison are trivial—except for the victim. The maximum fine under the Factories Acts is £300, yet the average fine paid in 1970 was £40. In 1971 there were 268,000 reported accidents and only 1,330 prosecutions—one prosecution for every 200 accidents.
Apathy is therefore not penalised at a rate which provides an incentive for employers to ensure safety at work. Apathy can even be insured against. It is no exaggeration to say that the reaction of many firms to a serious accident is that the wife of the victim gets a bunch of flowers and free use of the company car from a genuinely sorrowful and sympathetic management and then it grabs for its insurance policy as quickly as it can. Management is not being malicious or malevolent. It is not early-Victorian in its outlook. It is sorry that the accident has taken place, but when it comes to taking real precautions against a recurrence of a similar accident, it is lacking.
Apathy towards industrial health and safety owes far more to the cover against common law damages which is available than it does to inflexible or unintelligible law. The employer reaches for his insurance policy. The trade union interest at shop floor level is regrettably often based as the Policy Holder Insurance Journal puts iton obtaining good settlements of injury claims for their members rather than tackling the source of the injuries.I once had experience of a fellow worker explaining to me how the loss of a little finger on the right hand had permitted himself and his family to go to Italy for their holidays the year before. There is a kind of fatalism about industrial accidents. We must aim dramatically to disturb that attitude on both sides of industry.
69 There is a definite relationship between prevention and compensation. This relationship in the minds of bosses and workers and the reality of the working situation is a major cause of apathy and complacency. The Robens Committee chose to interpret its terms of reference in such a way as to avoid any real consideration of this relationship. That choice undermines the validity of all of the committee's work. Even worse is the fact that the committee recommended a reduction in statutory regulations in favour of voluntary codes. If adopted, such a system would, according to R. C. Simpson writing in Modern Law Review,reduce the extent of the civil remedy of an action for damages for breach of statutory duty which is open to injured workers".I cannot believe that the Robens Committee consciously sought to concentrate minds in industry on accident and disease prevention by depriving workers of common law protection. Any changes which result from the implementation of the Robens Report must be introduced with this danger in mind. The attitude of the report to apathy and its faith in voluntarism and persuasion are a product of the self-identified general philosophy of the report: the explicit belief in the catalytic value of self-regulation in health and safety matters. The logic which seems to have been employed is that "much of our system is wrong because we have too much of the wrong kind of law. If we have less law, we shall have more safety."
That reasoning is either a return to laissez faire or it is a naїve belief that since 1833, when the first Factories Act was introduced, employers have learned their lesson and, because most of them are decent human beings, they will never take decisions that would cause injury or disease to workers. In either case, whether it is laissez faire or naїvety, the Robens Report is based on a totally fallacious assessment of the value of self-regulation in industrial health and safety matters.
History and reality, the past and the present, argue very forcibly against the idea that British industry is yet fit for self-regulation. The only people who can conceivably accept that conclusion are the very people who are currently the major offenders. Responsible managements in companies making full provision for accident and disease prevention—there are 70 some of them—would have absolutely nothing to fear from a more stringent system of legal control.
The reaction of the trade unions is on record. Peter Jacques, secretary of the TUC Social Insurance Committee, has said:Just because bad law is ineffective, it does not mean there is no place for good law. Law reflects the priorities of the community. It sets a standard which employers must meet, and provides a basis whereon employers can improve conditions. We need the firm statement which only well drafted law can give.That is our business in this House.
The opinion is echoed by authoritative voices, like that of Mr. Mainwaring, former HM Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories, who has said:It has become fashionable …to play a game of codes of practice versus statutory regulations. …The Committee is putting too much faith in human nature unless the codes of practice can be used effectively by inspectors via the notices of improvement and prohibition and, in appropriate circumstance, the criminal court.Again, a case is made for better law and a request not to put too much faith in the human nature of managements and workers.
Academic specialists have reiterated the feelings of Eric Young, of Strathclyde University, reported in the Scotsman of 9th November 1972:The Robens Report has many virtues but its recommendations on enforcement seem unlikely to do much to cure the basic problem of apathy.Mr. W. H. Thompson, a solicitor widely known and respected among trade unionists, wrote in a virulently critical memorandum on Robens:Self-regulation is a euphemism: it means no regulation at all.No one could have put it more aptly than Mr. Thompson, with his background of experience in industry.
The fact of the matter is that we already have a self-regulatory system of industrial health and safety. There is a framework of regulation and there are inspectorates. But the safety net is so loosely cast that the offending fish almost have to volunteer to be caught.
The self-regulatory system which we have means that industry spends a trivial 0.05 per cent. of its total research and development budget on research into 71 safety. It means that only 8 per cent. of workplaces are served by joint worker-employer safety committees. This is a fourfold improvement on the 1965 figure —a rise which resulted directly from Government threats of compulsion. It means, as the Robens Committee said, that safety audits are very rare, that there are very few full-time trained professional safety officers in industry and that few, if any, employers' organisations have any safety function.
Most of all, it means that the Chief Inspector of Factories, Mr. Brian Harvey, who is not given to overstatement, could say in his annual report for 1971:Perhaps the greatest obstacle in the way of further improvement is the sheer indifference of some companies to the safety of their workers …there is some evidence that high accident rates in industry are a symptom of more fundamental management failures.That assessment is backed by black statistics. In 1967–71 managements were solely to blame for one in three accidents and partly to blame for three out of four accidents.
Mr. Harvey is understandably reluctant to turn his inspectors into hanging judges and bring every breach of the law to prosecution. As his predecessor once remarked, it is a time-consuming business. When the total inspectorate established under the nine major statutes numbers just over 1,000 and there are 1¼ million establishments in Britain, it is small wonder that there is great hesitation at the prospect of an inspector wasting a whole day in court when there are a large number of establishments to be visited and there is a great deal more work to be done in the field.
It is small wonder that Dr. R. W. Rideout, in his research paper for the Robens Committee, could say:The Factory Inspectorate have long passed beyond the permitted limits of moderate enforcement to a stage that is not enforcement at allIn other words, we already have a self-regulatory system, simply because we have not made provision for that system to be regulated in any other fashion.
Mr. Harvey has justifiably decided that the inspectorate must play a watchdog role and help and advise employers on improvements. Robens sees that rôle of 72 help and advice as a permanent rôle for the future, but it was an intelligent expedient forced upon the Factory Inspectorate by the sheer shortage of numbers. I do not think that Mr. Harvey or any of his inspectors saw it as a permanent development.
For the Robens Committee to suggest that that is the way in which things should continue in a new system is a counsel of despair, based on penny-pinching economics and a stagnant imagination, in a field that required audacity and imagination if the report was to make a major contribution to the subject. This kind of reasoning, if applied, will perpetuate the system of self-regulation which has allowed such barbaric failures in safety and health provision.
Mr. Harvey, by contrast, does not seek to make such a virtue of necessity as does the committee. Even with a small and overworked inspectorate, he is still prepared to say in his 1971 report:Unless industry is prepared to put significantly greater effort into controlling the hazards it generates, the Inspectorate will have no alternative but increasingly to use Section 54 of the Factory Act, which provides for unsatisfactory plants to be closed down until adequate control measures have been provided or the plant redeveloped to minimise the risk of injury, in spite of the unfortunate economic effects on the company, its employees and the community.Even more reassuring to those who do not share the confidence of Robens in self-regulation are Mr. Harvey's words:If it is not possible to develop adequate measures of controlling the hazards which some processes create, then industry may well have to take a decision not to develop a particular plant or process until the way ahead for both workers and the environment is clear … Time and money must be lavished on protecting employees and the community in the same way that it is lavished upon improving industrial techniques and developing new ways of manufacturing.That is the kind of uncompromising statement of aims that we should be settling for ourselves in this House now. Those words come from a Chief Inspector of Factories, not from a trade union militant or a doom-watcher, but from someone actively engaged in the field, in every respect a realist, with a great deal of wisdom and expertise to back up what he says. They should guide the attitude of parliament and the country to health and safety provision in future.
73 The failure of our system is not that of the Factory Inspectorate or any of the other bodies responsible for enforcement. The fault lies in the system of nine major statutes and over 500 subordinate statutory instruments—a complex and confusing world. It lies also with indifferent managements. Sometimes their indifference is assumed. Sometimes it serves an economic purpose, but in the long run it causes tragedy.
But some of the fault lies with workers who think that protective clothing is cissy or a slight against their manhood or their beauty. That kind of attitude must be destroyed by education and by example.
In as much as successive Parliaments have tiptoed gingerly around the subject of health and safety at work, part of the blame for the inadequate system must reside with us.
There is a definite link between the existence of apathy and the absence of stringent, effective and punitive laws. It is irresponsible to hope that industry will free itself from apathy until, first, the excuses for apathy have been removed by a thoroughgoing system of education and training in safety and health provision and, secondly, the penalties for apathy make carelessness, oversight, inefficiency and ignorance too expensive for managements and employees to bear.
We need a comprehensive Act to set out high minimum standards for prevention of accidents and disease arising from work. We need a greatly expanded enforcement body which will seek out deficiencies, provide advice for raising standards and ensure that the advice is speedily and effectively accepted by employers. We need to elevate the importance of health and safety at work by devoting more resources to safety education, accident prevention and above all, the creation of a real occupational health service. We need to remove the complacency which insurance cover encourages without diminishing the compensation to victims.
We must extend the list of industrial diseases to make them relevant to the changes in technology and materials which have brought the dangers, and give the system of certifying industrial diseases a new justice which it has never had in the past. While we cannot dramatically change deep and long-held attitudes to 74 safety and health at work—no law can change attitudes as deeply-based as that —we have a responsibility for setting uncompromising standards and seeing that they are effectively enforced.
Lord Robens said:The primary responsibility for doing something about the present levels of occupational accidents and disease lies with those who create the risks and those who work with them.The plain fact is that we have a problem involving a thousand deaths and half a million accidents a year. We have the problem of diseases which kill people 20 years after they have been forced to stop work because either those who create the hazards or those who work with them have not done and are not doing enough. It is time that Parliament acted. We must set new standards of vigilance. We must ensure that such standards are met by industry. Only then will we begin to see a true reduction in the terrible tragedies that occur because people go to work.
§ 5.02 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has put his time to good use by choosing this subject. He began by reminding the House that every year approximately 1,000 people are killed at their work, that half a million people suffer injuries of various degrees of severity and that 23 million working days are lost annually on account of industrial injury and disease.
The hon. Gentleman rightly took his text from the first paragraph of the first chapter of the Robens Report. That is a salutary paragraph. The Committee of Inquiry on Safety and Health at Work was right in beginning its work and its report by reminding the nation of this problem. It is a problem which has been with us a long time and which will still remain whatever we do as a Parliament and as a nation. The hon. Gentleman said, rightly, that this is a human problem. In terms of misery and suffering, about which we all know, great tragedies have evolved.
I shall try to put the matter in perspective at the outset. I do so with no spirit of complacency. In fact, Great Britain has a better record than most other industrial countries, particularly advanced industrial countries. It has been 75 improving considerably. However, as Lord Robens reminded us, a plateau was reached. It was then time for new initiative to be shown. That was recognised before the committee was set up and the report was produced. The report provides the new initiative which so many hon. Members wish to see.
I am taking the fairly unusual course of speaking early in this debate. I do so not out of any discourtesy to hon. Members in not listening to what they have to say but because it would be discourteous not to make the important announcement which I am to make fairly early in our proceedings. Hon. Members will be enabled to judge what I have said and perhaps to refer in their speeches to what I have said.
The House will remember that the Robens Report was published last July. There has been no reluctance whatever on the Government's part to come to a decision. The hon. Member for Bedwellty probably appreciates that there has been a great deal of consultation. Such consultation was needed and it was right and essential to get the right decisions. In the Government's view, wrong decisions can be made if a Government hurry too quickly.
I am now able to say, whilst reminding the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment made a statement welcoming the Robens Report and expressing the Government's firm intention of taking action to achieve the report's broad objectives, that we have sought and carefully considered reactions to the report from the CBI, the TUC, local authority associations, professional organisations and a wide range of interested bodies.
§ Mr. Smith
I have heard many expressions of opinion on this subject at Question Time and many hon. Members have made their views known. We are now debating the issue. We also consulted the staff of the various inspectorates. That is rather important.
The report's central recommendations have been widely welcomed as providing a suitable framework and a real impetus for forward movement in an area which concerns the well-being of literally mil- 76 lions of people. Many of the findings and recommendations of the report were directed to industry. There has been a great deal of discussion by employers' organisations, trade unions and other bodies about ways and means of following up the reports' recommendations. At the same time the Government have been examining the implications of the reports' recommendations which concern Government action.
The reports' main recommendations for Government action were these. First, it recommended that the present piecemeal collection of statutes and regulations concerned with safeguarding those at work, and the public, from risks arising from work activities should be unified within a new safety and health Act. Secondly, the report recommended that there should be a single organisation at national level to revise, administer and enforce the regulations and to provide a centre of authoritative advice on these matters. I am glad to announce, after examining the committee's proposals carefully, that early legislation will be introduced to implement the reports' main recommendations. I believe that decision will be widely supported.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
I understand that my hon. Friend is making his speech now and, therefore, has not listened to any arguments from the Government and Opposition benches except the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). I understand that my hon. Friend will accept a unified inspectorate. There are serious arguments why the argument for unification should not be accepted. There are reasons for one or two of the inspectors to be included and for others to be left outside because of the expertise involved. Will my hon. Friend clarify his views?
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The Under-Secretary of State might ask his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) how he knows what is in the Minister's statement. Perhaps we might all have the 77 benefit of a preview of what the Minister will put to the House.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman is getting very excited over nothing. No one has had a copy of the statement except the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), to whom I gave a copy out of courtesy an hour before the debate started. I do not know whether the right hon. Member has shown his hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) a copy of the statement. I can assure the hon. Member that I have not shown the statement to any Government back-bencher.
§ Mr. Smith
Time is short and many hon. Members wish to speak. Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to continue. I wish to make my announcement. If I do not do so, hon. Members will be anticipating the points which I wish to make and the main elements of the legislation.
I have explained that we accept the main recommendations of the Robens Report and that we propose legislation. The Bill which we shall introduce will set out the basic obligations of employers, workers and others concerned with the prevention of accidents and ill health at work. Secondly, it will provide for integrating the present complex body of statutory provisions contained in various Acts under a single and comprehensive safety and health Act. That Act will do more than bring together existing provisions. It will extend protection to virtually everyone at work. It will also, and very importantly, provide for the prevention of dangers to the public near industrial operations.
Within this framework we shall be able to develop an integrated body of safety and health law which will, wherever appropriate, apply a common set of standards across the board. Above all, it will be more readily accessible and understandable by those affected by it.
Thirdly, the Robens Report made proposals for a new safety and health authority. The Government agree that there should be an independent statutory authority in this sector, and the legislation will establish it. A suitable structure for the new authority could be broadly on the lines of the Manpower Services Com- 78 mission and its agencies, which are to be established under the Employment and Training Bill which we shall be discussing in the House later this week. On that pattern, we would establish an organisation comprising a safety and health commission, which would be responsible for an operational agency—a safety and health executive.
The commission would be responsible to Ministers and, through them, to Parliament. It would develop a comprehensive strategy for promoting safety and health at work. It would provide advice to the Government and industry on all aspects of safety and health at work. It would propose to Ministers new regulations—for example, concerning the control of dangerous substances—where it considers them necessary.
Under that form of organisation, the safety and health executive would act as the commission's operational arm. To it will be transferred the headquarters and the field organisations of various Government inspectorates concerned with safety and health at work. That answers the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet). These will include the factories, explosives, mines and quarries, alkali and nuclear installations inspectorates and certain smaller inspectorates.
These will, as Robens recommended, provide a unified advisory and enforcement service. I emphasise that there is no question of breaking up the specialist inspection teams which deal with particular problems of the industries with which they are concerned, but their unification will enable a full range of shared experience to be brought to bear on the problems which arise. With this there will be provision for ensuring that the necessary laboratory facilities are available and that an adequate research programme is maintained.
The new organisation will be generally responsible to the Secretary of State for Employment, but in certain cases we intend that the power to make regulations affecting particular sectors should be exercised jointly by the Secretary of State for Employment and the other Ministers concerned. This will apply in the case of regulations concerning the mining industry and education and health establishments. In the administration of 79 the Alkali Acts it will report directly to the Secretaries of State for Environment, Wales and Scotland to ensure co-ordination with other matters affecting the general environmental Departments. In a similar way, it will report to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the licensing of nuclear installations.
Special arrangements will be made for agriculture. The agriculture Ministers will retain their present responsibility for safety on farms and for agricultural inspectorates. But the new body will be responsible for preparing regulations of a general character affecting farms as well as other places, and there will be special arrangements for liaison between it and the agriculture Departments.
The new organisation we intend to establish will constitute at national level a single and major centre of initiative for positive action to improve safety, health and physical working conditions. It will have an important educational rôle in raising the general level of awareness of safety and health problems and the means of tackling them.
While its educational and advisory rôle will be very important, it will also have power to take swift and effective measures where necessary to deal with backsliders. The hon. Gentleman referred to this at some length. I can fully answer him by saying that the new body will be able to use the new improvement notice procedure recommended by Robens to secure rapid remedial action where things are not as they should be. In serious cases, it will be able to issue immediate prohibition notices halting operations. It will be able to prosecute offenders and we are seeking to provide much stiffer penalties for breaches of safety and health regulations.
§ Mr. Smith
I am glad that I carry the hon. Gentleman with me, because I stress that there is no question of downgrading penalties and ultimate sanctions which can be available to deal with those who are wrong-doers in this sector.
An essential feature of the new organisation will be that the interests of management, workers and others concerned will be reflected in the composition of its management. Robens stressed the 80 need for such direct participation in the making and implementing of more effective safety and health standards if industry is to play its part effectively. We believe this to be of the utmost importance, and the legislation will be a continuation of the measures we are already taking in the Manpower Commission for involving management, workers and local authorities in the formulation of policies and in the management services which carry out those policies.
Special mention needs to be made of the rôle of the local authorities, which already have extensive and important functions in this matter. Generally, these functions will be little changed. But we intend to provide for closer working relationships between the local authorities and the new central organisation in a way which will enable the local authorities to make an even more effective contribution in future than they do at the present time. Similarly we aim to ensure close working relationships between the new organisation and the National Health Service.
The reorganisation involved will, of course, be looked at with a very personal interest by the Government staffs who will be affected. I stress that there will be the fullest consultation with the organisations representing the staffs about the implications of what is proposed.
§ Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of remedial action, can he assure me that the recommendations in paragraphs 75 and 76 of the Robens Report, dealing with the need for the amending or the updating of the Companies Acts so that registered companies would be required to provide prescribed information about accidents and industrial diseases suffered by their employees, will not be forgotten?
§ Mr. Smith
We take the point that, in relation to annual reports, firms should make not only employees but everyone else aware of their safety standards. That point is being taken into account.
I was assuring the House that there will be the fullest consultation with the organisations representing the staffs affected in this reorganisation on the implications for them of what is being proposed. The reorganisation will open up for the staffs a new dimension of career 81 interest, of challenge and of job satisfaction.
We now intend to press ahead with discussing our plans for legislation in more detail with the CBI, the TUC and others specifically interested. What we are aiming at is a radical reshaping of this country's arrangements for promoting safety and health at work. I believe that the Robens Report, which may well prove to be one of the great social documents of our time—let us not undervalue it—has provided occasion and impetus for a major advance. We shall need the co-operation of industry, the local authorities and others in getting the details of our legislation property worked out speedily but, whatever detailed points of difference may arise, I am confident that we shall have the good will of both sides of industry. I hope that we shall also get it from Parliament in what we are seeking to do.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that he is creating the impression in the House that the main inspiration of the Government is to wait until accidents have occurred and then send an inspector to make recommendations? It is the prevention of accidents that we want rather than inspections after they have occurred.
§ Mr. Smith
I often agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, but in this case he totally misunderstands the concept of the Robens Report. The accent will be on prevention rather than on specific cure at one particular time. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman that he should read the report in detail. He will find that by a system of better education, by self-regulation with a strong back-up, one will be preventing extra accidents from occurring, and that consequentially the safety record, once this gets off the ground, will be far superior.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty talked about the need for audacity and imagination to be shown. That is what we are getting in this report. The hon. Member does not agree with the accent which has been placed on self-regulation. But this is an imaginative report. Many people are misunderstanding its concepts because they are overlooking the strength of the back-up procedures over the notices to which I have referred, which are an extension of control, which we do not 82 have at present, and are much more flexible than what we have at present. Ultimately they will provide heavier penalties than the present penalties for those who do not conform.
We must get the right concept in our minds, so I commend to the House a reading of paragraph 28 of the report. I shall not weary the House with the whole paragraph, but quote merely a short piece, which says:People are heavily conditioned to think of safety and health at work as in the first and most important instance a matter of detailed rules imposed by external agencies. We have encountered this instinctive reaction many times during the course of our Inquiry. It was reflected, for example, in the attitude of those who argued that standards would be improved if workplaces were visited more frequently by inspectors. Given the hundreds of thousands of workplaces in the country, this approach is manifestly impracticable. The matter goes deeper. We suggested at the outset that apathy is the greatest single contributing factor to accidents at work. This attitude will not be cured so long as people are encouraged to think that safety and health at work can be ensured by an ever-expanding body of legal regulations enforced by an ever-increasing army of inspectors.If anyone has any doubt—I am sorry to see that this is sometimes manifested by Opposition Members—the end of the chapter states:Yet we suspect that the greatest obstacle will be not so much the intrinsic complexities of the subject as the fact that many of the arrangements under review are long established. In the words of Bagehot, 'One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea'.In moving this important motion, the hon. Member welcomed many of the Robens provisions, but he rather downgraded them because he said that among those provisions there were some which were routine. But they are part and parcel of this concept. They will be fulfilling the aims and objects behind the thinking of the Robens Report. When the hon. Member talks about the grievous deficiencies, again he has overlooked the fact that behind the idea of self-regulation and the greater involvement of work-people and managements is the back-up of a quite stringent sanction for those who do not comply.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I regret that the Minister has misinterpreted what I said. I did not say that I wanted quite stringent sanctions. I said that I thought the demand was for unity of action. That is 83 missing in the report, and paragraph 28 is a trite over-simplication of the problem. That was why I called it a "facile axiom", in a memorable phrase. The fact is that the Minister, inside the framework that he has just described, can prove to us that the Government intend to do something imaginative, important and effective about provision for safety and health at work only if he tells us that those inspectors who have new and acceptable responsibilities under the legislation to be proposed will multiply fourfold or fivefold so that they can do the job of issuing improvements notices and prohibitions effectively. If we do not have 5,000 or 6,000 of them, the inspectors simply will not be doing the job, and we shall have the status quo.
§ Mr. Smith
I was about to deal with that point, but as time was getting on, and a number of hon. Members wish to speak, I thought that hon. Members would be getting restless.
The commission will be able to put to Ministers the case for more staff when it starts its programme of work. The bringing together of the main inspectorates and their support staff under unified management should give scope for more efficient deployment and use of inspectors. Over the last 10 years, the number of factory inspectors has increased over 50 per cent. The increases are good and they are in the right direction. We shall never satisfy every hon. Member in the number we add, but the important ethos here is the application of these people, ensuring that they are not wasted. One of the best parts of Robens is the suggestion, particularly concerning factory inspectors, of a new accent towards their work and greater selectivity in dealing with areas which need constant attention because of major exposure rather than the routine round of inspections that we have had in the past.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty talked about a kind of fatalism about industrial accidents and said that many people say that these are bound to take place and that people must accept them. I agree that this fatalism exists, but surely the course which the hon. Member and some of his hon. Friends are advocating will encourage the continuance of that fatalism. We want to jerk people out of the idea of this fatalism. In the Robens concept we have this chance—it will not 84 be achieved easily—of getting people better educated concerning safety and of extending their responsibilities, on both sides of industry, and having a more unified and creative force, which will have its impact on the situation.
Therefore, these are matters which require more than just superficial consideration. They need deep study and understanding on the part of hon. Members interested in this particular matter. I certainly accept without reservation the motion before the House, but I cannot accept many of the strictures which the hon. Member has put upon us. This is a great opportunity and we should be very foolish if we ignored the chance of seizing it.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
The Under-Secretary has told the House that this subject needs more than superficial consideration.
§ Mr. Prentice
We need a very full debate. We have had a very unusual procedure this afternoon. The Under-Secretary has used the opportunity presented by the motion to make a statement of great importance. As he has done that, I hope he will consider it appropriate that I should follow that up.
This means that the normal pattern of this debate is disarranged. The debate is too short anyway. We should have had by now, during this Session, a full day's debate on the Robens Report. But, having now had the Government's statement, it is imperative that we have a full day's debate between now and the Summer Recess. Although the Under-Secretary will say that this is a matter for his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and so on, we shall be following this matter up through the usual channels and, if necessary, from the Dispatch Box, to demand a full debate on this vital subject.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on his choice of subject, for giving us the first opportunity to debate the Robens Report, 10 months after publication. I congratulate him on the very powerful speech he made. Surely the challenge that he has posed to us is this: how far 85 do our actions measure up to the gravity of this situation, to the concern which we all express on these occasions? The concern which we express, and which the public express, is too often selective and spasmodic. We react, certainly, to a situation such as the Lofthouse Colliery disaster, or to something new, unexpected and frightening, such as the lead poisoning outbreak at Avonmouth. But too often we ignore the long, steady toll of industrial casualties, which I quote for the third time, without apology, as approximately 1,000 killed and 500,000 injured every year.
The real question is: how far do the proposals before us measure up to the challenge posed by these terrible figures? On balance, the Robens Report does not measure up to this. Neither does the Government's statement today.
I should like to mention—almost in terms of headings—what I welcome in the Robens Report and the Government's statement.
When the Under-Secretary of State said that the Robens Report was a great social document he was right in the sense that it contains a great deal that is of permanent value. At least part of it contains valuable new thinking which we should welcome. That the Government propose to legislate soon is to be welcomed so far as it goes.
There are four aspects of the matter which I should like to emphasise. First of all, there is the concept that the legal cover should be extended to all workers, including the self-employed, and indeed members of the general public who may be put at risk as a result of industrial processes. This is an important and long overdue advance in contrast to the piecemeal approach of the nine major statutes which are now in force.
Secondly, it is right to unify the statutes in one new major piece of legislation in the form of an enabling Act and regulations made under it. There is a need to codify and clarify the law but not to reduce the law's impact. That is a matter to which I shall return a little later in my remarks.
Thirdly, we all welcome the concept of the new authority, the safety and health authority which the hon. Gentleman announced a short time ago, and the unification of the inspectorate under 86 its auspices. We shall need to look closer at some of the details. What the Minister said appeared to be a little different from what Robens said about the extent to which the inspectorates will be amalgamated. We shall need further opportunities to debate this and other matters in greater detail.
I mention a fourth matter which is long overdue; namely, that there should be through the new procedure a means by which regulations can be made quickly in view of new dangers which are constantly occurring in industry. I refer to the dangers created by new substances which are being used by industry, which create risks of which people possibly are not aware and in relation to which there is need for a streamlined procedure.
Many other valuable proposals in the Robens Report were not mentioned in the Under-Secretary's statement. For example, I hope that there will be legislation on the lines suggested by Robens on the design of new machinery which by law would have to conform to certain safety standards. This is an important point. Another significant point relates to the requirements on noise control, which is a tremendously important subject in terms of the health of large numbers of workers. In terms of both the hon. Gentleman's statement and other parts of Robens which he did not cover there is a great deal which we want to see carried through.
This leaves us with at least three main criticisms, all of which are interrelated. The first criticism is that the whole Robens message is too permissive and appears to suggest that there should be less reliance on the statutes than there has been in the past. The second criticism is that there is no provision either in Robens or in the Government's statement for compulsory safety representatives or compulsory safety committees. Thirdly, there is nothing in the Robens Report or in the Government statement about the need for a much larger Factory Inspectorate. I shall expand on those three points.
On the question of reliance on voluntary support, I shall not repeat the arguments which were put so powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty. I am sure that my hon. Friend was right. The Minister said that there 87 had been much misunderstanding about the concept, and this may well be true because the language of Robens is ambiguous. Since the report appeared I have discussed the matter with a great many people, including members of the Robens Committee, and I have discovered that no two people agree on precisely what the report means on certain points, but it clearly indicates the committee's view that to some extent there should be less law in the future than there is at present.
I cannot do better than quote the leading article in The Guardian which appeared on 20th July 1972 in reaction to the Robens Report:Its main fault is in the thickness of the velvet it has chosen to cover the iron hand of the law. It proposes that the new law should swing the emphasis from statutory to voluntary compliance. A change is needed, but the committee puts too much faith in human nature.Later it saidIt opens up too many loopholes by its vagueness. If employers were really so ready for self-regulation, four workers would not be killed at work each day.I am sure that that is true. That is not to contradict the valuable concept in Robens that there should be more self-regulation. But should the self-regulation replace the law or be additional to it?
I am sure it is right to say that more initial responsibility needs to be taken by people at work and also by management. The report is right to say that every company should have a declared policy on safety and health, that it should consult its workers, and that a company's annual report should set out the record of accidents and disease and measures taken by the company to deal with the situation. The committee was also right to say that there should be codes of practice. But this should be not a substitute for legal enforcement but additional to it. We need both and the workers deserve to have more of both.
The country still faces a dilemma which the hon. Gentleman in his statement did nothing to answer. We do not know the Government's thinking on the extent to which the scope of the new statute will cover the ground of existing statutes. One principle upon which all Opposition Members will insist—and we hope that 88 we shall be joined by hon. Members opposite—is that in future no worker should have any less statutory protection than he already has. In fact, we want to improve the protection, not reduce it.
The second main criticism relates to safety representatives and safety committees. It is worth reminding ourselves that when the Labour Government appointed the Robens Committee they had already made a decision to legislate for compulsory safety representatives and compulsory safety committees. That decision was then taken and legislation was introduced to the House. The other half of that legislation, dealing with the employment medical service, has been carried through under the present Government. The half which I have mentioned has been brought back to the House in successive Private Members' Bills during each Session. Last Session the Bill went through most of its stages and was not opposed by the Government. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) introduced a Bill on those lines under the Ten Minutes Rule. I shall not repeat all the arguments, but I emphasise that it is high time that a political decision was made by the Government to carry out the will of the House and to legislate accordingly.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government did not oppose the legislation he mentioned because we were waiting for Robens, and at the time we were chided about it. Robens did not report in favour of that type of statutory committee but recommended statutory involvement of workers and management and for them to work out what they found to be the best system for the right type of consultation. That shows a greater flexibility than to have one rigid pattern imposed on industry.
§ Mr. Prentice
The difficulty about that concept—and the hon. Gentleman anticipates my other point—is that Robens said that there should be a general statutory obligation to consult. That is much too weak without laying down any more detail, and it will not measure up to what is needed in terms of the reality of British industry. There was no need to wait for Robens, because the decision had already been made by the Labour 89 Government, and when the matter was recently brought before the House it was not opposed on the Conservative benches. This is a matter on which this Parliament should go ahead without worrying about whether Robens said something or not. The whole point of our case is that the Robens Report contains much of great value but does not totally measure up to what is needed. Therefore, we have to identify the matters on which action is required.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
My hon. Friend referred to the necessity for compulsory safety committees. On the assumption that workers and management should combine in a full consciousness of safety matters, does my right hon. Friend not agree that such a concept would not militate against anything in the Robens Report but that, on the contrary, it would act as a valuable adjunct to it? Does he not also agree that the Government would not suffer any loss of face if they addressed their minds to taking this enormous step forward?
§ Mr. Prentice
I am sure my hon. Friend is right. The Robens Report has a number of very sensible comments to make about the need for managements and unions to become more involved in promoting safety at work. This proposal for compulsory safety committees will act as a vehicle for that action. It will stimulate managements and unions to think about what is happening at work places and to bring forward ideas. Without the committees, this will remain merely an exhortation in a report which no one will have read, and, therefore, no action will be taken on it.
My third main criticism concerns the size of the Factory Inspectorate. Whatever progress is made towards better self-regulation, the fact remains that in large parts of British industry there is no substitute for enforcement based on regular inspection. One part of the problem is the need for stiffer penalties, and I welcome what the Under-Secretary said about increasing the penalties for breaches of the law. But there should have been some reference in his statement—and I hope that there will be Government reaction to it—about a further considerable expansion of the Factory Inspectorate. It has been consistently too low under successive Governments. In 1928 the In- 90 ternational Labour Organisation went on record as saying that every place of work subject to legislation of this sort should be inspected at least once a year. We have fallen consistently well below even that modest standard. My advice is that in recent years it has been of the order of once every four years.
The shortage of inspectors poses a dilemma which is discussed in the report of the Chief Inspector. In the early part of his report he says that it has been decided to change the priorities of the work of the inspectorate, and that, instead of going for a cyclical approach, by which occasional visits are made to virtually all premises, it will go for inspection in depth at premises where there is a special risk.
Given the scarcity of inspectors in relation to the size of the problem, this may be a wise decision. But what are its implications for other premises? In the cautious language of an official report it is said:But the Inspectorate has by no means abandoned surprise visits.I hope not. However, it is clear that there will be very few of them.Nevertheless the need to ensure that no premises go wholly without inspection will be kept in mind.But he poses the dilemma, speaking of the Factories Act alone, that there are only 638 inspectors to deal with 198,000 factories. That is a dilemma which he should not have to face. It should be, and must be, possible to have a cyclical system of visits, including surprise visits, plus inspection in depth along the lines discussed in his report and along the lines suggested in the Robens Report.
We welcome the statement that there will be early legislation. We want a full debate this summer, if possible before the legislation is drafted in its final form, so that we may examine these matters in more detail and give further study to today's statement. Meanwhile we urge that a complete strategy on this system should include both the better parts of the Robens Report and the points which have been made from these benches about the need for legal protection to be at the forefront of our thinking, about the need for compulsory safety representatives and committees and about the need for a larger Factory Inspectorate.
91 Only by a strategy embracing all these matters will this country make the progress that we all want to see in reducing the human suffering which arises from the unacceptable level of industrial accidents and disease.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
We are all grateful to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) for initiating this debate. Unfortunately, we shall have to revise our speeches somewhat in view of the fact that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary intervened earlier than we had expected.
I am glad that we have this opportunity to discuss the motion because it gives us the chance not only to comment on the Robens Report but to discuss conditions of work which were not dealt with in detail by the Robens Committee because it felt that these matters either were beyond it or were outside the scope of its inquiry.
Much has been said, and rightly, about the appalling accidents that we have in industry, the number of people seriously injured in a year and the need to remove the apathy that exists in many companies on attitudes to safety. Paragraph 13 of the Robens Report has been widely quoted. It says that unless apathy is removed both by managements and employees, we shall not be able to reverse this very bad trend in accidents.
Another important point touched upon only lightly is the fact that between 5 million and 7 million people in this country are net covered by any safety regulations at their places of work and that steps must be taken quickly to bring them into the new safety rules.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary went through his speech so rapidly that I did not quite take all of it in and was not able fully to adjust my speech in the time available to me. But I wanted to make two points which my hon. Friend may or may not have touched upon. The first concerns the new area offices of authority which will co-ordinate the work of the local authorities in administering the new law. We must hear more about what extra action the new local authorities are expected to take. The right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. 92 Prentice) suggested a full debate on the Robens Report. Certainly we want a fuller statement about what the new local authorities are to do to carry out the new law on safety and health at work.
Secondly, the Robens Report says that every firm should have a written policy for health and safety of which every employee should have a copy, and that there should be an annual report of what the firm has done in the past year and what it intends to do in the next year to improve safety and to take preventive action against accidents which have occurred.
I assume from what my hon. Friend said that the Health and Safety Committee will be discussing that report in detail and that that recommendation of the Robens Report saying that every firm should have a written policy will be endorsed. I did not pick up whether my hon. Friend said that that would be incorporated in the new legislation.
Then we had a brief reference to the noise problem. It is amazing how the eeffct of noise on people is issued as a big argument when certain areas resist a new airport. But not enough attention is paid to the noise factor at work. The Robens Report says that the cost and competition factors probably would deter many firms from obeying an authoritative code of practice as opposed to a new law on noise. The hon. Member for Bedwellty pointed out that more than half a million people suffer from the effect of noise at work and that the figure is rising considerably.
We have to put teeth into the legislation. We have to have a new law on this. The Robens Report says that a code of practice must be underpinned by legislation. I assume that the report on noise of the Industrial Health Advisory Committee in 1971 and its suggested code of practice will be put into law. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has an opportunity to reply to the debate, I hope that he will comment on this. Alternatively, if and when we have a fuller debate perhaps more will be said about it then.
I want now to refer to mental health problems at work. The Robens Report does not go into this subject in great detail although its chapter on noise is an indirect look into the matter. Recently there has been a conference on stress 93 work convened by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, and one of its speakers was a Dr. R. B. Buzzard. First, he refers to the whole question of long hours at work and says that unless we look at their effect we shall not be able to improve the mental health of people at work. He refers back to 1915with the investigations of the Health of Munition Workers Committee appointed by the Government of the day to discover why the production of munitions was declining despite steadily increasing hours of work. The Committee showed that the long hours were causing the decline because of mounting fatigue and insufficient leisure for recuperation. It also began to show the further ill effects on productivity of temperatures too hot or cold, bad lighting and inadequate nutrition and showed they took effect within limits much narrower than had previously been thought.That shows that there is a need for a change of attitude to hours worked.
Do companies know how many hours their employees work? Here, again, I should like to quote from the lecture by Dr. Buzzard. He said that the National Institute of Industrial Psychology isoften asked by companies whether an absence percentage is too high; yet, when we ask in turn how much overtime they work are told: 'Probably two hours a day'. This is the equivalent of more than a day a week; that company's absence cannot be compared with another's where no overtime is worked.I feel that we know far too little about overtime and the effects of long hours at work. We should know considerably more.
An obvious example of monotonous work is the car industry. Much has been written about experiments in Sweden at the Saab works and another that is coming in the Volvo works. When it is suggested that the mass assembly line method should be changed and people are asked to look into the Swedish practice, they ask "What will be the cost?"
In an article in the Financial Times of 12th March this year Mr. James Ensor writes:The question that the world motor industry is asking, of course, concerns the economics. They have proved surprisingly good. The total assembly time is the same as in a conventional plant and Saab estimates that its labour costs are only £3,000 a year higher—the equivalent of one extra employee".The Volvo company is to bring in a new method of production at its plant in Kalmar.The Kalmar plant will cost £9 million, about £1 million more than a conventional 94 one. But Volvo, which has recorded an annual labour turnover rate as high as 50 per cent. in the past two years, feels that this is a small price to pay.For many years we have been gearing ourselves to increased mass production and higher growth rates. But we must now do it without mass disaffection. This is a problem on which the Government, employers and unions will have to act. It is a problem which is not gone into in great detail in the Robens Report.
I should like to make two points for consideration by any committee that may be set up to look into this matter. First, long hours often defeat their objective by reducing productivity and net production. Secondly, absence and labour turnover at work will increase if the journey to work is complex and long.
I have spoken for only a few minutes because many hon. Members wish to speak.
The big gap in the Robens Report is the absence of any great detail on mental health at work. However, it might have felt that that subject was not within its sphere. Unless we look into the problem of boredom, long hours and overtime at work, we shall have mass disaffection at work, and, therefore, the object of increased productivity and higher growth rates will be defeated because we did not pay sufficient attention to the nature of the environment at work.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I find the whole format of the debate profoundly unsatisfactory. I in no way detract from the gratitude I feel towards the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) for raising this issue. I congratulate him on his good luck in the ballot and thank him for the extremely lucid, cogent and valuable way that he opened the debate.
Every speaker in the debate has underlined the tremendous importance of this subject. Statistics have already been given three times, so I will not repeat them, save to remark that in economic terms industrial accidents account for about £200 million loss and in human terms the effects are unquantifiable.
It is extraordinary that a debate on this subject should be left to the luck of back benchers in the ballot. It should 95 have been in Government time, or, if that was not forthcoming, in Opposition Supply time. The same is true in another place where again the initiative was left to a back bencher, my noble friend Lord Avebury.
That is not all. We had the extraordinary situation of the Minister, who I am sure wanted to be helpful, telling us roughly what is to be in a Bill, so that we might have a kind of bastard Second Reading debate without knowing exactly what is in the Bill. This is an appalling way to proceed. I hope that it will not happen again, because it is inconvenient for hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I suggest that the Minister should have made a statement instead of an advance of the speech being given out to the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), who had to rummage through it to find the salient points. A statement should have been made, as in the normal course, with advance copies given to those who usually receive them and followed by question and answer. That should have been followed by a White Paper and a debate or, failing that, by the laying of a Bill with formal First Reading and then a Second Reading debate.
But what happened? The hon. Member for Bedwellty opened the debate. The Minister then told us roughly what is to be in a Bill. We want to know the details of the Bill to decide whether they are adequate, but we do not have those details.
On 30th January in another place Lord Gowrie, winding up the debate, said that it was clear that the debate was the last stage of the Government's consultation, that they were making up their minds, and that the Secretary of State for Employment would be making a statement. That has not happened. That, in my view, is what should have been done.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I appreciate the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. I take no pleasure in having to conduct the debate in this form. However, I am sure he will agree that a statement was imminent and would have been made shortly. That was pre-empted by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) winning the ballot and putting down 96 this motion. I make no complaint about that. However, it would have been gravely discourteous to him to answer the debate and to make a statement on the following day. It would also have been discourteous to the House if I had just sat back, listened to agitation from hon. Members on both sides of the House about Robens being implemented, and then glibly, at the end of the debate, said that we were to do that. Either way there are disadvantages. I was trying to be helpful by spelling out what the Government intend to do.
§ Mr. Thorpe
No one would wish the hon. Gentleman to sit there pregnant with ideas but constipated about giving us any indication of what was intended. But the hon. Member for Bedwellty won the ballot three weeks ago and the Government had the Robens Report nearly a year ago. If on this vital issue the Government to have a debate in another place were able as far back as January. I should have thought that this House might attempt to keep up with the speed of their Lordships' House. I hope this will not happen again.
We do not know when the Bill is to be introduced. Is it to be introduced this Session or the next? Is there to be a definitive debate before the terms are published, or will the next stage be the presentation of the Bill and then a Second Reading debate? We are entitled to know. I hope that we shall be told more about the Bill if time permits.
I shall be very brief. I welcome the fact that the basic obligations that an employer owes to his employee will be given statutory effect. However, we want to see how detailed they are before we can ascertain whether they cover the situation. It is a great thing that at last we shall have an integrated body of statute law rather than a plethora of statutory instruments. This will be a good thing, but we shall not know the details until we see the Bill. It is right to have a Commission on Safety and Health at work and right that the various inspectorates are to be brought together, each maintaining their own specific expertise but with certain common standards throughout. This could be a good thing.
I should like to re-echo what was said in another place by my noble Friend 97 Lord Avebury, that the effect of Robens should be to bring forth in legislative terms a revolution in the safety conditions of workers in industry as great as any since the first action was taken in 1833.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedwellty mentioned the reference of Robens to apathy. He said that he felt that Robens—I think I quote him correctly—over-estimated the effects of apathy, and he went on to say that we still need statutory action. With that I wholly agree. But in the second part of that paragraph Robens said:The primary responsibility for doing something about the present level of occupational accidents and disease lies with those who create the risks and those who work with them.I interpret that to mean that those who work with the risks must be very much more intolerant of the risks to which they are subjected, and that those who create the risks must know them and have a much greater responsibility and suffer far greater penalties if they allow them to continue. That is how I interpret Robens. Whether he wished that interpretation I do not know. It seems to me that there must be a far greater social responsibility on one side and a far greater awareness of the dangers on the other.
If anyone really thinks that British industry can be left to laissez-faire, I think the evidence was contrariwise when it was necessary for the previous Government to bring in a redundancy Bill to prevent employers discharging with only a week's or a fortnight's salary men who might have worked for 40 years. Anyone who believes that standards of this sort relating to industrial injuries, pollution and various standards of merchandise can be left to self-will is, I believe, flying in the teeth of the facts.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) mentioned the fact that there are 5 million to 6 million workers not covered by safety regulations, and I shall be interested to see whether they are covered under this Bill. The Minister, replying to the hon. Member for Bedwellty mentioned the position of agricultural workers and said that they would be covered. That is a great advance, because these workers are dealing with highly technical machinery, some of it extremely dangerous. There has been some legislation 98 with regard to cabs fitted on tractors, and so on, but one wants to know the extent to which there is overall protection.
I think it is right that there should be in the annual report information about safety conditions and the care taken. I believe that we shall never have enough inspectors to carry out as many unheralded visits and inspections as would be desirable. I would like to see, in addition to company safety officers, elected worker representatives dealing specifically with safety, who would be part of works councils. That is another thing works councils could do. I would like to see them making unheralded safety audits throughout the industries in which they are employed.
Therefore, I think there is enormous scope for internal policing, and this is something to which the trade unions have an enormous contribution to make, and they are entitled to this, with this appalling record. The hon. Gentleman said that he was not being complacent but it was a fact that our accident rate was lower than that of most other countries. He is perfectly correct; but it is also a fact that our Industrial Revolution started long before that of most of those countries. Therefore, we ought to know more about safety, the machinery we are creating and the sort of guards and protections we should provide. I should be very surprised if it were otherwise. But as long as there is a risk of any accidents in any factories we must continue to be aware.
One category which the Robens Report singled out was the transport workers. The minute they leave their place of work they are not covered by any sort of industrial protection, unlike other industrial workers.
We must see also that there is proper provision for new materials, some of which are highly toxic and some of which have qualities of which we are still unaware. We shall have to consider whether in this country we should not move into creating a disability income—a matter which my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has canvassed—so that we get away from the ridiculous argument whether a man is suffering from an industrial disease or an industrial accident or merely from a disease or an 99 accident not connected with his employment. This would be an enormous improvement.
I hope we can say that this debate marks a new awareness in all quarters of the need to do something. I believe that the way in which the Government have announced — or half-announced — what they are proposing to do is definitely unsatisfactory. Therefore I hope that we shall have a full-scale debate before the House rises, with a White Paper setting out the proposals contained in the Bill, or indeed a Second Reading on the Bill itself.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
I was grateful to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) for the skill with which he approached his subject, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), particularly as regards the way in which this debate has been handled. It is most extraordinary and is my first experience of a Minister summing up without hearing a single representation by any hon. Member. It is quite possible that we may not even have an opportunity to put questions to him.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I am in some doubt when the legislation is coming in. I am willing to give way if the Minister will tell me whether the Bill will come before the Companies Bill, which we are told will be placed before the House in the autumn. Or is the Companies Bill to come first? This has been held up for about a year, and I have tabled a number of Questions on the topic, which I now consider to be urgent. Is the Minister prepared to say now when the Bill will be placed before the House?
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that I am not responsible for the priorities of Government legislation. It would be very wrong for me to assess the priority of this compared with any other Bill. I said in my statement that there would be early legislation, and it will probably be next Session. This Parliamentary Session is well advanced, and a major Bill of this sort obviously could not be treated in the way it should in this Session. However, I take note of what my hon. Friend 100 has said. I made a definitive statement on behalf of the Government, and when we say "early legislation" we mean early legislation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
I hope hon. Gentlemen will recognise that there is approximately 50 minutes left for this debate and some six hon. Members who have been sitting here throughout the debate are anxious to speak.
§ Mr. Skeet
I am very much obliged to the Minister for his comments and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for indicating that we are short of time. I will confine myself to the topic of the unified inspectorate which we are told is to come into being.
I am concerned about this because the Robens Report, dealing with it in paragraph 105, said:We found some difficulty in forming a clear view about the third of our categories, which includes the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 and the Alkali etc. Works Regulation Act 1906and a little further on:they are concerned not with the safety and health of workpeople but with the need to control certain emissions from workplaces in the interests of public health and amenity.It goes on at a later stage to recommend that they all go into the unified inspectorate.
To my way of thinking this would appear to be wrong. The Minister says that he does not want a whole army of inspectors, because this is no way of solving this problem. These bodies have built up considerable expertise over the years, particularly the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate—I must disclose a certain interest here in that I advise a trade association—the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate and the Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate. These devote attention partly to what goes on in factories and partly to what happens outside: in the interest of the general public. If centralisation is imposed on them, in my opinion the result may be to sever the lines of communication to the head of their own department and the Secretary of State himself. In other words, this will be building up a large bureaucracy, and I very much doubt whether this system will work.
101 We have seen in the report a number of arguments to the effect that this would be a tidy arrangement, a pooling of talent, but surely there is no common denominator in the inspectorates involved. It is conceivable that what the Factory Inspectorate deals with is not the same as what the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate deals with, and where there is no chance of cross-fertilisation there can be no pooling of information to any useful purpose. It would therefore be better to leave things alone and allow these bodies to go on regulating their own areas, in which they have developed expertise and have made great strides in understanding recent technology.
I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the fact that the European Economic Community, which has referred to the general factory inspectors all industrial plant, is thinking of going in the opposite direction. It is now coming down to the establishment of independent inspectorates. It is a unique situation that we in the United Kingdom should be going for centralisation while the Common Market countries are proceeding from a centralised system to independent inspectorates. For the functions that I have mentioned, theirs seems to be the wiser course.
On the subject of the special expertise which has grown up, particularly in reference to the Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate, dealing with sulphur dioxides and fluorides, which have been a problem in the past, the inspectorate has taken into account the question whether technology has been sufficiently advanced to devise ways of dealing adequately with these troubles.
The inspectorate had adopted a consistent philosophy, that a plant should not be closed down provided that every care has been taken to remove sulphur dioxide from stacks of power stations and so on. About 95 per cent. of the sulphur is removed from the Bankside power station, for example, but it could be argued that the 5 per cent. still coming from the stacks is causing considerable harm or at least a nuisance. Therefore, plant is allowed to operate even though it has not achieved the ideal result. With the expertise available, the inspectorate is adopting the 102 right line by not shutting down plants needlessly: it is nevertheless safeguarding both the workers and the public.
Perhaps I might make one or two recommendations. First, the three inspectorates that I have mentioned should remain independent. I hope the Minister will consider this in his consultations. There is no point in merging three dissimilar groups along with others. All should, however, be placed under one Ministry, preferably the DTI. In the Minister's organisation I note that it will be under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Employment, but other sponsoring Ministries will have the right to bring in regulations. There might well be a good deal of inter-committee work which could lead to confusion.
Second, the inspectorate should be allowed to evolve towards integration with EEC facilities. As the EEC is going in this direction, we should take note of the trends and follow them.
Third, if I were to accept my hon. Friend's plan for a unified inspectorate, I hope that I might underline the point that in the integration these three units should remain independent structures so that many of their ideas will not be diluted or lost sight of as they travel up the tree to the higher authority where they will be dispensed as orders or regulations.
I hope that the Minister will set his investigations in train at an early stage, in consultation with the leading bodies, so as to get the plan right for passing into statutory form early in the new year.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
It is perhaps an eloquent testimony and commentary on this Government's priorities that, while they spent the first year of office forcing through a highly divisive and irrelevant Industrial Relations Act, we have waited almost a year for a debate on the vital topic of industrial safety. After that wait, it is only through the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that we have had the privilege of this debate. The whole House has cause to be grateful to him. It is a disgrace that we have had to wait until today for the Minister to make an announcement, and that a very nebulous 103 one, devoid of any real content, concerning the Government's intentions over Robens.
It is a source of amazement to me that we as a community can slaughter 7,000 people on the roads every year, and maim countless many more, and can slaughter 2,000 people in industry, through accident and disease, with the equanimity that we do. Indeed, 145 people were killed in the mines and quarries and 498 died of pneumoconiosis in 1969. From 2nd June 1969 to 30th May 1970 no fewer than 710,000 men needed time off because of accidents at work. Of these 146,000 were miners, 92,000 were in the construction industry, 14,000 in textiles and 26,000 in the food, drink and tobacco trades.
The tragedy is that so many of these accidents are unnecessary and quite avoidable. We all know of the uneven floors, the old and dangerous ladders, the obstructions, the unfenced machinery, the carelessly stacked goods, the unheeded complaints, inadequate instruction and inadequate equipment.
Those of us who are responsible in our work for drafting the statements and particulars of claim in industrial injuries cases in court are all too familiar with the remarkable variety of unsafe working places, unsafe plant and machinery and methods that we come across in industry. Those are our everyday stock in trade. Those who see these things being practised will realise that the Robens Report and its philosophy are entirely inadequate. The report in effect reflected society's lack of will to deal effectively with those who offend against the norms laid down by statute and orders.
In many ways the position is analogous with that of driving. It is no coincidence that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), whose PPS I was privileged to be at the time of the introduction of the Road Safety Act, who set up the Robens Committee. When she did so, I am sure that she had in mind the way in which that Act had created the social norm with regard to drunken driving, the taking of alcohol and the danger to life.
When she set up the committee my right hon. Friend emphasised:our determination to bring the standards of safety and health of people at work up to the 104 high levels that we have the right to demand in a civilised societyThat determination is not reflected in what I would term the logical fallacy of the Robens Report, which is based upon an almost naїve faith in voluntary codes of conduct in industry which are not enforceable, valuable though they may be.
Of course one welcomes the idea of the unification of the inspectorate into one central body—that is the product of any tidy mind—but that does not ensure that real pressure will be put on employers or that the inspectors will necessarily lean on the offenders. Nor does it guarantee that the inspectorate will be of an adequate size. The Minister who is to be responsible has told us nothing about an increase in size. The inspectorate makes pious noises and hands out useful advice, but it should often hand out something a good deal stronger to recalcitrant employers.
The consolidation into one code is also welcomed. That is another product of the tidy mind, and it is rationalisation, but rationalisation does not necessarily mean that improvement will follow. It will follow only if we extend, rather than water down, the existing provisions of the Factories Acts and the other legislation covered in the report, within the ambit of the unified system, so that no one loses the long established protection of those Acts.
The logical fallacy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwel/ty referred, is to say that because there is too much complicated law which is not being enforced properly one should not rely on it. Of course Robens is right to say that the first duty must lie with management. Those who employ are the ones who should be responsible. What is wrong today is not that there is too much law but that the existing law is not being administered or enforced properly. We need good law which is soundly and efficiently administered. We punish a careless driver; why should we not punish a careless employer? Of course we can sue him at common law, but those of us who are involved in that know of the difficulties. We know about the cost, particularly if an employee is not supported by a trade union. Many accidents occur in small factories where there is very little protection. We know how the insurance companies play for time. 105 and we know that the insurance companies have vast power against the individual litigant. The length of time taken is itself a serious cause of illness in industry because the period following an accident before litigation often leads to neurosis on the part of the litigant.
There is complete inadequacy of quantum of damage. How does one assess the loss of an eye or the loss of a leg? A very interesting document was put out by the Post Office Engineering Union recently. It referred to examples of this within the context of common law and of the National Insurance Industrial Injuries Act, and said that the compensation for 100 per cent. disablement was £10 a week and the loss of a whole index finger resulted in not a pension, but a lump sum of £495.
Those of us who see the workings of the National Insurance Industrial Injuries Act are aware of the inadequacy of damages, and also that over the years the value of money has been going down. It has been going down even faster over the last three years. Under the social security system, when there is liability without fault 30,000 widows are receiving benefit apart from the wives of those crippled for life and those who have been badly injured.
There is no built-in system to deal with increases in the cost of living. I spent a year looking at the French system. In that at least there is a built-in system whereby as the value of money falls the pension increases. These are things that the Ministry should look at. The Ministry might look at the fact that within the industrial injuries system industrial diseases, if not caused by an accident which is prescribed even on the balance of probability, may have been caused by an employment and these workers are not covered. I raised this matter in an Adjournment debate. They are not covered in spite of the fact that more and more toxic substances and processes are causing industrial disease.
We attach far too little value to the limbs of people working in industry. We attach far too little value to people's hearing and the whole problem of industrial deafness. There is not time to go into it now, but in the past there has been a disgraceful approach to people in industry and far too little attention paid to the 106 mental hazards in industry. I wonder how many of those who have been caused to take days off through sickness with an aching back or some other apparently physical complaint has been in that condition because of depression or some other mental stress. Not enough attention is paid to that. It is fatuous for the Minister or for the Robens Report to say that we therefore need less regulation and more voluntary codes of conduct.
We have heard about consultation. We need not so much consultation as real control by workers in industry in regard to industrial safety. It may offend some of my hon. Friends when I point out that in the EEC countries, not least in Germany and Holland, there is real supervisory control by workers on management boards and boards of directors—a third in Germany and half in Holland—where they can exercise control. Of course I want to see joint safety committees in factories. I want to see workers exercising control in this way.
Many must have been shocked by the findings of the Public Interest Research Centre and in the report about the small amount of money spent on safety aids and the fact that on the basis of the factory inspector's report a third of the fatal accidents were caused by management directly and alone. The investigators concluded:that there is insufficient evidence to show that management in general has taken seriously its responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of its employees. We believe that self-regulation has been tried and has not worked.There has not been any enforcement, and this is the crux of this whole problem that we are debating.
A duty must be placed upon employers not only to inform the public, not only to bring workers into consultation, but to give them their rights. There is a side problem here—the employee injured by a third party. I have had a tragic example of that in my constituency last week. I should like to see a comprehensive occupational health service and far more emphasis placed on mental health. I should like to see not an independent body but a departmental Minister, rather than an autonomous body, dealing with the whole problem of industrial safety, enforcement and sanctions.
To pursue the analogy about the driver, when a driver is careless we prosecute 107 him and, if necessary, endorse his licence or take it away from him. Anyone who says that he failed to take action because he was ignorant of what the right action should have been is not making an excuse which is held to be valid, because every driver, if he is to have a licence, ought to take that necessary action. If we take away the licence of a careless, a dangerous or a drunken driver, how much more ought we to take away the licence of employers who do not care for the welfare of their employees? It is not enough for them to say that they did not know or that in some way this was mere negligence and a civil offence. I believe it is a criminal offence and ought to be treated as such. That is the norm we ought to establish, because if it is criminal to use a car in such a way that a person is injured or killed it is also criminal for an employer to act in a way which causes injury or death to other persons.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There are 31 minutes to go and five hon. Members have been sitting patiently waiting to take part in the debate. I hope that I may be able to get them all in; the mathematics are simple.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)
The House is grateful to and has shown sympathy with the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) for bringing this vitally important matter before us, but the House has also shown its undoubted will and I hope that the Government Front Bench has taken this very much to heart so that we may have a full debate on this subject before legislation is brought forward.
In the hope that when that debate comes I may be able to take part, I do not intend to go into the faith and works controversy concerning the Robens Report between the question of legislation and self-regulation, save to say that I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), as a common law lawyer, calling for an extension of existing legislation. Everyone wants clearer and better law on this subject but anyone who has had to deal with that monster of a book "Redgrave's Factory Acts" would agree that what is needed is not more legislation but 108 simpler legislation that can be understood not only by the practitioner but by those who have to administer it on the shop floor.
I wish to deal briefly with three subjects. I took a lot of encouragement from what was said by the Minister about the need for a co-ordinated research policy in occupational safety and health. I hope that this point will be well to the fore in any legislation which the Government introduce. There is no doubt that the fight for improved safety is a continually changing battle. It is not only a question of the increased use of toxic and corrosive substances, mentioned by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), but it is also a matter of the changes in technology which make it vitally important that a proper bank of statistics and information should be built up and regularly disseminated throughout industry through an effective information service. This should also deal with the sharing of research results.
I echo what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Model) about noise. This is no new problem. Sometimes, not only in this House but elsewhere, since the introduction of the code dealing with noise it is spoken of as if it were a new question. The information has been available since 1963, when Sir Alan Wilson's committee reported on noise. The time is coming when, coupled with the importance of greater information on other aspects of safety, there will be a desperate need for more information not only on industrial deafness but about the long-term effects of noise throughout the night, particularly at the end of a night shift. It is the wearing-away effect of continual noise that causes many of the serious industrial accidents just before dawn.
The third thing which I hope will be taken firmly to heart before legislation is brought in is this. It has been inherent in much of what has been said that it is not only the system of safety which needs to be dealt with, overall and quickly, but also the whole system of industrial actions and the recovery of damages. We have at last had the appointment of Lord Pearson's Committee on this subject. I hope that, whatever happens, that report will be made available as quickly as is reasonably possible so that it will not suffer 109 the same fate as Mrs. Justice Lane's report on abortion, for which we have all been waiting since 1970. I hope that an outline of the Pearson Report will be made available on an interim basis so that when legislation is introduced next Session hon. Members will know just what the proposals are about recovery of damages and so that both that and Robens can be debated together.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) upon introducing this motion and upon his speech. I was surprised at the attitude of the Minister. There is a lot of good in the Robens Report but there are many weaknesses in it. I am surprised that the Minister should have had the audacity to come to the House with an unprinted White Paper and tell us what the Government are thinking of introducing by way of safety legislation. The House should not be treated in that way. Safety is an important subject.
Over 2,000 people lose their lives annually. A great many of these accidents could be prevented. We must remember that we are not legislating for the good employer. We are not legislating for those industries where safety matters are well controlled by the trade unions. We are dealing with the hundreds of employers throughout the country who are indifferent to safety. The Minister recently made a statement which was published in "Safety and Rescue" above the headline:Smith slams lax scaffold firms.There were 14 fatalities as a result of faulty scaffolding last year. Out of 40 scaffoldings examined 40 per cent. were weak and unsafe. Then we talk about the employer at the factory observing safety procedure.
The greatest insurance is to make certain that workers are involved and consulted so that they can put pressure on management. When a small firm is involved, what chance has one poor worker of being heard without any trade union backing? There is no chance that he will be heard at all. We must lay the law down firmly about standards of safety throughout industry. Only about 8 per cent. of the accidents which occur in this country result in compensation 110 being paid to the victim, other than industrial injury benefit. Less than 2 per cent. of all cases for damages go through the courts.
There are many things happening in industry of which we are not really aware. I do not believe that the Robens Committee was aware of them all, despite the fact that it gave us a tremendous amount of information. I hope that we shall be able to have a full-length debate on this subject. I hope, too, that legislation will soon be introduced. We must give careful consideration to those who are employed by the indifferent and bad employers. It is up to this House to make certain that there are laws which will safeguard the lives of our people. We can do that only by making certain that the bad and indifferent employers conform to certain standards.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
By now the Minister will have got the message from this debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). It is not good enough to present legislation on such an important subject without prior debate in the House. The Minister should have got the message that we need more than the Robens Report. Earlier I pointed out that the trade union movement has for many years discussed the question of statutory management-worker safety committees in industry. Ultimately, it is from the standpoint of the collective work force that any legal framework can be enforced. This is not a matter essentially for lawyers or for statutes, although they have a rôle to play. The grass roots are much more important in sensing circumventions of regulations. A situation arises, stimulated by statute and regulation, in which discussion can take place.
We all know that on occasions the Factories Acts and their requirements and regulations made under them are breached because workers and management think that by removing safety devices from dangerous machinery output can be increased. We all know from experience that that is very much a two-way traffic in industry. But if, on occasions, factory inspectors are called in by means of a secret communication, that is more likely to be done by a shop steward than by the management, which 111 is an indication that, while there are many good employers and managements who are safety conscious, there are many others who are not.
My second reason for intervening in the debate is that, as perhaps my colleagues will recall, before I came to the House I was very much involved in trade union education. Questions of health and safety at work have always occupied a considerable portion of the educational programme of trade union studies. The TUC and the National Council of Labour Colleges deal with these matters at summer schools, through postal courses, and so on.
The common law system as it applies to industrial injuries is barbaric. We all know of the battles that take place between lawyers acting for the trade unions, and paid for out of trade union funds, and those acting for the employer's insurers. Often cases are settled out of court. In fact, more cases are settled out of court than inside. That is a barbaric activity in totality and ought to be changed, and the sooner the better.
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a report about a new measure that has been introduced in New Zealand. I do not suggest that we should slavishly follow that system, but we ought to get away from the present system under which it is necessary to prove negligence by the employer himself or negligence for which he is vicariously responsible.
If there were an accident because of a hole in the floor, if the employer's attention had been called to that hole before the accident he would be held to be negligent, but if his attention had not been called to it he would not. That is nonsense, and we must move away from that situation.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
I intend to confine my remarks to the subject which I thought we were debating, namely, the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on winning the Ballot and introducing his motion in the way he did. It is to his motion that I propose to speak, and I shall not comment on the Robens Report since that is a totally different matter. I want to restrict my 112 thinking to the question of industrial noise, because it is a subject in its own right which deserves our attention.
Anyone who has been round a factory, or a series of factories, is aware of the different noise levels there. Sometimes the noise is bearable, but in drop forges, machine shops, furniture factories and so on, the noise is deafening. The strange thing is that although the noise is deafening, seldom are those factories equipped with acoustic devices or other means for dampening the noise. They are nearly always stark buildings which seem, in a sense, to echo and increase the amount of noise being created by the operations taking place within them.
Although that is the case, and although one would have thought that the noise level was intolerable, it is rarely that one sees notices delineating a noise hazard area, or notices that workers should wear ear muffs or even put cotton wool in their ears. The fact is that noise in industry is still taken for granted and is not regarded as a cause for alarm and concern.
Only this month a company of acoustic engineers, R. J. McConnell, of Hertfordshire, produced a report in which it said thatNoise on the shop floor is gradually deafening more than half the workers in heavy industry.The weakness of the report is that it does not define "heavy industry", and it is therefore difficult to know how many people are concerned. As has been said so often in this debate, however, at least 500,000 people are working in noise levels of 90 decibels or more, and we should not kid ourselves that because they are working at that noise level they are free from the danger of noise-induced deafness, because that is not the case.
The new code of practice—it is the first such document to come from any Government in the history of this country, and therefore my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friends are to be congratulated on bringing it in—makes it clear that if anyone is exposed for eight hours in any day to levels of 90 decibels with the "A" weighting he is at risk. That is the maximum permissible level. Above that, there is serious danger of deafness.
But because we have accepted 90 decibels as the maximum level that can be 113 allowed and above which damage will occur, we should also take note of another interesting publication by Mrs. Jean Stone, another acoustical engineer who, in "Noise Control and Hearing Conservation", published last month, said:It is to be hoped that the 90 decibel level will not come to be regarded as the ultimate objective in noise control. It can be shown that daily exposure to levels of 85 to 90 decibels will result in 4 per cent. of the exposed working force developing a moderate degree of deafness, and 2 per cent. will become quite severely deaf.The irony of it all is that even though we have welcomed Robens today we have not accepted noise-induced deafness as an industrial disease. I cannot press too strongly on my hon. Friend and on the Government that the Department of Health and Social Security should recognise deafness as an industrial injury, because so many experts have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that it is the case.
I have commented on the fact that the code of practice is the first piece of advisory documentation to be introduced by any Government in this country. Yet for one hundred years or more we have been an industrial nation. One is therefore amazed to find that this subject, which I find so oppressive, has been largely ignored by the trade union movement, to name but one great industrial organisation. I do not know why the unions should be so little concerned about the environment in which workers go about their daily work. Perhaps they are more concerned about finding jobs for people than about the conditions in which that work is carried out. To my mind, excessive noise is an unacceptable pollution of the industrial environment and as such should be stopped.
I have said that the trade union movement generally does not seem to be concerned about excessive noise, but there are honourable exceptions, such as, for instance, the Associated Metal Workers' Society and the National Union of Hose-wear and Knitwear Workers, both of which have set in hand research projects and done a great deal for their workers.
Management is equally culpable with trade unions, except that it might be argued that the unions should be taking up the cause of the employees with the management rather than vice versa.
114 Therefore, we must introduce a programme for educating the workers about the dangers they are running. On "World in Action" recently there was a programme about noise in industry. In the programme a bulldozer driver was told that the code of practice laid down that the safe dose for anyone working in a noise environment of 105 decibels was 15 minutes a day and that that was the decibel level in the cab of his bulldozer. When asked whether he was worried about it, he said "So long as the money is good, I do not care." That epitomises so much of the attitude to noise.
Industrial deafness does not come on immediately; it is a gradual deterioration and, because it is gradual, it follows that one is not conscious day by day of what is happening. I wish that bulldozer driver could have thought of some of the things which he was letting himself in for when he was gaining all that money. Deafness will certainly be his lot before he finishes his working life. With it will come all the problems of communication, and an almost total inability to enjoy all the money he has earned. He will undoubtedly suffer from all sorts of stress characteristics and unexpected fatigue. And there now seems to be a reasonable connection between the stress created by excessive noise and coronary heart disease.
Therefore, noise in industry is no laughing matter and cannot be brushed lightly aside. Lord Robens's committee argued that there should be legislation to back up the code. However, several Labour Members have cogently asked how we enforce industrial legislation if we rely on the Factory Inspectorate or on the apparently much larger inspectorate merely because we have grouped a whole lot of inspectorates together. Clearly we cannot.
To this extent the concept of self-regulation has a certain amount to commend it. If trade unions were more conscious of the dangers of noise, surely they would be pressing the employers to do more about introducing measures to reduce noise within factories and, where that is impossible, making their workers wear protective ear muffs or cotton wool.
We must look upon the test of hearing as one more medical check that should be made when a worker's health is tested. Once we have established a norm of 115 hearing, we must go in for continual checks to see how much the hearing has been impaired by the noise of the environment in which the man has been working and, when we have defined the amount of impairment caused by industrial noise, we must introduce a pension or at any rate an injury benefit for those whose hearing has been damaged because of noise at their place of work.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
It is no coincidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has chosen this subject. My hon. Friend follows a former distinguished Member of the House, Mr. Harold Finch, whose knowledge of industrial injuries and industrial legislation, complicated though it is, was second to none. I compliment my hon. Friend on following that great tradition. Neither is it any coincidence that my hon. Friend represents a mining constituency in which the dread disease of pneumoconiosis is so prevalent.
I would have a great deal to say on the subject of the Robens Report were we discussing it. I have much to say on the motion, but I intend to confine myself to one serious anomaly. We have heard a great deal about bad employers, but the employers to whom I wish to refer are the Government themselves.
I wish to refer to the serious anomaly which arises if an injury occurs to an unemployed person who has been asked to take work in a Government training centre. My hon. Friend has called for new legislation to deal with these matters. To save time I shall refer briefly to the anomaly I have in mind, and I ask the Minister seriously to consider it when he is framing legislation.
A claim for industrial injuries benefit was received by Mr. X on a certain date. He was suffering from dermatitis of the hands and forearms. At the time of the claim he was a trainee motor vehicle fitter in a Government training centre. It has been established that Mr. X suffers from a prescribed disease, but, unfortunately, he was not in insurable employment when he contracted the disease. In other words, he was undertaking a vocational training course, in receipt of training allowances and, therefore, was not following an occupation in the true sense of the word. 116 He was, therefore, denied industrial injuries benefit.
I took this matter up with the Minister and I received this reply:Benefit under the provisions of the Industrial Injuries is payable only in respect of incapacity or disablement resulting from an industrial accident …".This man was being trained in a Government Department. Although he contracted dermatitis he could not receive industrial injuries benefit. If many unemployed workers were fully cognisant of this anomaly they would be very hesitant about undergoing industrial training.
As a consequent of my taking the matter up with the Minister, the Minister suggested an ex gratia payment for my constituent amounting to about £13. What about the continuing effect of the industrial disease of dermatitis? I repeat that this is a Government Department, not the wretched employers we have heard about in so many other instances.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)
After having sat through the whole of the debate I am happy to be able to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on having introduced it. Unfortunately, I cannot congratulate the Government, because, in their airy-fairy way, they have merely told us that they intend to introduce legislation to implement the Robens Report.
One of the main reasons why industrial accidents occur is the amount of overtime worked. This is a question to which trade unions must apply themselves. The hours worked in British industry are the highest in the whole of Europe, but the holiday rate is the lowest in the whole of Europe. This is another question to which trade unions must apply themselves.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) said that the trade unions must apply themselves to the question of noise abatement. At every trade union conference scores of resolutions on this question are debated and approved. They are submitted to Governments of both political complexions. Unfortunately, no Government have taken action in the matter.
117 I pointed out to the Minister in an Adjournment debate that in many factories it is not permissible to have a safety committee. This applies even in organised factories where shop stewards are not permitted, as shop stewards, to be members of safety committees. I hope that the Government will note this matter in introducing legislation.
I learned from an answer to a Question I put that Scotland does not have sufficient factory inspectors. Factories are visited only after three years have elapsed. This is a poor way to look after the safety of work people. I hope that the Government will take cognisance of the points which have been made during the debate because they must be prepared to introduce legislation to deal with a matter that has caused a great deal of concern throughout British industry.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House considers that there is an urgent need for generally improved provision for safety and health at work including extensive education of workers and employers and new comprehensive legislation to deal with precautions against and consequences of industrial accidents and diseases.