§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before calling the Secretary of State for Employment to move the Second Reading of the Bill, I would inform the House that I have not selected the amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and others.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Foot)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I cannot claim, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who will conclude the debate can claim, to be an expert on this subject and on the Bill. Over recent days I have spent several hours acquainting myself with the matters in the Bill, and the more I have read about them the more absorbed I have become in them. In that spirit, I think it a great honour to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
I assure the many hon. Members present who have participated in debates on this subject much more than I have done in past years—particularly many of my hon. Friends who represent mining constituencies—that I approach the matter with some understanding of their views upon it. I shall come later in my remarks to that aspect, which is a most important one. Before doing so perhaps I might refer to the origins of the Bill.
The first author of the Bill, indeed the author of many good things, is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. It was her decision to invite Lord Robens to preside over the Committee on Safety and Health at Work which examined most of the matters that are incorporated in the Bill, and it was that decision that set in motion the process which we are now seeking to complete. Lord Robens perhaps does not still hold the same high place on the pedestal in the Socialist pantheon which was once his. Some people say that he departed from this position of his own accord. Other people say that it was a case of mistaken identity from the first. 1287 Whatever may be the situation, it would be churlish of me and of the House not to acknowledge the work which he and his committee did in making this measure generally possible.
After the publication of the Robens Report there occurred what was described in one of the papers presented to me as a prolonged and intensive period of interdepartmental consultation. What that means is that there was a first-class Whitehall row. I was much too innocent to imagine that such things occurred, but I was informed that there had been a war which, although it has led to this happy conclusion, was a classic in Whitehall history. We are glad that that Whitehall war has led to triumph all round. We are prepared for the laurels to be shared by every Department in Whitehall so long as we in the Department of Employment retain the sword, as we do. We believe, therefore, that a perfectly proper arrangement has been reached.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) also played his part in making possible the peaceful conclusion of that Whitehall war. I am not sure whether he will today make the speech that he might have made on a previous occasion.
An accident might have occurred as the result of the generally happy outcome of the General Election. It would have been the one disadvantage of that happy outcome if in the process the Bill had been lost. That might have happened, because the Government have many urgent Bills to push through. According to the newspapers, all the measures are to go through by a process of gushing unanimity. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall be bringing forward other Bills which he will be able to greet with the same enthusiasm as I am sure he will show for this legislation. We believe that it is a good idea that this Bill should have been brought forward. It would have been a wretched and pitiable business if after all the work and labour put in by the various Departments, and particularly by the Department of Employment, the Bill had been lost. Therefore, we should all congratulate ourselves that the Bill has not been lost.
§ Mr. Foot
And will not be lost, as I understand it.
Anybody who wishes to understand the subject matter of the Bill which is of major significance, has only to read the opening sentences of the Robens Report. I assure the House that I have got much further than the opening sentences, but those passages show that every year, as a result of industrial injuries and accidents, nearly 1,000 people are killed, 500.000 workers are injured, and 23 million working days are lost. It is an enormous figure. When I heard the figure of 23 million, it rang a bell in my mind. I could not help wondering where I had heard the figure before—and then I remembered. The figure of 23 million was the number of days lost as a result of the first year of the operation of the Industrial Relations Act, in 1972. The Robens Report, on page 2, says that discussions on safety and health at work should play as prominent a part in our debates as should discussions about industrial relations. We agree with that view.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
My right hon. Friend has mentioned a figure of 23 million working days lost. Does he appreciate that 38 million working days were lost owing to mental illness in industry and that, for some accountable reason, that subject is excluded from the Bill?
§ Mr. Foot
I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned that matter; I was sure that he would bring it in at some point or other because he is one of the signatories to the motion on that subject which appears on today's Order Paper. I am sure my hon. Friend will enlarge on this subject when he comes to speak, and I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will also enlarge upon it when he replies to the debate.
It is not correct to say that mental illness is excluded from the Bill in any sense whatever. Although in Clause 1(1)(a) we do not refer to a number of other matters and diseases and afflictions which are dealt with in the Bill, such as pneumoconiosis, these and other matters are covered by the Bill's provisions. This applies to mental illness. These matters will also be covered by the work to be carried out by the Employment Medical Advisory Service, which is incorporated 1289 in the Bill. I assure my hon. Friend that the investigation process and the rest of the Bill can deal with mental diseases and mental afflictions that arise from people's work. The Bill is also framed so that those matters can be dealt with in the regulations. If my hon. Friend has anything further he wishes to raise on the topic, we shall be glad to hear from him, and my hon. Friend will reply to him at the end of the debate.
Although it is true that the measure is based on the Robens Report, I do not think it is right for anybody to jump to the conclusion that we have been confined by that report, because in several respects the Bill goes much further. In certain respects we believe that the Bill is much more precise; and although the Robens Report has played an essential part in the production of the Bill, it cannot be said to be by any means the last word on the subject. As well as having read during the last week or so the Robens Report, I have also read an excellent book on the subject entitled "The Hazards of Work and How to Fight Them", by Patrick Kinnersly, published by Pluto Press. Although that book was published only a week or two ago, I recommend it to all who are interested in this subject because I feel that the book should be set alongside the Robens Report.
William Hazlitt used to say that a friend of his had bound in one volume a copy of Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the French Revolution" and Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man". He said that those bound together in one book made a good book. I believe that in the same way the Robens Report and Patrick Kinnersly's book should be taken together since they make an excellent introduction to the whole Bill. It can be said that we have been able to learn something from both publications, and there is certainly a more astringent approach to the subject in "The Hazards of Work" than there is in some part of the Robens doctrine. Before the publication of the latest book the Department had discussions on this subject, representations have been made by many of my hon. Friends, and legislation has been introduced by some of my hon. Friends when we were in Opposition. Therefore, they have contributed to the nature of the present Bill.
1290 I come to the central feature of the Bill; namely, the proposal for establishing a Health and Safety Commission. That is overwhelmingly the most important aspect of this legislation. I must emphasise that I am not a devotee of bigness for bigness's sake. I do not think that centralisation is a good thing in itself. It is only good if it serves some other purpose successfully. Nor am I in favour in principle of hiving off bodies from the control of Government Departments and of setting up more and more new bodies whose responsibilities to this House may become more and more strained or difficult to discover. I am not in favour of dissipating departmental responsibility to this House, as has happened in some legislation in the recent past.
It might be said by those who have listened to my presentation so far that we have departed from and defied those doctrines in this Bill. I hope to explain why that is not the case. The central proposition of the Robens Report cannot be contested. There are five Departments involved, nine statutes, 500 subordinate instruments, and seven different inspectorates—all trying to deal with this complicated modern problem that is changing all the time. The Robens Committee, on page 11 of the report, states the case most succinctly as follows:No Government Department with responsibilities in this field can take any major initiative without close and extensive consultation with several other departments which have similar or related interests and responsibilities. When difficulties arise, no single department is in a position to ensure progress. In our view the obsolescence and inadequacies of many of the existing statutory provisions and enforcing arrangements are in no small part due to the fact that where overlapping responsibilities are involved 'the need to have wide consultation may mean that all can move forward only at the pace of the slowest'.In the face of that conclusion when dealing with matters of life and death, it was impossible for us to continue with the old system and impossible for us to avoid the conclusion that there had to be some form of centralisation to deal with one aspect of the matter, and that is what is proposed in the Bill. That will be the function of the Health and Safety Commission.
Although that commission will be responsible through Ministers to this House, and although Ministers will be 1291 responsible for the regulations which are to be passed—principally Ministers in my Department—Questions will be proper in this House in a way in which sometimes they have been prevented in dealing with the nationalised industries. It is not our intention to set up a body which becomes remote from questioning in this House. Nor do we intend to set up a body to deal with these subjects which has poor relations with the local authorities which will still have to do a great part of this operation.
One of the successes and triumphs of those responsible for these negotiations has been the way in which they have worked out these proposals in conjunction with the local authorities, which, I understand, are fully satisfied with the arrangements that have been made. In that respect, too, we have made considerable progress.
The Bill goes considerably further than Robens, as I have emphasised. It does so in many respects, especially in terms of enforcement. The enforcement provisions are very much stronger than anything that has appeared in this kind of legislation before. I have been much impressed by statements that I have heard from Mr. Brian Harvey, the Chief Inspector of Factories, part of whose vision and enthusiasm for this project is incorporated in the Bill. He tells me that not only does he think that this measure is the biggest one to have been seen this century but that it gives to the inspectorates and to the commission sharper, longer and tougher teeth for dealing with all the misdemeanours, mistakes and offences which may occur under the Bill. Therefore, the House can be assured that we have gone considerably further in the Bill than the so-called rather permissive arrangements which were envisaged in parts of the Robens Report and, therefore, that the measure does what the Chief Inspector has advocated, which is that we should provide greater powers for dealing with this situation.
It was necessary because no one could be satisfied with what was occurring. Over the past 10 years or so, despite all efforts, it appeared that the numbers of accidents and injuries were not declining and that there must be an explanation for it. Moreover, there are fresh develop- 1292 ments in different forms of pollution and different forms of danger and menace to workers in factories and in the neighbourhood of factories. All these matters have to be dealt with by a commission with powers of initiative, powers of enforcement and powers to do the job more effectively than anything that we have had in the past.
I come now to the matter which has given us the greatest anxiety in producing the Bill and to which we have given a great deal of attention and time in the past few weeks, having taken over the Bill.
All along, the National Union of Mineworkers and to some extent the Mining Inspectorate have expressed anxieties about what was to happen to the Mining Inspectorate. I can well understand the attitude of the miners. I understand it partly because I represent a mining constituency and many of my constituents have discussed the matter with me over the years ever since the days of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and even earlier.
No one who knows anything about the coalfields will deny that the fight for safety has had a very strong political inflection in it. It has not been possible to separate the one from the other. Part of the fight for nationalisation, if that is the right word, was a fight to ensure that miners were not sent to their deaths because of the pursuit of profits and the driving power of extra production. For that reason, it has never been possible for miners to separate safety from the most essential political questions in which they have been engaged.
The miners approach the matter with a special interest on that account and because, long before almost any other section of workers in the country, they had established provisions which do not apply in the rest of industry. This Bill will try to apply to some of the rest of industry a number of the protections—very often trade union protections—that the miners established for themselves long before most other groups of workers.
For all those reasons, and because the NUM has had faith in the way that the inspectorate has done its job and because it did not wish to see that position weakened, the union has expressed considerable anxiety about the Bill. It expressed them to those who were drawing 1293 up the Bill. Immediately we decided to proceed with the Bill we had consultations with the union to attempt to reassure it on all the questions which had caused it anxiety.
I cannot say whether we have succeeded in allaying all those anxieties, because I know how deep they go. But we have done our best, and we shall continue to do so because we recognise the importance of the mining community, above all, understanding our purpose in the Bill.
We have assured the miners that there will be no gap in the changeover from one system to the other. There will be no arrangement whereby the protections which they have under the 1954 Act lapse and they have to wait to see what is to be put in their place. The present protections will remain in operation until the fresh detailed regulations are agreed, and the NUM will play a leading part in seeing that those regulations have the same force as the law has now. Along with the National Coal Board and others, the NUM will have every opportunity to ensure that the regulations are designed to suit their purposes.
Moreover, although there will be a greater unity with the establishment of the Health and Safety Commission, there will not be uniformity in the sense that it will all be one inspectorate. The separate inspectorate and the separate operation of the experts who have applied their minds to dealing with mining questions will be sustained. The identity of the inspectorate will be sustained, and the miners will have the knowledge also that any changes will have to be proposed through the Department of Employment, probably in consultation with Ministers at the Department of Energy. The inspectorate will have the fullest opportunity, as will the NUM, not merely in devising the regulations, which we believe will be amongst the very first to be put into operation, but in sustaining that consultation throughout the operation of the new arrangements. I believe, therefore, that there is every good reason for these anxieties to be allayed.
I hope that those of my hon. Friends who represent mining constituencies will look upon the Bill as a part of the contribution that they make through their union and through the action that they have always taken over the matter of 1294 safety. They have pioneered the position for many other workers.
One of the principal features of the Bill is that about 5 million workers who have previously been excluded from safety provisions will be brought within the cover of the Bill. I therefore think that the miners can congratulate themselves that they have taken part in leading the way towards this kind of development. As I told their president and officers when they came to see me on the matter, the most conclusive argument why we hope the miners will be prepared to accept the proposals we put forward—they can ask for amendments on detailed matters in Committee if they wish—is that if the mining inspectorate were to be taken out of the Bill the Bill would collapse. It would not then be possible to maintain the whole arrangement because every other inspectorate would be putting forward similar arguments, perhaps not with the same force as the miners.
So it is essential to the Bill that the mining inspectorate shall be kept within it. That is why the TUC has been in favour of proceeding with the Bill along these lines, and I hope that on that basis my Friends from the mining constituencies will believe, as I think the officers of their union believe, that we have done everything in our power to understand and appreciate the force of their arguments.
§ Mr. George Grant (Morpeth)
My right hon. Friend has rightly voiced the fear of the mining industry that some of the regulations that the industry has fought for over many years would be eroded. Is it my right hon. Friend's intention to upgrade the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, keeping the good parts, and at the same time bringing new provisions into this Bill?
§ Mr. Foot
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said, and I am glad that he put it that way. The Government believe that the protections in this Bill will be even stronger than those in that Act. The miners will have the protection they want under the new regulations. Certainly, neither I nor the Government would be party to presenting regulations governing such an important matter as this to the mining industry without the fullest consultations with the National Union of Mineworkers. I hope that they 1295 are assured that we are going about it in a proper way.
I turn to another major feature of the Bill which, to some extent derives from what I have been saying and from what we have learned from experience in the mining industry. I said earlier that the mining industry had been the pioneers in the matter of safety. In Clause 2 we have gone much further than anything that was proposed in the Robens Report, and further than anything that was proposed in the Conservative Bill, in order to give the trade unions the legal right to establish safety committees and to be able to take the initiative in their establishment.
We propose to proceed as quickly as possible with the regulations which the National Union of Mineworkers wishes to see implemented and to carry through the provisions of subsections (4), (5) and (6) of Clause 2, which show our determination that the trade unions shall be enabled and given the legal right—not merely a right at the whim of an employer—to establish the kind of committees which they think are necessary.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
What will be the position of the safety committees already established—as they are in some factories in my constituency and in other parts of the country—in factories which are only partly unionised and where the employees as a whole have elected members to serve on a safety committee? Will they be debarred by the Bill from continuing their work on behalf of the employees?
§ Mr. Foot
We shall have to see a changeover. We have set out in the Bill why we think it is the recognised trade unions which can best perform this function. I do not mean "recognised" in the ugly sense in which the word was used in the Industrial Relations Act 1971. That Act will have been repealed by the time this Bill comes into operation. It is our intention that the recognised trade unions should conduct the safety operations and the safety committees and have the initiative in these matters. We think that is the best way of dealing with the matter.
§ Mr. Foot
We have set it out in the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members wish to raise further matters, I shall deal with them. I agree that it is an extremely important part of the Bill. I emphasised that at the beginning of my speech. We believe that the dangers of carrying it out in another way could lead to greater difficulties. Therefore, we have set out in the Bill the way in which we think this should be achieved.
I should like to quote something to the House. I came across this when I was reading the accounts of how the miners had approached these safety questions. It is a quotation which strongly underlines what I am saying about making this provision necessary. It concerns the Gresford disaster. It was one of the worst—if not the worst—disasters in mining history.
In 1937 Sir Henry Walker, the Chief Inspector of Mines, gave his statement—almost his verdict—on what had happened at Gresford. He said:I hope that I am not exceeding my function in saying now what I have held for many years, that miners should be members of some effective trades union. That opinion is based on the grounds of safety, with which I am alone concerned, for I believe that a well organised trades union, wisely directed, can be as potent an influence for promoting greater safety in mines as it is already in matters, for example, of wages and conditions of employment.I read that passage with some astonishment. It casts a strange light on the progress that has been made in the intervening years, because of the 265 persons killed at Gresford only 78 were paid-up members of the union in North Wales. Many were in arrears with their contributions. Others, unfortunately, were non-unionists. I believe that those figures, and the judgment of one who inquired into that terrible disaster, should be noted by the House, and it should understand why the Government are so determined that the legal rights of recognised trade unions should be written into a Bill of this character.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
As these regulations are to be so important—I support the principle—and as they 1297 were the subject of previous Bills which were presented but did not get through this House, is not it important that the regulations should be subject to full debate by means of the affirmative resolution procedure?
§ Mr. Foot
I am in favour of the regulations being debated in the House. The regulations governing the mining industry, and the clause with which I am dealing, are of first importance, and in so far as these matters rest in my hands—not everything rests in my hands unfortunately, alas for the country—I am in favour of ensuring that there will be full opportunity for the House to debate these regulations. Prior to that, my hon. Friend will be dealing with the matter more extensively later.
I hope that the Opposition will not think it too offensive to them, or too partisan a way of approaching this matter, if I say that the Government have special reasons for thinking that we are justified in discussing this question in the way that we do, and for taking some pleasure in the proposed passage of a Bill of this kind. Almost the first Bill that was passed which could even distantly be described as a health and safety Bill—although that was carrying it too far—the Factories Act, was passed largely because of the exertions of Robert Owen, who was described, rightly, by Engels as the founder of English Socialism.
I shall read the quotation, not only because of its intrinsic interest to this debate, but because of its related interest to the future. Prior to the passage of that Act in 1819, Robert Owen went up and down the country accompanied by his 14-year-old son, Robert Dale Owen, who later described what he had seen. That is the origin of the Bill we now seek to put on the statute book. Robert Dale said:As a preliminary measure we visited all the chief factories in Great Britain. The facts we collected seemed to me terrible almost beyond belief. Not in exceptional cases, but as a rule, we found children of ten years old worked regularly 14 hours a day, with but half an hour's interval for the midday meal, which was eaten in the factory. In the fine yarn cotton mills they were subjected to this labour in a temperature usually exceeding 75 degrees; and in all the cotton factories they breathed atmosphere more or less injurious to the lungs, because of the dust and minute cotton fibres that pervaded it. In some cases we found that 1298 greed of gain had impelled the mill owners to still greater extremes of inhumanity, utterly disgraceful, indeed, to a civilised nation. Their mills were run 15, and, in exceptional cases, 16 hours a day, with a single set of hands; and they did not scruple to employ children of both sexes from the age of eight. We actually found a considerable number under that age.It need not be said that such a system could not be maintained without corporal punishment. Most of the overseers openly carried stout leather thongs, and we frequently saw even the youngest children severely beaten. We sought out the surgeons who were in the habit of attending these children, noting their names and the facts to which they testified Their stories haunted my dreams.In some large factories, from one-fourth to one-fifth of the children were either cripples or otherwise deformed, or permanently injured by excessive toil, sometimes by brutal abuse. The younger children seldom held out more than three or four years without serious illness, often ending in death. When we expressed surprise that parents should voluntarily condemn their sons and daughters to slavery so intolerable, the explanation seemed to be that many of the fathers were out of work themselves, and so were, in a measure, driven to the sacrifice for lack of bread; while others, imbruted by intemperance, saw with indifference an abuse of the infant faculties compared to which the infanticide of China may almost be termed humane.That was the account of what they saw in the year or two before the passage of that Factories Act. When the Act was brought to this House—and in this it is apposite to our present times—it was mangled and mutilated by the Opposition and by those who sought to defame Robert Owen. They even sent people up to New Lanark, not to discover how he was running his factories, but to discover some slander that they could use against him to destroy his reputation and the Bill that he sought to present to this House. To a great extent they succeeded.
The story of what happened, not only then but for something like over 100 years after, is a strange one. It is not the story of great steady progress from one measure to another, humanely dealing with the situation; it is the story of zig-zags, backwards and forwards, fights, battles and struggles. Sometimes it was pushed forward and sometimes those Acts were revoked. Sometimes the protections were taken away; sometimes the ground that had been secured was lost.
I am glad that there will not be quite that battle in this House now. This measure is the most important of its kind that has been introduced in this 1299 House, because it contains three necessary protections which we Socialists think are essential to deal with such problems. First, it mobilises the power of the State—the community—to come to the aid of the individual. That is our Health and Safety Commission at the centre. Secondly, it guarantees the active participation of working people in the operation of institutions that are to run their lives. That is our Clause 2. Thirdly, we pin the clear responsibility on Ministers responsible to this elected House of Commons. They are the three pillars which we say are esential to the ideas of democratic Socialism, and it is in that spirit that I propose the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I have one thing in common with the Secretary of State, and that is that I have no great, detailed knowledge of this Bill. As he rightly said, I was engaged in what he graphically described as the period of intensive consultations, but only at the very end of them. At that time I was involved in what could be described as a little local difficulty of another character, which limited the time I could spend on the Bill and this particular argument. The important fact is that the basic administration to deal with the Bill is firmly in the hands of the Department of Employment.
I said that I had little detailed knowledge of this Bill, but I did have a previous incarnation. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's historical researches, I think I am at least entitled to refer to some of my experiences in the more recent past. They show that Conservative administrations not only passed the first Factory Act—as the right hon. Gentleman knows and forgot to mention—but have played a considerable part since in dealing with matters of health and safety at work.
My first duty as a junior Minister in 1962 was to play a modest part in taking the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act through the House. It was a landmark, and was, as I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree, of considerable importance to the conditions of many people working in both industry and commerce. I was glad that as a junior 1300 Minister in a Conservative Government I played what might be described as a modest part in the passage of that Act. As those who took part in its Committee stage will remember, it was an extremely complex measure and some of its provisions were understood by only a few people—fortunately, those who were supplying me with the briefs on which to reply. It was not understood by the people who were asking the questions or by me as I read out some of the detailed answers. But I believe the Act is extremely effective and has done a great deal of good and I am proud to have played some part in it.
At that time I was given by the then Minister of Labour, now Lord Blakenham, the rôle of looking after the question of safety, health and welfare work in the Ministry, so I learnt a good deal about this side of its work at first hand and I learnt how much needed to be done—and why the excellent and devoted work of the Factory Inspectorate alone could not deal with the tragic accident rate. I learnt what an enormous gap there was between different firms and different industries in their attitude to safety at work. I shall come later to some of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the mining industry with which, to a large extent, I agree. It was noticeable then—as I believe it is today —that between the best and worst firms and industries there was a considerable gap. To narrow that gap must be our aim in this Bill and the aim of the commission.
It was true when I had this responsibility, as it is true today, that a positive attitude by top management to the adoption of safety measures can make a major contribution to the prevention of industrial accidents. There can be no doubt about that. It also became clear to me that good leadership must aim to involve the employees in helping to prevent accident hazards. Only if their co-operation can be enlisted can the whole work force be made to realise the importance of a positive attitude to the matter of safety and health. It is only then that one will make progress.
I was therefore particularly delighted by the appointment of the Robens Committee by the present Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, who 1301 deserves credit for that. I find myself having a somewhat different view of Lord Robens from that of the right hon. Gentleman. He seems to have been drifting away from the right hon. Gentleman's pleasure, and perhaps as he has done so, he has drifted towards mine. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that.
I do not think that either of us would dispute that, whatever his position in our minds today, Lord Robens was a distinguished Minister of Labour and had considerable experience in this respect. Nor do I think that anyone could deny that a committee of which he was chairman would make a penetrating analysis of all the problems of industrial health and industrial accidents. Equally there would be no doubt that it would produce a down-to-earth and practical report, and it certainly did so. As a result and following the subsequent consultation, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) were closely involved, a Bill in my name was produced in the last Parliament.
I hoped then that I should have the chance of renewing an interest in this matter from the Government side of the House and helping to pilot the Bill. I felt—and it was a reasonable hope—that to be associated with that Bill and with the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act would be a worthwhile double in helping to improve conditions at work. However, denied that particular double, I hope that at least I may be able to play a modest part in helping the passage of the present Bill. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has reintroduced the Bill as quickly as he has, albeit with one major alteration in Clause 2, to which I shall refer later. There will therefore be some points upon which, in Committee, we shall wish to question the judgment of the Government.
Equally, I suspect that there may be some details—the right hon. Gentleman referred to them himself—in which collectively the House may make some improvements to the Bill. In general, however, our view is that the sooner the Bill can be placed on the statute book and the more speedily the new commission can get to work effectively, the better 1302 it will be for everyone concerned. If in this way the House can help to ensure a greater sense of urgency in the prevention of industrial accidents, and so bring down the toll in lives and injuries, we shall have done good.
However, in view of what he has said, I must make it quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman that this co-operation is strictly confined to this measure. I should be surprised if over the years he has always believed the absolute truth of everything he has read in the newspapers, and he might reflect on that in this instance, too.
In the last year or so, I have had too much recent experience of lives lost and injuries caused by deliberate action, but the toll of industrial accidents reminds one that whether a life is lost by deliberate action or through apathy and lack of care, it is still a life lost, and lost unnecessarily. This thought is reinforced by the argument of the Robens Report and by Lord Robens himself at the time of publication. He stressed not only the human tragedy and suffering caused by industrial accidents and ill health, but the enormous waste of resources, and here I again agree with one aspect of what the right hon. Gentleman was saying.
The House may also recall that the Robens Report laid considerable stress on the need to get away from the idea that problems of safety and health at work could be left to somebody else, to the law, to Government agencies and inspectorates alone. It said:Our deliberations have left us in no doubt that the most important single reason for accidents at work is apathy.The report therefore placed the main responsibility where it must belong—on industry itself, on employers and employees. Of course the major responsibility must be with management, but we must surely agree with the Robens Report that this is a field where it is vital to secure more employee participation.
Again, to quote the report:There is no legitimate scope for bargaining on safety and health issues but much scope for constructive discussion, joint inspection and participation in working out solutions.This, surely, is a field where methods of joint consultation can be developed most effectively just because they can lead to practical and beneficial results which, in turn, can be seen by all those working 1303 in the organisation. If joint consultation proves its practical effect here, its value on a much wider scale is increasingly appreciated. That, I should have thought, would be a development widely welcomed and encouraged by all hon. Members.
I do not, therefore, imagine that there will be any disagreement between us on the principle embodied in the Bill providing for a statutory duty upon employers to consult their employees on matters of health and safety. However, it is necessary to consider how much further we in this House should go in prescribing through legislation detailed terms and conditions under which joint consultation should take place. I believe that we should bear in mind three requirements above all.
First, we must be practical, and we must not be swayed by theoretical or doctrinaire considerations. Second, we need to be flexible, taking account of the wide variety of circumstances in different parts of industry and commerce. We must, therefore, avoid any temptation to impose a detailed and uniform pattern of arrangements everywhere. Third, we need to maintain and encourage the many voluntary arrangements which already exist throughout industry. In these voluntary arrangements, the philosophy set out in the Robens Report has already assumed a concrete form, and it would seem a great pity—not to mention a great mistake—if at this stage we were to put such achievements at risk through the legislation which we passed.
Against that background I want to consider the only major change which the Secretary of State has introduced in the Bill—that in Clause 2. Clause 2(6) provides that,it shall be the duty of every employer…to establish…a safety committeeupon the request of the representatives of the employees. That is fair enough in principle, but there is a danger that, by seeking to impose, as this provision does, a specific way of approaching the safety problem, we may be both impractical and rigid at the same time, and we may put at risk voluntary arrangements which do not conform to a joint safety committee pattern—the type of voluntary 1304 arrangements to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) referred. We shall undoubtedly wish to pursue this aspect in Committee.
But that is not the only questionable aspect of the change which the Secretary of State has introduced into the Bill. Clause 2(4) provides that, where the Secretary of State makes regulations, the employees' representatives, for the purpose of the Bill, shall be appointed by "recognised trade unions". This insistence on a single, uniform selection of employee representation is, surely, doctrinaire in character. We need to know a great deal more than we do about how and when these regulations are to be made.
I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he would like the regulations always to be debated in the House, but I do not think that there is any detailed provision for that in the Bill. Of course, I shall be interested to find whether his right hon. Friends, the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, will necessarily share his view in the long run on that proposal. We shall remember what he has said when we come to these problems.
If this proposal is insisted on, it could do great damage to many existing voluntary arrangements. I do not think that there can be any doubt of that. It lacks flexibility, because it appears from the Bill that this rigid method of selection effectively relieves an employer of any duty to consult representatives of his employees where they are not covered by the regulations made by the Secretary of State. I am not clear whether that is right. If this interpretation is right, however, it is surely rather extraordinary, because many employees are not members of trade unions. There are about 5 million people who work in wholly non-unionised plants. What about their position? I think we are entitled to be told about that.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the mining industry and the National Union of Mineworkers, that wherever appropriate the recognised trade union should be involved. I believe that would be widely accepted. What about those cases where it is not appropriate? What about those cases in which the right hon. Gentleman is not able to 1305 make the regulations to which he refers? Perhaps the Under-Secretary, in winding up, will say whether I am right in believing that the effect of this would be that if the right hon. Gentleman did not make regulations in some cases the employers would be relieved of their statutory duty to consult their employees.
I think we want to make absolutely certain that that is so. I am sure it would be a mistake, and I am sure that is something that the right hon. Gentleman would not willingly wish to do. He has to take account, however, of people who are not members of trade unions and who may now be taking part in voluntary safety arrangements, and he has also to take account of those firms which are non-unionised.
However desirable the right hon. Gentleman and others may feel that it should be otherwise, those are the facts of life within our industry, and it makes it extremely important, in this Bill, not to impose too rigid or too inflexible a method which then turns out not to be practical.
It is surely a negation of philosophy of the Robens Report, and of the principles in other parts of the Bill, to insist upon one particular method of employee representations which will deny millions of employees the opportunity to participate directly or indirectly with their employers in health and safety matters. That cannot be the purpose of this Bill, and as long as the present position obtains I think we have to take account of it. I am sure hon. Gentlemen will see the force of that argument.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the problem of the inspectorates, particularly the smaller inspectorates and the mining inspectorates. He is right to bring them together. I agree with him that there will be a need for them to work together but still to have the opportunity which he described of taking individual action. I take that into account as well.
I am convinced that it is right to set up a unified commission. I am doubtful about commissions being hived off from Departments that have Ministers responsible to the House and so I have some sympathy with his point of view. In this case, however, it is undoubtedly right to proceed as the Bill does. I fully accept that.
1306 I hope, too, that the smaller inspectorates which have loyalties in particular industries, and which in some cases have loyalties to other Departments in Whitehall, will find it possible to sink these individual loyalties and work together in future. I am sure that would be best for everyone concerned.
I wish to make one other point about the Factory Inspectorate. There is no doubt that what we are doing in this Bill can be successful only if it is backed up by an increase in the work of the inspectorate. There has been no doubt on both sides of the House of a desire to see the inspectorate increased to its full capacities and full number. I appreciate the problems that there have been over recruitment.
The Opposition will support any measures that the right hon. Gentleman takes to increase the strength and effectiveness of the inspectorate.
We welcome the Bill, which basically is the same except for the one provision which I have discussed, as that introduced by the previous administration. We question the wisdom of that change made and we would wish to question it further in Committee and we may well seek to change it.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that under Clause 2(4) it is only in prescribed cases that one gets appointment by recognised trade unions? There is nothing interferring with safety committees on a voluntary basis.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
This is something we shall have to consider further in Committee, because I should like the hon. and learned Gentleman—he is learned in these matters and may well be right—to read other parts of the same clause, and to make certain that the problem to which I have referred does not arise. If he is right, and if voluntary arrangements continue and provision can happily be made for those plants which are not unionised to enlist the help of people who are not members of unions in appropriate cases, we shall have no quarrel with the provision. If that is the case and the hon. and learned Gentleman is right, I am not quite sure why the right hon. Gentleman placed so much stress on this aspect of the Bill. It may be as innocent as the hon. and learned 1307 Gentleman suggests that it is, but we shall wish to pursue that matter further in Committee.
But in principle we hope to see the Bill on the statute book at an early date. We hope that the new commission will be able to tackle urgently the problems of industrial health hazards which cause much unnecessary human suffering and which are a waste of resources that is unsound in our industrial life.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
It is obvious that the Bill has many admirable features which will receive warm support from all parts of the House, but, in my view, it has one grave defect as described in the motion standing on the Order Paper in the names of my two hon. Friends and myself, and I should like to address myself to that.
I was extremely surprised to hear the Secretary of State declare that the Bill is intended to cover mental illness in industry. I am surprised because this is not the view of the TUC. After speaking to the TUC's medical officer, I understand that the TUC's view is that the Bill does not cover mental illness. It is, indeed, surprising—whether it is right that the Bill should include it or not—that the interpretation of the Secretary of State should be one thing and the interpretation of the TUC should be another. It is plain that this needs to be cleared up. I do not think it is the view of the psychiatric profession that the Bill includes mental illness. It is certainly not the view of the National Association for Mental Health.
I do not see how the average reader of the Bill could suppose that this was meant to include not only accidents, diseases, and physical illness but mental sickness. For example, I challenge anyone to read Clause 2, where the general duties of the commission are spelled out,—especially subsection (2)(a), (b), (c), (d) and (e)—and come to the conclusion that the general duties include supervising and helping to combat mental sickness as well as physical sickness, accidents and disease.
My right hon. Friend explained that individual diseases are not spelled out in the Bill. He mentioned pneumoco- 1308 niosis. Of course, that is right, and individual mental illnesses—schizophrenia or alcoholism, or whatever it may be—equally are not spelled out. But I cannot believe that anyone reading the Bill can doubt that it does not cover, as it stands, or cannot be understood to cover, these points.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Surely a person reading Clause 2(1) would understand that mental health is included in the word "health". There is power for the Secretary of State to make regulations, and he must make regulations relating to mental health as well as physical health. It is clearly included in the Bill.
§ Mr. Mayhew
It is not. I am delighted if that is the intention. There is no problem if that is the intention of the Bill. Perhaps the Secretary of State will elucidate.
§ Mr. Foot
I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, and I know how dedicated is his interest in this subject, but I assure him that what I said earlier is my understanding of the case, that it is fully our intention that that should be the case, and that we understand that mental distress or affliction arising from work will be as much covered as other items in the Bill. That is our intention, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied by this statement.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I was about to say that not only was I surprised by what my right hon. Friend said but that I was very pleased. It gives us the opportunity to clear up what is plainly a misunderstanding, because this is not how a large number of people with responsibilities in this sphere understand the Bill. If we grant this, the Bill will require some recasting if it is effectively to combat this problem.
Following my hon. Friend's suggestion, I do not see why it should not be specifically stated in the Bill what is understood by the word "health". The term "occupational health" is clearly defined by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Office. The definition, which I will read, seems to be helpful and clarifies the position. It says:Occupational health should aim at the promotion and maintenance of physical, mental and social well-being of workers1309 and goes on:The placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological equipmentand it summarises:The adaptation of work to man and of each man to his jobI see no harm in spelling this out in the Bill. It seems that the Secretary of State may be willing to do this, in order to clarify the intention behind the Bill.
The Bill does not seem to be in any way related to the problem, even if the intention is there. For example, in replying courteously to me, the Secretary of State mentioned the Employment Medical Advisory Service. This, he said, in some way related the Bill to the problem of mental and emotional illness at work. Unfortunately, the Employment Medical Advisory Service is almost universally regarded as being orientated away from psychiatry and away from the problems of mental illness.
The concept of the Government appointing 100 doctors and sending them around the country has no relevance to the problems of individual health in factories and other places of work to people suffering from strain. I am told that there are no psychologists in the service. Possibly among the 100 doctors there are one or two trained in psychiatry.
I see in Clause 56(2) that the Employment Medical Advisory Service seems to shut the door on the psychologist and most psychotherapists. It reads:A person shall not be qualified to be appointed, or to be, an employment medical adviser unless he is a fully registered medical practitioner.The Bill badly needs redrafting if it is to carry out the obvious intention of the Secretary of State.
What, then, seems to be needed? First, perhaps, a clear definition so that there can be no misunderstanding. There is no dispute in the House about the importance of the subject. My right hon. Friend said that it was the intention that the Bill should cover it. He did not dispute my figure that, whereas 23 million days' work are lost in industry through accidents, and, as he said, 23 million days because of industrial dispute, 38.5 million days ate lost in industry through mental illness. That figure excludes a whole number of illnesses increasingly recog- 1310 nised as symptoms of distress—skin complaints, dyspepsia, and so on. Therefore, no one disputes the size or the importance of the problem.
If the Bill covers this problem, should not my right hon. Friend's speech at least have paid some regard to it? I do not recall any reference to the problem in his otherwise admirable speech. If he was speaking to the Bill, the conclusion is that the Bill does not cover this great problem.
Obviously I cannot go into the question of how stress and mental sickness are caused. I am no expert. I base my knowledge on a distinguished working party which was set up by the National Association for Mental Health to give evidence to the Robens Committee. I do not wish to intervene in the political assessment of Lord Robens in which the Front Benches have been engaged, to our entertainment, this afternoon, but the Robens Committee had the same defect as the Bill has; not only was no reference made to the evidence of the National Association for Mental Health in the Robens Report, but the ultimate indignity was inflicted upon the working party, namely, its report was not published. Surely this shows, as does the Bill, that we need a new and broader approach to the problem of ill health in industry.
§ Mr. Foot
In Clause 53 on page 50 my hon. Friend will find that the definition of "personal injury" includesany disease and any impairment of a person's physical or mental condition".I repeat that it is our intention that mental condition shall be taken into the Bill. I should further emphasise that one reason for my not referring to some of these specific matters in my introductory speech, although many of them will be mentioned by my hon. Friend when he replies or in Committee, is that this is an enabling Bill in many respects. We have framed it so that these matters shall be covered. It is called the Health and Safety at Work etc. Bill because we believe that all forms of health must be taken into this kind of protection.
We believe that the system that we have proposed for dealing with this matter is more comprehensive than anything that has been attempted before. I am not arguing with my hon. Friend; I 1311 am merely pointing out that the Bill covers all the matters with which he has dealt, with the exception of the occupational health service. That is a quite separate matter, which involves the whole question of the way we deal with the National Health Service. Of course, we cannot deal with that in this Bill. Indeed, we have no intention of pulling it to pieces in the Bill. If my hon. Friend will study the Bill he will see that it is much more comprehensive in its intention than he suggests.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I do not pretend to be an expert on industrial health and safety. I agree that I have a rather specialised approach to the Bill. Nevertheless, I have studied it. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has found the word "mental". I still cannot find it, but I accept that it is hidden away somewhere in Clause 53. That is all to the good.
A Bill that was really addressed to the problems with which we are concerned, which are of enormous importance, would surely set them out. The trouble is that this subject is not quantifiable. One can quantify physical illness, accidents and disease. However, because something is not quantifiable does not mean that it is not terribly important and does not cause great distress.
Accepting that the intention is that these matters shall be covered, surely the Bill should include a requirement, for example, that industry should look into them. Why not follow the Swedish practice, which places a regular requirement on all factories with 500 or more employees to have at least one nurse trained in mental health problems? The larger the factory, the bigger the staff required by statute to be provided—for example, a social worker and a psychologist. That kind of approach would be relevant to this grave problem, but there is nothing in the Bill about it. The Employment Medical Advisory Service is quite irrelevant to the problem.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, particularly asked me to be brief. I shall keep my promise to you. There will no doubt be other opportunities of returning to this matter.
I beg my right hon. Friend to reflect that there is genunie misunderstanding about this matter. The Bill does not 1312 appear to cover certain points. There is no clear definition about and the structure laid down is not relevant to the problem with which we are concerned.
I had hoped for a new, radical Bill from this new, radical Government. The Bill is unimaginative, too narrow, and old-fashioned. It is what we might expect of a Bill drafted by a Conservative Government. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to redraft or amend it in Committee to cover the important matter that I have raised.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I believe that this House has a bad reputation regarding industrial safety. It is unfortunate that throughout the history of the last Parliament we had only one half day, on an extremely impressive private Member's motion brought by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), and three other opportunities, all in private Members' time, to discuss these vitally important factors which go to the root of many of our problems.
In February 1971 the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) introduced his Employed Persons (Safety) Bill and in 1972, exactly a year later, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) introduced his Bill. Then, on 15th May, under the Ten Minutes Rule procedure, the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) was given permission to bring in his Bill. Apart from that, this House has very little to congratulate itself on in terms of having had adequate discussion of this vital subject. Indeed, it has had almost more attention in the other place than in this House, where most hon. Members are in direct contact with constituents and know how grave is the concern and anguish that matters of health and safety produce for them.
Therefore, I welcome the speed with which the Government have brought forward this Bill. I also welcome two facets of the Bill which are inherent in it and are important from the point of view of national feeling about this subject.
First, we are getting away from the attitude of fatalism about accidents at work which has dogged so much of our national life and become almost imbued in many people regarding their work. It 1313 is a curious attitude that one meets at many stages.
Accidents occur in all professions, although, per se, I should not describe the Bar as being a naturally dangerous profession, except perhaps from irritated litigants. However, there was one extraordinary occasion when I found it dangerous. I was appearing in a case involving industrial safety in the Midlands at what was then a court of quarter sessions. During the legal discussion half the roof fell in and a large piece of concrete landed near my head. At that stage I complained bitterly to the clerk of the peace, whose answer was: "Good. Perhaps at long last the county council will do something about it." That seems typical of the attitude of many people regarding accidents.
Secondly, I hope that one special message will go out about the Bill. I hope that workpeople generally will see the Bill as an indication that there really is national concern—which is shared by Parliament and shown in the speed with which this measure has now come before the House—about safety and health at work. Surely the Bill will demonstrate the high regard that we have for our work forces.
There is one issue which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to persuade some of his colleagues about, namely, the important recommendation in the Robens Report that in the framing of any future company legislation it should be a mandatory duty on companies of a certain size to publish accident figures in their annual reports. It seems right that such statistics should be known. They will show whether companies are trustworthy and safe employers, and demonstrate where they stand on industrial safety.
One of the great difficulties has been that until a fatal or serious accident takes place people have regarded safety as a matter that could be put off. It is always the subject that comes at the end of discussions at almost every stage. I hope, therefore, that that particular recommendation will be taken up by the Secretary of State and his colleagues if they remain in office long enough.
There are a number of matters relating to the powers of the commissioners and executive which need closer attention. I 1314 was sorry that when the Secretary of State spoke about the basis of safety, he did not mention one aspect—although it may have been inherent in what he said—namely, the need for education. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, when dealing with the deep concern felt by individual unions and the TUC, will be able to assure the House that when the commissioners and executive are set up other powers will be provided through them to establish a national safety training centre, together with regional centres. This was recommended by the TUC, but was not accepted as part of the terms of the Robens' recommendations. It is an intensely important part of general industrial training.
I hope also that when a national organisation bringing together powers of this kind comes into being, much more force can be given to tackling education on the problems of industrial safety, particularly problems of noise and stress, which can be taught to children from an early age. This is particularly applicable because children now have an extra year at school and in most cases will thereafter be going into industrial life. When young people, probably at an age when they are in more danger than are people of older years, first go into industry they should be fully prepared about the risks and about what they can do and what they ought to do to avoid such risks.
None of the good intentions of the Bill, or of any enabling Bill of this kind, can meet the problems of safety until we come to grips with what is probably the biggest single problem, at least so far as legislation is concerned—the long drawn out agony of civil proceedings arising from accidents. I hope that in the concluding speech we can be told the date when we can look forward to publication of the report of the Pearson Commission. If publication of this report is put off further there will continue, despite the best will in the world, to be two standards—one standard to encourage people and to try to bring together the various problems in this connection and a different, more depressive one, over compensation.
Many crucial safety problems such as those directly involving the injured person, have yet to be met. They must be met by legislation at an early date. I hope 1315 that this Bill can be seen as part of a great breakthrough in this subject. If this is so I shall welcome what the Secretary of State is trying to do, although I do not entirely accept his rather gloomy view of the zigzag. It is sometimes suggested that the House acts slowly, but when the House determines to achieve something it is usually achieved. In the past few years we have seen a determination to bring justice and fairness to the disabled. This is being done, although slowly. Perhaps now there will be an equal determination to check what in many cases is the cause of disability.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)
I am grateful for having caught your eye so early in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Judging from the number of hon. Members in the Chamber it seems that the debate is extremely important. I shall endeavour to keep my comments as brief as possible.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) said about it being time the House produced meaningful legislation on health and safety. At present, there is a ludicrous situation in which, for example, people in one half of a factory are covered by certain legislation while people in the other half are not. This situation must be regularised. I am pleased that the 5 million people who are at present outside the scope of legislation covering these matters will be brought into the scope of the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a significant point in drawing attention to the fact that people generally tend to emphasise the number of days lost through industrial disputes, official or unofficial strikes. The media, the House, and many other people over-emphasise this. If we were to compare the number of days lost through industrial disputes with the number of days lost through injury and sickness we would find that in most cases the latter category exceeded the former. It is with this in mind that I particularly welcome the Bill.
I welcome the unification of the Inspectorate under the Health and Safety Commission. One reason I say this is that I represent a mining constituency. I appreciate that some of my colleagues, particularly those, concerned with mining, have reservations about some of the pro- 1316 visions of the Bill. I understand and share their worries, but if the mines and quarries inspectorate were outside the scope of the Health and Safety Commission, the Commission would be significantly weakened. I understand that there is to be an increase of 1,400 in manpower and I hope to be told during the concluding speech what percentage of that figure will be in the new inspectorate.
I also welcome the statutory obligations to be placed on employers to consult recognised trade unions. Before becoming a Member of the House, not long ago, I worked for most of my adult life with the Post Office as a telephone engineer. The Post Office has an exceedingly good safety record. There are safety committes which function properly and which are extremely useful and valuable both to trade unions and management.
Having read the Bill, and its predecessors in legislation, several times I am puzzled why agriculture is to remain a separate entity and is not to come within the ambit of the Health and Safety Commission. What are the reasons for this? Is it because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is more persuasive in the Cabinet and looks after his Department better than other Ministers look after theirs, or is there some in-fighting in Whitehall among civil servants to retain their own staff identity? Or is it my right hon. Friend's legendary cavalier hand at work once again? Perhaps the Minister could tell us why agriculture, which is a dangerous industry, is to be left out.
Under Clause 32(3)(a), anyone in breach of the law will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400. What a derisory fine for people who cannot acquire the knowledge or the means to obey the law. Does this figure reflect the importance that Government attach to health and safety? If employers are to be obliged to provide a safe working environment the inefficiency or the inadequacy of their supervision should constitute no excuse for breaking the law. It is precisely the failure to plan and suprevise effectively for which negligent employers should be prosecuted and punished. A fine of £400 is no deterrent.
Good employers who carry out their duties towards their employees irrespective of the law are entitled to expect that the negligent, apathetic and sometimes 1317 downright criminal employers should be made to comply with exacting standards and that failure to do so should meet a suitable punishment. I would not be opposed to the sequestration of the funds of companies which break the law. Perhaps one day we may see company profits and assets in excess of £100,000 taken in this way.
Since I became a Member I have been worried by the way that this House sets up extra-mural bodies like the Pay Board and the Industrial Relations Court that are not responsible to Parliament. I am glad that my right hon. Friend pointed out that this commission will be responsible to this House so that we can do our duty by our constituents.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
I have often debated matters with the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott), although not in this Chamber, and I am much more in sympathy with him now than I have been on many occasions in my local council chamber.
The occupants of the Liberal bench welcome this Bill—[An HON. MEMBER: "What, both of you?"] Even though only two of us are here, we did gain 6 million votes in the General Election. In the midst of their mirth, Labour Members might reflect that they will need the Liberals, even on this Bill, to push particular clauses through Committee, so perhaps they should be a little more attentive to some of our views. We shall wish to make minor amendments and on one major amendment we may support the official Opposition.
However, I commend the Government on the speed with which they have introduced the Bill—contrasting favourably with the time the last Government took to introduce it after publication of the Robens Report.
The Secretary of State reminded the House of the terrifying statistics of industrial sickness and accidents, beside which the number of days lost through strikes pales into insignificance. But figures cannot adequately portray human tragedy, and it is the tragedy as well as the figures that makes it urgent to bring together the chaos of law on this subject and to create a modern system for dealing with industrial safety. That is 1318 why the occupants of the Liberal bench, whose numbers are fast growing—not only tonight but in successive elections and by-elections—welcome the Bill.
I hope that the Government will ultimately amend the law relating to civil actions over industrial accidents, to bring in a no-fault system. Some sections of the trade union movement are apprehensive about parts of the Bill and a no-fault system would remove that apprehension.
My party welcomes the establishment of the general statutory duties of employers in Clause 2 and is particularly pleased at the inclusion in subsection (2)(b) of the transport of substances and materials. When this matter was previously debated, there was some concern about whether transport workers would be included, as Robens did not specifically deal with them. Perhaps the Minister will make it clear that this provision includes transport workers operating outside their depots, who were not covered by Robens.
I hope that industrial health and safety will be given a high priority in industry. The widespread apathy that Robens found among management and workers was extremely depressing.
The House will not be surprised that the Liberal Party welcomes the provision for a far higher degree of consultation and participation for safety representatives of workers under the Bill. An industrial democracy Bill is promised, which I hope will make works councils a legal requirement in industry. We hope, too, that those councils will represent all employees. I say that because I hope that the safety representatives envisaged in this Bill will eventually be appointed by the works councils and not, as at present proposed, by unionists or union organisations alone.
When I referred earlier to our willingness to join the official Opposition in an amendment, it was this clause that I had in mind. We are not happy about Clause 2(4). As the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) and the former Secretary of State have said, millions of workers are not members of unions. Much as we may believe that they should be, we have to deal with the situation as it is and not as we would wish it to be. Certainly 1319 we do not consider that it is the prerogative of the trade union movement alone to select or to nominate safety committees or safety representatives, as if this were some grace and favour matter within the gift of the unions.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that people who have accidents and are not members of a trade union rarely stand a snowball's chance in hell of gaining compensation? They have no one to whom they can turn. That is the reason why this provision has been put into the Bill. The trade unions are independent of management. There is an independent source of information to which representatives can go. That would not apply to the hon. Gentleman's proposition.
§ Mr. Smith
I find myself unable to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman. First, it is quite possible for a person who is not a member of a trade union to sue an employer through the courts, and with legal aid, for example. I am not saying that this is a desirable way, and certainly I accept entirely that a man has much more likelihood of succeeding in a claim against an employer if he is a member of a trade union. Indeed, a close member of my family has benefited in that way. But because it is more advantageous that a person should belong to a trade union—with that I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman—I cannot see why that necessarily means that only trade unions are capable of representing workers in this matter. Scores of workers are not members of a trade union, and to suggest giving the trade unions carte blanche as being the only people capable of representing them is begging the question.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The practice in the courts over many years has been that everyone who sustains an industrial accident in which he is entitled to compensation is entitled to legal aid. Although the unions are doing very good work, the majority of cases these days are brought on the legal aid fund.
§ Mr. Smith
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for sustaining my point. In any case, there is also a slight psychological point in this matter. 1320 I shall not press that unduly. To make these appointments the prerogative of the trade union movement could give the impression that items of safety and health are in some way "negotiable", whereas in our view they are not matters over which one should haggle. They are fact, and not things which are "negotiable".
There is also the problem of what management should do. I appeal to Labour hon. Members to understand that management has some responsibilities as well and, indeed, some concern in these matters. We need to know what management should do if a safety committee is not prepared to agree to particular measures which, in the management's view, are vital to the protection of the health and safety of employees. For example, one can provide safety clothing in industry but some people will not wear it. It could be that a safety committee vetoes the wearing of it. I can give a concrete example from my constituency of a company which has a high rate of industrial disease. I had better be careful how I phrase this matter. I refer to asbestosis. The company made a survey and found that the smoking of cigarettes increased the risk of asbestosis. Therefore, the management withdrew from the factory all cigarette vending machines. The reaction from the safety committee and the workers' committee to that situation was such that the company had to reinstate the machines within three days.
What is the situation of the Bill where that sort of case arises, particularly where a company could be sued because it is negligent in some way and when the reasons why it is not carrying out particular operations on industrial safety are not its own fault but the fault of a safety committee which has vetoed or refused to implement suggestions that the company has made? These are points which need to be looked into in greater detail in Committee.
We welcome the introduction of improvement notices and prohibition notices. We very much hope that they will diminish the necessity to use the courts. We welcome, too, the formation of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive. It is a good thing to see nearly all inspectorates combined under one roof, I say "nearly" all because 1321 there are one or two notable exceptions in the Bill. The Minister stressed to the House earlier that he had gone further than the Robens Report in certain matters. Therefore, one wonders why, in a matter which I am about to mention, he did not go further than the Robens Report. I refer to the National Radiological Protection Board, which is not included in the Bill. I hope that the Minister who is to wind up the debate may find it possible to explain that. There are very many radiation codes and factory regulations and there is the Radioactive Substances Act. I would have thought that such an industry would be ideal for co-ordination. Similarly, one can mention the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, with regard to the Nuclear Installations Act. That, too, might be considered at a later stage.
Another problem is that of factory noise. The Industrial Health Advisory Committee has produced a code of practice on noise. Many people believe that the implementation of that code would relieve the problem of deafness caused by industrial noise. The Liberals very much hope that that code will be implemented as soon as possible.
Clauses 55 to 60 deals specifically with the Employment Medical Advisory Service. As that service "can adequately advise" on these matters, we presume that research can be undertaken by it. In this matter I support the Minister. One would have thought that research into mental health or mental fatigue in industry could be covered under those clauses. Sixty per cent. of working days lost in Britain for reasons of health or safety are due to mental illness or mental fatigue rather than to industrial accidents. We very much hope that research into that problem will become a reality quickly. Indeed, a Minister in the present Government, when director of the MIND campaign, had a good deal to say about this matter.
Those are the main views of the Liberal Party about the Bill. I welcome the Bill and particularly its intention. We are discussing the future life prospects of many people, and we look forward to the maximum co-operation in these matters between employers and employees. It is in the best interests of both that such cooperation should exist, and any help that 1322 the House can give to that end should readily and speedily be given.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
The debate, in a number of ways—and not least in the attendance—is a testimony to the very different approaches of the two sides of the House to industry and the priorities to which they attach importance in industry.
The chain of events which triggered off this debate was started by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. Indeed, many of my hon. Friends pressed very strenuously, when we last debated the subject, that the Robens Report should be given teeth. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, whose appointment is, perhaps, the most imaginative in the Government, talked today about the Robens Report having been given teeth in the new Bill. It is an interesting fact that the value of a tooth in the courts today is about £50. That is the situation which we face.
I am aware that, following the Robens Report, and just before the General Election, a Bill was in the pipeline. That Bill was similar to this one, although less acceptable because it did not have the teeth required. Every judge always gives credit to a person who pleads guilty, and I accept the mitigation that there was a Bill in the pipeline, but the fact is that it was not until we had a Private Member's motion moved on 21st May last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who is now, very popularly, a PPS in the Department, that we actually dragged from the then Government a statement of their intentions towards legislation on safety and health in industry.
Now, 10 months and one election further on, we are seeing the first positive action on industrial law since the Redundancy Payments Act of the last Labour Government. We are now debating a matter which was neglected because the last Government were so obsessed by the priority of providing a legal straitjacket for industrial relations and the trade unions. In their obsession they forgot about the daily toll of lives, limbs and health which is exacted by the process of earning a livelihood. It is curious that that Act turned out to be an illusion, and 1323 the remarkable result was that in February this year the then Prime Minister, hanging off balance, was secured by his own straitjacket and so tightly it needed all the skill of Houdini to escape from it. He tried but failed.
The Bill contains one novel and welcome provision in that it empowers an inspector to issue a prohibition notice where he feels that an activity occasions risk of personal injury. It is a pity that could not have been served upon the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) over the Industrial Relations Act. As one of my hon. Friends said, sequestration may be painful but the loss of an election may leave more permanent scars.
Nevertheless, they are as nothing compared with the hideous injuries that can be caused by dangerous machinery, by the careless arrangement of articles on floors and in passageways, by defective tools that are provided, by the failure to instruct employees, by inadequate supervision and by the lack of elementary precautions in certain processes.
My experience in industry and in the courts—and I have a little of one and a lot of the other—leads me to ask whether there will be enough inspectors, because that has been one of the great problems in the past. Will there be adequate inspection, and what will be the criteria in relation to it? The criterion that is often accepted, indeed the one that is very frequently accepted by judges in the courts, is a very unimaginative one. That criterion is what is the current standard in industry rather than how, by ingenuity, the risk of injury can be minimised, and whether that ingenuity has been used. It is that imaginative approach that we should like to see by the inspectors and by the courts and generally accepted in industrial law.
We want to know whether this Bill will permit an inspector or the commission to close many of the loopholes which have appeared in legislation. Take one example in the abrasive wheels regulations in a recent case in Sheffield. As a result of the drafting of that legislation and the interpretation given to it by a judge, employers are now permitted to provide the most inadequate form of guard on a grinding wheel so long as that grinding wheel is from time to time used for cast- 1324 ings appropriate to it—that is to say, on the one odd occasion, perhaps once in every three or four weeks. I fear that the Bill does not close that sort of loophole. What is particularly magical in the new system of inspectors that is going to overcome the manifest deficiency in the opportunities and in the system of inspection? Not, I hasten to add, in the inspectors themselves. Many of them are the first to acknowledge the need for far more stringent legislation and its forceful use by the courts.
Will my hon. Friend explain how Clause 3 modifies the Employers' Liability Act and the existing common law? I served for a time on the Opposition Front Bench dealing with these matters and I have absolute faith in all my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Employment, knowing their desire to see a rapid improvement in the law on industrial safety. These remarks apply not least to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker). However, the courts have not been notable for handing out draconian punishments to companies or employers who were in breach of statutory duties.
If the criterion used by the courts for dealing with dangerous and drunken or even careless drivers were applied in industrial safety, society would be getting it priorities right. The reckless and negligent employer should be in precisely the same category as the reckless and negligent driver. There is no compulsion upon an employer to insure in respect of third-party claims for injury. There is such compulsion on drivers. There is no equivalent, in respect of dangerous machinery, to the offence of causing death by dangerous driving. Clause 32 goes some way towards creating the right climate. The Bill safeguards existing rights in respect of civil claims under Clause 47.
I welcome Clause 24 which contains a power which should be exercised without compunction where broken ladders or worn or slippery duckboards are left lying around or where tools are left on factory floors, even though they are not intended to be used. Often they are used by employees.
I am pleased to note that Clause 16 permits the use of voluntary codes of practice similar to the Highway Code and that it now places the onus firmly 1325 on the defendant—the employer—to show observance of its conditions. What remains to be seen here and what my hon. Friend must keep a sharp eye on is whether local authorities will act enthusiastically and with vigour in pursuance of the powers now vested in them by Clause 17. It is on that and that alone that the success of the Bill will rest. If my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department do not pursue the problem vigorously enough I can assure them that my hon. Friends in the trade union movement and my hon. and learned Friends will be only too willing to prod from the back benches. We want to know what sanctions there will be if local authorities drag their feet over enforcement and prosecutions under the new requirements as well as the existing legislation.
I want to be assured that the Bill is an addition to and not a substitution of the much-needed improvement in safety legislation in factories and many other premises. I want to be sure that the Government envisage dealing with the whole sordid problem to which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) referred, the problem of civil litigation in personal injury claims and the delay involved with its psychological consequences, and the very concept of negligence in law.
There are many of us who are interested, as I know the Post Office Engineering Union is, in the idea of the grant-levy system. These are matters to which my right hon. Friend will, no doubt, refer. I hope that in Committee he will look at ways of plugging the gaps which have appeared in the Factories Acts and in the various regulations under them. Will he look at the judicial interpretation and the systems of employment which frequently frustrate the intentions of the Act? The Bill is most welcome so far as it goes but it does not go altogether to the heart of the problem. It could do the very opposite. It could be a diversion or a palliative, when far more stringent measures are required and other action has to follow.
It is right that there should be an integrated system of law dealing with health and welfare. For that reason I welcome the Bill. No one who has waded through textbooks such as Redgrave, Munkman and the rest could say any- 1326 thing else. To do so might be profitable to the practitioner, but it is hardly a practical way of dealing with industrial law and safety. What we want to see is an overall code in which the Bill will be at the heart. The Bill should be at the core of the consolidation and improvement of existing legislation. That approach will be bold and imaginative. Understandably it will not be possible to introduce such sweeping legislation until the Government have obtained a greater —an overall—majority in the House.
I welcome the fact that in Clause 2 the Bill has taken on board the concept of safety committees with trade union representation. I want to see voluntary or compulsory safety committees in every workplace in the United Kingdom. I do not see a substitute for such committees. The diagnosis of apathy is one diagnosis at least which I share as a hardliner with those who support the self-regulation concept of Robens. I make no apology for being a hardliner and demanding a draconian and comprehensive approach to recalcitrant employers.
I welcome the unification of the inspectorate and the new means of enforcement. I think that I pointed out in the last debate on this subject that if we are drastically to reduce the 700,000 injuries each year, and the many absenteeisms from work which are caused mainly as a result of stress, we shall have to spend a great deal more on research than the 05 per cent. of research funds spent by industry on industrial safety research. We shall have to upgrade the pay and status of safety officers, and regard safety as an important object in industry. We shall have to regard safety as being just as important as profit. We must remove industry's assumption that making a profit inevitably involves risk. We must end the system whereby we have derisory penalties for breaches of the law applying to safety.
Self-regulation is a euphemism which means no regulation at all. That is the view of Mr. W. H. Thompson, a solicitor whose experience in these matters is unrivalled. Unless the Bill generates a sense of urgency and a vast increase in the size of the inspectorate we shall go on as before and the inspectors will continue to use much of their time trying to clear up various matters rather than being able to take employers to court.
1327 The task will be far easier for the Government if we accept what Peter Jacques of the TUC Social Insurance Committee has said, namely:Just because bad law is ineffective that does not mean that there is no place for good law.Our law reflects the priorities of the community. It sets a standard which employers must meet. On 21st May 1973 some of my hon. Friends and I referred to the lack of evidence to show that management in general had taken seriously its responsibility for its employees health, safety and welfare. We said that self-regulation had been tried and that it had not worked. We said that we needed good law which would be soundly and efficiently administered. If it is efficiently administered and adequately financed and staffed, the Bill will provide good law and it should be warmly welcomed by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
In so far as it avoids the crucial issues of the painstaking process of civil litigation, and in so far as it avoids the problem of the quantum of damages and the tendency to force people to settle for an amount less than that which they should have received, it does not get to the heart of the problem. The way in which it fails to deal with criminal proceedings under other Acts is a matter which can be dealt with later. I hope that the Minister will keep an eagle eye on the commission and the executive. I hope that they will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
I welcome the Bill and the spirit in which it has been introduced by my right hon. Friend. I recall the words which were used by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services when she set up the Robens Committee. She spoke of our determination to bring the standards of safety and health of people at work up to the high levels which we have the right to demand in a civilised society. As one step, and only one step, in that direction I welcome the Bill.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
The human problem with which we are dealing is emphasised by the number of people who are killed in our factories each year, which in round figures is about a thousand. Nearly half 1328 a million people are injured. We have already heard of the loss of 23 million working days. Those figures emphasise the crucial rôle which the inspectorate plays. Anyone who has had any dealings with these matters will know that we are not recruiting sufficient inspectors. The shortage is made the worse because Clause 19 gives virtually unlimited powers to the inspectorate.
We should be interested not just in the powers of enforcement. The Robens Report said that the inspectors should not just enforce the law but should advise, assist and help with research. That will be a rôle which will be taxing on those who are now available, who are all too few. The Government should realise that it is a question not just of passing laws but of a need of money. We need money and we need a well-paid and well-staffed inspectorate. The shortage of inspectors emphasises the importance of the safety committees.
The composition of the committees will, clearly, be a matter of some argument. I ask the Government not to be too inflexible about their composition. The most important single step that can be taken by the committees is to draw the workers into the safety movement and make them conscious of safety in factories. The committees should not be too restricted. In many cases it is the apathy of workers and not of management which causes accidents.
I have two technical points to make and I hope that they will not sound too carping. Maybe an answer can be given today, but if not I shall understand.
Clauses 2 to 7 set out the obligations which are imposed upon employers and employees. In breach of those obligations there is no civil liability but a criminal liability which is imposed by Clause 39. There is a civil liability between the employee and the employer. The employee can still sue his employer. He will have to match the ordinary standard of civil liability in that he will have to prove his case. The criminal liability which is imposed by Clause 39, about which I do not argue now, implies a totally different standard of proof which puts the burden of proof upon the employer to prove that he did all that was necessary.
This interesting situation arises. The Civil Evidence Act allows the use in 1329 Civil cases of that conviction, if the employer be convicted. We may find that an employee setting out to prove his case and having to prove it on the ordinary basis of civil liability can use a conviction that has been obtained by a total reversal of that rôle, by making the employer prove his case in the criminal case that preceded the civil one. It is a technical legal point on which I do not expect an immediate answer, but I shall be interested to know how we get over what appears to be a difficulty.
Clause 41 changes the normal standard. It requires that "all due diligence" should be observed. I am not sure what that means. I suspect it means that it will be a lucrative field for lawyers to argue. Why have we changed from the well-known standard of "reasonable care"? Does the change strengthen the law? Does it make better law? I cannot help the House on that, but I should be interested to hear the Front Bench view on it.
I think that within this same week, but certainly within the same fortnight, New Zealand has passed a law which makes an entirely different approach to the whole question of accidents. The Accident Compensation Act, which is based on a report of some years ago by Mr. Justice Woodhouse, in simple terms makes accidents insurable. Insurance is paid when an accident occurs, and the right to a civil action has been removed. I have come to the conclusion that that is the direction in which we should move, and I will say briefly why.
There are endless hazards in litigation which arise not only from lawyers. A crucial factor in any successful claim is that proper statements are obtained at an early stage. Some unions are excellent in this, but many are not. They may not have the expertise, they may not have the money or they may not be informed in time. Often there is failure to get statements and then there are delays in litigation.
The second and equally important reason is that it becomes increasingly distressing to have to say, for instance, to a widow that she must accept the payment that has come into court, although it is not what I advise as the full amount she should get, when there is a danger that her husband who has been killed at work may have been guilty in some way 1330 of contributory negligence. He may have done something that contributed to his own accident. That feature should be taken out of what, after all, is a method of paying compensation to those who have received grievous injuries.
What I feel is the overwhelming argument for going over to a form of insurance is based on the continuing inflation from which we suffer. That inflation, despite the Government's promises, I suspect we shall suffer for the rest of our lives, even if not, as I hope, at such a high rate. The award of a round sum to a widow or to a man who has been injured may look all right today, but it may look very sick in 10 years' time. The courts understand that perfectly well. Lawyers are not fools in that respect. They understand that there must be some protection for inflation. The argument is that it is possible, if a proper sum is awarded, to protect that sum against inflation by a proper investment policy. Unfortunately, one has to look no further than the Financial Times Index to see that such steps are extremely difficult. Awards in years gone by of £10,000, £20,000, £30,000 or £40,000 for quadriplegics, for men who are paralysed or who have terrible brain injuries, may look sick when one considers the investments that have been made to protect the awards against inflation. If we went over to a compensatory system in which there was no civil litigation, no doubt the lump sum would be replaced by a pension which would be tied to the cost-of-living index and go up as inflation proceeded.
New Zealand has not found it too expensive. In terms of our national wealth it would not cost an enormous amount to take this step towards justice for those who suffer industrial accidents.
I believe that the House will give widespread backing to the Bill, which comes with the support, and indeed the authorship, of both sides of the House.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Wilson (Hamilton)
I have listened attentively to the debate, but, despite the welcome that has been given to the Bill, I feel that it has been to some extent hastily conceived. I deplore the omission from the Preamble of a reference to the agricultural industry. There are many farms which are far larger than the small industrial units 1331 which the Bill covers. Many accidents occur on farms, particularly when tractors overturn, and I do not understand the logic of leaving agriculture outside the umbrella of the Bill.
Far too much use is made in the Bill of the termso far as is reasonably practicable.For example, Clause 3(1) provides:It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.I see no reason why the words—so far as is reasonably practicableshould not be deleted.
Only this morning an article appeared in my local newspaper reporting that a local horticulturist had got up one morning last week and found that his fields, trees and flowers were covered with a white deposit. He said it looked as though snow had fallen. What had happened was that the cement works which were adjacent to his property had gone wrong. The area all round, including a caravan site on which children were playing, was covered with cement dust. Under the Bill the owner of the cement works could say that he had taken all precautions so far as is reasonably practicable, but anyone who knows that area knows that he is using a 300-yard long conveyor belt, and all that is required to safeguard the health of people living nearby is a covering for that conveyor belt. The Government should think again about this matter when the Bill goes to Committee so that the phrase can be deleted from many clauses in the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he had received representations from the National Union of Mineworkers on the Bill and had tried to give it certain safeguards. I should like to see those safeguards written into the Bill rather than merely given in a verbal form. I do not question the honesty of my right hon. Friend, but if there is to be no gap in the provisions covering any change from the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 to the present system of protection in the mining industry I should like to see that guarantee written into the Bill.
1332 I should also like to see written into legislative form the fact that the present mines inspectorate will not be interfered with in any way and that there will be no diminution of its powers. It took over 50 years of hard fighting—mainly against Conservative Governments in the past—to get improvements in the mines, to reduce the accident rate and try to provide proper compensation for those suffering from industrial diseases. We in the mining industry will not give up that fight easily in the face of any Government, whether Labour or Tory. I should like to be given a categorical assurance—and perhaps if this assurance cannot be given today it can be given in Committee—that the inspectorate will remain inviolate, that its powers will not be diminished, and that there will be no watering down in its quality.
I should like the Government to state plainly either that the coal mining industry and its needs are to be included in this legislation or that the Bill will supersede the existing safety and statutory powers laid down in the Mines and Quarries Act. I want to know whether all the improvements that we have fought for in the mining industry over many years will be included separately as a consolidation measure or will be contained in the provisions of the present Bill. Certainly those measures which have been so hard won by the mining industry would bring great benefit if applied to workers in the miscellaneous industries as well as to miners.
The National Union of Mineworkers has asked the Secretary of State that the NUM, the National Coal Board and the coal mining industry should be allowed to chart their own course in terms of safety and health in the industry. Again I should like the Under-Secretary of State when he replies to give some assurance that this provision will be written into the Bill in Committee. I believe that it would be most unwise not to keep in being the mining inspectorate structure as it is at present constituted. I also have doubts about any governmental plans, if that is their intention, for the Chief Inspector of Mines no longer to be allowed direct access to the Secretary of State for Employment. The traditions of underground working in the mines are unique, and, therefore, I emphasise that the inspectorate must be kept in being as it now is. I hope that on behalf of 1333 the mining industry I shall be given that assurance tonight.
I think it is true to say that many assurances are needed before the Bill goes through Committee. I understand that the Conservative Opposition welcome the Bill, and I appreciate the need for haste to get the Bill enacted. However, I would prefer the House to take its time in looking at these important provisions line by line and clause by clause, because I understand that it is not an interim measure. It might be a different matter if the Bill were merely an interim measure to effect improvements in miscellaneous industries, and if that were the case I would accept the Bill on those grounds. But if the Bill is to be considered as major legislation for many years to come, the Labour Government may be said to be acting somewhat hastily in compiling a Bill of this sort without first having proper consultations with the coalmining industry, which I have rightly referred to as a unique industry. If this legislation is to be regarded as merely an interim measure, I should like to see all references to legislation affecting codes of practice in the mining industry deleted from the Bill. Since the mining industry is unique in its working conditions, I believe that the provisions affecting the industry should be kept together in their entirety.
Several speakers have drawn attention to the problem of the shortage of inspectors in miscellaneous industries, and certainly we in the mining industry are worried at the shortage of mining inspectors. I want to see no diminution in the standards set by inspectors, and I should like assurances that the qualifications of those entering this profession should be maintained, if not improved. I should like to see fruitful co-operation between the trade unions on the subject of health and safety at work. I gather that the Trades Union Congress has given a qualified welcome to the Bill, but I know that the NUM wants to see a close examination of the Bill's provisions. Therefore, fruitful consultations could take place and could he established right away so that there is no disruption in the safety requirements as they apply to mining.
Section 123 of the 1954 Act gives a right of appointment to the NUM. This 1334 appears to be a bone of contention among some Conservative Members, but that right of appointment of safety inspectors and site observers is an important matter which has existed for some time. Many of my parliamentary colleagues and I have served in past years as workmen's inspectors, and we know that it comes as second nature to a miner to put safety as the first consideration in his work. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) referred to civil damages, and it is important in the mines—and this applies to other industries—that immediately an accident occurs there should be a representative from the safety committee, who is referred to in mining as a site observer on the scene before the area is disturbed in any way. This means that production must stop until that area has been fully explored and examined and a report made. Only at that stage should the observers or the local inpectors, in conjunction with management, give the necessary permission for production to resume.
I have been present at many fatal accident investigations, and never at any time have I known the production to resume in that area until a full report has been made. We generally accepted that production could not resume within 24 hours of an accident occurring. This applies to all reportable accidents, not only to fatal accidents. This is a valuable practice in the industry.
Mining is the most dangerous industry and we do not want to see any diminution of powers, which we have fought for over the years, in the hands of safety inspectors, local inspectors and site observers. Although this would not help the man who had been killed, it would be of assistance to his dependants if an immediate inspection were made on the site of the accident. In my view, there should be no interference with these arrangements.
I hope that the Government will agree to amendments which will be moved in Committee by some of my hon. Friends, if not by me. I am worried about the problem of finding quickly, once this Bill becomes an Act, the number of inspectors which will be necessary to cover all of industry without reducing the numbers and the powers of inspectors in the 1335 mining industry. I can envisage a situation where big industrialists attract men who have spent years in the coal-mining industry doing this job with the lure of higher wages and better conditions, with the result that the industry where these men are needed so badly will be further denuded.
I also want an assurance that positively no non-chartered milling engineers will be interposed anywhere in the line of command of the mining industry's inspectorate. The improvements envisaged in the Bill will benefit what I have called other miscellaneous industries, but I do not want to see any diminution in the safety standards already in the mining industry. I want to see those standards extended to every other industry.
The Bill must be scrutinised carefully in Committee. My right hon. Friend reminded the House that it originated with the Robens Report. I ask hon. Members to study that report. In it they will find no reference to the coal-mining industry. In my view that is indicative of the fact that Robens, be he what he was, is or may be, was satisfied with his Committee that the coal mining industry was self-sufficient and efficient in itself in looking after the safety of the men who work in it. I ask the Government to consider leaving the coal mining industry with all the safety Acts, regulations and codes of practice as they are at the moment. If they do not feel able to give that assurance, I hope that they will do the next best thing and keep them in their entirety under the umbrella of this measure.
I welcome the Bill, although I have those serious reservations. I hope that the Government will carefully consider the matters that I have raised.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)
I want first to congratulate the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) on managing to arrive back on the Treasury Bench to deal with what we all hope will be the final attempt to get health and safety legislation on the statute book. The hon. Gentleman has spent so much time and effort on this subject in previous debates that it is fitting that he should now be in his present position to see 1336 this Bill through its various stages. Equally, it is perhaps fitting that I should be on the Opposition benches to make my own contribution. In the past I have expressed my opposition to limited attempts to tackle industrial safety on a piecemeal basis when what was clearly needed was comprehensive consolidating legislation dealing with the subject "in the round" after full and careful consultation with interested organisations.
In this Bill we have such a broad approach to the subject, and I welcome it on those grounds. The fact that the last two General Elections interrupted the promotion of safety legislation causes me a little trepidation about the fate of this Bill. But I hope that this Parliament will last long enough to see it reach the statute book.
As the Secretary of State said, the Bill represents something of a bipartisan approach to industrial safety and health. In the main, it was drafted by the previous administration. It has been accepted with modifications by the present Labour Government. For that reason, it is not difficult to predict that it will have a fairly smooth passage through its various stages. The omens for it are better than those for its predecessors, which sought to deal with industrial safety solely on the basis of the discretion of trade union appointed representatives in employments where trade unions were officially recognised by the employers.
In view of my firm opposition in the past to narrowly restrictive proposals for tackling the problem of industrial accidents, it will not be surprising to hon. Members who took part in our earlier debates to learn that I feel impelled to make a comment or two on Clause 2(4), (5) and (6), largely because subsection (4) resuscitates the proposition that recognised trade unions may have the power to appoint safety representatives with functions to be specified under regulations still to be drafted.
I shall not take up time by parading all the arguments which make nonsense of a proposition of that kind. Most of us have travelled this path before, and in some cases have agreed to differ on these matters. However, I believe that if safety representatives have any relevance, it is just as important that they 1337 should operate in non-union firms as in firms where unions are recognised.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said that we had to bear in mind that with a work force of between 24 million and 30 million, only 10 million were in unions affiliated to the TUC. To exclude those in non-union employment, as the subsection appears to do, is to suggest either that accidents occur only where trade unionists are employed or that the Government do not care about accidents which occur at places where non-trade unionists are employed. It would make more sense if the Government considered replacing the reference to "recognised trade unions" with one or more of the terms which appear in the Mines and Quarries Act 1954.
I quote back at the Under-Secretary a reference from the 1954 Act which he once quoted at me. In Section 123(1)(a) and (b) references are made toan association or body representative of a majority of the total number of persons employed.I commend that sort of description to the hon. Gentleman in place of the restrictive one of "recognised trade unions".
If my suggestion were adopted, it would not remove the right of trade unions to nominate safety representatives where appropriate and where there were trade unions representing employees, but it would extend the provisions to all other firms above a certain size, and that is desirable. I hope, too, that such a modification would overcome some of the objections of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind references to me. I recall having had occasion to make reference to the Mines and Quarries Act when one of my hon. Friends was querying the words "trade unions". I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman that the wording used in the Mines and Quarries Act was indicative of trade unions. That clearly accorded with our intention then, and with our intention now. We are aware of the reality of the position in the coal-mining industry, that for all practical purposes, not withstand- 1338 ing the Industrial Relations Act, it is a closed shop.
§ Mr. Holland
That I accept, and the point I am making is that there would be no difference in the intention if in this Bill we adopted some such wording as one finds in the Mines and Quarries Act. There would be no difference in the intention, but it would expand the scope of the Bill. It would include those places where trade unions did not exist or were not recognised by employers. It would be extending, not contracting, the terms of the legislation if we made that kind of alteration.
There would certainly be no purpose in appointing safety representatives if they were not to be consulted. The duty imposed by subsection (5) on an employer to consult is a natural consequence of the effect of the requirement in subsection (4).
Like my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends, I am not altogether happy about the provision for setting up safety committees in subsection (6). I should prefer this to be dealt with as a strong recommendation in a code of practice to be issued by the Health and Safety Commission rather than as a mandatory requirement. I say that because strong encouragement to voluntary action is likely to produce more co-operative and, perhaps, more effective safety committees than would a statutory requirement.
If such committees are to be mandatory —I recognise that there is a strong feeling on both sides of the House that they should be mandatory, and I accept that—for goodness' sake let us make them mandatory on all companies over a certain size and not allow them to be set up at the whim or otherwise of individual safety representatives. If there is to be a rule, let it be a universal rule applying to all companies of a certain size but taking account of effective arrangements for consultation on safety which may already exist on a voluntary basis in a particular company or industry.
I now come to more general matters in the Bill. I welcome the establishment of the Health and Safety Commission and its attendant Health and Safety Executive. But, if there is to be a single authority for industrial health and safety, is it a 1339 good idea to dilute its responsibilities by making exemptions from its functions in the case of agriculture and the Employment Medical Advisory Service? I should have thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to transfer the functions of the Employment Medical Advisory Service to an enlarged Health and Safety Commission.
I do not understand why it is desirable for the Health and Safety Commission to take responsibility in the construction industry, the engineering industry, the mining industry and the rest, and not give it an equally important rôle to play in agriculture. Like the hon. Members for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) and Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), I, too, would like to know why agriculture has been left out.
A good deal of research is needed to combat the high fatality rate in agriculture and the high risk of brucellosis. If it is argued that the Minister of Agriculture is better able to deal with health and safety in that industry, by the same token other Ministers should retain responsibility for other industries, and support for the principle of a central authority crumbles, which I, for one, would deplore.
I should like to see not only the scope of the Health and Safety Commission but the whole scope of the Bill broadened. For example I am sorry that the opportunity has not been taken to bring up to date and to incorporate in this legislation the welfare provisions of the Factories Act 1961. I refer to Part III and parts of Part IV of that Act. But, perhaps, with the limited time available to this Government—we all know how limited that time is—it may be expecting too much to ask them to expand the legislation too widely.
As regards the function of the commission, I have one detailed question about which I should like enlightenment when the Minister winds up. Does the general wording of Clause 10(2)(b) empower the commission to provide advisory and training services to firms not large enough to employ their own safety adviser, or, as an alternative, to make funds available to assist in or stimulate the setting up of group safety arrangements for small firms? It would be helpful if we could have an answer today, but, if not, please 1340 may I have an answer as soon as possible?
I conclude with an assurance of my own general support for the Bill, and I reiterate the hope that this measure may have time to reach the statute book before we once more have to go back to the hustings.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
I agree with what the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) said about the exclusion of the agriculture industry from the scope of the Bill. He will not be surprised to learn that I disagreed with his remarks about joint consultation. As he said, a number of us have travelled this road before, and there are certain matters about which we have agreed to differ.
There are about 250,000 people in receipt of disablement benefits because they have suffered disabilities incurred in the course of their work. There are about 30,000 widows who became widows because their husbands were killed in the course of earning their living.
I welcome the Bill. I recognise that passing a Bill does not solve the terrible problems of industrial ill health and injury. However, the Bill is the most comprehensive ever introduced to consolidate existing legislation and to seek to make the application of that legislation more effective.
Several hon. Members have spoken about the dilatoriness of the House in dealing with industrial safety legislation. The situation is worse than any hon. Member has indicated. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the setting up of the Robens Committee by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services as the starting point of this Bill. That was not the starting point. It was only one of the milestones on the long road from the starting point. The period of gestation of this Bill has been no less than seven years. It was as long ago as 1967 that Mr. Ray Gunter, the then Minister of Labour, announced in the House that it was his intention to introduce a major Bill to consolidate existing legislation. That was the first announcement of what has finally turned out to be this Bill.
After that announcement, however, it was March 1970 before the then Labour Government introduced their Health and Safety Bill, which was a lesser measure 1341 than that envisaged in the original announcement. Following a protracted filibuster by the Opposition in Committee, that Bill was lost on the Dissolution of Parliament in 1970. It was three and a half years after the previous Government took office that they introduced what was certainly a major Bill and in many respects the predecessor of this Bill, but that Bill was introduced at the fag end of a Parliament and it never received a Second Reading before the House was dissolved for the recent election.
It is interesting to note the injury figures during the period that the House has taken to make up its mind to give a Second Reading to the Bill. The figures for 1973 are not available. The last available report of the Chief Inspector of Factories refers to 1972. However, the reports for the years 1967 to 1972, inclusive, indicate that 3,387 people were killed at work and more than 1,770,000 were injured.
That is only part of the grim toll, because the Chief Inspector reports only on premises which come within the purview of the Factory Inspectorate. They are a fraction of the total number of work places. A more accurate but still by no means complete picture is given by the number of successful claims for injury benefit. In the same period the total number of claims was more than 5,090,000. These figures are a measure of the problem, and I welcome the change of approach. The Government have introduced the Bill at the beginning of a Session. They have introduced it with some sense of urgency and are treating it as a matter of top priority.
I turn next to the proposals for joint consultation, which I much welcome. Notwithstanding what has been said in this debate, no good employer need fear these measures because every good employer already engages in joint consultation—not compulsory joint consultation —on these matters. I want to make sure that the scope for compulsory consultation is extended beyond the company's employees to include their appointed agents acting especially on behalf of workers who have been injured in accidents. Let me give an example to illustrate my point.
A year ago, on Friday 30th March, there was a horrifying accident at Messrs. Tennent's foundry at Coatbridge, in 1342 Scotland. An explosion occurred whilst molten metal was being poured. I should like to quote a sentence from the letter written by Mr. Geough, the branch secretary of the foundry section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, to inform Mr. Simpson, the general secretary, about what had happened. He said:Two men died in a sea of molten metal after a blast occurred, four others were seriously injured in the horror.Those simple words paint more vividly than all the parliamentary eloquence in the world the sheer horror of an accident in what one of my hon. Friends referred to rather scathingly as one of the miscellaneous industries. I should add that one of those injured men died later from his appalling injuries.
That accident happened in a firm which has a very good safety record. The management was shocked and appalled, and since that time the process in which the accident occurred has been discontinued, at considerable financial cost.
The conduct of the management of that company is in striking contrast to the conduct of its insurers, the Eagle Star Insurance Company. The insurance company tried to prevent the trade union's legal representatives and experts from inspecting the premises after the accident. The employers fully accepted their liability in the accident, but the insurance company refused to consider any admission of liability and used delaying tactics against the claims on behalf of the injured and dependants of the deceased.
That accident, which I have quoted to illustrate the point I am making about extending the scope of compulsory consultation, alone makes the case not only for compulsory joint consultation with work people but for it to be extended to the trade unions' accredited representatives in investigating accidents.
I take up briefly something said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in introducing the Bill. That accident did not happen in the days of Robert Owen; it happened last year, the second half of the twentieth century. If an insurance company could act in that way when representing a reputable and honourable employer, what could happen if it had been representing some backstreet sweatshop proprietor? Such proprietors exist. It might have been representing the proprietor of the Con-Mech 1343 Engineering Company, or someone of his ilk.
The case for the Bill is overwhelming. It is urgent, and I welcome the urgency shown by the Government. Notwithstanding the threatening words uttered earlier from the now empty Liberal benches, I hope that there will be cooperation in getting the Bill through the House. I agree that certain proposals need to be considered with some care in Committee, but I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading and become law before the Summer Recess.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins). In an eloquent way, in addition to the facts that he used, he demonstrated why so many of us are concerned about this issue. He was right to point out to his hon. Friend that we recognise that mining is an industry acutely concerned, and naturally so, about the dangers and hazards of its activities.
We are here because there are many other industries as dangerous but, perhaps, not as aware of it. It is for that reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) referred to agriculture, because more people are killed in agriculture in a year than are killed in mining, yet there is common belief that agriculture is a healthy, safe outdoor activity, the concern for safety in agriculture does not always get the attention that it should have.
I warmly welcome the Bill. The hon. Member for Consett said how wise it was that the Bill had been introduced at last at the beginning of the Session. I hope that it is not near the end of the Session as well. I served my parliamentary apprenticeship with the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker). The first Committee on which I ever served, after a by-election, was on the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill, to which the hon. Member has referred. We reached Clause 1 and down came the final curtain; it happened again in the last Parliament. Let us hope that it is third time lucky and that we are able to get this Bill on the statute book.
The hon. Member for Consett criticised the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) for suggesting that there might be one or two selective amendments to the 1344 Bill, but it is clear from what my hon. Friends have said that there is a part of the Bill, particularly the provisions about the consultative committee, which does not stand up at the moment. We understand the Government's purposes but even they are not quite right, because, although they may be in favour of compulsory unionism for all, it does not exist and one has to provide, in order to get a swift passage of the Bill, for safety for all in the interim before Heaven, for the hon. Gentleman, is finally achieved.
I am speaking in the debate as somebody who is a little cynical about the real impact of legislation. I have had the privilege of working in industry. I was responsible for a time as manager for a factory, which the hon. Member for Consett will know was close to his home area, employing 700 people in the printing and packaging industry. It was an old factory on five floors, a fire hazard. There was no fire escape when it was originally constructed.
There was some new machinery, some old; some British machinery constructed to conform to British safety standards, some imported and made to rather different standards. These are all problems that affect so many managers and impose problems for them in British industry today. We had printing machines and guillotines, guillotines that should not go wrong, but we also had numbers of people whose hands bore starkest testimony to the dangers of their equipment. In the printing industry there are many small accidents that bring home to anybody with responsibility in that industry the need for constant attention to safety problems.
I recognise the need for comprehensive law, for bringing this law up to date and for proper regulations. The Secretary of State referred to the need for the Bid to have teeth. I hope that they will not be false teeth: I hope that they will not be used as a shield behind which to pretend that something is being done about safety.
I shall not restate the statistics, which have already been given, but 1,000 deaths a year is an appalling situation. We worry about casualties in Ulster; we worry about spectacular accidents; but 1,000 deaths every year, happening one here, one there—and, as the hon. Member for Consett said, perhaps 1,000 1345 widows every year—when seen collectively is an appalling situation. It will be tackled not by legislation but principally by bringing the need and the urgency of this problem home to everybody in every factory.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson) spoke about the mines and the need for their safety structure and the system not to be impaired by the Bill. He rightly said that what we wanted was not any diminution of the safety provisions in the mining industry, but other industries to come up to those standards. I support that view, because the mining industry can claim to be the one industry that is acutely aware of the need for safety. It is aware of ever-present danger. Our problem, as I have said, is that so many other industries are blissfully unaware until something happens. Then everybody rushes around and there is a short burst of excitement and interest in the problem.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock)—everybody seems anxious to prove that he can now pronounce that word—introduced a motion in which he called forExtensive education of workers and employers and new comprehensive legislation to deal with precautions against and consequences of industrial accidents and diseases.I think that everyone who heard him on that occasion would agree that he made an excellent speech. I am particularly interested in the first part of that motion, which is not really covered in the Bill and which is the part from which the greatest results will be achieved. That is, of course, in extensive education.
I was horrified by the Secretary of State who, in his peroration, stated the three pillars on which the Bill must stand but totally omitted any responsibility on management. I have always believed that, as President Truman used to say, "The buck stops here", that the buck for safety stopped with the management. Managements have an overriding responsibility to everybody who works in their employment to be responsible for their safety. I recognise the importance of consultation, but it does not take that responsibility from management. A manager can consult like mad with his safety committee, but he cannot then say 1346 —and I hope that nobody in the House would say that he could—"If the safety committee says it is all right. I have no further responsibility". He still has an overriding responsibility for the safety of everybody who works in his employment.
I go further than that. We have said before that one of the weaknesses of industrial relations in this country is that there is not a responsibility at the top in the greater mass of companies—a director on the main board directly charged with responsibility for industrial relations; nor is there a director charged with responsibility for safety and health. Boards are far too frequently inclined to appoint a safety officer and say that the matter is taken care of. This responsibility should be at board level. There should be a director who is responsible.
I fully support what I think my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) said, that the provision that was in the Companies Act, that major companies—obviously there would be a cut-off point—would be responsible in what is sometimes called their social audit for recording accidents and their record of safety, not merely as a statement of what accidents had happened, but what was positively being done to prevent further accidents.
I welcome the provision in the Bill for written safety and health notices and the obligation on management to bring them to the attention of everybody in the company. It seems to me that this must be complemented by a statement in the company's annual report and accounts.
There is obviously a need for managements to be instructed in their safety responsibilities. We have improved, but not enough. When I was appointed to a management position in a group of which I am extremely proud—it is in this country a major group extremely progressive in these fields —I did not in fact have my attention drawn to my responsibilities for safety. That is probably the practice in a lot of places; one may be shown one's responsibilities for profit, and the difficulties, problems and limitations on the management in the plant; but particular attention to safety responsibilities is obviously important, and I welcome this provision in Clause 4.
1347 I welcome also the provision in Clause 6 that employees shall have a responsibility to co-operate, because this is the other end of the problem. How many of us know factories where proper safety provisions are provided, but where the employee finds that the guard is a nuisance on the machine because it gets in his way when he wants to adjust it, so that when one goes round the guard is removed, and it is in place only when everybody knows that the factory inspector is coming? How often will employees cut corners out of idleness or carelessness, and not observe the proper safety provisions?
There is another factor which seems to have received too little attention both generally and in the Bill, and that is, the problem of fatigue. We talk about health in this context rather in the negative sense of preventing people from getting ill. How about getting people fitter? People are inclined to laugh at some of the Japanese methods, one of which is to make everybody turn out for a keep-fit class. I think that they quite often do this twice a day.
When I had a factory I noticed how people's interest in their work, their output, and their general alertness, diminished, and therefore their liability to injury and accident increased as the day went on. I am sure that, in many cases, where people are doing monotonous and repetitive work, a complete break—10 minutes, twice round the factory—would do a lot of good. It may sound extreme and extraordinary, but I think that this is the sort of imaginative approach which could make quite a contribution in much of industry.
§ Mr. Money
Will my hon. Friend agree that environment is also very important? I give him one brief example. During the recent emergency, when power was available for only three days a week, in Ransome and Rapier's many of the shops were painted. This was done to use the available opportunities and manpower. As a result, not only has production gone up, but there is a much better feeling already within the shops concerned.
§ Mr. King
I do not know that that is directly connected, but I certainly agree 1348 about environment. I know of a large biscuit plant in Glasgow where the management used to change the colour of the wall at one end of the factory once a week just to give a bit of variety on a very large open-plan layout and to change the scenery.
Fitness and the problem of fatigue should receive more attention. There is no mention in the Bill of any concentration on eliminating unnecessarily fatiguing work.
There is a further aspect of fatigue which should receive attention—the extent of what is called "moonlighting" in British industry. There are no statistics available about this, but it undoubtedly has an effect on health and safety. I remember one occasion very well. Immediately after an accident, the first words of a printer—whom everybody thought was a devoted company servant—on recovering from the accident were, "Will somebody ring up Securicor and say that I will not be round this afternoon?" Doing too much has its consequences. It may not have been a coincidence that he suffered an accident; it may have been due to the fact that he was working a 16-hour day.
One further point concerns me. Factory inspectors seem to work to double standards. This has been my impression. Clause 39 refers to employers making such improvements as are "practicable". The problem that faces the factory inspector is that he can go into a modem plant and see certain small and minor improvements that are desirable. He can request that these improvements are made and they can be made without too much difficulty. He can then go into another plant where the only real solution in the interests of health and safety is that the whole place should be closed down. In such a situation the factory inspector, in my experience, tends not to concentrate on plant of that sort because to do so would cause unemployment and it would present major problems. I believe that this is a difficulty and a challenge for factory inspectors.
All hon. Members recognise the size of the problem. They recognise, I hope, that by passing this Bill, giving it a Second Reading and taking it through its final stages, we shall not solve the problem. The price of a better record 1349 of fewer accidents and improved health in industry is eternal vigilance by all.
I am always mindful of John Glenn who went all the way to the moon and back, taking every precaution that modern science and technology could do to protect him from any danger or accident. A month after his return to earth he was having a shower, and he fell over and broke his arm. Having a bath in his own home proved to be much more dangerous than going to the moon and back again.
That is a lesson for us in this House. We must pay constant attention to these problems, and in so far as the Bill will stimulate everybody to take an imaginative interest in making industrial work safer and healthier, I welcome it.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends on bringing forward this Bill so early in the life of the Government. It is certainly extremely important, but I begin my remarks on a rather quizzical note. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to explain why it has been found necessary to include building regulations in a Bill of this nature. I should have thought that the importance of building regulations and the enormous ramifications which are involved in such a subject were of sufficient importance to require the introduction of a separate Bill.
My remarks will be based on the construction industry. I give a warm and unqualified welcome to Clause 2, which calls upon the employers to ensure that safety representatives are appointed by the trade unions and safety committees are established. Here I take issue with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) who, despite his size, is conspicuous by his absence. Having made his speech, he has retired with his formidable array of four Liberal colleagues and has left the debate to those who are obviously more interested in it.
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on the basis of my experience as a trade union official, both part time and—for 10 or II years before I entered the House —as a full-time officer of a building union. It is the trade union officer, 1350 usually the site steward—and I had the experience of training afterwards—who, on reaching a certain level of efficiency, is quickly promoted by the employer to the position of safety officer. I recall two particular cases. The individuals concerned are now occupying quite important positions in two national building firms.
I should have thought it was more beneficial to rely on the trade unions to nominate such people. Under Clause 3, the responsibility devolves on the employees and the self-employed not to endanger themselves or others. My attention is immediately drawn to the problem of the self-employed. It is surely far better to have trade union representatives in these important positions than to rely upon non-union people on the building site, or upon the self-employed.
It is by now a well-known fact that the self-employed render themselves more vulnerable to accidents than those who become safety-oriented as a result of their training within the trade union movement. It is vital that we have site officers concerned with safety, having regard to some of the practices that frequently take place in the construction industry.
It was my experience, in extensively visiting building construction sites, that. because of the absence of a safety officer, it was necessary to draw the attention of the representative of the employer, usually the site foreman, to the fact that a ladder finished only a foot or so above the level of the scaffold—sometimes with awesome consequences for the unsuspecting person who climbed that ladder and found that there was nothing left for his hand to hold on to—or, the occasion when the ladder was not secured to the scaffold or lashed in any way. Men, sometimes inexperienced men, dig trenches at such a depth as to require timber bracing and shuttering, but such precautions are not taken. There have been some awful consequences of such neglect on sites.
Unfortunately, when drawing the attention of operatives on the site to these deficiencies and omissions, I was all too often met with the response that they wanted to get on with the job and that the firm or the foreman were not too concerned. They were, in the main, conscientious people who would prefer to get on with the job. But many practices in the construction industry literally 1351 demand that a new attitude be developed towards safety.
I have some reservations about the number of factory inspectors currently available for safety surveillance in such a large industry as construction—incidentally, rivalling coal mining in its accident rate, and frequently at the top of the league table. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to give us evidence this evening to satisfy us that the Factory Inspectorate will be enlarged to ensure that bad practices are eliminated wherever possible.
I turn now to Clause 5, which places a duty onany person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any articleor substance for use at work to ensure that such articles and substances aresafe and without risks to health when properly used".All those on the Government side who have ben involved in some section of industry or another are fully acquainted with industrial and non-industrial diseases and the ravages they effect on the unfortunate individuals who fall victim to them. I link Clause 5 with Clause 10, which deals with the general functions of the commission and executive, and I pose one or two questions to my hon. Friend for his consideration.
Will he be more explicit about the functions of the commission and the executive in the context of the research referred to in Clause 10? Does it mean that the continuing research into industrial diseases, including some of the lesser known and newer diseases—one thinks here of asbestosis—will be the responsibility of the commission? Will he indicate to what extent there will be research into and testing of building materials?
In these advanced technological days, there are all sorts of innovations in building materials. We have the increasing use of plastics, and timber. The awful fire in the Isle of Man must be very fresh in the mind of every hon. Member. That building was constructed extensively of Oroglas. I have my doubts about the extent of testing and research into that material. We should, wherever possible, offset the chances of that kind of incident happening again.
In this context, I see no reference in the Bill to the Building Research Centre— 1352 whether its resources, facilities or ability are to be harnessed and utilised by the commission and the executive in the researches to which I refer.
Another aspect of safety is design, which is dealt with in Clause 5. I recall the terrible accidents that have taken place on bridges over motorways. The most recent which comes to mind is the Loddon Bridge disaster. There has been a great deal of controversy over the box girder design of the bridge. This was not the first accident of its kind. There have been earlier ones in Germany, one on the Yarra in Melbourne—probably about five altogether.
Grave doubts were cast on the construction and design of these bridges. There was an inquiry which dragged on for a long time, but I am hazy on the question whether any benefit finally accrued. To what extent will the Commission be responsible for the design of this sort of thing?
I have been interested in the comments of some hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money). This is a vitally important facet of industry and far too little attention is paid to it by both employers and operatives. In the construction industry a large number of firms fully honour their responsibilities and options in this regard. There are others which are not safety-oriented, and many of them do not bother to indulge in the kind of training that is required.
It is against this background that I have been pleased to note a circular dated 14th March from the Construction Industry Training Board, which indicates that at the centre of Bircham Newton, near King's Lynn, there is to be established a two-year training course for boys of 17 who come straight from school to the centre and are trained in the use of heavy plant and expensive mechanical equipment. This training, carried out in conjunction with the employers, will undoubtedly have its effect on safety as well as making the lads more conscious of the necessity for safety.
When I was a Minister in the previous Labour Government, I took the opportunity of going over to Bircham Newton. I was impressed by the facilities available for the training of adults in this field. 1353 I was impressed, too, by the jocular comment of the instructor when I asked him about the attitudes of men and which machines they favoured most. I said "What about the dumper?" to which he answered, "That is usually the job reserved for the village idiot". This, unfortunately, is the thinking that has permeated the construction industry for a long time. I am sure that it is not so prevalent now as it once was, but that was somewhat indicative of the attitude adopted by some people towards safety.
There is always the inevitability of accidents. No matter how well organised one is or how well-oriented we are towards safety, the day, hour and minute comes when an accident of some dimension occurs.
I refer in this context to the Loddon Bridge disaster. Some of us, when in Opposition, taxed the then Secertary of State for Employment about the desirability of and the necessity for a public inquiry into the cause of the disaster, not only to get the full picture but to help the national officers of trade unions who were representing the relatives of men who died in the accident to ascertain its true cause, for legal reasons. We were not successful. This has been and no doubt still is the practice. Presumably, if a similar accident were to happen there would be an inspector's inquiry rather than a public inquiry. When men sacrifice their lives, perhaps because of failures by other people, surely there should be a public inquiry in order that the full story can be told. I see no reference in the Bill to any such procedure. However, I feel sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Ministers, with their ability and ingenuity, can arrange for something along those lines to be worked into the Bill in Committee.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend by asking him to look at Clause 13, which meets the request that he is putting forward.
§ Mr. Urwin
I am glad to have that assurance. I had certainly overlooked it. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that inclusion.
I address my final remarks to operations outside the curtilage of industrial premises. I am motivated by the mem- 1354 ory of a dreadful accident that took place in my constituency last year. A boy of 12, when crossing a mineral line, was run down by coal wagons owned by the National Coal Board. Far too little attention is paid by the National Coal Board and certain other industrial organisations to mineral lines which are completely open to the public. The youngster to whom I have referred was innocently crossing the mineral line, not knowing that the wagons were about to move, when he was run down. He is lucky to be alive. However, he is disfigured and badly handicapped for life. I should like some provision to be put into the Bill to deal with that kind of situation.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), who has immense experience in the building industry and has put forward some important practical points.
I have come to this House from the building industry. I had the honour to be a director of the House-Builders' Federation and an official of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers. I still have a consultancy interest in the building industry, which I immediately declare.
Every accident or death that takes place in the construction industry is one too many. I am sure that everybody will agree about that. The industry, through its joint regular procedure of discussions with operatives and employers, has a good record for trying to get over to sites, through films, joint demonstrations, and so on, the need for greater safety. Although the construction industry in this country has a large number of fatalities, its safety record is the best of any construction industry in the world. Of course, like coal mining and other industries which have been mentioned, it is a dangerous industry.
I welcome the Bill. I shall confine my remarks to a few specific practical points on which I hope the Minister will be able to give assurances tonight or subsequently in Committee. I will endeavour to avoid making what may seem to be Committee points.
I should like to deal with two different parts of the Bill: first, Clause 2 (4), 1355 about which other hon. Members have spoken, and, secondly, that part dealing with the building regulations which I think only the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring has mentioned.
At one time I did not agree with the idea of compulsory safety committees and representatives, but I have changed my mind. I have come to the conclusion that these are necessary and that this change should be made. However, it is undesirable that powers of the importance of those put into the Bill should be dealt with by regulation. I believe that they should be in clauses in the Bill so that they can be discussed properly in the House.
Mention was made of the Employed Persons (Safety) Bill introduced by several hon. Members and by the previous Labour Government. The only time that it was properly discussed was in Committee in June 1972. That Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hatters-ley), did not get beyond the Committee stage because of shortage of time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) made many specific points during the Committee stage of that Bill—for example, the proposed number of workers needed for a safety committee in a factory or the number needed for the right of permanent safety representative, the definition in the Bill of a dangerous accident or occurrence, the need for formal reports in writing after inspections had taken place, and many other matters. Because of the time available to that Committee, the sponsor of the Bill did not fully reply to the points that were made, and to some he was unable to reply at all.
It is somewhat regrettable that Ministers should seek power now by regulations to deal with matters for which they were previously unable to command the support of the House. This is particularly regrettable because I am not satisfied that the regulations will be subject to the full debating procedure of this House. I asked the Secretary of State about this matter when he introduced the Bill, and he said that his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State would mention it in winding up. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. 1356 Consultation about regulations with both sides of industry is right and proper, but this House also has a right to be consulted.
There are a number of points on which the Minister's guidance is particularly necessary before the House can effectively discuss the matter. First, will it still be necessary that there should be 10 workers for a safety representative and 100 workers for a safety committee? That was the stipulation in the previous Bill. Will there be a proper definition of the excluded casual workers?
Secondly, is it understood that the safety representative nominated by the trade union, as he should be, is primarily there to do his paid job in the factory, whatever it may be, and that his duties as safety representative must fit in with that?
Thirdly, will the proposal in Clause 2(5) of the previous Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook, by which a written report of an inspection was at the discretion of the safety representative, be strengthened?
Fourthly, do the proposals that the safety representative must be at least 23 years of age, have five years' industrial experience and two years' experience in the particular industry, still hold good? The previous Bill referred to only two years' experience "so far as reasonably practicable." Except for new factories, that is inadequate. In all cases, two years' experience should be necessary.
I also look to the Minister for guidance on the aggregation provisions. These are important in the building industry. It would be nonsense, with 10 building sites and 10 men on each, to have a safety committee because 100 men were employed and to have the safety committee permanently touring the building sites. We must know more about this proposal and have it properly thought through.
I turn now to Part III which deals with building regulations. This, as the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring said, has very little to do with the rest of the Bill. I know that my right hon. Friend was originally to blame for that matter, but I think it would be better if it were in a separate Bill. I assume that in Committee we shall have a Minister 1357 from the Department of the Environment to deal with these technical matters, which I am sure will be raised.
The proposals in Part III follow the proposals for a building Bill in a document on which the industry gave full comments to the previous Government. Most of the matters in the Bill require regulations on which full consultation will be essential.
Finally, I wish to mention two other matters. The first relates to Clause 62 (3), which gives local authorities power to charge fees for building regulation approval. To what level? Indeed, why do this now? Surely anything which helps to increase construction costs at this time, particularly with the poor state of the house building industry, about which the whole House is dissatisfied, with no obvious increase in efficiency is to be deplored. After all, building work after it is completed, results in added rate income.
Clause 68 (5) of the Bill imposes the cost of testing soils, materials or components on the builder or materials supplier. I am advised by experts that it is accepted practice in the British Standards Institution that only when the test shows the material to be inferior is the cost of testing borne by the supplier. That point should be considered again, and there should be a similar arrangement in the Bill as exists for the British Standards Institution.
This is an entirely non-political Bill and commands the assent of the whole House. I hope that the Minister, in the concluding speech, can give assurances on my points, or write to me, or that they can be explored further in Committee.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)
The welcome given to the Bill by both sides of the House must be heartening to the Government, and the Bill should have a speedy passage.
I particularly welcome the proposed changes that will provide for the appointment of trade union representatives on joint factory committees. Both sides of industry must be convinced that whatever their differences in many other matters they have a common interest in health and safety. Some employers have been worried about compulsory represen- 1358 tation for trade unions. I cannot understand this attitude. It can only mean that general industrial relations in such companies have been very bad. If that is so, it is time they were put right, and the Bill may help in that direction.
We must accept, from the trade union standpoint, that the Robens Report found apathy to be the main cause of accidents. There is no question about this. People tend to be apathetic about safety regulations. The big problem is that familiarity breeds contempt. I am a national officer of one of the railway trade unions and I am aware that railway employees—particularly those working on the permanent way—because they do the job day after day take chances, even though they know that there are safety regulations. They take chances and try to get away with it week after week and year after year. They take chances which they should not take.
I hope that as a result of the regulations which will come into force under the Bill it will be possible to set up voluntary committees, without having to use statutory provisions. Co-operation is needed from both sides of industry in matters of safety and health and it is better that this co-operation should be voluntry rather than brought about by statutory means.
I am also anxious about conditions in offices, in particular where health is concerned. Care should be taken to ensure that there is non-manual as well as manual representation on the joint safety committees.
I am an honorary national officer of the National Federation of Professional Workers, which has a particular interest in office conditions. The federation had some doubt about the Robens' proposals and the initial consultative document issued by the last Government, but in the end the federation was broadly satisfied with the assurances that there was no intention to remove existing statutory protection at present. The federation understands that the effective safeguards of the existing factories legislation and the Offices, Shops and Railways Premises Act will remain in force.
While considering office conditions we should look at the general office conditions in the Palace of Westminster. We should, in particular, consider the staff 1359 conditions, and I suggest that the Sergeant at Arms should look at the working conditions of many employees in this building. An example of the sort of conditions which the employees have to put up with can be found in the Whips' Office, where there are three or four people in one room, each trying to do a job. This would not be tolerated in industry. I would certainly not tolerate it. I would be trying to do something about it. I hope that action will be taken as a result of the debate.
When the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act was introduced there were misgivings about the enforcing authorities. Responsibility was given in general to local authorities rather than to the Factory Inspectorate, but each annual report to the Minister on this matter has pointed to the wide disparities in standards of inspection and enforcement by different authorities. It may be that local government reform will bring some improvement, but it could work the other way round, particularly in those areas where the reason for comparative failure has been lack of the necessary staff.
It is not always the case that local authority staff include those who are expert in examination of machinery, lifts and other installations. We hope that in practice there will be a measure of allocation of responsibilities by function rather than by type of authority—for example, the commission's inspectors could be responsible for approval of machinery, lifts, and similar installations, where necessary. On the other hand, local authority inspectors could suitably extend their functions relating to offices to cover health and amenity requirements in factories to a greater extent than at present, especially if there is to be an end to the routine inspections by the Factory Inspectorate which, up to now; has been on a supposed four-yearly tour.
We must warmly welcome the long overdue extension of factory protection to those employments not previously covered, including some of those notable exceptions from the Offices, Shops and Railways Premises Act—theatres and schools. The present proposals give protection to virtually all employment at work places as well as protection to the public in the vicinity.
1360 The object of the Bill is to ensure an overall improvement in safety and health wherever work is carried on. We all know how necessary this is. I remind the House that we are talking about health as well as safety. There seems to be a tendency to confine discussion to the safety aspect. Safety risks are a major consideration on the railways, but, in office employment danger to life and limb is substantially less than in manual work in factories and mines, though by no means negligible, as reports on the working of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act show.
Conditions in work places—no less, and indeed sometimes more in the office than elsewhere—are often a major factor in the spread of diseases which are not strictly speaking industrial in origin, the common cold being top of the league.
I am glad that after years of argument it has at last been recognised that noise-induced deafness may be accepted as a prescribed industrial disease, though at present this is confined to two main industries. There may be little evidence of actual deafness caused by undue noise in the office, but it was accepted in a report presented to Parliament a few years ago that there are limits to the amount of noise which can be accepted in places such as offices, where the test adopted was what was called the speech interference level. If the strain and stress created by undue noise, or by other factors which may be related to the conditions of employment, result in a breakdown in the mental health of an office worker, it may not be prescribable as an industrial disease but it should nevertheless be the concern of a joint safety committee to provide protection against it.
If we are to improve health and safety standards there must inevitably be an expansion of the work of the specialists in the inspectorate and the local authorities. If the joint safety committees are to be successful they should do what is done by the inspectors and not try to replace them. They will need the service and advice of those inspectors.
Those employers who break the law and continue to offend in this way will need a whole process of advice, warnings, improvement notices, prohibition notices and, in the last resort prosecution. It appears to be the intention, and 1361 it is certainly necessary, not to have the same routine as in the past to enforce standards which employers do not voluntarily follow. All these powers and duties involve the inspectorate, and if we are to get the right people to do the job we must consider their pay and conditions. This is where we have been falling down over the years.
The Government should not be looking over their shoulders all the time at the cost. The training requirements are very important. Whatever legislation we have, however well intentioned it may be and whatever support and co-operation the unions and employers offer, we shall still fall far short of the health and safety service that the country so urgently needs unless we have the right people to do the work and the right attitude from employers and unions. It is in that spirit that I welcome the Bill; I am certain that it will receive an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
No maiden speaker can rise in the House of Commons without a considerable feeling of alarm. To borrow a phrase from Clause 2 of this Bill, I feel that my "instruction, training and supervision" have been woefully inadequate for the task.
My constituency has been carved out of the old constituency of Tonbridge and the old constituency of Ashford. I am the successor of two distinguished and long-serving Members. The portion that I have gained from the old Tonbridge constituency was for 17 years represented by Mr. Dick Hornby. Many hon. Members have told me since my arrival in what high regard he was held here—a regard which is matched by that of his constituents. The same is true, of course, of my predecessor for the Ashford portion of the constituency, still happily in this House as the right hon. Member for the new constituency of Ashford (Mr. Deedes) who has for many years served with the greatest distinction and industry the interests of what are now my constituents. If I can approach the standard of service that they have given I shall be doing a very good job. I hope in time that I may aspire to that height.
My constituency extends over a far wider area than its name might suggest. Although it takes its name from the 1362 gracious town of Tunbridge Wells it extends from country villages in the west, like Speldhurst, right over to other villages like Benenden, Sandhurst and Hawkhurst in the east. It contains little industry but much agriculture.
Agriculture is not to be brought within the ambit of the Bill but I am sure that all hon. Members with a knowledge of agriculture will agree that the problems of the safety, health and welfare of its employees need no less careful scrutiny and care than the problems of the factory worker. I hope that in due course they will receive it.
I welcome the Bill because it provides an opportunity for Parliament to bring within the ambit of a single piece of legislation all the safety, health and welfare problems of those working in the factories. Those who have had to deal in their private or professional lives with the problems of this nature in industry recognise the jungle into which the law has strayed. An hon. Member opposite has already referred to the standard textbook of Redgrave on the Factory Acts and to Mr. Munkman's work on employer's liability. The editors of those works do their best to lead the way through this jungle, but all who have to deal professionally with these problems will welcome the Bill as a fresh start on integrating all the legislation which will eventually apply, whether immediately under the provisions of the Bill or under regulations made under it.
I hope that safety committees can become universal. In training lies one of the most fruitful possibilities for reducing the terrible toll of accident and injury which so many hon. Members have mentioned. Statistics are bad enough, but when one has to see the physical injuries that are inflicted in a moment of carelessness and whose consequences can remain with the victim for the rest of his life and perhaps with his family, with terrible financial consequences, one has brought home to one the urgency of the problem.
It is true that many accidents are caused by negligence or breach of their statutory duty by employers, but one should not suppose that nearly all of them are. Many are caused by a moment's carelessness, or perhaps the taking of a short cut towards the end of a day by a workman who is doing a boring job and who, as the hours have 1363 gone by, has become a victim of apathy, has, perhaps, become sleepy and bored.
I believe that it is in the sector of training that there is the best chance of making workpeople more safety conscious than they are in many cases. Of course it is true that some employers connive at machines being operated with the safety guards not in position, for example. The majority do not, but there are many who do. If greater attention is paid to training in safety matters there will be far fewer workpeople who will want to operate machines in that dangerous condition, notwithstanding that it may be easier to operate them without the safety guards in position.
I hope, therefore, that great attention will be paid to the provision of safety committees, and to the operating of those committees, so that everyone undergoes training, and that the provision for proper instruction and training which is referred to in Clause 2(2) of the Bill will be part of the responsibility of the safety committee. I mean by that that I hope that it will have a part in devising and providing the training. If these committees can be brought into programmes of training and instruction, that would be a very good thing.
The second point is that a great deal of attention must be paid to the problem of enforcing the obligations which the Bill lays down, primarily upon the employer but also upon the workman. My experience has been that, while making every allowance for the fact that the Factory Inspectorate is understaffed, the manner in which decisions are taken whether to prosecute in the case of a breach of obligation is in some cases almost capricious. In many cases it appears to have been taken where there has been a lot of publicity, or a very tragic accident and, perhaps, a death, but where the case against the employer on breach of duty has been very thin; whereas in many other cases of flagrant breach, where there can scarcely have been any defence against prosecution, no prosecution has taken place. That is so in many cases that one has come across where warnings have been given and matters have been brought to the attention of employers which fully merited a prosecution. We must have a much tougher standard on the part of an increased and expanded 1364 Factory Inspectorate than has been the case for many years past.
Mention has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) of a possible change in the law following the report of Lord Pearson's Royal Commission. We may have—I express no view on it at this stage—a system of non-fault liability replacing our present system, in which one has to prove in common law negligence on the part of the employer or breach of statutory duty in order to found a claim for civil liability. If we have a non-fault system of liability as a result of recommendations of Lord Pearson's Commission then all the more will it be necessary for the Factory Inspectorate to take a far tougher line and for there to be more prosecutions in the case of breach; because the discipline and sanction that the employers' liability insurance companies to some extent provide at present will have gone. I hope, therefore, that great attention will be paid to the question of enforcement.
I should like to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), who drew attention to the wordsso far as is reasonably practicablewhere they apply in the clauses at the beginning of the Bill and which lay down the obligations and duties of employers. Taking Clause 2, the hon. Gentleman thought that it would be proper to delete those words so as to make an absolute liability rest upon employers. As I understood it, he applied that to all the early clauses of the Bill where those duties are set out. I can only say that one has to remember that this portion of the Bill is imposing a criminal liability upon employers and not a civil liability. I should be very sorry indeed to see legislation which made the employer strictly liable for any circumstance where it could be shown that the workman was not at the given moment safe or that he did not have risks to his health at any given moment. To impose strict liability would be to make him an insurer, and that seems to be wholly foreign to our concept of criminal law.
Lastly, I should like to emphasise and support the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North when he drew attention to Clauses 39 and 41, where the burden of proof whether something is reasonably practicable is 1365 laid upon the employer, and then, in Clause 41, a defence is provided for him whereby if he shows that he has exercised "all due diligence" he can avoid conviction. The words "all due diligence" do seem to have the makings of a lawyer's picnic. We are all used to the concept of reasonable care. It is well understood in the courts. It has been developed in a way which takes account of changing standards and problems. The words "all due diligence" pose the question of how much diligence is due. I hope that consideration will be given to amending that phraseology.
I am sure that much can be done in Committee to improve the Bill. Nevertheless I warmly welcome it. Our industry is the mainstay of our economy and the livelihood of our nation depends upon it. The Bill provides a means of safeguarding more effectively the lives of those who serve industry.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
I offer my congratulations to the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) on his maiden speech. No doubt his future contributions will be more controversial but on this occasion he has followed the tradition of the House and made a non-controversial speech on what is practically a non-controversial subject. He has told us about his constituency and has made a thoughtful contribution to our proceedings. I am sure the whole House looks forward to hearing what he will say in the future.
Like all hon. Members, I welcome the Bill because it will make a most important contribution to the provisions made for the safety and health of people at work. It is by no means perfect, and I hope that there may be some revision in Committee which will improve it. However, its overall value lies in the fact that it co-ordinates, rationalises and makes more flexible much of the existing legislation. Many of the provisions in the Bill have been discussed before. Recommendations have been made such as on the statutory obligation on employers to consult their employees on health and safety matters, which was proposed in a draft parliamentary order as far back as 1927. There have been many other recommendations in the meantime. The last was in a consultative 1366 document in 1967, when it was recommended that provision should be made for the revision, harmonisation and unification of existing statutes.
The value of this and other recommendations will depend on the speed and thoroughness with which they are implemented. Ultimately we can but judge the success of these measures from the statistics on fatal and non-fatal accidents at work. That is why it is so important that we should get these matters right and make the Bill effective. There must therefore be the closest scrutiny of it in Committee.
There has been reference in the debate to a fact which was mentioned in the first paragraph of the Robens Committee's Report, that over a thousand people are killed in their work every year and about 500,000 suffer from accidents. That, however, is only part of the overall picture. The figures do not tell us that about 5 million or 6 million people—20 per cent. of the country's work force—are outside the scope of any occupational safety and health legislation. Statistics about them are not available, and accidents among that group are additional to the figures we already have.
The statistics also do not include deaths from prescribed diseases under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act 1965. The statistics of the Department of Health and Social Security show that awards in benefits for death from prescribed diseases such as pneumoconiosis average about 800 a year. The statistics are misleading because benefits are paid only to dependants, and many hundreds who die from such diseases have no dependants. As a consequence their names are not recorded.
The Bill's provisions will apply to the mining industry. The statistics of fatal accidents in that industry are alarming. I am glad that my right hon. Friend emphasised the impact that this legislation is likely to have in the mining industry. From 1960 to 1970, 2,147 miners were killed whilst at work. In the same period 9,378 died from diseases associated with their work, such as pneumoconiosis. The bulk of those people were miners.
In view of the recent dispute in the mining industry, and the inflexible attitude of the Government to the claim 1367 of the miners that they be treated as a special case, it is often forgotten that wages are not the only yardstick by which to measure the special nature of the work. Account must also be taken of the conditions of hazard to health and safety in which miners work. In 10 years as many as 11,000 deaths will occur either down the pit or from miners coughing up their lungs due to industrial disease.
If we estimate that a miner will work for 40 years and project the figures which I have mentioned for that period, 40,000 deaths will arise from the nature of miners' employment in a total labour force of about 250,000. That means that a miner has a one in five chance that he will die because of the nature of his work. The odds are greatly increased when we remember that only half the labour force is employed underground. That is why I welcome the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson).
The Minister must pay special attention to legislation affecting the mining industry. The National Union of Mineworkers has fought for 150 years to establish legislation and machinery to deal with the health, welfare and safety of its members. I hope that no provision in the Bill will mean that that long battle to establish those standards has been in vain. The problems of health and safety at work and the need to reduce the number of accidents is so vital and urgent that we must have legislation that will make an effective contribution to safety in the work place. I do not know whether the provisions of the Bill will be effective. No doubt we shall scrutinise them carefully in Committee.
When the Robens Report was published I disagreed strongly with the suggestion that fundamental improvements in conditions of work could be achieved by the sharing of responsibilities within industry without effective regulation from outside. I am glad that the Government are tightening up such matters. We shall have to go through the Bill carefully to see that the regulations are effective. It seems that the responsibility for reducing the level of industrial accidents must rest primarily with management. That point has been made repeatedly. It is management's overriding responsibility to take 1368 every possible step to reduce the number of accidents in the work place.
We all know that there are unscrupulous employers who try to cut corners, who try to increase production figures by skimping safety arrangements. The Bill will do something to force those employers to toe the line and accept their responsibility. We must also consider the Factory Inspectorate. There is a widespread feeling amongst trade unions and trade unionists that it is on the side of the bosses. I do not agree with that. As a former trade union official, I believe that the inspectors are doing a first-class job.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does my hon. Friend accept that the Robens Report statistics showed that each of the 300,000 visits made annually yielded an offence under the 1961 Factories Act, yet only 3.000 prosecutions were brought in 1970? Does not this indicate some degree of dereliction of duty on the part of the Factory Inspectorate?
§ Mr. Fletcher
My hon. Friend has anticipated what I was about to say. Although there is that widespread feeling, I believe that the factory inspectors do a first-class job. However, there are not enough of them, and the career structure is such that the best brains are not attracted to the inspectorate. It is essential that there should be more factory inspectors. As my hon. Friend reminded us, only one case in every hundred of the 300,000 inspections was prosecuted. Factory inspectors may tour a factory only once in every three or four years, and that is not enough. Of every 100 lost-time accidents that occurred, the Factory Inspectorate investigated only seven. That is not because of lack of enthusiasm on the part of the inspectorate but because the job is a difficult one and the inspectorate is under-staffed. I hope the Bill will go some way towards rectifying that inadequacy.
I have a minor criticism concerning the appointment of trade union officers and safety committees. If the Bill is to carry out its intention it will have to be redrafted. Part II of the Employed Persons (Safety) Bill introduced by the Labour Government in February 1970 empowered trade unions to appoint safety representatives in factories with 10 or more employees, and required employers 1369 in factories employing 100 or more to set up safety committees if requested to do so by safety representatives. The Bill also defined the functions and qualifications of safety representatives. The Part II provisions were included in the Employment Medical Advisory Service Act. This Bill only goes so far as to give the Secretary of State powers to require the appointment of safety officers in prescribed cases and leaves it to the Secretary of State to make regulations governing the establishment of safety committees. That is where the Bill fails. We should spell out the provisions in more detail, as was done in the 1970 Bill. I hope that in Committee it will be possible to revert to the text of the original Bill, which is far superior.
I welcome the Bill as an effective step in the right direction. It could be more effective, and it needs a great deal of detailed investigation. It will be on the statute book a long time. Factory legislation is not amended in every Parliament. If, after consulting trade unions and employers' organisations, we pass the Bill, it will be on the statute book for a decade or more. It is, therefore, essential that it should be scrutinised closely in Committee.
I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will be improved and that it will pass quickly through the House.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Chester-le-Street)
I want to take up the point made about mining by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher). When I first came to my constituency, which is a mining constituency, I was told that there were three ways to tell an old miner. First, one looked at his back and saw how misshapen it was. Secondly, one shook him by the hand and found that he had a finger missing. Finally, one listened to his breathing, and could immediately tell that he had a respiratory disease. I discovered other ways in which to tell who were the miners—not least by the warmth and friendliness of their personality. What I have said is surely a clear indication of the hazards in the mining industry.
I speak as a sponsored member of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers. The House will be aware that my union was the first to gain, in a 1370 British court, an award of damages for a man who had contracted industrial deafness. I refer to the famous case of Berry v. Stone Manganese Marine because of its failure to protect Mr. Frank Berry from the noise of his job. Although the damages were far too small, that judgment opened up the whole area to the law.
I welcome the Bill as a step forward, because it represents a great improvement on the Robens Report. The weakness of that report was that it relied excessively on voluntaryism. Although trade unionists accept the need for codification of the law and for a new central authority, we are totally against this kind of increased role for voluntary codes and the corresponding objection of statutory regulations. A good example of how effective statutory regulations can be at their best is that of the power press regulations. In 1964, a year before those regulations were introduced, there were 498 accidents in that industry; in 1971 there were only 151 accidents. That is far too many, but it shows a radical improvement in the situation. It is not surprising that trade unions are in favour of strong statutory regulations.
The Bill is an improvement on that which was introduced by the Conservative Government, since it provides for safety committees and safety representatives drawn from the trade unions. We are likely to get effective safety standards at shop floor level only if the trade unions' power and influence is brought to bear directly on employers.
Labour Members have their worries about the Bill as drafted. It is common ground that the main objectives must be, first, increased safety standards enforceable at criminal law and, secondly, certain civil liability. The general duties laid on employers by the Bill and an improved system of statutory regulations go some way towards these objectives. However, I share the fear of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson) that employers may seek to evade their rightful obligations to their employees. Our fear is that despite the improvements in the Bill the employers' liability will be weakened by the spattering of the phrase "so far as is reasonably practicable" throughout the Bill, and that they will act as though the 1371 word "reasonable" were synonymous with the phrase "not too expensive" and in that way will continue to evade their responsibilities.
Will the Minister say how far the general duties laid on employers by the Bill go beyond the common law? One example which frightens my union is the phrase "in so far as reasonably practicable" when used with the phrase in Clause 2(2)(d), "any place of work". This could mean that local authorities will evade their responsibilities for the safety of their own road men and refuse collectors. Since I am on the subject of local authorities, I want to draw attention to Clause 17 and ask whether it is the intention that local authorities should enforce the law in regard to their own employees. I envisage a situation in which a local authority could be judge and jury in its own cause.
As for the criminal law penalties, like other hon. Members I am worried by the possible smallness of them. We have a maximum fine on summary conviction of only £400, and even on indictment very often judges impose penalties which are not too large. There is also the point that if an employer goes on repeating the offence he is fined only £50 per day. One can envisage a situation where, if an employer thought that it was too expensive to eradicate a safety fault he would be prepared to go on paying a fine and continuing to evade his obligations.
Disappointment has been expressed about the exemption of agriculture, which is probably one of the most dangerous industries. Its accident rate is high. Agricultural workers suffer from many common industrial hazards such as chest complaints due to bad weather, deafness from the noise of tractors and combines, white finger from vibration, and chemical poisoning, as well as some of their own such as farmer's lung and silo filler's disease. However, the legal machinery for their protection is not so perfect that it deserves exemption. The maximum fine is only £50. There are no safety officers. There are no safety committees. There are very few inspectors—none, I understand, in Scotland.
There is de facto exemption in that 6 million workers are not covered at all by statutory safety standards. Even under 1372 the Bill those workers who are not covered by regulations have no redress at civil law except, of course, their normal common law rights. To cover this, general duties should be enforceable not only in criminal law but in civil law at least till the statutory safety regulations are extended—not that these are perfect in themselves.
There are general hazards, such as noise, which are not included in safety regulations. Following the Berry case, the Industrial Health Advisory Committee issued an excellent code of practice on noise with a 90 decibel limit. It is an excellent code, but it is not enforceable, and I hope that noise, and other general hazards will be included in the statutory safety regulations.
The success of the Bill depends partly on effective inspection and, with respect to an overworked and underpaid body of men, their numbers are far too small to do an adequate job. There are probably only 1,000 inspectors. Factories are visited on average only once every four years. I hope to hear from my hon. Friend what he intends to do about inspection.
I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on boh sides of the House will agree that we are debating a most important Bill. It is probably one of the most important to have come before the House, especially when one bears in mind the devastation caused by accidents and hazards facing workers. A typical report from the Chief Inspector of Factories will reveal that 1,000 people have died and that 500,000 have been injured. Anything that we can do by legislation to reduce those appalling figures must be welcome, but let us be certain that the legislation really bites.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
I must congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) on an excellent and most inforative maiden speech. I am sure that he carried the whole House with him in the two principal points that he made about the need for safety training and for a more uniform application of the safety regulations. We look forward to hearing from my hon. and learned Friend on many more occasions.
1373 The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) spoke of the damage that can be caused to an individual by what he called "the speech interference level".
I hope that his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will read the relevant part of the hon. Gentleman's speech.
Much progress has been made in health and safety at work since the days to which the Secretary of State referred with such passion and, I am bound to say, such irrelevance. The report which he read in extenso was dated 1819. Nevertheless, the seriousness of the situation today may be judged by the figure of 23 million lost days as a result of injury at work, 500,000 injured, and the terrible toll of 1,000 killed in a year, and I welcome the Secretary of State's promptness in bringing forward this legislation, which he inherited from his predecessor in the Conservative Government. The major aspects of the Bill command widespread support on both sides of the House.
The Bill imposes all sorts of duties on employers, employees, on trade unions and on the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, and rightly so, but it does not say much about the duties of the Secretary of State himself. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to have another look at this aspect of the Bill. Lord Robens' report referred to the inadequacy of machinery for gathering and disseminating information on health hazards and the inadequacy of research facilities currently devoted to this aspect.
Much has been said in the debate about safety in mines, and that is a very important aspect, but there are other vital matters, as I am sure hon. Members will recognise. Attention has been given in recent years to reducing pollution of the atmosphere as it affects the ordinary citizen. Great strides have been made in this matter. The Bill deals with the health and safety of people at their place of work. There is growing public awareness and concern about the long-term health hazards which face workers in many industries. The obvious ones which spring to mind are pneumoconiosis, asbestosis and radiation hazards. It is vital that employees be assured that not only their employers but also the 1374 Government are doing everything possible to ensure their safety at their places of employment.
In chemicals the situation is particularly difficult because there are an estimated 10,000 new chemical products put into production each year. Some of these chemicals have cancer-producing propensities, and it is of the utmost importance that early warning should be given of any health hazards that might arise. What we are concerned about is the health hazards not so much in 1974 as in the year 2000. It is vital that we should take legislative measures to guard against future health hazards.
The chemical industry has an excellent safety record, but I hope that, while laying duties on everybody else, the Secretary of State will satisfy himself that his own and the Government's role are fully covered. Some days ago a United States Department of Labour report was published drawing attention to a recent discovery of a rare liver cancer among workers exposed to vinyl chloride. That has been linked to at least a dozen cases of cancer of the liver. I should appreciate an assurance that this exposure of chemical workers to vinyl chloride will be investigated with the utmost urgency so that workers may be assured that their safety is not at risk. May we also have an assurance that more money will be spent on research in this area, and that there will be prompt monitoring of such reports as may arise in other countries, so that benefit may be derived for our own workers?
In the minute or two remaining I would ask the Under-Secretary to reconsider Clause 2(4), which requires only recognised trade unions to elect safety representatives. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many factories have works councils with safety representatives elected by the employees. In many instances it is not a predominantly trade union factory. It would be wrong, and objectionable to hundreds of my constituents—I speak also for many thousands elsewhere in the country—if existing representatives of employees who have been handling this aspect should be prevented by this legislation from carrying on their work. It is wholly right that the union should make the appointment 1375 in certain fields such as the mining industry in which the union is a major part of the industry, but where there is no major union representations it should be left to the employees. I should welcome an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that this matter will be dealt with. That provision smacks of a political sop to a vested interest. It will need to be amended in Committee. If it is not done by the Government, we on this side shall have to see that it is amended.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
It is my pleasant duty to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) on his excellent and informative maiden speech. I was particularly glad that he stressed the need not to slacken in any way the efforts to improve safety in agriculture. Later in my speech, I shall say more about the exclusion of agriculture from the Bill.
My hon. and learned Friend's predecessor, Richard Hornby, often spoke on industrial relations, and my hon. and learned Friend has certainly lived up to Richard Hornby's high standard when speaking in this House. We welcome him here and look forward to further contributions from him on this topic. As many Members have said, the House of Commons has not spent as much time as it should on discussing industrial safety, and I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities for my hon. and learned Friend to make further contributions to our debates.
It must be a great pleasure for the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) to wind up the debate as Under-Secretary of State for Employment. Many were the times, when we were in Government, that he asked whether the Government had any plans to introduce a Bill on health and safety at work. I know how frustrated he must have felt when the answer was, "Not next week, Sir". We look forward to his speech because many varied questions have been raised, especially on the technical matters of the Bill, and we on the Opposition side hope to help him get the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible.
Many hon. Members have rightly mentioned the number of people killed or injured at work. They have mentioned, 1376 too, the increasing number of new industrial processes which may have delayed effects on health, about which we do not know much now but on which in two or three years, evidence comes forward showing that a new illness has been contracted as a result of a certain process at a particular factory.
I want to emphasise, too, the side effects of industrial injury and ill health caused by work—the shortened life, the loss of income, the domestic difficulties and the effect on children. These side effects must never be forgotten when one is considering the important matter of industrial health and safety. The new processes, substances and techniques constantly coming into play in industry demand big improvements in the precautions which must be taken to prevent injury and disease.
Many speakers mentioned deafness, and some observed that it was still not classified as an industrial disease. It is probably on the low side to estimate that half a million workers per year are exposed to noise levels for a length of time that can place their hearing at risk.
Mention was also made of mental illness as a result of work. This is a subject about which we know all too little and about which we must hasten to learn more when the Health and Safety Commission and Executive get to work.
May I ask a few questions about the coverage of the Bill? I hope that I am right in saying that hospital workers and deep-sea fishermen will be covered. I hope that the Minister will say that educational establishments—universities and technical colleges—will be included. One thinks particularly about conditions and accidents that have occurred from time to time in university laboratories and technical institutes.
Naturally, hon. Members have mentioned those covered by the present safety regulations, those working in shops and railways, and those covered by the Factories Acts, who will now all be brought in. Schedule 1 shows how necessary legislation was with the vast mass of law and the amendments that we have had over the past 100 years.
I turn to Clause 3(1) and (2)—the duty of employers to take action to avoid 1377 injuring people not necessarily working in their factory, but perhaps living nearby, and one thinks particularly of the danger of toxic fumes and chemicals from a factory. To begin with there will be some difficulty of enforcement as the new commission gets to work—I do not say for ever, but to begin with. Will it be able to let big industry look after its own safety problems and concentrate more on the medium and smaller-sized firms which may be involved in the process of producing chemicals and, as a result of the byproducts and the fumes from the factory, may need scrutiny from the commission.
In Clause 5(4)(c) there is a hint of the importance of the local authorities and what they have to do in conjunction with firms in informing the public of dangers from certain processes. Chapter 8 of the Robens Report laid great emphasis on the rôle of local authorities, and now that local government has been reformed we look to the new authorities to play a vigorous rôle in the enforcement of the Bill.
Clauses 9 and 10 are very much the heart of the Bill whereby the setting up of the commission and the executive is to take place. It will be very important for the commission and the executive to see that the standards maintained by good firms are extended everywhere. Clause 9(3) refers to the consultation that the Secretary of State may have before appointing people to the commission. One hopes that included on the commission will be a physician and an environmental scientist. One hopes, too, that the consultation will include much discussion with professional bodies and possibly with the consumer councils. Perhaps we shall hear more about this in Committee, but I feel that it will be important to have both physicians and environmental scientists playing a part in the commission.
Clause 10(2)(b) underlines the importance of independent research being undertaken. Many speakers have mentioned this, and one assumes that the commission and the executive will not necessarily be taking advice in this country but commissioning research from overseas. Mention has been made of the United States and the efforts being made there to improve health and safety. When 1378 such independent research is undertaken, it is essential that it be published, and also that employees have access to the publication of that independent research.
Clause 10(2)(c) refers to getting information across to the public in an intelligible form. I hope that a shortened version of some of the information will be given to children in their last year at school. In view of the raising of the school leaving age, the many hazards to which people are exposed when they first go into industry and the somewhat careless attitude which sometimes accompanies youth when taking their first job, I think that there is a part to be played in getting a shortened version of the information from the commission to them in their last year at school.
Clauses 26 and 27 will prove interesting in Committee, not least because what they provide regarding disclosure and withholding of information may come into collision—or part collision—with the Protection of the Environment Act 1973. We cannot go into detail on this matter on Second Reading, but it has been suggested that the disclosure and publication of information as provided for in these clauses may get us into difficulty with that Act. We shall want to look further at that in Committee.
I move now to Clause 55, and the Employment Medical Advisory Service. Subsection (2) concerns the relationship of occupational health to the National Health Service. One wonders whether there is a case for transferring the Employment Medical Advisory Service to the Ministry of Health. As I understand it, this service is currently using National Health Service laboratories for research. The question has been asked whether it is right that this should now be under the Department of Employment. Medicine itself should not be isolated, and one wonders whether the Employment Medical Advisory Service may be a little out of touch with those who speak its language. That, too, is something we can discuss further in Committee.
The Bill does not mention the health records of employees. Naturally, one must respect confidentiality here, but it will be important for employers to keep records of who did what in a particular factory, and where and when, because such information on the conditions of 1379 work may well provide a clue as to how an illness was contracted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) mentioned the disease which may have been caused to people working in the vinyl chloride process in the United States. I have looked into that question and the efforts which have been made in the United States, and I am impressed by the speed with which the various organisations and authorities have moved to trace the incidence of this disease, and also to trace people who originally worked in that factory but later moved to another part of the country. Therefore, I feel that it may be helpful if health records of employees are kept, although, of course, I accept that confidentiality must be respected.
We welcome Clause 59, which is an addition to the Bill. There is to be an annual report to the Secretary of State for Employment on the work of the Employment Medical Advisory Service, indicating that there will be at least one debate each year in Parliament, showing that Parliament does have concern for these matters, and giving Members of Parliament another chance to make a contribution from their practical experience in their constituencies on these matters. It will also give us an annual chance, or perhaps more than one, to make suggestions about the way in which the Employment Medical Advisory Service might be improved.
I was particularly interested in the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) on the problems of the construction industry. Special attention is needed here, but we must emphasise that legislation and the commission will not be able to do it all and will not necessarily be able, on their own, to bring about the improvement in safety in this industry that is needed. My hon. Friend referred to the joint regulatory procedures, the films being shown on site and the importance of education in the industry. We endorse this and hope that improvements will come about.
On the question of training and education, I hope that the health and safety committees and the people who will serve on them will be able to go on courses provided by the executive when it is set up. It is important that those who are 1380 to be on the safety committees should have had some training and some discussion with people from other industries as to the sort of work they w ill do. I hope, therefore, that the executive will be empowered to organise courses for people who will be serving on the safety committees.
There is a need for the commission and executive to have as full a coverage of industry as possible. I refer again to the Employment Medical Advisory Service and Clause 55(1)(b). This refers to the giving of information to employers about health and safety at work by the service.
On trading estates there is often a group medical service. I believe that the problem of the Employment Medical Advisory Service will be how it is to get its information to smaller firms that are isolated in rural areas. We must ensure that the regulations are properly enforced throughout the country and that the information is got across to everyone, particularly those who work in smaller firms, but not necessarily on a trading estate and having the advantage of a group medical service.
On the question of the commission's relationship with Parliament, the commission will, of course, give the Secretary of State all the answers to the many questions that are raised in Parliament about its work. As we are moving into a new sphere, however, I wonder whether we might for a short time need to have a Select Committee on health and safety at work. I think we might consider that, because it would give Members a chance to question the commission direct and make suggestions about the way in which it might improve its work. It would give the House an opportunity to deal directly with those who are to be charged with ensuring that the Bill is properly implemented throughout the country.
Many hon. Members discussed agriculture. I realise that our Bill in the last Parliament excluded agriculture, and, therefore I could tell the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) that we were all poised to ask our own Front Bench the same question that we are all asking the hon. Gentleman—why has agriculture been excluded from the Bill?
I wish to say a little about noise. Are new regulations about noise to be produced? It is a question not only of noise in factories, but of intermittent noise in 1381 offices, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson). This problem has long been under-estimated, and one wonders whether the Government are about to produce fresh regulations about noise. Are they planning a code of practice, specifying measures that should be included at the design stage to control noise from new machines? The health and safety committees have much to do about noise.
Of course one can do something about reducing the danger from noise by a certain amount of job rotation, and by moving people round in a factory, but these are uncharted seas. I do not say that the health and safety committees can do everything, but one wants to know whether more will be done on design and the control of noise from new machines.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) mentioned mental health at work. It is mentioned in Clause 53. I take this new legislation to cover mental health as well as physical hazards at work. I feel that it will be open to the commission to make recommendations that hours of work and overtime be sharply reduced in certain continuous process industries. As the commission builds up its research and knowledge, I see nothing in the Bill to prevent it from being able to make such recommendations.
It is a new field, I agree, and much medical knowledge will have to be gained, but I do not think that the Bill excludes such research, and one hopes from the figures that the hon. Member gave and from information from comparable industrial countries that we are only at the beginning of our understanding of the amount of mental illness caused by work, especially as so many jobs are continuous process jobs with little chance of variation.
I expect the commission to make recommendations about the effect of shift work. As industrial production and opportunities for expansion in trade pick up, there will be a demand for more shift work. This is also a problem about which I hope the commission will be able to help both sides of industry.
We welcome the Bill. The co-operation involved on the health and safety committees will bring about the greater participation that is vital to industry. But 1382 speed is essential, and the sooner the commission and the executive can get to work, the better.
The human reason, of course, is the effect that work is having on many people. We have often assumed that accidents and illness have very little to do with work. But on the question of industrial peace and harmony in industrial relations, we see this Bill as a stepping stone to greater industrial peace. After all, there cannot be and should not be, a classic, old-fashioned management-union row about this vital aspect of industry, namely, health and safety. We give this Bill a welcome.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
In opening the debate my right hon. Friend bestowed upon me the accolade of expert on this subject. I must have blushed very deeply. Let me immediately disclaim any such honour. Yesterday I told my secretary my definition of an expert, pointing out to him that the word had two syllables, the first of which is "ex" meaning an unknown quantity, and the second is "spurt", which means a drip under pressure.
I apologise to the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew). During one of my brief absences from the Front Bench I had the misfortune to miss his maiden speech. But my hon. Friend who deputised for me left me an impressive account of his performance. He said that he spoke with confidence and compassion; he emulated the Secretary of State in speaking virtually without notes; he spoke knowledgeably and sincerely and with the objectivity expected of a maiden speech. This may be expected to be a feature of his future contributions, to which we shall look forward. I am sure that that is an accurate description. I welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman to our discussions and hope that we hear from him on this subject in future.
Equally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) on his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box. He would, of course, expect me to say that I look forward to hearing him speaking again on many future occasions. He left me a great many questions to answer. Some I may be able to 1383 answer, but he would not expect me to answer them all. He rattled off a great many points, proving that he had done his homework with great thoroughness, but I am sure that he does not expect me to answer all his comments in the course of this debate.
It gives me great personal satisfaction to have the opportunity to wind up the debate. I feel that I am resuming an old association with this subject. As the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) pointed out, he and I and several other hon. Members have been, if not all the way round this course, at least through the starting gate more than once. Let us hope that this time we shall get it to the winning post.
I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the friendly reception that they have given to this measure. I am particularly grateful to the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) for his particularly helpful attitude. We appreciate his promise of a fair wind. We also understand and appreciate the strong note of reservation that he and other hon. Members expressed. No doubt we shall refer to these matters in Committee.
I want to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment said about the safety representation provisions. However, before reaching that point, I should like to try to deal with some of the many points that have been made in the debate which have set me a most formidable task.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), who kindly suggested that I might write to him about the matters that he raised on the building regulations. I have the answers here, but, rather than read out from these typewritten notes that have been given to me. I will certainly write to him. The particular matters raised by the hon. Gentleman concern Part III, Clauses 62(3) and 68(5).
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) also referred to the building regulations. We in the Department of Employment and the Department of the Environment see an effective building regulations system as an essential corollary to the rôle of the 1384 Health and Safety Commission. The regulations will continue to be a separate system and will be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, it is widely recognised that an updating of the regulations is overdue. Indeed, the idea of updating them has been canvassed for about 10 years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring and other hon. Members referred to building research. My Department has its own extensive research facilities. It has a laboratory at Cricklewood where, amongst other things, it undertakes research into dust-caused diseases and such matters. If hon. Members care to see what is being done at Cricklewood I should be delighted to arrange a visit. I extend an open invitation to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring and to any other hon. Member who may wish to see the research facilities at Cricklewood.
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South referred to the Department of Health and Social Security laboratory. I have already made the point that we have our own laboratory, but to some extent we also have access to and joint use of the DHSS laboratory.
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring referred to the Building Research Centre. We have access to its resources and are able to undertake joint activities with it. I am glad that he brought this matter to my attention in addition to the Construction Industry Training Board at Bircham Newton. He will be pleased to know that I am currently arranging a visit to Bircham Newton.
Many hon. Members referred to the issue of civil liability. The whole subject of civil liability, claims for damages and compensation for personal injuries is at present under review by the Royal Commission headed by Lord Pearson. Largely for this reason the Bill provides for the present position to be left undisturbed as far as possible, until we have the report and recommendations of Lord Pearson.
The existing provisions in those Acts affected by the Bill—listed in Schedule I—will continue to give the same rights of action as at present, but new general 1385 duties laid down in the Bill will not of themselves give rise, or be capable of giving rise, to civil actions. But the new regulations which will be made under the provisions of the Bill will be actionable unless they state otherwise. It is the intention to preserve broadly the present position—that is, if a regulation which is being replaced is not actionable, the new regulation will not be actionable, but each new regulation will need to be considered on its merits to determine the civil liability position.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) referred specifically to Clause 41 and seemed to think—I am in no way critical towards him on this—that the point in it was a novel or new introduction. I am glad that he now shakes his head. I am sure he knows that this provision is in-built into several existing Acts—for example, part of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act embodies almost exactly the same form of words—and the same applies to the Factories Acts. We would no doubt find a similar situation in other Acts.
One of the main points raised in the debate, by several hon. Members from both sides, was about the exclusion of agriculture, but I wish to make clear that agriculture is not excluded from the provisions of the Bill. The general duties which are laid down apply equally to agriculture as to everything else. Equally, the general regulations to be formulated by the commission will be applicable to agriculture in the same way as to other industries.
That is the position on the general regulations. The only regulations which would not be dealt with in this way would be those applying specifically and solely to agriculture. The agricultural inspectorate will in future be the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, as is the case now, and not of the Health and Safety Commission. It is argued that agriculture consists mainly of small workplaces, small farms, widely scattered throughout the country and that the present inspectorate, which inspects on matters of safety, combines this responsibility for health and safety with many other agricultural duties.
If we were to seek to establish a purely agricultural safety inspectorate we would have a difficulty over resources and an 1386 inability to combine the functions as we do now, and we would find farms being inspected by people who had responsibility to two masters. They would have responsibility for purely agricultural matters as distinct from health and safety matters, and inspectors dealing with these would report to the Minister of Agriculture. Those hypothetically working under the commission would report to the commission and via it to the Secretary of State.
It has therefore been decided that it would be wise for the Minister of Agriculture to continue to be responsible in future for agriculture inspectors dealing with health and safety, as at present, and for laying down those safety requirements which deal purely with agricultural matters. I wish to make clear that there is a whole range of activities within the broad spectrum of agriculture which are the subject of regulations made under the Factories Act. One thinks immediately of frozen vegetable factories and sugar beet factories, which, although part of the broad agricultural spectrum, are nevertheless factory processes and, therefore, subject to the Factories Acts and the inspection of the Factory Inspectorate.
§ Mr. Holland
Clause 15 gives the impression that general codes of practice issued by the commission will not apply to exclusively agricultural matters. This is what concerns many of us.
§ Mr. Walker
The clause says:except as regards matters relating exclusively to agricultural operations.This means that when the commission makes a regulation dealing with a process or activity outside agriculture as well as within it, the general regulation will apply equally to agriculture. Tractors, for example, are used on building sites and elsewhere as well as for agriculture, and any general regulations will apply to tractors, whether used on farms or anywhere else.
Another major issue with which my right hon. Friend dealt with some force and at some length was the inclusion of miners. Despite what he said, a number of hon. Members expressed anxiety. When the Robens Committee reported I expressed similar views with equal or greater vigour. When I arrived in the Department I found that officials had a copy of the speech that I had delivered 1387 18 months before to the Institute of Industrial Safety Officers, in which I expressed precisely the same views. But that was in the immediate post-Robens publication situation, which was very different from the situation that emerged from the last Government's consultative document and the provisions of this Bill.
The fear has been expressed that, following the recommendations of the report, there would be a regression from the rigorous statutory requirements of the mining industry and that codes of practice would be substituted for them. Miners' representatives were equally concerned that the special identity of the mines inspectorate might be diluted by its incorporation into a general inspectorate. My right hon. Friend made it clear that both these fears are ill-founded. He said, and I repeat, that there is no intention of regressing from or withdrawing the present statutory requirements embodied in the Mines and Quarries Acts and related regulations. They will continue in force until it is deemed expedient by the commission, in the fullest consultation with the National Union of Mineworkers and other unions and interested bodies in the industry, to introduce regulations which we believe would only strengthen and improve the present position.
As to the inspectorate, my right hon. Friend said, and I repeat, that, as was envisaged by Robens, within the unified inspectorate there will be continued specialisation. Certainly the mines inspectorate will continue as a separate specialist inspectorate with its own Chief Inspector of Mines responsible directly to the Health and Safety Executive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson) asked whether there would be some intervening level of authority to whom the Chief Inspector would be responsible. This will certainly not be the case. As is the position at present where the Chief Inspector of Mines reports through his senior Civil Service hierarchy to the Minister, so in future will the general inspector be directly responsible to the executive agency of the commission and thus to the commission.
I should like to quote the contents of the letter which my right hon. Friend the 1388 Secretary of State sent to the National Union of Mineworkers following his meeting with it last week. My right hon. Friend undertook to give assuranceson two matters which you regarded as being of crucial importance. The first of these concerned the statutory standards of protection for mineworkers which are at present laid down in the Mines and Quarries Acts, and in their supporting regulations. As I explained, the Bill repeals none of this legislation. All of the present statutory standards of protection will remain in force until replaced by equally or more effective provisions, which would be made under the wide regulation-making poser contained in the Bill. The object of any such revised provisions would be to seek improvements—which indeed is the object of the Bill as a whole.Clause 50 of the Bill puts on the Health and Safety Commission a statutory obligation to consult all appropriate bodies before bringing forward any proposals for new or revised regulations. Clearly, the mining unions and the mining industry as a whole will be consulted about any proposals which affect the mining industry. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State a power of direction over the Commission, and this could be used, if necessary, to ensure that the statutory obligation to consult was fully complied with.Finally, the Commission itself has no power to make regulations, as distinct from proposing them.That is a very important point.All regulations under the new Act will be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State in the usual way. Before doing so he is (Clause 50 of the Bill) empowered to modify any proposals that the Commission may put to him. I hope you will agree that this ensures full control over the process of replacing existing statutory provisions, whether in mines safety legislation or in any other safety and health legislation with which the Bill is concerned.Your second main point concerned the position of the mines inspectorate. The Bill makes the Health and Safety Commission and its Executive responsible for administering the safety and health legislation, and the existing inspectorates of mines, nuclear installations, explosives, factories and alkali works will be drawn together within the Executive. But there is no intention of breaking up existing specialist teams. The new organisation will have within it expertise over the whole range of safety and health problems and a high degree of a specialisation will clearly be essential. The mines inspectors will form a specialised branch of the new organisation, and mines will continue to be inspected by specialists with the appropriate mining experience and qualifications. The head of this Branch (the Chief Inspector of Mines) will be professionally responsible for the work of the mines specialists, and he will be part of the top management structure.The letter concludes by saying:I hope that these assurances help you.1389 Those assurances certainly swept away any kind of anxieties which I originally felt when the Robens Report was first published. Indeed, the form that we now have in the Bill gives the assurances that the NUM and its members seek. I urge my hon. Friends who have expressed these anxieties to consider very carefully the words that I have used and those which we have sent to the trade unions.
I turn to some of the other points which have been raised. I shall try to deal with them in the very limited time that I have left.
Questions have been asked about safety training. Clause 2 places employers under a duty to provide their employees with instruction and training so as to ensure their health and safety at work. Equally, Clause 10 places the commission under a duty to make arrangements for the provision of training and to encourage others to provide training in connection with the general purposes of the Bill. Paragraph 14 of Schedule 3 specifies that health and safety regulations made under Clause 14 may impose requirements with respect to the instruction, training and supervision of persons at work.
I turn quickly to another area raised by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) and another Conservative hon. Member. That was concerning the provision in company annual reports and statements about their health and safety arrangements and performance. That is a very desirable thing but the hon. Member will recognise, as the former Government did, that perhaps the best way to deal with the matter is through company law. I hope we shall have the opportunity in the lifetime of this Parliament to bring forward company law reform which will include such a provision.
A number of hon. Members expressed concern about noise and the views of the Robens Committee on the subject. Of course, the regulation-making powers in the Bill are wide enough to enable regulations to be made to deal with the subject. At the present time there are no specific proposals to deal with noise, with one exception. It may be within the knowledge of some hon. Members that the Woodworking Machinery Regulations, which were originally made in 1922, are the subject of updating and I hope that 1390 before long we shall approve and publish the new regulations. It may please some hon. Members to know that we are proposing changes in that connection.
§ Mr. Michael Latham
Will the Minister look at Part III of the previous Government's Protection of the Environment Bill, which had a section dealing with noise? Surely that could be reintroduced at an early date.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Member is referring to the Bill which was before the other place on Dissolution. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and not for me. But we shall certainly look at the point and I hope that we shall before long introduce similar if not the same legislation.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) raised a number of points and I hope he will forgive me if I rush through them. He asked why the National Radiological Protection Board is not within the unified inspectorate. That board has a number of responsibilities outside the scope of health and safety at work and for that reason the hon. Member's suggestion was deemed inappropriate. Nevertheless it was regarded as appropriate to spell out in Clause 76 the special relationship there will be between the Commission and the unified inspectorate on the one hand and this board on the other. He asked about the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. I can tell him that that is in.
I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) about the penalties. He expressed concern, a concern which I would have shared had he been correct. The Bill spells out that on summary conviction the maximum fine will be £400 and that is laid down by the Magistrates' Courts Act which imposes limits that we may apply on summary conviction. I hope that he will look carefully at the clause, however, which makes quite clear that the commission, being the prosecuting agency, or the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, can choose, if it wishes, to go to a higher court to secure a higher penalty. The clause leaves the penalty on indictment open-ended. His hope that some day a major offender would be facing a penalty of £100,000—and he referred to sequestration—may be realised in that we may 1391 have provided the means in the Bill. Some big multinational corporation may therefore have to meet the penalty it would deserve.
I was asked about the staffing of the inspectorate in the future and hopes were expressed that we would be extending it. I have a more detailed breakdown but it may be sufficient to say that the additional 1,400 staff referred to in the Bill are comprised as follows: there will during the period required to bring the Bill into full effect be an increase in local authority staff of 350; the commission, executive and administrative staff will be 435; the technical support staff for the inspectors' and the Employment Medical Advisory Service will be 205; the inspectorate and additional doctors total 410. That will represent an increase in the number of factory inspectors of 330, which is an increase of just under 50 per cent. on the present staff levels. It also spells out a substantial increase in the full-time medical staff of the Employment Medical Advisory Service.
I turn now to the provision of workers' safety representatives and the contents of Clause 2. I shall make a number of points which will indicate not only why we believe that the words are essential but why we have chosen the form of words that appears in the Bill. The first and most obvious point is that they are not only consistent with what we said repeatedly when in Opposition, and particularly in a succession of Private Members' Bills that were widely supported by us when in opposition, but they closely follow the formula of the Bill which was introduced by the previous Labour Government, which was drafted in the context of the Factories Acts.
The measure before the House goes much wider than previous measures because it applies to all work situations. We have had to reformulate the proposals so that they can be adapted to the many and differing kinds of situation which apply. The much wider scope for applying the principle of workers' safety representation is a welcome improvement and a strengthening not only of the 1974 Bill, which was presented by the previous Conservative Government, but of the Bill which was 1392 presented by the previous Labour Government. The provision for the Secretary of State to make regulations gives the flexibility which is necessary and to which attention has been drawn.
The choice of the phrase "recognised trade unions" is directly in line with the 1970 Bill. That was not opposed by the Conservative Opposition. I recognise that they expressed reservations at the time. When we refer to recognised trade unions we are presuming the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. Hon. Members will be aware that my right hon. Friend will soon be introducing a measure to achieve that objective. The House can take our reference to recognised trade unions in the sense of pre or post Industrial Relations Act.
The Bill give additional rights to trade unions and their members. There is nothing in our proposals that precludes any voluntary arrangements being entered into in circumstances in which the regulations may not apply. Indeed, they do not preclude voluntary arrangements which go beyond the statutory regulations.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
I take it that the Secretary of State for Employment does not know much about industry because he comes from Hampstead, but the Minister, I believe, comes from Manchester. He will know about the textile industry of the West Riding of Yorkshire and of Lancashire. I believe that 50 per cent. of the workers in the textile industry do not belong to unions. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how they come into the picture?
§ Mr. Walker
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my speech in my own way, he will find that I have anticipated his point. He has introduced the only sour note which we have had in this debate. I know that there is anxiety about the use of the word "recognised". We have carefully considered the difficulties that may arise. However, I believe that they are more than outweighed by the industrial relations problems that might result from the omission of that word. For example, there are the problems of the breakaway unions that might use this Bill as a lever to seek a recognition that in turn might have disruptive consequences.
1393 This is an objective matter, based on my understanding of the industrial relations situation. I ask the Opposition to bear in mind the difficulties that could arise from establishing non-union consultative arrangements in a union plant. Some of us in the engineering industry have had experience of the joint consultative committees which were established during the war and the way in which they conflicted with the works committees which were established under the procedure arrangements of the industry.
I believe that all parties have recently expressed their belief in the need for strong trade unions. This is another way in which we can strengthen and stimulate them in pursuit of a bona fide recognition. Perhaps an overwhelming reason for the Bill to include the words "recognised trade unions" is that the need has been expressed for the trade unions to be fully involved in these matters at national and local level. The added responsibilities that this will place on the unions and their members will have a beneficial effect on health and safety at work.
Worker participation is apparently something in which we all believe. I cannot think of a better starting point for such participation than this, where the livelihood and well being of the worker and his family are directly at stake.
When the Robens Committee submitted its report in 1972 it was generally favourably received. But many, including myself, took a different and critical view. Certainly, there were many proposals that deserved, and received, almost universal support. These included the form and scope of new legislation on health and safety, the unification of the inspectorates, the new improvement and prohibition notices and a range of other matters which were warmly welcomed. But the weakness in the Robens recommendation on joint consultation on safety matters was only one of several that were less enthusiastically received.
Above all, there was anxiety and apprehension about the general philosophy of the report which, to many, seemed to call for a regression from rigorous statutory responsibilities firmly enforced. The Robens message seemed to be too permissive for some of us to stomach, and we said so, loud and clear. We are 1394 glad that the previous Government resisted the message in their consultative document, and in the Bill which was published before the Dissolution it was obvious that they shared our view. All that remained when we took office was for us to eliminate this last remaining weakness in the previous Government's Bill. We have now remedied it by our proposal for trade union safety representatives and safety committees.
I am confident that when it is enacted the Bill will be the most significant advance in health and safety at work since Shaftesburys Act of 1833. It is a major step forward in our social history, and I am happy to have the opportunity of commending it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).