HC Deb 22 April 1975 vol 890 cc1225-8
10. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the progress achieved in establishing safety committees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Mr. Harold Walker

My hon. Friend will be aware that before safety committees can be established on a statutory basis at the request of the workers' representatives, regulations must be made under Section 2(7) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. As I informed my hon. Friend on 25th March, the Health and Safety Commission has under active consideration proposals for the making of regulations regarding safety representatives and safety committees. I have no doubt that the commission will wish to present its proposals to me at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Cryer

Does my hon. Friend accept that his answer is very disappointing? Does he also accept that the Health and Safety Commission has been tardy in producing these regulations, and that for the proper implementation of the Health and Safety at Work Act he will need the cooperation of the Factory Inspectorate? Will he now advise the commission not to go ahead with the proposed reorganisation, which involves the closure of dozens of local offices? Is he aware that the Factory Inspectorate is opposed to that measure? Will he now direct the commission to show a more energetic attitude and to make more constructive proposals to get the Act implemented, instead of trying to cover up what is an administrative morass?

Mr. Walker

Let me assure my hon. Friend that he is no more eager than I am to see the regulations put into effect concerning workers' safety representatives and committees. My hon. Friend has suggested that the commission has been tardy in its approach. I assure him that in its short life—it has had a life of less than six months—it has already met 20 times. It is meeting at this moment to discuss precisely the point that he has raised. I am not suggesting that it will come up with the answer this afternoon, but I hope that I can assure my hon. Friend that it is working very hard. He referred to the proposed reorganisation. Let me assure him that as yet there is no proposed reorganisation of the Factory Inspectorate, or any decision to have one.

Mr. Madel

Does the Minister accept that an employee can be a useful member of a safety committee whether or not he is a member of a trade union? As the Act has only just appeared on the statute book, why are the Government contemplating making changes by way of the Employment Protection Bill? Does the Minister not agree that this is an unnecessary measure?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone that, given the political circumstances of the time, he and his hon. Friends imposed this provision on the then Government contrary to their will. At the time we made clear the overwhelming reasons for it being desirable for the employment of safety representatives to be on the basis of recognised trade unions. We pointed out to the House the industrial relations consequences of the decision that Conservative Members imposed on the Government. During the 1970–74 Government their experiences in industrial relations should have shown how incompetent they are and how bad and ill-advised is their judgment on these issues. That is why we shall reverse that decision.

13. Sir David Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has yet prescribed a list of cases for exception from the general duty of every employer under Section 2(3) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to prepare a written statement of general policy with respect to the health and safety at work of employees.

Mr. Harold Walker

No. The Health and Safety Commission is now urgently consulting both sides of industry on proposals which, if agreed by the Government, would exempt employers with fewer than five employees except where there are workers' safety representatives.

Sir D. Renton

Will the hon. Gentleman do all he can to end the uncertainty in this matter and bear in mind that there are employers with more than five people working for them who still have an excellent record of health and safety at work? Could not those small employers be rewarded by exemption?

Mr. Walker

I think that the commission has arrived at a reasonable figure, but there will be consultations and no doubt it will be considering whether that figure is right. I shall draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks to the commission's attention.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the opinion of many Labour Members there are already far too man exemptions—for example, the whole of the agricultural industry?

Mr. Walker

I repeat that the commission has probably got the situation about right. Where there are a small number of employees, employers no doubt find it easier to communicate with their workers. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend that it was regrettable that last year the Conservatives deprived agricultural workers of the full protection of this legislation. We intend to extend the legislation when the Employment Protection Bill comes before the House.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no exemption in respect of gas, oil and chemical installations in respect not merely of an industry's own employees but where the concentration of risk affects the surrounding public?

Mr. Walker

I understand the point, which the hon. Gentleman has repeatedly made. He can be assured that the commission is fully aware of his anxieties. I know that its members are anxious to do what they can to safeguard the position not only of his constituents but of others who are exposed to similar risks.