HC Deb 20 May 1975 vol 892 cc1193-6
4. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now publish the reports from the two trial areas of the proposed reorganisation of the Factory Inspectorate.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)

As I said in my answer of 16th April 1975, this is a matter for the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, who has offered to meet my hon. Friend and discuss with him all the issues involved in a reorganisation of the Factory Inspectorate. In the meantime he is sending him a copy of the agreed statement prepared by the joint working party on the reorganisation of the Factory Inspectorate and will be happy to discuss the details of this with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Cryer

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is much disturbing material in the Area South report? Will he prevail on Mr. Bill Simpson to publish the report in the interests of wider public discussion on the proposed closure of 100 local offices and their substitution by only 16 area offices? Does he realise that Mr. Simpson, in spite of my individual request, has failed to provide me with those copies, so that discussions will be singularly fruitless? Does he accept that the Institution of Professional Civil Servants is still opposed to the full implementation of the proposed reorganisation? Does he not accept that we need the co-ordination of the Factory Inspectorate and not its opposition?

Mr. Walker

I fully agree that we need the co-operation of the Factory Inspectorate in any proposed reorganisation. I must point out that the ballot of inspectors that gave a seven-to-one majority in favour of the proposals was carried out by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants. As I told my hon. Friend on 16th April, the reports he is asking for are only two of a number of internal working papers prepared in connection with the assessment of the two trial schemes, and it would be inappropriate to make them available in the way he suggested. However, the working party, which included representatives of each staff association concerned and of the official side, produced a joint report, and I see no objection to my placing a copy in the Library if that would help my hon. Friend.

Mr. Dempsey

Will my hon. Friend draw the attention of the powers-that-be to the dual control that operates in the Factory Inspectorate whereby one part of the control is done by his Department and another is done by the fire services within the local authority areas? Does he not think that in the interests of unified direction, control and enforcement it would be much better if one authority were responsible for this important and valuable service to the factories?

Mr. Walker

I think that the establishment of the commission and its executive has produced a dramatic degree of integration of the various inspectorates of different Departments. What my hon. Friend is asking for goes much beyond that. It is for the enforcement of fire regulations and so on to be brought entirely within the scope of the executive. That would require legislative change, and that is not contemplated. It would go far beyond the integration and unification that we have already achieved.

11. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions have taken place with the appropriate trade unions on the redeployment of the Factory Inspectorate in consequence of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

Mr. Harold Walker

The Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission informs me that throughout the trial schemes close consultation with the staff was carried out through a joint working party which included representatives of all the Civil Service unions concerned and the official side. Negotiations were undertaken with the Institution of Professional Civil Servants acting for the factory inspectors and a ballot of inspectors resulted in a seven-to-one vote in favour of the new pay and grading structure linked with the proposed reorganisation. Consultations are continuing with the unions concerned on the detailed implementation of reorganisation. As I said earlier, I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of the agreed statement on the trial schemes prepared by the joint working party.

Mr. Hooley

Is my hon. Friend aware that I very much welcome the assurance that there was full consultation with the professional bodies? Is he also aware that, quite apart from Press reports about unrest and discontent over reorganisation, I have received direct representations from those involved? Does he appreciate that there does not seem to be such happy unanimity in the situation as the ballot result seems to suggest?

Mr. Walker

I understand that there is concern on the part of some inspectors, but I think that the majority—certainly many—of the inspectors accept the need for reorganisation. I accept that the ballot was linked with pay and grading proposals, and to that extent it possibly influenced the outcome of the ballot. I ask my hon. Friend to study carefully the statement which I have placed in the Library and to bear in mind that these proposals originally stemmed from the Robens Report.

Mr. Lane

When the Minister next discusses this matter with the unions, will he explain the reason why some of the outdated restrictions on employment of women—matters which do not affect their health and safety—were swept away this morning by a decision in the Standing Committee on the Sex Discrimination Bill against the advice of the Government?

Mr. Walker

The Government provided that any necessary changes in this respect should stem from consultation with and consideration by the Health and Safety Commission. It still remains my view that that would be the right way to proceed.

Mr. Lee

Is not this reorganisation linked to a pay claim that is still outstanding, and is this not helping to weaken the morale of the inspectorate? Is my hon. Friend aware that in Birmingham we need an intensification of the Factory Inspectorate since in that area there are many small factories with largely inadequate supervision?

Mr. Walker

I accept the need for a strengthening of the inspectorate. For this reason, when the health and safety at work legislation was before Parliament I stressed that we were making provision for a 50 per cent. increase in the inspectorate. I also referred to the way in which the ballot was carried out and to the fact that many factory inspectors accepted the need for reorganisation. This is a matter for the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission. I am sure that the chairman will be delighted to see any hon. Member who wishes to discuss with him the nature and extent of the reorganisation. I hope that hon. Members who wish to do so will take advantage of that offer.