HC Deb 15 March 1977 vol 928 cc281-314

6.26 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Grant)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/960/76 and the Government's memorandum dated 10th March on Safety Information at the Workplace. We are anxious to give the House an opportunity to express a view on this issue well in advance of any decision being taken within the Community. The purpose of the draft directive is to introduce a uniform system of safety signs in work places to help to protect workers and the public.

This country and other member States of the EEC have a multiplicity of different signs to prohibit various actions, to warn of dangers, to explain what is mandatory and to give general information. Many different signs can lead to misunderstandings, and considerable training is needed so that signs are understood. This is particularly relevant on the European mainland with the number of migrant workers there and is by no means irrelevant to us in that respect.

It is thought necessary to harmonise signs, and the proposals set out a way of doing this by laying down the basic principles for shapes and colours—if employers wish to display a sign, it must comply with the scheme—by devising symbols to depict commonly found situations—the symbols are fitted into the coloured shapes of the scheme and reproduced as an annex to the directive—and by requiring signs displayed to control internal works transport to be the same as those used for controlling road traffic.

The Select Committee drew attention to the fact that there is no requirement in the draft directive that signs must be provided in certain circumstances and no clear indication of where they should be placed. We feel that this is an advantage because it would be difficult for the Commission to foresee circumstances applicable in all member States for the posting of safety signs, and it gives the necessary flexibility. For example, in this country we can make and, indeed, have made regulations in connection with the provision of suitable notices warning people that they are in the vicinity of a radiation area where we feel that such signs are essential. I have a great deal of faith in the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Health and Safety Commission, and we can expect a few years' flexibility here.

On the other points made by the Select Committee, I agree about the importance of a transition period to allow workers to familiarise themselves with the new signs and about the need for instruction in safety measures, though this point is made fairly strongly in the annex to the draft directive.

We also agree on the need for a longer implementation period. We cannot estimate the exact cost. However, we agree with the Select Committee that a longer implementation period will be worth while. It would not only spread the cost of installing new signs but subsume some of the replacement costs arising from the natural wastage of signs. There is no requirement in the draft directive that signs must be provided in any particular circumstances, so implementation can be selective.

I turn now to our general view. The proposals in the draft directive are broadly in line with the Government's wish to ensure that the workplace is safe and without risk to health. Signs can play a valuable part in this respect, and measures to make signs more readily understood are helpful. I stress that the posting of signs should not be seen as a substitute for other effective protective measures, such as the provision of adequate information, instruction, training and supervision.

A British Standards Institution technical committee, after consulting the various interests concerned, has agreed the text of a British standard on safety signs and colours, and it has recently been published. That is broadly consistent with the Commission's proposals. Both the Health and Safety Commission and the BSI are firmly committed to improvements in standards, particularly those influencing the health and safety of people at the workplace. With that in mind the HSC feels that harmonisation in this way is desirable, bearing in mind that safety signs are basically the means of giving immediate communication of particular hazards.

As to the form of the instrument, while accepting that the principle of harmonisation of safety signs is good, it is necessary to decide whether we are in agreement with the means proposed for doing it. The Health and Safety Commission, which includes members representing employers and trade unions, in consultation with the CBI and the TUC has given the proposals a lot of consideration and come to the conclusion that there are considerable difficulties in achieving harmonisation by directive. Chief among the difficulties is that a number of different systems have developed in this country. Harmonisation will take time and add to costs. The HSC and the Government think that a more flexible form of instrument would allow different situations to be dealt with on their merits within the general framework of the proposals. That is the approach that we are pursuing.

I turn now to some of the specific objections to the proposals. First, Appendix II, page 4, of the directive shows signs for emergency exits. These are in conflict with signs proposed by a technical committee of the International Organisation for Standardisation as well as BSI proposals on fire signs. They are not contained in the most recent ISO document on safety signs. It was thought that further consideration should be given by an international committee specifically dealing with fire signs. One sign shows what is generally called the "running man". Although the sign is meant to be symbolic, we think that some workers might take it too literally. It could cause confusion and even lead to panic in certain situations. Therefore, we are unhappy about that suggestion.

There has been criticism that the proposals are not coincidental with labels used on dangerous substances and road signs. There is some truth in that. But it is not generally thought that these differences are of great importance as each system has been designed to apply to different circumstances. The safety signs scheme has tried to follow the shape, colour, and so on of road 'signs, since it was felt that the two schemes most nearly related. It has not always been possible to achieve similarity with labelling proposals.

The National Coal Board was opposed to the application of the directive to coal mining. It was and is mainly concerned that consistent and carefully worked-out systems of safety signs agreed between management and unions would be disrupted for no real purpose at considerable cost.

There is obvious difficulty in supporting the exemption of any single major industry, because similar arguments can be applied to other industries in which there are particular hazards. That kind of consideration strengthens the argument for harmonisation by a non-binding instrument or by more flexible means. We are conscious of that situation. But other considerations are involved. We shall need to take account of Community views as a whole. That is particularly important as we hold the Presidency. We are in a minority on this particular issue, so we must take note of that, too.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The memorandum states that the subject of mines and steelworks has been sent to the Mines Safety and Health Commission and the Committee for Safety in the Steel Industry and that The views of the two bodies are awaited. Is my hon. Friend saying that this matter will not be discussed at the Council of Ministers until those views have been received? If the directive is brought into force, will the Government still have a reserve, or do they intend to make the National Coal Board change its signs yet again?

Mr. Grant

I was coming to that. There is no question of the Council of Ministers considering this matter before we have that opinion. I give my hon. Friend that unequivocal assurance. I shall come back to that subject.

I turn to the progress of the draft directive. The instrument was originally communicated by the EEC to the Council in April 1976. It has been discussed by officials in the Community, where we have expressed general sympathy with the aims, but I shall go over our reservations again. We have sought agreement, first, on a more flexible instrument of a non-binding character—perhaps a recommendation—secondly, on a longer implementation time than the 18 months envisaged by the Commission; and, thirdly, on the deletion of the emergency exit signs—the "running man". We have had some support for our views on the second and third items—the implementation time and the "running man"—but we are alone in opposing the directive.

The draft directive should have been considered at the last meeting of the Social Affairs Council, to which I went in December, but it was withdrawn from the agenda. The Commission agreed to a request from the Consultative Committee to the Coal and Steel Community that opinion should first be obtained from the Mines Safety and Health Commission. The Consultative Committee was responding to pressure from the National Coal Board, and obviously we were only to ready to support the withdrawal of that item from the agenda in that context.

When the NCB became aware of our isolation on the directive, it sought support through the Consultative Committee. The Mines Safety and Health Commission has not yet given its opinion, but the indications—I cannot say more than this—are that it may recommend the exclusion of the mining industry. If it does, that problem will be resolved.

As to future action, discussion of the draft instrument in the Social Questions Working Group is likely to be resumed this month, possibly with a view to securing a decision from the Council in June. Therefore, any further briefing of our representatives in Brussels should take careful note of any comments which the House may make tonight.

I should like to clear up one element of misunderstanding. Some of my hon. Friends may have thought that the Government were recommending acceptance of the directive. We certainly are not at this stage. I think that I have clearly outlined our doubts and reservations. On that basis, the House may accept that our current negotiating position is realistic.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

Will the Minister say how far he is going to take the reservations and resist opposition to the reservations which he has just listed?

Mr. Grant

I do not want to go beyond what I have said. It would be wrong for me to come to the House in a "take note" debate with the object of listening to the views of hon. Members, and yet, in advance of those views, set out our negotiating position beyond that which I have already outlined. In fact the Government do not have a fixed position on this matter. We shall take note of what hon. Members say and we shall listen to the views of others involved, such as the Health and Safety Commission, the National Coal Board, the trade unions and others.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

I should inform the House that the amendment is not selected.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

I am not anti-safety signs at all, but I dislike nannying by the EEC when these things could be done in another way or better done. I cannot help feeling that this draft instrument is designed much more for the benefit of our Continental partners, which have a great number of migrant workers coming in from Turkey and other places, and that it is not really very applicable to this country.

Surely if we are to do this and do it properly, we ought to do it on a much wider basis than merely the EEC. This is the sort of thing that worries me about such Community legislation. All of this ought to be practised throughout the whole of Western Europe or throughout the whole of the OECD. We should be doing this through the International Organisation of Standards, which crosses a much wider grouping of countries than merely the EEC.

One of the reasons for this move is given in the document itself as being that if we do not have these signs, that will constitute an obstacle to the functioning of the Common Market. That is a quite absurd reason for this directive. To do without it would certainly not be an obstacle to trade or the functioning of trade in the Common Market.

Is there any evidence that immigrants in this country are being in any way injured in accidents because they do not understand our signs? I am sure that that is one of the matters that the Department must have gone into before agreeing to this form of harmonisation.

Is such harmonisation really necessary in this country? Our immigrant workers are largely from the Asian countries, and I have with me a list of immigrants accepted for settlement here from the Common Market between January and September 1975, the latest figures available. The numbers are very small, indeed—Belgium 48, Denmark 63, France 273, Germany 293, Italy 388, Luxembourg one and the Netherlands 180. The number of Commonwealth citizens admitted in the same period was about 38,000. Are we therefore not being asked to deal with this problem for a very small minority when in fact we should be dealing with it for a much wider group?

I do not very much like Article 6, which states how the proposition is to be dealt with in the relevant committee. It says: The Committee shall give its Opinion on that draft within a time limit set by the Chairman having regard to the urgency of the matter. Opinions shall be delivered by a majority of votes, the votes of the Member States being weighted as provided in Article 148(2) of the Treaty. The article goes on: Where the measures envisaged are in accordance with the Opinion of the Committee, the Commission shall adopt them. There is no reference at that point to the Council of Ministers, but it goes on to say that in the Council of Ministers the matter will be settled by qualified majority. We should watch this. If something offensive arises in this directive we might not be able to put a block on it as we might wish.

I agree that we want a longer implementation period. Surely there should also have been scope in some way in the document—which does not really go into this aspect—for the retraining of people to understand these new signs in the factories.

But my main anxiety concerns the cost of all this to British industry. I did not hear the Minister give an estimate of what it would be, but I think that it would be fairly substantial when allied to the retraining which would have to be done, and the cost would have to be borne by the firms. I wonder, therefore, whether all this is necessary for Britain. It may be necessary in Germany, with all its migrant workers, but is it really necessary for us? Have we not got along without this sort of thing perfectly well?

I am totally in favour of many safety signs, and the National Coal Board, for example, already has better safety signs than the EEC is now proposing. This country has done a very good job with its safety signs, and I do not see why the EEC should interfere with something that we are already doing so well.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)

I am perturbed that we should only now be discussing a directive dated 7th April 1976 and to read in Article 7 that member countries are obliged to implement it within a period of 18 months.

The signs applying to the coal industry have been mentioned. The National Coal Board has just expended £500,000 on introducing new signs in our collieries. The whole subject has been thrashed out in the normal process of consultation with the trade unions, but I understand that this obligatory directive has not been the subject of consultation by any of the Ministers in Europe, not even with the European Coal and Steel Community, and that is appalling. The coal industry by its nature is the most accident-prone—

Mr. John Grant

And the most safety-conscious.

Mr. Woodall

—and the most safety-conscious, as my hon. Friend says. Yet here we have a directive which, without consultation, is being thrust upon member States to be implemented within 18 months. I hope that my hon. Friend will make it known to our representatives in Europe that we deplore this kind of thing. Not all of us were in favour of going into the Common Market, and directives of this kind make us rather more bitter about it.

I hope that my hon. Friend will pursue the matter most vigorously in Europe and that he will make a special case that the National Coal Board, being very safety-conscious and with a large labour force, has just spent £500,000 on introducing new signs. That fact should be taken into account and stressed as strongly as possible to Ministers in Europe. It is appalling that we should have a directive of this nature thrust upon us without any consultation. My hon. Friend should take note of the comments made by the NCB and the National Union of Mineworkers on this matter.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I endorse the point made by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall). Having read the explanatory memorandum, and having heard the remarks about the safety provisions of the National Coal Board, I find it extraordinary that proposals should be brought forward that would cause further major changes and expenditure without adequate consultation. The Minister made sympathetic noises about the position of the NCB, but I hope that he will do rather more than that.

I hope that the Government will take a firm line on matters of this kind. My principal concern about this proposal is that it seems totally unnecessary in industry. It does not seem particularly helpful for health and safety at work generally, and one wonders why Parliament's time is being taken up with proposals of this kind. One does not feel that propositions of this kind will make any worthwhile contribution to health and safety at work.

I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) that we are all concerned to ensure that there are the highest standards of safety in work places. If we felt that this proposal was filling a gap, I suspect that the whole House would welcome it enthusiastically, but I do not believe that a case has been made out that such a gap exists. It has not been long since the Health and Safety at Work Act was implemented.

These are matters which concern the House greatly. We feel that British industry is as concerned as anyone to ensure that we have adequate signs at places of work. However, to superimpose this EEC proposal on our national legislation seems not only superfluous and time-wasting for the House, but it could be disruptive and confusing for British industry. It could also be very expensive.

The Minister did not tell us the likely cost of implementing the proposal over a period of years. Will he give an estimate of the likely cost to British industry? Presumably the cost would be built up over a number of years, and presumably some estimate of the cost will have been made. It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman could tell us what the estimate is. The cost is not an isolated one. It has to be added to the many other costs falling on industry in implementing legislation of this kind.

I shall touch briefly on the proposals themselves. Perhaps I am alone in this, but I am very skeptical about the desire for harmonisation of signs so that they are theoretically comprehensible to people of all languages. When I look at these signs they become totally incomprehensible to me. I should have thought that the word "Exit" was as meaningful and as helpful to someone wanting to leave a building as a sign without any words which displayed a running man heading for an open door. It might mean "emergency exit" to some people, but someone else could interpret it as a man answering the call of nature and running fast to the toilet. That is what the running man looks like to me.

Another suggested sign for "emergency exit" is a large coffin-like picture with an arrow pointing straight into the ground. Again, the words "emergency exit" are relatively comprehensible to the majority of workers in British factories, and I should have thought that it was more helpful to them than just to have a sign of this kind without any words.

There are many other signs which may have meaning to others but which I would not find helpful. One sign shows a picture of a boot, which means that safety boots must be worn. I should have thought that the words "Safety boots must be worn" would be meaningful to most people. If we are to use standardised signs, it should be a requirement that the wording should be put alongside the sign to explain what it means. Unless one has grown accustomed to these signs over a period of years, they are not instantly meaningful in an emergency.

I suspect that there is a strong case for resisting many of the proposals purely on the grounds of common sense. I do not feel that they are particularly helpful. These points have been taken on board by the Government, who have made many constructive objections to the proposals and have outlined them very clearly in the explanatory memorandum.

What concerns me is that, although the Government have said that they dislike these proposals, they are taking a rather mild attitude to them. The Government say that they have not yet been able to persuade their fellow members of the Community, implying that eventually they will go along with the proposals, with one or two minor exceptions.

Why do the Government feel that they have to agree to these proposals? Is it because we hold the Presidency? That is one of the weakest arguments one could use.

Mr. John Grant

The hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what I said. I said that the Presidency was one of the factors that we have to take into account, along with many other factors which support the hon. Gentleman's case.

Mr. Moate

I am sorry if I misquoted the hon. Gentleman. The Minister has assisted me in clarifying my points by saying that it is a factor that we have to take into account.

I suggest that the fact that Britain is temporarily occupying the President's chair has no relevance at all to the policies that the Government should adopt.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

If the fact that we hold the Presidency is an argument for accepting anything that the Commission puts forward, had we not better resign the Presidency straight away?

Mr. Moate

It could be argued that that would strengthen our negotiating position considerably. I suggest that the argument about the Presidency has gone too far. In two or three months' time we shall presumably vacate the Chair. It would hardly be a persuasive argument, when asked why we accepted a particular piece of legislation to say that we did so because we happened to be holding the Presidency at the time. The Presidency should not affect in the slightest what legislation we accept.

Mr. Spearing

When the President happens to be a member of the United Kingdom Government, another member of the Government articulates our case. I see that my hon. Friend the Minister is nodding his head. The point about being in the Chair is not a factor to be taken into account if we have a junior member of the Government in the Council to make our case.

Mr. Moate

The hon. Gentleman has made a strong point. The remark about the Presidency was made en passant by the Minister. I do not think that it is an argument which should seriously be advanced, since in a month or two we shall leave the chair. Being in the chair is a routine occupation. The office circulates among the members of the Community, and I cannot understand why such a fuss is made about it, from the Prime Minister downwards.

I refer again to the explanatory memorandum and the question of signs. The memorandum quite properly points out that the proposed safety signs are of a different colour from our road signs. Logically, if we accept standardised signs, the safety signs should be similar to the road signs. This is yet another nonsense which should be resisted completely.

The explanatory memorandum states: Firstly the colour combination used on the proposed safety warning signs differs from that already used for road signs. The industrial sign colours now proposed by the Commission are based on the safety colour code which is a fundamental concept of the Commission's draft. The memorandum continues: Secondly, all the proposed industrial prohibitory signs include a red cancellation bar and states that this is contrary to the road sign provisions.

The only logical thing to do would be to revise all our road signs to conform with the safety signs, but the cost of doing so would be massive and out of the question.

I hope that the Government will take heart and strength from what is said in the Chamber today in support of their objections to these proposals. Perhaps the Government will then go on with renewed vigour to ensure that no directive is introduced along the lines at present proposed.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I declare my interest in the sense that I am an NUM-sponsored Member. It is fair to say that we have received representations from the union head office about this matter.

I understood the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) to say that we are wasting the time of the House in debating these matters. I suspect that is not quite what he meant. I am delighted that we are debating this subject. It gives us a chance to get across somehow to the 40 or 50 per cent. of the population who are opposed to the whole concept of the Common Market the fact that there is someone in this building who is prepared to fight to the last breath—not about getting better directives or about restructuring or about improving the situation, but about getting out of the Common Market.

That is what we are about and therefore when these matters are brought to light we must expose them and subject them to the constant drip of propaganda. In that way we can alert the people concerned—in this case primarily the coal miners and those in the coal mining communities. Therefore we must welcome the opportunity to get across the message that the bureaucrats in the Common Market, accountable almost to no one, are taking decisions, often without consultation, which affect the coal and steel industries on both the management and trade union sides.

Mr. Lawrence Daly has mentioned in a letter to us that there has been no consultation on this matter. The NUM is deeply upset about the way in which it is being treated. It goes to the Common Market—I do not agree that it should be there, but it goes—notwithstanding that it is not consulted on matters of this kind. It is therefore fanciful to assume that even if one has representatives on the spot in the Common Market they will get to know what is happening.

Decisions are being taken in areas where the union representatives and any other representatives—even directly elected representatives if ever we were stupid enough to take that step—never get the chance of joining in the decision-making. Therefore, I make the strongest possible protest on behalf of the mining group in this House. I do not always agree with everything that the NUM says on matters affecting wages and other subjects. However, in this case the union is making a protest not from my point of view, which is of complete hostility to the Common Market and its whole concept, but from the more tolerant point of view of those who accepted the decision and in some cases in the union were fervent supporters of joining the EEC.

I notice that the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) is jeering. He was a fervent supporter of the Common Market. Like many other Conservatives, however, he is now frustrated at the way in which it is developing, and, like them, he is not sure what to do about it. They would like to adopt the position adopted by the hon. Members for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and for Faversham, who can claim to Tory audiences what the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West would like to be able to claim. There is a lot of dissension inside the Tory Party, just as there is within the ranks of the Labour movement.

When we in this House speak against the Common Market, we are speaking not to the one or two people in the House, but to the nation outside, which is utterly divided on this matter. That is why it is important to raise our voices at every possible opportunity—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the debate has something to do with coal and steel, about which the hon. Gentleman should be addressing us.

Mr. Skinner

In dealing with any subject that emanates from over the water we must speak against the background of how those decisions are made there and of how we feel about the whole concept of the Common Market. It is futile for us to try to speak about this issue in the narrow terms posed by this directive. That cannot be done. There is a nation outside which is frustrated about the Common Market and we, as its representatives in the House, when faced with a challenge, however small and insignificant, must relate it to the fundamental question of Britain's entry into the EEC and, more important still, the desire of some Britons to get out. That desire is expressed by my voice and the voices of a few other hon. Members.

Those in the miners' union who advocated membership of the EEC are now beginning to see that, like many other groups, they are being treated without courtesy or decency by the Community's administrators and bureaucrats. That is conveyed clearly by the directive. Bureaucrats have never even bothered to ask about these matters. If they had telephoned Hobart House or 222 Euston Road they would have learned from Lawrence Daly or Joe Gormley that half a million pounds was already being spent on new signs in the pits in this country.

Perhaps those people across the water did telephone and check. If they did, the situation is even worse. That would suggest that they were not even complying with the rules laid down about public expenditure by the IMF, the constituent Governments of which in the Common Market loaned us a few million quid apiece back in December in order that we could continue to purchase their goods. That is what it was all about.

My guess, however, is that there was no consultation and that the bureaucrats went ahead willy-nilly. Their reason for doing so is clear: they have to appear to be doing something. If we arrange to have direct elections, the people who are directly elected will feel the same. They will think that they have to do even more to harmonise everything they can lay their hands on. Directives of this sort, therefore, arise not from a desire to produce new industrial safety signs but from the desire of the bureaucrats to show that they are earning their money—and pretty good money it is, too. I do not know the exact amounts, but the Continental standard of payments would leave us breathless.

My hon. Friend the Minister must tell us whether he is prepared to stand up for the coal mining industry in this country or to accede to the stupid requests of the Common Market. He must say whether he is prepared to point out that the IMF conditions laid down in December prevent us from taking part in this costly and unnecessary exercise. When I make requests for new schools in Bolsover, I am told that the money is not available. When it comes to the Common Market, however, the money can be found for anything. That is not to say that we get more out than we put in.

One of my friends in Bolsover suggested to me recently that propaganda about how much money was coming out of the Common Market was being spread for the benefit of the British people. But he said that it was rather like the story of the starving man and the dog. The man cut the dog's tail off, stewed it and consumed the gravy and all the bits of meat that were on it. Then he gave the dog his bone back. That is what is happening with payments to and from the Common Market. The loans and grants are minute compared with the sacrifices that we are having to make. In addition we get documents such as this, which my hon. Friend the Minister is trying to foist on the House and the miners' union.

I thought that there would have been some sort of consultation not only with the miners' union but with the miners' group in the House. But no one has been to the miners' group and talked about this draft directive. The Government have blithely come along and slipped it in thinking that no one would be present because no Whip is being applied to the debate. There is a Whip on for me. It is high time that the Department of Employment fully understood what its job is. It is to come here and be consistent. If there is no money for the Health and Safety Commission, or if it has to be abandoned or adjourned for a period because of the money involved, it is not right to come along and spend taxpayers' money on proposals of which we have no need.

For all those reasons I urge my hon. Friend to take this draft directive back, to send someone across on a ship and, if that someone is so fanatical about Europe, to tell him to stay there with this draft directive. This is only one of the first shots in the battle that will take place if the Government dare to introduce direct elections. I am ready for a fight and there are many people outside the House who will fortify me to carry on the fight. There will be hon. Members as well who will continue to fight. The Common Market has been a disaster from beginning to end and the British nation, now faced with massive food price increases and control of wages, is just beginning to understand it.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

After that speech from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) I think that the Minister might well need some armour plating. It was strange to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about fighting to the death. Anyone would think that the hon. Gentleman was talking about a repressive measure which grinds his constituents into the ground. Anyone who wandered into the Chamber during the hon. Gentleman's speech could be forgiven for mistaking it as that.

I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Bolsover did not come along and say how much he favoured the proposal. Most of the hon. Gentleman's points about the European Community were not actually relevant to the point that we are discussing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) made a perfectly fair point when he said that he did not like nannying of people or everyone being told what he should do. He went on to say that we do not have many immigrant workers in this country. It is probably true that we have fewer than countries like Germany and others in the EEC. But, our having joined the EEC, where there is a free movement of labour, this is likely to happen. It could even happen the other way. Our people could go and work in Europe. Constituents of the hon. Member for Bolsover, faced with the present high rate of unemployment, might decide to go and work in Europe. They would want protection as much as anyone else.

One must consider this matter in the context of the Community as a whole. We may at present have fewer immigrant workers working in Britain, but in the years ahead that may not be the case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) felt that the draft directive was unnecessary and that no one wanted it. He went on to state that the House was wasting its time. My hon. Friend was perhaps being unfair to the Leader of the House, because he must appreciate that the Leader of the House is in great difficulty at the moment with regard to arranging debates. My hon. Friend's remark was, therefore, a rather unkind sideswipe. Time has to be filled and I welcome the fact that it has been filled by discussing this particular draft directive. Whatever the views, it is perfectly right for these points to be made and for proper discussion to take place in the maximum amount of time. I therefore welcome the fact that we are having this debate.

Mr. Moate

We are all anxious to help the Lord President with his particular problem of filling the parliamentary timetable with debates. My point was simply that if proposals like this are to come forward, we are anxious that they should be debated in the Chamber. But is it not a waste of national time and energy to have proposals of this kind in the first place?

Mr. Grylls

That is a slightly different point. I hope to deal with it shortly.

I wish to make a further comment to the hon. Member for Bolsover. He gave the impression that no one in the trade union movement actually wanted the draft directive. I have a copy of a letter signed by Lionel Murray, the General Secretary of the TUC, which says that he welcomes it and thinks that it is a very good thing. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will say that he failed to consult the NUM. That is something I cannot rectify. It is something which must be rectified in the debate. But since the TUC speaks for a proportion of organised labour, it is right that the hon. Gentleman should know that in a letter dated 10th December the General Secretary, Mr. Lionel Murray, gave a general welcome to it. To be absolutely accurate, Len Murray's letter said in the last paragraph that he did not like the running man proposal. I do not like it and I do not think that the Minister likes the running man exit sign.

Mr. Skinner

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman fails to understand—or perhaps he does—the whole idea of the Common Market and the way in which it operates. The very fact that the letter is signed by Len Murray is indicative of the way in which it operates, namely, on the basis of the very top heads of the trade union movement. In other words, what is good for Len Murray and perhaps a few others on the TUC is good for the whole of the working class. That is how the Common Market operates. That is why it is in the mess that it is. That is why some of us want to fight, not for Len Murray, who signed the letter on behalf of 11 million people—it could even have been Lawrence Daly or Joe Gormley who signed it—but for all the people inside and outside the trade union movement, so that they may have a chance of understanding from those whom they elected—they did not elect Lionel Murray—what the issue is. That is one of the reasons why we resent the whole structure and paraphernalia of the Common Market.

Mr. Grylls

I should be ruled out of order if I became involved in discussions on the referendum and those who voted in favour of remaining in the Community. A more important point is that trade union leaders and members of trade unions are participating in Europe. There is a Social Affairs Committee which is doing good work. It is important that this type of draft directive should be considered. If this sort of thing is to come out of the Common Market, it is important to have contributions from the TUC and from individual trade unions that have valid points to make.

Mr. Woodall

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Len Murray is saying that a warning, mandatory or emergency sign, which will be a yellow triangle with a black edge, is wanted by British coal miners?

Mr. Grylls

Perhaps I should have read the whole of Mr. Murray's letter. It simply states in the first paragraph that the TUC agreees with the draft directive and thinks it a good idea. It does not mention the problem of the collieries. As the Minister said that has come out elsewhere. But there was no indication that this matter can be resolved anywhere within the Community itself. I cannot put words into Len Murray's mouth: I simply say what he wrote when asked for his views.

This draft directive has been floating around Europe for some time. Much of the work was begun in the International Organisation for Standardisation, so a wider body was associated from the early days.

The House should consider the directive against two other major areas in which there has been an attempt at harmonisation in recent years. The first does not apply to the EEC at all. This is the area of international transport signs, the Hazchem signs on tankers, warning of chemicals and other hazardous materials. That work was done under the auspices of the United Nations in the early 1970s. I agree that we should get as much agreement as possible, but we must start somewhere. That one started in a wider grouping, but what the EEC has done is at least a step in the right direction.

The other area is that of consumer signs on packets, tins and bottles. I hesitate to alarm those who do not favour this trend, but I understand that there may be another draft directive soon on consumer signs. That may be a horror to many people, but much work is being done on these matters.

It may be asked why there should be three separate groups considering these matters. Perhaps the multitude of different signs has to be reduced to three groups before they can be fitted into one.

Our main problem is whether this directive should remain a directive or whether it should be simply a recommendation, as the Government would have preferred. We understand from the Minister's evidence dated April last year that most of the members of the Community would prefer it to be a directive, so we are in a minority. I do not think that my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury and Faversham would say that we should go to the stake on that. If we use our veto on every piece of Community legislation, we shall soon become the laughing stock of Europe. People will ask why we went in in the first place if we intended to fight everything. The veto is devalued if it is used every time.

Mr. Marten

My hon. Friend refers to our being the laughing stock of Europe. Surely it is the other way around: the Common Market is the laughing stock of the people of this country, is it not?

Mr. Grylls

That is a matter of opinion which it would be wrong to debate now. We all know and respect my hon. Friend's views, as we do those of the hon. Member for Bolsover.

What is the Community doing about safety generally? Rightly, it has put a high premium on safety at work in all possible areas. The Advisory Committee for Safety, Hygiene, Health and Protection at Work was set up in June 1974 with specific themes of activity suggested by member Governments—dangerous products, benzine in industry, risks from vinyl chloride, noise, fibres, gases and vapours. All will be covered by the committee. It may not produce directives, but it is surely right that these matters should be considered by the Community as a whole.

There was a great dispute about vinyl chloride a few years ago after a discovery in France that the production process could lead to long-term health damage to workers. It had been produced for many years until this danger was discovered in a French factory by a research chemist. Since then there has been an enormous amount of research in America and Britain, and many technical precautions are being taken.

That was a transnational development. Are we to say that we are an isolated island and will take no notice of anything discovered in France? The consideration of vinyl chloride undertaken by the Community is important and should be valuable for us. It is fair to quote that experience and to say that there should be some working together in considering other potential hazards at work—and some harmonisation at the same time.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Surely the fact that research on these subjects, as on a whole range of other matters, takes place in the United States is no possible reason for common legislation being imposed upon the United States and upon this country. There is no relationship between where the legislative power ought to lie and the international comity which permits an exchange of information in the scientific and technological field.

Mr. Grylls

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the scientific, research and technological interchange among countries has been going on for hundreds of years. I merely quoted that example as an indication of the amount of work that has been going on in Europe.

As to whether this should be a directive, I think that the Minister accepted that the Government are unlikely to get their way in the Council of Ministers. The European Communities Sub-Committee of the House of Lords considered this matter carefully, taking evidence from the officials of the Health and Safety Executive. One of them said that it was the view of the Council of Ministers that this ought to be a directive, and added: So it would look as though the chances are that this will become a directive. I do not want to get that official into trouble. He was giving his view as a member of the Health and Safety Executive, but it was given before a public Committee of Parliament.

The more that one has read about this matter the more it appears that what that official said is right; my own feeling is that it is right, but not everyone is likely to agree. Despite one or two exceptions tonight, it is generally agreed widely in industry throughout Europe and in this country that there is a need for standardisation. Whether that is best achieved by regulation or by a recommendation is a matter of opinion.

After all, there are 6 million migrant workers in Europe, many going to new places where they cannot speak the language. For instance, many workers at the BSC plant in Sheffield come from Europe as well as the Commonwealth and do not speak English. They could be in danger. There is also the question of the multinational companies, which commonly practise a wide exchange of executives, workers and health and safety officers from one country to another. It would be impertinent of us to assume that those who come here can speak English and it is unlikely that our people can speak French, German or Italian. Certainly a common system of signs would be sensible for the multinational companies.

In the chemical industry, tanker drivers regularly enter different factories all over Europe. No doubt most who come to this country cannot speak English and it is safe to asume that English drivers going to Europe cannot speak those languages. They go into factories driving tankers which carry hazardous, perhaps toxic, materials. They see various hazard warning signs. Does it not make sense that those signs should be the same wherever they are? With all these large tankers, container lorries and so on going around Europe, the hazards presented to the drivers as well as to other people should be considered.

Mr. Marten

My hon. Friend asked whether that made sense and seemed to address the question to me. It would make sense if it were done through the International Organisation for Standardisation, but not in this little penny packet of the Nine countries of Europe. Let us have a much wider view of life than this enclosed suburban Community. Let us deal through international organisations so that Spanish and Portuguese lorry drivers, too, have similar signs, and not just the people in the Community. My hon. Friend must look more widely.

Mr. Grylls

I do indeed look more widely. I hope for the day when Portugal and Spain become members of the Community, when they will automatically be able to introduce these regulations, if they become a directive.

I agree that it is a fair point that one would hope to see these common signs, if they are adopted, spread more widely into other countries—for example, into the United States and further into Europe and the Mediterranean countries. However, it would be sensible if the House said "Let us take one step at a time". This is a step forward for the Nine countries. Instead of nine separate symbols, at least we shall have one.

Let us move on after that. There are problems, because in the United Kingdom and in Europe there is a variety of different signs. That happens even in this country. ICI set up its own system of safety signs within its own plant about 10 years ago. I understand that they are good signs. Ford of Europe, again a multinational company, has totally different sets of signs. My hon. Friends may not mind that, but it leads to potential dangers, and it would surely be more sensible that over a fair period they should all be put on the same basis.

Mr. Moate

My hon. Friend has been most courteous in giving way. I want to raise a technical point about the standardisation of signs. Is it not nonsense that in the draft directive proposals for international signs should be different from the present road signs?

Mr. Grylls

My hon. Friend makes a fair observation. I am labouring somewhat slowly to get to that part of my speech dealing with that problem. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me.

I hope that the Minister will accept that at present there is confusion. I mentioned ICI and Ford, workers coming to Sheffield, and perhaps our workers going to Europe. There is a case for standardisation. Whether that be by directive or recommendation is another matter. The sooner signs can conform, at least in the Nine, the better. I hope that I am gradually convincing my hon. Friends, if not Labour Members.

One more weight which would tip the scale in my favour comes from the definition of the words "flammable material". Under the petroleum regulations, the word "flammable" is defined as describing: a petroleum liquid that vaporises at not less than 73 degrees Fahrenheit or 22.8 degrees centrigrade. Under the fire regulations, also introduced by the Government, the same word "flammable" is defined as describing: a liquid that vaporises at not less than 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 32 degrees centrigrade. If someone walks around a plant and sees the words, "Danger, Flammable Material", he does not have a clue what that sign means. "Flammable" in that instance could mean anything. That is one more point which should be taken into account.

I take a giant chemical works where tankers are coming and going. It is desirable that road signs should be harmonised with the signs in the place of work, because the sign on a tanker which contains, for example, a highly dangerous inflammable material such as phosgene, could vary between factories. This leads to confusion amongst the drivers. When one is dealing with potentially a life and death matter to the driver or other workers, there is a good argument for having that harmonisation.

I turn to the question of "No Smoking" signs. At present there are three different varieties—the straightforward "No Smoking", "Smoking Strictly Prohibited"and" Smoking Prohibited". If one goes into a factory where one or other of the three signs is displayed, one does not know how serious the risk of smoking is. Someone seeing the "No Smoking" sign may think that the danger is not serious because smoking is not "Strictly Prohibited". The sign may only say "Smoking Prohibited". That is another nonsense. Perhaps the boss is a crank and does not like smoking. This leaves a vagueness in the minds of the people in the factory about the danger they might be facing. We would be wise to do something about that.

Three years ago this House passed the Health and Safety at Work Act without much difficulty. It was agreed by both sides. In that Act much greater care is placed on employers and employees in factories in safety matters. Following on the Act, I believe that it is perfectly logical that we should take greater steps, because of some of the risks, to ensure that every considerable care is taken to protect everyone working in Europe against toxic and hazardous materials.

There are some problems in implementing this draft directive. First, there is the question of timing. The EEC Commission asked for 18 months. The CBI in its evidence broadly agreed, as did the TUC, but felt that there should be a five-year transition period. The argument is probably somewhere in between. Whatever our views about this legislation, if it is implemented I think that the House would want to ensure that every worker, every executive, every conceivable person in industry is thoroughly trained about the signs. This should be done over a maximum period. Perhaps the Health and Safety Executive could play an important rôle.

The cost to industry has also been mentioned. This is difficult to assess and is, to a certain extent, tied in with the question of timing. Obviously, if it were proposed that all the signs should be put up as from the date the directive was passed, it would be grotesquely expensive and quite ridiculous. But if there is a sensible transitional period, given time for worn-out old signs to be replaced by new ones, too much money need not be wasted.

It is sensible to propose that as and when the new signs are introduced the translation is attached to them for a limited time. People may like to see the description underneath the new signs, which would help the education process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham asked about the crossbar controversy and the question of confusion over road signs. The value of the crossbar is that it is simple. It describes what one must not do; the triangular signs describe hazards or potential dangers; vile circular signs tell us that we must do such things as putting on goggles, safety helmets and boots; and the square signs indicate the direction of exits.

The Minister said in his evidence that if the road signs had to be changed, it would involve much expenditure. I accept that. I think that most people will readily understand that the crossbar sign concerns something that is forbidden, and that the triangular sign, like the sign at a crossroads, warns of a potential hazard. Whether those signs must be harmonised with road signs is a much wider question. I agree that it would be absurd and very expensive to change all the road signs, and I do not believe it to be necessary.

With any safety measure people will say that expense is involved. Industry is busy implementing the Health and Safety at Work Act, the cost of which I believe to be justified—otherwise, we should not have passed the Act. The signs will similarly involve cost.

The British Standards Institution, which has played quite a big part in the work, has produced a document containing signs, though rather fewer signs than in the European document. The Institution has done a great deal of work, and the House should congratulate it on that work. It has consulted widely in industry and has consulted organisations outside. The International Organisation for Standardisation has also done a great deal of work.

The British Standards Institution instigated research at the University of Aston's Department of Safety, Hygiene and Health, in which two signs were compared. A Department of Employment sign warning people to wear something over their ears to protect them from noise showed a man putting his fingers in his ears. The equivalent EEC sign showed a man wearing a hearing protection set. I thought that the fingers-in-ears sign was rather easier to understand, but the Department found, after asking many workers, that the EEC sign was preferred.

I have tried to show that there are good reasons for the proposal. Whether it should be put into effect as a recommendation or a directive is a matter which the House will want to discuss. I think that there will not be harmonisation without force and power behind it.

I want to suggest how the Minister should respond to the draft directive. I have spoken about the transition time. We must harmonise, but at a steady and sensible pace. The EEC has proposed 18 months and the CBI has suggested five years. Perhaps three years would be reasonable and would not be too expensive for industry.

I agree with the Minister that he must make it 100 per cent. clear to the EEC that we do not like the running man sign. Perhaps it would be wrong to say that in Europe people run away from an accident, but it is certainly true that we do not do it in England. Our training is to walk, not run, and therefore that sign is wrong.

It may send the blood pressure of one or two of my hon. Friends even higher when I say this, but I hope that the Government will press the EEC to harmonise the consumer product hazard signs and try to bring them into line with the draft directive. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury that if that can be widened to cover as many as possible of those involved in international road transport signs, so much the better.

Fourthly, the Health and Safety Commission should insist on more training. The British Standards Institution has a rôle to play. Perhaps the regulations, if the directive is accepted by the Community, could be made in accordance with the BS 5378 document. If further signs are incorporated, further regulations can be made. But it is important that consultation is carried out through the Health and Safety Executive.

The Opposition believe that it would be churlish not to welcome at least the spirit of the work that has gone into producing the harmonisation of signs at the place of work. Most of us would certainly welcome the detail of the majority of the signs, with the exceptions I have mentioned.

I hope that the Minister will try harder in one or two areas. The Opposition do not ask him to push hard to make the proposal a recommendation and not a directive. I think that we feel that it will have to be a directive if we are to get any movement, but there should be a sensible transition period. We see the proposal making a major contribution to safety over the years. It is a long-term matter. We shall not see all the signs change overnight. It would be wrong to suggest that that would happen, and it would be extravagant if it did.

This is a step in the right direction. The Government should press on with this good work, subject to the conditions and ideas that I have put forward. I hope that the Minister will not be diverted too much by the flak from both sides of the House in this not very well attended debate—though I add that those present are of a high quality. I am sure that the view of the majority of hon. Members is that the Government should press on with the good work in the hope that we shall see a sensible directive accepted by the Community, because we believe that it will make work safer for all the people in the Community.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. John Grant

In replying, I shall not try to speak for the silent majority.

Several hon. Members who took part in the debate came into the Chamber after my opening remarks. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was one. Although I do not suggest that I should have converted him to passionate support for the EEC if he had listened to me, it may be helpful if I briefly repeat the Government's position, which comes down to three points.

First, we are seeking a more flexible, non-binding instrument and not a directive. Secondly, we clearly believe that there must be a longer implementation period than the 18 months envisaged by the Commission. Thirdly—many hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to this—we think that the running man sign should be deleted.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) talked particularly about the need for a wider base than the Community. He spoke about the OECD, the International Organisation for Standardisation and so on. Nothing proposed here precludes any extension. Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that if the Community took this kind of action, it might be said to be setting the pace. One would hope that other countries would wish to follow suit, and that the idea might spread through organisations such as the OECD.

Mr. Marten

If the Community passes a directive, we must all have the signs. Then we might get into conversation with other countries, which might want to alter them. It all seems to me so wasteful. Why not get all the countries together first and do it all at once?

Mr. Grant

The short answer is that the world is not that simple, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. As he acknowledges, it is not easy to get even the countries of the Nine to agree on such a matter. If one tries to secure wider agreement, there will presumably be an increase in the problems in the particular circumstances of particular countries.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the obstacle to trade. I would not make a meal of that, but I was interested in his remarks about immigrants. He asked where he could obtain guidance on the number of people in the immigrant community who might have benefited from existing safety signs. I cannot give that guidance, any more than one can estimate the number of people who, because of signs, have avoided serious injury. I do not think that it is possible to do that, but clearly there is a language problem at the place of work.

We are discussing symbols and it is important, not just for workers coming into Europe but for workers from the new Commonwealth, to have much more easily is signs. My Department is trying to increase language training in industry, and we regard this as a matter of considerable importance.

I was asked whether this issue would go to the Council of Ministers. It will do so, and the directive will have to be a unanimous decision of the Council.

I come to cost. When discussing the coal and steel industries, we are, of course, discussing good industries. The coal industry has a sophisticated and sensible system of safety signs, which is being installed at an estimated cost of £500,000. Many other industries have poor safety records, and in some instances appalling safety records. Those are the industries about which we are primarily concerned.

Mr. Moate

Will the Minister confirm that in the bad industries—and I am sure that he is right to say that they exist—this directive will make no difference, because it will not be mandatory?

Mr. Grant

That is so, but subsequently the House can make regulations on the basis of recommendations from the Health and Safety Commission, so that in particular industries where there are particular hazards we can take action. That industry would be bound by this system of signs. There is encouragement for people to get on and do something about the situation.

I cannot give a general estimate of the cost and it would be absurd to do so. There are many industries involved and there are varied situations with which to cope. It would be fallacious to try to give what could only be a wide guesstimate.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

Is it not a fact that it would be industry that would have to bear that cost and that the Health and Safety Commission would not pay for the alterations?

Mr. Grant

That is correct. I shall make a similar point about training costs later.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) and for Bolsover concentrated their remarks on the coal industry although my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover ranged slightly wider in his contribution. It is not true that there were no consultations. There was a great deal of consultation. There may have been some fault. We are dealing with the whole range of industry, and at the outset the Commission probably did not go to the Coal and Steel Community as it should have done. I am not too sure about that, but that is my understanding of the position. I understand that subsequently the Commission consulted those industries. Certainly the Health and Safety Commission was brought into the picture from the word "go".

The CBI and the TUC are represented directly on the Health and Safety Commission. Furthermore, the National Coal Board is a member of the CBI and the National Union of Mineworkers is a member of the TUC. If there were a fault in communication, I do not think that it can be laid at the door of the bureaucrats in Brussels. I repeat that there was a good deal of consultation.

The subject was withdrawn from the agenda of the Council of Ministers indirectly as a result of the NCB representations. It is not fair to suggest that this proposal has been steamrollered through without the mining industry being aware of the situation.

I said earlier that we hoped that the Health and Safety Commission would resolve the problems in the coal industry. This is one more reason for a flexible, non-binding instrument and also for a much longer implementation period.

Mr. Skinner

Let us get the matter quite clear. Is the Minister saying that the letter received by the Miners Group, signed by Lawrence Daly, a member of the TUC General Council and General Secretary of the NUM, is lying when it says that there has been no consultation with the NUM? After the union discovered that the decision had been made, it went to the Department of Employment. It is stated in that letter that the Department told Mr. Daly that it could not get the coal mining industry out of this. The Department said that it would create difficulties for other industries. That was in the letter sent by Lawrence Daly to the Miners Group. Is the Minister challenging that statement? Let us have no more nonsense or shilly-shallying. Does he deny the existence of those words in that letter?

Mr. Grant

It is not a question of shilly-shallying. It would have been helpful if my hon. Friend had read the letter.

Mr. Skinner

I have read the letter.

Mr. Grant

My hon. Friend should have read it to the House so that we could see what Mr. Daly had said. I am not accusing Mr. Daly of lying. I am saying that the Government have not recommended acceptance of a directive and are seeking exemption for coal mining.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will have heard in the last few minutes arguments focusing on the subject of the letter to which I referred. I think that it is necessary for the House to understand what is in that letter. I have referred to it, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Hems-worth (Mr. Woodall). It is dated 14th March and is signed by Mr. Lawrence Daly, General Secretary of the NUM. It is headed "Industrial Safety Signs" and reads: Dear Alec"— he is the Secretary of the Miners Group It has been drawn to my attention that there is to be a debate in the House at 10 o'clock on Tuesday 15th March 1975"— obviously the writer does not understand how this place works, but that is neither here nor there— on the above subject and I wish you to take note of the following. These proposed signs are the product of the EEC who drew them up without consultation with the ECSC. When this came to our notice, Mr. Gormley wrote to the EEC complaining about the lack of consultation with two major industries—i.e. coal and steel—and requested that the matter be referred to the Health and Safety Commission of the ECSC. This course was ultimately taken and we were given to understand that coal mining would be excluded and a working party was to be set up to deal with the coal mining industry. The British coal mining industry is not only concerned about the lack of consultation, but also because of the fact that the National Coal Board had already spent £500,000 on a system of safety signs which we would argue are both superior and more logical than the ones proposed by the EEC. You can understand, therefore, our concern about the forthcoming debate, particularly if, as we are given to understand, the Department of Employment are advising acceptance on the basis that if the coal mining industry were to contract out, it would create difficulties elsewhere. I trust that the Miners Parliamentary Group will be able to use their good offices to oppose such action. That is what I am doing.

Mr. Grant

I am aware of what my hon. Friend is doing. Two points arise from that letter. First, Mr. Daly makes the point that there was no consultation with ECSC in the preliminary stages. That is also my understanding of the situation. It does not mean that there was not a great deal of consultation throughout, and I have already made that clear.

As for the Department of Employment advising that we should have to accept a directive, that is not so. I made that clear in my opening remarks and my hon. Friend will have to accept that from me.

I now deal with the remarks of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). The hon. Gentleman was especially critical of the running man sign, among other things. There is general agreement in the House about the inadequacy of that sign. It is rather unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman takes the view that the whole scheme is unnecessary. I do not think that it is. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover began his remarks by saying that he was pleased that we were having the debate, although his reasons were rather different from mine as he wanted to debate the fundamental issue of the Common Market, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss health and safety. I do not think that we have enough debates in the House on health and safety matters, which are of fundamental importance. A harmonised system of safety signs is of fundamental importance to health and safety, but not to the exclusion of many other measures.

The hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) made a persuasive case for harmonisation. The hon. Gentleman expressed his preference for a directive. I have already explained why we do not go along with him on that issue. We prefer a non-binding instrument.

I shall not pick up the hon. Gentleman on each of the specific matters that he raised at the end of his remarks. We shall consider them carefully. The hon. Gentleman made some pertinent observations. For example, he mentioned training. The Health and Safety Executive is involved in a variety of consultations and considerations on matters such as the role of safety officers and advice on the appointment of union safety representatives and safety committees. All these matters have a bearing on what is now before the House, but the main training responsibility under health and safety at work legislation is on employers. There is a requirement on them to consult employees. That is where the main responsibility lies, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that training must be an important element.

I understand the anxiety of my hon. Friends about the conduct of business in general. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has raised a number of the more fundamental issues. The overriding factor in this debate should be industrial health and safety. If we reject the broad principles that are proposed in this EEC proposition, we are rejecting the accumulated advice of the Health and Safety Commission, on which the TUC and the CBI are represented. We should also be rejecting the advice of the British Standards Institution and other bodies which all believe that harmonisation is worth while.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury that some British workers, or British workers generally, may have less to gain from this sort of move than many of their counterparts on the European mainland. However, we should not move away from this measure for that reason. If we are furthering the cause of working people, whether here or elsewhere within the Community, that in itself is worth while, providing that there is no particular detriment to working people in our own country. I do not think that a case has been made to that effect. On that basis I ask the House to accept the motion.

Question put:—

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. Joseph Harper and Mr. Donald Coleman were appointed Tellers for the Ayes and Mr. Dennis Skinner was appointed a Teller for the Noes, but no Member being willing to act as a Second Teller of the Noes, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared the Ayes had it.

Resolved, That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/960/76 and the Government's memorandum dated 10th March on Safety Information at the Workplace.