HC Deb 23 June 1980 vol 987 cc165-96

10 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document Number 8409/79 for a Council Directive on the major accident hazards of certain industrial activities and the supplementary explanatory memorandum of 18th June 1980, and welcomes the Government's intention to support appropriate measures to reduce the risks presented by major industrial installations. This document is a proposal for a Council directive and was the subject of the explanatory memorandum to Parliament dated 8 October 1979. Since that date the proposal has been examined by the Select Committee on European legislation of the House of Commons, which reported a number of anxieties on 5 December and recommended that it should be further considered by the House.

The proposal has been extensively discussed and extensively amended, provisionally, at Brussels with a view to agreement on a text for approval by the Council next week. It is to explain the progress of those recent discussions that the supplementary memorandum dated 18 June 1980 has been submitted to Parliament, together with an informal text to illustrate the present content of the draft proposals. I shall first describe how the draft directive originates and how it would take effect, and then outline the Government's response to this proposal.

The Commission came under pressure from the European Parliament to take action in this context following the Seveso disaster in 1976, when a cloud of toxic dust escaped from a factory and spread over the surrounding countryside.

The overall scope of the directive is defined in article 1 as extending to any industrial operation involving dangerous substances which can give rise to a major accident. This in turn is defined as an event presenting serious hazards to man and/or the environment. Duties would be laid both on the operators of installations manufacturing, processing or storing dangerous substances falling within this framework and on the controlling or competent authority, which in the case of Great Britain would be the Health and Safety Executive.

These duties fall broadly into two parts. Under the first, known as the framework part, each member State, as provided for in article 3, would have to adopt the provisions necessary to ensure that in the case of any industrial activity falling within the scope of article 1 the manufacturer would be obliged to take all the necessary measures to prevent major accidents and to limit their consequences. Article 4 then sets out certain more specific obligations on the manufacturer.

In the second part of the directive, stricter provisions would be applied by article 5 to industrial activities involving the particularly dangerous substances either listed in annex III or defined by criteria in annex IV. These stricter provisions would oblige the manufacturer to notify the controlling authority of certain technical information relating to the substances involved in the activity, information about the installation and information relating to the possible occurrence of a major accident. New installations or modifications to installations would have to be notified before work started.

Under article 7, the "competent authority" would have to examine all notifications, ensure the drawing up of an emergency plan, stipulate any additional measures necessary to prevent accidents and limit their consequences, and carry out periodic inspection and spot checks. The authority would also be obliged under article 10 to forward to the European Commission every year a summary of all notifications received under article 5. Under article 10, member States would also have to inform the Commission of any major accidents.

The draft directive further provides in articles 13 to 15 for the establishment of a technical progress committee.

The Government have from the outset supported the principle of the directive. Regulations broadly similar in character have already been proposed by the Health and Safety Commission in a consultative document issued in 1978 called Hazardous Installations (Notification and Survey) Regulations. They are currently under discussion with interested parties.

The European Commission's proposal has adopted some features of our own proposed regulations, which is satisfactory. There are, however, considerable difficulties involved in any attempt to produce a directive which is satisfactory to all member States. Many countries do not possess such broadly based legislation as our own Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Under that Act, all employers are already required to conduct their operations with full regard for the safety of workers and the public. This foundation of general obligations readily permits the introduction of additional requirements, which can be concentrated on activities which present exceptional risks to public safety.

The Government have consulted closely a number of bodies, principally the CBI, the TUC, the Chemical Industries Association, other trade associations and the Health and Safety Commission. This consultation, which is still going on, has greatly helped the Government in the working group discussions in Brussels, which even now are far from complete.

The supplementary explanatory memorandum explains a number of changes now incorporated in the informal text. However, even at this stage there are a number of important unresolved points on whose existence I must lay stress and to which I shall be returning shortly. Criticisms were made that the original proposal went unnecessarily and damagingly further than the United Kingdom scheme.

It is here relevant that the framework—that is, the first part of the draft directive—has been restricted in two ways. First, the obligations to be placed on manufacturers as listed in article 4 have been curtailed by dropping the requirement to draw up the safety report. Instead, manufacturers will be required to demonstrate to the competent authority at any time that they have made provision for the identification of existing major accident hazards and taken appropriate safety measures, including those designed to ensure safety of workers.

Secondly, in the latest text the "industrial activity" has been newly defined in two new annexes. Annex I defines the industrial installations to which the general obligations in article 4 would relate. Annex II sets out categories of independent storage to which the general obligations also would relate. Although the general provisions are still likely to apply to installations offering a lower level of hazard than those proposed by the United Kingdom domestic scheme, the level of control would be met by the general duties already placed on all employers in the United Kingdom by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and the Government would be content with this.

However, I should add here that annexes I and II are not accepted by all delegations. Moreover, clarification is still needed of what aspects of manufacture are to be covered in annexe I and there is still some debate about both the substances and quantities to be included in annexe II. The United Kingdom has asked for certain additional entries to be included, but there has as yet been no discussion of this point.

As regards the more stringent controls in article 5 involving the particularly dangerous substances originally defined in annexe II, there have been two significant developments. It is now proposed that all the dangerous substances to which article 5 will apply shall be listed and quantified in annexe III. They were originally either specified by minimum quantities or defined by criteria. Separate storage will also be covered by article 5. The list in annexe III now comprises named highly toxic substances, carcinogens, organic peroxides and explosive or unstable substances whose properties justify their inclusion. At the same time, the criteria for testing new substances shall in future be applicable only to determine whether new substances should be added to annexe III. Manufacturers will therefore no longer be concerned in applying the criteria.

There is, however, an important flaw in annexe IV, in that the criteria which it provides go wider than the definition of dangerous substances in article I, and this must be resolved.

The somewhat cumbersome notification scheme in article 5 has been made more succinct.

The degree of reporting required under the second part of the directive will now be comparable with the level required for a hazard survey under our proposed domestic regulations. But the formulation of a longer list of substances would call for amendment to the domestic proposals.

In the case of the items comprised in annexe III, I must stress that here, too, there is by no means universal agreement as yet. There are large numbers of reservations entered by different member States against various groups of substances. Proposals for additional entries in this annexe have still to be discussed in detail. Furthermore, the question of how the quantities specified in annexes II and III are to be applied to individual establishments—that is to say, whether they are calculated by reference to the totality of items on the whole site, as the Government wish, or by reference to the total at each sub-location within a site—has still to be agreed. These outstanding matters are of profound importance in relation to the scope and application of the directive.

It has further been accepted by the Council working group that the competent authorities—the HSE, in our case—will no longer be required to satisfy themselves that every new activity or modification undertaken fulfils the conditions of the draft directive before it is introduced.

There is no doubt that implementation of the original draft directive would have greatly increased the commitment of resources by both industry and the HSE. Under the revised proposals, this increase in commitment will be far less than originally expected and the more selective nature of the proposals should make for greater uniformity of enforcement by member States.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

My hon. and learned Friend says that in the revised form the commitment will be far less than it would have been otherwise. According to the explanatory memorandum, however, there will still be a commitment. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, if we go through with this and whatever comes out at the end of the process, there will be a commitment both on the Government and on industry to provide resources for the scheme in addition to what would have existed had we simply gone forward with the Government's consultative document?

Mr. Mayhew

That is so, but I am advised that it is not a materially greater commitment, although there is some greater commitment to be expected. The extent of the increased commitment is markedly reduced, however, from the proposals put forward originally by the committee, and it is represented in the main by the increased number of named substances to be found in annexe III. They represent an increase over the number of substances set out in the schedule to the proposed regulations put forward by the Health and Safety Executive in 1978.

As regards the powers of the technical progress committee in articles 15 to 17, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has already assured the committee that no agreement will be given on this proposal which would result in a general extension of the usual powers allowed to such committees. However, there now seems to be less agreement among member States as to what the technical progress committee's powers and function should be than was the case even when the supplementary explanatory memorandum was submitted last week. This matter, too, remains to be resolved.

I am afraid that a rather intricate explanation is almost inevitable with a proposal of this nature as yet incompletely agreed, even provisionally.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Will my hon. and learned Friend comment on rumours that there has been strong political pressure in Brussels to push through this directive very quickly? Does he agree that a lot more drafting work will be necessary before it is anywhere near acceptable to industry as a whole? There are a great many flaws in a drafting sense which need to be looked at, and time will be needed to get them right. Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that this Government at least will ensure that proper time is given to this in Brussels and that it is not rushed through?

Mr. Mayhew

I agree that there are major items included in the proposals at present which are insufficiently clear or are defective in other respects and which, if they cannot be resolved, will preclude the agreement of the Government to the proposed resolution. There has been and is pressure to secure the approval of the adoption of the regulation by 30 June. Whether that can be done will, as I am about to say, depend on whether these matters can be satisfactorily resolved.

Mr. Marlow

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way on what I believe to be a rather important point. He has said that at this stage the proposal is in draft form and that there are a lot of discussions to take place and a lot of decisions to be made before we know what the final solution is to be. Is he able to assure the House that before there is any requirement for implementation the final solution will be brought before the House so that the House can discuss it and take a view on it?

Mr. Mayhew

No, I cannot give that assurance. The Minister who will represent the United Kingdom in Brussels is my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services. The Government have brought the present text to the House tonight to comply with the recommendation of the Select Committee that the matter should be brought before the House once more.

My duty is to explain to the House what amendments have been made since the matter came before the Select Committee, to indicate what is the present state of the game and to indicate, as I am trying now to do, what are the important outstanding matters that will have to be resolved satisfactorily before the Government would think it right to agree to the proposal.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way. There is, of course, another aspect of this matter, and that is the effect that activities such as those to be regulated have upon surrounding communities. That raises the whole question of the attitude of local authorities, planning law and so on. Is it possible for my hon. and learned Friend to give the House some indication that before these regulations are implemented the House will have a full opportunity of discussing in the broadest sense the impact of hazardous industry upon the surrounding community?

My hon. and learned Friend will know that there is a little matter in which I have been concerned for a number of years, and it would seem to me that we are a long way yet from having all these issues out in the open and discussed fully, as they should be, here in Parliament. Will my hon. and learned Friend expand a little on this and give us some indication whether the opportunity will be afforded to hon. Members to discuss this matter?

Mr. Mayhew

If the proposals and the outstanding matters to which I have referred are satisfactorily resolved, the impact of the draft directive upon United Kingdom domestic law will not exceed, or significantly exceed, the impact that the draft regulations to which I have referred—that is to say, the hazardous installations regulations that my hon. Friend knows about well—would have had upon domestic law. Those regulation are in the consultative stage at the moment and they have already been the subject of responses by a very wide range of bodies within this country.

Although my hon. Friend is absolutely right when he says that the directive bears upon the environmental impact of industrial activities, I cannot say that there would be an occasion—it is not for me to say but I do not think that there would be—for a debate on that aspect of the matter. As my hon. Friend knows, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 already imposes duties which bear on the environmental impact of work done at some industrial sites.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we have not discussed the working of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and that there are gaps in the law. He knows that perfectly well. I could give him illustrations. Does he not think that the House should be given the opportunity to discuss the full implications? We are not merely considering the use of hazardous substances within the perimeter fence of a hazardous installation. We are considering the impact that it has upon the community as a whole. Is it not right and proper for us to insist, and should not my hon. and learned Friend agree, that this is a matter for which time should be found in this House for discussion?

Mr. Mayhew

Time is provided—that is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—for a discussion of the draft directive in all its aspects. I agree that it has a bearing upon the question of the environment, but that is only a part of it and I can say no more than that.

The issues that remain to be resolved and which are important include, first, the definition of "dangerous substances". The Government's view is that the definitions in the main text and the annexe must be consistent. Second, there is the use of the term "environment". The Government's view is that the directive should be confined to substances directly affecting man. Third, there is separate storage under annexe II. The Government's view is that the provisions of the whole directive should apply to this. Fourth, there is the definition of "establishment" in annexes II and III. The Government's view is that a clear definition must be agreed. Fifth, there are the powers of the technical progress committee. The Government's view is that these must be very narrow in scope.

The Government will continue to work to resolve these issues satisfactorily so that agreement to the proposed directive can follow.

10.21 pm
Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)

The draft directive is a major document of great importance. It has serious implications for some of our biggest industries and companies and it bears heavily on matters which have for a long time been the subject of concern by the House, by workers and their unions and by the public at large. Its importance is such that it is extraordinary that we are to dispose of it in a late night debate of a mere one and a half hours.

I register my strong criticism, therefore, of the way in which the Government have handled this matter and the unacceptable way in which they have presented it to the House. I criticise also the way they have treated the House. The draft directive was promulgated last July. There was a covering letter from the Commission saying that it felt that the Council should act on the proposals during the first half of 1980, a period that has now almost expired. I am not sure what was meant by "act on the proposals", whether that meant ratification or implementation. Per haps the Minister might comment on that later

Why did it take so long for this matter to be brought before the House? The Minister confirmed that the CBI, the TUC and the Chemical Industries Association were all consulted last year. The House of Lords examined the proposals in considerable detail between November last year and February this year. As the Minister reminded us, a Select Committee of this House considered the proposals as long ago as last December and recommended that the House should look further at the directive. Nevertheless, tonight's debate was announced only last Thursday.

I might not have raised this point had it not been that, having obtained papers last Thursday from the Vote Office and the Library after the debate was announced, I noticed only this afternoon that a new draft, quite different from the one I studied over the weekend, had been slipped into the Vote Office by the Department of Employment with a completely new and totally different explanatory memorandum dated 18 June. It described the document before us as an informal text. Now we are told on 23 June, within days of the directive having been received, that the Commission hopes to have it agreed by the end of the month. The House of Commons is being treated as a rubber stamp. We are being given less and less consideration. The Minister owes the House an explanation and an apology.

Mr. Donald Thompson (Sowerby)

Last Thursday afternoon, immediately after the Leader of the House had spoken, I took documents from the Vote Office which included one dated 18 June.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman had greater fortune than I. On Thursday night I sought documents from the Library and from the Vote Office before I departed for Doncaster. At that time the document dated 18 June was not available. I am prepared to accept that the document may have been available. However, it is a new directive on a matter of fundamental importance and far-reaching significance. I am astonished that the Under-Secretary of State should think this a matter of some amusement. It is incredible that such a serious issue should be considered amusing by the Government Front Bench. A grave discourtesy to the House is involved.

My starting point is not the hideous disaster that afflicted the people living near Seveso but the earlier disaster at Flixborough. I recall the resolve that the House expressed at the time of that disaster. We said that we should do everything that we could to prevent a repetition of such a tragic occurrence. As a result, the Advisory Committee on Major Hazards was immediately set up. The recommendations of its subsequent report are now embodied in the proposals for new domestic legislation. Those proposals are referred to in the Government's original explanatory memorandum. In that memorandum we were told that they corresponded to a large extent with the provisions of the earlier draft directive.

Unhappily, although it is almost six years to the week since the Flixborough disaster, we are still awaiting the domestic regulations. Their continued absence gives the House a powerful reason to support and give a general, if qualified, welcome to the draft directive. The country cannot be expected to wait indefinitely while a magic formula is obtained that will please everyone, offend none and at the same time prove effective. We cannot wait until a new disaster blasts us into action. We have already waited too long.

I was concerned by the Minister's statement that we would be represented at Brussels by a Minister from the Department of the Environment. That is extraordinary, because the responsibility for occupational health and safety and for major hazards rests with the Health and Safety Commission, which is answerable to the Secretary of State for Employment. That is only right. We deprecate anything that smacks of a dilution of that centralised responsibility.

In article 2, the draft specifically excludes from its scope several situations that, prima facie, are obvious candidates for inclusion. By that, I mean explosive factories in particular and nuclear installations and plants for processing radioactive substances. I know what the answer will be. However, it is important that the Minister tells us the answer and that he puts on record the official reasons for the exclusions. We all know that there is widespread public disquiet about nuclear activities, not least the transit of irradiated nuclear materials. There is concern in my constituency of Doncaster, because such materials pass through the town on the East Coast main railway line. That line is increasingly used by highspeed trains, and it may well be asked why the directive provides no safeguard against a disaster arising from leakage in the event of a derailment or a collision. The assurances that have been given to me so far about the likelihood of such an occurrence and the safeguards should it happen are not wholly convincing to me or my constituents.

There are also serious doubts about whether British Rail personnel are sufficiently trained or informed to deal adequately with such an occurrence, for either their own safety or that of the public.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman implying that the directive does not include the transportation of any substances, whether dangerous or toxic or nuclear materials? If so, does he not agree that it would not be difficult to consider a suitable amendment to the relevant article?

Mr. Walker

The Minister will probably tell us that such matters are covered by separate EEC statutory provisions, but the House is entitled to look at the dangers in the context of the directive. The Minister must assure us that the safeguards for the transport of materials, whether toxic, dangerous, flammable or explosive, will be safeguarded adequately by other statutory provisions.

The directive imposes obligations to provide information to the competent authority, under article 4, to the persons working on a site where there is a risk of a major accident and, under the revised article 8, to the public who may be exposed to risk. All those are welcomed, but the last is particularly welcome because it gives effect to a part of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act that has remained dormant for too long.

Section 3(3) of the Act is an enabling power to require every employer to inform the public of risk arising from his work activities. The Minister shared Committee duty on the 1974 Act and he will recall that the provision arose directly from an amendment moved by the present Home Secretary. Unhappily, it continues to be a dead letter. I do not criticise the present Government any more than the previous Labour Government, but an important provision of six years ago remains a dead letter.

The draft directive promises to breathe a little life into the provision, but five years is a long time to wait. I hope that the Minister will give us some idea of when the Commission may come up with proposals to give effect to our domestic legislation, by which I mean our Health and Safety Commission and not the European body.

The revised version of the directive dilutes the original provisions relating to providing information to workers on a site. From what source did that dilution come? I hope that it was not from the British Government. We must make the strongest representations about that in Brussels.

I am also disturbed about the words used in article 12, which restricts the transmission of information. In its explanatory memorandum, the Commission says: It is also essential to inform the workers and the public in the surrounding area of the possible risks and to involve them in the prevention and safety measures, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the latter. Those are fine words. I agree with and endorse them. They are in the spirit of our health and safety legislation, and I hope that we shall all support that declaration. Unhappily, it is difficult to reconcile article 14 of the new draft with the Commission's expressed view of what is essential.

The original draft restricted—

Sir Bernard Braine

Is the right hon. Member telling the House that that is entirely in the spirit of our existing health and safety at work legislation? Am I not correct in saying that there is no obligation on an industrial establishment that changes its hazardous processes to inform the planning authority of its actions? The Barking fire was a classic example. The fire brigade did not know what hazardous chemicals were in the plant that caught fire. Is the right hon. Gentleman really telling the House that our existing law is adequate and that this document tonight is simply "catching up"? If that is so, he had better have another think.

Mr. Walker

I advisedly chose the words "the spirit of our legislation". I repeat that those words of the Commission are in the spirit of our legislation. Certainly our legislation imposes a statutory obligation, in the circumstances that the hon. Member has described, to notify and seek the approval of the planning authorities, or the planning authority must seek the approval of the Health and Safety Executive in relation to certain specified processes—those dealing particularly with the question of the supply of information to people who are directly at risk because they are involved in a specified work process and to the public who might be exposed by particular work activities.

We specifically and deliberately wrote into section 3(3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act a power to enable the Health and Safety Commission to put forward proposals that would oblige all employers to notify the public of the risks that arose from their work activities. The point I was making was that, despite the fact that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act received Royal Assent in 1974, that part remains a dead letter. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) shares my regret that that is the case. I am not apportioning blame to any Government, and I am not making a political point. Many of us regret this. It was the present Home Secretary who was anxious that that provision should go into the Act.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am glad to hear that the right hon. Member shares my feelings. I believe that the way in which 34,000 of my constituents have been exposed to a succession of hazards on Canvey Island is a national scandal and disgrace. It is high time that the House had the opportunity to discuss the matter fully.

Mr. Walker

We all know of the way in which the hon. Member has regularly defended the interests of his constituents and put forward this point of view in the House. Certainly, I well understand it.

When I was interrupted, I was saying that article 14 of the new draft is difficult to reconcile with the words that I quoted from the Commission's explanatory memorandum. The original draft restricted the transmission of information, but the revised version seems to restrict it even further, in article 14 with regard to the transmission of information from inspectors to workers and their representatives. This is a matter of some importance since it seems to run completely counter to the express and intended provisions of section 28(8) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act—the Provision which requires an inspector to provide information of a specified kind to workpeople's representatives.

Are my interpretation and understanding of the provision correct? I cannot see any other construction that can be placed upon article 14, paragraph 1. If the Minister tells me that I have got it wrong, no one will be more pleased than I. But, if I am right, we should tell the Commission that this is a completely unacceptable provision. Also, if I am right, will it override our domestic law? Presumably the answer is "Yes", and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act will have to be brought into line, unless the United Kingdom Government tell the Commission very firmly that we reject this unacceptable provision.

Finally, I wish to make one or two general comments arising from the Department of Employment's explanatory memorandum. It says that the directive will clearly have some effect on costs. Then it goes on to say that it should lead—I am glad the Minister echoed this in his speech—to a levelling of standards throughout the Community. I also note that the report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords laid great emphasis on the strength and rigour of our own present statutory provision, saying that it was more comprehensive than elsewhere and that it laid severe obligations on employers. I accept all that. It struck me as being odd, however, that their Lordships could adduce these as reasons for being critical of the directive.

I should have thought that such a directive—which, in the words of the Department of Employment, will lead to a levelling of standards and by implication have the effect of making some other EEC countries, at least in some degree, bring their standards closer to our high standards—would have been welcome to their Lordships and to all in the House. For the same reason, I should have thought that industry in the United Kingdom would welcome the idea that countries with lower standards than our own in respect of occupational health and safety safeguards against disasters should be required to bring their standards more nearly into line with ours.

The Department says that the directive will increase the commitment of resources of the Health and Safety Executive. What extra provision do the Government have in mind to provide to the executive to safeguard against the implementation of the directive having a detrimental effect on occupational health and safety elsewhere? The Government have already severely cut into the Health and Safety Commission's budget. Will the implementation of the directive, in effect, be a yet further cut in some of its other activities, or will the Government face the fact that we cannot have on the cheap the occupational health and safety standards that our workers are entitled to expect?

I hope that the Minister will clarify the points that I have made and will assuage some of the anxieties that I have expressed. Notwithstanding the reservations and qualifications that I have expressed, I share the Government's support for the purposes of the directive. I hope that the Minister will reject the foot-dragging that has been and will continue to be expressed in some quarters.

I remind the Minister of the feeling that prevailed in the House when we learnt of the Flixborough disaster in June 1974 and of our determination to try to do something to prevent a repetition of that kind of disaster. This is a chance to make a contribution towards that end.

10.43 pm
Mr. Donald Thompson (Sowerby)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I shall not refer to the annexes or to the technical part of the document, because I know very little about them.

It seems that this document emanated from various tragedies in Europe and the debate in the EEC. Some Members of the European Assembly were conscience-stricken, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) hinted, by the lack of provision in their own countries in this sphere. Indeed, the draft legislation, dated 27 July, states: The need to strengthen this machinery has been felt in several Member States. The result, although several times modified, is still in many ways unsatisfactory.

Our supplementary explanation, dated 18 July, states in paragraph 2: There is no alteration to the basic aim of the directive". But the EEC's comments, to which I have just referred, dated 27 July, realistically divided risks into two categories. The first is called routine risks in normal operating conditions and the second exceptional risks in abnormal operating conditions". The directive sets out to cover the second category. That is what the EEC stated in its explanation. Each document has the same first sentence to each article 1, mentioning major accidents. Neither mentions exceptional risks. The remainder of the document may be interpreted to mean either exceptional or routine risks.

Our explanatory note mentions a lower level of hazard than that proposed in the United Kingdom scheme. That is not what the directive sets out to achieve. Hon. Members will realise at once the various interpretations that different countries can place on article 1, on which the directive hinges, having regard to the EEC's original comments. The difference in emphasis that various countries put on exceptional or routine risk in resource terms, as my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary puts it, to both industry and the Government is great. The interpretation can be distorted by that single paragraph.

There is need for clear legislation on routine risks, and few countries have better legislation on routine risks than Britain. However, we are discussing the "exceptional risk of a major accident." We must, therefore, have a clear and uncluttered directive, which this directive is not.

Article 1 also mentions transport in vague terms. We know about nuclear waste trundling through our constituencies. We have many clear conventions and agreements with regard to transporting dangerous materials by land and sea. Surely, the directive could be more clear.

For my constituents, the most significant word in the definition of major accidents in article 1 is "delayed". A catastrophe of major proportions can take 40 years to manifest itself. It has been suggested that some industries should not recruit workers under the age of 55 because of the risk of diseases that take 40 years to mature and leave a man crippled for the remainder of his life. The document could be useful if it correlated all the information available in Europe on such delayed catastrophes.

Article 4 asks for training, information and equipment. Although British industry has turned about 25 per cent. of its research and development capability to health and safety, I still believe that such provision should be made by industry rather than by the State. The cost would then be passed to the consumer of the product instead of an inflated and often duplicated cost being charged to the taxpayer. States that cannot draw up satisfactory and enforceable legislation to make industries in their countries comply will not be able to provide a satisfactory State alternative to that which industry—especially multinational industry—can provide.

Article 5 is the crux of the matter. I appear to have lost the place in my notes.

Mr. Mayhew

My hon. Friend will agree that article 5, which is in the second part of the directive, sets out the provisions that require member States and occupiers of industrial premises to take special steps in relation to all activities that deal with especially dangerous substances. Those substances are set out in annexe 3 of the directive, and I suspect that it is to that that my hon. Friend wishes to turn his mind.

Mr. Thompson

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his help. I wrote my notes carefully in order to take less time, and I apologise for taking more.

Article 7 seems to call for a vast army of staff. I disagree that there needs to be any further recruitment to the health and safety at work team. They have spent the last four year digging themselves in. They should, could and ought to turn themselves to the task of major accident prevention rather than continue with the pettifogging for which they have gained an unwanted reputation.

Article 9 should be passed over to the committee envisaged in article 16. That seems to be causing a great deal of trouble.

The possibilities for industrial espionage, covered in articles 12, 13 and 14, are frightening. The damage that can be done by half-tested products launched by unscrupulous companies or countries merely to beat a competitor off the mark has already been noticed with the crash of the Concordski in Paris. It is something to be guarded against.

The danger of accidents is very serious. Modern industry has brought untold benefits to the old, the sick and, in fact, to everyone; but, of course, industry must be monitored. It cannot be properly monitored with a slackly worded, woolly document such as this one. It is a document that must be tightened up in every sentence and every degree if it is to be acceptable to the House.

10.51 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are perhaps reluctantly a connoisseur in these 90-minute debates which follow from the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee that EEC documents should be debated by this House. You will therefore bear me out when I say that it is the rare exception for such a debate to take place without throwing somehow into relief the unsatisfactory nature of a process whereby through the Council of Ministers law applicable in this country is being made, and how irreconcilable those procedures are with our notions of how law ought to be scrutinised, debated and amended before it is passed.

But, even so, tonight's revelation has been unique in its enormity. When I say that, I mean not only no criticism of the Minister, but it was actually the painstaking and thorough nature of the speech which he addressed to the House which revealed the full dimensions of the enormity. We are quite used to being presented with a document of which the House is invited to take note, or which it is even invited to approve, with the caveat that certain alterations are required and will be insisted upon before the Government assent to it in the Council of Ministers. That is now normal and understood form. It is usual for the principal such require ments to be set out in the terms of the motion which is before the House.

Tonight, however, we have a remarkable sort of motion, to which we are expected to assent, which purports to take note of the document but then goes on to welcome The Government's intention to support appropriate measures to reduce the risks presented by major industrial installations. So there is no relationship in the motion before the House between the document of which we are taking note and whatever it is that the Government regard as "the appropriate measures" that ought to be supported.

The Minister informed us that outstanding matters—that is, matters which are still not resolved—are "of profound importance." We therefore have before us a document in which profoundly important matters are unsatisfactory to the Government and not, in their view, suitable to be passed into law. Those of us who were luckier than others have a supplementary explanatory document. Like the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker), who led for the Opposition, I was one of the unlucky ones. Even today, I did not get the supplementary material in my bundle handed to me at the Vote Office. I was alerted to its existence only by the first few sentences of the Minister's speech.

The explanatory memorandum gives no notion of the matters of profound importance to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. On the contrary, the whole tenor of the memorandum is that, broadly speaking, the document in its revised form is now satisfactory. Few of the objections strongly voiced by the Minister are referred to—certainly not in a critical manner—in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the supplementary document. In some matters, he informed the House, there is even less agreement than existed last week. The supplementary explanatory memorandum is already out of date—I have the assent of the Minister—while other matters, to quote his words, are "incompletely agreed, even provisionally".

I should like to put on record that this is an unsatisfactory way for the House to be treated. We understand that, for as long as we have to put up with legislation being made for this country through the EEC and by the Council of Ministers, there will be occasions when a document properly comes before the House not in the final form to which Ministers are prepared to give assent but with certain differences to which the attention of the House is drawn. It is intolerable that the Minister, when the debate takes place, should read out an important list of major changes that are required of which hon. Members could have no prior knowledge, no means of considering beforehand and no means of controlling afterwards.

The least that the Government can do in these circumstances is to provide the House with an explanatory memorandum that clearly sets out the conditions that the Government intend to attach to their assent in the Council of Ministers and to give the House notice by an adequate interval intervening between publication of the document and the debate in the House and the subsequent meeting when the document is to be taken in the Council.

As matters stand, the only effect is to render hon. Members conscious of how little we can influence the form of legislation, despite the machinery that has been set up in the Scrutiny Committee and despite the willingness and the diligence of the Government in coming to the House and offering explanations, as the Minister has done.

Mr. Grylls

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister's speech would probably take priority over the 18 June supplementary memorandum, which is fairly deadpan? In answer to my intervention, my hon. and learned Friend said that if there was not sufficient time for satisfactory and proper drafting of the directive, the Government would not give their approval. That can presumably be taken as the official Government line.

Mr. Powell

I accept, of course, that the reservations made by the Minister are not only more up to date but supersede the mild reservations that one could read occasionally between the lines in the explanatory memorandum. The hon. Gentleman strengthens my point. The House should not have to come to a debate of this sort in ignorance, until hearing the Minister's speech, of the major points of reservation that the Government intend to make.

It is only by supporting those points by its voice and, if necessary, by its vote that the House can take even a limited part in the control of the legislation.

I hope, therefore, that one of the consequences of this debate will be that in future the Government will not allow such debates to take place until there is available an explanatory memorandum which, especially where the matters are—I quote the Minister again—"of profound importance", sets out clearly and in detail the Government's reservations, so that the House can understand what is still at issue and can apply itself and its influence and its vote to resolving the matter in the sense that it intends.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

I think that about seven hon. Members wish to make a contribution. I would point out that the Minister wishes to start his winding-up speech at 11.20 pm.

11 pm

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

It was interesting that when the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was making his principal points he was yet again bringing out the main faults and imperfections of our scrutiny procedure rather than the more fundamental points that he would make against our very membership of the Community. Those conclusions would be very different from the ones that I would draw on that more fundamental matter. Many improvements can be made in the way in which the Community deals with its legislation, but equally important—and perhaps in this context even more important—are the improvements that we must make in this House to our scrutiny procedure.

For example, on this subject, which is so important, we should perhaps have had more than one debate, or at least a debate longer that one and a half hours, with the documents quite clear. I had no trouble with the documents, but I became increasingly anxious about the timing, bearing in mind that the Scrutiny Committee recommended a debate in its report of 5 December. There could have been a debate much earlier, even if there were still areas in the draft directive needing further clarification and a departure from some of the wider terms of the various articles.

In view of what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall have to rush and leave out many points.

I am enthusiastic in the wider sense about the draft directive. Subject to the meetings of the Council of Ministers soon to be held, most of it, as a framework directive, can be an adequate document allowing for the harmonisation of safety conditions and requirements in all the member States. It would be crazy for anyone to want more from a document such as this.

In some of the articles harmonisation must inevitably be somewhat vague. I disagree with the suggestion that it should be tightened up in some aspects. We could argue about some of the details, but I do not think that a tightening up would be right, as we have the whole substance of our domestic legislation in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, which can dovetail in conveniently, subject to further discussions in Europe, with the draft directive.

Although I was not at all discomfited by the most recent supplementary explanatory memorandum, which was extremely helpful and was itself part of the scrutiny procedure updating, I think that earlier documents and references to the matter could have been more felicitous.

It would be a good idea for the Council of Ministers and the Government to consider whether transport should be included in the directive. I refer to the transit of materials, and particularly nuclear materials. It would be possible to have an amendment to include their transit, even if nuclear installations and materials when stationary are specifically excluded from the rest of the directive. If that is not possible in the Government's opinion, perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will indicate where else the matter of transit could be covered.

I think that the rest of the document can be taken care of in negotiations. This indicates something that I find perfectly tolerable and manageable, that when the Council of Ministers is meeting, particularly on detailed technical matters such as this—safety, industrial control and the like—it is not only legislating as the supreme legislative body of the Community but is reaching policy decisions which, because of the nature of the lawmaking process in the Community, can also be written into the articles of a directive or the annexes. That is different from the legislative approach in this country, but it is justifiable.

National legislation and the Community directive fit well together. For that reason, I believe that the terms of the motion are right and should be supported. The document is referred to in a "take note" sense, but the Government are given the maximum negotiating power, leeway and discretion when the Council of Ministers next considers the subject.

11.5 pm

Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)

I agree with the general principles described by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). We must be realists. I speak with knowledge of the chemical industry. I have been involved in the maintenance and running of plants dealing with ammonia sulphate, liquefied ammonia and ammonia nitrates. I was surprised that the products are included in the directive. Ammonium nitrate is referred to in annexe III. That borders on the ludicrous because it is a relatively safe material. In all the time that I was in industry there were no incidents to indicate that as a fertiliser it was dangerous.

About 1½ million tonnes a year of the material is produced in Britain and used for the benefit of mankind in relation to agricultural products. Another area of bureaucracy will be created because storage outside the production factory will result in planning applications. The industry believes that the directive is unnecessary. Annexe II deals with fertiliser compounds. The material is relatively safe.

Sir Bernard Braine

Has the hon. Gentleman read the report about Canvey in which it is stated that all the assumptions about the safety of ammonia are wrong? It states that the release of ammonia from the Thurrock area over Canvey Island could kill. How can the hon. Gentleman say that there is no danger from the wrongful handling of ammonia.

Mr. Garrett

The hon. Member and I are good parliamentary colleagues. He will recognise that sometimes he is ignorant about the chemical industry. We are not talking about ammonia. There are varying degrees of ammonia. If we had time, we could talk about them and their relative danger, which I accept to some degree. We are talking about another product.

I ask the Minister to consider examining the directive and exempting the products which I have mentioned. If he does, he will save the Health and Safety Executive money and eliminate bureaucracy. Neither the nation nor the hon. Member for Essex, South-East needs to fear the products which I have mentioned.

11.10 pm
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) spoke from his considerable knowledge and experience of the chemical industry. I wish to intervene briefly to speak in my capacity as secretary of the all-party Scotch whisky industry group. I appreciate that whisky is not the first product that one would think of as presenting, in the words of the directive, a "major industrial accident hazard", but the fact is that pure distilled whisky maturing in casks, before being reduced by the addition of water to the strength to which we are accustomed, has a low flashpoint, below 21 deg. centigrade. It therefore qualifies as being highly flammable in terms of normal industrial practice and in the terms of the directive. It is therefore subject to the restrictions laid down.

The Scotch Whisky Association supports strongly the representations made by the Confederation of British Industry, first, that any EEC regulations should be no more onerous than those which already apply in the United Kingdom, and, secondly, that the minimum quantities stored which would require notifying and surveying should be substantially larger than the quantities laid down in the original proposals.

The quantities have now been amended to read 10,000 tonnes for notification and 100,000 tonnes for survey. I hope that the environment council will adhere to these figures. Certainly the Minister representing the Government at the discussions will have the full support of the Scotch whisky industry in his endeavour to retain those limits.

I hope, too, that the regulations will be confined to highly flammable liquids and not extended to simply flammable or easily flammable liquids, as was originally proposed. If they were so extended, this would represent considerable problems for the Scotch whisky industry.

I should like to go one step further and invite the Minister to consider whether the whisky industry might be exempted altogether from the directive. The directive is aimed at dangerous chemicals, flammable liquids and gases stored in vast quantities—materials which are often in rows and rows of huge vats containing thousands of tonnes or litres of liquids or gases. Whisky is matured in casks normally of 550 litres and certainly of a maximum size of 700 litres. It is stored in warehouses often distributed over a wide area.

My hon. and learned Friend, in introducing the debate, indicated that questions of definition on this point have not been finalised. I suggest to him that the industry is in a quite different category from the chemical and petroleum industries at which the measure is primarily aimed, and I urge that it be given special consideration.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I think that the way in which the Government treat the House on EEC legislation is disgraceful. An hour and a half is not enough for these debates. The production of documents in nearly every case is fraught with difficulty, because they are missing, or because they are late in arriving in the Vote Office, or because they are badly printed—or because of a combination of all those factors. The sooner we are prepared to legislate ourselves, the better we shall be, without this difficulty that we get from our membership of the Common Market.

It is a pity that the Department of Employment is not bringing forward legislation on major hazards. This is in stark contrast with the way in which the Department is still busy consulting. There must be a lot of people in the Health and Safety Executive engaged in consulting because it is all they seem to do. The Government got through the consultation on the Employment Bill in a matter of weeks. The Social Security (No. 2) Bill whizzed through this House. People are now complaining that they were not consulted about it. Why cannot the Department produce something about major hazards?

The Government seem to be hopelessly unable to conform to the requirements of the directive, because they are cutting the Health and Safety Executive by 6 per cent. On 1 April 1980 there were 665 factory inspectors—the people who knock on the door and see what is wrong. They do the leg work. They are the basic stratum of examination upon which the whole executive is built. They are the nuts and bolts of the system. Although there are specialist inspectors and consultants and executive and clerical support staff in the field, an analysis of the figures brings one back to these 665 people. There have been no recruits this year. It looks as though there will be none next year. In addition, 34 people have left over the past few months. So the inspectorate, by virtue of the cuts and lack of recruitment, will be unable to undertake scrutiny of existing major hazards sufficiently thoroughly, irrespective of this document and whether it becomes law.

Article 4 provides: Member States shall take the measures necessary to ensure that manufacturers are required to prove to the competent authority certain things. I hope that the Minister will cast his eye over existing legislation with a view to deciding what "competent authorities" means. Occupiers of premises containing major or minor hazards should know about the person who knocks on the door and says that he is a factory inspector.

Section 19(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 provides: Every appointment of a person as an inspector under this section shall be made by an instrument in writing specifying which of the powers conferred on inspectors by the relevant statutory provisions are to be exercisable by the person appointed". What a reasonable request in the legislation. The man who will enforce chemical regulations shall have that specified on the warrant. But that does not happen. All inspectors authorised by the Health and Safety Executive have identical warrants. I believe that to be ultra vires. That is not operating the law as it should be operated and the executive is there to operate the law, not by administrative means but as Parliament passed it.

Every instrument should specify the powers of the holder. At the moment the agricultural inspector, the inspector from the nuclear inspectorate, the factory inspector and so on all have the same warrants. That is not good enough. If the document is implemented, manufacturers will be required to prove to the competent authority". But "the competent authority" is not described, as the law requires, on the warrant that the inspector carries. It can therefore be argued that the Minister should ensure that the executive enforces the existing provisions fully, accurately and legally rather than in the slipshod manner now adopted before he requires it to embark upon implementing directives such as this.

Of course, extra money will have to be produced to implement the directive which contains many useful suggestions. It is a matter for regret that the initiative on this sort of legislation should be coming from Brussels largely because of the inertia of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive and their failure to produce the requisite regulations. Some blame must attach to the Minister. He has power under the 1974 Act to give directions. I do not think that he has shown sufficient urgency. I make no distinction between the Administrations. I was not backward in making criticisms of the Labour Administration for failing to produce the necessary regulations. I urge the Conservative Minister to inject some urgency and zest into the matters I have raised.

11.19 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Time is very short. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister has told us how the Government have put out a consultative document on this subject. He has told us how the measure that he has brought before the House is more comprehensive and therefore a more complete and more expensive measure than the Government would have introduced. As a Government supporter, I have a great deal of faith in the measure that the Government would have produced. We are being forced to provide a greater and more expensive provision than the House would have wished.

My hon. and learned Friend said that is was difficult to estimate the additional resources required by this measure. He said that it may be only a little bit. Although I have the greatest faith in my hon. and learned Friend, he will discuss the measure with many other people. If we approve the measure, we shall give them, not him, a carte blanche. The House will have no other occasion on which to discuss the measure.

The Government's main priority is to get the economy right. One of the main planks of the economy is to get industry right. What will this measure do? What financial burdens will it involve? What will it do to help industry? Industry requires this measure—desirable as it may be—just as it required much of the health and safety legislation, like a hole in the head. It would be wrong to take note of this bureacrats' benefit.

11.20 pm
Mr. Mayhew

I shall deal first with the points that have been raised about the procedure that we are striving to operate. All parties recognise that our scrutiny procedure could and should be improved. I agree, therefore, with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). I also agree with many of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about the extent to which the House could be informed of the current state of negotiations, and of the latest partially provisionally agreed text in time for a debate.

The supplementary explanatory memorandum was less than forthcoming about the Government's attitude to that text. Not only did negotiations continue until the date upon which the supplementary memorandum was written, but thereafter. It was, therefore, difficult to establish a crystallised view of the negotiations at any given point. However, that point will be taken into consideration.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) spoke about provision of the supplementary memorandum. I confirm, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East said, that it was placed in the Vote Office on 19 June, by 11.30 in the morning. It was thought important that the statement should be as up-to-date as possible. However, I welcome his general support for the directive. A Minister from the Department of the Environment rather than a Minister from the Department of Employment will go to Brussels, because such issues are dealt with by the environment working group of the Community. It is the practice for such Ministers to negotiate on behalf of member States in that forum. In this country, our domestic arrangements make my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment responsible for safety measures.

There are exclusions under article 2, because other Community legislation deals with such matters. The topics are covered by other EEC legislation or by special legislation. The same is true for the transit of materials, including the transit of irradiated materials. I notice that the transit of goods was excluded from proposed domestic regulations of 1978, which concerned hazardous installations.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when the Health and Safety Commission would amend our domestic legislation. Consultations are in an advanced state on the hazardous installations regulations. I hope that it will not be too long before they are brought forward. He asked whether article 14 represents a conflict within section 28(8) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 on the ground of communication of information. That is a technicality of some intricacy. It is believed that the directive would not interfere with the rights of safety representatives to have documents. I shall examine that issue further and write to him.

Mr. Harold Walker

I am concerned about the right of the factory inspector to give the information that is required to a trade union representative under section 28(8). If the hon. and learned Gentleman will consider that and write to me, I shall be grateful.

Mr. Mayhew

I shall do so. The domestic scheme envisaged some increase in staff resources. The additional work resulting from the directive is expected to be minimal. I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) that there will be some commitment. However, I am informed and advised that it will be minimal. All demands will be met by redeployment within available resources.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Mayhew

No. I have only a few minutes in which to complete my reply. I shall try to deal subsequently with any further matters raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Marlow

Is there to be any increase in public expenditure?

Mr. Mayhew

I think that there probably will be, yes. However, the increase will be of a very small nature.

Will the directive do anything for British industry? If one State within the Community adopts one approach to safety matter and another State adopts a less stringent approach, there is an adverse effect on the more stringent State's competitive position. If we are to have any safety legislation, it is desirable that there should be a harmonised pattern. If that is not established, there will be the lack of a competitive edge, which is the one thing that our industry can do without.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Thompson) raised a number of matters. I shall write to him, if he will permit me to do so.

Mr. Thompson

indicated assent.

Mr. Mayhew

I hope that I shall be allowed to pass over those matters in that way. My hon. Friend made a detailed speech. He is kind enough to indicate his agreement to my writing to him.

The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) referred to ammonium nitrate. The Government believe that ammonium nitrate should be included within annex II, which deals with specially dangerous substances. We accept that not all formulations of ammonium nitrate have explosive qualities any more than all formulations of compound fertilisers have dangerous qualities. The Government would like to see an ultimate form of the directive making exemptions for the non-explosive ammonium nitrate formulations and the forms of compound fertilisers that do not have the cigar burning quality, fertilisers that can catch fire and burn without oxygen and emit toxic fumes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) has an enviable position with the all-party Scotch whisky group. He asked whether we would stay with the draft directive as amended. We agree with the present draft. I cannot give any indication that whisky will be taken out of the flammable substances category, not least because some whiskies have a low flashpoint and can represent a severe hazard when stored in bulk.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has had a substantial correspondence with me, or an exchange of question and answer, on matters relating to factory inspectors and their powers. Time does not permit me to pursue those matters or to reiterate the answers that I have given him. We intend to push forward our own domestic proposals. The Health and Safety Executive will allocate sufficient resources to implement the provisions of the new directive if they are agreed.

The directive is in an unsatisfactory and incompletely agreed state at the moment—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document Number 8409/79 for a Council Directive on the major accident hazards of certain industrial activities and the supplementary explanatory memorandum of 18th June 1980, and welcomes the Government's intention to support appropriate measures to reduce the risks presented by major industrial installations.