HC Deb 08 November 1983 vol 48 cc132-3
4. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will consider extending the health and safety at work legislation to those on youth training schemes.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act already covers those on youth training schemes. The Health and Safety Commission has always advised that this coverage protects trainees effectively. Nevertheless, I have welcomed the initiative of the HSC to amend the law so that these trainees are brought under exactly the same section of the Act as employees. I have asked for this to be done as soon as possible.

Mr. Fatchett

Why is there a need to amend the law if trainees are already covered? How will the hon. Gentleman enforce the changes to which he has referred, given that this Government have reduced the number of health and safety and factory inspectors since coming into office?

Mr. Gummer

The law is to be changed in that way only because several Opposition Members said that there was some confusion. We want to make the position clear to everybody. I am sure that Opposition Members will be very pleased about that. That is why the Health and Safety Commission recommended the amendment. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the resources available to the Health and Safety Executive are greater now in real terms than when the Conservative party came to office.

Mr. Marlow

As some health and safety regulations are so complex and complicated that they take up management time and inhibit the employment of more young and other people, what will my hon. Friend do the ensure that the regulations are simplified?

Mr. Gummer

We constantly ensure that, as far as costs allow, the regulations are simple. However, in the last resort we must defend the health and safety of people, whether they are at work as trainees or employees.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency two youth trainees were recently involved in fatal accidents? In one case the firm concerned was fined £800. The maximum fine is apparently £1,000. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that sum is wholly inadequate?

Mr. Gummer

None of us can hear of such a case without feeling considerable sadness. Obviously, I have looked at that case very carefully. There is some disquiet, of course, about the possibility that the penalties, and the way in which they are imposed, are insufficient. I am considering that point.

Mr. John Smith

Would it not be more appropriate for the Minister to admit frankly to the House that there is a deficiency in the legislation which, because of certain tragic incidents, such as that just referred to, he now feels compelled to put right? Would it not be better if the hon. Gentleman were to adopt proper standards in dealing with the House, although that might not be appropriate in his role as chairman of the Conservative party? The hon. Gentleman should make a frank admission when there is a deficiency in the legislation and act quickly to put it right instead of pretending that everything has been OK all along.

Mr. Gummer

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has only recently come to his position. If he had attended our earlier debates he would know that we have discussed the matter at length. If he reads the report of those debates, I think he will regard some of his remarks as unworthy. To answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman direct, the same arrangements existed under the youth opportunities programme, which was brought into operation by his colleagues. At that time there was never any question of difficulty over this matter. I am telling the House the truth, and will continue to do so. I am advised by the Health and Safety Commission that trainees are properly covered at the moment, but, to meet the difficulty raised by some Opposition Members, the regulations are being changed. That is a perfectly reasonable and honourable thing to say.