HC Deb 08 November 1983 vol 48 cc138-9
11. Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the existing rules for protection of workers from noise.

Mr. Gummer

We are giving full support to the Health and Safety Commission in its campaign to alert industry to the dangers of noise. We intend to introduce legislation and are pursuing this with our European partners.

Mr. Baker

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while protecting workers' hearing from noise is important, so is protecting the jobs of those workers and the competitiveness and existence of the industries in which they work? In discussions with our EC colleagues, will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will press for a limit no higher than 90 dB, which is a limit with which our industry can cope?

Mr. Gummer

I have made clear during the campaign, in which I have taken a particular interest, that we are determined to do something about the level of noise in industry and the damage done to hearing. That can be done, first, by bringing people to an understanding of it. One of our problems is that people do not take noise or deafness seriously enough. That can also be done without damaging the competitive edge of British industry and I shall see to it that the terms proposed in the directive are changed considerably.

Mr. Concannon

Will the Minister give more priority to legislation on noise because of the anomalies in industry? Some of us know from experience about noise, especially in the mining industry. The new machinery that is coming in is creating great anomalies.

Mr. Gummer

The right hon. Gentleman has a good point. We have already changed the terms of compensation to take some of those anomalies in hand and to reduce the number of years needed to qualify for compensation. We are considering other ways in which to extend the help that can be given. However, in the end the answer is not compensation but protection of workers from noise. That can be done.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my hon. Friend agree that the setting of unrealistic noise targets for machine tool manufacturers will not achieve anything? I refer particularly to EC regulations which will aim at the 85 dB level? Some machine manufacturers find such a target unrealistic and unattainable and believe that this will make their products uncompetitive with overseas suppliers.

Mr. Gummer

It is clear that we must have attainable and enforceable levels. There is no doubt that the present suggestions of the European Commission are not satisfactory to this country. At the same time, if, with our European partners, we can produce satisfactory answers, this is a benefit that we can gain through our membership of the European Community.

Mr. John Evans

Does the Minister accept that those hon. Members who have worked in industries such as shipbuilding, ship repairing and heavy engineering regard the comments of his hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) as disgraceful? Does the Minister recognise that hundreds of thousands of workers in this country suffer impediments in their hearing because of their industrial background? Does he accept that if there is any trouble getting the legislation through the House because of his hon. Friend's attitude he will be able to rely on the Opposition to get it through?

Mr. Gummer

I do accept that damage is done to people, and that is why I take a personal interest in campaigning in this way. At the same time, there is no use having measurements and levels that cannot be enforced. My right hon. and hon. Friends are asking for levels that can be enforced. We will manage to do both what the hon. Gentleman wants and what they want.