HC Deb 20 May 1986 vol 98 cc165-6
3. Mr Stern

asked the Paymaster General if he will institute a review of the impact of health and safety legislation on small businesses.

The Parliamentary-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Ian Lang)

In January this year my right hon. and noble Friend announced that he was setting up a study of employer attitudes towards health and safety legislation and the way in which it is enforced. The study team has now completed its report and my right hon. and noble Friend has asked the Health and Safety Commission for its advice.

Mr. Stern

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reply. Given this Government's correct emphasis upon the removal of barriers to employment, will he confirm that with his right hon. and noble Friend he will continue to search for ways in which, while health and safety, particularly in small businesses, can be preserved, bureaucratic barriers to employment can be eliminated wherever possible?

Mr. Lang

I assure my hon. Friend that the thrust of the Government's intention to lift the burdens on small business will be reflected in the forthcoming White Paper. At the same time, the Government have no intention of downgrading the health and safety standards.

Mr. Litherland

Why was no provision made in the survey for consultation with the work force? In my trade union, SOGAT 82, which has 200,000 members, there are four to five fatalities each year. Does that not emphasise that this is an uncaring Government?

Mr. Lang

On the contrary, the purpose of the report demonstrates care on the part of the Government. I am glad to say that a strong commitment among small firms to health and safety at work was found by the study team. The Health and Safety Commission will have an opportunity to comment on the report, and Ministers will meet the commission to discuss it.

Mr. John Browne

Does my hon. Friend accept that the greatest disincentive to the start-up of new businesses is not the lack of capital, high interest rates or high taxation, but the bureaucracy that has been created by excessive legislation? Will he reassure the House, even more than when he replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), that he will not only continue to stop excessive legislation in his Department, but that he will impress the need for such action upon other Government Departments?

Mr. Lang

I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I hope that he will be further reassured by the publication of the White Paper.

Ms. Clare Short

Does the Minister understand that we are getting a little tired of the fact that the argument that small businesses might find the regulations to be burdensome is being used as an excuse constantly to reduce safety standards in British industry? The protection against unfair dismissal has been reduced. The same applies to maternity leave. The Wages Bill was introduced on the excuse that it was in the interests of small businesses, and it is now suggested that we should riot have proper health and safety standards. Good, small businesses do not want all of that. They want proper regulations imposed on all businesses so that good businesses are not undermined by the bad.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Lady is quite wrong. Small firms welcome the simplification that will be proposed in the report. I think the hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that the report commends the Government's decision to repeal restrictive legislation on the working hours of women.

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