HC Deb 11 April 1989 vol 150 cc797-836 7.15 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House, alarmed that the number of fatal and major accidents on building sites is up by two-thirds since 1981, and noting the Government's responsibility in encouraging relentless commercial pressures whilst at the same time failing to enforce safety standards, fully supports the efforts of workers and trade unions in the industry to press for higher health and safety standards; and calls upon the Government to increase inspection, improve site management and enforce tougher penalties that counter effectively profit pressures and managerial negligence.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Meacher

The Opposition have chosen to debate safety in the construction industry because it represents a microcosm of the rising toll of preventable carnage that has affected all our industries over the last 10 years. The facts are not in dispute. Last year 157 building workers were killed on site, nearly one quarter of them in London alone. The number of fatal and major accidents is up by no less than two thirds on 1981, and on average a construction worker is killed or seriously injured every hour and less serious accidents occur every two minutes. Those are Government figures. They are shocking enough, but, by concentrating on the immediate causes of fatal and major accidents, even those figures ignore the far greater number of construction-related deaths, as many as 4,000 a year, caused later by bronchitis, cancer and other diseases of dust and lousy working conditions.

The Health and Safety Executive lays the blame for all this with the employers. According to "Blackspot Construction", the publication of the Health and Safety Executive in June last year, 90 per cent. of deaths on building sites could have been prevented, and at least 70 per cent. were directly due to the negligence of management. The Government accept no responsibility. With regard to building sites, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State told the House earlier this year, with mind-blowing complacency, that he was confident the law is already being enforced stringently."— [Official Report, 17 January 1989; Vol. 145, c. 168.]

Let us consider the facts. There are only 85 construction inspectors for the entire country. In London there are only 12 who have to cover 200,000 building sites, so that each inspector is responsible for 17,000 building sites. If that is what the Under-Secretary calls stringent enforcement of the law, let us compare it with the near doubling of the number of social security fraud inspectors by the Government. If only the Government were as anxious to stop death and serious injury in the workplace as they are to stop benefit fraud, we would not have half the number of accidents.

How can the Minister seriously claim that the law is being enforced stringently when in London last year there were 36 deaths on construction sites and 413 major injuries, but there were only 18 prosecutions? The average fine was a piffling £1,050, scarcely even pocket money for some major construction firms. How is the law being enforced stringently when no action was taken on more than half the sites where a death or major injury occurred?

In their amendment the Government have found only two measures which they have taken to halt the rising toll of death and serious injury and those are enforcement blitzes and publicity campaigns—[Interruption.] I am surprised that Conservative Members are so disinterested in this subject and the rising roll call of death that they find it amusing to talk of other matters when this high level of carnage is happening in the industry as a result of the Government's omissions.

Clearly the news has not trickled through to the Secretary of State for Employment that enforcement blitzes and publicity campaigns have been dismissed as inadequate by the Health and Safety Executive. The HSE notes about publicity that there was no improvement in site safety where the agent or supervisor knew of the blitz campaign compared with where they did not. The HSE also refuted the Secretary of State's claims in the Government's amendment by concluding: Clearly even a high level of publicity does not on its own achieve improved safety on sites. We await further proposals from the Government about these problems, but so far they have produced none.

The Government fair no better with their blitz campaigns. The HSE found that there was no significant reduction in death and serious injury on construction sites during the campaigns. That is a pretty sobering conclusion. The HSE also found that the issuing of prohibition notices during the two years of blitzes also revealed no significant improvement in site safety. That is not the Labour party view; it is the view of the HSE. So much for the way in which the Government hyped the blitzes as a great success.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

With regard to publicity and the Government taking these matters seriously, the Government do not even appear to be taking this debate seriously, because the Secretary of State for Employment is not going to answer these very important points about safety on construction sites. He is too busy creating mayhem in the docks.

Mr. Meacher

Anyone watching our proceedings and seeing that there are only seven or eight Conservative Back Benchers here, compared with many more Labour Members, will draw the right conclusion about the importance which the Government attach to health and safety. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) is aware, when the Secretary of State for Employment made his statement about the dock labour scheme the Conservative Benches were full to brimming because the Conservatives want confrontation. They are not interested in health and safety.

There would be a real difference in the position if there were proper deterrent penalties. However, the Secretary of State will not impose such penalties. On 6 January The Independent reported: Mr. Fowler does not support calls for top company personnel to be jailed where health and safety has been flouted. He hoped safety breaches would be taken 'very seriously indeed' by the courts even though he knows that there is abundant evidence that that will not happen. The Independent continued quoting the Secretary of State, who said: I do not think we should go to the lengths of sending, people to prison. Perhaps we should not go to the lengths of sending people to their deaths on manifestly unsafe building sites. The Independent continued: His department was 'looking at' the use of television to advertise the safety message. The medium has been heavily used to promote Government training schemes. That is certainly true. Obviously the Secretary of State can find £4 million to revive his flagging employment training programme, but that only involves taking people off the unemployment register. When it comes to paying for media coverage to save people's lives, the Secretary of State is only "looking at" the matter. What a stark difference.

Our case is not just that the Government's record on health and safety in the construction industry is limp and feeble, even though it certainly is; it is much more serious than that. In their amendment, the Government conveniently place all the blame on employers and others on site; Our central contention is that the Government have wilfully generated a commercial climate in which employers are forced to make a choice between getting business and safety, and workers are forced to make a choice between keeping their jobs and safety—[Interruption.] I am glad that the Secretary of State for Employment has finally decided to join us. However, we are disappointed to learn that he does not regard health and safety as sufficiently important to address the House and has delegated this task to his junior.

By encouraging a climate of unrelenting commercial pressure while failing to enforce safety standards, the Government have undermined 100 times over such small health and safety intitiatives as they have taken. The climate of intensified competition, of reduced contract times and heavy penalty clauses for delay have helped to squeeze health and safety out of money contracts.

Mr. Len Dodds, the chief safety adviser to Balfour Beatty, one of our major construction firms, has said: It does appear that to obtain a satisfactory safety performance on major construction projects a minimum figure of between 6–7 per cent. of total labour costs should be allowed … Responsible contracting companies have been seriously disadvantaged by the cowboy element in our industry under-cutting prices, which inevitably means ignoring safety provisions. In other words, the untrammelled commercial pressures unleashed by the Government, combined with their abject failure to enforce proper safety standards, have, according to a senior construction executive, caused the safety margin to be squeezed out. That is the essence of our charge against the Government.

There is an estimated £12 billion worth of building work going on at present in London and the south-east, a much higher level than for many years. Clients are taking advantage of the current no holds barred business climate to demand completion from contractors in record time. However, at the same time, more building workers are self-employed and at the mercy of the casualisation of the industry which has created a huge hire and fire labour turnover.

The truth is not the Government's facile view about the causes of the rising level of accidents. The root of the worsening record of the construction industry lies in the lack of training. In the White Paper published last November the Government are once again reviving the proposal to end the construction industry training board. The roots of the problem lie with the failure to enforce current safety legislation, the increase in casual labour, the decline in union membership, which the Government have done their best to encourage, the increasing fragmentation of the industry and the growth in sub-contracting.

The Secretary of State's response to all that has been pitifully narrow minded. The Government are planning to make the wearing of hard hats compulsory on construction sites. That response was given on 17 January. No one would disagree with that; it should have been done many years ago. However, it completely misses the point about the wider structural causes of the rising toll of death and serious injury. The Government's only concession is contained in the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), on 17 January when he said: Health and Safety Executive inspectors will also be paying more attention to the quality of site management and its ability to manage health and safety."—[Official Report, 17 January 1989; Vol. 145, c. 147.] That is a noticeably vague statement. What he does not say is how that is to have any cutting edge when each inspector in London has to deal with 17,000 building sites apiece.

I want to make it clear to the House that the Labour party gives a far higher priority to health and safety than do the Thatcherite Government with their unfettered commercialism. I want to spell out briefly a seven-point programme which would transform the appalling safety record which the Secretary of State's current laxity has produced.

First, we will bring forward a charter for employees which will give equal status to all workers, part time as well as full time, which cannot be signed away on the demand of an employer for a new contract or, as with the lump, ignored because there is no contract. Under our proposals, all workers currently employed as lump labour will be covered by basic rights on pay, conditions of work, employment practices and health and safety. In effect, the lump will no longer exist and one of the fundamental causes of the worsening accident record in construction will be removed.

Secondly, we will increase the number and the role of the inspectorate and union safety representatives. On larger sites safety representatives should be full time. If convenors are in larger firms, why not safety representatives on larger sites? We shall also introduce the important concept of roving safety representatives who will have the right to inspect any site in their area either at their own instigation or on the invitation of those who work on that site. For the first time, that will give a measure of safety to building workers who believe that their lives are being put at risk by dangerous working conditions.

Thirdly, we will outlaw blacklisting. According to the booklet entitled "Against Democracy: the True Story of the Economic League", which was published last year, Service Group companies, contruction's self-sufficient organisation within the Economic League, just call people 'troublemakers' … blacklisting on grounds of health and safety activity is the most common thing. Instead of that disgraceful state of affairs where people are victimised simply because they complain about inadequate health and safety provision, we shall guarantee the right of individual workers to be represented by trade unions on a number of issues, including health and safety.

Fourthly, we will use contract compliance to ensure that at least minimum health and safety standards are always adhered to in the awarding of Government contracts and, indeed, on all public contracts which involve public expenditure.

Fifthly, we will make it clear that responsibility for site safety is placed squarely on the main contractor, whatever the management arrangements on a particular site. That is of great importance because it effectively remedies the present dissipation of control and responsibility where there is a series of sub-contractors. The Health and Safety Executive regards that as one of the major causes of rising accidents.

That also provides an answer to something that the Secretary of State should be considering—the alarming finding by the Health and Safety Executive that on one in every five sites visited there was no site agent and no supervisor available. Our measure would provide an answer to that by squarely putting the responsibility where it should lie—on the client and the main contractor.

Sixthly, we shall see that the Health and Safety Commission takes a stronger line. I know from my contacts that many inspectors would wish it so to do. We shall require the commission to record its decisions and to make them publicly available in order to discourage employer representatives from seeking to veto safety initiatives. We shall also encourage the executive to prosecute senior management under its powers under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to appeal against light sentences—the Government are perfectly prepared to do that in other cases, so why not for health and safety?—and to invite the police to make manslaughter charges in cases of gross neglect.

Seventhly, penalties for negligence that causes death or serious injury must be tough enough to counter powerful commercial pressures, as I have outlined. At present, fines are laughable, if not insulting to the families of those who die or who are maimed. For example, Balfour Beatty, whose pre-tax profits for 1987 were £130 million, was fined just £2,700 after being found criminally guilty of three health and safety offences on three occasions during 1986. That is rather like using a nut to crack a sledgehammer. Such fines are pathetic and inadequate.

The horrific level of deaths and maimings at work will be reversed only by making negligent management liable to hefty gaol sentences. Dangerous driving that kills is subject to the punishment of a gaol sentence and dangerous management in the workplace that kills should be similarly punished, as it is already in the United States, Italy and Sweden.

We agree with Dr. John Cullen, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, who last month said: I believe that there have been circumstances where employers should have been jailed … I think that a jail sentence would help concentrate the minds of employers who might not be carrying out their duties under health and safety laws.

Only the Secretary of State is ready to send people to prison for benefit fraud, but not employers who cause other people's death at work.

We have a programme to match our determined commitment to higher health and safety standards. It represents a huge advance on the facile and cosmetic approach of the Government who, whenever there is a choice, put profit above safety every time. We may well make life harder for negligent employers—a few famous collars in jug would work wonders for health and safety —but it would be a small price to pay for safeguarding the lives and limbs of millions of our working people.

7.37 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: deploring the high accident rate on construction sites and noting that 90 per cent. of construction accidents are preventable, recognises that the prime responsibility for safety lies with employers and others on site; acknowledges the vigorous action which the Health and Safety Commission and Executive have taken through enforcement blitzes and publicity campaigns on construction safety; and welcomes the increased provision which the Government has made available to the Health and Safety Executive thereby enabling the Executive to increase the number of inspectors employed on construction work.'.

It may surprise the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to learn that I very much welcome the debate and the opportunity that it gives to draw attention to the dangers of the construction industry and what is being done about it, but I deplore the hon. Gentleman's efforts to twist those dangers into political point scoring. The hon. Gentleman is hopelessly over the top in his political invective. We are used to that. It is so normal that I was able to write that firmly into my speech without even listening to him. As usual, it damages his case—which I do not mind—but today it also damages the message that should go out from the House which should be one of clear and universal support for. the Health and Safety Commission and Executive in what they are doing to reduce the carnage in the construction industry.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, for more than 15 years we have had a health and safety regime, run by the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. Parliament made the HSC the primary body in health and safety, recommending legislation and enforcing the laws we pass. The HSC's work, quite rightly, is based on elaborate consultation, and it has a whole family of committees, both technical and consultative. The HSC and those committees have on them representatives of trade unions as well as employers and others. It is very important that the HSC and HSE have the backing not only of Ministers—which they have, in full—but of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.

The consultative procedure is sometimes slow but it delivers wide support for the measures that it produces, and that is valuable. Opposition Members should welcome that and support the HSC if they value it, because consultation is an essential prerequisite of safety at work on construction sites and elsewhere. It is the people on site —management and employees—who can do most to improve safety. However, there is no doubt that it needs improving.

There are too many accidents and deaths on construction sites. As the hon. Gentleman said, in 1987–88 there were 157 deaths—about one in three of work-related fatalities—and many more accidents resulting in injuries. Some were serious while others, thankfully, were less so. That adds up to waste, inefficiency and lost time. More importantly, it adds up to a catalogue of pain, suffering and grief.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

At least the Minister has got the order right, for a Conservative.

Mr. Cope

More importantly, everyone concerned must recognise that construction and demolition work is inherently dangerous. A building site is essentially a temporary workplace. Its condition, by definition, changes day by day, with different tradesmen arriving at the site and leaving it daily. It has a changing population and changing conditions to a much greater extent than does a factory or other fixed site. However, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West also said very fairly, many of the 157 deaths were avoidable. Last year's report by the Health and Safety Executive, "Blackspot Construction", from which the hon. Gentleman quoted, showed that about 90 per cent. of fatal accidents are preventable. if basic precautions had been taken and common sense prevailed, perhaps 140 of those 157 people would still be alive today.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West tried to make political capital out of all that, but he knows as well as I do that the figures for major accidents are affected by improvements in reporting requirements introduced at the suggestion of the HSC and approved by the House. However, the figures for fatal accidents are much clearer. The average number of deaths in construction is down under this Government by comparison with the last Labour Government. I do not crow about that, because I want the figure to be lower. Nevertheless, it was a bad political point for the hon. Gentleman to make. That is also true of his remarks about inspectors. In 1979, 86 inspectors were engaged on construction work. I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman intended to mislead the House, but he did so—for today there are 99 inspectors, representing a 15 per cent. increase. It is for the HSE and HSC, not Ministers, to decide on the number of inspectors required for that work.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Does the Minister condone the fact that the Government fund six times as many dole snoopers in London as they do factory inspectors? Where do the Government's priorities lie?

Mr. Cope

The hon. Member can always be relied upon to introduce a red herring into the debate, and he has done so on this occasion.

The long-term drop in accidents is welcome, but it is not enough.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

I am sure that the Minister does not intend to mislead the House, but although it is true that inspectors have been moved from other duties to construction work, it is also true that for four years under the present Government the recruitment of factory inspectors was stopped, and there are fewer inspectors today than there were 10 years ago. More inspectors may have been moved to construction, but the Minister knows that no inspectors were recruited for four years and that their number was cut. If I catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall give the House the relevant figures.

Mr. Cope

The hon. Gentleman can give the House those figures, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is true that the number of factory inspectors is lower than it was 10 years ago, but it is also true that the figure is rising. It is true also that the shadow Cabinet, in its wisdom, presumably advised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, chose to debate construction safety, where the number of inspectors has increased by 15 per cent. and where the average number of deaths under a Conservative Government has been fewer than under Labour. That was the Opposition's choice, not ours, and that is the basis of the debate.

The reduction in the number of fatal construction accidents is welcome, but it is not enough. The most important finding of the studies mentioned is that 90 per cent. of fatal accidents examined were avoidable. The hon. Gentleman may pour cold water on this, but we believe that the first essential is to make people aware of the dangers and of how to avoid them. That is why we encouraged the excellent new literature produced by the HSC and HSE. It is well produced and covers every level. Some of it is highly technical, and some of it popular in format. All of it is valuable in increasing awareness, and so are the specific campaigns—the "blitzes"—run by the inspectorate. Also valuable were the special visits paid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to construction sites, to draw the attention of the media to the necessity for safety. So is the special book for small firms that I had the honour to launch a couple of months ago jointly with John Banham of the Confederation of British Industry and Norman Willis of the Trades Union Congress. We want the message to go out loud and clear that 90 per cent. of fatal construction accidents are preventable.

Awareness alone is not enough. Training is also important, and that is why I welcome the emphasis placed by the construction industry training board, big companies and large sections of the industry on training. As it happens, today sees the launch of a new initiative by the Open College and the CITB. The House will be aware of the renewed support for the Open College that I announced recently. Today, it announced two new courses, "A Site more Safe" and "A Site Better Off-. They are both multimedia courses that make use of audio and video tapes as well as an associated television series that will be broadcast on Channel 4 from 20 April. Open learning is particularly suitable given the irregular lifestyle of those working in the construction industry, and I am sure that those new courses will be very valuable.

For those who do not get the message, there remains the force of the law. The key power of construction inspectors —the difference between them and other safety experts —lies in their enforcement powers. During their construction blitz, inspectors issued more than 2,000 prohibition notices. Such notices are important and can prove expensive for the employers concerned.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Does the Minister acknowledge how important it is that employees receive information about site safety? But how will the Minister deal with the problem that when workers make complaints they are placed on a blacklist?

Mr. Cope

If the hon. Gentleman can produce evidence of people being blacklisted for reasons connected with safety, I shall certainly look into it. So far, I have seen no such evidence.

In 1987–88, 2,874 prohibition notices were issued in construction. I remarked that they can prove expensive for the employers concerned. They are also immediate in their effect. They can be used immediately to close down whatever piece of machinery or section of the site against which the notice has been issued. That can close a whole construction site for one day or for several days, while the matter is put right. That can prove extremely expensive for the employer, and it should not be sneezed at as a quick, direct and forceful method of imposing site safety.

There were also 610 prosecutions last year in the construction industry, which is a considerable increase. The publicity for convictions is considerable and the fine is not always the end of the matter because civil proceedings often follow. Nor should any manager or supervisor imagine that the fine will apply only to the company. A fortnight ago, in north Wales, there was a court case following a fatal accident at a steel erection site. The site agent and the senior foreman were each fined £2,000, as well as a fine being imposed on the company.

The levels of fines imposed are a matter for the courts in individual cases, but anyone who thinks that his company can afford a fine, and does not need to bother about it, should remember two factors. First, BP was recently fined £500,000 and £250,000 on the same day—it was not for a construction accident but the law was the same. That is the highest fine so far imposed, but it does not mean that higher fines will not be imposed in other cases. Secondly, there is clear evidence that safe sites are profitable sites. That is not a matter for speculation but a demonstrable phenomenon.

The specific regulations on construction under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 are considerable.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Is it not true that, in this country, no employer who has been found guilty of negligence that has caused a fatal accident on a building site has ever been imprisoned for criminal negligence? Should not such employers be sentenced? If it is their fault that a worker dies, is it not true that only imprisonment will make them take the matter seriously? When great profits are at stake, fines of £400, or even £2,000, will not improve the position.

Mr. Cope

I was drawing attention to a fine of £750,000. However, suspended prison sentences have been passed in the past and may well be passed in the future. That is a matter for the courts.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister has mentioned a variety of sums. Does he know from his own experience and knowledge whether one can insure against such fines? Does he favour legislation to ensure that one could not insure against such fines?

Mr. Cope

I cannot give an authoritative answer about whether the fines are insurable, although I doubt it. I shall certainly look into the matter and, if possible, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will respond to that point.

There are many specific regulations on construction under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, as well as the broad and effective provisions of the Act itself. However, the HSC and the HSE are working up new regulations—a fact which, I was glad to see, had penetrated the mind of the hon. Member for Oldham, West—which will take account of modern conditions and fill some gaps where the present law is less demanding than it should be.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to the compulsory wearing of safety helmets. We have received prospective regulations from the Health and Safety Commission and shall soon lay them before the House for the House to decide on them. Those regulations would make it compulsory to wear safety helmets on construction sites.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I have had correspondence with the Minister concerning Sikhs in rife building industry. The legislation would affect a devout Sikh, although not one who has given up the turban wearing with the long hair on top—which, I should say to the Minister, is to be recommended as a measure of safety if hair can be grown on top. I successfully introduced a Bill on turbans, helmets and motor cycling. The House took the view that it was right to make a religious exemption for turbaned Sikhs. Therefore, I hope that the House will support such an exemption in a measure that applies to building sites because turbaned Sikhs would have to leave the building industry if the legislation were enforced universally. If necessary, I shall be happy to provide such

Mr. Cope

No doubt we shall come to that debate at some point. The Health and Safety Commission, which considered the matter and had public consultation on it, recommended that there should be no exception for turbaned Sikhs. However, we are considering that matter, as, no doubt, the House will wish to do in due course. I am conscious—as are others—of the Bill relating to motor cycles that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) successfully introduced in Parliament.

With regard to hair on top of the head, I do not think that I am doing any better than the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall, but if he has any suggestions to improve my state I shall consider them carefully.

The regulations involving safety helmets are not the only ones coming forward. Other regulations are also being developed by the commission and the executive—the right place for them to be developed—with the active co-operation of trade unions, employers and others involved in the Health and Safety Commission and the consultative process. Those in the pipeline include regulations to require more short-term but high-risk activities to be notified to the inspectorate. At the moment, the inspectorate must be notified if sites are likely to last longer than six weeks—the length of time is one measure of the importance of the site, but certain high-risk activities may last less than six weeks.

Other regulations are being considered to extend the requirement for safety supervisors to smaller companies —at present the number of employees is 20. Regulations are also proposed to provide for better management, and co-ordination on multi-contractor sites, bringing up to date 25-year-old regulations—the hon. Member for Oldham, West picked up this point from the HSC and the HSE.

Each of those proposals will be an important step forward. I understand that the Health and Safety Commission hopes to bring them forward later this year with a view to making the regulations in the course of the next year.

Some attention has recently been drawn to safety on the youth training scheme. About 66,000 young people are on the YTS in the construction industry, 37,000 of them on construction industry training board schemes. I have already explained that construction work is more dangerous than other work. That is also true of construction work done by young people on the YTS as compared with other trainees. Our evidence—which is not conclusive—suggests that youth trainees are less at risk than older construction workers. However, that is no reason for complacency; the accident rate is still too high. Tragically, there was one fatality last year involving a 17-year-old electrical trainee who fell from a ladder. I am glad to say that there were no fatalities in 1987 and there have been none so far this year.

As the House knows, we have been re-examining arrangements for ensuring health and safety on the YTS. The basic arrangements are sound. Trainees, like employees, have all the legal protection of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Every trainee receives advice and instruction on health and safety matters and they have full insurance. The providers of training—the managing agents—must have effective safety arrangements in order to be awarded a YTS contract. Under the terms of that contract, managing agents must exercise a duty of care towards all their trainees and ensure that training takes place only in premises which have been notified to the Health and Safety Executive or equivalent authorities. They are also contractually obliged to ensure that work experience providers and shop floor training supervisors share in the duty of care, are fully informed of their responsibilities and carry them out conscientiously.

YTS providers are monitored by trained staff of the Training Agency and receive extensive guidance on health and safety. At regional level, its monitoring is overseen by professionally qualified health and safety experts, some of whom are former factory inspectors. Nevertheless, we have decided to institute practical steps to improve awareness and understanding of these important matters and to tighten controls on the providers of training and work experience.

The Training Agency is issuing additional new and improved health and safety guidance, in particular a document entitled "A Good Start to Assessing Placement Safety", for wide distribution to training providers and others. It complements the existing range of documentation. My copy is hot off the press and rather exclusive, but the bulk order will be delivered in the next few days and I shall place copies in the Library.

The Training Agency is making stronger provision in the standard YTS training proposal, which becomes part of the contract if the proposal is accepted, to ensure that each YTS training provider states its monitoring policy clearly in advance. It specifically identifies and monitors agreements that prohibit use of machines or locations by YTS trainees. We are inviting the Health and Safety Executive and other independent experts to examine YTS health and safety arrangements and documentation and to advise us on further improvements.

We are commissioning from independent experts a new study of YTS accidents between April 1986 and March 1989. It follows earlier studies of accidents to young trainees commissioned from consultants at Aston university, which were published in 1985 and 1987. We hope that it will be completed about the turn of the year, and it will of course be published.

Taken together, those measures will strengthen the safety regime in YTS, including the construction industry, but I must stress that the primary legal and moral responsibility remains with managing agents and those in charge of young trainees. We will not give YTS contracts to those who do not have proper safety arrangements. We withdraw the contracts of those who are not carrying out their responsibilities properly. YTS managing agents and training providers are just as liable as employers to prosecution, notices and civil liability when things go wrong.

For safety, Acts, regulations made under them, guidance, inspectors and courts are important, but not as important as the man or woman on the site. Construction is inherently dangerous, but the majority of accidents are avoidable, and that is the message that we must send out. They arise from carelessness, thoughtlessness, lack of planning and lack of attention to equipment. In a moment, a human life can be lost or blighted by disablement. Once that has happened, nothing can restore the position; no fine or inspector can recompense the family. Hon. Members should not trade politics but should back the Health and Safety Commission and its allies.

8.3 pm

Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

The Minister, as so often in the past, made a statement that I have heard from different people in the construction industry—that the fault for the poor safety record lies with the worker.

Mr. Cope

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman so soon. I said not the worker only, but those on site—it is both.

Mr. Heffer

I assume that most of the people on site are workers, whether they are managerial workers or people doing physical work.

For years, workers in the construction industry have taken risks. Some have been tempted by bonus schemes to cut corners. To earn a little more money in relation to lump labour, some workers have taken risks, sometimes with horrible results. It would be wrong for me to say otherwise. I know the construction industry because I was a carpenter and joiner for many years before I became a Member of Parliament. I do not deny for one moment that some workers will take risks, but those risks arise from the nature and character of an industry in which profits are put before the interests of workers. It comes down to profits being made at the expense of safety. If a mistake is made by a worker, which does not happen often because he will suffer as a result, it is because he is cutting corners because the employer wants to make extra profit by finishing the job more quickly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made an excellent speech, making seven good points on behalf of the Labour party to which I am sure that workers in the industry and trade unions will respond and which give us a positive campaign for which we can fight.

The Minister said that he welcomed the debate. I find that strange. He will remember that I tabled an early-day motion which attracted about 240 signatures—probably the largest number of supporters for such a motion—from hon. Members of all political parties, including two Conservative Members. If the Government thought that their position was so strong and that they had a story to tell, why did not the Leader of the House, whom I asked every Thursday for a debate, rush forward and say, "We have a great story to tell, so we shall have a debate at the earliest possible opportunity"? On every occasion, I was told, "You cannot have a debate next week, but we shall look into it." We never got round to having a debate, and we are having one this evening only because my right hon. and hon. Friends in the shadow Cabinet have decided to have one on this important issue in Opposition time. I am delighted that the motion is not dissimilar to the one that I tabled.

Safety in the construction industry has always been a problem. I can testify that it is a dangerous industry because I worked in it for many years. The issue of health and safety in the industry is of great importance, to such an extent that workers in the London area, though members of trade unions, have got together with the local authority and ordinary people to launch a construction safety campaign. One of the points they make in their document is "Your health, their wealth", the very point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and myself—that it is a case of profits before the interests of the people.

What is so tragic is that a worker in the construction industry—it may be a woman nowadays—can leave home in the morning perfectly healthy and not come home because he or she has been killed or maimed. That is a horrible tragedy. It is something that Members of Parliament do not experience—if they do not get home it may be due to a heart attack or the like, but it would not be because of the work that they do here; it would not be because the employer had failed to comply with safety regulations and had put profits before the interests of his work force. Yet that is what happens daily in the construction industry.

The Government amendment rightly says that 90 per cent. of construction accidents are preventable, and that prime responsibility lies with employers. This was pointed out in the early-day motion and in the Opposition motion today. All too often construction workers die or are maimed due to lack of responsibility on the part of the employer. It is therefore right to say that the Government are responsible, by encouraging relentless commercial pressures and at the same time failing to enforce safety standards.

The point is emphasised in the introduction of the Health and Safety Executive document, "Blackspot Construction", published in 1988, which begins by saying: During the five year period 1981 to 1985, 739 people were killed by the construction industry. Five hundred and sixty one were employees; 120 were self-employed; 47 were members of the public—including 21 children. The next point is very important: Death comes to construction sites all too often. The industry is among the most dangerous of all industries in the post war period and the post war period of improvement in the annual toll of death has, in recent years, come to an end. If the improvement has come to an end in recent years, that means in the years of the Tory Government. So when the Minister of State claims that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West is making political points he is suggesting that his own document is making political points. In fact, this is reality.

The document goes on: This and the rising trend in the numbers of serious injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 1981–85 has prompted increasing concern in the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and its construction industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC).

Many of the workers killed and maimed in the industry are highly skilled. It is interesting to note that 49 people of managerial and professional status were killed in that period; in my own trade, 37 carpenters and joiners; 19 bricklayers; 13 plumbers and glaziers, and so on. It is riot just the labourer digging holes who is affected.

Hon. Members have seen the television programme showing a woman inspector going around various sites. She stopped work at a particular site and had only been off the site for a few moments when they started work again, with the employer telling them they were either back at work or sacked because it was easy to replace them. The inspector had to go back and stop the work again. That was a recent television programme showing what actually goes on in the industry in London.

The situation has not improved since 1985; in fact, it has got worse. In 1977 the number of fatal accidents was 130. The Minister is trying to make out how much better it is now. In 1977 the number of employees in the industry was 1,167,000; in 1987 the number of fatal accidents was 100, but the number of employees in the industry at that time was 984,000–183,000 fewer. If there has been a certain fall-off in the rate of accidents, there has also been a fall-off at certain times in the number of workers in the industry. It is very interesting that the number of self-employed has gone up, with lump labour in particular. In 1981, 11 self-employed workers met with fatal accidents, and there were 40 major injuries. In 1987, 41 self-employed workers were fatally injured and 450 suffered major injuries. In 1981 there were 388,000 self-employed and in 1987 542,000, so it is clear that there is a correlation between the number of self-employed and the number of fatal accidents.

On 1 January 1979, 86 factory inspectors were employed in construction. According to Government figures given to me by the Library of the House, on 1 September 1987 there were 75. To be fair, in addition to the 75 experienced inspectors in 1987, there were a further 17 qualified inspectors. This total of 92 qualified inspectors compares with a total of 90 at the beginning of this year—a number which is unlikely to have changed by September 1989, when the recent public expenditure White Paper envisages that there will also be 90 trained inspectors. It is intended that there will be 100 such inspectors by 1990, but even with those numbers, how on earth are they dealing with the real situation? It is high time that the number of inspectors in the construction industry was doubled. We need not the 100 that the Minister boasts that we shall get but at least 200. Even that would not be enough, but it would be a great improvement on what we have now. Despite the safety blitz, whole sections of the construction industry are without safety supervision. Where trade unions are weak on a site, the employers get away with murder.

More than 2,000 dangerous sites were shut down by factory inspectors during the safety blitz. More than 10,000 contractors on 8,272 sites were inspected. Yet during the year of the blitz, which ended in March 1988, 157 people were killed—including 16 members of the public—and 21,000 people were injured. In London there were 38 deaths. Yet the average fine imposed on the 47 companies brought to court was £837. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West said, that is a joke. When will real penalties be imposed? When will people who are criminally negligent be put in prison?

If the Government are so keen to deal with safety in the construction industry, when do they intend to introduce legislation? They are keen to introduce, out of the blue, legislation that affects dock workers. How much better it would be if dockers did not have to consider taking strike action. Instead, we ought to have been welcoming Government action to eliminate death and injury in the construction industry.

The general secretary of my union, Mr. Albert Williams, was right to declare that death caused by employers' neglect should be an indictable offence and that there should be prosecution for corporate manslaughter, but it is cheaper for employers to take the risk of being fined than to pay for the introduction of proper safety standards.

We need far more health and safety inspectors. There should be an elected health and safety representative at every workplace. My trade union is the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. I am proud to say that I have now served for 50 years in that union, beginning in the old Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, which then merged with UCATT. The former regional secretary of the Merseyside branch of the ASW argued that every member must be his own safety officer, and I agree—where there are good, organised trade union jobs there is collective power to enforce the regulations—but the unions are becoming increasingly weak in certain areas because of the growth of lump labour and individualism. Workers are therefore unable to enforce safety regulations, as they can if there is a good trade union organisation. That is one of the problems in the construction industry.

UCATT is conducting a safe site campaign and has produced an excellent document. [Interruption.] Do you mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker? If I speak for half an hour, that is a matter for me, not for you. With all due respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, even if I have been speaking for 20 minutes, I am entitled to do so. I do not intend to speak for much longer, but it is not your job to mention to the Whip that I ought to be thinking of sitting down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The hon. Gentleman has been called early in the debate. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak and time is getting very short.

Mr. Heffer

I will reply to that by telling you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I tabled a motion that carried the names of 240 hon. Members. The debate has arisen from the desire of those who supported the motion that it should take place. I am ending my speech by referring to what my union is doing. It is important that the House of Commons and the country should know that if employers conducted themselves as my trade union conducts itself and as the workers in the industry conduct themselves, there would be fewer accidents and deaths. There would be a little less profit, but that would benefit the workers in the construction industry.

It is not just a question of the safety regulations. There is the question of chemicals, asbestos and wood preservatives on site, and also the problem of noise and the handling of loads. Those issues cannot be brushed aside lightly. More deaths and injuries are caused to workers in the construction industry because of the materials that they work with than happens in any other industry. I make no apology for speaking at length on the issue. It is dear to my heart and to the hearts of many other people. I am part of that industry, even though I have been a Member of Parliament for 25 years. I have fought for a hell of a long time to get the House to discuss safety in the construction industry and I make no apologies for having spoken at length on the subject.

When I was an apprentice, conditions in the industry were little different from those described in "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists". Despite all the technology and the health and safety regulations, when I go on to some sites today I think that conditions there have returned to those described in that book. It is time that the people of this country did something positive about that. That is why I welcome the debate. I hope that the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West will be carried.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House once more that time is very limited. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak. I hope that those who are called will be fair to the others by making brief speeches.

8.28 pm
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on his 50 years in his union, but he attached great blame to employers and at times to the self-employed. I was disappointed that he did not point out that there is a great need for good training and safety standards to be inculcated at an early stage. I understand that 107 deaths were due to industrial accidents in 1988. Half those tragic deaths were of people who had been working on site for less than one week, which makes it much worse. It also emphasises the critical need for training at an early stage.

The seven-point plan proposed by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is a march back to the over-regulated 1960s and apparently proposes controls and burdens on businesses. Surely that is not the way forward. We need higher standards, but we will not achieve them by imposing burdens that have not been properly thought through or considered. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about higher fines. It is easy to be simplistic and consider only the fine for a criminal offence. Any firm that is negligent is liable to massive damages in the civil court. I could reel off a number of cases in which firms have had to pay damages well in excess of £250,000 when someone has suffered death or serious injury, and that must not be overlooked. I also agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West about the responsibility of a main contractor. That must also be considered extremely carefully.

I shall confine my remarks to the construction industry training board which is based in my constituency, as the Under-Secretary of State knows because he has been there. It is a centre of excellence and has a profound effect on my constituency. It is located not in a town but in a rural area and employs about 500 people. At least 10 villages are largely dependent on the CITB for their entire economy. Its impact locally is quite enormous, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is well aware. Since the centre was opened, 95,000 adults have been trained. It trains 5,000 people a year on 50 different courses. This year the CITB is responsible for 35,000 YTS places.

Paragraph 4.24 of the White Paper on training criticised the failure of industrial training boards to make a significant impact on training generally, but that does not apply to the CITB, given its record in training over the years, its standards of excellence and the emphasis it places on safety right down the line. I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State mentioned today's initiative. "A Site More Safe" which is being launched by the CITB in conjunction with the Open College and Channel 4 and is aimed at those on the sites who are responsible for site safety—the foremen and the managers. That is why it is an important initiative. I shall not elaborate further, but the CITB is constantly producing more initiatives to improve safety standards. It is aware of the need to reduce the number of deaths and injuries. It is rising to that challenge through its training infrastructure.

The White Paper contains an intention to move the ITBs to a non-statutory training organisation basis. However, the construction industry differs from all other industries. It is unique. A vast number of businesses operate within it. Its work is largely cyclical and is often dominated by large projects such as the docklands and the Channel tunnel. The work force is highly mobile. As the hon. Member for Walton pointed out, the work shop is the site itself and that is why the industry cannot be considered in a ordinary way. Training must take place on site and if the work force is constantly moving on in different directions and different employers are poaching skilled workers and constantly looking for new staff for different sites the usual rules cannot apply to the construction industry.

If every employer contributes to a scheme and pays a levy the industry will be happy as it is at the moment. However, if only some employers contribute voluntarily, inevitably there will be a great deal of poaching. If some firms train staff and workers and pay the levy, when times become difficult they may not continue to do so. The arguments in favour of a statutory levy are extremely strong. If training moves on to an entirely voluntary basis, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said, when things are going well firms will continue to pay that levy. Certainly in a time of plenty and an economic boom which we are experiencing at the moment, firms would continue to pay, but if there were a downturn or another recession—and, as I said, the construction industry is cyclical by definition—I am convinced that firms will opt out of paying that levy and the entire infrastructure of the CITB would be under pressure and that would be high-risk tactics.

I accept that the CITB must make certain changes. It must do something about its deficit of £94 million. It proposes to reduce that deficit over five years to £25 million by charging the industry more. At present the industry pays nothing at all for the 35,000 YTS trainees. I believe that it will be fair for there to be some charge. There are other ways in which the CITB can raise money commercially. It will do that, and, furthermore, it will make it very clear to the Government, if it has not already done so, that it is quite prepared to take a smaller, reduced levy over a phased period. It can live with that, but an organisation that turns over £160 million and has such a training structure obviously cannot make changes too quickly. I would be the first person to say to the CITB that its whole bureaucracy is outdated and outmoded. It has a board of 30 people which meets three or four times a year and that structure is hardly conducive to good, streamlined, effective management. So I am pressing for structural changes to be made. However, I believe that the CITB can produce proposals that will satisfy the Minister and will be in keeping and in tune with the White Paper.

I must say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who is to reply to the debate that if the CITB has to cut its operations in west Norfolk the effect on local employment will be immediate and extremely serious. If we were talking about King's Lynn or Norwich the surplus employment could be taken up, but in rural villages where there are very few other jobs there is very little scope for alternative employment, especially when employment in agriculture is contracting. Obviously that is of tremendous importance to my constituency, particularly when the CITB has recently moved its headquarters to Norfolk. It was a major vote of confidence in a rural area and a rural constituency for a major organisation to move its headquarters into west Norfolk and employ 500 people. If the CITB has to cut back because the statutory levy is removed or confined to labour-only sub-contractors, inevitably there will be cuts in what the organisation offers at Bircham Newton and surely that would mean major cuts in safety standards.

If the Minister is serious about trying to reduce the figure of deaths and injuries which is far too high—there were 3,624 major injuries last year—there must be training at an early stage and those 5,000 adults a year must go through the CITB. Those adults do not all work on site. Many will be operating sophisticated plant. Many of them will be operating cranes, for example. Many will be scaffolders and steeplejacks. Those are the sorts of people who must have high-cost, highly sophisticated training, and if they do not get it at the CITB, or at Bircham Newton, it is unlikely that the firms will pay for it. In that case, this catalogue of statistics will get worse, not better.

I say to the Minister of State and to the Under-Secretary that the initiatives that the Government are coming up with are excellent. What they are doing to try to boost the Health and Safety Executive is to be applauded, but I urge them to look very carefully before making any major changes in the statutory levy. That could mean only one thing: perhaps not immediately, but over a period of years, the industry would pay less for training, and in due course a centre of excellence in my constituency would decline. That would have a devastating effect on safety and on the people about whom we care most—those working in the industry. We want to get the casualty figures down, and the only way of doing so is by continuing with the CITB. I urge my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to do that. I hope that he will take my suggestion on board.

8.41 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I will not follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) into a consideration of the merits and demerits of the construction industry training board, whose ability to deliver its service to a constituency a s remote as mine is somewhat incidental. However, I cannot help observing in passing that the hon. Member said that if the board were to play a lesser part, private employers would be likely to spend money on training. That does not seem a very great vote of confidence in the Government's proposals to put a greater burden of responsibility for training on the private sector.

As to the issue that is actually before the House in this debate, I do not think that there is any dispute about the fact that there is a serious problem and that this is a matter of considerable concern. That, I think, is common ground in all parts of the House. The fact that early-day motion 241 in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has attracted so many signatures is indicative of the level of concern that this issue has raised. Quite honestly, I do not think that it matters whether the deaths have occurred under a Labour Administration or a Tory Administration. They are deaths, the number is far too high, and it is in the interests of every hon. Member to find ways of reducing it.

It is not entirely clear to me whether the figures that have been mentioned include deaths and injuries resulting from contact with dangerous substances and noise. I noted that last month Mr. John Cullen, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, indicated that far more workers on construction sites are injured or killed as a result of contact with such substances or noise than as a result of accidents. The hon. Member for Walton raised that question. Clearly it is an important issue, and we shall be interested to know how the Government are responding to the claim.

In the debate in this House on 2 December 1987—the last time, I think, that the issue of health and safety was considered at length here—the Secretary of State said that our health and safety arrangements are fitted to cope with the needs of a modern society and a changing and expanding economy."—[Official Report, 2 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 1004.] In all honesty, I do not think that those comments match the situation. Since that time it has been clear that health and safety arrangements are not coping. Reference has already been made to the report "Blackspot Construction". I take encouragement from the fact that I do not think that any such great claims were made by the Minister of State when he spoke earlier today. I think that there is recognition of the fact that much more needs to be done.

As to the causes of accidents, including fatal accidents, it is all too simple to lay all of them at the door of some buccaneering builders, although I cannot deny that a good number of such builders exist, and no doubt they are responsible for many of the accidents that take place. Nor do I believe that the accidents can be laid at the door of some system of work—that it is all the result of people pursuing the profit motive. Inevitably, human nature comes into it. During my few years of practice at the Scottish Bar I acted on both sides of the argument—for employers and for employees. An amazing number of cases were put down purely to human nature. Employers can provide helmets, but the helmets are not always worn. Nor are safety harnesses always worn. That has nothing to do with failure to provide safety equipment; it is just that, for one reason or another, people think that they can do without it, and in some cases it is a question of sheer forgetfulness. Nevertheless, what is quite clear, as was indicated in the report "Blackspot Construction", is that 70 per cent. of accidents could be prevented by positive management action. Much could be done to increase awareness of safety. Awareness, I think, is the key, and lack of awareness is attributable to both employers and employees.

The report on the blitz campaign to which reference has been made showed that one third of all managers had insufficient knowledge of basic health and safety. That is a staggering figure. The report also showed that in 14 per cent. of the cases investigated no one was in charge of the work. Quite clearly, if management is unaware of important safety matters, one cannot readily expect employees to have that knowledge. As has been said by the Minister of State, particular features of the construction industry make the problems more acute. Unlike a factory, where the same conditions tend to prevail over many weeks—indeed, years—construction sites change constantly. Indeed, we are talking about different sites, as well as changing sites. A person may be on a site for only a few days, or even just a few hours. I talked earlier today to representatives of the Scottish building trade. They said to me—I regret that I do not have figures to back this up—that in the case of a long-term project such as the Torness power station construction it appeared that over a period of 10 years the level of accidents fell due to familiarity with the site. That is not always the case when building contractors move quickly from site to site.

Mr. John Ward (Poole)

I agree very much with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Certainly I agree with what he says about big permanent or semi-permanent sites being much easier both to administer and to inspect. Does he recognise, however, that a great deal of the construction industry is based on very small sites with one, two or three men, and that in many cases those men are dealing with minor drainage projects, and so on? Very often that is where the greatest danger lies, and it is difficult to blame the employer alone for accidents.

Mr. Wallace

To some extent the hon. Member is making the point that I was about to make—that there is a whole series of small sites and that people may be on them for only a matter of hours. However, surely the underlying point must be taken together with the rapidly changing work force and lump labour—the fact that the person on whom one relied yesterday is not necessarily here today. That emphasises the need for a keener awareness of safety and for greater attention to safety matters. The fact that a site is small and that workers may be on it for only a few hours in no way absolves those responsible for safety factors.

The response that we have had from the Government is not adequate. The blitz campaign underlines the seriousness of the problem, but I do not believe that the increase in the budget of the Health and Safety Executive and the number of new inspectors go nearly far enough. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) illustrated the shortage of inspectors by referring to the number of sites that each inspector in London has to cover. It is my understanding that in the west of Scotland, including the great Strathclyde conurbation and the whole of the south west of Scotland, there are about five health and safety inspectors. It was graphically put to me that a health and safety inspector going to investigate a construction site in Dumfries would probably have to pass many hundreds of sites on his way there and that if he stopped to check each one he would probably never get to Dumfries.

The volume of work is immense and the necessary resources should be provided. By all means let us acknowledge what has been done, but it is clear from this debate that far more needs to be done. We have heard the Government's response in relation to the compulsory wearing of safety helmets, and I do not dissent from that proposal at all. Indeed, I look foward to an indication from the Minister as to when it might be expected. There is good precedent for tomorrow not being early enough. I welcome the fact that more guidance material is to be made available to small firms. However, if the fundamental problem of increasing awareness is to be tackled, it is not just a question of highlighting faults, as the blitz campaign did. The Health and Safety Executive must do more by way of advising safety practices and encouraging good practices. I also agree that it is important to bring home to senior management the impact of fines. We should consider personal prosecutions rather than corporate ones. That was mentioned by the chief inspector of factories, Mr. Tony Linehan, in an article in the Financial Times of Friday 13 January: The Health and Safety Executive plans to start prosecuting directors of construction companies running building sites where there are serious accidents…he said the time had come to move beyond prosecuting companies and to explore action against individual directors responsible for safety. The Minister also mentioned the recent prosecution of a site agent and a senior foreman. No doubt they are now well aware of the serious lessons to be drawn from failing to enforce adequate safety standards. Until that awareness is felt at the highest level, no real action will be taken to ensure that all sectors of the construction industry recognise the need to improve safety practices.

In a recent White Paper on road traffic law, the Government rightly suggested that insurance policies which protect the drink-driver offender from the consequences of disqualification are undesirable. To that end they have reached agreement with the Association of British Insurers to phase out such policies. If the fines imposed in the construction industry are to be effective, similar consideration should he given to phasing out insurance cover against such fines. I accept, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West has suggested, that civil damages may be sought, but invariably such matters are covered by insurance.

More attention must be given to smaller sites. We need more inspectors. We must also stress the importance of safety in training. Safety groups should be established under the auspices of an employers federation. It may be that a small company is unable to employ a safety officer or is not fully acquainted with the vast number of existing regulations. If a number of smaller companies joined together they could employ a safety officer whose remit would be to brief his various employers on safety requirements.

This debate is worthwhile because it highlights the importance of the issue. There is no room for complacency. I am sure that we shall return to this matter in the future and I hope that, by then, some of the positive and constructive ideas that have been mentioned tonight will have been implemented. I also hope that we shall have seen a downward trend in the current unacceptable level of fatal accidents and serious injuries.

8.52 pm
Mr. James Cran (Beverley)

As I am usually tail-end Charlie in debates, I assure hon. Members that I shall curtail my remarks tonight as I know that others want to speak.

I welcome this debate because I start from the premise —I assume that it is shared by all other hon. Members tonight—that the protection of the work force is the highest priority of any company. There is no question about that. I am sad, however, that, so far, this debate has not made clear that that responsibility is ably discharged by many construction companies, although there is no doubt that the construction industry faces problems. However, over-simplification will not help to solve them

I am especially struck by the fact that no Opposition Member has been able to explain why it is that other sectors of British industry, which are equally beset by commercial pressures and all the other pressures outlined tonight, have better records on health and safety than the construction industry. One is led to conclude that the reasons for the above-average number of fatalities and injuries in the construction industry are therefore more complex than commercial pressures.

As I read the Opposition motion, it appears that they believe that the answer lies in more regulations, but that will not solve the problems. I do not believe that the mailed fist approach would help because the problems are much more deep seated than has been so far outlined.

I am also sad that the debate has not highlighted that health and safety are not just the responsibility of the Government. The motion charges the Government with this, that and any other responsibility but, although the Government have a role to play, such an approach ignores the role of companies, trade unions and employees. Alas, individual employees within the construction industry are just as guilty of lack of responsibility as some of the companies. There are good companies and bad ones, but I believe that we have more good ones than bad ones. Unfortunately, there are good and bad sectors of industry and the construction sector gives cause for great concern. It is important to stress, however, that it has been a matter of concern for many years and that that concern has spanned a number of Governments.

Health and safety should not be a political football, but the debate is in danger of making it such. Health and safely should be completely non-partisan and if one accepts that principle it leads in a more constructive direction than that proposed in the motion. Although the reasons behind the motion are of the highest integrity, the motion itself is disappointing and narrow. It over-simplifies the issue and as soon as one does that one unfortunately reaches the wrong conclusions.

We are all well aware that the Health and Safety Executive provides inspection, enforcement and advisory services. In the main, those advisory services are given free. Therefore, there is no excuse for any company to plead ignorance. In the past I have visited many companies and too many companies within the construction industry tended to plead ignorance.

We have heard a great deal about the strength of the Health and Safety Executive. I understand that there are now 99 inspectors. That level was not dictated by the Government; rather, the HSE established that that represented the right manning level. I accept that the inspectorate might be one short, but it is manned at roughly the right level. The HSE's funding for 1989–90 will be met in full and its budget will increase within the next three years. All that is in sharp contradistinction to the message I got from the Opposition Benches. I got the impression of depleted ranks within the HSE, a lack of money and all the rest of it. That is simply not true.

I have the impression that, although a number of hon. Members have referred to the need for blitzes—indeed, the word appears in the Government amendment—it is considered by some to be an irrelevance. It is far from that. The blitz that took place between April 1987 and September 1988 resulted in about 8,300 construction sites being visited which highlighted many problems and resulted in action. Therefore, we need more site visits rather than less.

There is an even more powerful weapon to solve the problem that we are discussing. Sending directors to gaol and so on may be part of the solution, although I do not think that it would work. However, the threat of the closure of unsafe sites is a more important sanction because it hits a man—or in this case a company—where it hurts, which is in the pocket. Knowing the industrial community well, I am sure that such a sanction has a strong effect. Will the Minister say how many sites have been closed and whether the Government have been considering the use of this weapon in a more aggressive way?

We must accept that, even if the number of inspections was doubled, the enforcing authority could not have inspectors everywhere at the same time. That leads me to conclude that the amendment is right. Companies have by far the bigger role to play simply because inspectors cannot be everywhere.

The problem in this industry is attitudinal. There is a high labour turnover with small sub-contracting companies. That is the classic ingredient for extreme difficulties such as those we are debating. Bearing that in mind, and curtailing many of the remarks that I would have made had the debate been longer, I will confine myself to a few suggestions.

Companies have a definite responsibility. The problem lies in the large number of small sub-contractors in the industry. If they will not tackle the problem, it must be tackled by the main contractors. In other areas, such as manufacturing, large companies use their purchasing power with those from whom they purchase to get the right quality.

It does not seem a great departure for contractors in the construction industry to get their sub-contractors together and tell them the facts of life with regard to health and safety. The essential fact—it should go ringing from the House—is that the figures of fatalities are unacceptable.

In addition, I hope that the Health and Safety Executive will continue to intensify its activities. Will the Minister give us an assurance that that will happen, because, along with the resultant enforcement actions, it is of prime importance? The other piece of the jigsaw is what the Government can do to help. I support what the Minister of State said about more regulations being needed to cover such issues as the compulsory wearing of hard hats on construction sites. That is not an irrelevancy; it can make a big contribution to reducing the fatality figures.

I applaud the Government for what they are doing and I shall be watching their efforts to ensure that they take whatever steps are possible to solve the problem. None of us wants to return to this issue in a year or two and have to speak again about this sorry state of affairs in the industry.

9.4 pm

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

I must at the outset declare an interest as a non-executive director of a civil engineering company. I support the motion and particularly the call on the Government to increase inspection, improve site management and enforce tougher penalties". I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on his campaign over many years to get this matter brought before the House. He knows far more about the industry than I shall ever know. He made a fair speech, acknowledging that responsibility for accidents lay in different places.

Some incidents are clearly management responsibilities, some are due to workers ignoring management instructions, and some are plainly accidents about which nothing can be done. For example, the provision of adequate safety clothing, and the enforcement of its wearing, the provision of railings where appropriate and the shoring up of excavations are clearly management responsibilities. But there is no way to legislate to ensure that a man handles a piece of mechanical equipment correctly. He may do it negligently or in circumstances which result in an accident.

The use that may be made of site statistics can be misleading because, as has been pointed out, some sites exist for only a day or so, or even a few hours. It would be misleading to include those in the total statistics. But that does not alter the fact that it would be good to have up to double the number of inspectors and site visits, and every responsible firm would agree with that.

No sensible firm wants a prohibition notice or prosecution. My company makes safety a formal item on the agenda for every board meeting and at every meeting we discuss a report on safety matters. In addition—at my suggestion, which my colleagues cheerfully accepted—the safety officer must make a report in person to the board at least once a year. There is great awareness that safety is, above all, a board responsibility.

The Government should consider making the appointment of a safety officer a statutory responsibility of every company in the industry, rather in the way that the appointment of a company secretary is a statutory responsibility of a company. I disagree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that some firms might be too small to employ a safety officer. At least one member of the management of every company, however small, should have responsibility for safety. Even if it is a small firm, he can do that along with his other duties. The fact that a firm is small should not be a let-out from having a safety officer.

Hon. Members in all parts of the House accept that the situation remains unsatisfactory, and I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) say that there should be more site visits. I did not understand how he thought that could be achieved without many more inspectors being appointed. We want more such visits and more prohibitions where necessary, but, above all, we want those visits to take place as a deterrent so that prohibitions and prosecutions are not necessary.

There will be no permanent solution to the problem, because just as there will always be traffic accidents there will always be construction accidents. There could be far fewer, and it is up to us to reduce them. The responsibility lies squarely with the Government who must play their part. They are not doing that and their complacent amendment shows no sign of their accepting responsibility for these matters.

9.10 pm
Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

The subject of the debate is of great concern to all hon. Members. I shall avoid repeating what has been said with eloquence by other hon. Members. There are two ways of looking at the problem and they illustrate the difference between the Government and the Opposition. First, there is the idealistic approach. It is quite right in its way and says that every death is a tragedy, that it is preventable and should be prevented. Who among us could possibly argue with that view?

There is another view which says that it is remarkable that so few construction workers are killed every year, given the boom in construction all over the country and human nature. Little has been said about human nature, but it is the fundamental problem at the heart of the matters that we are discussing. We talk about short cuts, carelessness and over-confidence and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) said, we often talk about inexperience. We point to those things as being the causes of accidents in the construction industry.

Another difference between the two main parties in the House is that the Government look to the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission for guidance. The Health and Safety Executive said that by 1990 we would need 100 inspectors in the construction industry. A year before that time we have 99 inspectors in post. The Opposition propose to tell the Health and Safety Executive what to do. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that we could have 200 inspectors now, but I suspect that if he had his way we would have many more. I say to him and to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who is not in the Chamber, that it is not a bad idea to take note of the advice and guidance of the experts that we employ. The man in Whitehall does not always know best.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West spoke about blacklisting. That is a typical red herring that comes up in almost every debate on employment. I should like to quote a real expert, the director general of the Health and Safety Executive, Mr. Rimington. When he addressed the Select Committee on Employment at the end of last year he said: We are in fact increasing the number of inspectors in construction. Perhaps I should explain, I think it is generally known, that we did make representations to the Secretary of State, the Commission did, last year, with the result that more money was made available to us. We are building up the Factory Inspectorate from what is certainly too low a figure. Our main priorities over the next year will be to increase the amount of inspection on construction sites, and to increase the amount of inspection of small firms and contracting firms generally. As you probably know, there has been quite a mushroom growth of those. Many of them, while not wishing, I think, to defy safety provisions, prove to be unaware of some of the hazards with which they are confronted. In the same exchange Mr. Rimington said: Certainly, as regards the construction industry generally, there has been an enormous amount of enforcement activity over the past two or three years. The number of enforcement actions that the Factory Inspectorate has taken on construction sites have virtually trebled over the past two years.

That is the reasoned and measured voice of the expert, and I prefer it to the hysterical ravings of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. He blamed Thatcherism and said that the amazing growth in activity in the construction industry caused the problem at the root of our debate. There has been massive growth not only in activity but also in employment, yet the hon. Gentleman berates the level of unemployment. He cannot have it both ways.

Nothing that the Government could do could be as effective as discipline and self discipline on site. Safety education, protective clothing, prohibition orders and fines are important. Perhaps when the Minister replies to the debate he will comment on the point that a maximum fine of £2,000 in a magistrates court is too low. It might with advantage be significantly increased; and the power to bring actions in a higher court should also be examined.

At the end of the day, safety comes down to one man and one job and the right and wrong way to carry it out. There is no point in saying that it is the Government's fault. It is the fault of any man who allows his life to be placed in jeopardy. We must not get into the cosy attitude of blaming it on Government. We are all individually responsible when we put ourselves at risk, whether in construction, on the roads, in the home or anywhere else. The individual's responsibility must be paramount.

9.16 pm
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

I echo the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) in paying tribute to the Health and Safety Commission and complimenting it on the documents that it has supplied. The commission says that between 1981 and 1985 there were 739 deaths in the construction industry. It said that nearly all of them could have been prevented and that in 70 per cent. of the cases positive action by management could have saved lives. It clearly pins the responsibility on management. It talks about the need to plan and develop safe systems of work before the job starts. The commission talks about roof work and says: In the vast majority of fatal accidents on roofs, management…did not exercise sufficient control to ensure that relatively simple precautions were taken. On demolition the commission said that 67 out of 95 accidents causing death were caused by management allowing unsafe systems of work.

The Labour party has instigated this debate because there is a rising trend in accidents. Between 1981 and 1985 major injuries increased by 30 per cent. and in a 10-year period there were 1,500 deaths in the construction industry. In that same decade 500,000 injuries were sufficiently bad to keep people off work for three days. That is much worse than what happened at King's Cross or in the Clapham rail disaster. The number of deaths is much greater than the 495 killings by the IRA. During that same decade three times as many people were killed on construction sites.

In the Falklands conflict 254 British service men were killed, but there have been many more deaths in construction. We must speak out loudly and clearly and say that this is intolerable. Death and injury occur too easily and too often in the construction industry, which is one of the most dangerous industries in Britain. The worrying thing is that the post-war improvement in the figures has been halted, the trend has been reversed and the toll of death and crippling injury is increasing. That is an intolerable scandal and the House must decide to do something about it.

Why are the figures getting worse? Why is there a disaster area? Perhaps it is partly because of the changing face of the industry. Many of today's larger companies have fewer directly employed workers than they used to have. There has been a huge increase in self-employment, what is known as the lump, and in small contractors. The Health and Safety Executive said that these small firms are constantly competing for work and often cut costs to the bone and that safety is usually one of the first casualties —if it is ever considered at all—so that, in the conflict between profits and health and safety, health and safety come last.

More than one third of all employees are now in companies with seven or fewer people, whereas in 1975 it was only one in seven. So we have myriad tiny sub-contracting firms going in and out of business. More than half the deaths occurred on sites with fewer than 10 people. Half the victims had been working for only a week or less on the site where they were killed. Those in charge of the work were considered to be wholly or partly to blame for two thirds of the deaths and to be solely responsible in over half those cases.

If we are to have a campaign that will succeed, most of these small firms will have to be brought into it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) knows that in the east end of London there is a great growth of construction industry at the moment. The east end is like a forest of cranes. There is an increase in work and this means great pressure to take on inadequately trained, inexperienced labour; and unless something drastic is done there will be an increase in this tide of tragedy.

What is being done about it? We have had the so-called blitz. It started in April 1987 and it was found that by law if work is to last for six weeks the health and safety authorities have to be notified. Only one third of the employers did so. That is another way of saying that two thirds broke the law. Nearly one third of the sites were controlled by agents or supervisors whose knowledge of health and safety legislation was poor or very poor. On 14 per cent. of the sites management was non-existent. Things were so bad and dangerous that on one in four sites work was stopped.

Of course, some firms were good and some were excellent and that showed that they could compete in the market place and implement proper safety measures, which disproves the argument that proper safety makes firms uncompetitive.

The other thing that was found through the blitz was that there were very few prosecutions. Why was that? The Health and Safety Executive explained that it was because of the time and effort necessary to prosecute and the fact that it did not have the necessary staff.

We must ask ourselves what we are to do about this situation. We have to have enforcement of the existing law. If there are no prosecutions, if firms know that they can break the law and cause death and injury and there will be no prosecutions, or they will just have their wrists smacked, nothing will happen. If they are prosecuted in the magistrates court, where the maximum fine is £2,000, we shall not get anywhere. We need proper enforcement. There are not enough inspectors or resources, and the Government are to blame. That is why I intervened in the Minister's speech.

The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), who is a valuable member of the Employment Committee, referred to the health and safety evidence given to the Committee. I have here the annual report of the Health and Safety Executive 1986–87, which says: During the six year period April 1980/86, the resources available to the Executive declined in real terms and the number of our inspectors by 213". So under this Government real resources to the Health and Safety Executive have declined and the number of inspectors has been cut. There is also a reference in the report to a suspension of recruitment between 1980 and 1984. For four years there was a complete suspension of recruitment to the inspectorate. The Government ought to apologise for that error and that cutting of the inspectorate.

The same report says that the pressure on resources throughout the year was a matter of anxiety to the executive and it could not do its job. It explained that in the following year, 1987–88, the rates of pay for inspectors were increased, but the amount of money available to the Health and Safety Executive did not go up. Therefore, again the number of inspectors had to be cut.

The truth is—and I will give way immediately if the Minister can say that I am wrong—that the numbers of agriculture inspectors, factory inspectors and inspectors of mines and quarries are now lower than in 1986 and in 1977, 12 years ago. That is where the Government are to blame for the lack of enforcement.

They say that there are 99 inspectors in the construction industry. That is totally inadequate. There are 180,000 firms in the construction industry.

Time is very short and that is why I have truncated my remarks to let some of my colleagues speak, but I want to suggest a number of things that I think should be done.

First, there must be an increase in penalties. We have to get prosecutions brought in the Crown court and not in the magistrates court. They have to go to the magistrates court first and it is for the Health and Safety Executive to ask that they be moved up to the Crown court. When men or women leave home to go to work their families expect them to come home in the evening, and if employers are so grossly negligent that they cause the death of a worker the sentence should be imprisonment. I believe that until we get some sentences of imprisonment neither employers nor anybody else on the site will take these matters seriously.

The second step is to take up the idea of UCATT, which has asked for what it calls super-safety reps, rather similar to full-time shop stewards who would be full-time safety representatives.

Thirdly, the super-safety reps should have the right to stop a job when there is danger to life. If they had that power it would really mean something. Some people may think that that is going too far, but I remind the House that in the Norwegian sector of the North sea the Norwegian trade union safety representives have that right, although they hardly ever use it because the management takes them seriously and there is proper safety treatment. There should be a right to stop the job where necessary to protect life.

Lastly, because we are dealing with an emergency and need extra safety representatives and inspectors quickly, the Government should take up the visionary offer by the general secretary of UCATT to make available his 120 union officials to act as inspectors. These are people with a lifetime of experience of the industry who know what they are talking about. They would work under the supervision of the Health and Safety Executive. That would be a way of doubling the inspectorate immediately to get some action on something which all hon. Members must regard as a national emergency.

9.28 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House that safety in the workplace is too important to be dealt with on the basis of ideological prejudice. Indeed, anyone who recognises the nature of the building industry will know how deep-seated and difficult some of the problems are. It is a diffuse industry which works in many different locations. As a result, it is small wonder that the Health and Safety Executive found in its survey that 65 per cent. of firms did not identify work that was likely to go on for more than six weeks.

It is inherently a risky industry. Risk is compounded by latitude in the industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) mentioned. It was significant that the report of the Health and Safety Executive, referring to the introduction of helmets to improve safety, said: Reactions range from unthinking abuse to total apathy, typifying an all too common lack of concern for safety measures. Therefore, health and safety problems in the industry remain deep-seated. It is wrong to lash out at various so-called contributory factors, such as the lump system or what the motion calls "relentless commercial pressures". That is simplistic.

The evidence provided by the Health and Safety Executive does not support the theory that the irresponsible behaviour and sloppiness that lead to accidents are necessarily increased at times of commercial upsurge. For instance, as a proportion of the numbers in the industry there was little difference in the number of fatalities in 1981, when the industry was depressed, and 1986–87, when it was booming. The survey on the blitz between April 1987 and September 1988 on the 2,000 prohibitions issued by the Health and Safety Executive shows that, while prohibitions were imposed on 51 out of 55 sites in Glasgow, which was booming at that time, in Southampton, where market conditions were equally booming. there were only five prohibitions out of 134 sites.

Most of all, the Labour party motion fails to recognise, as Her Majesty's chief inspector of safety recognises, that it is precisely those companies with the most strict safety rules and the most strict system of monitoring and training their work forces on safety that are the most successful and profitable. As the chief inspector said: A well-planned contract which identifies safety requirements will be more efficiently run, more productive and therefore more profitable. The Government are right to try to set down an effective framework within which, through voluntary co-operation, employers, employees and regulators within the industry can make an improvement in safety.

That is not to say that safety is not a matter of concern. There has been reference in the debate to an article in the Financial Times which said that only 49 per cent. of sites with more than 50 employees visited by the Health and Safety Executive had prohibition notices; that the overall standards of health and safety were poor; and that only one third of managers on sites had an adequate grasp of safety procedures. It is worrying that prosecutions have not led to a greater change in attitudes in the industry.

While I welcome the approach by the Government to increase safety supervision in smaller companies, to improve site notification procedure and to allow for better management and co-ordination on multi-contractor sites, I think that there is a strong case for stricter penalties for people who break the law. Equally, there is a strong case for the promotion of model contracts which could be put forward by the Building Employers Confederation, the National House-Building Council and others. Those contracts should show exactly what good safety procedures involve.

In the long run, attitudes will be improved only through training. It was significant that Brian Hewitt, the National House-Building Council president, welcomed the Government review of training recently when he said that it provides the house-building industry with the first opportunity for over 20 years to make a meaningful impact on training policy. There will be 60,000 entrants a year into the building industry over the next few years and a massive need for retraining. Now that the National Council for Vocational Qualifications has recognised the CITB as a lead industrial body, it is important that it uses competence procedures for qualifications in a modular form, if necessary, including health and safety aspects so as to improve significantly the amount of training that is done within the industry on health and safety.

It is a waste of time having well-trained operatives within an industry unless the public have confidence in the way that industry is policed. Although statutory regulations for every type of building work contractor would be unrealistic and undesirable, there is a strong case for statutory self-regulation of the industry, which could take place either through the National House-Building Council or the Building Employers Confederation for companies, depending on the kind of work that they are doing, its complexity and its scope.

A house builder, if he has satisfied criteria of confidence and experience and has provided adequate insurance indemnity and evidence that he has understood safety procedures, would be made responsible on the site on which he worked, irrespective of whether he was sub-contracting, employing lump labour or directly employing labour, for safety on that site. It is curious that, while there is a seven-year training period for architects and a four-year training period for house planners, there is no specific and necessary training period for house builders. If we did what I propose, the reputation of the industry would be increased, the consumers' confidence would be restored, and the safety of employees in the industry would be immeasurably improved.

9.35 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Piper Alpha, King's Cross and Zeebrugge were all dreadful disasters involving huge loss of life and terrible injuries. Shock and horror were rammed into the lives of the families affected. Every year there is a disaster of similar magnitude in the construction industry, but the disaster is diffused. It is not concentrated but hidden, and it is not exposed in the media in the same way as the terrible disasters to which I have already referred.

My colleagues have referred to "Blackspot Construction" produced by the Health and Safety Executive in June 1988. That document recorded that 739 people were killed in construction accidents between 1981 and 1985—an average of 147 deaths per year. That is twice the rate for agriculture and five times the rate for manufacturing industry. Since 1985, it has climbed to 160 deaths per year. A construction worker is killed or seriously injured on site every hour of every working day and a less serious injury occurs once every couple of minutes. Deaths caused by long-term diseases and injuries kill 4,000 people per year. That is carnage—the word used by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher)—and carnage on a horrific scale. It is a battlefield on which building workers are the cannon fodder for the employers' profit system.

Not all the people on a building site face the same risks. The chances of a site manager or agent dying of lung cancer before reaching retirement age are half that for the general population. By contrast, according to the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys decennial occupational mortality supplement 1979–80 and 1982–83, a plasterer runs three times the risk of disease as his boss. The risk of disease extends to families living in buildings under construction, repair or renovation, as recent evidence from Germany has shown from the use of timber treatment solutions containing pentachlorophenol and lindane. Fifty thousand people in this country belong to the Association of Victims of Wood Preservatives and are preparing to sue United Kingdom companies such as Rentokil and Cuprinol which distribute products which can allegedly cause leukemia, cancer and blood disorders including aplastic anaemia.

My time on the shop floor during the 1970s was littered with anecdotal stories of how we hardly ever contributed to retirement do's for chippies or welders as they never lived long enough to retire because they worked with similarly dangerous substances. The common link between Piper Alpha, King's Cross, Zeebrugge and the construction accidents and illnesses which we have discussed this evening is that they are all preventable. All the deaths are the result of callous disregard by employers for workers' safety. It does not matter whether the employers be Occidental, British Rail, Townsend Thoresen, John Laing, Tarmac, Rentokil or Cuprinol.

Whether those deaths are preventable is not, in a sense, in question tonight. The Opposition have stated that they are, as has the HSE in its five-yearly report which stated: Ninety per cent. of construction fatalities could have been prevented. Even the Prime Minister's amendment acknowledges that. Clearly the Government have been on the defensive tonight. The HSE continued: In 70 per cent. of cases, positive action by management could have saved lives. Why is that action not forthcoming? That question should be the crux of this debate. That is what I think and what I want to express in these two or three minutes after waiting many months to make a major contribution in this hallowed hall of the House of Commons. That question should be the crux of the debate in the few minutes that remain.

Action is not forthcoming because of the £12 billion worth of contracts in London and the south-east alone. Contractors have been told to complete contracts on time, regardless of how many corners they cut. The most infamous statement that I have heard in six years in this palace of varieties is "a man a mile" in relation to the building of the Channel tunnel. It is estimated that the Chunnel will lead to 20 deaths in 20 miles. That is the impact on the work carried out. Deaths are being built into the budget. That is an obscenity. There is no other word for it. It is obscene that the construction industry's profits should be put before the lives of those who create that wealth.

The Government and the Prime Minister's all pervading and perverse philosophy of "get rich quick and ignore the lives of the workers" underpins the philosophy of the employers. In the past 10 years, 1,500 people have died in construction accidents. According to the Health and Safety Executive, the number of fatal and major injuries has risen by 66 per cent. in the past seven years. In the two years 1986 and 1987, six of the top building firms in Britain—Beazer, Bovis, Laing, Tarmac, Wimpey and Trafalgar House—made £836 million profit. In the past three years, Laing, McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Tarmac and Wimpey have all been found guilty of health and safety offences. The fines have been between £500 and £2,000. When one compares that with Jeffrey Archer's £500,000 and Elton John's £1 million—when one sets the reputations of those individuals against the lives of construction workers—how do the scales balance?

From January 1983 to March 1987, the average fine on 2,343 firms was £361—the same as the average fine for not paying the fare on London Transport. That is how much the lives of workers in the construction industry are considered. The Government take no serious account of that point, and their attitude is understandable when one notes that in 1987 Wimpey, Bovis, Tarmac, Trafalgar House and Costain each gave between £25,000 and £37,000 to the Tory party to keep it sweet. Amey Roadstone, Costain, Gleeson, McAlpine, Marples, Taylor Woodrow, Wimpey and Mowlem also all subscribe to the Economic League which blacklists any shop steward who sticks his head above the parapet and complains about unsafe working conditions.

The Labour Government gave us the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, but that is no more than a bit of paper unless it has teeth and stewards have the confidence to use it. The Health and Safety Executive is staffed by well-intentioned individuals, but it is inadequate. The Minister said earlier that this was a red herring, but the Government employ six times as many dole snoopers in London as factory inspectors. Last year, 4,133 sites known to inspectors in London had 12 inspectors to cover them. They could not get to each of them once a year if they tried, so although there were 36 deaths in London last year and 413 major injuries there were only 18 prosecutions and no employer was gaoled—so much for the law and order party!

The workers have had enough. A debate like this will not satisfy the thousands of workers who are sick to the back teeth of burying their mates after accidents. Comrades have spoken of it. Building workers, first in London and now in the midlands, have formed the construction safety campaign. They are asking for a lot of things—but the first and most important is that the number of deaths and injuries of construction workers in Britain should become a major political issue. Tonight we have made a start on that. There are a few more miles to go down that road. We shall have lobbies and meetings and, no doubt, some industrial action along the way as well. We shall do what we have started to do in Coventry, where we are banning contractors when scaffolding and other inadequate working practices on building sites are creating risks for workers. We shall put that proposal to every Labour council.

Our experience and that of the Health and Safety Executive is that the Government do not allow the HSE the resources to operate properly. The debate may be a little irritant to those Tory Members who have turned up, but what of the wives and the bairns of those who have died in the past 10 years? There are about 1.5 million workers in the industry, and in the past 10 years 1,500 have been killed and 40,000 have died from bronchitis, cancer and other diseases caused by dust and unhealthy working conditions. The number injured runs into millions.

Our motion puts the blame where it lies. The chilling report of the Health and Safety Executive shows that 90 per cent. of fatalities in the construction industry are preventable—not "avoidable", as the Minister said. He should look in a dictionary and see the difference between the two. If employers—those with the money—really meant to save the lives of their workers, they could do so.

There is a solution to the problem. It lies in the motion, in the suggestion of the Health and Safety Executive, and in the work of the construction safety campaign. Employers do not care a damn about safety. They care only about profit. The only way that we shall stop their lust for profit and the killing of workers in the construction industry is when those employers no longer own and control it—when workers in the building industry and the working class generally own, control, plan and manage the construction industry. Then we shall build houses without the death of workers being the price that is paid.

9.45 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

It is a measure of the importance that we attach to the subject that not all right hon. and hon. Members who wished to speak in the debate have been able to participate.

There can be no doubt about the high level of accidents in the construction industry, and there can be no doubt about the need for effective action by all concerned to improve health and safety standards. The construction industry is one of the most dangerous in the country. The Health and Safety Executive's 1987–88 report shows that the number of employees who suffered fatal injuries in all industries totalled 340 and that no fewer than 100 of them were in construction, compared with 96 in all manufacturing industries. The figures in respect of the self-employed and non-employed are even more striking. The number for all industries is 525, of which 157 are accounted for by construction and 100 by manufacturing.

The figure of 157 deaths in construction for 1987–88 is the highest since 1981. I refer also to the figures for reported accidents per 100,000 employees, the latest of which were published in February with the Employment Gazette supplement, from which one can see that accident rates in construction are among the highest of all the industries included. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made it clear that, along with all those accidents, there are deaths arising from occupational disease such as asbestosis and bronchitis. The chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, Dr. John Cullen, stated that more people die from contact with dangerous substances and from noise on construction sites than from injuries.

The Government have a responsibility, and the Minister made great play of the fact that recently there has been an increase in the number of factory inspectors dealing with the construction industry. However, that increase is against the background of a progressive decline in the number of Health and Safety Executive staff and of factory and agricultural inspectors. There has been a decline in qualified and experienced factory inspectors, and all the increases are accounted for by recent new recruits. It is arguable that the additional number of construction inspectors will be less capable of doing the job than would be the case were there a more balanced complement, with the more experienced and qualified inspectors who have left to take other jobs.

That decline in the executive, for which the Government have been responsible over 10 years, has occurred while the Government have piled additional responsibility upon responsibility on the commission and the executive. I refer to the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1984, responsibility for gas safety including domestic installations, the Road Traffic (Carriage of Dangerous Substances in Packages etc.) Regulations 1986, and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988, which will shortly come into operation. All those are increased responsibilities and yet, at the same time, year in, year out, there has been a decline in the resources available to the Health and Safety Executive. We welcome the belated improvement, but it is totally inadequate—infinitesimal against what is needed to restore the position. We need a commitment from the Government to increase the amount available to the Health and Safety Executive by a substantial amount each year in order to begin to overcome the problems.

Against that background of a shortage of factory inspectors, it was probably right to have the much publicised blitz to which the hon. Members referred. However, when a blitz takes place, the people inspecting the sites are unable to do their normal jobs. Inspectors are reallocated to the work instead of carrying out the jobs they should be doing. As I am sure Ministers recognise, an important role of the inspectors is advisory and educational.

The Government have responsibilities for health and safety in our construction industry. We need a massive increase in the number of inspectors and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said, there is a great need for longer sentences for offenders. Top managers should go to gaol if they are responsible for inadequate health and safety standards that lead to death and serious injury on construction sites.

Reference has been made to the excellent study, "Blackspot Construction", carried out by the Health and Safety Executive. That points out quite clearly time and again that responsibility for these injuries and deaths lies with the site management, and inadequate supervision and planning of the work places.

It should be made absolutely clear that responsibility lies in the work place with the workers themselves, in addition to the inspectorate. We deplore the fact that, year in, year out, the Government have enacted legislation to undermine and weaken the trade union movement, which has, and should play, a key role in health and safety in the workplace, particularly on construction sites. It is no use the Government talking about the role of the workers and the trade unions and, at the same time, constantly introducing legislation to weaken and undermine them.

The Government have put private profit before public service and preferred tax cuts to public investment on improved services. The Government have undermined the trade union movement at every opportunity. We are not suggesting that the Government are indifferent to death and injury on building sites, but the Government have not given health and safety in the construction industry the priority that they deserve. That is why we shall be voting for the motion.

9.53 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)

The inevitable constraints of time mean that I shall not be able to do justice to the powerful contributions made by a number of hon. Members. Without the two inevitable exceptions, the contributions made were extremely helpful, and of the sort that we expect to hear.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State called for a debate which went above party and which would bring about some positive suggestions for tackling a very real problem and give a clear message to the industry that it must do better. For the most part, that has been the case and I shall certainly look at Hansard to note the points that have been made, and reply to any specific points as necessary.

I shall comment shortly upon some of the points that have been made in the debate, but I first want to emphasise two points which are central to the issue of construction safety. First, far too many people are killed while working on sites—hon. Members from both sides of the House have rightly condemned that carnage. Secondly, it is wholly inexcusable because so many—90 per cent. of the deaths—are obviously preventable.

Yes, construction sites may be inherently dangerous, with large machines, heavy weights and heights, but time and again inspectors report that the true cause of an accident was ignorance, complacency or lack of thought about basic and simple precautions. It is utterly unacceptable that some of those engaged in the construction industry have so little regard for human life and the well-being of their fellow citizens.

However, there is another reason why this record is so appalling. It concerns an area where the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and the Opposition motion have chosen to try to make cheap political capital, and about which they are mistaken. They have charged the Government with some form of commercial interest in fostering poor safety conditions, but the message that we are trying to get across to industry is that there is every commercial reason to ensure that firms have the highest safety standards. Accidents not only cause pain and suffering but incur extremely high costs—£2 billion per annum—a high proportion of which fall on the construction industry. Young people will soon be in short supply, and the industry's image will do it no good whatever in a difficult recruitment market.

When inspectors visit sites they find that there is a direct correlation between firms with good safety standards and those that are successful. Those that have poor standards often go bust. Mistakenly, their managers think that by cutting corners they can make economies. Such short-sighted attitudes invariably backfire, and the same lackadaisical attitude to running their business leads to economic ruin. A good manager knows that he must ensure that his company performs well in all sectors and that it is counterproductive to cheat on safety.

In a powerful contribution, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that safety is a question of "your health or their wealth." He could not be more wrong. There is nothing contradictory or inimical between profits and safety; the two must go hand in hand.

Mention was made of accident rates, and inevitably the hon. Member for Oldham, West interpreted them in a particular way. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that we do not understand the message. There were 157 fatalities last year and 3,600 major injuries—too many. Like it or not, the hon. Gentleman will have to face up to the fact that the prevention of accidents lies not with the Government but with those who work on sites and primarily, though not exclusively, with employers.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West has a way of presenting figures. I shall make a point from which I take no comfort—it is the sort of thing in which the hon. Gentleman wants to indulge—about the number of fatalities in the construction industry. There were 139 deaths in the boom period of 1986–87 and 157 in 1987–88. Those figures are well below the rates of the last sustained boom in construction. In 1974, there were 166 deaths and in 1975 there were 182. If I adopted the simplistic nonsense of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, I could say, "That is OK. We are doing better and deaths were higher under a Labour Government." I derive no comfort from that, but that is the way in which the hon. Gentleman tried to present the argument. It is not good enough to come to the House with pretensions of office when the best that one can do is to try to attribute accident figures to political opponents. Even by the standards of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, that will not work.

We understand that the Opposition take a dirigiste view of the courts, but the Government should not lecture courts on how to decide cases. It is the Government's job to ensure that penalties are available for courts to use. If magistrates decide that a case is serious enough to commit to the Crown court, that is where it goes. Companies do not take fines of £750,000 lightly. Such fines make a substantial deficit in a company's accounts. It is about time that people such as the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who pretend to take an interest in these matters, understood that.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that the construction industry's fatality record was quite appalling. The misery, desolation and grief that underlie the figures for many families is made more unbearably acute by the fact that many of the accidents were avoidable. When others rise to the occasion, the hon. Member for Oldham, West is more likely to sink to it. Surely this is an issue in which even he could have risen above his usual practice of using and abusing any issue for cheap political points. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) at least did his best to reflect that concern.

What we need to know from the Opposition tonight, as the debate reaches its conclusion, is which of their two spokesmen more accurately reflects Opposition views. Is it an attempt at common sense or cheap sensationalism; positive action or political posturing; heartfelt concern or the usual Oldham claptrap? In a few moments' time we will know the answer to that, but even if students of Labour's past form are unlikely to be disappointed, we could all hope that, just this once, they might conceivably have got it wrong.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 212, Noes 265.

Division No. 154] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Fatchett, Derek
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Faulds, Andrew
Allen, Graham Fearn, Ronald
Alton, David Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Anderson, Donald Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Armstrong, Hilary Flannery, Martin
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Flynn, Paul
Ashton, Joe Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Foster, Derek
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fraser, John
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Fyfe, Maria
Barron, Kevin Galbraith, Sam
Battle, John Galloway, George
Beckett, Margaret Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Beith, A. J. Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony George, Bruce
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bermingham, Gerald Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bidwell, Sydney Gordon, Mildred
Blair, Tony Gould, Bryan
Blunkett, David Graham, Thomas
Boateng, Paul Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bradley, Keith Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Grocott, Bruce
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Harman, Ms Harriet
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S.
Buckley, George J. Henderson, Doug
Caborn, Richard Hinchliffe, David
Callaghan, Jim Holland, Stuart
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Home Robertson, John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Howells, Geraint
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hoyle, Doug
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Clay, Bob Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clelland, David Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Illsley, Eric
Corbett, Robin Ingram, Adam
Corbyn, Jeremy Janner, Greville
Cousins, Jim Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cox, Tom Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Crowther, Stan Kennedy, Charles
Cryer, Bob Kilfedder, James
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kirkwood, Archy
Cunningham, Dr John Lambie, David
Dalyell, Tam Lamond, James
Darling, Alistair Leadbitter, Ted
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Leighton, Ron
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Lewis, Terry
Dewar, Donald Litherland, Robert
Dixon, Don Livingstone, Ken
Dobson, Frank Livsey, Richard
Doran, Frank Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Douglas, Dick Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Duffy, A. E. P. Loyden, Eddie
Dunnachie, Jimmy McAllion, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth McAvoy, Thomas
Eadie, Alexander Macdonald, Calum A.
Eastham, Ken McFall, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) McKelvey, William
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) McLeish, Henry
McWilliam, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Madden, Max Rowlands, Ted
Mahon, Mrs Alice Ruddock, Joan
Marek, Dr John Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sheerman, Barry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Martlew, Eric Short, Clare
Maxton, John Skinner, Dennis
Meacher, Michael Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meale, Alan Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Snape, Peter
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Soley, Clive
Moonie, Dr Lewis Steel, Rt Hon David
Morgan, Rhodri Steinberg, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Mullin, Chris Straw, Jack
Murphy, Paul Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Nellist, Dave Turner, Dennis
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Vaz, Keith
O'Brien, William Wall, Pat
O'Neill, Martin Wallace, James
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Walley, Joan
Parry, Robert Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Patchett, Terry Wareing, Robert N.
Pendry, Tom Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Pike, Peter L. Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Prescott, John Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Primarolo, Dawn Wilson, Brian
Quin, Ms Joyce Winnick, David
Radice, Giles Wise, Mrs Audrey
Randall, Stuart Worthington, Tony
Redmond, Martin Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Robertson, George Tellers for the Ayes:
Robinson, Geoffrey Mr. Frank Haynes and Mrs. Llin Golding.
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Jeff
Adley, Robert Browne, John (Winchester)
Aitken, Jonathan Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Alexander, Richard Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Buck, Sir Antony
Amess, David Burns, Simon
Amos, Alan Burt, Alistair
Arbuthnot, James Butcher, John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Butterfill, John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Ashby, David Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Aspinwall, Jack Carrington, Matthew
Atkins, Robert Carttiss, Michael
Atkinson, David Chapman, Sydney
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Chope, Christopher
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Churchill, Mr
Batiste, Spencer Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Bellingham, Henry Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bendall, Vivian Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Colvin, Michael
Benyon, W. Conway, Derek
Bevan, David Gilroy Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Cope, Rt Hon John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Couchman, James
Body, Sir Richard Cran, James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Critchley, Julian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Currie, Mrs Edwina
Boswell, Tim Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Bottomley, Peter Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Day, Stephen
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Devlin, Tim
Bowis, John Dicks, Terry
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Dorrell, Stephen
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brazier, Julian Dover, Den
Bright, Graham Dunn, Bob
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Emery, Sir Peter
Evennett, David Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Fallon, Michael Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Favell, Tony Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Fishburn, John Dudley Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Fookes, Dame Janet Irvine, Michael
Forman, Nigel Irving, Charles
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Jack, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Jackson, Robert
Fox, Sir Marcus Janman, Tim
Franks, Cecil Jessel, Toby
Freeman, Roger Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
French, Douglas Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Fry, Peter Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Gale, Roger Key, Robert
Gardiner, George King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Gill, Christopher Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Knox, David
Glyn, Dr Alan Lang, Ian
Goodhart, Sir Philip Lawrence, Ivan
Goodlad, Alastair Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Lightbown, David
Gorst, John Lord, Michael
Gow, Ian Maclean, David
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) McLoughlin, Patrick
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maude, Hon Francis
Gregory, Conal Miller, Sir Hal
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Moate, Roger
Grist, Ian Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Ground, Patrick Moore, Rt Hon John
Grylls, Michael Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Morrison, Sir Charles
Hague, William Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Moss, Malcolm
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hampson, Dr Keith Neale, Gerrard
Hanley, Jeremy Needham, Richard
Hannam, John Neubert, Michael
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Nicholls, Patrick
Harris, David Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hawkins, Christopher Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hayes, Jerry Norris, Steve
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hayward, Robert Oppenheim, Phillip
Heathcoat-Amory, David Paice, James
Heddle, John Patnick, Irvine
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Patten, Chris (Bath)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hill, James Pawsey, James
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hordern, Sir Peter Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howard, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Powell, William (Corby) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Price, Sir David Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Raffan, Keith Temple-Morris, Peter
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Redwood, John Thurnham, Peter
Rhodes James, Robert Townend, John (Bridlington)
Riddick, Graham Tracey, Richard
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Tredinnick, David
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Trippier, David
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Twinn, Dr Ian
Roe, Mrs Marion Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Rost, Peter Waddington, Rt Hon David
Rowe, Andrew Waldegrave, Hon William
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Walden, George
Sayeed, Jonathan Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shaw, David (Dover) Waller, Gary
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Ward, John
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Warren, Kenneth
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Watts, John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wells, Bowen
Shersby, Michael Wheeler, John
Skeet, Sir Trevor Widdecombe, Ann
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wiggin, Jerry
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wilshire, David
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Squire, Robin Winterton, Nicholas
Stanbrook, Ivor Wolfson, Mark
Steen, Anthony Wood, Timothy
Stern, Michael Woodcock, Mike
Stevens, Lewis Yeo, Tim
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Sumberg, David Tellers for the Noes:
Summerson, Hugo Mr. Tony Durant and Mr. Tom Sackville.
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, deploring the high accident rate on construction sites and noting that 90 per cent. of construction accidents are preventable, recognises that the prime responsibility for safety lies with employers and others on site; acknowledges the vigorous action which the Health and Safety Commission and Executive have taken through enforcement blitzes and publicity campaigns on construction safety; and welcomes the increased provision which the Government has made available to the Health and Safety Executive thereby enabling the Executive to increase the number of inspectors employed on construction work.