HC Deb 05 December 1989 vol 163 cc146-8
10. Ms. Armstrong

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how he plans to extend health and safety protection at work.

Mr. Nicholls

Increased resourcing for the Health and Safety Commission is enabling new risks from changing modern technology to be tackled on a number of fronts. Excellent progress has been made with our programme to modernise health and safety law, and to extend it as necessary. The Health and Safety Executive's programmes for advice, inspection and published guidance are being expanded to stimulate industry to improve safety performance.

Ms. Armstrong

How will cuts in the staffing of the Health and Safety Executive enable us to make sure that the regulations about which the Minister has talked, and which I very much support, are put into effect?

Mr. Nicholls

I shall say something to the hon. Lady that I have to say all too often to Labour Members. There is no question of resources to the HSE being cut. Those resources are at least as good as what was spent under the last Labour Administration. For three years running, its public expenditure survey bid for resources has been met in full. That analysis is the correct one. The analysis that the hon. Lady advances is not.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Can my hon. Friend confirm that one of the problems with health and safety lies in the construction industry and the failure of many workers to wear hard hats on site? How can he justify exempting Sikhs from having to wear hard hats?

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend makes at least one valuable point by reminding us that the prime responsibility for health and safety on constructions sites, and in the workplace generally, has to lie with those who are there. It is not up to the inspectorate to act as the police men of safety on sites. However, my hon. Friend will be the first to admit that the question whether Sikhs should wear helmets on sites is a difficult one and not one on which it was easy to reach a quick and simplistic conclusion. We think we got it right. My hon. Friend thinks that we did not get it right, and on that we shall have to differ.

Mr. Cryer

As the Minister has plans to extend the health and safety at work provisions, can he tell us what has happened to the legislation on manual handling of loads, which has been in draft form since 1982, and would contribute greatly to preventing industrial injuries? If the Government can pour out a torrent of legislation against trade unions, why can they not produce legislation of this importance, to reduce injuries at work? As the Minister knows, days lost through that far and away exceed the number of days lost through strike action.

Mr. Nicholls

Presumably, the hon. Gentleman cannot be aware of the fact that the Health and Safety Commission is a tripartite body. Therefore, before any regulations or proposed legislation can be put to Ministers, they have to pass through a complicated process to ensure that all sides of industry have their say. There is no question of the Government having dragged their feet, but if the hon. Gentleman is interested in tripartite structures, he will have to accept that bringing proposals forward might not happen as speedily as he would want.

Mr. Hind

Is not Britain far ahead of our EEC partners in health and safety protection at work? Does my hon. Friend agree that when it comes to protecting the worker in the workplace, in terms both of employment and health and safety, we need no lessons from the Europeans and certainly no social charter?

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend is entirely right. We are very much in advance in this, and the Europeans have nothing to teach us either in regard to legislation or in the vigour with which it is implemented.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

If the Minister is serious in saying that we need no lessons on health and safety, how is it that every year there are over 200,000 injuries at work and that every working day two people die? The Government's response has been to cut by over 100 the number of factory inspectors responsible for monitoring that situation. Is the Minister not guilty of the most disgraceful complacency when he tells my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that we have to wait for seven years for proposals to see the light of day? Are not the Government simply indifferent about what happens to working people at their place of work?

Mr. Nicholls

The fact that the hon. Gentleman is even capable of making such a remark shows how unwise it is to write a supplementary question before hearing the answer to the main question. I have already pointed out to the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) that the resources to the Health and Safety Commission have not been cut, are at least as good as under the last Labour Administration and, for the past three years, have been met in full. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that one can abolish accidents and fatalities at work simply by increasing the number of inspectors, he has an attitude to these matters that is so simplistic that, even coming from the Labour Benches, it is quite staggering.