HC Deb 26 March 1996 vol 274 cc891-934
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Before I call the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to move the motion, I must announce that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.18 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House notes that workplace accidents caused over 30,000 deaths and major injuries and over 138,000 injuries involving three or more days off work in 1994–95; notes that threatened Government cuts mean, in the words of the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, that "we can not meet all the expectations and requirements that Government, Parliament and the Courts are placing on us with the resources now available"; recognises that privatisation of the nuclear, mining, gas and railway industries is increasing the burden of safety regulation and enforcement placed on the Health and Safety Executive; believes that a safe and secure working environment is essential to the well-being of employees and to economic success; notes that the Commission does not believe that health and safety is a burden to small business; and therefore calls on the Government to withdraw the threat of funding cuts from the Health and Safety Executive and to reverse deregulation initiatives that threaten health and safety standards. It is not often that a leaked document so comprehensively endorses the Opposition's case against the Government, and it is all the more striking when it has been written by one of the Government's appointees. The letter that is to be sent by Mr. Frank Davies, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission and formerly chairman of Rockware plc, does exactly that.

The Opposition have constantly said that the Tory Government were taking unacceptable risks with safety. We are now told officially by the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission: the Commission … conclude that we cannot meet all the expectations and requirements that the Government, Parliament and the Courts are placing on us with the resources now available. He could not be clearer than that.

The Opposition have constantly said that health and safety were underfunded. We are now told authoritatively: Assuming that our request for these additional resources is met"— Mr. Davies is asking for £18 million, which is pretty optimistic and that there are no further budget restrictions, we will still be facing a range of cuts in our operations, including a reduction in the number of Field Operations Division inspectors and of preventive inspections.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I shall go through what is in the letter. If, when he has listened to that, the hon. Gentleman wishes to come in, I shall be pleased to take his intervention.

The Opposition have constantly argued that proper health and safety provision was a foundation both of employee safety and of corporate success, not a penalty. Here we are told, by a former company chairman: Cutting HSE does not reduce burdens on business. We have constantly asserted that privatisation undermined safety. We are now officially informed: Health and safety in the railway and gas industries in particular (though not exclusively) are high on the agenda of public concern; nuclear privatisation will raise similar concerns.

Mr. Mans

Will me hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I have not finished with the letter yet, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to hear what his own Government-appointed chairman of the Health and Safety Commission had to say.

The Opposition have constantly argued that the Government's deregulation dogma puts safety at risk. Now we have it officially on the record that the pressure for new action that is, action in reviewing and dismantling regulations— not least from the Deregulation Task Force and Unit, is relentless". That leaked letter blows out of the water the Government's complacent claim that safety was being protected, and that there were no grounds to fear that lives were being put at risk. They clearly were, and they clearly still are.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way now that he has finished with the letter?

Mr. Meacher


Dr. Spink

The hon. Gentleman has just read out a letter. Does he believe what it says? Does he think that health and safety are underfunded by the Government? If so, by how much does he think the Government should increase their spending, and will that be a Labour spending commitment?

Mr. Meacher

It is perfectly clear that health and safety are underfunded, and that the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission believes that an extra £18 million is the minimum necessary to restore spending to what he regards as the bottom line. Indeed, I am sure that he would say that a great deal more was needed.

I notice that the Conservative Government never fail to fund money for inspectors to check on social security fraud. There are several hundred more of them then there are dealing with industrial safety. If the Government want more money, clearly they can find it for such purposes.

Mr. Mans


Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)


Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way for a moment.

Just as the nation is now learning to its cost that ministerial reassurances over BSE—bovine spongiform encephalopathy—were either misleading or even downright dishonest, so on all five count—

Mr. Jenkin

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I clearly heard the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) imply that statements made by Ministers had been misleading—

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Or dishonest.

Mr. Jenkin

—or dishonest. Surely that is out of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Statements referring to deliberate dishonesty are out of order. The hon. Member for Oldham, West might like to rephrase what he said.

Mr. Meacher

I am happy to rephrase, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by omitting the word "deliberate". In the light of the revelations of the past week, I do not think that there are many people in the country who do not now believe that what Ministers said in the past did mislead, and was dishonest—although I am prepared to accept that that may not have been deliberate.

Mr. Jenkin

He has just repeated it.

Mr. Meacher

On all the five counts that I read out, the letter shows that ministerial assurances about safety were hardly worth the paper that they were written on.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to withdraw something and then just repeat it? Is that not contempt of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman did not just repeat it. The word that he used was "Ministers" in the plural; that is acceptable.

Mr. Meacher

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Our first charge is that the Health and Safety Commission cannot meet the requirements laid down by Parliament. [Interruption.] I hope that Conservative Members, who, for understandable reasons, are rather exercised about BSE, will also pay attention to what has happened with HSE, which is just as serious.

As I said, the first charge is that the Health and Safety Commission cannot meet the requirements laid down by Parliament. Major injury rates in many industries are now rising. In the hotel and catering industry, for example, they have nearly doubled over the past decade. Among the self-employed, a fast-growing section of the population, the major injury rate has shot up by one third over the past 10 years, and the fatality rate among them is now more than double that of employees. Yet HSE staff numbers are falling.

Mr. Mans

Just so that we can have the facts on the record, I shall ask the hon. Gentleman a question. Will it be the policy of any incoming Labour Government to restore the £18 million that he suggests has been cut from the HSE budget?

Mr. Meacher

The fact is—

Mr. Mans

Yes or no?

Mr. Meacher

I shall not say yes or no; I shall give my own answer. I find it extraordinary that the Government can spend hundreds of millions of pounds on dealing with social security fraud, but cannot find an extra £18 million. We are concerned to ensure that safety is properly protected, and that is what will happen.

The fact is that HSE staff—

Mr. Jenkin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No; I shall get back to the subject that we are debating—the extremely damaging and dangerous health and safety situation that has resulted from Government cuts. When the hon. Gentleman has listened to a little more, if he has a relevant comment to make I shall give way.

The letter from the chairman of the commission notes that there are now 8 per cent. fewer staff than there were two years ago, and that further planned cuts will lead to a reduction of 20 per cent. by the turn of the century. Those are far bigger cuts than could possibly be absorbed by any improvements in efficiency. As a result, the HSE, in an unpublished work plan, shows that planned inspections are now falling sharply.

The number of inspections fell by 6 per cent. last year on the previous year, and will have fallen by a further 8 per cent. this year compared with last. Other essential HSE work is also falling behind. For example, the investigation of accidents and complaints is planned to fall by 8 per cent. over two years.

Most seriously of all, the number of proceedings instituted by HSE inspection staff for breaches, some of them pretty serious, of health and safety regulations fell over the two years to 1994 by no less than 26 per cent., so an extremely serious situation has now arisen.

If all that were taking place against a background of a falling injury rate or a falling work load, it would be more readily understood—but it is not. The work load is increasing remorselessly, and the number of workplaces, too, is steadily increasing. Furthermore, rightly in my view, a whole range of new responsibilities has been placed on the HSE over the past 12 years, covering asbestos licensing, genetic modification, gas safety, the transport of dangerous goods by road, pesticides, railway safety, nuclear safety research, offshore safety and outdoor activity centres.

Several European Union directives have involved extra safety functions for the Health and Safety Executive and, most serious of all, the fragmentation of industry—as a result of privatisation—has hugely increased its work load.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

Has my hon. Friend seen the figures from the Health and Safety Executive about the fragmentation of the coal industry, and the fact that major injuries in the private industry increased by 17 per cent. between April and September 1995 compared with the same period under British Coal? Does that not mean that we need to monitor the situation more carefully?

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend is quite right: the situation certainly must be monitored. There has been a huge reduction in the number of coal mines owned by British Coal, and a steady increase in the number of private coal mines. This situation is serious, as most accidents occur in private mines. I think that the number of inspectors in the coal industry has decreased to 22, which is totally inadequate for the size of the task facing them.

Enforcing a cut in staffing consistently over the years, against the steadily mounting responsibilities—it is quite right that they have been placed on the HSE—is like dismantling the dyke as the storm waves roll in. That is something for which the Government have to answer.

Charge two is that health and safety has not been properly funded, because the Government put cost cutting above safety. According to this year's Department of the Environment annual report, Government funding of HSE at constant prices is planned to fall by 14 per cent. over the next three years. As the agency spends about four fifths of its budget on staff, cuts in the budget mean staff reductions and—all too often, unfortunately—it is the most experienced who are pensioned off.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Given the fact that we are not going to get an answer about the Labour party's spending plans on the Health and Safety Executive, I take the hon. Gentleman to task on his totally groundless assertion that privatisation has somehow affected the safety records of the industries concerned.

Is it not the case that, in the railway industry, the safety record is improving, that it has improved in the gas industry, that it has improved in the electricity industry, and that it has improved in the construction industry? Is it not really the case that the Labour party is trying to find arguments against privatisation because it is ideologically committed against it? Will the hon. Gentleman give me one single instance where the Labour party has supported a privatisation proposal over the past 15 years?

Mr. Meacher

We have not supported privatisation—and for very good reasons. The health and safety record of privatisation is appalling—it is substantially worse than when the organisation is publicly owned.

Mr. Jacques Arnold


Mr. Meacher

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman—I am answering a question asked by his hon. Friend.

There has been a lower fatality record in certain industries simply because the number of people employed in them has been reduced—there has been a huge reduction in the number of people employed in construction, in energy and in agriculture. Therefore, there is a lower fatality and major injury rate—purely because of the far fewer people who are working in the industries. The hon. Gentleman's premise is plainly wrong: the safety record of privatised industries is actually worse—for the very good reasons that I am about to give.

Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North)

Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to point out to some of the ignorant people on the Benches opposite that—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members, not people.

Mr. Etherington

Would my hon. Friend like to point out to Government Members that it was only on the nationalisation of the coal industry, the electricity industry and the railway industry that we started to see a substantial reduction in accidents? It is pretty fair to assume that—as we are now seeing the opposite—what Government Members are saying is rubbish.

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend has confirmed the point that I have been making: the record on privatisation is poor. The number of defects in rail safety and the continual stream of major failings by Railtrack—which we saw last year—suggest that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) should think very carefully before suggesting that privatisation produces a better record.

Mr. Arnold

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I will not.

Of the 102 jobs that were lost last year, 85 were senior inspectors—I am making the point that, unfortunately, it is the most experienced who have been taken out. There is now a largely inexperienced group of staff, with the few senior staff left being largely taken up with training the rest. As a result, some people are now saying—I am only repeating it—that inspections are more superficial than they used to be.

The deepest cuts have been in occupational health. Each year, about 2,000 people die in Britain as a result of illness contracted at work—that is about five times the number of people who die as a result of industrial accidents—and the number of deaths is rising, particularly those from asbestosis.

The HSE's team of specialist doctors and nurses has been almost halved—in Scotland, there are only two doctors and four nurses; and in the largest of the HSE's regions, Wales and the south-west, there is only one doctor and five nurses to cover a huge geographical area and an enormous range of industries and industrial health problems. That is taking cuts almost to the point of invisibility.

Charge three is that privatisation is bad for safety—and perhaps the hon. Gentleman who asked the question will find some of this relevant. Commercial pressures will always tend to lead to cost cutting. Staff cuts, lower pay and longer hours will always be attractive in the search for greater profit margins. The experience of the deregulated bus industry shows that lower hours are directly associated with a poorer safety record, because fatigue causes accidents.

Privatisation also makes the jobs of inspectors far more complex. Railway inspectors at Crewe, for example, used to go to British Rail if there was a problem—they now have to get in touch with 25 different train operating companies. As I said, last summer a succession of leaks exposed major failings in Railtrack's safety operation, yet Britain now has to rely on only 36 railway safety inspectors, and Scotland has to rely on only three.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

Only if it is relevant to what I have just been saying.

Mr. Arnold

The hon. Gentleman made reference to public service vehicle licences.

Mr. Meacher

No, I did not.

Mr. Arnold

Yes, the hon. Gentleman made reference to PSVs about two paragraphs ago, as he will see if he cares to look at his notes. Will he tell hon. Members what changes were made to the hours that such people should work before privatisation and since privatisation, which led to him making the allegations? What has been the precise increase in hours?

Mr. Meacher

I referred to the deregulated bus industry and the fact that, as a result of that deregulation, the hours worked are about 14 per cent. longer than they were before, although pay has fallen. There has been an increase in accidents because of fatigue. Last year, there was an unprecedented increase in complaints about the privatised gas industry, many of them—

Mr. Jenkin


Mr. Meacher

I will not give way again.

Many of those complaints were about safety issues. The coal industry, which is top of the industrial accident league, now relies on only 22 inspectors, despite the recent rapid growth in private employers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) said, most accidents occur in private employers' workplaces.

Mr. Anthony Coombs


Mr. Meacher

No. I will not give way.

Mr. Coombs

On that point?

Mr. Meacher

I will not give way; the hon. Gentleman may resume his seat. Perhaps he would be interested to take into account the fact that British Coal ran a respected occupational health service, which is vital in an industry dogged with respiratory disease. That has now been cut.

As the leaked Frank Davies letter acknowledges, the idea of a privatised nuclear industry is causing serious public anxiety, because there is all the difference in the world between licensing a publicly owned utility with a well-established safety culture and deciding whether to give a private operator the qualification to hold such a licence.

As recently as a week ago, the Prime Minister assured the House that privatising the nuclear industry would not affect safety standards—a comment which, I presume, should be taken in the context of a similar assurance that no arms were exported to Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. The hugely increased problems and complications caused by privatisation cannot be managed by a declining and less experienced inspectorate. That key point needs answering tonight.

Charge four is that prosecutions and convictions for health and safety breaches continue to decrease and fines are often derisory, so the message is being circulated that even serious safety irregularities are nothing much for employers to worry about. Last year, there were a third fewer prosecutions than in 1989, and the average fine was a pathetic £2,500. Such fines, which are common even in the case of a death in the works, insult the worker and his family and act as an incentive to management to make savings at the expense of health and safety.

It is adding insult to injury that more than 99 per cent. of all health and safety prosecutions go, not to Crown courts, where large fines or jail sentences are possible, but to magistrates courts, where the heaviest possible sentence is only a few thousand pounds. If we are serious about stopping the growing catalogue of death and maimings at work, the least we can do is ensure that the most serious health and safety offences go to the Crown court.

I emphasise that responsibility for health and safety must be vested at the highest level of each organisation. Not underlings, but a few well-known white collars, should be prosecuted for gross negligence. Companies responsible in the late 1980s for the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, the King's Cross fire, the Piper Alpha oil platform disaster and the Clapham rail crash all got off scot-free because the law currently requires blame to be pinned on a single person who is, as the statute says, "the controlling mind" of the organisation. That makes it almost impossible to convict a corporation of manslaughter. Companies should appoint an individual at board level with overall responsibility for health and safety.

Employers must be legally prevented from penalising workers who express legitimate doubts about safety. Scandalously, 140 North sea oil workers were made jobless because they queried safety standards after the Piper Alpha disaster. Although that happened many years ago, similar dismissals continue to take place frequently today.

I quote one of many cases whose details were recently sent to me by several citizens advice bureaux. A CAB in the south of England reports the case of a man working for an electronics company. At the end of October, a work colleague had had his arm caught in a conveyor belt. Three days later, another colleague caught his hand in the same conveyor belt. The man was worried because there was no safety guard on the conveyor belt, and raised the problem with his employer, saying that he would no longer work on the conveyor belt until the appropriate guards were put in place. He was dismissed. That is extremely serious. Obviously, any employer should be legally prevented from sacking workers who draw attention to safety problems.

I return to the central theme of the debate—that health and safety will be adequately protected only if there are enough inspectors and they undertake enough inspections. That cannot be achieved on current performance with the current establishment—22,000 fewer workplace inspections this year and 380 inspections per inspector year, compared with 420 last year, and decreasing. A century ago, workplaces were inspected once a year—there were, of course, many fewer of them. Two decades ago, it was once every four years. Now it is less than once every 12 years on average. Many workplaces are never inspected. A recent survey found that more than half of all workplaces are not notified, or known, to the authorities.

Charge five is that, all too often, the Tory party puts profits before safety. It did so in pushing through rail privatisation before an adequate safety framework was in place, as even Railtrack's safety director was forced to admit. It did so when the Deputy Prime Minister's deregulation unit prevented HSE inspectors from issuing immediate improvement notices in potentially dangerous workplaces. It did so in connection with BSE, by changing Labour's planned controls on animal feed and allowing the industry to decide for itself on cattle feeding. It did so, most cynically of all, in Westminster by deliberately channelling homeless people into accommodation that Conservatives knew to be asbestos-ridden, to secure a voting advantage.

Mr. Mans

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I will not.

A party that treats the public's safety with such reckless disregard does not deserve to stay in office. If ministerial assurances about beef, asbestos, rail privatisation and workplace safety are now almost universally distrusted and disbelieved, the Government should now go.

7.46 pm
The Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: `welcomes the Government's commitment to maintaining standards of health and safety at work whilst removing unnecessary burdens on business; endorses the Health and Safety Commission and Executive's role of assisting and encouraging business in its duty to assess risk and take action accordingly; and approves the rigorous approach which the Government takes to improving efficiency and effectiveness in all areas of public service.'. As always, I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). Even for a Labour party that habitually resorts to the use of stolen or leaked documents to prosecute its case, this was a strange record, based as it was on a letter that was never agreed or sent, much less received by Ministers. It is extraordinary that the Opposition motion fails to mention so many things that are much more relevant to the debate than gossip and tittle-tattle.

In quoting in the motion a figure of more than 30,000 deaths and major injuries, the Opposition are insensitively grouping about 30,000 major injuries and the deaths of 381 employees, self-employed people and members of the public. I do not believe for a moment that those figures are to be taken lightly. The Opposition motion fails to mention that the HSE has reduced the number of fatal injuries to employees by more than half since 1981. The number of major injuries has fallen by more than 15 per cent. since 1986–87. It fails to mention that the number of injuries to employees and to the self-employed involving three or more days off work has fallen by more than 21,000 since 1986–87. Since 1979, the HSE has presided over a steady fall in the number of work-related accidents and fatalities. The fatal injury rate for employees is at an all-time low—about a third of what it was in the early 1970s.

Mr. Meacher

Will the Minister accept that that is because the old, traditional industries, which were far and away the most dangerous, have many fewer people working for them? Bearing in mind also the huge increase in the number of safer and smaller premises, will he accept that there has been no reduction in either fatalities or major accidents?

Mr. Jones

No, I do not accept that. We should compare the rate of accidents per 100,000 employees and, on that basis, there have been large improvements across the board. We should not be judged, as the hon. Gentleman believes, according to some bogus measure of how much is spent: we should be judged according to our achievements.

As the hon. Gentleman was a member of the last Labour Government, I propose to compare their achievements—or lack thereof—with ours. I remind the House that in 1978 the fatal injury rate was 2.2 per 100,000 workers. It is now 0.9—the lowest level on record. In the construction industry—a sector in which I worked during the last Labour Government's period in office—there were 12.2 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers. That figure is now 6.2—the lowest level on record. Under the last Labour Government, the figure for the railways—an industry to which the hon. Gentleman has devoted much time—was 19.7 per 100,000 workers. That compares with 7.7 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers in that industry under the Conservative Government. The 19.7 figure was an increase from 18.7, which was the level when Labour took office.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

In referring to the construction industry, is the Minister including in his figures any injuries involving 714 operators?

Mr. Jones

I am citing the figures for employees in the construction industry. I shall come to the self-employed in a moment, as it is a relevant point. The last Labour Government did not compile figures regarding the number of major injuries to members of the public—it took a Conservative Government to publish those. That is another step forward.

The Government should be judged also on our comparison with Europe and the world. According to the Health and Safety Executive, the number of deaths per 100,000 employees in the United Kingdom is half that of Germany, less than half the level in Italy, a third of the level in France, a quarter of the level in the United States and one seventh of the level in Spain. The number of injuries follows a similar pattern.

The Government have made abundantly clear many times our commitment to maintaining all necessary standards of health and safety protection for workers and for the public. I do not propose to take any lessons from Labour Members, given their appalling record. All those involved must play their part in ensuring that those standards are effective in the workplace. That is a clear principle of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. It is not just a matter for the Government or for purely specialist interests, such as the Health and Safety Commission or the Health and Safety Executive: it is the responsibility of every employer and employee.

Earlier today, in discussion with the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), I referred to the fact that accidents occur because people are stupid. He subsequently issued a press release denouncing me for that comment. I make it perfectly clear: if it were not for stupid people—whether they are employers, employees or members of the public—the accident rate today would be much lower. That is common sense.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

The Minister may wriggle and try to reinterpret his remarks, but his statement was totally insensitive. He was trying to find an excuse for why employees are killed and maimed at work. It ill behoves him to say that the 135 people who died on Piper Alpha were stupid.

Mr. Jones

There is nothing wrong with saying that people often cause accidents through stupidity. If we were all more careful, there would be far fewer accidents. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's experience has been, but I am sure that all hon. Members will acknowledge that every accident in which they have been involved—whether they were the victims or the cause of the accident—occurred largely because of stupidity, ignorance and all of the other human characteristics.

Mr. McCartney


Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is correct. That is why the purpose of the Health and Safety Executive is to assess where those risks are likely to arise and to devote its efforts to preventing them.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that a previous HSE report about fatal accidents concluded that about 70 per cent. of accidents were the result of inadequate safety management? That is a very different picture from the extremely inappropriate and undesirable one that the Minister is portraying.

Mr. Jones

I am relying on the Health and Safety Executive's study of accidents at work, which showed that almost three quarters were preventable either by management or by workers. Someone slipped up; someone was stupid. That is true not only of accidents at work but of those in the home and in the community.

The Government's role is clear: we must ensure that the legal framework is correct. Our basic legal framework is envied the world over. It sets goals that business must achieve; it does not tie firms up in details and prescriptive rules that quickly become out of date and therefore worse than useless. It focuses attention on risk and it promotes a response that is proportionate to that risk—tight controls if the risk is high, and a common-sense approach if the risk is slight.

I shall give one example of the impact of effective control. On the advice of the HSC, we introduced regulations requiring that helmets be worn on construction sites. A survey conducted afterwards estimated that those regulations alone reduced the number of fatal accidents by 41 per cent. and the number of major injuries by 22 per cent. To put it another way, 20 lives were saved every year. That is a significant improvement.

The Government are ensuring that our legal framework will work even better. In 1992, we asked the Health and Safety Commission to review all health and safety law—the biggest review of such law since the Robens report. We wanted to know whether it was still relevant to the risks faced by workers and the public. The Commission—which, I remind Opposition Members, includes members of the Trades Union Congress—found that 40 per cent. of health and safety law affecting the generality of business could be repealed as it was unnecessary.

We make no apologies for seeking to remove red tape from business, especially small firms. Time spent trying to find out what the law requires, or filling in countless forms, is time that is not spent running the business safely and profitably. We need a safety culture in all our firms, large and small, whereby the management of health and safety is seen as a primary task involving not just management, but staff, suppliers and customers.

Removing unnecessary law will simplify the system: it will help business to focus on dealing effectively with the real risks and on complying with the essentials.

It also makes good business sense for employers to ensure that their businesses are safe and healthy places in which to work or to visit. The annual cost to business of work-related accidents and ill health is estimated to be between £4 billion and £9 billion. Health and safety is not simply a matter of obeying the law, nor of business common sense: firms have an important moral obligation to the community to ensure that neither employees nor the public are endangered by their activities. Employees and others are required legally to pay proper attention to health and safety at work. It makes good economic sense for business and, perhaps more importantly, it is the right thing for employers and their staff to do.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

I am delighted that the Minister is now getting on to the question of the safety of the surrounding population as well as of the work force. Since privatisation, and particularly since the privatisation of Aldermaston and Burghfield in my constituency, the Health and Safety Executive has been left as one of the few regulatory bodies to look into the very great risks—albeit a small risk in terms of likelihood—of what might happen if anything did go wrong at a nuclear site. I hope that the Minister will agree with me that any cuts to the HSE that in any way increased the risk at a nuclear site would be totally inappropriate.

Mr. Jones

Our objective is to build better performance in the future out of well-achieved performance in the past.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

On the point that the Minister made about a safety culture, he will be aware that the British deep coal mining industry was the safest industry in the world prior to privatisation. Can he confirm that, since privatisation, there has been an increase in fatalities and major accidents in terms of numbers per hundred thousand?

Mr. Jones

No, I cannot confirm that; indeed, it is not the case.

I shall set the figures that I have given in context to assess risks in the workplace. Let us consider fatalities. Nearly 400 employees, self-employed people and members of the public died as a result of workplace activity in 1994–95. In the year to September 1995, 3,663 people were killed in road accidents. In 1992—the last year for which figures were available-3,841 people died in accidents at home.

Let us examine the figures for major injuries. About 30,000 employees, self-employed people and members of the public received major injuries because of work-related activity in 1994–95. That figure compares with 46,115 people who were seriously injured on the road in the year to September 1995, and with 210,600 serious accidents in the home in 1994. Of course we would all love to be able to eliminate all risks from our lives.

Mr. Tipping

The Minister has been talking about major injuries. Returning to the coal industry, will he confirm that the HSE's figures show that major injuries in that industry have increased by 17 per cent. in the period from April to September 1995 compared with the same period under British Coal?

Mr. Jones

I do not know what is the source of the hon. Gentleman's figures.

Mr. Meacher

The Health and Safety Executive.

Mr. Jones

Those figures were not available from any source that I have seen. Perhaps the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) will refer to the precise source of the figures later if he has an opportunity to speak.

We would love to be able to eliminate risk, but we have to live in the real world. I suggest to Opposition Members that the evidence is that we are making great strides forward in identifying and controlling risks in the workplace. That does not mean that anyone should be complacent. In 1994–95, for example, within the downward trend of fatalities, there was a small increase in deaths in agriculture. The HSE is a sophisticated body, however, and it is well able to adjust to changing priorities. For example, it is working with manufacturers and suppliers of equipment in the agricultural sector to make their products safer and easier to maintain.

There has been much scaremongering about the effects of privatisation on health and safety. Let me put the record straight on that. On railways, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is satisfied that the current safety regime, which was put in place by the HSC with his agreement, is achieving its aim of maintaining standards during the process of privatisation and beyond. This year, the HSC plans, among other things, to visit all "new" operators as part of the railway inspectorate's planned programme of visits.

On gas safety, the Government accepted in full the HSC's March 1995 report, "British Gas Supply: A Safety Framework", which proposed a safety regime to support liberalisation of the domestic gas supply market. On 1 April, new Gas Safety (Management) Regulations 1996 will come into force, putting the Commission's report into effect. The new regulations will maintain existing safety standards and, where possible, offer scope to improve them. They require gas transporters to submit a safety case which must be accepted by the HSE.

Tougher legislation was also introduced in 1994 to reduce further the incidence of gas-related carbon monoxide poisoning by placing specific duties on landlords to maintain gas appliances supplied by them in rented accommodation and to arrange annual safety checks. New regulations, also to come into force on 1 April, will do more to combat carbon monoxide poisoning. The HSC has backed that up with highly effective publicity and advice, and it has run some major publicity campaigns, including some on the dangers of gas-related carbon monoxide poisoning.

The current nuclear regulatory regime in the UK is internationally recognised as a rigorous system for ensuring that a high level of nuclear safety is achieved. The Government fully support that approach. As a result of the commission's advice to the Government's nuclear review, the companies that in future will run the nuclear power stations affected by privatisation have been required to apply for new nuclear site licences.

This year, the HSC plans to undertake an audit on the impact of restructuring the nuclear industry to confirm that safety standards are being maintained. It will also continue its work on inspection of radioactive waste and ensure that progress is made on the decommissioning of older nuclear chemical plants. The Government are satisfied that the current work programme will ensure that existing high standards of health and safety will be maintained.

Industries involved in privatisation or liberalisation have seen steady improvements in health and safety since the 1970s. The number of fatal accidents in the mines industry has decreased from 13 in 1990–91 to two in 1994–95. On the railways, the number of fatal accidents has decreased from 68 in 1991–92 to 42 in 1994–95. In some industries, such as mines, part of the reduction is, of course, related to the down sizing of the industry. In other industries, such as railways, the reduction can only be the result of an effective safety regime and the monitoring of safety standards.

The commercial successes of privatisation have not been achieved by compromising on health and safety. On the contrary, as Ministers have said repeatedly, we remain absolutely committed to helping privatised businesses to maintain necessary health and safety standards. It is in any case absurd to argue that commercial managements would take risks with their employees or their customers.

What really irks Opposition Members is that privatisation is succeeding. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). Privatisation is increasing business efficiency, and it is allowing employees to take a direct stake in the companies in which they work and to feel more than ever that they have a personal interest in the success of those companies. Indeed, it is giving everyone the opportunity to own a real share of the nation's assets. The number of private shareholders has more than trebled, from 3 million in 1979 to 10 million today.

Mr. Meacher

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jones

If the hon. Gentleman wants to tell me about his shareholdings, I will give way.

Mr. Meacher

On the point that the Minister is making about employee involvement in companies, does he think that it is right that employers can currently sack employees who raise queries on safety standards? If he thinks that that is wrong, what do the Government plan to do about it?

Mr. Jones

As the hon. Gentleman knows, legislation is before the House on that issue, which we have been following with interest.

Even if it is too much to expect Opposition Members to join me in applauding the success of privatisation, they can surely join me in acclaiming the achievements of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive in their 21st year. We should not be knocking a system that works.

Mr. Ian McCartney


Mr. Jones

No, I have been very generous in giving way.

The HSC inherited a considerable burden of outdated and disparate health and safety law—with an ethos based on the old-fashioned idea that regulation must spell out in great detail what had to be done, and precisely how. Of the many achievements the HSC and the HSE can be proud of, perhaps the single most important contribution was to replace that outmoded approach to regulation with a new risk-based approach, encouraging employers and others to take action appropriate to the risk involved—no more and no less. The predominant thrust of today's regulatory activity is self-regulation: the acceptance of their responsibilities by those who cause the risks.

Nowhere has that contribution been more important than in the formulation of European health and safety legislation, in which the HSC's pressure, backed by its recognised expertise, has resulted in the progressively wider adoption of a risk-based system of regulation. That approach is far more effective and less burdensome on business than the more prescriptive legislation found in some other member states, which no doubt accounts for their much worse safety record.

At the same time as pushing forward that sea change in philosophy, the HSC has also provided continuity by maintaining a large-scale annual programme of workplace inspection and investigation. The speed with which our traditional industrial base has given way to new technologies has required considerable effort on the part of HSE inspectors to keep abreast of new technologies, new products, new materials and new processes. The HSE's field force has met the challenge magnificently. Along with all other Government Departments and agencies, the HSE must maximise its efficiency and effectiveness. Vital though the work is, there are many other calls on the public purse.

The HSE has a strong record of efficiency improvements. In 1994–95 it made efficiency savings of almost 3 per cent. of its running costs. That was achieved while broadly maintaining the level of staff resources deployed on inspection. The HSE used a variety of efficiency techniques to make these savings, including market testing, contracting out and other "Competing for Quality" measures. Its market testing programme alone has led to savings of £5 million a year.

Information technology has helped the HSE to make substantial gains in efficiency and effectiveness. The new Focus computer system, which includes a database of hundreds of thousands of industrial premises, will provide better information on which to base management decisions and improve the quality of advice that can be given to industry.

Like any large and complex organisation, the HSE continues to evolve. It operates in, and seeks to regulate, a rapidly changing industrial environment. The structural changes in British industry, including the growth in small firms and technological advances, have produced shifts in the pattern of workplace accidents and have caused the HSE to rethink the way it carries out inspections and interacts with those in control of work activities. That has led to the development of new techniques, alongside the traditional workplace inspection visit, to ensure that new and major risks are adequately regulated.

HSE is also undergoing structural change. It is moving to a leaner management structure—[Interruption.] It is typical of Opposition Members to be interested in management, not in what is being done on the ground by inspectors who are trying to deliver better safety. It is the record that counts. The HSE is moving to a leaner management structure, with improved arrangements for quality assurance and more effective collaboration between its many different areas of professional expertise. All this should further enhance its efficiency and effectiveness.

To sum up: the United Kingdom has a health and safety system that works. It is a risk-based system that focuses on prevention. It places responsibility on those in the workplace to assess and manage the risks. I therefore urge the House to throw out the Opposition motion and approve the Government amendment.

8.11 pm
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport)

I am pleased to take the opportunity that this debate offers to raise some of my concerns about the operation of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994.

Greater Manchester has the highest student population in Europe. It also has a high number of houses in multiple occupation—often old houses converted into flats and bedsits. Students occupy the worst of this accommodation. Unlike other low income groups, they are not able to claim, through housing benefit, a subsidy for their accommodation. That means that they tend to occupy the cheaper accommodation. It is cheaper because it is usually of a lower standard, either in terms of space, structure or repair, or because of its fixtures and fittings—or lack of them.

In these properties are to be found old, faulty and poorly maintained gas fires. In answer to a parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) on 19 January 1996, the Minister for Health said that, on average, 272 young people under the age of 25 suffer a non-fatal incident of carbon monoxide poisoning every year, and 28 die. It is not difficult to see why.

On the same date, the Minister gave the comparable figures for 1985, when 250 accidental injuries owing to carbon monoxide poisoning were ascribed to home heating appliances. In 1994, there were 211, which is not very different. There were 16 deaths in 1985 and 30 in 1994—almost a 100 per cent. increase. These statistics and public pressure prompted the Government to introduce the 1994 regulations.

As the House will be aware, the regulations place a duty on landlords to have their gas fires inspected annually, and they allow prosecutions of landlords who fail to do so to be brought under section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It is estimated that between 349,000 and 699,000 households are affected by the regulations.

To find out how effective the regulations are, I asked a parliamentary question to which the Minister responded on 7 February. He said that only two convictions had been secured since the introduction of the regulations. But that information appears to be wrong, because the director general of the Health and Safety Executive told me in a letter that 41 convictions had been obtained. Whether the true figure is two or 41, it is still too low, considering the number of properties involved and the state they are in.

I am left speculating as to the reasons. The first problem is that the system relies on self-reporting. There is no independent inspection of HMOs; it is not within the remit of the fire service or the local authority to check gas appliances. There may be a registration scheme for houses in multiple occupation, but it does not apply in this case.

The problem is well illustrated by a case brought to me recently by a landlord, who complained about Manchester city council's enforcement of the regulations in respect of a faulty gas fire in his rented property. On following up the matter, it was clear to me that the city council had admirably discharged its responsibility. Because of the landlord's delaying tactics, the council had gone in, done the necessary work and presented him with the bill—which is what he was complaining about. It was clear to me that the landlord saw his tenants as trouble makers and was determined to evict them at the earliest opportunity because of their contact with the council.

Irresponsible and neglectful landlords are the very people who are likely to fail to maintain gas fires and to make their tenants pay, either by rent increases, or by threatening them with eviction. Such are the limitations of self-reporting.

I suggest that the greatest problem with making the regulations effective stems from the shortages of staff and resources in the HSE. I have also asked the Minister about the number of complaints made by tenants and the number of visits by inspectors, but I was told that the information was not available. It would appear from the letter from the director general of the HSE that such information is simply not reported—very convenient, since it would embarrass the Government if it showed that the problem was indeed caused by a shortage of inspectors to implement the regulations.

Since the free gas safety advice line was set up in October 1995, more than 10,600 calls have been received, of which it is estimated that half came from tenants. Quite what that estimate means I do not know, as the information—again—is not recorded. I remind the Minister that only two prosecutions have been brought and only 31 enforcement notices issued by the HSE. I strongly suggest that those figures do not reflect accurately the scale of the problem. They merely reflect the fact that there are not enough inspectors or resources to do the job. Gas fires in the properties of unprincipled landlords are dangerous: they kill people.

Gas fires will continue to kill people unless the Government give the HSE the resources to do the job. What is the point of putting regulations on the statute book without underpinning them with the necessary resources? That renders them meaningless. I maintain that the statistics on enforcement and prosecution—they are the only ones we have—prove a lack of resources. That in turn means that the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations will not achieve the admirable objective for which they were introduced.

I ask the Minister to look again at this problem and to act, because act lie must. These fires are dangerous, and people will continue to die unless something is done. The Minister has it within his power to reduce the incidence of carbon monoxide poisoning in this country. This week, the Government have said repeatedly that life is a risk. That seems to be the current line.

Mr. Etherington

Does my hon. Friend agree that she has made a paramount case for positive regulation that would place statutory responsibility on landlords to have appliances properly maintained by someone who has the knowledge to do it?

Ms Coffey

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am sure that we are in total agreement that action must be taken.

This week, the Government have stated repeatedly that life is a risk, but surely it is the responsibility of the Government to minimise that risk, through the regulations that they put on the statute book and the staff they employ to underpin those regulations. If the Minister were to underpin the regulations with some resources, he might be able to reduce the number of people who die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year because of faulty gas fires.

8.20 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) on her thought-provoking and interesting speech. I have not applied my mind to the gas regulations before. The hon. Lady raised some important points and mentioned some disturbing statistics and I very much hope that my hon. Friend, in replying to the debate, will consider what she has said thoughtfully.

In that spirit, I venture to suggest that the hon. Lady's proposal of state regulation as the sole prescription for addressing the problem might not always be appropriate. I am open-minded, as I have not considered the matter in detail, but she should remember that such a diversified problem affects many individual locations and the responsibility of many individuals. Although she referred to properties in multiple occupation or landlord-let properties, some of the figures she mentioned might also apply to owner-occupied properties.

Ms Coffey

indicated dissent.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Lady shakes her head, so I stand corrected.

Public education, for example, could play a significant role in alerting individuals to the responsibility for their own safety. Obviously that is not the total answer, but I noticed the strong theme in the hon. Lady's speech. She insisted that the problem was the sole responsibility of Government, but her conclusion that the Government should be solely responsible for all those safety issues cannot be the final answer.

Mr. Etherington

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I am quite impressed by his approach. It would be fair to say, however, that when a problem is as well documented as the role of landlords in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is not unreasonable to expect the Government to take some action.

Mr. Jenkin

I fully understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I reiterate that I have not applied my mind to the gas regulations before now. I am simply pointing out that it might not be appropriate to regard all safety issues—even that one—as the sole responsibility of the Government, as though the Government were the only possible solution. Regulation requires a whole range of solutions, not least to educate the public and employees—in their own interests and for their own safety—on how to behave and what to be alert to in particular circumstances.

As a Conservative, I am proud to speak in a debate about health and safety. for in the last century Conservative Governments made a great contribution to health and safety legislation and initiated the manner in which we now regulate health and safety. The Factory Acts spring to mind—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

And the mines and quarries legislation.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend reminds me that the mines and quarries legislation was also produced by Conservative Administrations. Those are examples of good Tory legislation.

As we become a more sophisticated and complex society, we need to create a culture for safety in industry and commerce, not just a regulatory environment. The real lesson that any business man operating a modern business in Britain must learn is that every accident—almost however minor—is of huge, disproportionate expense compared with the costs that might have been saved by omitting to provide for that eventuality.

Industrial accidents are hugely expensive for the businesses concerned and any decent modern business quickly learns—if it has not already learned—that safety is of paramount importance for its own viability, for the contentment of the work force and for the efficiency of the business.

There is a danger of a polarisation in attitudes across the Chamber, with one side of the House offering as the sole solution a huge system of compulsion and enforcement, seeming to neglect the enlightened self-interest of employees and employers to co-operate for their mutual safety.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) referred to employees risking dismissal by raising health and safety issues. I note that he glibly drew conclusions from the little information he gave us, but it is impossible to comment on an individual case. We have absolutely no idea from the information that he gave us of the detail of that case and its background. There might be a whole range of circumstances leading to the dismissal of an employee on health and safety issues. Of course it would be wrong to make it a hanging offence in business to complain about safety issues. Enlightened employers naturally wish to improve their health and safety record because it is bad for business to have a bad record.

In health and safety issues, regulations and enforcement must reflect a balanced assessment of risk. I know that I shall create shock and horror in some parts of the House when I say that the figures that my hon. Friend the Minister produced, comparing accidents on the road and accidents in the home with accidents at work, bear out the suggestion that in some industries we may be over-regulating for safety. It is impossible to envisage an industry that creates no accidents, however desirable that might be, and to regulate out those very last accidents—the last 5 per cent.—would be so prohibitively expensive as to make it impossible to run some industries.

Mr. Ian McCartney

I apologise if the hon. Gentleman has not reached that point in his speech, but will he advise us in which industries should there be total deregulation?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman appears to have misunderstood me. I am not advocating total deregulation of any industry and I would be grateful if he would register that fact. There are, however, industries where it would be impossible to regulate out all accidents. The method of regulation must therefore balance cost and benefit—the cost of regulation must match the benefit in reduced accidents and fewer lives being lost.

Let me give a classic example. Whenever we get into an aircraft, we accept the possibility that it will crash and all the passengers will be killed. We do not insist that the manufacturers include every possible safety feature: for instance, we do not insist that aeroplanes should have six engines in case five fail.

Mr. McCartney

The aeroplanes would never take off.

Mr. Jenkin

That is the point. The expense of applying such a regulation would make it prohibitive and counter-productive. Even after the Manchester air disaster, we do not insist that there should be an emergency exit at the end of every aisle, although many lives would have been saved by the provision of such exits. The same considerations should be applied to the regulation of health and safety in the workplace. Often, not enough cost-benefit analysis is carried out to ensure that the prevention of risk is matched by the cost of implementing safety measures.

For some reason, the public tolerate far fewer accidents and injuries on the railways than on the roads. The statistics are rather embarrassing; I am sure that the Department of Transport would not want me to advertise them. It seems that the cost of the saving of each life and the prevention of each serious injury on the railways by means of safety measures is far higher than it is on the roads: we are not prepared to spend nearly as much on the roads.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Might that not be because on the roads we feel, however mistakenly, that our fate is in our hands—although there may be some mad beggars on the other side of the road—while on a train we are in other people's hands?

Mr. Jenkin

I agree that people are much more wary of risks that they do not understand and do not control. That is why—if I may digress for a moment—the current hysteria about the link between Creutzfeld-Jakob disease and BSE has become so out of control. Not even the scientists really understand the possible links, and because the information is so tentative and the consequences of catching CJD are so disastrous, although the risks may he infinitesimal compared with those of smoking a cigarette or drinking a pint of beer a day, no rational analysis of the risk has been carried out.

The nuclear power industry has been vastly over-regulated. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members are instinctively suspicious of the industry, because it is "nuclear". That apparently puts the risks involved into a completely different category from the risks involved in, for example, crossing the road, although hon. Members are far more likely to suffer as a result of crossing Whitehall on a wet and windy day than to suffer from fallout as a result of a nuclear accident.

I am trying to put all the risks on a scale, but that is difficult, because it is all to do with perception. Nevertheless, we must do that if we are to regulate rationally and intelligently, without imposing excessive costs. If we fail, there will indeed be a terrible cost: we will have fewer jobs. Many may think it strange that we should balance safety in industry and commerce against the possibility of jobs; but if we over-regulate industry, we will not necessarily make industry much safer. There will still be accidents, and the excessive costs could destroy many jobs.

Every hon. Member must accept that it is a question of balance rather than absolutes. Too much health and safety regulation could create a much more dangerous society—a poor society in which there were fewer jobs, businesses were less prosperous and people were prepared to take worse jobs, perhaps with worse safety records, than they would in more prosperous conditions.

I want to view the issue of jobs versus health and safety in the context of the great European debate. The one area in which the United Kingdom has been successful under this Conservative Government is that of job creation. That is because we have taken an intelligent approach to health and safety and risk assessment, and to flexible labour markets. In other European countries, a creeping cross-fertilisation has led to the view that flexible labour markets are somehow inimical to health and safety. The most glaring example of that is the working time directive, which was initially promulgated under a unanimous voting provision of the treaties but which was subsequently labelled a health and safety item.

The recitals to the directive say that limitations on working hours are necessary to health and safety. That may be true in certain industries, and it is possible to regulate those industries individually: truck drivers, for instance, are allowed to drive for a limited time in a particular day or week. It is not necessary, however, to regulate all jobs in that way, and it is irrational to do so on health and safety grounds. Many hon. Members work for considerably more than 48 hours each week—

Mr. McCartney

That is their choice.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but why should we allow the European Community to deny the same choice to others?

Mr. Meacher

They have a choice.

Mr. Jenkin

That is not true. The working time directive will make it illegal for employers to pay people for more than 48 hours a week. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am wrong, I shall be happy to give way to him.

Mr. Meacher

We might as well get the facts right. The working time directive contains a number of exemptions: it excludes public service workers, medical workers, police, firefighters and security people. It also permits an individual to work for more than 48 hours a week if he agrees to do so. What it prevents is the requirement by an employer for that individual to work for more than 48 hours against his will.

Mr. Jenkin

All sorts of employment in all sorts of industries require flexible working patterns. For example, it would be impossible to organise construction contracts effectively—such contracts are very dependent on the weather—if people could not be employed to work short hours in bad weather and long hours in better weather.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

When I worked in the textile industry, while the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was a lecturer in social gerontology, I worked for 72 hours a week for one week and did nothing the following week. That is the continental shift system.

Mr. Jenkin

I am most grateful for a further example.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

May I add a further and rather more up-to-date example? The employees of a recycling firm in my constituency work three days on the trot and then have three days off, and then work another three days. They work 12-hour shifts and they love it because they can have long weekends.

Mr. Jenkin

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and there are innumerable examples that hon. Members could bring to the House of people who voluntarily work more than 48 hours a week and voluntarily take jobs in which at times they will be compelled to work more than 48 hours a week. We do not require a whole European directive, promulgated on the bogus pretext of health and safety, to be imposed.

Mr. Etherington

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin

Certainly, although I wish to finish soon.

Mr. Etherington

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but he will know that I have often given way to him in similar circumstances.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that studies of mining and other heavy industries have shown, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the majority of accidents tend to occur towards the end of an employee's working day? Does he accept that under those circumstances it is bounden upon the Government to regulate the hours? We cannot have a system of deregulation if people are likely to work long hours and injure themselves and others.

Mr. Jenkin

As I have said, there is a case for regulating the hours in some industries. I do not know to which industries the hon. Gentleman referred, but I referred to the transport industry which certainly has regulations on how long people can work in the name of safety and because of fatigue.

Before I fatigue the House too much with my comments, I shall mention another directive with which we are threatened for so-called health and safety reasons—the extension of works councils. There is no conceivable argument in my mind that could justify compulsory works councils for businesses on health and safety grounds. Indeed, the present works councils directive was promulgated under a unanimity provision in the treaty, and the United Kingdom vetoed it. It was then progressed under the social protocol and should not apply in this country. But the United Kingdom now has a competitive advantage and businesses based in the United Kingdom have decided not to invest in the continent of Europe because they will get tangled up in European works councils.

Some big businesses—for example, Hanson Trust—are investing substantially in third countries. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West should stop chattering across the Chamber and listen to what I am saying. He slapped enough Conservative Members down.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman is waffling.

Mr. Jenkin

Businesses are coming to invest in the United Kingdom because they enjoy the flexibility and do not want to get tangled up with European works councils. The effect of the works councils directive as presently set up is to drive investment into this country and make Britain, as Jacques Delors said it would be, a paradise for inward investment. Our European Community partners cannot tolerate that, so now a consultation paper has been put out by the Commission which suggests that compulsory works councils should be set up—not just in Europeanwide businesses, but in domestic businesses—to discuss health and safety matters. That is a clear abuse.

The consultation papers says that, because the works councils would discuss health and safety matters, the Commission invites comments from member states about which treaty powers it should use to promulgate the directive. The obvious implication is that—as the directive is a so-called health and safety matter in the minds of its creators—it should be promulgated under health and safety and subject to a qualified majority vote. In that way, the directive could be imposed on the United Kingdom.

The important point is that our system of light-touch regulation, sensibly balanced with flexible labour markets, results in a better safety record. As my hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, the death rate per 100,000 workers in this country is half the German rate, less than half the Italian rate, a third of the French rate, a quarter of the US rate and one seventh of the Spanish rate. Yet the policy to which the Government were committed when elected is being stripped away by the action of European federal law, and we are denied the opportunity to pursue the policy on which we were elected. That is not only detrimental to the self-respect of and the public respect for a Conservative Government, but detrimental to the interests of this country.

On that crucial health and safety matter, I set great store by the paragraph on page 12 of the IGC White Paper, which we discussed in the House last week, that refers to the need for "Limitation of Community action", because unless we can contain the ever wider application of European federal law, we will have to admit to ourselves that we are in a legal federal system; that we will have incorrect policies imposed upon us; that we will be unable to pursue the policies that we were elected to pursue; and that we will fail the country. In the name of health and safety, that matter must be addressed.

8.46 pm
Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) thinks that he has made a pretty speech, but it was one of the daftest speeches that I have ever heard in the House. He said that he thought there was too much health and safety regulation in the nuclear industry. One has only to remind him of Chernobyl and of the thousands of people who have died as a result of the lack of health and safety regulation in Chernobyl and in the nuclear industry. The hon. Gentleman said that regulation might cost a few jobs, but the lack of it has cost thousands of lives. I cannot believe the hon. Gentleman's ineptitude. Although he has probably never worked in industry in his life, he thinks there is too much health and safety regulation in the nuclear industry.

Mr. Jenkin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Eastham

I will not give way, because the hon. Gentleman is not worth a reply. He is so silly.

Earlier in the debate, when my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made his opening remarks, there were two or three Conservative Members here for nuisance value. They were gibing at my hon. Friend and they made a big scene about £18 million pounds for the Health and Safety Commission.

We make no apologies for trying to save lives. The director of the Serious Fraud Office addressed a meeting that I attended a couple of weeks ago. He reported that, last year, serious fraud in big business amounted to £10 billion. Little is being done about that, but Conservative Members showed great passion about spending £18 million on improving health and safety. That puts in perspective how they see the values of modern society.

The Health and Safety Executive used to report annually to the Select Committee on Employment. Of course, that Select Committee is no longer in action, because the Conservatives have seen it off, but I hope that the executive will still report to other Select Committees. The cost to industry of health and safety problems is estimated to be about £10 billion a year. That is a telling figure. It is a loss not only to industry but to the nation.

Another issue that is never mentioned is the massive burden that is placed on insurance companies which have to meet phenomenal costs that could often have been avoided. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West said, the Health and Safety Executive reported to our Select Committee that it had a serious shortage of doctors and nurses. Over a two-year period, the number had gone down by 50 per cent.—from 100 to 50. That is a serious matter and should worry all hon. Members.

I look through the annual reports year by year and I notice that one of the great problems is in the construction industry. On average, a person used to be killed every three days. Someone may say that it has changed over the past two years and that now only 2.5 people are killed each year, but the accident figures in construction are horrendous and we know some of the reasons for that. Small firms and cowboy organisations cut corners, and we are aware of the price that the industry pays.

Nowadays the buzz word in parliamentary circles is deregulation, but when we use that word we are playing with death. There is no doubt that there will be continual cutting of corners, and it is frightening to think of what will happen. The results will not be evident immediately, perhaps not for 12 to 18 months, but I have no doubt that they will become apparent. To be fair, large firms are usually responsible and have very good records. The small firms cause the problems, and that should cause the House great concern. Many small firms do not have any written health and safety policy document for employees, and some employers do not even know that such a document is required.

Another problem arises because of the employment of part-time and temporary workers. The more temporary and part-time workers there are, the greater will be the increase in accidents. The CBI recently produced a report called "Flexible Labour Markets". I am bothered when I see in such documents references to the de-skilling of craftsmen's work. Serious consequences will flow from the trend in industry to have workers who are experts at everything. An employee is expected to be a gas fitter, an electrician and a mechanical engineer all in one. Such demands on some people in the work force will, in time, have an effect and will be costly for industry.

Less than two years ago, a document was issued by the West Midlands health and safety action advice centre. It is a catalogue, case after case on page after page, of all kinds of serious injuries in the midlands. Some horrendous cases could have been avoided. The document refers to the lack of meaningful penalties on employers and company directors. They go to the magistrates court and pay £200 to £300. A person may have lost two or three fingers or may never work again, but the employers seem to get away with it. The document is called "The Perfect Crime" and it relates how companies get away with manslaughter in the workplace. I commend the document to Conservative Members. If they have consciences, it might take the smiles off their faces.

The document contains an interesting little article about the United States experience. For example, in 1993 a company owner called Emmet Roe was imprisoned for 20 years following his conviction for the manslaughter of 25 workers. Does anyone think that the courts in this country would take matters as seriously as that? Would cases be used as examples of the importance of health and safety?

I read a recent newspaper story about accidents in hotels. Evidently, part-time, untrained students who are desperate to earn a few bob get work in hotels. Serious burns and all kinds of unacceptable accidents are happening; unfortunately, they are happening to young people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) made a telling and worthwhile reference to the installation of gas boilers and gas fires. Often, untrained and unqualified fitters install such equipment, and only three years ago in Manchester there was a fatality from gas poisoning. An immediate inspection of 2,000 heating systems found that half were faulty. They were poisonous and could have caused fatalities.

I do not think that the problem is unique to Manchester. I wonder how many thousands of these lethal pieces of equipment there are throughout the country waiting to strike somebody dead tomorrow, next week or next year. That should cause us concern. That is why we place great importance on health and safety. We are not being flippant when we talk about health and safety; it is a very serious matter.

I remind the House of the Piper Alpha disaster. I am an engineer, and I remember Lord Cullen's inquiry. We lost 167 engineers, not because of faults that they had made. There was a catalogue of neglect—page after page—on the valves, the safety equipment, even on the equipment on the vessels that brought the people off the rig. We should feel thoroughly ashamed about that. Yet nobody went to prison. Nobody got 20 years, as happened in America when 25 people died. People held their hands up in horror and said, "We've got to do more about this and charge the people responsible." That is what it is really about when we talk about health and safety.

More recently, there has been the privatisation of the railways. There will be about 20 companies. I note that as soon as American buyers come in to buy the railways they talk about de-manning, but there will be a human price to pay. I think that there will be a number of horrendous rail accidents as a result of the serious de-manning proposed through privatisation. Hon. Members should prepare themselves, because in the next months and years there will be many serious but avoidable rail accidents because there will not be sufficient manpower to ensure that things function correctly.

Mr. Etherington

My hon. Friend's confidence will not have been boosted when he was recently made aware that one of the companies will get its rolling stock from a museum, where it has resided for a number of years, because it is felt to be more suitable than what it is running at the moment.

Mr. Eastham

That certainly fits the bill. Those are the quality and standards to which we can look forward in this great revolutionary improvement. The Government call it privatisation and get away with it. I wonder why people are not outraged, and not practically running to the barricades to say, "We are not having any more of this." The Government get away with it for now, but they will not at the next general election, because many of those bright young fellas on the Conservative Benches will not be Members of Parliament any more, that is for sure.

Can we honestly say that enough inspections are being made? Nowadays, life is far more sophisticated. Equipment in homes and factories is far more sophisticated. It is not like it was a hundred years ago. Surely there should be more health and safety inspections, not fewer. I believe that, under the guise of deregulation, the Government hope to reincarnate 19th-century working conditions. That is what they call progress at the end of the 20th century.

9.2 pm

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Stephens Itex Ltd., manufacturer and supplier of safety equipment, which appears in the Register of Members' Interests.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham). I have been professionally involved as a lawyer in cases of death and serious injury. I do not need to read a booklet to find out the horror that it causes and the problems that arise from it. Nor, I accept, does he, as his record on this is excellent. I agree that this is an extraordinarily serious matter.

It is not correct, as the hon. Gentleman implied, to say that privatisation—I prefer to call it denationalisation—of the railway industry will lead to lower safety standards, and it is irresponsible of him to run that scare. I make the point that the Government adopted in full, without quibble or hesitation, every one of the more than 30 recommendations that the Health and Safety Executive made on privatisation in its report to the Select Committee on Transport.

Mr. Eastham

It is one thing for the Government to accept those recommendations, but how can we be sure that they will be implemented when we already know that there is a massive shortage of inspectors? How can we be sure that inspections will take place? It is one thing to put that on paper, but it is another to ensure that they happen.

Mr. Butler

In law, we used to call that alternative pleading. The hon. Gentleman stands up and says that nothing is being done; he then stands up and says that it may be being done, but how do we know that it is effective? I do not accept his cynicism. Nor do I accept that the denationalised railways will want to kill their employees and injure their passengers. That is absurd. They will want to sell tickets and carry passengers; it will be the first time in my adult life that that happens on the railways.

I reject the Opposition's claim that our safety record as bad and, by implication, that the Health and Safety Executive is ineffectual. That is what they are saying when they claim that we have a bad record and that the system does not work. I want to record my rejection of both those contentions. I also want to take this opportunity to record the respect felt by all Conservative Members for the work done over the past 21 years by the HSE. I am sorry that its work is not recognised by the Labour party.

I remind the House that fatal injuries among employees, the self-employed and the public fell from 499 in 1986–87 to 381 in 1994–95. Fatal injuries per 100,000 employees in all industries fell from 2.8 in the year the HSE began its work to 0.9 last year—the lowest rate ever recorded. That is not a record of failure and ineptitude; it is a record of success, and substantially under this Government. Fatal injury rates in the construction industry are at their lowest on record—again, not the record of failure that the Opposition portray for the HSE. In the mines, the rate for fatal injuries is less than half the rate in the year that the HSE began its work—again, not a history of failure.

The Labour party is obsessed by the railways. I look forward to using them more in future, especially as the fatal injury rate for employees has fallen from 18.7 to 7.7 per 100,000 employees—a very low rate indeed. Those are not records of failure; they are records of success.

Mr. Clapham

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the contribution of employees through their safety committees has played an important part in reducing accident rates?

Mr. Butler

I accept that the habit of safety, to which I shall refer later, is extremely important, not just among employees but among employers. However, I reject the suggestion by the hon. Member for Blackley that small businesses do not seem to know that they are required to have health and safety policies. That is not my experience of the excellent small businesses that I have visited in Milton Keynes, nor do I believe it to be generally true. It is an unfortunate slur on the major providers of new employment.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the last year alone, the HSE has issued more than 10,000 notices and dealt with many thousands of cases? The trend in the level of accidents is downwards.

Mr. Butler

I confirm what my hon. Friend says and I congratulate the HSE on its success—a success that has been enabled by the policies of this Government.

For the Opposition motion to be at all credible, we would have to believe that the Government were doing a complete volte face—or, to use the Opposition's expression, a U-turn—and suddenly neglecting the very issue on which they have been so successful.

Mr. Eastham

The hon. Gentleman took me to task for suggesting that there were not proper health and safety statements. Under the heading "Failure to write a health and safety policy", an article in "The Perfect Crime" states: Since the end of May, Jeffrey Hughes, the warehouse transport manager, has been given the additional responsibility for health and safety. He told the Health and Safety Executive that there is not a current health and safety policy for the company as far as I am aware.

Mr. Butler

The fact that there is one thief does not make everyone a thief, and the fact that one small business is identified as being without a policy does not justify the hon. Gentleman's general attack on small businesses. That is perhaps the Opposition's knee-jerk reaction to the very companies that provide employment.

I should like to draw attention to the deceitful nature of the motion's wording. It refers to accidents causing more than 30,000 deaths and major injuries. Why have those categories been lumped together? The answer is that there have been fewer than 400 deaths, and if the Opposition motion had made that clear, the success of the Government's policies on health and safety would have been obvious. Instead of making it obvious, they obfuscate and run the figures together to hide the fact that the number of deaths is at an all-time low. There is no prevarication, no ifs and buts, no allowing for this or that, no on the one hand or the other about the matter. The number of deaths is at a straightforward, all-time low, and the Opposition have tried to hide it in the wording of their motion.

The Opposition also refer to the fact that more than 138,000 injuries involved three or more days off work in 1994–95. The House will be interested to know that, on Second Reading on the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Bill, on 3 April 1974—today is almost its anniversary—the then Secretary of State for Employment said that 1,000 people had been killed, 500,000 had been injured and 23 million working days had been lost through injury. To reach anything like those figures, each of the accidents to which the motion refers would have to result in about 137 working days being lost. The Opposition are attempting to hide the success of the health and safety policies over the past many years.

The Robens report said that the discussion on health and safety at work should play as prominent a part in our debates as should discussion about industrial relations". With the greatest respect, he was wrong. Health and safety now properly plays a much larger part in our discussions than debates on historical facts about bad industrial relations.

The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 gave the Health and Safety Commission what was described as "sharper, longer and tougher teeth". I think that since then there has been some capping, a little bit of dental work and the odd bridge here and there, if I may use the sort of terminology that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is likely to use in his winding-up speech. The effect is that the commission can still chew and take a firm grip where necessary.

The Bill was of course introduced by the Conservatives, and adds to our record on health and safety, to which my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) referred, which includes the first Factory Acts and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963, which was relatively new when the Bill was passed. The Conservative Bill was resurrected by Labour when it surprisingly took power. I was going to say that it was supported by both the Liberals present on Second Reading in 1974 and that that was exactly twice the number of Liberals present in this debate, but the one Liberal Democrat who was present left about five minutes after the debate started.

Mr. Etherington

No one tonight has mentioned the fact behind the Robens committee that led to the 1974 Act. The committee was set up as part of our obligations to the European Community under the treaty of Rome, and led to one of the biggest advances in safety legislation in this country. One or two hon. Members have said tonight that the EC is all negative. Safety legislation was one area in which Britain had a little catching up to do, and I was grateful that the 1974 Act achieved it.

Mr. Butler

I have waited for many things since I was elected in April 1992, and one of them has been to be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman. Although I agree with him, the Bill was still a Conservative piece of legislation, which was picked up and passed, with minor amendments, by the incoming Labour Government. I hope never to see an incoming Labour Government.

I represented companies that were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive and also represented injured individuals whose employers were subsequently prosecuted. I always found the Health and Safety Executive very reasonable and extraordinarily fair and helpful. It did not drop any of its cases against my clients, so my comment is not self-serving.

Every accident could have been avoided; that is certainly true. Unfortunately, it does not follow from that that we can guarantee an accident-free future, because the future never exactly replicates the past. I dealt with cases as diverse, for example, as a man whose legs were crushed by a fore-loader, a man who was killed as a result of electrocution from an overhead power line where the proper safety regulations had not been applied, and a child who was injured by a bursting balloon which ripped the skin from the eyeball.

I also dealt with a matter that may ring a bell with my hon. Friend the Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency which involved an act of stupidity.

In the basement of a house that was being rebuilt, the employer ran an electric cable down a steel pipe which was thus used as a conduit. The employer painted it red and hung signs on it, but that did not prevent an employee from taking an angle grinder and cutting through it until he was electrocuted and, unfortunately, killed. To be fair to the Minister, it is true to say that stupidity, regrettably, often plays a part. It is no good pretending otherwise if we are to take the subject seriously.

I would like to see a world in which there are no prosecutions under health and safety at work legislation because there is no need to have any, as a result of there being no accidents and as a result of everybody taking the proper precautions. On that basis, I again reject the Opposition's contention that, if there are not enough prosecutions, it must prove that the resources are inadequate and that the effort is lacking. I do not accept that at all.

I move now to a point that is common ground—the habit of safety, which is extraordinarily important and which starts in schools and in the home. I would like to praise the work of Hazard Alley in Milton Keynes. Schoolchildren can see, set up in a building, home situations, road situations and work situations. They can see apparent accidents happening and as they watch, unexpected things happen. It can be quite a traumatic experience. I have spoken to many children who have visited Hazard Alley—my own children have been there—and have found that without exception, they are impressed and alerted to the fact that safety is not only their shared responsibility, but something that is not guaranteed.

I have already said that hidden, slightly deceitfully, in the Opposition motion is the fact that fewer than 400 people were killed at work last year, although that is almost 400 too many. In the same year, just under 4,000 people were killed in accidents in the home; it is right to keep those figures in proportion. I commend Hazard Alley and similar schemes that are springing up elsewhere.

As the habit of safety grows, it is surely no more than common sense that the Health and Safety Executive should re-prioritise. As the habit of safety grows, there is no need to do some of the basic work that used to be necessary. There is now an accepted view that safety is everybody's duty, not just the employer's. It is not sufficient to have in place wonderful systems that no one follows, which mean that when the HSE visits, the employer can produce the booklet, the leaflet, the follow-up and the committee minutes. Nor is it just a matter of the employee's duty. Hon. Members have referred to the Victorian employer who takes people on, does not care about their safety and leaves it up to them, and who believes that, if there is an accident, it is the employee's fault. Safety is the duty of the employer and the employee, and it is also the duty of all of us.

From my experience as a director of a safety company, I know that the customer's interest is no longer what used to be called CATNIP—the cheapest available technology not involving prosecution. That used to be the case some years ago, but the interest now is, "How safe and efficient can I as an employer become?" or "How safe and efficient can I as an employee become at my place of work?" The House would commend and wish to support that as fully as possible.

If the Opposition motion was right about the need to reverse deregulation initiatives that"— which should be "which"— threaten health and safety standards", we would all support it. However, the deregulation proposals do not threaten health and safety standards and will not threaten them.

I pray in aid the fact that the deregulatory proposals come from the Health and Safety Commission, which in 1993–94 conducted a review of health and safety legislation with the aim of simplifying and clarifying the law. The proposals were intended to reduce the burdens on business, especially on small firms, but at the same time to improve enforcement practice. That comprehensive review recommended that about 100 regulations and seven pieces of primary legislation not only could, but should, be removed; that there should be new simplified regulations for reporting accidents—that comes into effect at the end of this week; several measures to reduce the sheer drudgery of paperwork; an enforcement policy statement to ensure consistent enforcement by local authorities—many hon. Members will have experienced one local authority taking one view and the neighbouring authority another; and a complete review of the commission's guidance documents, which hon. Members will be interested to know amounted to 650 separate publications. That review is under way.

Unfortunately, time is against me. I end by recalling that not only are more people in work than ever before but that they work in a safer and healthier workplace environment than ever before. That is the measure of the Government's commitment over many years. That is a continuing commitment. I urge the House to support the Government amendment.

9.20 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Hon. Members have talked about private industry and nationalised industry. I do not care what industry an individual works for; every man, woman or young person going out to do an honest day's work should be given every opportunity to work in a safe and healthy environment. That is not happening in every industry.

I was fortunate enough in the 1960s to get an apprenticeship as a metal worker. I worked in engineering until I came into the House. I remember looking forward to the day that I went into the factory. It was a great experience for me. It was not long—it was in the first few weeks—before I realised that working for a living in engineering was dangerous. The eyes of people who stood too near the electric welder were damaged by ultraviolet rays. People who worked at the guillotine without due care and attention could easily lose fingers. Some of my fellow apprentices were damaged by working with such machinery. Spot-welders could have their hands burned and scarred. Sometimes, young apprentices were required by the employer to carry weights that 15 or 16-year-olds should not have lifted. That happens today in our factories.

The women in our factory were exposed to chemicals that gave them dermatitis. There was vermin infestation that meant that, if sandwiches were left in the wrong place, they could be eaten or tampered with by rats or mice, and that people went without decent food that day.

I remember working with asbestos. As a young apprentice, I thought that it was better to work with asbestos because it gave off only a white powder instead of the oily metals that clung to our clothes. Little did I know that I was not only endangering my health but that my mother could have easily inhaled asbestos dust when I took my boiler suit home.

Hon. Members who understand the dangers of inhaling asbestos know that asbestosis manifests itself 20 or 30 years after inhalation. The Thatcher era saw the decline of engineering and the closure of many factories. I hope that the Minister can give an assurance to the men and women who are only now showing the signs of having inhaled asbestos. Because of liquidation or bankruptcy, many of their former employers are no longer around. Some mischievous employers have even changed their addresses, so as deliberately to stall claims arising from asbestosis.

As the Minister knows, few doctors will conclusively state when they examine someone for a post mortem, that the man or woman died from asbestos inhalation. That means that claims can often be lost because the family does not have on the death certificate the fact that the person died of asbestosis. It might be argued that the person died of heart failure, kidney failure or whatever. I feel strongly that, in view of all the factory closures, people experiencing asbestosis now should still be able to claim from their old employers.

Some hon. Members have talked about how death rates and accident rates have dropped. I do not have the statistics before me, but I have some common sense, and that tells me that, when 3 million men and women are sitting at home not working in factories or on construction sites, there are bound to be 3 million fewer people being exposed to the problems that employment brings with it. It is all very well for Conservative Members to say that the number of injuries and deaths has dropped, but they must also realise that an awful lot of people do not have a job.

Much has been said about the construction industry. When I was elected to the House in 1979, the vast majority of people in the construction industry had an employer, but nowadays joiners, slaters, plasterers, electricians and the practitioners of every other trade on the building site are 714 operators. When the Minister starts quoting statistics he must know that many of the 714 operators do not report injuries sustained on the building site.

We all know that, when an injury is sustained—back strain or a bone injury, perhaps—the damage may not be noticed until a few months later. There may be no report of an injury on the day, yet the worker, who may be on another building site by then, or even out of work, may suffer from it three or four months later.

Time is against me—the winding-up speeches must start now—so I shall finish by saying that I want good legislation that protects every worker throughout the country to be introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) mentioned the hotel industry, but almost every industry has its danger spots—even caring industries such as the health service. Even those who work in hospital kitchens and nurses can sometimes be exposed to dangerous gases. The Minister will know that even an operating theatre can be a dangerous place if there is any neglect or carelessness.

Every man or woman who goes out in the morning to work for a day's pay should get good health and safety facilities, and the House should always be here to ensure that those facilities are backed up by legislation.

9.29 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

I shall wind up on behalf of the Opposition this evening. The opening speech of the Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency should get the annual award for sophistry.

The Minister did two things: first, he tried to identify statistics, but they did not compare like with like and, secondly, the only example that he could give of the saving of lives and resources was not a deregulation issue but a regulation issue. It involved an area where the Government took out regulations to introduce hard hats. As a consequence of regulating, not deregulating, 20 lives—and £17 million—was saved. The point of that story is simple: deregulation costs lives and resources; regulation saves lives and resources.

The Government's defence of cuts in health and safety was based on the premise not of deregulation but of regulation. The leaked documents were a cry for help to the Opposition—they showed that the Government, in private, were decimating the resources of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. The Government were decimating resources and forcing a change in culture—which will lead to an increase in accidents, injuries and deaths over the next decade.

There have been 400 deaths, 50,000 major injuries and 130,000 days lost through injuries resulting in three days or more off work. That is not a record of which the Government should be proud. As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) said, it is not an excuse to start dismantling large sections of the health and safety legislation.

What were the key messages from the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission? He said that the commission could not meet the expectations of it and the requirements placed on it by the Government, Parliament and the courts, that the pressure from Parliament and the public about safety standards in new privatised industries had to be met, and that the Government's current expenditure levels cannot meet those new safety requirements. The HSC had a disagreement with the Government about deregulation being about assisting business. It took the opposite view—it does not accept that health and safety is about reducing burdens in business or that health and safety assists small and medium-sized businesses.

There was major criticism of the Deputy Prime Minister and the deregulation task force, which seems to be out of control and responsible to no one but itself. It is putting relentless pressure on the Health and Safety Executive to do away with large parts of the safety regulations, and to do so away from the public gaze and outside public accountability. That would disrupt the work of the commission, the executive and those who work in the front line on behalf of the executive.

A second report was released to the Labour party. It was based on a meeting of 13 March 1996—only a few days ago. Members of the executive and the commission met to consider the consequences of the Government's proposed cuts in the next three Budget rounds—1996, 1997 and 1998 through to 1999. Page 13 of the report gives the lie to the Minister's case that they are a Government of risk assessment. A Government of risk assessment would not reduce resources to the front-line troops. Page 13 states: I have to say that the scope for further efficiency savings looks limited. We have therefore had to accept, with reluctance, that the size of the field force can no longer be protected. The safety officers at the sharp end have said that they can no longer be protected. The report continues: Our strategy for coping with the PES 96 therefore embodies a reduction in the number of Field Operations Division inspectors. This will be reflected in reduced activity, including fewer preventative inspections. The whole risk assessment strategy of the Minister is in tatters. Officers cannot maintain preventive inspections, which means that they cannot maintain risk assessments.

Even worse, the report gives the Government a way of fiddling statistics. It says that discussions will take place in a short while between Ministers, the commission and the executive to find a new formula for maintaining statistics in order to "maintain public confidence", despite the reduction in resources and field activity.

The Government have fiddled unemployment figures 30 times. That is one thing, but to sit down in private to work out a system to fiddle health and safety figures is a scandal that should be exposed. The Minister should make a public commitment that that proposal will never see the light of day, whether it be proposed by the commission or by the deregulation task force.

The cuts come at a time when the Health and Safety Commission and Executive have been forced by the Government's deregulation policies to spend more than £1 million on private consultancies while cutting real resources at the sharp end. It is unacceptable and appalling that, when millions of pounds have been cut from the budget, they are being forced to commercialise and to privatise front-line activities.

The leaked memorandum sets out in detail the damage posed by further cuts in the budget for agricultural inspectors. When the memorandum was written, the Government knew about the 10 deaths from Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease and the link with BSE, yet they still proposed to impose draconian cuts on agricultural inspectors in the Health and Safety Executive.

On page 85 of the annual report of the Health and Safety Commission released in November 1985, there is an interesting paragraph about agricultural inspectors: agricultural inspector numbers reduced to 169 in line with plans to redeploy some posts to other work. This followed a workload analysis taking into account accident rates, reduction in employment in farming and competing demands of other sectors. However, that was a serious overestimate of the number of agricultural inspectors operating in the field. Indeed, it is a total misrepresentation to the House of the true picture.

I have reliable information from inside the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive that only 78 inspectors are dealing with the agriculture industry. In the past few days, civil servants have been scurrying about Whitehall trying to concoct excuses for that gross manipulation of the Health and Safety Commission annual report to Parliament, just in case the Opposition receive a leak to show that that part seriously misrepresented the number of inspectors. I must tell the Minister of State that his efforts are too late. We already have the information from deep in the heart of the Health and Safety Commission.

The annual report goes even further than misrepresentation to Parliament. Ministers in the House tonight and in the other place have been complacent about inspectors in agriculture. Agriculture has one of the worst records on death and injury of any sector in the British economy. Fifty-four people were killed last year—an increase of 32 per cent. on 1993–94. That makes farm work the number one killer of workers, even worse than the construction industry.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, four out of 10 farmers have reported health problems directly caused by their work. As a result of the cuts, farms are now likely to be inspected only once in 30 years. The average fine for a serious criminal offence is only about £3,000, but in agriculture it is dramatically less—£500—and sometimes as little as £100.

The Minister complained earlier this year that I was harassing Ministers and the Health and Safety Commission by asking many wide-ranging questions about the Health and Safety Executive. Some of the answers were very revealing. Planned inspections by the commission fell by 5,400. Since 1979, the number of specialist doctors and nurses has fallen from 177 to 103—a cut of more than 40 per cent.

In March 1995, a report on asbestosis stated that there would be 3,000 deaths a year, on average, from cancers caused by exposure to asbestos. Despite those findings, the Department of Trade and Industry—I assume with the cognisance of Ministers at the Department of the Environment—is allowing trade in natural asbestos products for the construction industry. Some 60,000 tonnes have been imported into the United Kingdom, and a further 7,000 tonnes will be allowed in at a cost of more than £41 million.

One Department predicts a huge increase in the number of deaths from asbestosis, while another Department continues the trade in death by allowing huge quantities of asbestos to be used in the United Kingdom construction industry. It is not simply Westminster council that deals in asbestos: the heart of Government are allowing the importation of ridiculous quantities of asbestos, which will lead to further deaths and injuries.

The budget cuts are devastating—£17.7 million between 1997 and 1999—yet the Health and Safety Commission will be asked to do new work costing £18 million during the same period. There have already been cuts worth £7.8 million and, as a consequence, field officers have lost their jobs. As I have said, the number of inspections has decreased and the HSC has said that it cannot meet its legal obligations to Parliament and to the courts.

The truth is that the Government are prepared to put tax cuts before safety. They are prepared not only to undermine safety and their credibility on safety issues through their deregulation proposals, but to undermine the ability of the Health and Safety Executive to ensure continuity in health, injury prevention and occupational health and to target those areas of industry where health and safety problems remain chillingly high.

The situation with nuclear privatisation, as stated in the report, is even worse. It beggars belief, but it is true. Page 9 of the report states there will be a reduction of eight inspectors in the nuclear inspectorate, and that that reduction will increase to 12. The same will happen to the petroleum and offshore inspectorates. There are to be 12 fewer inspectors for offshore installations by 2000.

Following the Piper Alpha disaster, the Government gave a commitment that such disasters would never occur again yet, in the privacy of reports, they are prepared to not only cut resources to the Health and Safety Executive, but to force it to reduce the number of inspectors working on offshore installations.

Those cuts are not acceptable in any circumstances. The Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission believe wholeheartedly in the development of strategies to prevent illness and injury at work and, as a consequence, the documents have been leaked to ensure that there is a vibrant debate about what the Government say in public and what they do in private, which is to cut resources, deregulate and undermine health and safety regimes.

It seems unbelievable but, in February this year, a company called Duke Power was interviewed by the Department of Trade and Industry with a view to its buying the British nuclear industry. The company subsequently admitted involvement in "silence for money deals", whereby workers would receive payments in return for keeping quiet about potential safety hazards. How could a Government who purport to be serious about health and safety even entertain the idea of such a company purchasing our nuclear industry?

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) stated clearly the position with regard to gas. The Minister would not accept the figures produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and other colleagues regarding mining safety. The Health and Safety Executive issued figures to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) showing that, between April to September 1994 and April to September 1995, there was a 17 per cent. increase in major injuries in the privatised coal industry.

In January this year, I asked the Minister whether he would require private coal companies to publish, at regular intervals, detailed statistics relating to the number and types of serious reportable accidents, sustained by (a) directly employed and (b) contract workers.

Sir Paul Beresford

No."—[Official Report, 17 January 1996; Vol. 269, c. 602.]

What does the Minister have to hide? What does the privatised industry have to hide? Why cannot it produce publicly figures relating to accidents at work?

The truth is that deregulation, under this Government, is out of control. It is the canker at the heart of the Government. They deregulated the labour market and created mass unemployment. Under this Government, people can lose their jobs and homes. If the Government get their way and deregulate the HSE, people will lose their health as well.

This debate has shown that the Government are prepared to take risks with people's lives but not to take responsibility for that. When it came to arms to Iraq, the Government blamed my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). BSE, it seems, is all the fault of the consumer. Today, the Minister said that accidents at work are the fault of stupid workers.

The truth is that the fault lies with the Government and their policies of deregulation and budget cutting. I therefore ask my hon. Friends to support the motion and defend the right of workers not to be injured or killed by cowboy employers.

9.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford)

This has been a wide-ranging debate. We are all agreed, it seems, that we would like there to be no accidents. Although the accident rate is declining, however, accidents continue to happen.

Since 1974, the fatal injury rate for employees has dropped dramatically. It is currently the lowest on record; indeed, the United Kingdom's health and safety record is among the best in the world. It is certainly better than the records of all our major EC partners. The EC is learning from us, and well it might. Members of the Health and Safety Executive are in Brussels helping the Community to adopt the right approach to health and safety—not the approach that the Labour party has adopted.

I was rather disgusted by the Labour motion. It talks of 30,000 deaths and major injuries, but it fails to distinguish—rather insensitive, this—between the 381 deaths of self-employed and members of the public and the statistics for major injuries. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) says that I am wrong. If so, why did he not get the wording of the motion right in the first place?

The Opposition motion also fails to mention the fact that the HSE has reduced the number of fatal injuries to employees by more than half since 1981, or that the number of major industrial injuries has fallen by more than 15 per cent. since 1986–87. Furthermore, it fails to mention that the number of injuries to self-employed people involving three or more lost working days has dropped by more than 21,000 since 1986–87.

Since 1979, the HSE has presided over a steady decline in the number of work-related accidents and fatalities. The fatal injury rate is now less than a quarter the rate in the early 1960s, half that of the 1970s, and 20 per cent. lower than that of the mid-1980s. As the Minister of State pointed out earlier, the road accident figures provide a useful comparison. In the year ending September 1979, 6,633 people were killed on the roads, 46,115 were seriously injured, and 265,022 were slightly injured—giving a grand total of 314,800. That puts the matter into perspective.

Mr. Eastham

If the Minister is keen to put matters in perspective regarding serious injuries and deaths in industry, does he recognise that we now have virtually no mines or shipbuilding, we have only half the engineering industry that we had in the past, and these 400,000 building workers are without jobs? Does that not mean fewer accidents?

Sir Paul Beresford

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman missed the point, although I repeated it. I was talking about the rate. In mining, although the work force has dropped to about 25 per cent. of what it was, the number of fatal accidents has fallen to 15 per cent. so there has been a dramatic improvement in safety.

The HSE inspectors are responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation in more than 650,000 business establishments, ranging from offshore oil rigs to mines, factories, farms and fairgrounds. Two of my hon. Friends stressed the importance of attitude of mind and a culture for safety. The attitude problem really belongs to the Labour party, which is looking towards total regulation. To use the same analogies as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler)—they were slightly familiar to me as they were dental ones—Labour Members are so bound up with regulation that they will give themselves, if not the country, lockjaw.

The Government fully recognise the importance of the task of the HSE and provide the necessary resources. Hon. Members will be interested to know that there are more than 30 additional HSE inspectors than there were on 1 April 1979.

Mr. Ian McCartney

What about doctors and nurses?

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman asks about doctors and nurses. They were mentioned twice. He is right to say that the number of Medical Advisory Service doctors and nurses has been reduced. That decision followed an internal review which recommended greater use of contract professional staff. In addition, the HSE ran a recruitment campaign in January, leading to several new MAS doctors being appointed.

Mr. McCartney

In answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister told me that the number of doctors had been reduced because more work had been passed on to nurses. I then asked how many more nurses had been employed, and the answer was that nursing staff had also been cut. The Government reduced the number of doctors and gave their work to nurses. Having transferred the work to nurses, they then cut the number of nurses.

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman failed to take into account the number of contract doctors and nurses who were brought in, some of whom were specialists.

Inspectors work predominantly through co-operation—something that the hon. Gentleman appears not to understand—in work activities. They advise and persuade at the workplace and use formal enforcement action only as a last resort. Inspectors do not go looking for criminals, as the Labour party seems to want them to do, nor are they anxious to enforce over-trivial matters. That is a sensible and cost-effective use of the inspectors, who are highly trained, capable professional staff.

The approach follows the principle of proportionality—that legal remedies should be used only when they are justified and according to the hazards and risks involved. When there is justification, there is no hesitation by the inspectors. They take firm action. They have extensive powers to do so. In 1994–95, the HSE issued 10,751 enforcement notices and took 1,789 prosecutions. The combination of the inspectors' expertise, professionalism, flexibility and discretion means that industry has considerable respect for the HSE and works in partnership with it.

The Health and Safety Executive uses a wide range of techniques to supplement the traditional inspector's visit. It approaches large national companies to promote system changes to management and health and safety across the country. It uses mail shots and undertakes other educational work. It issues some 7 million free publications each year. It runs workshops and seminars to explain what must be legally done at the workplace and how inspectors carry out work. It collaborates with intermediaries such as training and enterprise councils and chambers of commerce, and generally has gained access to a wide net of employers.

In short, the HSE inspectors have concentrated on activities that present a high risk to workers and/or the public, and have sought to use their time in the most effective way. They have developed a progressive partnership—I know that that is a buzz word at present, but it works—with industry and the work force, building up a preventive attitude. That is much the most cost-effective way of proceeding.

In recent years, of course, the number of preventive inspections has been falling, but the number of investigations in response to complaints or incidents has been rising. I say "of course" because there is no secret about it: the trends have been explained in the commissioners' plan of work in the annual report, which has been laid before the House. There is no mystery of what is happening.

The HSE is using new techniques to assist and encourage businesses to fulfil their obligations. There are ever-growing demands for investigations and advice, but that demonstrates a positive attitude to the HSE on the part of industry. Inspections take longer because they are carried out in more depth, and because new legislation must be explained carefully to employers and workers. There is no conceivable cause for concern. The enforcement strategy is working, as the accident figures show.

The chairman and leading commissioners visited me at the Department. The chairman was accompanied by representatives from the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry and small businesses. They assured me personally that the HSE had adequate resources for the year ahead, enabling it to meet its obligations and priorities. I have received no advice for the years beyond that, and the letter that has been referred to has not surfaced—it has not been seen. When any letter arrives it will be read very carefully. As the hon. Member for Makerfield knows, however, pleading poverty is a normal enough negotiating tactic. As many hon. Members who have been in local government will be aware, it is exactly what should be expected.

The commission and executive have made considerable efficiency gains over the past few years. They deserve credit for that; they do not deserve to be derided, as they were this evening. They need encouragement to continue. We must not let up in our drive to maximise value for money. There is no merit in just throwing money at the problem, however worthy the presentation of continued regulation by Opposition Members.

Opposition Members have also derided the deregulation unit, but it has been very useful to a number of groups, including the HSE. It has provided good advice and lateral thinking, and has now developed a close, effective working relationship with the HSC.

Mr. Ian McCartney

I have a paper which says the opposite.

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman seems to feel that a paper that he has, which I do not have, says the opposite. I have seen the results, and they are quite different. He is, however, right to draw attention to the Government's drive towards greater efficiency. Business efficiency is a priority.

I am glad to have the opportunity to identify the part that effective management of health and safety plays. In the past five years, the coal mining industry has undergone major changes, but the accident rate per 100,000 employees has fallen. Great improvements have also been made in productivity: between 1985–86 and December 1994, overall output per man shift rose from 2.72 tonnes to 13.5 tonnes. It is nonsense to suggest that, by encouraging business efficiency, we put the health and safety of employees at risk.

The hon. Member for Makerfield has much to learn about health and safety, as he showed towards the end of last year when we were considering some woefully out-of-date and unnecessary legislation relating to home workers. He tells us that he is against deregulation; yet he tried to persuade a Committee to stop removing outdated law relating to feather sorting, fur pulling, the making of iron and steel cables and chains and the making of steel anchors and grapples.

The HSE has adequate funds to promote, efficiently, health and safety in this country, bearing in mind the work needed to make us a competitive nation. I ask the House to support the Government amendment.

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

The House divided: Ayes 266. Noes 284.

Division No. 87] [21.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Adams, Mrs Irene Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Allen, Graham Campbell-Savours, D N
Alton, David Canavan, Dennis
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cann, Jamie
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Chidgey, David
Armstrong, Hilary Church, Judith
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Clapham, Michael
Ashton, Joe Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Austin-Walker, John Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barnes, Harry Clelland, David
Barron, Kevin Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Battle, John Coffey, Ann
Bayley, Hugh Cohen, Harry
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Connarty, Michael
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bell, Stuart Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Corbett, Robin
Bennett, Andrew F Corbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, Gerald Corston, Jean
Berry, Roger Cousins, Jim
Betts, Clive Cummings, John
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Cunliffe, Lawrence
Blunkett, David Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Boateng, Paul Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Bradley, Keith Dalyell, Tam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Darling, Alistair
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davidson, Ian
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)
Burden, Richard Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Byers, Stephen Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)
Caborn, Richard Denham, John
Callaghan, Jim Dewar, Donald
Dixon, Don Litherland, Robert
Dobson, Frank Livingstone, Ken
Donohoe, Brian H Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dowd, Jim Llwyd, Elfyn
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Loyden, Eddie
Eagle, Ms Angela Lynne, Ms Liz
Eastham, Ken McAllion, John
Etherington, Bill McAvoy, Thomas
Evans, John (St Helens N) McCartney, Ian
Fatchett, Derek McCartney, Robert
Faulds, Andrew Macdonald, Calum
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McFall, John
Flynn, Paul McKelvey, William
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath) McLeish, Henry
Foulkes, George McMaster, Gordon
Fyfe, Maria MacShane, Denis
Galbraith, Sam McWilliam, John
Galloway, George Madden, Max
Gapes, Mike Maddock, Diana
George, Bruce Mahon, Alice
Gerrard, Neil Marek, Dr John
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Godman, Dr Norman A Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Godsiff, Roger Martin, Michael J (Springbum)
Golding, Mrs Llin Martlew, Eric
Gordon, Mildred Maxton, John
Graham, Thomas Meacher, Michael
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michael, Alun
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Gunnell, John Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hall, Mike Milbum, Alan
Hanson, David Miller, Andrew
Harman, Ms Harriet Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Harvey, Nick Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Morley, Elliot
Henderson, Doug Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Heppell, John Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Mowlam, Marjorie
Hinchliffe, David Mudie, George
Hodge, Margaret Mullin, Chris
Hoey, Kate Murphy, Paul
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Home Robertson, John O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Hood, Jimmy O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hoon, Geoffrey O'Hara, Edward
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Olner, Bill
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) O'Neill, Martin
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd) Paisley, The Reverend Ian
Hoyle, Doug Pearson, Ian
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pickthall, Colin
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pike, Peter L
Hutton, John Pope, Greg
Illsley, Eric Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Ingram, Adam Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jamieson, David Primarolo, Dawn
Janner, Greville Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Radice, Giles
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Randall, Stuart
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Reid, Dr John
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Rendel, David
Jowell, Tessa Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Keen, Alan Roche, Mrs Barbara
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Rogers, Allan
Khabra, Piara S Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kilfoyle, Peter Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Kirkwood, Archy Rowlands, Ted
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Ruddock, Joan
Lewis, Terry Sedgemore, Brian
Liddell, Mrs Helen Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Timms, Stephen
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Tipping, Paddy
Short, Clare Touhig, Don
Simpson, Alan Trickett, Jon
Skinner, Dennis Tyler, Paul
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Vaz, Keith
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Wallace, James
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Walley, Joan
Smyth, The Reverend Martin Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
(Belfast S) Wareing, Robert N
Soley, Clive Watson, Mike
Spearing, Nigel Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Spellar, John Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W) Wilson, Brian
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Wise, Audrey
Steinberg, Gerry Worthington, Tony
Stevenson, George Wray, Jimmy
Stott, Roger Wright, Dr Tony
Straw, Jack Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd) Mr. Joe Benton and
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Mr. Malcolm Chisholm.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Coe, Sebastian
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Colvin, Michael
Alexander, Richard Congdon, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Amess, David Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Arbuthnot, James Cormack, Sir Patrick
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Couchman, James
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Cran, James
Ashby, David Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Day, Stephen
Baldry, Tony Deva, Nirj Joseph
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Devlin, Tim
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bates, Michael Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Batiste, Spencer Dover, Den
Bellingham, Henry Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bendall, Vivian Dunn, Bob
Beresford, Sir Paul Durant, Sir Anthony
Biffen, Rt Hon John Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Body, Sir Richard Elletson, Harold
Booth, Hartley Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Boswell, Tim Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Bowden, Sir Andrew Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bowis, John Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Brandreth, Gyles Evennett, David
Brazier, Julian Faber, David
Bright, Sir Graham Fabricant, Michael
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Browning, Mrs Angela Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bruce, Ian (South Dorset) Fishburn, Dudley
Burns, Simon Forman, Nigel
Butcher, John Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Butler, Peter Forth, Eric
Butterfill, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Carrington, Matthew French, Douglas
Carttiss, Michael Fry, Sir Peter
Cash, William Gale, Roger
Chapman, Sir Sydney Gallie, Phil
Churchill, Mr Gardiner, Sir George
Clappison, James Gamier, Edward
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Gill, Christopher
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Gillan, Cheryl
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mates, Michael
Gorst, Sir John Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs) Mellor, Rt Hon David
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Merchant, Piers
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Moate, Sir Roger
Grylls, Sir Michael Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Hampson, Dr Keith Nelson, Anthony
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Neubert, Sir Michael
Hannam, Sir John Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hargreaves, Andrew Nicholls, Patrick
Harris, David Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Norris, Steve
Hawkins, Nick Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hawksley, Warren Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayes, Jerry Ottaway, Richard
Heald, Oliver Page, Richard
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Paice, James
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hendry, Charles Patten, Rt Hon John
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Pawsey, James
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Horam, John Pickles, Eric
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Powell, William (Corby)
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Rathbone, Tim
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensboume) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hunter, Andrew Richards, Rod
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Riddick, Graham
Jack, Michael Robathan, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jenkin, Bernard Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jessel, Toby Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Key, Robert Sackville, Tom
Kirkhope, Timothy Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Knapman, Roger Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shaw, David (Dover)
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shersby, Sir Michael
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Sims, Roger
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Skeet, Sir Trevor
Legg, Barry Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Leigh, Edward Soames, Nicholas
Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lidington, David Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spink, Dr Robert
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spring, Richard
Lord, Michael Sproat, Iain
Luff, Peter Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Steen, Anthony
MacKay, Andrew Stephen, Michael
Maclean, Rt Hon David Stem, Michael
McLoughlin, Patrick Stewart, Allan
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Streeter, Gary
Maitland, Lady Olga Sumberg, David
Malone, Gerald Sweeney, Walter
Mans, Keith Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marland, Paul Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Marlow, Tony Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Marshall, John (Hendon, South) Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Temple-Morris, Peter Waterson, Nigel
Thomason, Roy Watts, John
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Wells, Bowen
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Whitney, Ray
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Whittingdale, John
Thumham, Peter Widdecombe, Ann
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th) Wilkinson, John
Tracey, Richard Willetts, David
Tredinnick, David Wilshire, David
Trend, Michael Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'id)
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wolfson, Mark
Viggers, Peter Wood, Timothy
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Yeo, Tim
Walden, George Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Waller, Gary Tellers for the Noes:
Ward, John Mr. Derek Conway and
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Dr. Laim Fox.

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


That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to maintaining standards of health and safety at work, whilst removing unnecessary burdens on business; endorses the Health and Safety Commission and Executive's role of assisting and educating business in its duty to assess risk and take action accordingly; and approves the rigorous approach which the Government takes to improving efficiency and effectiveness in all areas of public service.