§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, from the fact that we initiated the debate on the Robens Report in 1973, as early as January 30 of that year, it may be inferred, and correctly inferred that we attach a great deal of importance to the subject of the Bill. We are on Record as in general support of the principles which were laid down in the Robens Report, which we now see embodied in this Bill, and I should like to summarise them briefly as a framework for my remarks. First, the status of health and safety at work should be raised in the minds of individuals, and everybody in industry has an important role to play in this matter. Secondly, legislative protection should be given to the whole of the working population, and millions of workers who were formerly excluded from the provisions of the legislation should be brought in. Thirdly, seven different inspectorates established under nine groups of Statutes and supported by 500 Statutory Instruments should be replaced by a unified Statutory and administrative framework. Fourthly, more flexible procedures should be developed for countering new hazards as soon as they are identified. Fifthly, potential dangers to the public arising from industrial processes or materials should be dealt with by the same authority that looks after safety at the workplace itself. Finally, the framework should be of an 1660 enabling nature so as to cope with rapidly changing industrial situations.
My Lords, I do not intend to cover all these matters, but to pick out one or two of them which seem to be of importance—and some have already been mentioned in the speeches of the two noble Lords. I agree broadly with the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, as to the criticisms that we have to make of Clause 2. The Liberal Party has always placed great emphasis on worker participation, and of course we approve warmly of the thinking behind Clause 2, which provides for a key role to be played by the safety representative where he is appointed. But we have this reservation about the way in which it has been done by the Government: that the appointment of a safety representative by recognised trade unions in cases prescribed by the Secretary of State is perfectly satisfactory in an industry such as coal-mining, where 100 per cent. of the workers belong to the trade union concerned, but it seems to us that it leaves a gap in those industries where a small proportion, or none, of the employees is a member of the union. I say this, not in any anti-union spirit, because I am a member of two trade unions myself, and 1 want to see the trade unions fully participating; but, at the same time, I do not wish to see the protection of safety representatives and safety committees denied to those workers who are in industries where the unions are weak.
We understand that there are 5 million people in employment working in wholly non-unionised plants, and out of a total work force of 24 million there are 11 million workers who are not members of any trade union—a state of affairs which we may well deplore but which we have to take into account in framing this legislation. It is by no means certain that non-unionists are generally in less dangerous occupations and, therefore, in less need of safety representatives and the committee to be appointed in the Bill. One can think of comparatively risky jobs where the trade unions have hardly penetrated at all. An example was given in another place the day before yesterday when the problem of trade union representation for workers on North Sea oil rigs and platforms was dealt with by the Secretary of State for Employment. He emphasised that there were difficulties here, that the problem required care and 1661 attention and he was not content with the present situation. In the meantime, until we can make provision for adequate trade union representation of the workers on these oil rigs and platforms, they will be denied the benefits which are conferred on other workers by Clause 2 of the Bill.
The other major point to be made on employee participation is that without full access to all the relevant information any form of consultation would be a complete waste of time in some work situations where such information is essential if the trade union representative and the safety committee is to take action. I am thinking particularly of the case where potentially harmful substances are being used or produced. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord say that the intention was that there should be a free flow and full availability of information and advice, but I should like some reassurances on the parts of the Bill which deal with this matter. It is, as has been said, an enabling Bill and it does not lay down any detailed procedures for the disclosure of information. The intention, as I understand it, is that it will be supplemented by codes of practice under Clause 16, and presumably it is these codes which will specify how an employer is to comply with the obligation laid on him in Clause 2(2)(c) to provide:… such information … as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees.That is also a responsibility which is placed on the Commission in Clause 11,… to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for securing that … employees … are provided with an information and advisory service …on matters connected with health and safety.
I think that these arrangements are unlikely to meet the demands of people who have said that precise details of health risks should be given to workers. It seems to me that where there is an identified causal connection between an industrial process and ill-health, as, for example, exposure to radiation, there is no problem because safe working limits are laid down and workers are entitled 1662 to all the relevant research findings which in these cases are normally in the public domain. But where there is a link between a process and a disease which is of a statistical nature, or where a substance has been shown to cause disease in experiments on lower animals, perhaps in much higher concentrations than would be usual in the work environment, then what is to be the responsibility of the employer and of the Commission?
This is not a theoretical question as one can see from the discussion of the oncogenicity of vinyl chloride monomer in the very interesting article in the New Statesman of June 13. The circumstances were that in 1971 an Italian scientist found that rats exposed to high concentrations of vinyl chloride monomer developed tumours of the skin and lungs, and some developed bone cancers. Subsequent investigations by another Italian showed that with concentrations of this substance as low as 50 parts per million some rats developed angiosarcomas and that the U.S. Manufacturing Chemists' Association repeated the experiment on mice with the same results. In January of this year a works doctor at a Kentucky chemical plant revealed that four workers at this plant, which makes P.V.C. from the monomer, had died of liver cancer and since then another 15 deaths have been reported from similar factories in the U.S.A., Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The point of this story, so far as the present discussion is concerned, is that it is now alleged that the Manufacturing Chemists' Association held in confidence for at least a year the preliminary but significant findings of the Italian research workers. One could not say that a recognised health hazard had been identified until the epidemiological studies of former employees had been undertaken and even now there are disagreements about the safe limits of exposure to vinyl chloride monomer. But could we not say, with the benefit of hindsight, that workers in these plants should have been informed of the relevant findings as soon as they became available?
In this connection I should like to refer to Clause 28 which deals with restrictions on the disclosure of information. I find it somewhat disturbing that the 1663 clause is couched in a negative frame. It reads as follows:.. no relevant information shall be disclosed without the consent of the person by whom it was furnishedbut then it goes on to list a number of exceptions. I would have preferred that this clause was worded:Relevant information should be disclosed except where the Commission was satisfied that commercial interests might be harmed.Paragraph (b) reads as follows:without prejudice to paragraph (a) above, disclosure by the recipient of information to any person for the purpose of any function conferred on the recipient by or under any of the relevant statutory provisionsis allowed. I want to know definitely from the noble Baroness who is to reply whether "any person" mentioned in this paragraph would include the safety representatives of the employee. It is vital that in these circumstances they should be given the information so that they can take any necessary action on it.
There is provision in the Bill for the Commission to require the testing of any substance. I think that provision is in Schedule 3. One might hope that in future any new chemicals coming on to the market used by industry would be subject to far more stringent testing for possible harmful effects just as we have now for new pharmaceuticals. It is highly desirable also that the Commission should make full use of its powers to require medical screening of employees in factories where substances known to be toxic are used. I believe that the Factories Inspectorate had such a power, but it was very sparingly used mainly because of lack of resources. I think also this provision for screening could well be—
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to ask him a question on this point? He refers to the question of new chemicals. Does he refer to new final products or to intermediates? It seems to me that the intermediates are more likely to be dangerous than the final products and they might not be coming on the market.
§ LORD AVEBURY
The noble Lord has a very good point. One example was given to me of screening investigation undertaken by the Factory Inspectorate into the incidence of mesotheliorna, 1664 which I think was caused by a chemical intermediate and not by a final product. I think the noble Lord has made an extremely valid point I was not confining my remarks to the screening effect of final products but also of intermediates. The provision for screening in this Bill could also be very effective in helping to identify the factors at work which cause psychiatric ill-health.
When we were discussing the Robens Report last January I referred to criticisms that were made by Mr. David Ennals, who was then Director of the MIND Campaign. He said that very little, if any, attention had been paid by the Robens Committee to mental illness and Mr. Christopher Mayhew, M.P. who is now chairman of MIND complains that this is reflected in the Bill. The Secretary of State, in reply to him, assured the House that wherever the Bill speaks of "health" it means mental as well as physical ill-health, and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, reiterated this in his speech this afternoon. I think it would have helped to reassure workers in the field of mental health if this had been spelt out rather more precisely and not just in the definition of personal injury contained in Clause 49, to which the noble Lord also referred.
What really matters here is how the Commission set about their task in practice. Very little is known about the work-associated factors in the etiology of mental illness which, as Mr. Mayhew pointed out in that debate on Second Reading in another place, is now a very significant reason indeed for absence from work. This is a question on which there should be the very closest co-operation between the Commission and the E.M.A.S. and is perhaps an argument for more formal links between the two organisations than we find in the Bill. Incidentally, one finds, on making inquiries, that only one senior medical officer out of 100 doctors employed by the E.M.A.S. has been appointed to deal with mental illness. I do not want to be dogmatic about the future of the E.M.A.S. but it seems to me on balance, for the reasons I have given, the necessity of close co-operation between the E.M.A.S. and the Commission, that ultimately it should form an arm of that body.
Finally, if I may make a brief reference to Part III of the Bill, under Clause 1665 57 the scope of the building regulations is to be very considerably widened so as to further, inter alia, the conservation of fuel and power. This is a matter that has been under discussion since a long time before the oil crisis of last autumn, and in particular one might refer to the study made by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 1969. Yet we still have the lowest insulation standards of any country in Europe except Spain. Yesterday it was announced that the Secretary of State was to establish an Advisory Council on Energy Conservation to identify the areas in which energy is potentially to be saved. That is all very well, but in the case of insulation we already have these estimates made by the E.I.U. as well as the official calculations of the Department of the Environment itself which were published twelve months ago in the Department's journal Construction.
In the light of this evidence, surely the Department should anticipate the new building regulations by making it a condition of the approval of loan sanction that local authorities should adopt the higher standards which are to be prescribed on all new housing from now on, and that they should recommend to the private sector that it should follow suit. I made some very rough calculations of what this might save on the public sector dwellings which are to be constructed during the course of this year. There will be, we hope, 125,000 dwellings completed, and if these were all typical three bedroom semi-detached houses and we adopted the "U" values which I understand are to be prescribed under the new building regulations, the saving in the heating bill for a householder would be about £25 per annum. That could be achieved at a cost of not much more than £30 per dwelling. I worked out from that, that to recover the additional cost of this insulation the tenant would have to be charged another 10p a week, but during the 33 weeks in which his heating apparatus is turned on, the cost of heating would be reduced for him by 75p a week. I should have thought that that was a matter of some importance for the many thousands of tenants of local authority dwellings who are facing large increases in their heating bill just at this moment.
1666 The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned that Lord Robens told the Government to get on with the job quickly. But as in many other instances one could name, the gestation period of this Bill has been elephantine and as it approaches its final stages the problems which it seeks to remedy have become acute. We on these Benches will do our best to facilitate its progress so that in this short-lived Parliament we can score at least one major legislative success which will be approved by the nation as a whole.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ BARONESS HORNSBY-SMITH
My Lords, I am not altogether sure of the propriety of laying claim to a second maiden speech 24 years after I made my first in another place, but I am hopeful that I can claim your Lordshipc' indulgence for my first venture in this august Chamber. It is by good luck rather than by judgment that I am in the unusual position of agreeing with very great pleasure with the very lucid explanation which we had from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in introducing this measure to us to-day, although when I am less inhibited than on this occasion I have no doubt I shall find myself agreeing at Committee stage with the reservations made by the noble Earl, Lord Cowrie.
Health and safety at work concerns us all and the Report of the noble Lord. Lord Robens, and his very distinguished Committee was, in my view, a masterly analysis of the jungle of regulations; the grave accident fatalities; and the enormous amount of personal suffering imposed by ill health which was brought to light by their very comprehensive study. We were also made clearly aware of the point that the human and economic toll of industrial accident and sickness imposes very large burdens on the population in industry. I particularly welcome the emphasis placed in the Report, which is reflected in this Bill, not on increased and yet more complicated controls, but on simpler laws and, above all, greater involvement of management and men with Government, directing their attention to the hazards and problems of specific industries as well as those common to all.
Legislation and a whole army of additional inspectors will not achieve the goal 1667 we seek in this Bill, until we get a universal acceptance that this is not the Government versus industry; it is not a pernickety boss or a foreman against the shop floor; it is not "them" and "us". It is everyone accepting their individual and corporate responsibility towards safety and good health and the onus is on every one of us to preserve human life. The misplaced bravado of those who say, "Well, it is my neck, is it not?", is just as reprehensible as carelessness about the safety of others. The Bill involves us all—Government, employer, employee and public—and I join in the welcome of it. There will always be the hazard of human error, but most accidents result from misplaced overconfidence, or ignorance of, or contempt for, the safety regulations. I quote from personal knowledge of two accidents. A few weeks ago, an elderly man looking forward to his retirement from work and walking home from lunch in the West End was fallen on from above by a window cleaner who had been provided with equipment that he did not apply. Both of those people lost their lives. I am also aware of a case in a factory with which I was associated some years ago when a young man with unduly long hair, who had been told by the foreman to wear a safety hair net, whipped it off as soon as the foreman was out of the way and, as a result, was half scalped.
I hope that the new Health and Safety Commission and the Executive will receive the maximum support from the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. and also, and not least, the many invaluable voluntary organisations which do magnificent work for the disabled and the sick. Without the many millions now raised by such voluntary organisations interested in research such as Cancer Research and the Heart Foundation the scope of research and care in this country would be poorer and thinner. I hope very much that the specialised contributions that these voluntary and specialised organisations can and do make will be taken into consideration, will be recognised and will be represented on the committees where their knowledge and expertise applies.
I have been associated with several of these organisations, but I declare my prime interest to be the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council for Research, of whose Appeals Committee I am proud 1668 to be Chairman. The arthritic diseases affect more of the population than any other group, and although they kill the least they cripple the most and take savage toll in long and continuing pain. I am sure your Lordships will forgive me for my natural "plug" for my pet charity and for singling out this affliction, but I should emphasise its importance in relation to this Bill. We lose 37 million working days each year from arthritic diseases, and for too long research into these diseases has been ignored and patients have been told that they "must learn to live with it".
I am proud to say that it is due to the persistence of distinguished medical men, such as the late Lord Homier, the late Lord Dodd and the late Dr. Copeman, who worked ceaselessly from the tiniest beginnings, that this scourge has been placed on the research map, and at this moment the organisation is financing 79 research projects in the National Health Service teaching hospitals. We are financing the Kennedy Institute where, some of your Lordships may be pleased to know, they can now cure gout. I should hastily add that during a recent visit there I discovered that gout is by no means an affliction solely of the landed gentry. At this moment, we are hoping to raise £1 million to install a clinic to deal exclusively with the many arthritic diseases going under the name "backache" under the umbrella of a London hospital. These are matters which are of real concern and they make a genuine contribution under the terms of this Bill. It is my earnest hope that the deep concern, and the warm-hearted generosity of the British people in so many of these fields of voluntary medical-aided research, will give the opportunity to co-operate in the new organisation's work and to continue their great contributions.
I have been privileged to visit many industrial health centres, many of which are lamentably under-used since there is undoubtedly a certain resistance among employees to their personal ailments being made known to the firm. This is regrettable, but in some cases understandable. It is an important precaution of these industrial medical centres that the non-professional staff must be fully apprised of the absolute confidentiality of 1669 their work. It is no use the doctor keeping his Hippocratic oath if a chatty and inexperienced junior, typing that doctor's tapes, gabbles away about the fact that poor old Jones' nervous tension is because his wife is an alcoholic, or the boss's secretary was not holidaying in Spain but having an abortion.
The security of these records must be very tightly supervised if employees are to have confidence in the industrial medical service. The vital industrial statistics we require can be in the form of numbers or cyphers put through a computer, but we shall not get cooperation from employees unless they are sure that their medical records are really secure. The doctors are fully aware of the situation, but junior staff are not always appreciative of what it means. Medical information should be disclosed only to that limited number whose responsibility it is to ensure that employees are not taxed beyond their personal and medical capacity, or to gather the vital statistics which we need to increase safety and improve health.
I believe that much can be done to create this confidence, leading to greater use of the medical centres, many of which are already in existence, by encouraging services where an individual, either through misplaced pride or because football viewing takes up too much of his time, delays seeking medical advice about matters which are not so dramatic in his life but which are very important; for example, for deteriorating sight or hearing. Equally important is the provision of services for dentistry, because so many put off a visit to a dentist until an abcess is formed or their teeth break up. There must be encouragement to those concerned to widen the use they make of the clinics or centres which are set up under this new scheme. There is much to be done, and a great deal of provision must be made. But in the last resort it is the duty of each one of us to safeguard himself and to safeguard others.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I am very happy to be the Member of this House to follow the noble Baroness who has just made her maiden speech, because we were colleagues in 1670 another place for many years, although we always sat on opposite sides. It would be an impertinence for me to congratulate her on her manner of delivery, because I have heard her so often in the past and I know that your Lordships' House will be hearing her again in the future. She is a seasoned campaigner, and although she has addressed us to-day in the mildest way, I can assure your Lordships that on those occasions when she feels deeply and when she is not making a maiden speech and therefore does not have to be non-controversial, you will hear a noble Baroness who knows her subject extremely well, who feels very strongly and is determined to get her own way when the time comes. I should like to say this to her. I think she will find that the most attractive aspect of this House is that there is no Speaker upon whom one has to gaze for long periods, hoping to catch his eye. In this House, one is either called automatically or one calls oneself.
I warmly welcome this measure, and shall be astonished to learn that there is any Member of this House on either side who opposes it, at least on the ground that it is premature. I regard one of the most interesting parts of the Robens Report to be that which is covered by pages 216 to 218, which contain the bibliography. They reveal that there have been 44 official publications since 1876, and 26 other publications on some aspect of health and safety at work. Added to this, there have been hundreds of Questions and a great many debates which I have attended, some of them in another place and others in your Lordships' House. Then, seven years ago, Mr. Ray Gunter (the then Minister of Labour) promised a consolidation measure. Again, eighteen months have elapsed since the publication of the Robens Report. I am not surprised, having listened to speakers to-day from both Front Benches, to learn that everybody has grown a little tired of the constant delay. It is the first time that I have heard such an honest revelation that one reason for the delay is the quarelling between Departments. Generally civil servants hide these things and always blame the politicians for quarrelling and being unable to reach decisions.
For all these reasons, but particularly for this delay, I attach first importance to the procedure of translating this Bill 1671 into action. I believe that is the first thing we should look at, and not to debate once more certain aspects of the Bill which we really know by heart. We should ask: when will the workers themselves feel the results of this change in legislation? I do not want to be depressing, bur I foresee inordinate delay. The Commission will propose regulations to the Secretary of State who, in his turn, is empowered to modify them. I believe I am right in saying that he is going to be allowed to take only one month to make these changes. But there is no time limit, so far as I can see, during which the Commission can delay making their proposals. The Secretary of State, having made his modifications, must come along and lay them before Parliament, and who can say how long Parliament will take to confirm these changes? In my opinion, if no time limit is set to this procedure, the pace of the slowest in this exchange of opinions will dictate the speed, and I ask at this stage for the Government to consider this aspect of the Bill.
How can we expedite the necessary legislation? Of course one wonders whether this legislation will be overtaken before it operates effectively owing to the rapid progress of technology. Indeed, the number of processes used in a modern factory have multiplied with such rapidity that the hazards to health are only appreciated long after the dangerous material has been in use. Even then, some of those in authority drag their feet before the worker is given effective protection.
It astonished me in reading my newspapers during the week to learn that every pneumoconiosis victim is going to be given a certain amount of money. We have known about pneumoconiosis during the whole of this century. If one wants to have one's heartstrings really wrung, go to the pneumoconiosis clinic in Cardiff. It is the most tragic sight in the world to see these men, sometimes 40 or 50, sitting there with an incurable disease which must inevitably be fatal. We have known about this disease for years and years, and to-day, in 1974, we are told that a certain amount of money is to be given for research into pneumoconiosis. This is an example of the delays which I still feel will continue even when this Bill reaches the Statute Book.
1672 It will be said, no doubt, that the incidence of fatal accidents in factories in the early part of the century was greater than in the past decade. But there was greater ignorance, combined with less public concern with human life. I recall meetings which I addressed in the 'twenties and 'thirties on the high maternal mortality rate in the country. Those meetings were heralded with the slogan, "It is more dangerous to be a mother than a miner", because in those days the maternal mortality rate was higher than the death rate in the pits. The women's demonstrations undoubtedly hastened the provision of legislation and hospital accommmodation for mothers, with the result there was a striking decrease in the maternal death rate.
I often wonder why men have not demonstrated, or used the strike weapon, to ensure higher standards of industrial safety. My noble friend on the Front Bench has told us that this is an enabling Bill; that it is going to deal with generalities, but I find that less than satisfying. We are to have a Commission which will no doubt decide which aspects of the accidents or diseases of industry will be dealt with. Undoubtedly they will avoid, in the first place, those which have caused us a great deal of trouble so far as coming to a conclusion with regard to remedying them is concerned. First, may I deal with noise. I have stood here before the last Government with my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield when we had debates on noise. Nothing has been done, although I remember there were useful recommendations which went out from that debate. I find nothing in this Bill which deals specifically with noise. Again I say that I am told that this is so because it is an enabling Bill. But how are we to ensure that the Commission will deal with what I believe is one of the most important aspects of factory work: that is, the effect of noise of machines on the worker? The Industrial Health Advisory Committee issued a code of practice on noise with a 90 decibel limit. I should like to know why this is not included forthwith in the statutory safety regulations. This took a long time to decide. To be told now that it is simply to be left to the Commission to decide whether or not they will give it a priority is very disappointing.
1673 Of course, none of this legislation will be effective unless it is made strictly enforceable and unless the penalties imposed are of such a severe character that a bad employer will weigh the cost of the penalty against the cost of providing safeguards against injury or disease. The bad employer must be reminded of the necessity to take action in a way that really hurts him.
The hazards of certain individual processes are not confined to the worker, but may be transmitted to the worker's family. I would remind the House—because we raised it here—that in 1971, following the discovery of raised levels of lead in dust in the vicinity of an East London lead works, it was discovered that the lead levels in the blood of children living near the factory were above normal. Of course it was said that they were playing in the infected dust and that that was how they became infected. But it was also suggested—and this is important—that workers may add to the contamination of the home environment by bringing home dust containing lead in their clothing. This emphasises the need for good hygiene within the factory, and the need to prevent workers from taking soiled clothing home for washing. A simple thing, but I wonder how many wives of workers in industrial areas are faced with washing clothes which might well be impregnated with some of these new materials which are used in industry to-day?
I was going to speak strongly about the farm worker and say that he must be given urgent consideration, and that it was a fundamental mistake to leave his fate with the Agricultural Ministers because, after all, they have done very little about this in the past. But I am now delighted to hear that the Bill has been amended. It will now be possible for the Commission to deal with the accidents and diseases of the farm worker.
Why do I feel so strongly about this? It is because—and I see my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood in her place; one of the finest farmers in the House—I feel that the Commission surely can be more objective than the Agricultural Minister. The Agricultural Minister is concerned with the farmers all the time, seeing them on deputations, and so on.
1674 Almost certainly he will be influenced by their interests. They may well come and put a case to him and, against his better judgment, he may decide in their favour. It is in their interests that we should have a Commission which can be objective. I should like to remind the House about what happens on a farm. Those of us who are not farmers—and there are many in this House—are apt to think of a farm as a delightful place where nothing unpleasant happens. Apart from the high rate of accidents on the farm, which includes an increasing number of children, the farm worker can suffer from chemical poisoning, from a distressing dust disease, and from deafness and other nervous disabilities from driving a tractor.
I will not weary you, my Lords, because I have wearied you on other occasions, by telling you of the high incidence of brucellosis among agricultural workers. Here is a case in point where the agricultural Ministers have dragged their feet. Here we have—and I say this because veterinary surgeons tell me this themselves—most veterinary surgeons having had some attack of brucellosis in their professional life. It is a very common condition among agricultural workers. Therefore I am truly delighted to hear that now the conditions of the farm worker will be considered by the Commission.
I also welcome the new clause whereby directors of companies must provide in their annual reports information concerning the arrangements for securing the health, safety and welfare of the employees of the company. There is nothing like publicity to ensure that negligent employers will face up to their responsibilities to their workers. If an employer can hide negligence, as he has over the years, nothing will be done. But at long last the bad employer is going to be compelled to give publicity, in his annual report, to his failure to do his duty. Furthermore—and I hope the noble Lord who opened the debate will consider this matter—the greatest vigilance must be exercised to ensure that bad employers do not use the excuse offered them in Clause 2 by the phrase "so far as is reasonably practicable to evade their duty to employees. I deplore this phrase. It has given every bad employer in the country an opportunity to run away from his obligations.
1675 My last constituency was an industrial constituency in Lancashire. I ask noble Lords to forgive me if I repeat myself here because we have had debates on these matters before. The picture of some of the industries in Lancashire and the conditions of some of the workers there always rises before me. It is something which, to one coming from London, makes a great impact. One sometimes reads of these matters in medical books on industrial diseases, but to find oneself a Member of Parliament for a constituency where one actually sees it all at first hand is a most distressing experience. I found in my constituency men of 45 looking 55 or 60, with chronic bronchitis, who had worked in a dusty atmosphere for years. They came to see me wheezing, hardly able to breathe. When I was shocked at looking at these comparatively young faces and said I was astonished to see them in this condition at their age, they did not complain; and when I attributed this to the conditions of their work they dismissed it as though it were a reflection on their manhood to suggest that the work had defeated them. This is the great difference between the woman worker and the male worker. The male worker feels all the time that he must show that he is capable of standing up to whatever conditions are sent to try him in his work. Undoubtedly, therefore, ignorance and fatalism have contributed to the mortality rate in industry.
I should like to know how the 16-yearolds, who are now kept at school until they reach that age, are prepared for industry before they enter a factory. I am told that some of them visit a factory or a works of some kind. But I want to know what lessons they are given by a well-informed instructor in their own form room as a preparation for their working life. Are they given talks on the health hazards of various jobs available in their neighbourhood, and are they given instruction on the statutory regulations in force, so that they may be truly prepared for the hazards of industry?
Finally, I welcome the unification of the Inspectorate. I find that the Factory Inspectorate as it is to-day, chronically below strength, has its efficiency diminished. I want to know how it is proposed to increase the numbers and improve the quality of the Inspectorate. Why is there not a drive for well-qualified 1676 women? What about all these women who are now leaving our universities—first-class material for factory inspectors? Why is there this eternal prejudice and discrimination? We are always told: "We have not enough factory inspectors. That is what is wrong. That is why a factory can be visited only once every four years." I ask—I have asked it before, but nothing ever happens: why is not a special drive made to get women factory inspectors? For I believe that the quality of the inspectors is the determining factor in ensuring action against a guilty employer. Legislation, my Lords, will be ineffective unless it is strictly enforceable, and this can be guaranteed only if the Inspectorate consists of keen, dedicated people whose compassion provides a motivating force.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF COURTOWN
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I congratulate and welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, on this the occasion of her maiden speech in this House. To-day is the first time I have had the pleasure of meeting her and hearing her, and it has indeed been a great pleasure for me to do so. But her reputation has gone far before her, and I have no doubt we shall hear her many times again on rather more controversial subjects than we are dealing with to-day. My Lords, this debate inevitably is held with the shadow of Flixborough hanging over it. The Bill adds important safeguards. But however the regulations are drafted, it will be impossible to prevent the occasional disaster—just as happens occasionally but regrettably in air transport. I welcome the aspects of this Bill which attempt to deal with this type of disaster, but we shall be deceiving ourselves if we think it is ever possible to stop these disasters completely.
I support generally this Bill which follows closely the recommendations of the Robens Committee. The main way to improve safety in working establishments is to get management and employees fully involved in the common object of preventing accidents, taking into account that some four-fifths of all accidents occur, as the Report says, in handling materials, falling, striking against objects and misuse of hand tools. With this, of course, has to go control of dangerous 1677 processes for possible internal and external effects. The Bill provides a basis on which better co-operation can develop and the means of producing regulations and codes of practice to ensure progress. This mixture of regulation and codes of practice is entirely right. Regulations by themselves can deal with only part of the problem. Changes in technology are such that it takes far too long to issue regulations to deal with all new changes and conditions. But with these should go codes of practice which may prevent these dangerous sets of circumstances from ever arising at all—rather than waiting until the danger has been found and then the regulation is issued.
I have, however, certain reservations about parts of the Bill. Clause 2 is inclined to be too dogmatic about the organisation required. It implies, for instance, that safety committees are essential, while emphasis needs rather to be placed on the best organisation in each establishment to ensure co-operation, involvement and action.
Emphasis is placed in paragraph 65 of the Robens Report on the appointment of safety representatives. It is stated there and in paragraph 62 that safety committees are not necessarily the best way of dealing with the matter. In paragraph 70 the Report recommends that:The form and manner of such consultation and participation would not be specified in detail, so as to provide the flexibility needed to suit a wide variety of particular circumstances and to avoid prejudicing satisfactory existing arrangements".I know of one company with an outstanding safety record which has safety representatives but which has no safety committees. It depends for communication and discussion upon ad hoc meetings with all the work people concerned. The company to which I am referring is a large concern. Other companies have works committees which deal with safety matters satisfactorily. A safety committee is only a means to an end and in some establishments there may be better ways.
Paragraph 70 of the Robens Report then says that:Guidance should, however, be given in a code of practice outlining model arrangements, including advice on joint safety committees and the appointment of employees' safety representatives".1678 I hope to move an Amendment in Committee stage to provide that safety committees are not regarded as the sole means of communication and discussion.
The Bill lays down also the procedure where there is union representation in the establishment. and I have no quarrel with that. I find myself in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about this. However, this Bill deals with all working establishments—offices, laboratories as well as workshops. We know from the Bolton Committee that 70 per cent. of small firms have no union representation, and the Bill applies to them just as much as it does to everybody else.
I should not think of accusing the Government of trying to use this Bill as a means of proselytising for unionisation. However, I think it is likely that, even if we have increases in unionisation, most small firms will stay out of it for many years, because it is not worth the unions' time to try to bring a rapidly changing population into the unions in very small units. Therefore we should not encourage a situation in which people may think that this Part of the Bill does not apply to them. Here again I am seeking advice to enable me to produce an Amendment which will not quarrel with the idea that when there is unionisation and union representation in an establishment that shall be the means for discussion and the appointment of representatives, but that where that is not the case then there shall be some other way of electing representatives.
It is recognised in the Robens Report that the Commission must be a body of the highest repute and staffed accordingly. It must, therefore, have a considerable degree of independence. That is why, presumably, it was made a Crown Commission. However, I am worried about the extent to which it is to be subservient to the Secretary of State. Clause 11 says that it is the duty of the Commission to submit to the Secretary of State from time to time particulars of what it proposes to do. It has,to ensure that its activities are in accordance with the proposals approved by the Secretary of State",and it has,to give effect to any directions given to it by the Secretary of State".1679 If we accept that, I do not think that it is necessary to go further.
Clause 16(2) states that:The Commission shall not approve a code of practice under subsection (1) above without the consent of the Secretary of State …My Lords, there are going to be a great many of these codes of practice and it will delay them if they have to be approved by the Secretary of State. It will also reduce the prestige of the Commission if they all have to be approved by the Secretary of State and it will provide an excuse for the duplication of staff in the Department of Employment.
Finally, my Lords, I am sorry that there has been no mention in the Bill of occupational medical services by which I mean those services which are provided by large firms in the private and public sector and also by groups of firms in certain areas. In the debate on the Robens Report, I referred to the real advantages of these services to companies and to those who work in them, and I do not intend to repeat them here. However, the Bill deals with the Employment Medical Advisory Service, and the existence of a medical service in the company is complementary to it. It can provide great assistance in diagnosing and preventing possible hazards to health, including mental health. I do not see how, without the assistance of these services, the E.M.A.S. can carry out the purpose which is given to it in Clause 51(1)(b) ofgiving to employed persons and persons seeking or training for employment information and advice on health in relation to employment and training for employment".I understand that in the E.M.A.S. there are about 100 doctors. If one realises that one large company has 24 doctors working in its own medical service, with another 50 or 60 on a part-time basis, one understands that the E.M.A.S. cannot hope to deal with individually employed persons in the way that is suggested in Clause 51 unless it has the co-operation of some other form of medical service.
I should like to see encouragement given to companies and groups to set up medical services where they do not have them because they can relieve the National Health Service of a considerable burden. Many minor ailments can be dealt with in a works surgery, often by a nurse, which would otherwise entail a morning off work at a National Health Service 1680 surgery involving the time of a doctor. If the matter requires the attention of a National Health Service doctor, then it is referred to him.
My Lords, I hope to move an Amendment to Clause 51 to draw attention to the value of these occupational and industrial health services. However, in general this is a desirable Bill. I strongly support it and such criticisms as I have made I regard as relatively minor compared with the value which the Bill is likely to produce.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, first may I apologise to my noble friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill and to other noble Lords for my absence earlier. I attended a funeral this morning in Mansfield, and I have made the journey purposely from that place to make a few observations upon this very important measure. I heard part of the maiden speech of the noble Baroness and I should like to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and other noble Lords who have offered their congratulations to her. We are old colleagues from another place. I remember one occasion when the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, came into the Mansfield constituency and opened, I think it was, a health centre; at any rate it had something to do with the Ministry of Health. I hope she felt that she had a welcome. She did extremely well on that official occasion and, like other noble Lords, I shall look forward to hearing her on future occasions.
I think no one in your Lordships' House would deny that during the past 30 or 40 years—say since the end of the war—there has been a revolution taking place in industry. There have been new processes, new techniques, new mechanical means to deal with industrial production. In my humble judgment that has created problems in the field of safety and welfare. If we look back into history, the hazards were not so great as they are to-day; once it was the hand loom, then we had the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of mechanical means. Sometimes I am a little mentally perturbed and wonder, in connection with the effort and the research that is put into these new industrial processes, whether we give as much time and effort 1681 and money to the questions of research so far as safety and health hazards in industry are concerned.
I believe this was in the mind of the Secretary of State, Mrs. Castle, in 1970 when she appointed a committee under the chairmanship of one of her own colleagues, Lord Robens, to review the provision made for the safety and health of persons in the course of their employment. It is true that in 1961 we had the Factories Act, and also the Mines and Quarries Act, to which I shall refer in a moment or so. That was in 1954 and it was solely, entirely and exclusively connected with the mining industry. But apart from those two major measures, since the end of the war the momentum for the provision of safety measures against the health hazards in our industrial life has not been as great so far as the new industrial processes are concerned.
In reading the Robens Report I have found that after two years of patient and detailed investigation, consulting papers. receiving a lot of evidence, meeting a number of people who are expert in the field of research on the subject of industrial safety the Report was published, and we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Committee who spent so much time and gave so much thought to this important problem of safety and health at work. I do not agree with all the conclusions of the Robens Report but it is illuminating, analytical and it deserves the attention of everyone connected with industry, both management and workers.
I am glad to see that in the Robens Report and also in the Bill there is a particular recommendation that the general public, when away from work, are not immune from the hazards brought about by industrial processes. I am reinforced in this opinion by the reference made to the tragedy at Flixborough a few months ago. People living in their homes a long way from where the explosion took place, people walking in the lanes, pursuing their leisurely activities, were not immune from the results of the explosion that took place at Flixborough. In this connection I am also reminded of what took place at Aberfan in the late 1960s: little children in school were not immune from the effecits of the industrial process of that mining valley.
1682 However, two years of hard work by the Robens Committee produced an illuminating document, and I hope and believe that it will focus attention upon an important aspect of the present industrial life in Britain.
There is an old saying that I use myself on many occasions and in many places:A fence at the top of the cliff is much better than an ambulance at the bottom".Prevention is always preferable to cure. and it may be that in our misguided moments we are tempted to put more emphasis upon cure than upon prevention. After all, that is what the Robens Report and this Bill are all about to devise preventive measures, measures that cannot and must not be ignored if an improvement in the disturbing figures of accident and industrial diseases is to be brought about.
I do not want to indulge in a number of quotations from the Robens Report, but in my view paragraph 10 is important and reference should be made to it. In my humble judgment it is both sombre and disconcerting—1,000 people killed every year. That is the size of some small villages—1.000 people have been wiped out. In 10 years at that rate the number would be 10,000 and that is the equivalent of a small township being obliterated. Five hundred thousand—half a million non—fatal accidents of varying degrees of severity. That is the human side.
On the economic side, our attention is drawn to the fact that 23 million working days are lost annually, and I do not believe these figures take any account of the non-reportable accidents. which have inflated the figure to much more than 23 million days, if my assumption is correct. Figures of this kind from all sides of the House make us think. In human terms, the tragedy behind figures such as these is terrible; in terms of family relationships it is enormous—a lost husband, a lost father, a lost son, a lost daughter. We cannot estimate the gloom and the sorrow behind the figures that I have quoted in this respect. It behoves every one of us to realise our responsibility to do everything we can to bring about an improved state of affairs.
My Lords, I have thought for a long time that the greatest and most important 1683 investment in industry is not cash, not pounds, shillings and pence. This is especially the case in heavy industry and in industries where there are great hazards. The lives and limbs of human beings make an important investment in our industry. These people not only need, but should have, the utmost protection at their places of work, whether by legal or by voluntary means. This is really what the Bill and the Report are all about. I shall talk about trade union influence in this sphere. The history of safety and health legislation over, perhaps, the last 150 years, reveals a fascinating story, in which one point stands out clearly. There was not the same degree of safety awareness at that time as there is to-day among employers, and even among Members of Parliament. Of this I am quite sure. The present Secretary of State, Mr. Foot, made some remarks in this connection, which I do not propose to quote. I have no doubt at all that the trade union movement of this country over generations has played a noble part in the sphere of safety and health at work. Individual unions, and the Trades Union Congress, have their special committees and their research personnel dealing with safety and health.
It is not true, as is sometimes expressed, and in many quarters believed, that the trades unions deal only with wages and conditions. That is a fallacy. Their work is much wider and goes much deeper than that. The trades unions are concerned with problems that arise every day; they display an active interest in conditions in industry with regard to safety and health hazard. I doubt whether there would have been the codes of practice, the sanctions, the prohibitions and the penalties embodied in legislation had it not been for the work and the agitation over many years by the trade union movement. In heavy industries like mining and steel, in agriculture, deep-sea fishing and many of our modern factories, where the incidence of accidents is high and the health hazards great, the trades unions regard as not the least of their functions, in co-operation with management, the job of providing the best and most up-to-date safety measures to minimise accidents and industrial diseases. With what end in view? It is in order to avoid so much misery, unhappiness and 1684 loss of faculty by such people as I have described.
From my own experience over the years, I know that the miners union has ungrudgingly expended many thousands of pounds in the interests of its members, and in devising high standards of safety. I am pleased and proud to have been identified with the miners' union for so many years because they have done so much in the realm of safety at work. I shall return to this matter in a moment. I want now to say one or two words about Clause 2 and Clause 10. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, made references to what I regard as objectionable words—the words "reasonable" and "practicable".
I recall that during the Committee stage in another place on the 1954 Mines and Quarries Act, we spent hours in argument over similar words in that Bill. Once again the monster has reared its head. At the behest of someone, these words have been resurrected, placing upon the employers a basic obligation to do everything they can so far as the safety of their own employees is concerned. But I think those two words are a means of escape. Further, I think they provide a happy hunting ground for the legal profession, provided cases are ever taken into court. I should like to see removed the escape route from the basic obligation of the employers implied in these two words as laid down in the clause. In the 1961 Factories Act there are two references only to those two words; in the Mines and Quarries Act 1954—and my noble friend Lord Blyton, who played a large part in our debates on these words, will reinforce what I am saying—these two words are extinct.
My Lords, I will make one or two observations on Clause 10. This is a very important clause because it creates the new authority, organisation, call it what you will, to deal with this question of safety and industrial disease. The clause outlines the responsibilities the authority will have. In some ways I think it is a good thing. It is going to be a big umbrella. But I have a reservation so far as the mining industry is concerned. I am glad. as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, intimated, that agriculture, which was left outside the jurisdiction of this new Commission, has now been brought within its purview. The view 1685 of the mining industry as a whole—this is not only the miners' union, but the N.C.B., the Institute of Mining Engineers, B.A.C.M. and N.A.C.O.D., organisations representing the official element—is that at any rate at this stage, in view of what has been and what is being done so far as the mining industry is concerned in this sphere of safety, it would be better at this moment to leave well alone.
There has been no end of correspondence with the previous Government and with the present Government. I could give many quotations, but that is not my intention. All that I would do is to repeat that the mining industry is not happy about the possibility of the breakup of the present system which exists in this field of safety so far as the mining industry is concerned. It is a long catalogue. I will say no more than this. Right from pit level, there are the safety committees, the works inspectors, the area safety committees, right up to Hobart House, the headquarters of the National Coal Board, in co-operation with one another.
While everything is not apple-pie in this sphere so far as the mining industry is concerned—and who would expect that it could be in view of the hazardous nature of the industry—all these elements within the mining industry feel that at this stage, at any rate, until some of the other industries are brought up to the level of the mining industry in this field of safety, it would be much better to leave well alone. I want to say to the noble Baroness who is to reply, that she can give an assurance that in the meantime the 1954 Mines and Quarries Act will not be repealed, and that nothing detrimental will be done about the obligations of the Mines' Inspectorate.
The only other thing I want to mention is on a new point entirely; I leave mining for the moment. It is in regard to the exploration for oil in the North Sea. I do not know whether any of your Lordships read the Sunday Times last Sunday, but there was an illuminating article on this matter. It was about men diving anything up to 1,000 feet in these Northern waters. The effect of compression upon their bodies is quite alarming; and then in the decompressors into which they have to go to be decom- 1686 pressed, that, too, is not a very pleasant experience. I want to give only one quotation, if I may, from this very illuminating article in regard to this new field, with all its hazards to safety and to health. This is what the writer of the article, Mr. David Blundy, had to say:Despite the fact that North Sea oil will play a key role in the British economy and is now a major multi-million pound industry, and despite the obvious dangers of the job, divers still work"—this is the operative sentence that I want to impress upon your Lordships—without the protection of safety regulations. It is possible for an untrained man to be sent on a deep dive with inefficient or out of date equipment. As a former diver (whose name is mentioned) said, 'I have done dives on shoddy gear badly looked after and not properly understood. A bloke could get a job with a diving company if he got a medical from a doctor and then lied about his diving experience.In view of the revelations in the Sunday Times last Sunday, I trust that something will be done, because the numbers involved are increasing: the fatalities are increasing. I hope that something will be done so far as regulations are concerned to protect these men who are doing a very dangerous job. With those remarks, and with the reservations I have mentioned, I have great pleasure in welcoming this important Bill.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ BARONESS SEEAR
My Lords, may I, in commencing, apologise for the fact that I was not able to be in my place when this debate started because of a meeting which I had agreed to attend long before I knew that this debate was going to take place. I fear also for a similar reason it is unlikely—I apologise to the noble Baroness—that I shall be able to be here for the winding up, though I shall endeavour to do so if it is in the least possible. For the same reason, of course, it may well be that I shall be guilty of some repetition of points that have already been made, because I am unable to know what points have already been made since I was not here to listen to them.
My Lords, it is, I feel, unfortunate that this debate is not better attended. It reflects the, to me, quite extraordinary attitude of the public in this country—and it is reflected again in the attendance in the Press Gallery—towards health and 1687 safety at work. We are all deeply moved when there is a major catastrophe, as at Flixborough recently, but we have become inured to the idea that it is perfectly reasonable and acceptable that accidents and disablement go on day in, day out, the aggregate of which, if they were to occur in a single day or a week, or even a month, would be a matter of banner headlines. Surely at a time like the present, when we are bedevilled by problems to which we do not know the answers, it would at least be some relief to be able to tackle and to get results in an area in which to some extent we know the answers.
I say with confidence that we know the answer, because those of us who have in any way, as I have, in however small a way, been involved directly in this question, know that a great many of the accidents which happen in industry are avoidable and could have been avoided; and that where managements, unions and the labour force combine to see that accidents do not happen they are to a large extent reduced in both severity and number. This is a problem that is within our power to deal with, and it is a problem which should appeal greatly to the public at the present time. It has a most important humane element, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has been pointing out to us. It has also an extremely important economic element. We speak with great feeling about the days lost in industry for this reason or that, bad industrial relations—and I am the last person to decry the importance of that—but it is far more within our power to cut down the total number of days lost, and all that that implies, in the field of health and safety. We know this because it has been done by the most competent and the most responsible employers, and what they can do others can do, too.
I regard the Robens Report and this Bill as matters of major importance. This Bill is not a routine piece of legislation which is being pushed through both Houses of Parliament, between other more exciting matters which will get the headlines. But do not let us imagine that when this legislation is passed, it will, by itself, bring about any results at all. Indeed, it could have the contrary effect. This legislation is to some extent a gamble. The noble Lord, Lord Robens, carried out a 1688 detailed investigation, and he has come up with an analysis of the problem that is different from the previous one, and with a radically different approach to the way in which this problem should be handled. We are here making a dramatic change from our previous approach to the improvement of health and safety at work. What the noble Lord, Lord Robens, and this Bill are saying is that while there must be law, there must be enforcement and there must be penalties, the most important thing of all is informed participative action in the improvement of health and safety at work. It is this that is new; it is this that is important; and it is in this area that, unless we take steps other than and in addition to those laid down in this Bill the Robens Report and this Bill, with all their good intentions will fail.
I have said that I agree there has to be law and there has to be enforcement, but the most important thing of all is awareness and knowledge throughout industry, from top to bottom, about what safety at work really implies. In fact, the Committee themselves took a participatory approach. We are committing ourselves, first and foremost, to a quite mammoth training programme for health and safety at work. It is vitally important that boards of directors should introduce policies for health and safety. Of course it starts at the top, but unless this is followed up by informed and skilful training at all levels the results will be negligible. This is not easily done. This is not something that just a couple of courses and a few films will achieve. It needs to be thought out, it needs to be made appropriate for the different groups of people going into industry, and it needs to be followed through with resources, time, effort and research into the results of training of this sort.
My first suggestion in connection with this Bill is that we should link up with the newly appointed Training Services Agency and ask them, and the training boards through them, to intensify and improve their training for safety, which is an absolutely vital requirement if this Bill is to be worth the paper that it is written on. I should also like to suggest that this training and safety—and I tried a little of this years ago, and I know how tricky it is; it is very easy to get it wrong—could well start in the schools.
1689 I believe that the teachers are worried as to what is done with the last year in school. An imaginative approach to keeping oneself whole at home and at work—I would put it like that, rather than "safety first", because that in itself can be regarded as a challenge to avoid safety measures—could well be introduced into the last year of school, as part of the bridge which needs to be built between what goes on at school and what goes on at the place of work.
So I would put training for safety at all levels. If your foremen are not safety-minded you can whistle for results, as you can if your rank and file are not safety-minded—in particular, the new entrants. I do not know how many of your Lordships are aware of the alarming rate of accidents among new entrants, school leavers, going into industry for the first time. This alone is something which, if you think about it in individual terms, is quite horrific. It means that youngsters in their first year or two of employment are damaging themselves, limiting themselves, restricting themselves for the whole of their working career, because of the accidents that they very often suffer through lack of adequate safety training and adequate preventive work at the point of entry into employment.
Linked with this, but second in importance, is the organisational side; the need to have safety committees and safety officers. I am glad that there are now powers to compel the introduction of safety officers and safety committees. Years ago I worked on such a committee and I know how constructive and effective they can be. I am sorry, however, that the Bill says—and I hope that this can be altered before it becomes an Act—that the safety officer can be appointed by the trade unions, and that when he is appointed he can require safety representatives who can require a safety committee. I should have preferred election from among the work force, rather than the appointing of safety representatives.
In addition to this problem of the safety representatives being appointed by the trade unions who can then require a safety committee, the clause overlooks a vital point. The most difficult places, and the most urgent places in which to 1690 bring about change, are the small concerns—the small shops, offices, workshops—in which trade union organisation is very often extremely weak and in which, as any of us who have had anything to do with this subject in the past know, the writ of the factory inspector has run in only a very slight way indeed. This is no criticism of the factory inspectors, who if I may humbly say so, are princes among our public servants. But it has always been difficult for them to get round to small places of employment. It is a question of numbers and organisation. It is in the small places where there is probably a very great deal going on that is extremely risky to health and safety. We cannot be absolutely certain, because we do not get any records that begin to be accurate about what goes on in small places of employment.
Therefore, I should like to see a right given to all employed persons, even if the trade union is not there to speak for them, to have safety representatives appointed and safety committees set up. That need not be instead of; it could be in addition to the clause that we already have in the Bill. If we do not do so, we shall leave unprotected by the new legislation large sectors of employed people who most need this protection. Indeed, many small offices are far more unhealthy to-day than many large scale factories. They have not had the same pressure on them, and their conditions, of work are often lamentably bad. We need to extend this clause, so that it is not only for the people who have the trade union protection, but so that all people can benefit from this advance.
The Bill, probably rightly, does not say anything about the kind of standard of safety and health that we shall require in the future. Present legislation embodied in the 1961 Act has been built up over a very long period of time, largely by additions, one by one and two by two, to legislation over a period of 100 years. I hope very much that the Commission and the Executive, when they come into being, will look at the whole problem of safety and health with fresh eyes, and will not merely adjust the legislation which we have had in the past.
This brings me to a rather special point, which I should like to take this opportunity of making. There has been, and will continue to be, controversy about 1691 the subject of protection given to women in employment. I very much hope that the Executive and the Commission will look at this anew. I should like to see us aim—and this is the policy in some other countries, and, indeed, in the I.L.O. but perhaps we cannot get it straightaway—at a standard of safety and health at work which is really good for both men and women. It is anachronistic to think that women require special protection which men, because they are so much tougher, do not really need. If conditions are unhealthy for women in almost all particulars, they are unhealthy for men—not in absolutely all particulars, but in almost all particulars. I should like to suggest that this be reviewed to see to what extent we can have legislation which covers both men and women, because this is a civilised standard of working conditions. The special protection for women should, in the words of Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on Driscrimination be limited to those matters which arise directly out of women's physical nature.
In other words, obviously women will continue to need special protection in all those matters connected with pregnancy and child-bearing. There is a clear case for that. Otherwise, the objective should be that the standards should be so good that there is no need for special regulations to protect what, in this regard, is considered, probably incorrectly, as the weaker sex. After all, we survive a good deal longer than men, so it is doubtful whether we are the weaker sex but that is another matter. That should be the aim, at least. Maybe we cannot bring it about straightaway, but it is surely in that direction that we ought to be moving.
This is a radical Bill, not only in its approach to the way in which we want to bring about improved standards of safety and health at work but also in the machinery which is proposed for doing so, that is, in the introduction of the Commission, a semi-autonomous body to do the urgent job of ensuring that standards are improved and better methods of safety are enforced. I welcome any attempt to cut through bureaucracy, and to the extent that the Commission is a way of getting speedier action and a more down-to-earth handling of these problems than the traditional Civil Service procedures permit, that is entirely desirable.
1692 We have done this before. This is a new administrative and Governmental device for getting results, but that does not mean that we have sorted out all the problems connected with the use of this new device. As many of your Lordships have said, and as I said earlier this evening, this is a matter of the greatest importance. It is a matter on which Parliament must continue to be informed and on which Parliament must continue to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the way in which new methods are working out. I should be interested to learn, given this semi-autonomous Commission which is being set up, what devices are being worked out for ensuring ultimate Parliamentary control, and adequate Parliamentary control, over this whole task, while still leaving the Commission enough freedom to do the job and to do it in a businesslike way the freedom that is envisaged in the Bill, and which Lord Robens asked for when this new device was propounded.
However, I hope that Parliament is not going to be unable to come in and to question in the way that it seems to me it is still very much Parliament's responsibility to do. At the very least, would it not be proper that both Houses of Parliament should have a regular Report. annually or at whatever interval is deemed appropriate, and that this should be debated? This is not a matter that we can afford to leave solely to the Commission. Parliament should have an opportunity, at regular intervals, of reviewing what is going on, of expressing an opinion, of asking questions and expressing approval or disapproval, as the case may be.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, it was a great pleasure to be present in this House when the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, made her maiden speech in the House. I first met the noble Lady when she and I spent a week-end together, with Alfred Robens, at a seminar of the British Coking Industry Association many years ago, and I realised then that Miss Hornsby-Smith was to have a very important influence in political life. This debate has brought out a number of important points. It is perfectly clear that everyone welcomes the Bill. It is evident in the way in 1693 which the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, made his own comments on the Bill, that he danced placidly round it, and where he objected he would equally have objected to the Bill when he introduced it himself, if he had done so.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I am sorry but I must rise to my feet on this occasion. I made a longish speech on our Bill when it was given a Second Reading in January of last year, and the objectionable passages were not then in it.
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
I naturally accept what the noble Earl says, but if he will look tomorrow at Hansard he will see that he did state that there were still matters in the Bill that would have been in when he introduced it and to which he would have objected. However, the important point is that there is no real objection at all to the principle of the Bill. That principle is completely agreed, and nothing that I want to say now opposes the principle. On the contrary, I think that this is a radical Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has just said, and a Bill that should be carried through as quickly as possible. There are, however, certain matters in it which I hope will be considered carefully at the Committee stage of this House and to which I hope the Government will pay serious attention. I refer to certain questions which arise with regard to expert professional advice.
If one looks at Clause 2 one sees that there is an obligation on an employer to set up a committee, and that that committee should deal with matters within the factory with regard to safety. However, there is no obligation, and I believe that there should be, upon the employer to take the best professional advice with regard to safety matters, because the question of safety is an important one and not one that can be dealt with without having the best professional advice. I could quote many examples of this, and from what I myself have seen there have been many cases where, inside a factory, steps have not been taken because there was no adequate professional advice at the time or no adequate professional advice that was used, at any rate, by the employer.
1694 I can remember up in Newcastle some years ago when there was a very serious explosion inside the hull of a ship that was being repaired, and it occurred in a most extraordinary way. The welders had been at work, using propane gas and oxygen and using their blow torches for doing the welding. They went away overnight, but they came back next day, and a man went down a ladder into the bottom of the hull. He lit his torch, and was surprised at the flame which appeared; it was quite different from the ordinary flame. He came out, but left the torch down there and another workman descended; and as this other man came down the ladder flames appeared on his protective clothing. Shortly afterwards there was an explosion, the man was killed and a great deal of damage was caused. Fortunately, only one man was killed; it might have been many.
I learned the story from the fire officer who conducted the investigation. It shows how expert opinion can be valuable, because this fire officer had taken much trouble to look into the question of explosions of that kind. He came to me and asked me, as a professor of chemistry, if I thought that his explanation was reasonable. I had no doubt that his explanation was correct. What had happened was that propane gas had been leaking overnight through a faulty valve. There had built up several cubic feet of propane gas in the hull. When the man went down and lit his torch—he had oxygen—instead of getting the flame of propane gas burning in oxygen, he got a flame of oxygen gas burning in propane. When he saw the nature of the flame—because the two flames are quite distinctive in appearance—he got out, climbed up the ladder and the propane gas held on his protective clothing began to burn as he emerged into the air. When the next man came down the whole thing exploded.
A diagnosis of this type cannot be done by unskilled people; it requires people of considerable skill to do it. Therefore, in my opinion, it is a matter of considerable importance for safety precautions, and when employers have safety committees they should be required to take expert professional advice in order to help them in coping with the problems which arise. Every industry to-day has to meet new problems which cannot be 1695 solved simply from past experience. They are problems involving new principles, and because of this there is a deficiency in the Bill, not only in its not specifically requiring this type of expert opinion, but also in the way in which it fails to incorporate certain expert services. I believe that the Bill is allowing such specialised services to disappear in favour of a more general inspectorate.
This matter was raised by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield in regard to the Mines Inspectorate. The mines inspectorate is a highly qualified, highly specialised body of men. Every mines inspector has himself worked in a mine. They have seen every type of mining accident and know the mining industry inside out. If anything goes wrong to-day they have direct access to the Minister. But under the Bill they will not; they will be incorporated into a general inspectorate. There is no certainty that an expert mining inspector would be sent to investigate a mine and to me that seems wrong. There is good reason for having a general inspectorate, but surely within that unit there should be a clearly defined category of mining inspectors. If we do not do that we shall be taking a grave risk and doing something which may cause real trouble in the mining industry in the future.
I believe that the same situation applies to the Alkali Inspectorate. It is a small but specialised body, dealing essentially with the production of acid gases from factories and the works connected with them. Over the years the Alkali Inspectorate has acquired a great deal of expertise. It knows how to go to a factory and deal with these problems. I have been informed by factory managements that the alkali inspector is able to talk to them in their own language and tell them, "We think you ought to do suchand-such an investigation in order to find out whether the process you are using is dangerous. We think that it is."
In this way the Alkali Inspectorate, not by laying down the law but by skilled discussion with the factories, is able to get an immense amount done. I am informed that this relatively small body of men succeeds in doing work out of all proportion to its numbers, because of its skill and its knowledge of the industries with which it deals. If we replace these specialised bodies with a general inspec- 1696 torate, we may do an overall good over the whole of industry but we may well do serious harm within those industries which have been having the benefit of the specialised work of the inspectors. I think that this is true of quite a number of functions. Clearly it applies to an activity such as the Radiation Protection Service, which is specifically mentioned in the Bill. But it is important to realise that already we have a very good service in certain fields and we should do nothing to undermine or damage that good service. Instead we should seek to have a wider service which will incorporate the best features of the old one.
Finally, my Lords, I would mention the problem that arises in regard to such disasters as the Flixborough explosion. When that matter was first raised in the House I called attention to the fact that the aggregation of dangerous materials was something that, in itself, was a serious menace. Even though it might be possible to use these materials safely in a small quantity, in a large quantity they are liable to go out of control. That problem is something which will have to be taken into account in the future, and I am glad to see that the Bill makes provision for it. But the provision will have to be wider than my noble friend Lord Hughes explained, when he said that there will be a right to decide the siting of the factories. I think that the Executive will have to go further and be able to decide the size of a factory.
In the case of Flixborough, as we know, the whole of the basic material for the production of nylon in this country was being produced in one factory. I do not believe that the economic advantages are ever great enough to outweigh the risks of doing that. Therefore, it ought to be one of the functions of any body which is concerned with examining such matters to insist that the whole is not to be put into one place; that if it is put into one place the danger is too great. I heard unofficially that it is probable that there was a fault in a line which had been inadequately repaired at Flixborough. But the point is not how it happened; the point is that these things can happen however many precautions one takes. It is impossible to have an absolute guarantee that such an accident will not occur.
1697 Therefore, it must be an important matter to minimise the effect of it, and I believe that this can be done by ensuring that we do not concentrate in one place.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I should like to make one thing clear, if I may. In referring to a site I did not mean, nor was it in any way intended to imply, that it is only the site. I have been checking on what I said, and it included the words:In the case of new developments, the Executive will be able to get in at the planning and design stage".Obviously, this will cover not merely the location of a plant but the size of a plant. But I will specifically draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the stress which my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones has put on this point of the size of the plant, as well as its location.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ LORD MIDDLETON
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, said when she spoke with such feeling, agriculture is a dangerous occupation. Everyone engaged in the industry has the common aim of reducing the hazards that multiply as farming becomes more heavily mechanised and as the techniques involving the use of chemicals become more and more sophisticated. There is, therefore, one simple criterion by which to judge any new legislation: is it or is it not going to make farmwork safer? Under the present administrative system, and since the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956, the making of regulations governing farm safety and the enforcement of them has been the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture. I have had a good deal of experience of the administration of farm safety regulations—as a farmer; as a member for a number of years of a county agricultural executive committee; and, when it came to applying the law, as a magistrate. I found it very difficult to fault the present system. The Ministry of Agriculture now has, in addition to a specialist staff in London, 8 regional safety inspectors, 31 divisional safety inspectors and 350 field officers. These field officers carry out a wide range of duties, but about 30 per cent. of their time is spent on safety work. One of the good features, 1698 which should appeal to those who like economical administration, is that often a safety problem can be seen and an accident prevented while a field officer is out on another task.
My Lords, there has been a depth of knowledge, and a sympathy with the technical problems, on the part of the Ministry that has led to wholehearted cooperation from farmers and their employees, who have willingly served on local farm safety committees, and safety standards on farms have improved enormously. The regulations now in force are widely recognised as being necessary. The timing of the application of certain regulations has wisely been geared to the ability of the industry to finance the necessary improvements. The farmer can always get advice on safety matters, and the Ministry have always recognised the value of education and guidance. I do not know of any case where there has been a feeling of injustice when a prosecution has been brought and a penalty exacted. The result has been what someone yesterday described to me as an entente cordiale between the Ministry and farmers and farmworkers, and the system has worked smoothly. But let me emphasise that this understanding was never, to my knowledge, due to any softness or lack of energy in enforcement. No respect for the Ministry could have resulted from that kind of policy. Therefore, any new legislation which seeks to alter this system of administration must be framed to retain the confidence of the industry. If it fails to do so, it is retrograde.
When this Bill first appeared it preserved the status quo and left the making of farm safety regulations and the control of their application to the Minister of Agriculture and his officers, with their specialised knowledge of farming techniques and working conditions. But now what is happening? As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, Government Amendments were introduced at the Report stage in another place, so that we now have before us a Bill which provides that agricultural safety shall be administered by the Safety Commission. My Lords, if that was going to make farmwork safer then no-one would be more eager than me to support in its new form a Bill which in other respects has so much merit. But I hope noble Lords 1699 opposite will forgive me if I say that I see the makings of a first-class administrative mix-up.
That the Ministry of Agriculture are experts in the field of farm safety is recognised under the proposed system, which envisages consultation on the making of regulations and using Ministry of Agriculture officers as agents in administering them. One must therefore ask the Government the question: why take overall responsibility away from the Ministry of Agriculture? Under the agency arrangement to be set up between the Safety Commission and the Ministry, no decision appears to have been taken, and certainly there was no clear statement from the Minister in another place, as to where the line would be drawn dividing responsibility between the Safety Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture. Any tinkering that leads to a division of responsibility for the supervision of the Inspectorate can lead only to inefficiency. The Minister of Agriculture, who under the Bill will have joint responsibility with the Secretary of State for Employment to introduce legislation specific to agriculture, must surely have a direct line of control over a supervisory hierarchy from London to the field officers.
Next, I would ask the Government: what is the line of authority on enforcement? To what extent will the Ministry of Agriculture officers have to seek the Commission's approval to prosecute or to embark upon some particular campaign? The answers to these questions are not to be found in the Minister's justification for these Amendments on June 18 in another place. I would also ask: to what extent has consultation been carried out in Scotland? So far as England is concerned, I know that the National Farmers' Union were consulted, but I believe they are very far from being happy with the present Bill. The English farmers' organisations are very conscious of the farmers' responsibilities for the safety of their employees, but they are convinced that the proposed system will not result in greater safety. They fear that the effectiveness of the Ministry of Agriculture may be diminished, and that the morale of its staff may suffer and recruitment be discouraged. They firmly believe that full responsibility for inspection and enforcement should remain squarely and 1700 unequivocally with the Minister of Agriculture, albeit within the general framework of a system operated by the new Commission in respect of industry as a whole.
One of the great strengths of the agricultural industry has been the excellent relations between employers and employees. Now, employers or self-employed outnumber full-time employees by 288,000 to 246,000. It will be a great pity if their respective organisations were to take diverging lines on working out a way of advancing their common interest in farm safety. I understand that the N.U.A.W. have felt that more could be done to enhance farm safety, and have given support to these Amendments, which are embodied in the Bill that we have before us. I urge them to consider whether this really is the way to reduce accidents.
If not enough safety enforcement work were being done—and I certainly have not any evidence that this is the case—will transference of responsibility necessarily provide the answer? It may merely be a matter of the number of officers. Up to last week the Government accepted the advantages of the present system; then they reconsidered the matter—inadvisedly in the opinion of a large part of the farming community. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, when he tells us that agriculture will get the best of both worlds. I beg the Government to consider yet further whether this amended Bill will really lead to fewer accidents on the farm. I believe it will not.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, it is a great privilege for me that my first participation in a debate from the Dispatch Box should be on this Bill, which is a distinctive and exciting milestone in social history. I am also delighted to have the opportunity of congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, on her maiden speech. It was not, as she said, very "maiden"; she is such an experienced speaker, so informed and spoke so well that I envied her when I think of the trepidation I had then and that I have now. I think she will remember that we met many years ago when, in another existence, I was doing an article on, of all things, red-headed women in politics. It is very nice to see her now; although 1701 we have the same colour hair we sit on opposite sides of the House, and actually her hair matches my side better.
This debate has been so highly informed and I have sat back getting more and more frightened. I cannot claim the technological expertise of the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, the medical expertise of my noble friend Lady Summerskill, the scientific expertise of my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones, and the tremendous experience in trade union affairs and in mining of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield, nor the formidable knowledge of other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who seems to be able to speak on so many subjects in such depth, and of course the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. I should like to thank him for the very charming remarks he made. I felt at one point we should go into a two-step to the music of "Me and My Shadow."
I am particularly interested in this Bill because, apart from my lack of expertise and knowledge, I have always had a deep interest in health and social conditions, and it would be a very amputated interest if it did not include health and safety at work. Indeed, it was when I was at school and reading of industrial conditions in the last century that I was first propelled into the politics of reform.
Before dealing with some of the specific points raised by noble Lords during the debate I should like to spend a minute or two in speaking about what seems to me to be one of the most important aspects of the Bill and its implications. As the Robens Committee pointed out, following their comment that the great bulk of existing provisions are concerned with physical circumstances—… it has long been widely accepted that equally important factors in safety and health at work are the attitudes, capacities and performance of people and the efficiency of the organisational systems within which they work. This is not yet reflected in legislation.It is this whole area of human relations in industry—I prefer the phrase to "industrial relations" in this context—which takes a big leap forward in this Bill. I have always disliked the clarion calls for "participation", "partnership", "working together" which trip off the tongue in a wordy vacuum. But here they are highly relevant since they can be 1702 directed to mutually beneficial purposes. The performance of employers in the health and safety field ranges from the highly efficient and socially responsible attitude of some organisations to the outrageous irresponsibility of others, whose negligence seriously impairs their efficiency and productivity. The measures in this Bill, spelt out by my noble friend Lord Hughes, make a clear statement of the obligations of industry in the widest sense which are also very much in the self-interest of industry.
Just as health and safety at work is too often at the bottom of the shopping list of management, so its priority has too often been lamentably low on the priorities of trade unions. The opportunities for working together under this Bill should reap industrial and human dividends which go beyond the frontiers of health and safety. One of the most important ways in which the vast number of measures incorporated in the Bill can be given real guts is in the field of the free flow and availability of information, which clearly the Government and all Parties in another place consider most important since the Bill was substantially amended to strengthen these provisions.
First, the new Commission is given specific duties to inform, advise, educate and train. This means not just leaving it as a statutory requirement, but taking positive and lively initiatives to produce information in a way that makes an impact that cannot be ignored. The key to this is something with which I have been closely concerned in a variety of other areas; namely, communication. This does not come about merely by passing an Act of Parliament. Once that is passed then the work begins: it requires initial research, careful monitoring and, above all, professional assessments of the results of the publicity and education, the sort of evaluations which are essential if the end product is to be something more solid than routine good intentions. This has been mentioned by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.
There is a professionalism in this field which is as important as the scientific and medical and other forms of professionalism which are required in carrying out the various other measures and regulations. The core of the exercise must always be the individual, and the individual, whether employer or worker, 1703 must be aware of his or her responsibilities and the risks which are involved in any process or job. There is no easy and short cut to this, and I think it is important to recognise—and we as a Government recognise—that this is so. It cannot be plucked out of the air by posters, circulars or even a wide use of the media unless it is strongly backed by education, starting, as my noble friend Lady Summerskill has pointed out, at school. I would go further. Basically a great deal of this is in the realm of health education which makes people aware of the risks associated with their jobs and starts with the knowledge of safety in the home as a good foundation which naturally leads to safety at work.
During the period of time when I was chairman of the Health Education Council we found a vast amount of ignorance in all areas of health, whether it was safety in the home—leaving detergents around for children to get at; not enough pressure on making child-proof containers for dangerous drugs and pills—or lack of knowledge about such things as contraception and lack of awareness of so many people about the workings of their own bodies. Without health education of this sort extended to industry, I think it will be very difficult to make all the various other measures work with the necessary rapidity and vitality which I think everybody who has spoken in this debate has stressed.
Only knowledge can lead to action, and action implies responsibility, the responsibility of the individual who must not be the passive receiver of Governmental edicts. I was very pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, mention the example—which I also had in mind—of the young man with the long hair. That has happened in other instances as well, where people have felt that they are being told to do something, just as an order, and have not even begun to understand the dangers to themselves in what they are doing. By the time they are doing the job in the factory it is often too late for them to learn, so we have to start this education very much earlier. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also raised this point. He also raised a point on information which I will deal with later.
Secondly, the Bill gives inspectors of the Executive specific duties concerned with keeping workpeople informed about 1704 health and safety hazards in their work place. Part of the inspectors' functions will be to explain those risks, to explain the results of tests carried out and to make sure that communication is strictly two-way. This means ensuring that the clause requiring enforcing authorities to appoint inspectors having suitable qualifications must be interpreted in these terms. If this is so, it seems to me that this should go some way to meeting the points raised by my noble friend Lady Summerskill and others in increasing the interest in the inspectors' job, which should help to recruit from a far wider spectrum of men and women than is the case at the moment. So far as women are concerned, I certainly agree with all that the noble Baroness said, and at the moment there are evidently 45½ women engaged—the half woman is a part-time woman.
But there must be a drive in order to get both keen and dedicated people—which was another point made by one noble Lord—and this means trying to interest young people at school, and recruitment at universities and other places of further education should be given the same priority as other job opportunities. I understand that if schools have well-developed programmes of careers education, there are likely to be some lessons in the later stages about the work situation and they might well include safety aspects of work. There may also be visits to observe work processes when health and safety factors might be discussed.
Although I am speaking from the Front Bench, it would be quite untrue for me to say that in this field, as in many other fields of health education—and I do not think other members of the Government would even say—one can be complacent or satisfied with the situation as it is. This Bill is a very good instrument in order to nudge education authorities—which means locally as well as centrally—into seeing that young people are prepared for their life in industry.
Obviously occupational health services at the work place should be and must be the aim—and I think the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, was making a particular point of this—but the fact is that we have a great lack of resources in this field. There is no need for me to go into the problems that exist in the National Health 1705 Service at the moment, particularly with regard to nurses and the shortages of doctors, but this does not mean to say that one should not make the best use of the resources that we have, and where there are not works doctors at the moment it seems to me that G.P.s must be brought much more into the educational process. There should be far more communication with the G.P.s and also, where there are works doctors, between the doctors and the G.P. This again is a two-way exercise.
I would say also to the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, that there is nothing to stop many more enterprises setting up excellent schemes similar to those which are already being carried out by a number of firms. Indeed, these schemes are not only of benefit to the workers, but by giving good and immediate medical care and attention the firm should benefit. In fact those firms who undertake these schemes—and I have discussed it with several of them—say themselves that their gain is quite as great as the workers' gain because they have a far smaller loss in production, lower absenteeism and far better morale. There is nothing in the Bill which precludes voluntary effort and voluntary initiative in this and in many other fields. Since so often we hear from all sides of the House—but particularly from noble Lords opposite—of the need to encourage the individual and voluntary effort, it would seem a pity not to inspire it further and to press on with it at the moment when we need it so much.
I should now like to come to some of the points raised by noble Lords. I must apologise if I cannot cover everything, but as noble Lords will agree there have been a tremendous number of very important points raised in this debate. First, I should mention the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, who, through the generosity of my noble friend Lord Hughes, has had to wait some time so that I had the opportunity of answering him. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving me that honour. In answer to his question on transport, I can say that the Bill covers transport workers. The general obligations apply in relation to transport workers and provide a basic cover. In the case of road and rail workers—and I think he particularly referred to rail workers—the 1706 relevant regulations made under the Bill will apply unless they state otherwise. In the case of sea and air transport workers, no regulation made under the Bill will apply to them while they are at sea or in the air, unless the regulation specifically so states.
One of the main points that has been raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, is this question of joint consultation and safety representatives. The first point here is that the position at non-unionised work places will not be at all changed by the Bill. At present, employers have no duties and employees have no rights regarding arrangements for joint consultation on health and safety, so the Bill is not taking away any existing rights. What is far more important, as I have just said on another point, is that there is nothing in the Bill which will prevent the continuation of existing voluntary arrangements worked out between work people and management. I hope that this links up with the remarks I made earlier on information and education. Where there are people who do not belong to a union or are in a non-union shop, they still have the opportunity to press for an arrangement with their employers, and to try to make a voluntary arrangement. If an employee wants to take advantage of these new provisions, there is nothing to stop him joining a union. Naturally, we hope they will, since the unions are clearly the bodies best organised to take on these initiatives. They have this machinery. I was rather surprised—not from a political point of view, but from a literary point of view, because the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, is a poet and always writes and speaks so well—to hear him using that terrible word "politicising" which really cut across my ears as well as my views on the policy of it.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness? I take her rebuke about the word. It is not one that rings very pleasantly in my ears, but I should be very grateful to her—or to anyone else in the House—if she can supply me with a word which will do the job as well. I was making the distinction that we cannot keep politics out of safety and health, but that the wrong kind of partisan political activity should not be there.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, in this case the noble Earl would have been well advised not to use it or even an alternative, but to take it as it is, that the machinery is the right sort of machinery. As my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield pointed out in his very impressive speech, the record of the trade union movement in this field is so great that without its work we would not have had the kind of safety regulations we have to-day. Certainly, we should not have had them in the mining industry. The noble Lord was worried that some of these might be lost under the Bill, and I shall deal with that point later.
If one looks at certain industries or plants where health and safety are at their lowest, these places are very often where one finds a great number of women workers. I have been around and have seen a great deal of light industry where women are mainly employed, and it is an unfortunate fact that women will not group together or press for improvements, although things are better now. They have always been reluctant to join trade unions, and therefore their conditions have not been as good as they are in other industries, where the unions have fought hard for a far higher level of safety.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way? Is she not reinforcing my argument that where you get non-union plants the need for safety representatives and safety committees is probably much greater than in an industry such as coal mining, where a long record of activity by the N.U.M. has led to the successful introduction of safety procedures?
§ BARONESS BIRK
No, my Lords. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but would say that the conclusion he has come to, if looked at in another way, is that people would be better off if they joined a union which would work on their behalf. I would put the position in that way, and not turn it round the other way. There is a point here involving industrial relations, which could cause tremendous difficulties if the legal rights were not left with the trade unions. This is a very serious point for our economy, whichever Government is in power.
1708 My noble friend Lady Summerskill mentioned the delays in the regulation-making procedure. Perhaps I might say here that the Report came out in 1972. This Government have been in power only since the middle of March, and yet this Bill is now having its Second Reading in your Lordships' House. So we are getting on with the legislation. The recommendation that there should be a single authority means that the authority has to be set up, and it would be impossible to set a standard time limit which was applicable to the making of all regulations. Nevertheless, the plans are to go ahead with it as quickly as possible. Here, again, I think it is when people like my noble friend press for this and similar things that we shall get some action. It should not just go through and people should just not forget about it.
My noble friend Lady Summerskill, together with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, raised a point about the words "reasonably practical". I will not delay the House with all the arguments that have surrounded this very difficult phrase. But the Bill makes it clear that it will be up to whoever has to comply with a general duty to prove in court that it was not reasonably practical to do more than he did. There is no "let-out" and it is contrary to the general position, when you are presumed innocent until proved guilty. In this instance, the employer has to show that he did everything that was reasonably practical. As the duties apply to everything in and about the places of work, from the simplest welfare facilities to the most technologically complex processes, it seems to me quite unrealistic to make absolute duties which cover such a vast range of circumstances. If you do this, it makes for even more vagueness, and people may try to do less.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the question of early warning of hazards from the use of toxic substances. This is an extremely important issue in this Part of the Bill. The noble Lord mentioned the problem of identifying and controlling the use in industrial processes of substances which can create health risks of an insidious long-term nature—risks which often remain hidden until serious damage has been done. For the first time, a duty 1709 will be laid on all those who market substances for use in industry to ensure that—dare I say it?—so far as is reasonably practical they are safe and without risk to health when properly used; that adequate research and testing is carried out with them, and that information about the products and their properties is made available to those who will use them. I accept immediately that this is not 100 per cent. perfection but, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, and others, there is no way of making absolutely sure that you prevent any accident or disaster unless you stop the activity entirely. At least this will go very much further than anything which is in existence at the moment to try to prevent not only major accidents but some of the more insidious hazards which are still major though on a smaller scale than was mentioned by my noble friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also referred to the provision of information to workpeople. The codes of practice can certainly be used to give detailed guidance on the type of information which employers should give to workpeople. The disclosure of information in pursuance of an inspector's function certainly permits disclosure of information to workpeople's representatives. That is clearly laid down in Clause 28(8). The noble Earl objected to Clause 16, which concerns the requirement for consent by the Secretary of State before the Commission approve a code of practice. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment in another place has promised to consider an Amendment to this clause to loosen up the requirement for the Secretary of State's consent; and I hope that on Committee stage we shall be able to introduce a suitable Amendment.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield raised the question, quite naturally, of mining. He was concerned that the present standards may be eroded if they are taken into the Bill. As the noble Lord will know rather better than I do, this matter has been under discussion for a long time and the existing statutory standards of protection for miners will not be weakened. The noble Lord referred specifically to the requirements of the Mines and Quarries Act, and these will remain in force until they are replaced by better standards. Quite 1710 obviously, these better standards could not be judged to be so unless the miners agreed that they were. That is quite specific, so I hope that my noble friend will feel happy about it.
In his extremely interesting speech, my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones was concerned, among other matters, about the specialist bodies and the disappearance of the Mines and Alkali Inspectorates. The specialist inspectorates which join the Executive will not disappear: their specialisations will continue. Unity here does not mean uniformity. As I understand it, the aim is for more specialisation and more expertise. As technology becomes more and more specialised and expert, we need more of it in order to judge it and counter-balance it. But inclusion within the new organisation will mean that this expertise can be put to the fullest use regarding common problems and can be co-ordinated with related disciplines. Integration on the various inspectorates was a fundamental recommendation of the Robens Committee and one that has been very widely supported. He will he pleased to know that inspectors will have exactly the same access to Ministers as they have at present. There is no statutory right of access under any existing legislation. My Lords, that does not seem to make sense. I have probably got it wrong.
Now may I turn to Lord Middleton's point on agriculture. I am a strictly non-agriculturalist. The wife of a keen gardener is the nearest I have got to that! I employ my husband as an unpaid gardener. I do not know whether that makes me an employer or self-employed. The noble Lord referred to the fact that there were far more employers than employees in agriculture; but I think he will agree it would be more accurate to say there were more self-employed than employees, which is really rather different. It is true that there was extensive criticism from all sides of the special provisions, but after discussions between the Secretary of State for Employment and the Minister for Agriculture, and consultations with a number of bodies, the final result came about.
What we are now proposing under the Bill, as amended on Report, gives agriculture the best of both worlds, because the 1711 Bill now gives the Commission full responsibility for all aspects of health and safety in agriculture, as in all other industries. The case for this is the same as the general case for having the Bill in the first place, and for setting up a single organisation solely concerned with industry-based health and safety problems with full responsibility for tackling those problems wherever they are found in manufacturing, mining, the constructing service industries and so on. We are also proposing that in the normal course the day-to-day work of carrying out the Commission's policies and enforcing the statutory requirements in agriculture should be done on the Commission's behalf to its specifications by the inspectorial resources of the Agricultural Departments.
There are powers in the Bill to create an agency arrangement of this kind and this should solve the special problem of coping with the scattered structure of the industry, since the Agricultural Department's inspectors will in any case be visiting the farms for other purposes. It also means that farms will normally be dealing with people whom they know are fully familiar with their problems. I do not suppose it will bring much comfort to the noble Lord, but, thinking that this would come up to-day, I saw a friend of mine who is a very experienced farmer of long standing, who took the contrary view and he felt now that the Bill had been amended it made far better sense and agreed that in this way agriculture got the best of both worlds.
I am conscious of not having covered every point that has been made and I am also conscious of the clock ticking on. I can only say that I and my noble friends have listened with the greatest interest to the points that have been made, and that there will be an opportunity for more discussion of some of the particular points on the Committee stage. The debate to-day has been a most valuable contribution, not only to the need for educating and informing a wider public about health and safety matters, but on the whole subject of health and safety at work, so that in future it gets the priority and attention it deserves. One of the important things about this Bill is its flexibility with its imaginative enabling content which gives it the elbow room essential for what I hope will be a human 1712 and social growth industry. I know that noble Lords will welcome the chance to give this Bill its Second Reading as much as we have welcomed the chance to hear what they have had to about about the Bill.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.