HL Deb 07 December 1995 vol 567 cc1080-3

5.26 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 20th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft regulations be approved.

The regulations are to be made under Section 37 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 in order to remove, without replacement, certain existing health and safety statutory provisions which have been shown to be outdated and which have no practical effect.

The proposals, which are before your Lordships today, are part of a process which should, in time, reduce the volume of general health and safety law, by 40 per cent., while at the same time maintaining health and safety standards.

In fact, the simplification which we aim to achieve should actually improve standards, as people will have a clearer idea of what they definitely have to do, and will not have to waste time on unnecessary paperwork trying to find out.

In December 1992, the Government invited the Health and Safety Commission to review health and safety legislation at the workplace, and to advise the Government whether the legislation was still necessary. It was made clear, though, that the Government intended to maintain standards of health and safety.

The commission's review demonstrated that the present system of regulation has won widespread support. But, health and safety law has been considered to be voluminous, complicated and fragmented. This undoubtedly makes it harder for employers and others to comply with it.

The commission therefore proposed a programme of reform of the legislation in order to reduce its volume, and more importantly in terms of its impact on business, to simplify and to clarify that legislation which remains.

The regulations, which are before your Lordships today, will remove 12 sets of outdated regulations, one Act, and one Section of another Act. They will remove, without replacement, legislation which covers: homeworkers; slaughterhouses; railway running sheds; and horizontal milling machines; as well as the hours of work for people who work on shifts in the manufacture of sheet-glass using automatic machines.

The legislation covering homeworkers dates back to 1911. It was originally enacted in order to address the risk of the spread of public disease, such as plague, cholera and typhoid, which might result from carrying on certain types of work in domestic premises.

The types of work covered indicate how old this legislation is. It includes, for example: the making of iron and steel cables and chains; the manufacture of brass; the sorting of feathers; and the shelling of peas. This dates from the time when people shelled peas in their own homes for public consumption, and it was thought that the unsanitary conditions which existed in some homes would lead to contagious diseases being carried to the general public through the peas. We have moved on a little since those days.

The legislation on slaughterhouses and railway running sheds, which is to be removed, was enacted in order to ensure that certain regulations and orders, which were made under the Factories Act 1937, still applied when that Act was replaced by the Factories Act 1961.

Most of the early regulations and orders have already been revoked or have lapsed. The few which still remain will be replaced shortly when regulations, which were introduced in 1993 in order to implement several EC directives, come fully into effect.

The legislation, which covers hours of employment, relates to certain types of glass manufacture which are no longer carried out in the United Kingdom, due to the development of modern manufacturing techniques and to the changes in technology.

The legislation, which amends that which was enacted in 1928 which covered the safety of horizontal milling machines, lapses on New Year's Eve this year. If the amendments to that legislation are not revoked by that date, they will remain as a statutory instrument in force, even though the legislation which they amended, has already been repealed. That of course would be an absurd situation.

I do not think that these regulations should be regarded as controversial. All the provisions were identified by the Health and Safety Commission as being outdated and as no longer having any practical effect.

At the request of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, the commission consulted widely and sought the views of both sides of industry on proposals to remove these provisions without replacement. The responses demonstrated that there was general support from those who are affected for these proposals. Another place debated, and approved, the proposed regulations on 28th November. I commend them to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 20th November be approved [ 1st Report from the Joint Committee].—(Earl Ferrers.)

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these regulations. We accept, as we have always done, that there is a case for revoking legislative requirements and regulations that have become outdated and are thus quite redundant. There is no merit whatsoever in over-regulation, as we made clear when we discussed the deregulation legislation when it was before your Lordships in the last Session. I accept also that there was provision for consultation with the Health and Safety Executive. The last report of the HSE makes clear that it was involved in a wide-ranging consultation exercise. We do not intend to oppose the draft regulations that are before this House. In any event, it is not customary for us to do so when they have been approved by another place.

However, I have some anxieties, to which the Minister might possibly respond. They arise from my perusal of the report of proceedings of the First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation. I see that the intention is still to repeal Section 133 of the Factories Act 1961. To some extent I share the worries to which expression was given in the committee in the other place. As the Minister made clear this evening, the proposed regulations mean that homeworking in future will not be subject to the degree of supervision—inadequate as I believe it to have been—which existed under Section 133 and which I understand involved liaison with the HSE and local authorities. Reference is made to that in the HSE report. Indeed, the HSE has made it clear that it values highly co-operation with local authorities across a whole range of issues.

As I said earlier, some of the procedures covered by Section 133 are now completely outdated and we do not wish to revive anything of that kind. But what bothers me about homeworking is that, while for many highly educated and trained people, particularly those familiar with current technologies, homeworking may very well be a welcome development which fits their lifestyle and often their home accommodation, the same may not be true of all homeworking, particularly when undertaken by less skilled people, mainly women, who may not be able get any other kind of work, and particularly work which enables them to look after children. Often, such workers are exploited. They do not benefit from the mutual support that working together with others brings. They are often isolated and without knowledge of employment rights. Many of them are from ethnic minorities. In any event, the employment rights may not be available to them in that kind of work. The homes in which they work may not be suitable for the work that they do and may even be dangerous for the workers and their children. At least under Section 133, some means of applying protection existed.

We agree with the revocation of old and outdated regulations, but I am inclined to think that perhaps a complete repeal may not be appropriate. Updating might have been much more satisfactory. I understand that the National Group on Homeworking was not particularly enamoured of the present legislation, but clearly something is necessary in this area. I understand that the HSE is undertaking a review of regulations in regard to the self-employed. It may be that the Minister will maintain that that will cover homeworking. But what happens until that time? There does seem to be a gap there. Perhaps the Minister would be good enough to enlighten the House.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her remarks and for stating her intention not to oppose these orders. She feels that there should be an opportunity for people to do homeworking. She is quite right about that. People will do homeworking and there should be opportunities for it.

However, all that the regulations on homeworking required was notification of some types of homework to local authorities. Of itself, that does not help in maintaining standards. Homeworkers are protected as it is by existing health and safety law. The kind of laws that we are repealing today are, for instance, the Home Work (Lampshades) Order, which applies to: the manufacture of lampshades other than lampshades made wholly of metal or glass or stone". One order refers to homeworking in: the manufacture of chocolates or sweetmeats, and any work incidental thereto". Another order of 1913 refers to The making or filling of Cosaques, Christmas Crackers, Christmas Stockings or similar articles or parts thereof, and any work incidental thereto". Those are very old-fashioned orders. That is the reason why they should be removed.

The point which concerned the noble Baroness was that there should be adequate protection for those people who continue to work at home under different circumstances. I can give her the assurance that that is covered already under the existing health and safety at work statutes. So they will be fully protected. It is only the removal of those pieces of legislation which are quite unnecessary that the regulations laid before your Lordships seek to achieve. I hope that I have been able to satisfy the noble Baroness.

On Question, Motion agreed to.