HC Deb 14 July 2004 vol 423 cc427-48WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Margaret Moran.]

9.30 am
Mr. Deputy Speaker

May I caution Members that, although the first debate is on deaths in the construction industry, they must not refer to any case that is still before the courts or unresolved and that is therefore sub judice?

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab)

I am extremely grateful but somewhat sad that the issue of deaths in the construction industry has been chosen for debate today. By the time we have finished this debate, there is every possibility that a construction worker will have either lost their life or been severely injured through no fault of their own. Having spent many of my working days in the industry, I am well aware of the dangers and risks associated with it.

There are, on average, 80 deaths a year on building sites, and significantly more serious accidents. Although there are official figures for recorded accidents on Britain's building sites, there are serious concerns that many accidents go unrecorded, for reasons ranging from employer intimidation to workers operating in the twilight world of illegal working.

Organisations such as the independent trades unions are already expressing genuine concerns about the fact that the problem could be further exacerbated by much-needed qualified migrant construct ion workers moving into the industry. Such workers may currently have little or no training in health and safety, and many of them cannot read or understand the English language.

Anne Picking (East Lothian) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this serious issue, and I look forward to hearing the debate. On twilight organisations and unscrupulous employers, does he share my concern that many take up work in the construction industry with bogus rogue employers who do not have the proper health and safety procedures and insurance? The firm could have a fatality or serious injury, and there would be no recompense for the workers concerned or their families.

Jim Sheridan

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Unfortunately, some people still operate illegally in the construction industry. Workers are engaged by such people and they have no recourse to compensation should they suffer injuries during their employment with those conmen. I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that issue. She has vast experience of working in the health service, and has seen at first hand some of the horrific injuries that have come through the hospitals.

I spoke about migrant workers coming into the construction industry, but I qualify that statement by saying clearly that migrant workers and indigenous workers are entitled to the same health and safety standards as anyone else. It is true that the construction industry, in particular, is suffering from severe skills shortages across the length and breadth of Britain. It is important that we bring in migrant workers, but we should do so on the understanding that they work under the same conditions as everyone else in Britain.

There is no doubt whatever in my mind that the increase in fatalities in the construction industry is consistent with the decline in trade union representation on our building sites. Unfortunately—and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Anne Picking) alluded to this—some unscrupulous employers are still happy to play fast and loose with people's lives. I will return to that point later.

Trade unions invest large amounts of their limited resources in training safety reps to recognise and report potentially dangerous practices. Perhaps that is why the cowboy operators, as we call them, seek to undermine the trade unions at times and obstruct their activities. I am sure that many colleagues here will have constituents working in the construction industry, which is often undervalued. None the less, it makes an enormous contribution to our everyday lives and the country's economy.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate. Putting the cowboy companies to one side, does he agree that even the best companies have problems with health and safety? That is not always on the side of the management. When the management express an opinion on the rules governing health and safety, it is sometimes perceived to be interfering. Does he agree that we need education not only for the management, but for the workers so that they become their own safety officers?

Jim Sheridan

My hon. Friend makes a valid and honest point. I am not suggesting for a minute that all employers in the construction industry are rogue or cowboy operators. There are a fair number of legitimate, good and honest employers in the construction industry and they are calling for a level playing field for health and safety. I agree that the workers have a responsibility on their own shoulders to make sure that they are working in a healthy and safe environment. If they identify a reason why they are not experiencing such conditions, they have a responsibility to say so. Facilities are already in place for whistleblowing and so on.

I have referred to trade unions, but those who work in a dangerous environment deserve our attention and our support. Thankfully, similar fatalities do not happen in other sectors of our society but, if we had the same number of deaths in our police forces, our fire services or, dare I say it, in our armed forces, we and the press and media would demand action and call for heads to roll. Why then do we not make similar demands on employers who knowingly put their employees at risk?

A 20 per cent. rise in the number of deaths on building sites must be taken seriously by us all. If not, the trend will continue. Last year, 86 construction workers were killed with employers being punished—if that is the right word—by having to pay ridiculous fines ranging from £300 to £600. What is the point of our clamping down on culpable employers and pushing for more prosecutions only to be undermined in the courts? We need to find ways in which to join up the authorities that are charged with prevention and punishment or there will continue to be an increase in the number of fatal accidents in the construction industry.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)

Are the fines set the maximum allowed or are they what the courts are imposing?

Jim Sheridan

The maximum fine can be more than £600, but those who impose the fine might not have a clear understanding of how dangerous the industry is. Therein might lie the problem. If they had a flavour of what some workers are going through in the construction industry, they might want to consider seriously how to deal with rogue employers.

In February 2001, the Government called a construction summit entitled "Turning concern into action" because of their awareness and growing concern about the industry's poor health and safety record. The conference acknowledged the concern about the industry's performance, agreed that it had to improve and committed the industry to a step change in performance. That was demonstrated by challenging targets and action plans.

The Minister then responsible for health and safety summed up the main day of the conference by concluding that

we need a culture change—one where the industry sees itself as high quality, high performing and highly trained. The status quo is not acceptable—we must strive for the highest standards. The Government, as a major client, has a vital role to play. The Office of Government Commerce guidance is a welcome step in setting those standards and lending more weight to health and safety performance. The Minister continued: An industry which values and respects its workforce and takes responsibility for encouraging the health and safety and well being of its employees it likely to be a successful industry. We owe our workforce the right to be able to do a good day's work safely, go home to their families and not be one more casualty in an industry where there has been far too many in the past. That step change in performance has not been achieved; those challenging targets have not been met; and the action plans are not delivering. This Government have done many good things in their period in office. However, despite giving a commitment that is now seven years outstanding, they have so far refused to set a date for a Bill that will make corporate killing an offence. With such blatant injustice, we must ask what the Government are afraid of.

I will conclude, as I am conscious that several other colleagues want to speak. The Health and Safety Executive is trying hard to address this issue along with good employers and the trade unions, but they require the proper tools to do the job effectively. That is why we, as legislators, must take seriously our responsibilities and introduce effective and robust legislation that will concentrate the minds of employers on the fact that life is precious and should be treated as such. As the law stands, the paltry fines imposed on guilty employers are an insult to those who have died and to workers and their families.

9.42 am
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)

First, I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan). I also draw Members' attention to my interests, as I chair the group of MPs who are concerned with the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, which is the largest trade union operating in the construction industry.

I shall make three points, and I want to draw the Minister's attention to what I perceive to be required in the construction industry: partnerships, which should work in conjunction with enforcement. There is a need to bring together on the major sites trade unions and their solicitor, employers and their solicitors, and the British insurance industry. If we can do that, there is the possibility of ensuring that the major contractor has a health and safety policy approved by the Health and Safety Executive, which becomes embedded in the contracts of all the other subcontractors. The one thing that is difficult to come to terms with in construction is the fragmentation caused by subcontracting. If the major contractor agreed to a health and safety and training policy, which was included in the contracts of all the subcontractors, there would be a chance of getting on top of some difficulties that we face.

One difficulty that my that my hon. Friend referred to is the safety culture. Because of fragmentation, there is little meaningful safety culture in construction.

John Robertson

Does my hon. Friend agree that one priority should be to beef up the Health and Safety Executive, in particular to have spot checks and field operatives checking on building sites without notification?

Mr. Clapham

My hon. Friend makes a good point and I will refer to it later.

First, we could set up a partnership approach and encourage subcontractors to take it up, and we could encourage the British insurance industry to make discounts available in employment insurance premiums in return for accepting the health and safety policy of the major contractor and agreeing to training. That is not to say that there should not be enforcement. I believe that there is a need to increase the penalties and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider whether she needs to introduce legislation that would embrace corporate manslaughter. That would be an important inducement to ensure that employers comply with their legislative requirements.

There could be a partnership approach along with enforcement and checks by the HSE, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) referred. It is important that the HSE is properly financed so that it can ensure that it has the adequate number of field inspectors to carry out regular inspections and to turn up unannounced on building sites.

There also needs to be workers' safety representatives who are well trained and who could take on the role of roving safety representatives. I know that there have been a number of pilots in the construction industry; perhaps the Minister will refer to those. I understand that there have been successful pilots using roving safety representatives. She could consider rolling those out across the industry, because there is a need to come to terms with the poor record on deaths and injuries in construction and we must make a concerted effort to reduce the number of deaths, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire identified as 86 in the past year. Using partnerships, enforcement and roving safety representatives could be a way of getting on top of the situation in the construction industry and also of helping to rebuild a safety culture in it.

My second point relates to false self-employment. It is rife in the industry, which is the only one in which people who are self-employed have their tax deducted at source. I recall that UCATT, which is the major union in the industry, had a report prepared on false self-employment two or three years ago. It showed that the practice was rife across the industry. It was suggested that the Exchequer was missing out to the tune of £1.5 billion a year because of false self-employment.

Following that report, there was a series of meetings with the Treasury and it is considering—or it was—revising the process of how people register as self-employed. I understand that during the past year there was a pilot on that aspect. I also understand that it may be rolled out across the industry if it proves to be successful. If that is the case, we may be able to get on top of false self-employment, which helps to fragment the industry and undermines the safety culture.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not just a question of the Treasury losing money as a result of false self-employment? The Treasury encourages false self-employment by providing financial incentives not only to those who become self-employed but to the potential employer, who has a disincentive to take people on directly. Clearly, the Treasury drive for flexible labour markets costs lives.

Mr. Clapham

I agree entirely. We need to be able to check false self-employment so that we can come to an arrangement on how people are employed. People employed on a pay-as-you-earn scheme tend to be more given to following the regulations set by their employers, but a self-employed person will tend to ignore the procedures set down by the contractors he is working for.

It is also important to recognise that in construction there are genuinely self-employed people, and there will always be a need for them, but the position is that false self-employment is undermining the union's attempt to embed a safety culture that would help to tackle the problem of accidents and injuries. It is important that we come to terms with false self-employment so that we can control it and stop it fragmenting attempts by the unions and employers to embed a safety culture.

My third point is about asbestos, to which many construction workers are exposed. I note from the recently published summer edition of the British Asbestos Newsletter that construction was the industrial sector with the highest incidence of diagnosed mesothelioma cancer between 2001 and 2002. During that period, there were almost 1,900 new diagnoses of that particularly virulent cancer. A person diagnosed with it has a short life expectancy—possibly 18 months.

The TUC reckons that, in addition to the recorded mesothelioma cancers, twice as many different cancers are caused by exposure to asbestos, so, overall, there are probably 4,000 cancer diagnoses across the country each year as a result of exposure to asbestos. On 16 May, The Sunday Times magazine published a thorough article by the investigative journalist Peter Martin, which drew attention to the growing problem of asbestos. He suggested that over the next 46 years there are likely to be more than 180,000 deaths in the UK resulting from exposure to asbestos.

I am aware that the new control of asbestos at work regulations were introduced earlier this year, and they are a step forward, but they do not apply to residential premises, even though many construction workers who come into contact with asbestos do so in residential premises. I can tell the Minister that during the health and safety debate at this year's UCATT conference, it was made clear that the union will call for an extension of the asbestos at work regulations. It wants that extension to embrace the residential sector, in which many of its members work.

Asbestos is a real problem, and I hope that I can persuade the Minister to support the call for a health and care strategy for people suffering from asbestos-related diseases. Australia has already implemented a health and care strategy. It has made a great deal of resources available to deal with the victims of exposure to asbestos, and I think that this country needs to do the same. I am aware that the NHS has a number of pilot schemes running, but we need to move pretty speedily when there are 4,000 diagnoses each year of cancers caused by exposure to asbestos. That is in addition to the men and women who will be diagnosed as suffering from asbestosis.

I hope that the Minister will take on board those three points and consider how we can move forward to building a meaningful safety culture in construction, because that is how we will get on top of the high rate of deaths and injuries each year.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind hon. Members that the purpose of the debate is to enable the Minister to answer the hon. Gentleman who initiated it. However, if all contributions are short, all those who want to will be able to speak.

9.56 am
Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab)

I will try to be brief. Like others, I welcome the debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing it. There is no doubt that the construction industry is of national importance to the British economy. Nevertheless, the statistics for the industry hide the personal tragedy for the people who are killed and injured and the effect that that has on their families. That applies all over the UK. The debate has given, and will give, recognition to the very good work and practice of employers, individual trade unions, the Health and Safety Executive and, in particular, the TUC and the STUC. Both those organisations have had a keen interest in the construction industry.

You will have noticed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a number of Scottish MPs are attending the debate, and with good reason, because the statistics for Scotland are horrendous. Indeed, they are worse than those for the rest of the United Kingdom. I will give an example. In manufacturing in 2002–03, four people were killed in Scotland and 41 in the UK. In the main industries, therefore, Scotland's rate of injuries and deaths is about a tenth of the UK's, but that is not the case in construction. In construction in 2002–03, there were 11 fatalities in Scotland; there were 56 in the UK. The rate of deaths is running at almost 10 per cent. higher in the Scottish construction industry than in the rest of the UK. Clearly, there is something wrong in the building industry in Scotland and much more work needs to be done in that regard.

I recognise that things are happening. There has been a blitz of inspections of building sites, including across whole cities, to try to get on top of the problem. I, for one, would welcome that practice being relaunched by the HSE, because it is an effective way of working. Following one such visit, the HSE's head of operations for construction, Pam Waldron, said:

The clear message is that the industry must tackle those things which are killing and injuring people, and making them ill at work. Sadly the blitz indicates that there is a common pattern across construction sites in Great Britain of relaxed attitudes to health, safety and welfare. As in the London blitz last month, we found standards on many of the sites to be well below what we expect. I personally witnessed many examples of poor site management and lack of control of subcontractors allowing unsafe working practices. I also saw individual workers putting themselves at risk by ignoring site rules and taking shortcuts. But there were also examples of well run sites, where health and safety risks were properly controlled. We need to see much more of this. The figures make interesting reading. Prohibition notices were served on 226 of the 440 sites that were visited. That is another clear indication of the type of problem facing the industry. The figures across the UK are horrific.

There is good reason to be optimistic in some ways. Last year 2,000 young people were brought into the industry to go through a modern apprenticeship based at a college and the workplace or the site itself. We need to ensure that we step up the work of the HSE and the trainers in this area. People can receive good and fundamental health and safety training that, I hope, will never leave them. We need to keep the issue to the fore; it always will be if my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire is in the House.

10.1 am

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing this debate and on his Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, which he successfully piloted through the House. A comparison can be made, because the same cavalier and uncaring attitude of some employers is found in the construction industry.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the numbers of people who have been injured. It is worth repeating that workers in the construction make up 6 per cent. of the work force, but account for a third of all fatal accidents and 16 per cent. of reported accidents. Construction workers are nearly five times more likely to be killed than workers in any other industry. There were 71 deaths in the construction industry in 2002–03 out of a total in an industries of 226. Alan Ritchie, UCATT's regional secretary for Scotland, said in June:

The problem is that the best way to murder somebody in Scotland is to employ them in the construction industry. The provision for the cost of accidents and near misses on a typical building site can amount to 8.5 per cent. of the contract price. The construction industry has a total annual output of £84 billion, so £7 million is built into contract prices to account for accidents and injuries. That is a horrific figure. The targets set at a health and safety summit in 2001 between industry and Government of reducing deaths and major injuries by 40 per cent. by 2005 and 66 per cent. by 2010 are unlikely to be met. I ask the Minister to look seriously at that. If we are setting targets at that level, we should see how best we can ensure that they are met. They have to be realistic.

In a report published in May, the National Audit Office looked at the HSE and the role the Government can play in improving safety in the construction industry. It was critical of the culture of the industry and explored a number of avenues for further Government action. It believes that the high level of death and injury is caused by the culture of some in the industry. I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons). There are some good employers in the construction industry, but we have to deal with the bad ones. We also have to deal with the employees who put their own safety at risk and ensure that they have the sense and are trained to prevent the accidents that occur on construction sites.

The deskilling of workers is a major problem. The point has been made about the need for apprenticeships in the construction industry. I am heartened that the industry has taken that on board and is looking for ways to re-skill the work force because many people on construction sites do not have the necessary skills or the proper attitude towards health and safety.

Another problem is the fragmented nature and the large size of the industry. The HSE has done much through education and enforcement action to encourage employees to become involved with health and safety. Employers have talked about cowboy practices among employees that need to be removed by training.

The sanctions that apply against companies that break the law are part of the culture problem. Custodial sentences have been given to those guilty of animal mistreatment, and we have even talked about a naked rambler who was wandering from London to the top of Scotland and was put in jail. People are also threatened with jail for non-payment of council taxes. Yet, no one in the construction industry responsible for accidents has been given a jail sentence. The draft animal welfare Bill will set in place a maximum fine of £28,000 for people found guilty of animal mistreatment. We must get our priorities right; I support those measures for animal welfare, but we should also consider people in the construction industry.

Over the past 30 years, there have been 3,500 deaths in the construction industry yet no employer has faced prison. Large fines have been issued—£250,000 to £500,000 in recent cases—but there is no clear link between the seriousness of the offence and the ability to pay. If someone has the ability to pay, they should do so. A number of labourers have been fined £500 for unsafe actions, while companies are fined only £5,000 for hiring out defective equipment that has caused death. That dramatically highlights the attitude of some courts in this country, and we must overcome it.

There has been a progressive deskilling in the construction industry. A UCATT survey found that only 10 per cent. of workers had appropriate formal qualifications. The same survey found that 25 per cent. of workers had problems with basic reading, writing and numeracy. It is incredible that we are employing people in the construction industry with those problems. The increasing casualisation of the industry, both through the rise of self-employment—real and bogus—and through the rise of subcontracting has undermined industry-wide initiatives such as national vocational qualifications and minimum safety standards.

The fragmentation of the industry has direct consequences. There are 2 million employees across 168,000 companies. That causes problems for the HSE, but it has tried to tackle them seriously. Its blitzes have been effective. It has targeted particular problems in particular areas of the country. A September 2003 blitz found that one third of sites were well below standard. As part of a May 2002 blitz in Scotland and north-east England, as my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden will know, the HSE visited 444 sites and found that more than half required health and safety action. What is more worrying is that the HSE gave advance notice that it would blitz those companies, yet it still came up with those horrific figures.

I am a member of Amicus, which has members in the construction industry and has been active in seeking to reduce deaths and injuries. The national construction sector conference was held in June. Unfortunately, Nigel Griffiths, the Minister for Small Business and Enterprise, was unable to attend. Particular concern was expressed about the continuing deskilling in the industry and the decline in apprenticeships. Amicus is very concerned about the dangers posed by the implementation of the EU posted worker directive. It believes that the importing of cheap posted labour undermines the safety, skills and job security of the whole UK construction work force. It also believes that if the directive is implemented properly, it will enforce minimum standards. However, it would appear that, at present, workers employed on contracts in other EU countries and not subject to the appropriate skills and safety standards will be allowed to be imported into the UK to work; the tendency is in some instances to undercut other companies on the basis of cheap labour.

Will the Minister take into account the fact that there are just over 100 health and safety inspectors in the inspectorate? That amounts to one per 20,000 construction workers. There is a need to strengthen the construction division, and I am sure that the HSE would welcome additional inspectors. That is one way to help to deal with the problem.

It is important, Mr. Deputy Chairman, to examine the issues of skills, the importation of foreign workers—we welcome them but must ensure that they are of the appropriate standard—and the strengthening of the health and safety inspectorate.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must point out that this debate is about enforcing the rules. I therefore remind the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) that if he refers to another hon. Member, even a Minister, he should do so by referring to his constituency, which in this case was Edinburgh, South, or by his post—not by name. Also, I am certainly not a Deputy Chairman, whatever else I am.

Mr. Tynan

I take the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

10.11 am
David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) for securing the debate. It is appropriate to have the debate now, because the Work and Pensions Committee is also investigating health and safety matters in industry. I believe that it is the first review of its kind by the Work and Pensions Committee and that the report will be a worthwhile document. That is not just because I am a member of the Select Committee, but because we have had discussions that seem to me quite important.

The subject before us today is one of the most important for the industry. Everyone wants our building industry to prosper, but we want people who work in it and their families to know that they will return home safe in the evening after a day's work. Our job as politicians is to create a fair playing field. I remind colleagues and Ministers that we set the rules by which the industry works. If we tell the construction industry that we want it to work using the highest levels of safety, it will agree with us, because the legitimate companies argue that they will comply with the dictates of the companies that procure the contracts.

The Government, local councils and health authorities are among the biggest contractors. The Construction Confederation, representing the building trade—it represents more than 5,000 companies and 75 per cent. of the industry—wants as much as we do to eliminate the cowboys. We should accept only those with a record of the highest standards to tender for contracts. If the public sector cannot determine who the contractors are, who can?

I worked in the mining industry for more than 20 years. I was on the safety committee of the colliery for more than 10 of those years. At its peak, there were 2,000 employees. More than 30 years ago in the pits, men still had to buy safety equipment, boots, gloves and tools. Hon. Members can imagine my horror when I found out from the Scottish regional secretary of UCATT, Alan Ritchie, that some workers still have to do that in the 21st century.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire about migrant workers. Building sites are by their nature dangerous, but we employ thousands of migrant workers, while providing little or no training in the English language. In one of the exercises that we conducted in the mining industry all those years ago we found that 10 per cent. of the work force were dyslexic or suffered some form of dyslexia. If that is the case for British people, let us imagine the problems entailed in bringing in migrant workers.

It is 40 year since the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 was passed. I was still at school. A car was something that most people dreamed about. A telephone was something that a neighbour might have, if we were lucky. A colour TV was pie in the sky in those days. Television programmes came on for an hour in the afternoon. Scottish Members will remember that it was the Larry Marshall show at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Then it started again at 5 o'clock and finished at 10 o'clock. In those days, "going all the way" meant you were going to the bus terminal. That was the difference way back then. The United Kingdom's safety record of more than 1,000 workers facing injury and death every year should not be tolerated in this day and age, and it is unbelievable to think that, in the 21st century, we are still working to 40-year-old legislation. The people we represent deserve better and there is no reason why we should deny them the working standards of which we should be proud.

The Minister should consider the following example: I went with the Work and Pensions Committee to what will be the world headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is being built just outside Edinburgh. It will be a massive building, and more than 1,000 people are employed on site. The contract is being completed under time, under budget and with the best safety record in the UK. There are more than 30 contractors on site and each one must undergo training. There is a system of points and incentives to ensure that they work to the highest standards.

We, as legislators, have a responsibility, and our approach should be radical. The building industry already has an arrangement with CITB-ConstructionSkills. If it were to pay a small levy, it could be transferred and, with Government support, it would surely be possible to have health and safety representatives who could work with employers and unions towards establishing the right working environment. What is needed is a healthy work force, with training strengthened to encourage the development of transferable skills and with reward for achievement. Employers should see the unions as an asset, not a threat, and treat relationships with trust. Management should have a high-calibre work force, invest time and resources in people at all levels, have a strong communications strategy that allows the sharing of knowledge—that does not happen in the industry at present—have safe and productive working conditions and a well planned and logistical strategy. All those things can be achieved. That is the type of administration that is demanded on the Royal Bank of Scotland site, which will employ 3,000 people when it is finished. The people in Britain do not want workers to be injured or killed because of shortcuts and good companies do not want that either, so why do we allow it?

Mr. Davidson


Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman is brief, I will call him.

10.18 am
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I draw the Minister's attention to the recent report by the National Audit Office and the hearings that were subsequently held by the Public Accounts Committee. My hon. Friends have referred to matters that I hoped to cover, but which I shall drop because time is short.

The one issue that has not been adequately discussed is the responsibility of designers for work and safety. The National Audit Office report indicates that research undertaken by the HSE and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions suggested that mistakes made during construction in the design phase led to 60 per cent. of fatal accidents. That is corroborated by groups such as the Major Contractors Group, the Strategic Forum for Construction, the Federation of Master Builders and others. However, the response from the professionals involved in design was shocking. The NAO report states:

The Royal Institute of British Architects … questioned whether there were sufficient incentives for designers to 'design out' hazards, as this would lead to an increase in costs to the designer which could not necessarily be recovered. That is a clear example of designers placing their profits and financial well-being above the lives of workers in the construction industry.

In a survey of designers undertaken by the HSE, one third displayed virtually no knowledge of their responsibilities under the relevant legislation, many lacked knowledge of their duties and some did not even accept that they had any responsibilities, believing that all responsibilities for health and safety fell upon the contractors on site. In those circumstances, when designers who are adequately paid and in many cases overpaid, fail completely to take into account the implications of the designs on the safety of their work force, something should be done. Given that 60 per cent. of fatal accidents art traced back to design faults, I hope that the Government will undertake work in this area as a matter of considerable urgency.

10.20 am
Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on introducing this important subject. Everyone who works in the construction industry owes him a debt of gratitude for putting it on the agenda today.

Deaths in the construction industry sadly affect all parts of the country. Perhaps the most notorious case in my part of the world in the west of England concerns the deaths of four construction workers on the Avonmouth bridge. They were doing repairs to the bridge on the M5 near Bristol when they fell 100 ft from a gantry to their deaths. The case has been through the courts, and the judge who passed sentence at Bristol Crown court in 2001 commented that there had been a

blatant disregard for basic health and safety legislation over a long and sustained period of time. That is the culture that we have been talking about today.

Interestingly, the fines in this case were £250,000 for each company involved. No figure is enough to compensate for a life, but that seems to be the kind of figure that we should be talking about. A Health and Safety Executive representative said:

The fine imposed is there as a reminder of the financial costs of accidents at work. The human cost is incalculable. It is striking from what we have heard from several Members that such large fines are the exception and that all too often fines are pitiful.

When we debated a private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on 14 May this year, the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, discussed the level of fines. He said that the Committee, which had investigated the issue, had been told that the average fine following a prosecution after a death at work was about £9,000—that is in the more serious cases. He compared that with the penalty for one day's delay in delivering a contract of £20,000. As several hon. Members have noted, that indicates the relative priorities that we seem to attach to the value of construction workers' lives.

We have heard some important contributions. We heard predominantly from hon. Members from Scotland, and it was interesting that the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) suggested that there was a Scottish dimension to the problem. Five of the six hon. Members who have spoken so far represent Scottish constituencies, and they might want to take that point up with the HSE, because it does not accept the view. Its research, a summary of which I have here, made the findings that one might expect: the major causes of fatalities are falls and the majority of fatal accidents happen on smaller sites. However, it said that there is no specific association with time of day, age of worker or nation or region. If there is a particular Scottish dimension that the HSE is not picking up, it is important that hon. Members relay the information to it. There is clearly a difference of opinion.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) made an important point about the role of main and subcontractors and ensuring that the highest standards of health and safety are part of what main contractors try to obtain. I was interested in the idea that we could use a discount on insurance as a lever. Will the Minister say whether she has had any discussions with the insurance industry on whether they could be engaged in giving subcontractors an incentive to take health and safety seriously?

The hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) made a powerful case when he showed how we take some trivial offences very seriously and lock people up for minor offences while we do not have serious penalties for people whose negligence results in the deaths of workers in the construction industry. There are serious questions about how we should respond. Corporate manslaughter and the time for legislation on it have been raised. Will the Minister tell us where the Government have reached in that process?

The hon. Member for Hendon, whom I quoted earlier, cited the fact that a director who gets their company accounts wrong can be disqualified, but if their negligence leads to someone being killed, they can just carry on. That does not seem right, and I hope that the Government will take action on it.

The hon. Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton) mentioned the work of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, and it is welcome that it is taking health and safety seriously as a topic of investigation. I shadow a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, and health and safety is in danger of becoming a Cinderella subject in that Department; it came to the Department when employment matters were transferred to it. I would be interested to hear the Minister's honest reflections on how much of her time health and safety matters take up. I am aware that she is responsible for a range of other issues, such as welfare to work, so how important is health and safety in comparison, and how much of her time is required for it? Does she feel that enough governmental time is devoted to health and safety issues?

Some of the statements of Ministers and hon. Members highlight the fragmentation of responsibility. As I understand it, there is a Minister with responsibility for the construction industry in a different Department. One would hope that that Minister is concerned about health and safety in construction, yet he is in a different Department from the Minister with responsibility for health and safety. Is such fragmentation a problem, and, if so, what can be done about it? How closely can the Minister work with her opposite number at the Department of Trade and Industry?

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) referred to the National Audit Office report on construction industry deaths, which came out a couple of months ago. It made an important contribution. He mentioned, in particular, the contribution of designers. That subject did not immediately occur to me, but the more I think about this issue, the more it becomes clear that it is important that the people who design buildings and decide on the way in which they are constructed should think about safety issues. That is obvious, but many of them did not appear to be aware even of their legal obligations. The Health and Safety Executive could do more on that.

Finally, I want to touch on some of the recommendations that the NAO made in its report. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South mentioned that, in 2001, the industry set itself a target of achieving a 40 per cent. reduction in deaths by the middle of this decade, and a 60 per cent. reduction by the end of it. I was not there, so I do not know how those figures were decided on, but I can almost sense that people said, "We have got to come up with a target," and yet the nitty-gritty of how it will be delivered was not addressed.

The hon. Gentleman rightly suggested that those targets would not be met. We all want a target of 100 per cent., because we do not want any deaths in the construction industry, but targets that cannot be met are almost meaningless. The NAO calls upon the HSE to ensure that the industry sets itself more specific and low-level targets for particular types of construction and activities—deaths from falls from heights, for example. The industry should do that.

We have heard about the blitzes that the HSE conducts. The NAO thinks that it could do more to publicise them, so that everybody knows that they could be next. As the hon. Member for Midlothian mentioned, even when sites are told that somebody is coming, there are still gross breaches of regulations. That is appalling. The NAO wants the HSE to return to the sites where it has done its blitzes more often so that they are not one-hit wonders, and to see whether anything has been done and to get tough if it has not. I support that.

The HSE should do other things, too. It should liaise not only at high levels with major Government Departments, but with all the people in the public sector who tender for and let out construction contracts, and with non-departmental public bodies much further down the supply chain.

In construction contracts, the NAO suggests that delivering health and safety should be part of what we mean by getting value for money for the taxpayer. It is interesting that that should be recommended in a report by a bunch of auditors. I think we all support that.

There is no shortage of aspirations, fine words and targets, but we do not seem to be making progress at the speed that everybody who works in this industry has a right to expect. That is why it is particularly valuable that the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire has brought this subject to the House's attention.

10.29 am
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

First, I declare my interests, which are listed in the Register of Members' Interests. I also want to point out that, in fact, I shadow the relevant Department of Trade and Industry Minister, and that I am here in place of my colleague who shadows the Department for Work and Pensions Minister. As the shadow construction Minister, I have been following the issue carefully.

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing the debate and on the excellent way in which he put his case forward. I was fortunate enough to be in the Chamber for the Second Reading of his Gangmasters (Licensing) Bill, which I am pleased has now passed through the House. The hon. Gentleman's tenacity in pushing that Bill forward showed how effective he is as a parliamentarian. No doubt, he will return to the issue under discussion time and time again.

I represent the area in west Norfolk in which CITB-ConstructionSkills has its headquarters and the National Construction college. Both work closely with the college of West Anglia in King's Lynn and, between them, they provide a number of important vocational training courses. I have been to the CITB at Bircham Newton many times. It offers training across the whole construction sector, places an overwhelming emphasis on safety, and makes constant efforts to drive up standards.

The hon. Members for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) and for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) mentioned the modern apprenticeship scheme. That scheme is now locked closely into a number of the training courses in construction skills provided by CITB-ConstructionSkills.

It is worth reiterating the importance of the statutory levy, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton). Without that levy, the CITB would not be able to provide the training. Since I have been following the activities of the CITB, there has been increasing emphasis on trying to reduce the number of injuries and tragic deaths in the construction industry. If the levy system were voluntary, there would be nothing like the level of training in the UK that is currently provided. As the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire and many other hon. Members pointed out, the situation with regard to deaths in the industry is worse than it should but it would be worse still if we did not have the statutory levy. I do not believe that there is any debate between the parties about the levy, but I take every opportunity to put on record my support for it. I urge Ministers to put their support for it on the record.

One of the points that was made—I think by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham)—concerned the fragmentation of the industry: the proliferation of sites and subcontractors, and the problems that that causes for the major contractor.

When the tragic accident at Potters Bar occurred, I focused on it carefully, because the train was on its way to my constituency. I nearly took that train, but missed it and took the next one—which was, of course, much later. The contract in that situation was fragmented: there were a number of different subcontractors. The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone made the important point that a safety protocol should be embedded not just in the main contract but in the subcontracts. Had that been the case with Jarvis at Potters Bar, there would not have been the lax safety standards that led to the tragedy of the derailment.

There is obviously a challenge posed by language and cultural barriers. I am pleased that CITB-ConstructionSkills has introduced a comprehensive health and safety test, which now has a pass rate of 85 per cent. Half a million people have now passed that test. The test is an important part of the construction skills certification scheme, which is the skills passport for the industry.

I hope—I should like the Minister to comment on the matter—that major contractors will soon start to stipulate that subcontractors should have a carded work force on all sites where they are working for the main contractor or are part of a contract chain. The health and safety test imposes pretty rigorous standards, and I understand that, in that context, CITB-ConstructionSkills now receives 20,000 applications a week for the skills passport. If we can move forward to a fully carded work force, that would make a huge difference.

The language barrier that is often found on sites was raised by a number of hon. Members. CITB-ConstructionSkills and the National Construction college are now providing extensive safety training in different languages. For example, Laing O' Rourke Learning has set up an organisation called Learning World to train a number of its different contractors at Heathrow terminal 5 in different languages. That is very positive and I hope that more companies will set up similar initiatives and schemes.

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Northavon (Mr. Webb) and for West Renfrewshire focused on the fines that are levied on negligent construction companies. which are partly the cause of deaths on construction sites. However, I am not clear—perhaps the Minister can elaborate—whether fines are levied for exceeding the limits set by the legislation or for causing an accident by adopting a cavalier and lax attitude. I join the hon. Member for Northavon in asking the Minister to tell us more about the Government's current thinking on introducing a new offence of corporate manslaughter. Can she also comment on the excellent idea put forward by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone of trying to persuade the insurance industry to offer discounts on their employer and public liability premiums to companies that are able to embed safety protocols not just in the main contract but in the subcontracts?

I read the other day—perhaps the Minister and her officials also spotted it—that the National Federation of Roofing Contractors has entered into an exclusive agreement with a particular insurance company, so that any of its members who sign up to a fairly comprehensive safety protocol receive a substantial discount on their insurance premiums. I should like to see other trade associations and federations do the same, and perhaps the Minister can do something to encourage that.

The point about self-employment is important, because there has been a substantial debate in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury about false self-employment. I urge the Minister to consider that a lot of small construction companies, many of which I meet as I go round the country, tell me about the stiff regulatory barriers that they face when taking on employees. There is currently a hefty disincentive to employ people, which is why there is every advantage, for employer and employee, to ensure that they are self-employed subcontractors. That is a real issue, so perhaps the Minister can say what the Government's current thinking is.

I notice that the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire alluded to the construction summit that took place in 2001. I remember the great fanfare that greeted that summit: a lot of discussions took place, which generated hope and optimism. Targets were set and a lot of good came out of it. However, we must hear from the Minister an update on how the Government consider the initiatives that came out of the summit. It supported a lot of good initiatives, but as hon. Members have pointed out, the number of deaths in the industry has unfortunately remained rigid at about 80–86 last year. If one adds to that the deaths from asbestos-related injuries and illnesses, the figure obviously goes up. I hope that today's debate will act as a watershed, because it is the first time since I have been a Member, both this time and the previous time, that we have had a debate on the issue. It is a vital issue, and let us hope that not just words but action will come out of this debate and, as a consequence, lives will be saved.

10.39 am
The Minister for Work (Jane Kennedy)

May I add my congratulations to all those that have been expressed this morning to my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing this debate and on bringing the challenge to me, newly in position as the health and safety Minister? This is the first opportunity that I have had to consider the issue, and I have been sobered by the details that have come out not only in the contributions but in my preparations for the debate.

I also thank my hon. Friend for his work in bringing forward the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, which received Royal Assent on 8 July; other hon. Members have also congratulated him on that. The Bill was strongly supported by Ministers in its passage through Parliament. and I am pleased that it is now on the statute book.

I apologise in advance if I miss any points that have been raised; I will seek to address all of them. This has been a robust but courteous debate. The issues are extremely serious and, at the outset, I would like to offer my condolences to the families of the three agricultural workers who died on Monday in Norfolk in the course of their work. When I was preparing for this debate, I looked at the figures for this year. I had prepared to say that the number of fatal construction accidents this year stood at 11, but, sadly, a worker yesterday suffered a fatal injury at a construction site in Purfleet, Essex, so the total is now 12. I want to put on record my condolences to the families of those killed.

As we have already heard, there can be no doubt about the poor record of the construction industry. I would like to pick up on a number of points made. My hon. Friends the Members for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) and for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) and the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) drew my attention to the National Audit Office report. I am grateful to them for that, and I will look at the report as a result of this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton) invited me to consider the Royal Bank of Scotland construction site. I will look into that. If I get the opportunity to visit bonny Scotland, I will perhaps see whether I can fit in a visit to that site.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) is welcome at our debate. Many of us came at the issue with a Health and Safety Executive focus, but the hon. Gentleman, in a useful, interesting and challenging contribution, asked me to speak about the compulsory levy that contributes to the training of construction workers. I am happy to say that we support that levy. It is without question a practical way to ensure that the industry invests in training. Health and safety law requires that workers and managers be trained and competent to carry out their functions. It is important to bear that in mind when considering the issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) raised a number of issues. I am grateful to him for the role that he plays on this subject, wearing a number of hats. Not least, he is chair of the all-party occupational health and safety group and its asbestos sub-group. He invited me to consider the question of partnership. I will talk about that in greater detail later. I will think carefully about his idea which the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk commended—about major contractors and the role that they play. I will touch on that point in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone and the hon. Member for Northavon invited me to think about how the insurance industry works with contractors and construction businesses. During the review of the employers' compulsory liability insurance difficulties experienced over the last year, we worked closely with the Association of British Insurers and the Health and Safety Executive. We are looking into ways in which the risk can be assessed properly. Employers—not just in the construction industry but in all walks of life—who demonstrate that they take health and safety seriously, who manage properly the incidents that occur to their work force and who can show that the number of incidents is as low as possible should get some relief from the insurance premiums that they face. We are working to secure that. That will benefit everybody.

Every Member who has spoken has commented on the level of penalties and fines applied. I want to make it absolutely clear that the general level of health and safety fines does not reflect the gravity of the relevant offences. That is why we were pleased as a Government to support the private Member's Bill that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love). That received a partial Second Reading in May; it is due to receive a further Second Reading this Friday if it is fortunate enough to be reached, although it is fairly low on the Order Paper. That Bill would certainly be a major step forward. The problem is partly that the fines are not high enough but, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, it is also because the courts do not apply the available fines. The Bill will send an important message to those considering these issues in a legal setting.

I want to make two further points about Crown immunity and corporate manslaughter. If the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton does not make progress, the Government need to consider the consequences of that and find another way of bringing about those changes. I reassure hon. Members that we are actively looking for a way of making progress on all these issues. It has been a long time, and I acknowledge the justice of what my hon. Friends have said. Home Office colleagues are taking forward the questions of corporate manslaughter and Crown immunity. We are working on a draft Bill, and the aim is to have that published towards the end of this year—perhaps the back end of autumn. That is our objective. In spite of the number of green seats between us, I hope to be able to demonstrate to hon. Friends that, in fact, we stand shoulder to shoulder on many of the issues that they have rightly raised.

One or two things should be said about what is happening in the construction world. It is of no comfort, but it is a factor that we should bear in mind, that the UK construction accident rate is the second lowest of any European Union state and significantly lower than the larger member states. Good though that may at first appear, we acknowledge that nearly 850 workers and members of the public have died as a result of accidents in the construction industry in the past 10 years. Many more have died as a result of exposure to asbestos, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone rightly pointed out. In fact, to describe the increase in the numbers of those suffering from asbestos-related illnesses as an epidemic to be faced over the coming years would not be too strong. Thousands more have been seriously injured as a result of accidents or have had their lives blighted through damage to their health and well-being. As has been said, we must remember the wider impact on families and friends. They, too, suffer when injuries and deaths occur.

At its best, however, our construction industry is world class. We all benefit from the improved built environment that the industry provides: new houses, schools, hospitals, a better transport system and other essential infrastructure. However, we should not and cannot accept that those gains should be at the cost of damage and suffering to construction workers and their families. The industry must improve its performance in controlling and managing the safety and health risks that it creates.

Many hon. Members drew attention to the summit in February 2001 at which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister set down some major challenges to the industry. We should remember that, at that time, there were a shocking 113 deaths of workers and members of the public in a single year. Commitments were given at the summit by all those who have a stake in the industry, including clients, designers—about whom I will talk more in a moment—suppliers, contractors and trade unions. That meant accepting responsibility for the industry's health and safety performance and giving it a priority in terms of business risk management to achieve dramatic improvements, and we heard about the target of a 10 per cent. year-on-year reduction in deaths and major injuries.

Since then, the number of deaths has reduced to 76 and 71 in the two most recent years. I did not recognise the figure of 80, but I will check the figures that we have been discussing. However, the record is less clear when major injuries are also taken into account. I acknowledge that the industry is well short of its target to reduce the rate of fatal and major injuries by 40 per cent. by 2004–05. It is not clear that there has been any marked improvement in reducing ill health. Major challenges face all the industry's stakeholders.

Those commissioning the work—the clients, who have been referred to as contractors—must do more to meet the challenges set by Ministers in the strategic forum for construction, which is convened by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). The purchasers—the clients—must provide leadership to the teams that they create, make clear their commitment to respect the people who will work for them and reject those who do not measure up. My hon. Friends are right to point out that, as major purchasers of the industry's services, central and local government need to ensure that they follow the practice of best value and not lowest cost, so that whole-life health and safety issues are addressed to reduce injuries, whether caused during initial construction, or, equally importantly, during subsequent maintenance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok questioned the role of designers. He is right to draw attention to that; designers have yet to engage fully in reducing the likelihood of injuries by improving the quality of their designs so that potential hazards are eliminated at the earliest possible opportunity—in the design office itself. Designers can, for example, specify lower-weight building blocks to reduce the risks involved in manual handling. Through the design process, they can also reduce the need to work at height. A recent HSE survey suggested that there is increasing commitment by designers. However, as my hon. Friend rightly said, that has come from a very low base.

Equally, suppliers could do more to improve the products on the market. For example, heavy components that have to be manually handled create problems, and advances in reducing the weight of pre-packaged materials need to be rolled out more widely. There should be joint development work with others in the supply chain, so that off-site prefabrication, which we see more of these days, reduces on-site risks. Such things hold out further opportunities for manufacturers to make a contribution to the health and safety agenda. Contractors also have to commit more positively to the provision of decent working conditions, put that at the top of their agenda and improve the ways in which they engage with those who work for them.

As the Minister responsible for health and safety, I am pleased to give my support to the Health and Safety Commission's document "A strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond". The hon. Member for Northavon asked me how much time I devote as a Minister to health and safety. I commit half my working time to it because health and safety matters are so pressing and urgent in the Department. The role that I play in liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission is demanding, and rightly so.

Hon. Members may not be aware that long before becoming a Member of Parliament—more than 25 years ago—I trained as a Workers Educational Association health and safety TUC instructor. I well recall working with shop stewards in training courses in Liverpool. I have an anecdote about a self-employed construction worker who worked, I think, at the Shell oil refinery at Ellesmere Port. He described how he had been instructed to travel from one side of the site to the other. He and his comrade, who was also self-employed. loaded up the back of the flat-bed truck that he owned. They put their acetylene torches, the accompanying paraphernalia and the brazier that they were to use at the next point on the site on to the truck and they trundled off across the vast chemical plant. They did not see a soul on the site and when they arrived at the other end, they climbed out of the cab of their flat-bed truck and found that the brazier had reignited. They had thought that it was out, but it had reignited when they started and, by the time they reached the other end of the site, it was ablaze. Presumably, they had trundled the blazing truck right the way through the centre of one of the most dangerous sites in the UK. That indicated to them that, self-employed or not, they needed to get some training and to understand what they were doing in terms of safety.

That is a good point at which to remind everybody that all workers, irrespective of their status—whether they be migrant workers or self employed—are covered by UK health and safety legislation. I hope that that reassures those who had concerns about migrant workers. The question of language problems needs to be addressed by employers when they take on subcontractors who may have such difficulties.

The strategy that the HSC and HSE have developed signals a new approach, which recognises that they have to work with others to develop closer partnerships in creating a sensible health and safety culture. I am also pleased that the construction industry has been identified as a priority for action by the HSE. The creation of a separate HSE division that is tasked to challenge the industry makes clear the HSC's commitment to the construction industry's problems as part of the new strategy. There are more inspectors and support resources tasked to construction than ever before. That was a point about which reassurance was sought and I hope that that has helped.

The HSC is taking forward the development of two codes of regulations that are particularly relevant to the construction industry: the work at heights code, and the design and management of construction work. I know that some stakeholders have concerns and also that the HSE is in close consultation with them so that the outcome will be regulations that add value by reducing injuries and do not simply increase bureaucracy. We must acknowledge that the HSE alone cannot put right the health and safety performance of the industry. Those who commission, provide and maintain the built environment create the risks and they must take responsibility for working in partnership to manage them.

Partnership working was amply demonstrated when Andrew Smith—I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Member for Oxford, East.

Jane Kennedy

Oxford, East. I have no excuse. As a former Whip, I should know all that. It should be on the tip of my tongue.

Partnership working was amply demonstrated when my right hon. Friend announced on 30 June the success of two bids made jointly by construction trades unions and employers for a share of the £3 million workers' safety adviser challenge fund. Workers are the ones who are exposed to the risks and in many workplaces they have not been fully heard. Evidence shows that when workers have a voice and influence, workplaces become safer and health risks are better controlled. I congratulate the social partners that made the successful bids—UCATT, the National Federation of Builders, the Transport and General Workers Union and the Federation of Master Builders—so that sustainable workers' safety advisers can be established in the south-west and the midlands. Partnership has equally been successfully demonstrated from the summit until now.

Since the summit and since the targets were set, I would acknowledge that the construction industry has not been on course to meet them. All of us who have an interest in making the industry safer must join forces to ensure that we work harder to achieve those targets.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

May I thank all the hon. Members who have taken part in this debate for their co-operation? It has been a good, if not a model, Westminster Hall debate.

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