Construction Industry Workers (Safety and Welfare)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st March 1966.

Alert me about debates like this

10.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , Bebington

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Construction (Working Places) Regulations 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 94), dated 31st January, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th February, be annulled. It will perhaps be for the convenience of the House if we discuss at the same time the other Motion: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Construction (Health and Welfare) Regulations 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 95), dated 31st January, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th February, be annulled.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

So be it. If it suits the convenience of the House I have no objection.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , Bebington

After the excitement of the earlier part of the evening, it is appropriate that we should devote a certain amount of time to these two apparently rather staid Statutory Instruments. They are examples of the extent to which our promises and aspirations as legislators sometimes outstrip our performance. Moreover, they are very important in their own right because they give the House an opportunity to consider the very grave problem of the rapidly rising casualty rate in industry, especially in the construction industry.

The scale of casualty in that industry can be usefully compared with the pattern of casualties in other industries. I see only today that in the farming industry, which has been protected since the passing of the 1956 Act by the last Conservative Government, the casualty rate this year was the lowest ever and that, although in manufacturing industry generally last year there was an increase of 29 per cent., it is very sad that there was a much sharper increase in the rate of 40 per cent. in the construction industry.

What is perhaps more important is the extent to which the casualties in the construction industry, in contrast to those in other industries, are fatal. There was a letter written to The Times almost four years ago, on 30th August, 1962, by the then secretary of the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives who pointed out that, although the construction industry employed only 6 per cent. of those employed in industry, it experienced 12 per cent. of the industrial accidents and 39 per cent. of the fatal accidents in industry.

Therefore, it is not surprising, although very tragic, that in 1964 there were 277 fatal accidents in the construction industry, very many times more, percentage-wise, than on farms or in factories generally. And it is massively more than the percentage of fatal accidents in, for example, offices, shops and railway premises, to which protection was extended only two years ago. I understand that in those categories of employment there were no more than 12 fatal accidents in the period 1963–64.

I am sure that the House would agree with the description of the Merseyside secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union when, speaking at a conference in Manchester on 1st December last, he said: Every building site is virtually a battlefield. You find tremendous hazards all over the place. That is reported in The Times for 2nd December. I am sure that all hon. Members agree with that, and that is why these Regulations are important.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary certain general questions about the Regulations before turning to particular points. First, I think that these constitute the fifth batch of Regulations dealing with the construction industry inended to replace the 1948 Regulations. There were Regulations in 1958, 1960 and two batches in 1961. They now constitute, as we are told, a complete code for the industry. Can the Minister assure us that before long all these Regulations will be consolidated into one general code for the use of those who have to regulate safety in these industries?

Secondly, it is probably opportune to mention the consequences of the, Brent Cross accident into which an inquiry was held. The commissioner who conducted the inquiry, Mr. Fay, reported last year. The accident, it will be remembered, involved the collapse of a crane with certain fatal consequences on the North Circular Road. It occurs to me that these Regulations might conceivably provide the opportunity for beneficial legislation to prevent accidents of that kind and to remedy the position for those involved in them.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) would like to raise a point concerning the extent to which the Regulations are ultra vires in so far as they seek to deal with people outside the category of persons employed. Whether they are ultra vires or not, I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary when his right hon. Friend the Minister expects to bring forward legislation expressly intended to prevent the kind of accident that occurred on the North Circular Road and to give statutory rights of action to people injured in an accident of that kind.

In a Written Answer on 1st November last year, the Minister told one of his hon. Friends that he was giving urgent consideration to legislation of this kind. I should like to know, therefore, when that legislation will be forthcoming.

Regulation 3 of the Construction Regulations defines the people upon whom obligations are placed to comply with the Regulations. Substantially, it re-enacts the obligations contained in the Building Regulations and the Construction (General) Regulations, but there is one point which I wish to raise. As the Parliamentary Secretary will know, concern is occasioned in the industry and among the unions dealing with the industry by the existence of some very small subcontracting firms which are not properly insured for employers' liability and which are able to evade direct responsibility for compliance with some of the Regulations. It does not appear as though these Regulations carry the protection of the worker employed by those firms any further than those that went before.

Secondly, a curious device is employed in Regulation 3 whereby it is stated in paragraph (1,a) that the duty in respect of certain Regulations in so far as they relate to the falling or slipping of persons is placed upon the employer. Subparagraph (b) states that the duty in so far as the Regulations relate to the falling of materials and articles is placed upon the other employer. This is a strange form of drafting, because there is surely a middle territory—the duty to secure compliance with the Regulations in respect of something other than the falling or slipping of persons and other than the falling of materials or articles—in respect of which the duty is placed upon no one.

To give an example, I refer to the duty to ensure that scaffolding shall be close-boarded and that the gap between planks should not be more than one inch. Suppose that there is a gap of two inches, into which the wheel of a wheelbarrow slips, so that the workman wheeling the barrow sustains a hernia because of obstruction when the wheel is caught in the gap which is too wide. That is an accident which does not involve the falling or slipping of persons or the falling of materials or articles but, nevertheless, arises from an apparent breach of the Regulations. This form of words, which differs from that of the preceding Regulations, may leave the workman with no remedy in that respect.

These Regulations still apply only to buildings, which are more widely defined than in the 1948 Regulations. As far as I am aware, no Regulations are yet in existence to protect workmen concerned with the installation of plant in a factory when such plant is held not to constitute a building. For example, men employed in installing a furnace or parts of a power station have been held to be unprotected. Does the Minister visualise any extension of the Regulations to deal with those concerned with the installation of plant as opposed to those dealing with the construction of the actual buildings?

A further point which was considered by the Commissioner who considered these Regulations in draft is that Regulation 6—this is a matter of some importance—of the Working Places Regulations adopts for the first time a different formula for defining the duty of the employer in respect of means of access to a place of work and in respect of the safety of that means of access. The formula in Regulation 6 differs, for example, from that to which everyone in industry has become accustomed and is in Section 29(1) of the Factories Act, 1961. A very curious provision is that it differs from the other Regulations with which the House is simultaneously concerned. Regulation 16 of the Health and Welfare Regulations adopts something which is closer to the old formula.

The difference, if I can identify it precisely, is this. Regulation 6 of the Working Places Regulations, having provided that "so far as is reasonably practicable" suitable and sufficient safe access to and egress from shall be provided, goes on to say without qualifications that that access and egress shall be properly maintained". So that it imposes in respect of a duty to maintain an absolute duty in contrast to that which went before.

The Commissioner considered this. Objection was made before him to that extension to make it an absolute duty, and he thought it was right to do so. I would question whether it is necessarily a wise extension because it does impose upon the employer, for example, an absolute duty to obtain the removal of the stray bits of wood and such temporary obstructions on a gangway.

This is an absolute duty placed for the first time by that Regulation for construction sites. If it is right that there should be placed an absolute duty in respect of access to and egress from places of work, why under Regulation 16 of the other Regulations is it not right for him to be placed under the same obligation in respect of access to and egress from a lavatory or canteen? If we are making this departure why should it not be done consistently?

One final point of detail on Regulation 38 dealing with safety belts, safety nets and safety sheets. I am sure that it is right for the legislature to try to move further in the direction of providing protection in respect of falling accidents when scaffolding of the conventional kind cannot be provided. I am sure the intention of Regulation 38 is right, because in the construction industry such a large proportion of fatal accidents arise from falling, but I wonder, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, whether it is right to have in Regulation 38(1) the qualification that provisions of this kind shall be made "where practicable" rather than "where reasonably practicable", because to say that it must be done "where practicable" imposes a duty of immense consequence and possibly of immense expense, and the more conventional phrase "where reasonably practicable" would cover a large number of cases and would be something with which industry could cope, at least in this stage of extending protection of that kind to the worker.

I have a few brief question about the whole pattern of enforcement of legislation of this kind. The Factory Inspectorate has got extensive duties under the Factories Acts, extensive duties under these Regulations, extended duties in respect of at least part of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, and I should like to know to what extent it is up to establishment and to what extent the establishment is sufficient. If I read the books aright, then, according to the Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories for the year 1964, at the end of that year we were 43 below establishment. A few weeks later, from an Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), on 22nd February, 1965, it appeared that we were 32 light. That Answer may be found in the Written Answers, column 12, of the OFFICIAL REPORT for that day. So some progress had been made in those few weeks. A couple of months after that, on 26th April, 1965, in answer to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), at column 17 of the Written Answers, it appeared that we were 35 light. So that the gap was widening again. In fact, the gap at that point was almost equal to the whole of the increase in establishment provided for to cope with the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. Have we made headway? Is the gap narrowing? It is very serious if it remains wide, because these important Regulations cannot be enforced.

Secondly, the same Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories showed that in 1964 there was a massive and continuing failure to report accidents, and that the failure was worst of all in the construction industries, where over half of all the accidents that were regarded as reportable were not reported. In the construction industries, non-reporting was half as much again as the average in industry as a whole.

Thirdly, to what extent are the Government satisfied and to what extent is the House satisfied about the level of the penalties that are being imposed by the courts for breaches of Regulations of this kind? I have seen two calculations of the average penalty in 1964. An article in New Society on 23rd September of last year said that the average penalty was £33. An article in the Financial Times on 15th February of this year, which may or may not be more accurate, said that the average penalty was £25. Either way, when set against the maximum penalties, and when one remembers that only a tiny percentage of the offences are the subject of prosecution, the penalties that are imposed seem very light.

Under the Road Traffic Act, someone who operates an unsafe motor vehicle on the road can, in the last resort, be imprisoned. Again under the Road Traffic Act, the Ministry inspector who identifies a vehicle which is unsafe has power there and then to condemn it and withdraw it from use. Yet, in the construction industry, there is no comparable power to condemn a piece of lifting equipment or another piece of plant and withdraw it from use right away.

What does the House think about it? Are the penalties severe enough, and are we seeing them enforced as heavily as we ought to do, when casualties in the construction industry in one year approach the number of people killed on the roads in a fortnight? It is quite a substantial figure. Is this patchwork progress of legislation on industrial safety really the best way of setting about it? Is it not getting to be time for a complete review of the whole pattern of protective legislation, because some people in some industries are protected properly, and others scarcely at all? We depend upon a jerky progress of modernisation of Regulations, and, while that patchwork pattern exists, should we not at least provide for the compulsory insurance of all employers in respect of their liability under industrial accidents? I put that point to the right hon. Lady the Minister of Pensions before Christmas.

Is it not to some extent vain for the House to approve these Regulations if it does, when there will still be employers who are not insured in respect of their breaches of them? If we oblige the owner and driver of a motorcar to be insured, just as we did in respect of the coal mines under the old Workmen's Compensation legislation, ought we not to require all employers to be insured in respect of their liability for breaches of Regulations of this kind?

10.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

On the basis of the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe), I am assuming that this Prayer is merely a probing exercise and that it is not seriously intended by the Opposition to force it to a vote in any way.

I am sure that that must be the position, because, while we cannot be entirely satisfied with these Regulations, for people who work in the construction industry they are a further advance on the previous Regulations. We have seen a steady advance over the years in the Health and Welfare and Safety Regulations.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , Bebington

I should have made it clear—not for the hon. Member's guidance but for the guidance of those outside—that our Prayer was tabled to probe the Regulations. This is the only way in which the Opposition can express their concern about the importance of the Regulations, and ask questions of the kind that I have posed.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

I thank the hon. and learned Member for that explanation, and I also thank the Opposition for providing the opportunity to discuss these Regulations. It is very important that we should discuss them, for the reason that there is still a high accident rate in the building industry. But I cannot understand why the hon. and learned Member, while accepting the fact that the accident rate is extremely high and needs to be brought down, should contrast paragraph 6 of the working places Regulations with paragraph 16 of the health and welfare Regulations. In my experience of the building industry it is absolutely essential that these Regulations should be tightened up to make it compulsory for the employers to provide the maximum safety methods.

The construction industry is quite different from any other industry. Its very nature involves more danger, especially for workmen working on high buildings. Therefore, for the Regulations to provide that these precautions must be taken is clearly a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, too many employers continue to flout the Regulations. This arises from the fact that many construction workers are not fully acquainted with the Regulations, and also because there is an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce them.

I want to draw attention to one or two points in the health and welfare Regulations—and especially to paragraph 14. In sub-paragraph (2) it is provided that every sanitary convenience (other than a convenience suitable merely as a urinal) shall be under cover and so partitioned off as to secure privacy, and shall have a proper door and fastening. That would not appear to be a great revolutionary advance, but for those who have worked in the industry for many years it is. I have seen many building sites on which these provisions did not exist, and where the workers were expected to use disgraceful toilets. Therefore, this is excellent. Of course, they are no different from the previous position, but over the years it has been essential to press forward with this type of Regulations.

Too many employers, even today, in the building industry still treat their workers as they were treated in the book "The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists". It is essential that the Regulations should be strictly enforced. They do not entirely satisfy the trade unions and the workers in the construction industry. Naturally, they never will entirely satisfy them. We want to see the Regulations continually being improved. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bebington that they ought all to be brought together in one handy form so that they can be understood clearly in one useful document by the workers in the construction industry.

10.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

I would certainly agree with the last remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Regulations of this type have come forward in a piecemeal fashion and I hope that we shall have a full set at some time. The hon. Mem- ber dealt with the Regulations from the point of view of the building industry and its employees, of whom he has great knowledge. I should like to call the attention of the House to the position of the public and to the extent to which the Regulations seek to protect the public and, perhaps, fail to do so.

The Regulations are made under Section 76 of the Factories Act, 1961, which says: …where the Minister is satisfied that any manufacture, machinery, plant, equipment, appliance, process or description of manual labour is of such a nature as to cause risk of bodily injury to the person employed or any class of those persons"— he may, subject to the provisions of the Act, make these Regulations.

It is necessary, as a condition precedent to making these Regulations, for the Minister to be satisfied that they are for the benefit of persons employed or a class of employed persons. There is no power under the Act I have mentioned to make Regulations solely for the benefit of the public. This may be a great pity, but that is how the Act stands.

In Regulation 3 of the Construction (Working Places) Regulations, there is a division in the liability of the contractor. It is clear from paragraph (l,a) that the liability arises in connection with Regulations …as affect him"— that is, the contractor or employer— or any workman employed by him… This paragraph deals with Regulations as they affect the employed person and this is within the powers of the Minister under 76 of the Factories Act, 1961.

In paragraph (l,b), however, there is no mention of the employed person. It states that the liability is to comply with such of the requirements of the following Regulations as relate to any work, act or operation performed or about to be performed by any such contractor or employer of workmen… But this appears to be a general responsibility. One would read it, at first, as giving some protection to the public, as giving some right to a member of the public, if he is injured by a failure of the contractor or employer to carry out the duties under the Regulations, to claim for damages against the contractor. But that is not the case in law, and it could not be the case because only persons whom the Statute intended to benefit have any civil claim against a contractor who has failed to carry out the obligations of the Regulations.

If that is the position, these Regulations do not meet the sort of case mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe)—the tragic case of the crane which collapsed at Brent Cross and other cases where cranes have toppled on to persons and vehicles passing in the street. There have been a number of very tragic accidents to the public from the failure to take care to carry out these safety Regulations. Yet the Minister has no power under the Act nor, as far as I am aware, under any Act, to make Regulations which are solely for the benefit of the public when a contractor fails to carry out his duties to make his work safe.

If there was an injury to a member of the public by reason of the failure of a contractor to carry out his duty under the Regulations, would there be any right, under these Regulations, even to prosecute that contractor? It would, I believe, be necessary to show that the Minister had power to make these Regulations, and he has that power only if the Regulations are made to benefit employed persons. I suggest that there would be great difficulty in prosecuting a contractor if he had failed to carry out these Regulations and there occurred some injury to a member of the public and not to an employed person.

It is worth recording these points while the Regulations are before the House. It may be that on some future date, if we find now that the Regulations do not protect the public as we might wish them to do, fresh legislation will be necessary to give the Minister power to make Regulations to protect the public.

There have been many serious accidents concerning building works alongside roads. Only a short distance from this House a whole building in the course of demolition not long ago collapsed across Victoria Street. It might have been a tragic accident had it occurred at any other time of the day than when it did occur. There have been other cases of that sort, where the results have been more tragic. I hope that we will find some way to produce valid Regulations to protect people from the failure of con- tractors to make their buildings and operations safe, not only to their employees but to the public.

10.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Thornton Mr Ernest Thornton , Farnworth

I wish at the outset to express my appreciation of the reasonable and informed way in which the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) approached these rather complicated and technical Regulations. As he will appreciate, I cannot agree to the Motion, although he made it clear that he was conducting a probing operation, which it is proper for the Opposition to do. I welcome the opportunity afforded us of discussing the safety record of the construction industry, and I say at the outset that I agree with all the comments made by the hon. and learned Gentleman about the very serious nature of this rising trend of accidents.

Hon. Members have made it clear that, whatever may be said, the present accident position in this industry is a bitter disappointment to us all. I do not think for a moment that anyone would dispute this. Until the late 'fifties, it looked as though we were making real progress in accident prevention. Year by year the statistics of accidents reported in accordance with the Factories Act declined. Then, between 1958 and 1959, the trend changed. Since then, reported accidents, not only in the construction industry but in the whole of industry covered by the Factories Act, have been rising continuously.

I do not think it necessary to give the House the detailed figures of the rising trend of accidents in the construction industry. Last week, the provisional figures of reported accidents in the industry for the fourth quarter of 1965 were published in the Ministry of Labour Gazette. By adding these figures to the total for the first three quarters of the year, we get a provisional total for the whole year of almost 44,500. This, I regret to say, represents a further increase of nearly 10 per cent. on the already appallingly high figure for 1964. A little simple arithmetic will show that for 1965 the accident total was nearly 75 per cent. higher than it was in 1962—

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Has my hon. Friend the figures of the prosecutions resulting from accidents through negligence?

Photo of Mr Ernest Thornton Mr Ernest Thornton , Farnworth

I am afraid I could not give that information without notice.

There are, I must make clear, a number of qualifications to these disturbing figures that I have just given to the House and which it is necessary for us to bear in mind. The first is the proportion of accidents which are reported. Surveys on the reporting of accidents were carried out with the co-operation of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in October, 1962, and again in April, 1964. Since the 1964 survey, we have been experimenting with a possible method of obtaining continuous information of the reporting standards. At the moment, however, the results are not sufficiently conclusive to enable me to say whether the reporting standard has changed and, if so, to what extent it has changed.

In view of the publicity given to the 1964 survey results, and the special efforts that have been made by the Chief Inspector of Factories and his staff and by the employers' organisations to improve the reporting standards, it seems to me reasonable to assume that any change in these standards will have been for the better. To the extent that this has happened, there would be an inflation of the accident figures.

Another factor which has to be borne in mind is the extent of exposure to risk. We have to remember that both the numbers employed in the construction industry and their average hours of work have increased in the period to which I have been referring. Nevertheless, although all our present statistical information does not enable us to calculate the weight to be given to those factors, it seems clear that there has been a substantial real increase in the incidence of accidents in the industry.

This, as the House will agree, is a wholly unacceptable situation. We do not have to accept it, and there is nothing inevitable about the human suffering for which these accident figures so tragically stand. The vast majority of accidents are due to human failures of one kind or another, and can be prevented. The responsibility for this grevious state of affairs rests fairly and squarely upon the industry. While I accept that the Government have an important part to play, it remains true that, ultimately, only those engaged in the industy can make it safer.

I should like to say a word about safety training, because it is fundamental to the success of all accident prevention activities that workers should be so trained that they act in a safe way at all times. A worker who has not been properly trained may, through lack of adequate knowledge of the hazards which face him, interfere with the safeguards provided for his protection. He may fail to use protective clothing and equipment available for him or adopt an unsafe way of doing a job.

The Central Training Council has recognised this and has given general guidance on the matter for training boards, including of course, the Construction Industry Training Board. I am glad to tell the House that the Construction Industry Training Board has recognised courses in safety training for grant purposes. In the training of operatives, generally we must look to the construction industry in its training programme to implement the basic principle that the safe way to do a job is an integral part of the right way of doing the job.

Over and above this, however, there are some special safety training needs. Contractors' agents, safety supervisors, foremen and apprentices, can all benefit from safety training geared to their particular requirements. The industry has already made a substantial effort in safety training and I am glad to pay tribute to what has been achieved. A number of safety training centres have been established at various places. In 1964 these provided courses for 1,600 safety supervisors and about 1,500 other workers. Members of the Factory Inspectorate give lectures at the courses and some of the centres operate in premises at Government training centres. I am glad that we have been able to help in these ways.

From the figures I have mentioned the House will see that there is need for further development before it can be claimed that provision for safety is adequate. We should continue to encourage and support the spread of these activities. Closely associated with safety training is propaganda for safety. Carefully prepared and judiciously administered propaganda can make a very valuable contribution to accident prevention. I have recently seen a film entitled "The Choice is Yours". This film was produced by the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors jointly with the trade unions represented on the safety committee of the civil engineering side of the industry. It is an excellent film and I think it will have a considerable impact on the audiences on construction sites in various places where it is shown. One of the most constructive services which an employers' organisation can give to its members is to supply a constant, but not indigestible, stream of effective propaganda.

I can assure the House that the Government will continue unremitting search for new lines of attack on all problems and to find solutions for the many new ones constantly thrown up. I might mention in particular a recent development. Although the construction industry and the Factory Inspectorate have a great deal of knowledge about how construction accidents happen, we know less about their underlying causes, and in particular why they have been increasing at such an alarming rate. In an attempt to throw light on these problems, my right hon. Friend has instituted a special inquiry into a small carefully selected group of construction sites. This inquiry, which has been undertaken by two inspectors who have been detached from normal duty, was planned in consultation and agreement with the Joint Advisory Committee on Safety and Health in the Construction Industry. It commenced in January, and it is expected to take about six months. The results will be reported to the Joint Advisory Committee, and in the light of the outcome we intend to re-examine existing accident prevention policy and practice.

The hon. and learned Member for Bebington raised the question of the inspectorate and the construction inspectors. I agree that this is a most important subject. About two years ago, it was decided to put a number of experienced inspectors full time on construction work. This produced an improvement, but we are still not satisfied and we are considering possible ways of increasing the amount and the effectiveness of construction inspection. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the possible effect of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act and, quite properly, called attention to the fact that we were still somewhat short of the establishment in the Factories Inspectorate as a whole. I can assure him that we are doing all we can to get the inspectorate up to full strength. The House will recall that, some months ago, my right hon. Friend made quite clear that, once he had got the establishment up to its full target, he would not hesitate to expand it if he thought that necessary in all the circumstances.

The hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out that the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act had made an additional call on the inspectorate, but I assure the House that this has had no effect on the adequacy of construction inspection. A special addition of 42 posts to the strength of the inspectorate was authorised to enable this new block of work to be tackled.

I turn now to the question of legislation. The House will recognise the importance of the standards laid down in the Factories Act and the Regulations made under it. The special attention of the House has tonight been directed to two new codes of Regulations for the construction industries which my right hon. Friend has recently laid before it. One of these deals with the health and welfare of construction workers, and it was to this that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) directed particular attention. But the debate has been concerned mainly with safety. It is a fairly common misapprehension that the Factories Act is concerned only with safety. I am glad, therefore, that opportunity has arisen through this debate to stress the importance of the health and welfare matters with which those Regulations deal.

I am sure that we all agree that, in this day and age, workpeople are entitled to reasonable and civilised amenities in their places of work, and for that reason the Construction (Health and Welfare) Regulations are a landmark, laying down detailed standards for the provision of such things as lavatories, washing facilities, shelter and accommodation for clothing and facilities for taking meals on construction sites.

Together with the Construction (Working Places) Regulations, they complete the major task, begun in 1961 with the Construction (General Provisions) and the Construction (Lifting Operations) Regulations, of revising and extending the civil engineering provisions previously applicable only to building work. These two new codes have been hammered out as a result of the fullest consultation with all interested industrial organisations and following a public inquiry conducted by Sir George Honeyman. The Regulations which are now before the House are in the terms which Sir George recommended.

I might at this stage try to answer some of the points that have been put to me. I will certainly do the best I can, although they are very highly technical points. I thank the hon. and learned Member for giving me an indication of the points that he intended to raise, for it has given me a better opportunity of giving some intelligible answers on these highly technical points.

First, I deal with the Brent Cross accident inquiry, to which both hon. Gentlemen opposite referred. I have been reminded that a Government statement was promised some time ago on the recommendations made in the report of the formal investigation into the most tragic crane accident at Brent Cross, Hendon, on 20th June, 1964. The report was published on 22nd September, 1965. I realise that there is great interest in these recommendations, and am indeed sorry that I have to ask the House to be patient for a little longer. Some of the recommendations which were made—for example, that members of the public should be brought within the scope of the Factories Act, a point made by the hon. Members for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page)—are of a very far-reaching nature and require very careful study and interdepartmental consultation. Our thinking on these questions is now well advanced, and I am confident that the Government's views will be made known to the House in the near future. I am afraid that I cannot go further than that tonight.

The hon. and learned Member for Bebington raised the question of "labour only" sub-contracting. This is a very difficult point, I agree. There is the subcontractor who employs labour, and the employees of this type of sub-contractor are fully covered by the Regulations. I think that we all appreciate that. The other kind is the individual workman who contracts to perform certain work as an independent sub-contractor. Broadly speaking, if it can be shown that the main contractor controls the manner in which the work is done, the worker's position will be the same as that of any other employee. If, however, he is a genuine self-employed sub-contractor, he himself is not protected by the Regulations. Such protection is not possible under the Factories Act in its present form. He does, however, himself owe a duty under the Regulations to persons employed on the site. The main outstanding point here is whether this type of sub-contractor should be protected. As I have pointed out, we cannot do this under existing powers, but we shall certainly keep a close watch on the situation as it develops.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

If a Regulation is for the benefit of an employed person as well as for the benefit of an independent contractor, it may be that the independent contractor has no claim for damages. But there is no need for an accident to occur before a prosecution can occur. Surely, if the regulation is for two classes of person, one within the Act, prosecution can be brought if the Regulation is not observed?

Photo of Mr Ernest Thornton Mr Ernest Thornton , Farnworth

I am not sure whether I follow the hon. Gentleman. Is he dealing with the point in the Regulations that it may be possible for a member of the public to be protected under the Regulations?

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Obviously, I did not make my point clear. Provided that the Regulation is valid in that it protects an employed person, it may accidentally protect a member of the public or an independent contractor, and under Section 155 of the Act there is no need to prove that an accident has happened to anybody before a prosecution is taken for failure to obey the Regulations.

Photo of Mr Ernest Thornton Mr Ernest Thornton , Farnworth

I am advised that the Regulations do not protect members of the public or persons other than those employed. Regulation 3(1,b) is similar to the provisions in the 1948 and 1961 Regulations and I am advised that the formula has never been challenged. That is the position as I understand it and I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. and learned Member for Bebington called attention to the wording of Sections 29 and 127 of the Act. I am advised that Section 29 is not applied by Section 127 to building operations and works of engineering construction. Under Section 76 of the Act, the Minister may make such Regulations as are reasonably practicable to meet particular needs. Circumstances on construction sites are very different from those in factories and Sir George Honeyman clearly considered, after hearing all the arguments, that the provisions to which attention has been drawn were relevant to and reasonable for construction sites. I think that we should accept the view of Sir George Honeyman who went into this matter, as the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, very fully.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the case of Elms v. Foster Wheeler. There have been three or four cases in which the courts have expressed the view that the installation of plant, if contemporaneous with the construction of the building, is part of the building operation. I frankly admit that this still leaves certain plant installation uncovered. Correction of this situation would require amendment of the Act, and I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that this will be considered at the appropriate time.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to Regulation 38. Basically, this Regulation requires safety nets where safe working platforms cannot be provided and it is practicable to provide such nets. Nets are not, however, required where it is impracticable to provide them, where work is of short duration, or where it is not reasonably practicable to provide them because of the frequent movement of materials. Employers need to ensure only that safety belts are in fact used where nets would be practicable, but the belts are provided as an alternative by the deliberate choice of the employer. The intention is to require the employer to take action to ensure the safety of his workpeople while leaving him with sufficient freedom of choice to prevent the Regulations from becoming too onerous. Sir George Honey man considered this latter point in his report.

The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested the inclusion of "reasonably" before "practicable" in this Regulation. I have gone into the meaning of "reasonably practicable" with some care and I am quite satisfied that if we were to introduce "reasonably", it would make the Regulations too loose. I understand that in the operation of the Factories Acts "reasonably practicable" and "practicable" have their own particular understood meanings and interpretations. We certainly could not hold out any assurance that even in the future we would introduce "reasonably" here.

Lastly, I have been asked whether I consider that the penalties are severe enough under present conditions. I should not like to express an opinion on this, but I promise that I will have discussions with my right hon. Friend.

I think that I have now answered most of the points raised. I accept that there are points which a number of interested bodies would like to see changed, but this is inevitable.

In Regulations of this kind, which have been the result of long drawn-out consultations, it is impossible to satisfy everyone. There comes a time when a decision has to be made, and if we are to make progress with accident prevention it is important that these Regulations should remain in being. I assure the House that if their implementation gives rise to serious difficulties we shall reconsider the situation, when, as we intend, we embark upon the consolidation of the four major construction codes in two years' time.

Having given these assurances and explanations, I hope that the House will not attempt to press the matter further tonight.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , Bebington

I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for having dealt with many technical points raised on these Regulations. It is good to know that the homework of the Department is proceeding to a point when my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House will be able to make good use of it, even if that be two years ahead, as he indicated.

The Parliamentary Secretary failed to answer my question as to whether the Factory Inspectorate was up to establishment. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) raised the question of the frequency of prosecutions. The Parliamentary Secretary did not have the figures for the construction industry; nor have I, but the figures I have for factories and the construction industry as a whole in 1964 fortify my point that enforcement is not vigorous enough. In 1964 there were 269,000 accidents in factories and the construction industry, and there were only 2,449 convictions. This is a rate of 1 per cent.

Those 2,449 convictions produced only £25 on the average, by way of penalties. I very much hope that those responsible for any legislation revising the Factories Acts and any other Regulations will consider whether the policy of gentle persuasion ought not to be replaced by something more vigorous. I hope that the hon. Member for Walton will forgive me if I say that while the over-riding responsibility for the enforcement of codes of this kind rests upon management, there is also heavy responsibility upon the workmen employed, particularly in the construction industry, where employment is casual and training difficult.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The general feeling in the industry among trade unionists is that each construction worker should be his own safety officer.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , Bebington

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. It appears that the Parliamentary Secretary considers that the existing legislation is not sufficient to provide protection for members of the public against what might be called the Brent Cross type of accident.

A short note in the Economist of 6th November last year pointed out the tragic fact that in the five weeks following publication of the report of the Brent Cross inquiry, three fatal crane accidents occurred, one in London, one in Bradford and another in Hull. I hope that those responsible will take these further tragedies as plain warning that it is time that we introduced effective legislation to protect the public in this kind of situation and had the courage to enforce it properly before many more tragedies of this kind occur.

I hope that the House will forgive me for having, as it were, had a second bite at the cherry. In view of the answers given by the Parliamentary Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.