General Duties of Employers to Their Employees

Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18 June 1974.

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Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster 12:00, 18 June 1974

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 34 after 'such', insert 'information'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

It will be for the the convenience of the House to discuss with this amendment Government Amendment No. 25.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

Amendments Nos. 11 and 25 meet a further obligation which I undertook in Committee when the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was leading the Opposition in Committee. The amendments provide an obligation to keep the public informed about matters essential to their health and safety. I agreed with the spirit of the amendment that was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, and I shall shortly be moving an amendment to meet that point. I suggested to the Committee that it would be equally essential to put employers under an unmistakable obligation to inform their employees about potential hazards to their health and safety.

Amendment No. 25 follows another undertaking that I gave in Committee. I do not think that there will be anyone who will dispute that the public have a right to know about potential hazards which could arise from their industrial activities. I think that it will be generally agreed that the main responsibility for keeping the public fully informed lies with industry itself. That applies subject to further information being made available by the commission and the enforcement authorities whenever necessary.

That is not in legal terms an easy requirement to draft—namely, an open-ended duty to provide information to the public—without indicating in some detail the kind of information to be made known and how it is to be made known. It would be unworkable and of little practical value to include in the Bill a regulation enabling us to specify who must give information to whom and how if we did not provide a flexible means of imposing specific requirements that really meant something. For example, this power could be used to specify, if a firm was planning to manufacture explosives, that notice should be given to the local Press of the scale of the proposed operations, the substances to be used and so on.

I could give a number of other examples but I shall not weary the House. I hope that the House will agree that the amendments provide useful additional powers.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 3, line 18, leave out from 'by' to second 'of' in line 19 and insert 'employees or organisations representing employees'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this Amendment the House can conveniently discuss Opposition Amendments No. 18, in page 3, line 31, leave out 'if requested to do so by' and insert 'to consult'. and No. 19, in page 3, line 32, after 'above', insert 'and'.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

That will further shorten the proceedings—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—which will meet with loud approval, as we have just heard.

I am sure that it comes as no surprise to the Under-Secretary of State that we are returning to this matter on Report, because, as he will recall, we had a tied vote on it in Committee and were given an assurance that we could have another go on Report.

What we are trying to do with Amendment No. 17 is to increase the awareness of health and safety matters of all people at work. Indeed, we are endorsing the central point of the Robens Report, which said in paragraph 64: We regard the question of worker-involvement as quite central to this inquiry and to the main themes of our Report. We all agree with that, and our amendments are designed to translate the recommendation into reality.

Not every employee is a member of a trade union, and it is a separate matter whether that is a good or a bad thing. But the Opposition feel that health and safety matters go across the frontiers of trade union and non-trade union membership. Hence Amendment No. 17. The Opposition recognise that the trade unions are in many cases the organisation representing the employees and would, therefore form the safety committee. Amendment No. 17 says as much—"organisations representing employees."

But there could be a works unit with a unionised or partially unionised shop floor, like a research department, with a professional group representing the employees in the unit and the managerial and secretarial unit as well. Given that particular set-up in a works unit, we feel that it would be wrong to make the union responsible for nominating or electing the safety representatives. We believe that it would be contrary to the spirit of the Bill and of the Robens Report, which said also: We envisage that these appointments "— of safety representatives— would be through election by employees arranged through the trade union recognised at the workplace or through works groups as appropriate. It is these last two words "as appropriate" which emphasise the heart of our case. There are some cases where it will be appropriate for the works group which is not unionised or only partially unionised to elect the members of the safety committee. But health and safety at work is indivisible between union and non-union.

Amendment No. 18 would strengthen the Bill also and carry out the spirit of Robens. Once safety representatives have been appointed, we feel that it should be an obligation on the employer to consult them with a view to the setting up of a safety committee. Having got the representatives, it is obvious that the committee is the next step. Therefore, we feel it wrong for an employer merely to sit back to see whether he is requested to set up a safety committee by the representatives.

We feel and hope that the Government will recognise our case and meet us because we felt from the debate in Committee that the minority Government were pursuing a minority case. Here is a chance to make an alteration in tune with the spirit of the Bill and of the Robens Report—to extend health and safety measures and make sure that everyone at work is advantaged by the Bill.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I hope that the House will not think it discourteous of me if I reply very briefly. We have been over this issue on Second Reading and in detail in Committee. We have been over it each year since 1970 on a succession of Private Members' Bills which had the support of the Labour Party. The arguments are very clear and well understood in the House. Clearly, it is a matter of the political divide between us, and I do not think that it would really serve the purpose of the House for me to go over the ground interminably again, tilling it to dust.

If the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) quotes the Robens Report, I am entitled to point out that it was the decision of the last Labour Government in 1970 to set up the Robens Committee in parallel with the Bill we introduced then to provide for work people's safety representatives, and that our action really pre-empted the ground. Consequently, to do what the hon. Gentleman proposes would be inconsistent with the line that we followed throughout our short period in Opposition.

Thirdly, I say that if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite really believe what they are prepared to pay lip service to in terms of worker participation they must begin here, with workers being directly involved. The hon. Gentleman asks that workpeople's safety representatives be appointed by organisations representing employees. I cannot think what other organisations ought to represent employees apart from trade unions. It would help the House if the hon. Gentleman could tell us what other organisations he has in mind. He has taken us back to the reactionary nonsense of the Industrial Relations Act, which, mercifully, we are shortly to get rid of.

If we were to accept what the hon. Member is proposing it would be an open invitation to every break-away union to seek a roundabout, spurious recognition, reluctantly wrung from employers. This would have most serious consequences for industrial relations. For these reasons I ask the House to reject the amendment.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

Even though the hour is late I do not think that we can accept what the Under-Secretary has said without comment. He has normally shown remarkable consideration and moderation. He is now returning to the sort of blindness and prejudice which I thought we had left behind in our 1971 debates. The simple question is: why should trade unions be given the sole right of requiring management to establish safety committees? Why should trade unions have the sole right of appointing representatives to such committees? We propose that in certain circumstances organisations of employees should appoint. Where there is no organisation we suggest that it should be the employees themselves.

I come to the definition of "trade union". This is laid down in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill as being an organisation of workers which has among its objectives the regulation of relationships between workers and employers. This can apply to any organisation set up on the spur of the moment, for example on a building site. Are we prepared to say that such an organisation, established at a moment's notice, should have sole rights in safety matters?

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) has drawn attention to paragraph 64 of the Robens Report, which said: We regard the question of worker involvement as quite central to this Inquiry". We entirely accept that argument. The Minister began his speech by implying that the concept of worker participation in this and other matters was alien to Conservative Members. He is totally wrong and I refute such an allegation. I have replied with some feeling because I feel strongly about this. We set out our feelings on this subject in the codes set out in the Industrial Relations Act. We said that management should aim at improving standards of safety in consultation and co-operation with employees and their representatives. Surely this is evidence of what the Conservative Government felt on this subject.

The House needs little or no reminding that it was Labour's intention to remove the legislative backing for this situation in their Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill. Fortunately the matter has been put right in Committee. I support the amendment. It gives workers as a whole, not just union representatives, rights in the matters of health and safety.

10.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , Bodmin

I too support the amendment. This is consistent. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) expressed our misgivings on Second Reading, and I did so in Committee. However, I do not support this proposal in quite the same terms as Conservative Members. Their relationship with the trade union movement is at an all-time low. This is why many loyal unionists must regard the Conservative approach to this problem as being as suspect as others would regard that of the Government.

We approach the subject on the basis of logic. I have heard it said that we have not only a minority Government with a minority view but a Government representing a minority of the work force. Of 24 million people at work, fewer than 11 million belong to affiliated unions. The unions do not have a monopoly of concern for safety and welfare at work. As I have said, my own limited professional experience suggests that there would be grave anomalies, as there were under the Industrial Relations Act, in the proposal in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

There is nothing in the Bill to prevent any employer with an unorganised work force from entering into arrangements with them for the appointment of safety representatives and joint safety committees.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , Bodmin

The Minister has slightly missed my point. There is often a small group of non-unionist employees in any work force and it is their interests that concern me. It is not necessarily true that a work force is totally disorganised. It may be partially organised. For those who happen to be union members to be the only ones consulted on these questions is a grave anomaly.

The Minister gave a partial assurance in Committee that this would be looked at again when worker participation proposals come forward. We have had no such assurance today. His arrogant political approach depressed me. There is a good case for considering this on sheer logic. We did not have such a reply from the Minister, so I and those of my hon. Friends who care to join me will vote for the amendment.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

The hon. Member has referred to his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who takes a great interest in these matters. Is the hon. Member present tonight and will he be joining his hon. Friend in the Lobby?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , Bodmin

I am not sure whether that is relevant to the amendment, but my hon. Friend consulted me about the timing of this debate and hoped to be back in time from a speaking engagement. If the hon. Member is so anxious to see my hon. Friend, he might achieve that object by speaking at some length and allowing him time to get here. I hope that my hon. Friend and as many others of my colleagues as are available will support the amendment.

Mr. Robert Adley:

I support my hon. Friends on this matter.

The Government have one important lesson to learn. This provides an illustration. The views of individual workers and the views of groups of workers are by no means always the same as the views of the official trade unions purporting to represent them.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am told that the proceedings of the Committee were amicable and constructive and that a wide measure of agreement was reached. It is a pity that on these few amendments the same degree of constructiveness, agreement and amicability could not be sustained because the UnderSecretary—who I thought was trying to speed things up—gave a very much less satisfactory answer to this side than he gave during the previous hour and a half to his hon. Friends on other amendments. I regret that that has happened.

This involves a question of principle for my right hon. and hon. Friends which extends beyond the consequences of this Bill. We welcome the support of the Liberal Party for this amendment. I hope they will turn out in force to support us. They have made much noise in recent weeks about the need for a strong Opposition. They have a chance of showing that tonight. I hope they will do so. Alternatively perhaps we shall be subjected once more to the sight of the Liberals who talk a great deal when it does not matter but, when it comes to an important point, are never here to do anything about it.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , Bodmin

The right hon. Gentleman is capable of making the most extraordinary statements. He was absent when we discussed agriculture, which was previously his responsibility. It is incredible that he should come forward and make that accusation on this issue. Is he giving the assurance that the whole of the Conservative Party will vote on this amendment? That will be a most interesting spectacle.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

At least everyone here will be expected to vote on this amendment.

On the subject of agriculture, I visited the hon. Gentleman's constituency and told his farmers what they should do next time.

Clause 4(2) gives the trade unions the exclusive right to elect safety representatives from amongst the employees to sit on safety committees. We have always accepted that the trade union is the traditional body which represents employees in the factory on matters such as health and safety. It is right and reasonable that it should continue to do so. The present Bill intends to go far beyond that in ways which I cannot think even the trade unionists want.

I see that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) has left the Chamber. If I have driven the Liberals from the Chamber that is no bad thing.

Supposing there is a non-unionised work force in a small factory, will those people have no representation on safety matters, or will trades unions come in from outside to represent employees in a factory? Apart from the obvious absurdity of this, it goes against one of the principles in the Robens Report, which was to involve all employees in consultation about matters affecting their health and safety. For the same reason we

should like consultation between employers and employees to be compulsory and not, as in the Government's Bill, a matter to be left to the wishes of the employers and employees. The underlying aim of the Bill is to increase the awareness of employers and employees of the vital importance of health and safety matters.

I wish to emphasise again that we are not opposed to trade unions having an important say in these matters, but it is not acceptable to us to deprive all other employees of equal rights in these matters. After all, all employees incur some dangers to their health and safety, and disasters such as those in recent weeks do not discriminate between groups of employees.

There is, therefore, absolutely no justification either for the Government's attiture that there should be only trade union representatives involved or the Liberal Party's attitude that we as a party are at a low ebb in our relationships with the trade unions. I find that the trade unions want to co-operate with the Government in office and wish to co-operate with us. I only wish we had had more sense when we were in office from the then Opposition. If we had done so, the country might not be in the trouble that it is in today. I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote in favour of the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 207, Noes 251.

Division No. 44:AYES10.27 p.m.
Adley, RobertCarlisle, MarkEyre, Reginald
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Carr, Rt. Hn. RobertFairgrieve, Russell
Ancram, M.Chataway, Rt. Hn. ChristopherFenner, Mrs. Peggy
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Churchill, W. S.Fidler, Michael
Atkins, R.Hn. Humphrey (Spelthorne)Clark, A. K. M. (Plymouth, Sutton)Finsberg, Geoffrey
Baker, KennethClark, William (Croydon, S.)Fisher, Sir Nigel
Banks, RobertClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh, N.)
Bell, RonaldClegg, WalterFletcher-Cooke, Charles
Benyon, W.Cockcroft, JohnFookes, Miss Janet
Berry, Hon. AnthonyCooke, Robert (Bristol, W.)Fowler, Norman (Sutton Coldfield)
Biffen, JohnCope, JohnFry, Peter
Blaker, PeterCorrie, JohnGardiner, George (Reigate&Banstead)
Boyson, Dr. Rhodes (Brent, N.)Costain, A. P.Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde)
Braine, Sir BernardCrouch, DavidGibson-Watt, Rt. Hn. David
Bray, RonaldDavies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)
Brittan, Leond'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. JamesGlyn, Dr. Alan
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.)Godber, Rt. Hn. Joseph
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.Goodhart, Philip
Bryan, Sir PaulDodsworth, GeoffreyGoodlad, A.
Buchanan Smith, AlickDrayson, BurnabyGow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Buck, AntonyDurant, TonyGower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Budgen, NickEdwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)
Bulmer, EsmondElliott, Sir WilliamGray, Hamish
Burden, F. A.Emery, PeterGrist, Ian
Grylis, MichaelMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Gurden, HaroldMarten, NeilShelton, William (L'mb'th,Streath'm)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Mather, CarolShersby, Michael
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Mawby, RaySilvester, Fred
Hampson, Dr. KeithMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Sims, Roger
Hannam, JohnMayhew, Patrick (RoyalT'bridgeWells)Sinclair, Sir George
Hawkins, PaulMeyer, Sir AnthonySkeet T. H. H.
Hayhoe, BarneyMills, PeterSmith, Dudley (W'wick&L'm'ngton)
Henderson, Barry (Dunbartonshire, E.)Moate, RogerSpence John
Heseltine, MichaelMoney, ErnleSpicer, Jim (Dorset, W.)
Higgins, TerenceMonro, HectorSpicer, Michael (Worcestershire, S.)
Holland, PhilipMoore, J. E. M. (Croydon, C.)Sproat, Iain
Hordern, PeterMore, Jasper (Ludlow)Stainton, Keith
Howell, David (Guildford)Morgan, GeraintStanbrook, Ivor
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North)Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.Stanley, John
Hurd, DouglasMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Steen, Anthony (L'pool, Wavertree)
Hutchison, Michael ClarkMorrison, Peter (City of Chester)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Neave, AireyStodart, Rt. Hn. A. (Edinburgh, W.)
James, DavidNeubert, MichaelStradling Thomas, J.
Jessel, TobyNewton, Tony (Braintree)Taylor, Edward M. (Gl'gow, C'cart)
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Onslow, CranleyTebbit, Norman
Jones, Arthur (Daventry)Oppenheim, Mrs. SallyTemple-Morris, Peter
Jopling, MichaelOrr, Capt. L. P. S.Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithPage, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)Thomas, Rt. Hn. P. (B'net,H'dn S.)
Kaberry, Sir DonaldPardoe, JohnTownsend, C. D.
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElainePattie, GeoffreyTugendhat, Christopher
Kilfedder, James A.Percival, IanTyler, Paul
Kimball, MarcusPink, R. BonnerVaughan, Dr. Gerard
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Price, David (Eastleigh)Viggers, Peter
Knight, Mrs. JillPrior, Rt. Hn. JamesWaddington, David
Knox, DavidPym, Rt. Hn. FrancisWakeham, John
Lamont, NormanQuennell, Miss J. M.Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Latham, Michael (Melton)Raison, TimothyWalker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Lawrence,IvanRathbone, TimWalters, Dennis
Lawson, Nigel (Blaby)Redmond, RobertWeatherill, Bernard
Le Marchant, SpencerRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)Wells, John
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Renton, Rt. Hn. SirDavid (H't'gd'ns're)Wiggin, Jerry
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Rifkind, MalcolmWinstanley, Dr. Michael
Loveridge, JohnRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Winterton, Nicholas
Luce, RichardRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
MacArthur, IanRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Macfarlane, NeilRost, Peter (Derbyshire, S.-E.)Worsley, Sir Marcus
MacGregor, JohnSainsbury, Tim
McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)St. John-Stevas, NormanTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Scott-Hopkins, JamesMr. Adam Butler and
Madel, DavidShaw, Giles (Pudsey)Mr. Cecil Parkinson.
Abse, LeoColeman, DonaldEvans, loan (Aberdare)
Allaun, FrankConcannon, J. D.Evans, John (Newton)
Archer, Peter (Warley, West)Conlan, BernardEwing, Harry (St'ling.F'kirk&G'm'th)
Armstrong, ErnestCook, R. F. (Edinburgh, C.)Ewing, Mrs. Winifred (Moray&Nairn)
Ashley, JackCraigen. J. M. (G'gow, Maryhill)Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Crawshaw, RichardFitch, Alan (Wigan)
Atkinson, NormanCrosland, Rt. Hn. AnthonyFlannery, Martin
Bagier, Gordon, A. T.Cryer, G. R.Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Cunningham.G. (Isl'ngt'n,S&F'sb'ry)Foot, Rt. Hn. Michael
Barnett, Joel (Heywood & Royton)Cunningham, Dr. JohnA. (Whiteh'v'n)Ford, Ben
Bates, AlfDalyell, TamForrester, John
Bennett, Andrew F. (Stockport, N.)Davidson, ArthurFowler, Gerry (The Wrekin)
Bidwell, SydneyDavies, Bryan (Enfield, N.)Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)
Bishop, E. S.Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Freeson, Reginald
Blenkinsop, ArthurDavies, Ifor (Gower)Galpern, Sir Myer
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Garrett, John (Norwich, S.)
Booth, AlbertDeakins, EricGeorge, Bruce
Boothroyd, Miss BettyDean, Joseph (Leeds, W.)Gilbert, Dr. John
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthurde Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyGinsburg, David
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)Delargy, HughGolding, John
Bradley, TomDell, Rt. Hn. EdmundGourlay, Harry
Broughton, Sir AlfredDempsey, JamesGraham, Ted
Brown, Bob( NewcastleuponTyne.W.)Doig, PeterGrant, John (Islington, C.)
Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)Dormand, J. D.Griffiths, Eddie (Sheffield, Brightside)
Buchan, NormanDouglas-Mann, BruceHamilton, James (Bothwell)
Buchanan, Richard(G'gow,Springbrn)Duffy, A. E. P.Hamilton, William (Fife, C.)
Butter, Mrs. Joyce(H'gey, WoodGreen)Dunn, James A.Hamling, William
Callaghan, Jim (M'dd'ton & Pr'wich)Dunnett, JackHardy, Peter
Campbell, IanDunwoody, Mrs. GwynethHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Cant, R. B.Edelman, MauriceHatton, Frank
Carter, RayEdge, GeoffHealey, Rt. Hn. Denis
Carter-Jones, LewisEllis, John (Brigg & Scunthorpe)Heffer, Eric S.
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraEllis, Tom (Wrexham)Henderson, Douglas (Ab'rd'nsh're,E)
Clemitson, IvorEnglish, MichaelHooley, Frank
Cocks, MichaelEnnals, DavidHoram, John
Huckfield, LeslieMayhew, Christopher (G'wh,W'wch,E)Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Meacher, MichaelSmith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North)Mellish, Rt. Hn. RobertSpearing, Nigel
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Mikardo, IanSpriggs, Leslie
Hunter, AdamMillan, BruceStallard, A. W.
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (L'p'I,EdgeHill)Miller, Dr. M. S. (E. Kilbride)Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Irving, Rt Hn. Sydney (Dartford)Molloy, WilliamStewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth, Fulh'm)
Jackson ColinMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Janner, GrevilleMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Stott, Roger
Jeger, Mrs. LenaMorris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)Strang, Gavin
Jenkins, Hugh (W'worth, Putney)Moyle, RolandStrauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
John, BrynmorMurray, Ronald KingSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Johnson, James(K'ston upon Hull,W)Newens, Stanley (Harlow)Swain, Thomas
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Oakes, GordonTaverne, Dick
Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)O'Halloran, MichaelThomas, D. E. (Merioneth)
Jones, Dan (Burnley)O'Malley, BrianThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Orbach, MauriceTierney, Sydney
Judd, FrankOvenden, JohnTinn, James
Kaufman, GeraldPadley, WalterTomlinson, John
Kelley, RichardPalmer, ArthurTorney, Tom
Kerr, RussellParker, John (Dagenham)Tuck, Raphael
Kilroy-Silk, RobertParry, RobertVarley, Rt. Hn. Eric G.
Kinnock, NeilPavitt, LaurieWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Lambie, DavidPerry, Ernest G.Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, Ladywood)
Lamborn, HarryPrentice, Rt. Hn. RegWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lamond, JamesPrice, Christopher (Lewisham, W.)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Latham, Arthur(CityofW'minsterP'ton)Price, William (Rugby)Watkins, David
Lawson, George (Motherwell & Wishaw)Radice, GllesWatt, Hamish
Leadbitter, TedReid, GeorgeWeitzman, David
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Richardson, Miss JoWellbeloved, James
Lever, Rt. Hn. HaroldRoberts, Albert (Normanton)White, James
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Whitehead, Phillip
Lipton, MarcusRobertson, John (Paisley)Whitlock, William
Loughlin, CharlesRoderick, Caerwyn E.Wigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)
Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Rodgers, George (Chorley)Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, W.)Rodgers, William (Teesside, St'ckton)Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
McCartney, HughRose, Paul B.Williams, Alan Lee (Hvrng, Hchurch)
MacCormack, IainRoss, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
MacFarquhar, RoderickRowlands, EdwardWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
McGuire, MichaelSandelson, NevilleWilson, Gordon (Dundee, E.)
Maclennan, RobertSedgemore, BryanWilson, William (Coventry, S.E.)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Selby, HarryWise, Mrs. Audrey
McNamara, KevinShaw, Arnold (Redbridge, Ilford, S.)Woodall, Alec
Madden, M. O. F.Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)Woof, Robert
Magee, BryanShore, Rt. Hn. Peter (S'pney & P'plar)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Mahon, SimonShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hamp'n, N.E.)Young, David (Bolton, E.)
Mallalieu, J. P. W.Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (L'sham,D'ford)
Marks, KennethSilkin, Rt. Hn. S.C.(S'hwark, Dulwich)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Marquand, DavidSillars, JamesMr. Thomas Cox and
Mason, Rt. Hn. RoySilverman, JuliusMr. Joseph Harper.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr David Watkins Mr David Watkins , Consett

I beg to move Amendment No. 20, in page 3, line 36 at end insert— '(7) It shall be the duty of every employer, where an accident has occurred, to facilitate access to his premises and plant by the legal and expert advisers of any safety representatives, safety committee or recognised trade unions (within the meaning of the regulations) of his employees for inspection to obtain information required by them in connection with the accident'. The amendment places a statutory—[Interruption.] It places a statutory duty on employers to facilitate inspection—

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us are rather interested in hearing the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins).

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

There is always a little difficulty when a large number of hon. Members are leaving the Chamber. But I could hear the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins). Perhaps those hon. Members leaving the Chamber will do so quietly.

Photo of Mr David Watkins Mr David Watkins , Consett

The amendment would place a statutory duty on employers to facilitate inspections of their premises after accidents have occurred.

On Second Reading and in Committee I referred to an explosion which occurred last year at Tennent's Foundry, Coat-bridge, where three men were killed in appalling circumstances—in a flood of molten metal—and where there had been delay before inspection of the premises took place. Indeed, there were three weeks of discussions between representatives of the insurers, Eagle Star Insurance Group, and representatives of the dependants of those who had been killed and injured before agreement was reached on an inspection.

The insurance company took exception to having that case quoted by me. Subsequently, at the request of the company, I met one of the directors and discussed the matter in detail with him. He claimed that there had been no delay. Indeed, he drew my attention to the fact that his company's efforts in accident prevention had been recognised this year by the award of the Sir George Earle Trophy, the premier award for industrial safety by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I willingly take this opportunity to add that to the record to supplement my previous remarks.

In the generality of cases there is a strong argument for speeding up investigations at the scenes of accidents—I emphasise that point—because witnesses will be available at the places where the accidents occurred. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve.

It can often be as long as two years before an inspection takes place. Amongst other matters, it means that witnesses' memories become blurred and they can more easily be discredited because of the lapse of time.

Some insurance companies acting for employers can and do obstruct inspections—in no illegal manner, I hasten to add—by the legal and technical representatives of injured parties. There are examples where, even when inspections have been arranged, objection is raised to photographs being taken.

My attention has been drawn only today to a case in the Midlands within the last few days where, an inspection having been agreed to, objection was taken by the representatives of the insurance company acting for the employers to photographs being taken on the ground that it was not within the terms of the agreement that had been reached for the inspection. In some instances objection has been taken to witnesses being interviewed. It is not unusual for it to be necessary to obtain a court order before an inspection can be made. All this seriously disadvantages claimants and ought not to be tolerated in this day and age.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not say that this matter is outside the scope of the Bill. If it were, the amendment would be out of order and would not have been selected for debate.

I hope also that I shall not be told that this is a matter for civil action between the contending parties. It certainly is in the present situation, and the question which arises in that setting is: what is the cause of contention?

10.45 p.m.

The facilities of inspections is a duty which can be placed upon employers. This would not only do away with the disadvantages about which I have spoken, but in many instances it would help to facilitate the rapid resolution of cases. Surely if an early inspection revealed that no case could be proceeded with, that would save everyone time and trouble in having protracted proceedings, which often lead to having an inspection.

When someone has been killed or injured in the course of his work, the main concern of those whose responsibility it is to compensate the injured party often seems to be rather to avoid paying out compensation. In a wider context, I suppose that this is an inevitable by product of a society which seems to be concerned more with money than with people. It is time that we came down on the side of people. My amendment seeks to do that. Accordingly, I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Merton Mitcham and Morden

I support the argument presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) in favour of the amendment. I have spent a large part of my professional life pursuing claims for damages for those who have been injured in the course of their work. I have found that the lack of a provision such as this has been an intense handicap to the successful pursuit of legitimate claims.

In cases of fatal accidents, it is usually very much more possible to obtain the sort of information that one requires, because there has to be an inquest and the Factory Inspector invariably carries out an investigation. But in cases of accidents resulting in something less than death, it is frequently almost impossible to obtain the necessary information until one has initially formulated a claim, pursued it with the insurance company, exhausted the potentiality of negotiations and, after a denial of liability, extracted from their insurance company an agreement to allow access to premises.

My firm is concerned with a number of such cases at present. In cases in which the injured man suffers from retrograde amnesia or is so severely injured that he does not know what happened, unless one can obtain information from other sources to formulate the claim and, where there are no witnesses, unless the trade union representatives or the injured man's legal advisers can visit the scene of the accident and examine equipment, and so on, it is impossible to formulate the claim at all or to get the claim on its feet.

We must consider the extent of the problem of industrial injuries. There were 709,000 in 1972. Approximately 10 per cent. of the persons involved recovered compensation, whereas there are considerable grounds for thinking that at least 50 per cent. are entitled to compensation as the law stands. Every step should be taken to ensure that those who are entitled to compensation receive it. The amendment would facilitate that object.

Although I feel that the present system of compensation is extremely unsatisfactory and inadequate, measures which will enable that machinery to work must be undertaken. This is an essential position, especially in regard to serious injuries. I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to accept the amendment.

Photo of Mr Ernle Money Mr Ernle Money , Ipswich

I strongly support what was said by other hon. Members about what has been an unsatisfactory aspect of the bringing of civil claims before the courts, particularly the point touched on by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins). His point carries great weight. The uncertainty of adducing evidence in so many claims is one which still provides an element of lottery in what should be a far more exact form of judging claims which may affect the life of an individual who has been injured, or his family.

In the long run the real future will lie with the Pearson Commission report and the sooner it is before the House and something is done about this matter the better. No one could have appeared in personal injury cases without realising the amount of evidence that can, with no intention of dishonesty, disappear within a very short period. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) spoke of retrospective amnesia, but there are so many cases of this sort where accident report books get lost, where the names of potential witnesses are lost because they have moved on to another firm, where plant is changed, and where a particularly unfair burden is placed on the plaintiff or his advisers because he cannot remember how the accident took place, on what plant it occurred, or what was the precise nature of the machinery with which he was dealing. I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

I found the wording of the amendment a little baffling. The wording by the legal and expert advisers of any safety representatives, safety committee or recognised trade unions … of his employers may need some tidying up. I do not know whether he would wish to deal with that matter now.

Photo of Mr David Watkins Mr David Watkins , Consett

I recognise the point the hon. Member is making about possible tidying up, but I am awaiting with interest what my hon. Friend the Minister will say before I comment.

Photo of Mr Ernle Money Mr Ernle Money , Ipswich

In broad terms the amendment will deal with many matters. It will produce far greater justice for the individual claimant, and it will produce something which is probably of great importance—a corpus of accident cases from which it will be possible to learn, rather than a series of precedents in the courts. For far too long the attitude in the courts has been merely to hand down a tradition of individual cases. Because of that the people on the shop floor have not been able to learn from the circumstances of an accident how to avoid something of the sort being repeated. I warmly welcome the amendment.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) has anticipated what I was going to say. I fully appreciate the point since his amendment and a similar one which he tabled in Standing Committee have highlighted a situation which is clearly indefensible. I hope that what has been said will come to the attention of every employer and every employer's legal insurance adviser.

However, the amendment is outside the purposes of the Bill. The Bill is concerned with preventing accidents and not with facilitating proceedings to obtain compensation once an accident has happened. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) drew our attention to the Pearson Commission. The findings of the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury will no doubt be highly relevant. This problem is better considered in that context.

The regulation we are proposing to make under Clause 2(4) or (6) for the appointment of workpeoples' safety representatives and for safety committees will empower safety committees and representatives to investigate the scene of an accident. I cannot give my hon. Friend much consolation, but I hope that he will draw some comfort from what I have said about these committees.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Merton Mitcham and Morden

Employers know if they are going to have to pay compensation in circumstances in which they are at fault and legally one may suffer because the causes of an accident will be found as a result of proper investigation. Employers at fault will have to pay for it.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

There is a lot of good sense in that but my hon. Friend would agree that it would be inappropriate for a Minister to say words from this Dispatch Box which might preempt or be prejudicial to the Royal Commission before it publishes its findings.

Photo of Mr Ernle Money Mr Ernle Money , Ipswich

This is a point of principle of some importance. Would the hon. Member not accept that one risk involved at this stage is that in far too many cases the lessons from accidents, if they are going to court, are not put into effect? The advantage of the amendment is that this information can be put on record at an early stage, and irrespective of its legal implications, so that information can stop accidents as well as being merely evidence to get damages for an individual.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I would ask the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends not to overlook the considerable widening of the provisions for obtaining information and particularly the way in which we are not only relieving the restriction on the Factory Inspectorate getting information but imposing additional obligations on inspectors to provide information. I am not saying that that meets the point in the Amendment but I have in mind what the hon. Member for Ipswich has said.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I had not intended to take part in this little debate but I listened to the Minister's speech and to the hon. Gentleman opposite who acted for one of my constituents in a case of this sort and to my hon. Friend, and it seems to me that they made out a powerful case.

I do not understand why something of this nature should not be put into the Bill. It is in order under the Bill. It may not be strictly in line with the rest of the Bill, but it covers important points. Why do we always have to be careful about these things? Why can we not be brave for once and put in something which hon. Members want? If there is a desire to have this in the Bill, could not the hon. Gentleman talk it over with his officials and come to an arrangement whereby it is put down in another place? In many respects that would meet the wishes of the House.

This is an important point. We have all come across such cases. They are often dealt with by hon. Gentlemen, and the hon. Member has made out the case. I would not, of course, press it tonight but I hope that it will be looked at again.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

If I may speak again, I am impressed by the intervention of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I have not had the opportunity to welcome him in his new incarnation. May I do so now? I hope that he will occupy that position for a long time—geographically, too.

The right hon. Gentleman has brought to bear the awesome authority of the Opposition Front Bench. I take it he is speaking for the Opposition in this. I hope that if we come forward with a form of words which meets what seems to be a universal desire, we shall have the support of the right hon. Gentleman and his party. I hope that I do not find myself again in the embarrassing position I did on the agricultural changes when I tried to meet the wishes of hon. Members and was clobbered by hon. Members. I hope hon. Members will be united in what I hope will be a grateful response on this.

If my hon. Friend will agree to withdraw his amendment, I undertake to see whether we can do something in another place. The House would not expect me to enter into a further commitment.

11.0 p.m.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will do something about the matter in another place or when the Bill returns to this House. As my hon. Friend is probably only too well aware, there is a similar provision in the mining industry under Section 123 of the Mines and Quarries Act. It is not exactly the same as the amendment, but it is very much along those lines. Therefore, my hon. Friend will perhaps do well to ask his advisers to look at Section 123—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I am familiar with it.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

I am sure that my hon. Friend is, as he comes from a part-mining constituency.

I hope that my hon. Friend will consider the section and, on the basis of what can be done in relation to factories and other places of employment, introduce an amendment that will fit the bill not merely to suit himself and the blandishments of Conservative Members but to fit as nearly as possible the amendment.

Photo of Mr David Watkins Mr David Watkins , Consett

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has made the important point that we are not talking about something that is unprecedented, that such inspections have been regular practice in the mining industry. We are seeking not to introduce something new but to extend that type of inspection into other areas.

This has been an extremely useful, if short, debate, by no means less useful in the way in which it has clearly moved my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) and the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) both indicated warm support, based on extensive legal experience, having represented people in cases. They very much supported my point about the necessity for early inspections.

I could not help noticing that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said precisely one of the things that I had said I hoped he would not say—that the amendment was outside the scope of the Bill. But his subsequent remarks indicated that he has taken the point that there is a feeling on both sides of the House that it should be brought within the scope of the Bill. The unexpected and very welcome intervention of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on the Opposition Front Bench obviously played an important part. I note in particular my hon. Friend's firm undertaking to examine the matter in another place. I shall be watching developments to see that that undertaking is carried out, as I have no doubt it will be.

In view of that undertaking, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.