asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many trade unions have made representations to him regarding the proposed delay in the implementation of the proposed health and safety regulations concerning safety representatives and committees; and how many and what percentage of such representations were protesting at such proposed delay.
As indicated in reply to Questions by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) on 6th and 13th December, I have received representations from numerous bodies and individuals about the proposed regulations on safety representatives and committees which have been published by the Health and Safety Commission. TUC representatives have told both the Prime Minister and me that they consider the Government's undertaking to make the regulations to be part of the social contract. Consideration is being given to the date for the introduction of these regulations.
In view of the sense of outrage felt not only in the TUC but in the CBI at the delay in implementing these regulations and at the number of lives which will be unnecessarily lost as a result of non-implementation, will my right hon. Friend say that the Government will introduce these regulations as soon as possible? In the meantime, will he advise industry in the strongest possible terms to comply with the regulations even before they become law and subject to sanctions of the criminal law?
I undertake to introduce the regulations as soon as possible. I very much hope that that will be taken as an indication that anybody who is not operating safety practices in areas where workers are at risk should comply with the main recommendations of the Health and Safety Commission as soon as possible. The reasons for the delay relate to financial considerations that arise where regulations have not previously applied, but that should not be taken to indicate that the Government wish anything other than the greatest urgency to be attached to adopting the best safety practices.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that, whatever the CBI says, in practice many employers are completely unwilling to operate these regulations until they are forced to do so by law, and that many employers cast doubt on whether the regulations will 'ever have the force of law? Will he rephrase his answer from "as soon as possible" to "without further delay", because delay in this respect is wasteful and expensive in terms both of human misery and of cost?
It is not often that I rush to the Dispatch Box to defend the CBI, but on this occasion its representatives on the Health and Safety Commission have fully backed the Commission's recommendations. If there are any employers who are members of the Confederation and who are not prepared to operate the regulations in advance of provision being made, they are not meeting the spirit and intention of the matter as expressed by their national representatives. As for any loss in terms of human life or health, employers must take account of that factor as well as of any costs involved in operating the regulations. All the evidence that is before us is that the cost of operating the regulations will be small compared with the cost of industrial injury with which many employers are now faced.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the main recommendations made to him urge him to defer the introduction of these regulations and that they come not from people in industry but from the local authorities?
Will the Minister confirm that the voluntary establishment of safety committees is proceeding apace? I hope that he will encourage that activity. Will he also confirm that the estimates made by local authorities of the cost of implementing these proposals seem extraordinarily high, and that the implementation of safety committees should be brought about without a vast increase in costs and staff?
I agree with that suggestion. I confirm that estimates which have been made appear to be high. A number of employers are implementing the regulations in advance of the statutory requirements. I hope that that development will proceed apace.