I beg to move,
That this House, noting the operation of arrangements to secure the health and safety of workers, congratulates the Health and Safety Commission and Executive on the part they have played in improving standards of safety; and notes with approval the determination of the Government to maintain this improvement.
Such are the strangenesses of fate, luck and fortune that in 23½ years in this House I have drawn a usable place but once in the ballot for private Members' Bills. If my memory is correct, this is only the third time that I shall have moved a private Members' motion.
There was a great temptation on receiving this news, with joy, to pick an old hobby horse and favourite on a controversial subject, headline-catching for the press and attractive to the television boys and all the others, and to ride it around the Chamber, but I decided, as this is probably the last time in my parliamentary career that I shall be so fortunate in the ballot, that it might be better to choose a non-controversial subject which might have the support of both sides of the House. In that way I hope to leave this place with happy memories, particularly of those of my friends in the Whips Office who no doubt would have been much more worried had I chosen another subject. I chose health and safety at work because it is a matter of great importance, which has been debated insufficiently in the House in recent years.
Every member of the work force is to some extent at risk from accidents and injury at work. The extent of this risk varies greatly between occupations and between industries. In general, manual workers are more at risk than non-manual workers, and certain industries, in particular agriculture, mining and construction, have worse records than the average. In 1981 there were 447 fatal accidents in British industry and more than 400,000 injuries from all reported accidents at work. Those figures cannot be accepted with complacency, however much they may have improved.
My motion seeks to do three things. First, it notes the operation of current arrangements to secure health and safety at work. These arrangements are largely embodied in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which set up the Health and Safety Commission and Executive. Since it became law, the House has had no opportunity other than in Adjournment debates to discuss the working of these arrangements in general terms, although we have debated specific health and safety issues. I am particularly pleased, therefore, to provide the opportunity for such a debate. I am glad to see a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House and I hope that we shall hear from them if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Secondly, the motion congratulates the Health and Safety Commission and Executive on the part that they have played in improving standards. Of course, others have played a part, most notably employers and employees themselves. A special mention should be made of the commission, which, consisting of three members nominated by the TUC, three members nominated by the CBI and two by local authority associations, with an independent chairman, has been an interesting and successful experiment in fostering a joint approach to the solution of workplace problems. I also wish, in the 1.50th year of the factory inspectorate, to pay tribute to the work of the Health and Safety Executive of which it is a part. The evidence of the improvement in the standards of health and safety in Britain comes clearly from statistics of declining accident rates and fatalities.
Thirdly, the motion congratulates the Government who, while sticking to their determination to reduce the size of the public sector, have protected the Health and Safety Executive and have increased in real terms the total resources available to it, even though staffing has fallen. The most recent statistics produced by the Health and Safety Executive show that in 1981 there were 447 fatal accidents to employees in British industry. Although comparisons with earlier years are problematical, the executive concluded that this was a welcome reduction on the 488 fatalities in the previous year.
In the 1960s, it was usual to find over 1,000 fatal accidents every year. It was concern over this loss of life that led to the establishment of the Robens committee, the report on the subject in 1970 and thus the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. The report is very much based on the Robens report. One aspect of this philosophy, clearly stated in the report and in the Act, is that the responsibility for health and safety at work should primarily be that of employers and employees, or, as the Robens report says,
those who create the risks and those who work with them".
This is well explained in paragraph 452 of the report:
We need a more self-regulating system of provision for safety and health at work. The traditional approach based on ever increasing detailed statutory regulation is outdated, over-complex and inadequate. Reform should be aimed at creating the conditions for more effective self-regulation by employers and workpeople jointly.
It is important to note that the primary responsibility rests with the employers and workpeople themselves, not with the Government or anyone else. Employers rightly look to the Health and Safely Commission and Executive for advice on standards. The public looks to the executive for enforcement action to ensure that employers are meeting their obligations. It should not be the job of those enforcing health and safety legislation to intervene themselves in every aspect of the way work is organised, but it should be their job to ensure that the employer meets his obligations.
When some Opposition Members have complained in the past of reductions in the staffing of the various inspectorates—although I understand that, in terms of expenditure, there has been no cut—they should reflect on the fact that inspectors are there to monitor a system of self-regulation and not to take on responsibilities that rest with employers. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act was introduced under a Conservative Government and eventually passed by a Labour Government, which I hope shows bipartisan support for it and also for what I have to say today. The establishment of the commission created a forum for unions and employers to consider jointly safety matters while various diverse enforcement bodies were merged into the executive.
It is worth noting that our membership of the European Community has been beneficial in the sphere of health and safety. We have been able to take forward action on many subjects, confident in the knowledge that our trading partners in Europe are taking similar action and that no unfair trading advantage is secured by letting standards of health and safety slip. We must continue to try to ensure, through our membership of international bodies, that this situation is worldwide.
One beneficial aspect of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act has been the encouragement of safety committees. I know that there has been a revival of joint consultation in British industry in recent years. Having safety committees where management and employees discuss safety matters and try to resolve them jointly has helped in the objective of developing employee participation at work.
I have emphasised the responsibilities of employers and the role of safety committees because many improvements can be secured by developing voluntary arrangements and consultation at local level. I should like to say a special word about noise. This will please the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) who has a later motion on the Order Paper. It occurs to me that he may not know whether he should speak in this debate on my motion or wait in the hope that his will be reached. I hope that, in any event, the House will hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say because his motion is concerned with many of the issues contained in mine.
I believe, like the right hon. Member for Doncaster, that occupational deafness is a potentially serious problem and that it could be avoided if people took it more seriously. Many factories that one visits have a high level of noise, yet people do not always wear the hearing protectors provided. About 500,000 people are exposed to potentially damaging levels of noise at work. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will feel able to comment on this aspect of the subject.
I wrote last year to the Minister on the subject of escalator safety, following an accident to a child of one of my constituents. I recognise that accidents on escalators are rare when one considers the millions of people who use them. However, small children are particularly vulnerable and such accidents can be horrific. This is a subject of great importance and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say what action is being taken.
The whole subject is most important but it is one on which Britain has a good record. Indeed, the available statistics suggest that we have a better record in manufacturing industry than other European countries such as France and Germany. We have a sensible system for the organisation of health and safety. I hope that my hon. Friend can firmly reassure the House that the stories run from time to time in the health and safety press and elsewhere suggesting that the Government plan to change the present arrangements are without foundation.
I have spoken briefly because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. This does not mean that I do not think that the subject is most important. It is because the subject is important that I have chosen this debate today. I hope to have the support of both sides of the House for the motion.
I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) on his selection of this subject for debate today. I am, however, a little critical of the terms of the motion. It seems to me to be complacent, in the sense that while the Health and Safety Commission, the factory inspectorate and others are to be congratulated on their work, there seems to be a big gap between the problem itself and the achievements that have been made. It is extraordinary when one considers the information that is available. The 1982 report of the Health and Safety Commission is based on figures from 1980. In these days of computers and mass communication of information we should be able to do better than that. It should be possible to have more up-to-date figures.
I accept the ethos of the view of the hon. Member for St. Albans that we should encourage employers, employees and all those concerned with an enterprise to carry out their own monitoring. I wish to address my remarks to two industries which might be called notorious for their dangers. They are the furniture and construction industries. As the House knows, I have had a specific interest in the furniture industry. I was much involved in updating the woodcutting machinery regulations, in an attempt to improve the standard of safety in the workplace.
One part of the regulations that caused me great concern at the time, and still does, relates to dust extraction. The extraction of wood dust and chips has always been a major problem, principally because of the difficulty of providing adequate equipment that can be fitted to the machine without creating operational problems at the point where the dust is emitted. The rate of extraction has to be high to make sure that dust does not go all over the place. As a result, problems are caused for operators. Air is drawn from the atmosphere, past the back of the operator and into the extract plant. This can cause back troubles for the operator, who finds that he suffers from lumbago because of the draught passing his body.
It is not an easy problem. I never thought that it was. On the other hand, insufficient work, in my view, is being done to combat the danger of dust in woodworking shops. Over the past year I have tried to focus attention on this problem. As the House knows, nasal cancer is now scheduled as an industrial disease. The right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) did a great deal during his time in office to try to ensure Government help, and I know that the present Government are also doing their best to make sure that this disease is combated.
Over the past few months I have been trying to get an idea of how much the Health and Safety Commission has addressed itself to this issue. It is sad that it does not seem to be particularly dynamic about it. I have questioned the figures and tried to find out what improvements there have been. I raised the matter in the House a long time ago. As a result, Mrs. Castle, who was the then Secretary of State, grasped the problem in a first-class way and decided to schedule nasal cancer as an industrial disease. I pay great tribute to her and to the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), who was the then Minister of State. They brought about the inquiry by Oxford doctors, which was based at High Wycombe. As a result, evidence was obtained that for woodworkers there was a greater risk of nasal cancer than for any other workers and therefore the disease was scheduled.
In the past few months I have been trying to ascertain how much we have moved forward since those days. I pay tribute to Mr. Simpson, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission. However, I am disappointed with the complacent answers that I have received, which have culminated in my being told that there will be another study based on the same five factories in High Wycombe so that there can be a comparison with the first inquiry.
Why do we have to wait so long? It was possible to monitor before. I was told before that everything was all right and that I had no reason to be worried. I asked why I had no reason to be worried and I was told that the problem was not so great now. Therefore, I asked what available evidence there was. I was told that there was no real evidence, but that the conclusions were based on the fact that much work had been done and that the risks must be less. I said that that did not follow. I was told how experienced the inspector was and that he knows about these things. I said, "But that is not quantifiable. I want some basic data." Finally, I was told about a week ago that a new study was being set up, so we shall be better able to judge whether there has been an improvement.
I am thankful that the study will be carried out, but it will take two years. In the meanwhile, nothing is being done to obtain evidence of whether there has been any advance. Therefore, there will be 14 or 15 years between the time when we scheduled the disease, having proved that it was necessary to do so, and the time when we make the first assessment of whether our decision was right and what advance has been made in the meantime. My complaint is that we should not have taken that long.
Nasal cancer is a dreadful disease. The tragedy is that it does not come out for some years. Therefore, someone who may think that he is well finds that he is in difficulties only later in life, often when he has left the industry. He might have been made redundant and had to find another job. I hope that the commission will show a much more dynamic attitude than before. Nasal cancer is still a scourge. It will always be as long as workers are breathing in that fine dust.
The hon. Member for St. Albans said that this was a matter for the employees. I have heard that so often. It is partly true. Each and every one of us has his responsibility to help in this problem. I refer to the furniture industry. The hon. Gentleman referred to ear muffs. One of the skills of furniture workers working on woodcutting machines is to hear the machine. The worker has a sixth sense and can tell when things are going right and when things are wrong. He can immediately take effective action if there is a change in the noise of the machine. He knows exactly what to do. He is a skilled worker. However, if one puts ear muffs on the worker, or plugs in his ears, he cannot hear the noise of the machine. Therefore, one has taken away a major part of his safety because he cannot hear the change of noise to warn him that something is going wrong.
It is simple to say that we should put ear muffs on the worker, but it is not as easy as that. We had much discussion with the inspector at the inquiry about that point. His argument was that part (a) of the relevant clause in the regulations says that machines shall be noiseless. However, as always in legislation, there is a part (b) of the clause which says that until that happens we shall have ear muffs. My criticism of the commission is that little or nothing has been done to implement part (a) and get the machines put right. We have relied almost entirely on part (b).
It is not right to criticise employees who feel that they cannot wear ear muffs. It is not comfortable either to work all day and every day in a confined space wearing a face mask. Cabinet makers have to bend down and put their heads in confined spaces when they are working. One's mouth is covered up the whole time. It is not a happy situation. One may say to people that they should wear face-masks, but if one spends eight hours a day in that environment that is not easy. Therefore, we should not say that they are not contributing much towards their safety. There are difficulties.
The argument that I have put to the commission from time to time is that very little investigatory work is being done. However, every reply that I receive tells me that it is a matter of resources. The commission says that ! cannot expect it to do all that work if it has an insufficient inspectorate. It is all very well to say that all Governments have provided resources, but they have been insufficient. It is a matter of judgment whether the problems in industry of deaths, injuries and all that flows from them are of a sufficient priority to have an advantage in resources.
The hon. Gentleman is partly right when he says that the inspectors are not there to do anything more than monitor. However, they have a bigger role. They are there to make sure that people abide by the law and to encourage employers and employees to do so. They are there to take effective action if they see something wrong that is not covered by the law. Therefore, they have a bigger role than just monitoring. It is a dynamic role. They cannot do that if they are not given all the necessary resources, particularly for manpower.
I do not accept the implication of the motion that all is well, although a little more needs to be done, but we are fairly happy. I am not happy. I am also not happy with the Government's response. I am not being pernickety. I simply wish to make that point. I have made it over many years.
The construction industry is a dangerous industry too. I tried to obtain the latest statistics. The Health and Safety Executive figures for 1980 were published in December 1982. According to them, there were 165 fatal accidents in 1980. In 1979 there were 149 fatalities, and in 1978, 153. The figure went up and down, but we cannot placent about so many deaths. Although we are trying to solve that problem, we do not seem to be successful. In 1971 there were 201 deaths. Therefore, from 1971 to 1980 the number of deaths has been reduced from 201 to 165. That is hardly a dynamic reduction. We should examine the problem much more urgently. Moreover, the industry has suffered from severe unemployment. Its activities have been reduced, so one would expect fewer deaths.
Nevertheless, I pay great tribute to the industry, as it has tried to improve site conditions to reduce the accident rate. I especially commend the Federation of Master Builders, to which I have talked recently to find out what it is doing. It is monitoring the problem all the time and is currently engaged in producing a model safety policy. It is good to see that the federation is attempting to provide the type of guide for its members which I should have hoped the Government would provide.
The hon. Member for St. Albans said that such measures should not be left to the Government but should be carried out by the industry. Here is an example of an industry that is trying to produce a code of practice. The federation is approaching the problem quite aggressively. It has had the full support of the factory inspectorate. Indeed, I was interested to see that a principal factory inspector was present at one of the federation's meetings at which he discussed the problems as he saw them and suggested possible solutions. The inspector's suggestions for the model safety policy were good. That demonstrates the importance of the relationship and co-operation that can take place between the authorities and the industry. I hope that the campaign for Site Safe 1983 will be successful and that builders will play their part by accepting the federation's guidelines.
Scaffolding is related to the construction industry. In my constituency, a scaffolding firm called Grayson Scaffolding Ltd. was employed by the Greater London council to enable work on private housing to be carried out. That firm erected scaffolding on the roof of some housing. When a tenant, Mrs. Stubbs, went into her house, she had to protect herself from a falling scaffolding pole that was about to strike her head. She is only a small lady and 68 years old. She put up her arm to protect herself—if she had not she would have been killed—and her arm was seriously broken.
Mrs. Stubbs has had a dreadful time. She was in plaster for weeks and, because of her age, the bone would not knit. Now that the plaster has been taken off she has found that she has a deformed arm which has only restricted use. I knew her before the accident. She was a dynamic lady who worked as a home help and was always busy helping neighbours and nursing people before they could get home helps. She is a magnificent little lady. Now she cannot use her hand, take her dog for a walk, do the decorating or even pick up a saucepan, simply because of a scaffolding pole which ought not to have been allowed to fall.
I tell the story only because we are involved in an enormous problem. Two years have passed since that incident, but the scaffolding firm has got out from under and merely handed the case over to its insurance company. We are now dealing with the insurance company, which has just one objective—to pay as little as possible. Poor Mrs. Stubbs is now being made to go to hospitals so that they can make reports on how bad the accident was and whether the injury is as bad as she thinks it is. The implication is that because she is getting a little older we are all likely to overstate her case. It is unbelievable that a previously perfectly happy and healthy woman is now suddenly under pressure to prove that she is not trying to get more money out of the insurance company than she deserves. It is extraordinary, because the scaffolding firm is not involved at all.
I have to represent my constituent and argue with everyone. She now needs legal aid and it is a heck of a job proving that she has a case against the scaffolding firm and deserves legal aid. There is no dispute about responsibility; the dispute is about how much the poor woman should have in compensation for her accident. It is extremely difficult to understand how a firm can climb out from under while my constituent is in an appalling state. Presumably if the case is not settled out of court it will go to court. Judges are notorious for their anxiety about not awarding too substantial costs in such cases. My constituent has suffered through no fault of her own. Indeed, the scaffolding firm is entirely responsible, but my constituent is suffering and will continue to suffer for the rest of her life, as she now has arthritis which causes further problems.
I am most interested in the hon. Gentleman's point, because the Select Committee on Employment is considering whether to examine the safety of scaffolding. Perhaps he will go a little further. I am interested to know whether he is suggesting that the logical conclusion of what he has said is that, to avoid insurance companies, the courts and, as he puts it, the scaffolding firm getting out from underneath the problem, there should be some form of fixed compensation. How would he alter the means of settlement for such a case?
I merely want to stop the scaffolding falling in the first place. If the scaffolding firm had not allowed the scaffolding pole to fall, this case would not have arisen. I was merely pointing out how my constituent has suffered. I should like to know why the inspectorate was not involved and why it did not visit the firm on site to ascertain whether it was putting up the scaffolding properly and whether all the appropriate notices were there. In fact, they were not, but it is up to the inspectorate to find that out. The inspectorate should see whether there is any reason for it to take action. When one asks the inspectorate, it says that it does not have sufficient manpower to carry out such inspections and that it is impossible to chase round checking on all the individual cases.
I hope that the Select Committee on Employment, of which the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) is a distinguished member, will examine the safety of scaffolding. The example that I have given is by no means isolated, but it demonstrates the fact that when an accident occurs it appears that nothing else can be done.
As the hon. Gentleman said, we end up asking ourselves how we pay compensation. That is not the real issue. The real point is how we make sure that such small firms do not allow accidents to occur. As I said, Mrs. Stubbs would have been killed if she had not put up her arm. If a lady with a baby in her arms had been going into the building at that time, she would have been killed. There can be no doubt about that.
The problem is serious enough for the factory inspectorate to do something about it. The GLC must have some responsibility, because it employed the contractor. It must wish to know whether the firms on its books are satisfactory. How can it know that the same firm will not have a similar problem somewhere else, or perhaps an even more serious one because someone has been killed? Although Mrs. Stubbs has suffered badly, society, in the form of the Government, the Health and Safety Commission and the inspectorate have no knowledge of the matter. What effective steps does the Minister believe should be taken to protect us in future?
I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for St. Albans. It is all very well to be critical of some matters, as I have, but in the end safety in the workplace can be achieved only if we have harmonious relations between employer and employee. They, together with the inspectorate, must try to find solutions to these difficult problems. Each must ask, "What can we do to improve safety in the workplace?" The Minister, too, must play his part. It is no good saying, as he might, "In real terms we have maintained the inspectorate." He and I know that the inspectorate has insufficient resources and that more inspectors are needed desperately. I urge him to review the position and to come to the conclusion that his Department should provide more inspectors.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) on introducing this debate. Fridays are well used if we debate such a subject that is not well known but is an important strand in good industrial relations. I pay tribute to the work of the Health and Safety Commission and the inspectorate.
Few of those who have not had the opportunity to visit factories in different sectors of industry—cotton mills, coal mines, construction sites and power stations—appreciate the conditions in which people were asked to work in the past. My first visit to a cotton mill, which was quite recent, was a real shock. The noise and dust were tremendous, although I have become familiar with both because of my interest in coal mining. In the past, we have asked people to work in difficult conditions with much noise, dust and danger. It does us all good to reflect that the nice crisp cotton shirt, the good fire in the hearth, the warm house, the decent meal, the car at the end of the drive—or, from what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said, the house itself and the furniture in it—are often products of dangerous processes. It is a tribute to modern society that our legislation has recently come to terms with the fact.
However, as my hon. Friend's figures show, there is no room for complacency. We must move forward. Those of us who have visited industrial installations know that one is automatically provided with a helmet. In a factory that uses lathes, one is given safety spectacles and at a nuclear power station one is given all the protective clothing that one needs, and is tested when one leaves.
It is sad that, matters having progressed this far, some of the provisions appear to be ignored. Sometimes workers under pressure, perhaps trying to reach productivity levels, ignore safety provisions. As one who travelled recently for 13 hours in a Hercules aircraft, noise is very much on my mind. I hope that I shall not be accused of levity if I say that selective occupational deafnesss is a hazard for all hon. Members, because occupational deafness generally is a serious disease.
I wonder whether succeeding generations have a higher tolerance of noise because of what they are accustomed to in their daily lives. Their ears may suffer as much, but their mental processes may not. At discos, which some of us still visit, there is much noise, and one wonders whether that influences attitudes at the place of work.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has tried to draw attention to the need for proper protection against occupational deafness, not in the provision of protectors but in the wearing of them. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said that the two matters often conflict. The campaign is important because this is a matter that is often left until too late, and it is not until the damage is done and one has contracted occupational deafness that one realises that it could have been prevented.
Perhaps one reason why people do not wear the equipment provided is that they are not consulted about its design, comfort or effectiveness. As part of the campaign to get people to wear such devices, the Minister should sponsor, through his Department, participation in the design of the equipment. If it is too heavy or bulky, that can be worked out from the start. If such items of equipment are provided for by statute, employers tend to buy them by the thousand and distribute them, but they never find out why they are not worn. They may believe it to be sheer bloody-mindedness, but the real answer might be different.
However, the main thrust of my speech is about the mining industry, because I represent a mining area and I come from Nottinghamshire. I am always conscious of the importance of safety in mines. The price of safety is eternal vigilance, and many lessons have been learnt from the disastrous consequences when that vigilance falters. Some years ago I examined the total of deaths in the mining industry since records were kept. At more than 300,000 it was a figure the size of the population of a small town. That is a salutary thought. However, it is encouraging that, because of modern standards, 1981 provided the lowest recorded total of coal mining fatalities since records have been kept. I know that 35 is still far too high, but it shows that the trend is in the right direction.
The problem becomes more difficult as mining continues in some of the older Victorian pits. Maintenance and safety are harder to achieve the further the face moves from the bottom of the shaft. Recent experience has shown that some of the equipment needed cannot handle some of the worst seams. It is easier when starting afresh at the new pits in Selby or Belvoir to introduce the necessary standards. The mines and quarries inspectorate is the key to safety in the mines. It is a small but important body of men.
I declare an interest because a member of my family has been a mines inspector since the 1950s. I have followed him around the country from Nottinghamshire to Lancashire, to south Wales and to Leicestershire, and he is now in the London inspectorate. Through his eyes and through his career I have seen different pits in different areas. The inspectorate has been going through a critical period recently by losing manpower and not being able to recruit people of the necessary ability to handle the job.
I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the difficulty and responded with a special pay increase that should help to maintain the existing level of mines inspectors and improve recruitment. Inspectors are the key factor to safety in the mines. They must be men with wide industrial experience within the coal industry. They must possess the special quality of holding the trust and confidence of both the miners and the management in the desire for constant vigilance. When a disaster such as that at Creswell colliery occurs, it is too late. The House must ensure that standards are maintained in this important industry.
Those of us who have lived in mining communities appreciate what an insidious killer pneumoconiosis is.
Communities that have no experience of the disease can have no feelings for a man wheezing up a hill, unable to get out of his house until he has got through part of the day to get his lungs working sufficiently, unable to go down the garden or climb the stairs in his home. Pneumoconiosis is a relic of the past. Improved conditions may prevent people catching that disease. There is a history of pneumoconiotics having to claim benefits and retire early because of the disease.
The Government carried forward an extension of the pneumoconiosis legislation to the slate industry. Although the extension was welcomed, difficulties were revealed in that type of chest complaint. The Government should now work in the direction of dealing with asbestosis and related diseases. The Select Committee on Employment is considering examining asbestosis. Perhaps it has already taken on that responsibility. If that is so, I welcome it.
People have only relatively recently become conscious of asbestosis. Related deaths through the years 1968 to 1980 showed a gradual increase in numbers. In 1980 more than 600 deaths were related to asbestosis and mesothelioma. When I deal with constituency cases, I find that the responsibility is divided between Government Departments. The Health and Safety Executive has recently tightened its standards. I welcome that. The Department of the Environment handles standards in the environment, and the Department of Health and Social Security deals with the medical panels and the way in which injury is assessed and benefits paid.
Following the report by the Select Committee on Employment, will the Department of Employment act as the sponsoring Department to pull together all the threads and cover the whole ground in a meaningful way? I am disappointed and concerned when I examine constituency cases of claims and see the hoop through which people are put who are suffering from this dreadful disease. I find it unbelievable when men are told, "I am sorry but we cannot diagnose your disease accurately now, but when you are dead we shall be able to establish whether you were suffering from the disease and then your family might be compensated."
The growing awareness of asbestosis means that the issue must be taken by the horns when we consider the pain that it causes people. In my constituency a unique survey was carried out by Mr. Stephen Jones, a pathologist at the city hospital. He traced all the 330 employees of a factory in the constituency that used asbestos to make gas masks during the war. It was a controlled experiment. As a pathologist, he was able to examine all their health records and produce figures to show conclusively that they all have suffered as a result of asbestos.
The employer was not at fault. He did everything required by law and by the health and safety requirements. That proved beyond doubt that working with asbestos caused this industrial disease. The Government must examine this area following the work carried out with pneumoconiosis in the slate mines.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the hon. Member for St. Albans. Friday gives hon. Members a good opportunity to discuss these issues in a more tranquil and less partisan way that is possible on Mondays to Thursdays. Hon. Members can bring to the attention of the House and to the respective Departments those areas of health and safety that are of concern.
I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) on introducing the debate. It is important to debate health and safety. It is lamentable that the Government have not provided time. I am grateful to him for using this opportunity to do so. Between 1974 and 1979 the Government did not provide any time to debate the issue, apart from our debates on the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. I was a member of the Standing Committee on that legislation.
Health and safety at work was previously discussed on 29 July in a Consolidated Fund debate which I initiated. As with these debates, Consolidated Fund debates are not well attended. They tend not to be well reported, although health and safety at work is an important topic.
The Government introduced the Employment Acts 1980 and 1982 because of their obsessive concern with the trade union movement. The trade union movement is the main forum whereby concern and agitation can be expressed for improvements in standards of safety at work.
The hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) spoke about asbestos. The Transport and General Workers Union and the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union have been doing a great deal of work on the effects of asbestos. The legislation that the Government introduced in 1982 was designed to bankrupt the trade unions under certain conditions through claims for damages. Health and safety at work is not the cosy consensus subject that some people might imagine.
Another extraordinary factor of the Government's legislation is their obsession with attacking the trade union movement while overlooking the fact that in most years—1979 was an exceptional year—the country loses more days through industrial injury than through industrial disputes. The figures are not complete. However, in 1976, 3 million days were lost through industrial disputes, but 15 million were lost through industrial injury. In 1977, the respective figures were 10 million and 15·7 million. In 1979, the position was different, when the massive number of 29 million days were lost through industrial disputes, with only 13 million through industrial injury.
However, in succeeding years—assuming that the level of working days lost through industrial injury is fairly constant, which it appears to be—in 1980, 11 million days were lost through dispute and in 1981 4 million days. Many more days have been lost through industrial injury than through strike action. Why have not the Government introduced tighter legislation to deal with the number of days lost through industrial injury? They have been slow to introduce legislation in certain areas.
If health and safety at work is so important, why does the legislation not apply to royal places, including the Palace of Westminster? When we debate the Civil List, those who resent any scrutiny or criticism of it claim that a great deal of that money is paid to employees. I agree. Therefore, a great number of employees in the palaces should be covered by the legislation.
Everything in the House appears straightforward on the surface, but open the oak panels and we find a huge network of pipes, boilers and central heating systems. Thousands of people are employed in the House who are not covered by the health and safety legislation. It would be simple to ensure that they were. In general, I am sure that the standards laid down by the health and safety legislation are applied. I am not claiming that there are great gaps. But if legislation is applied generally and, so say its supporters, is satisfactory, there should be no exemptions.
That may be the case, but standards vary. I will not relate my personal experiences, but I believe it to be right and reasonable for the factory inspectorate to have the same duties in the Palace that it has elsewhere. I am sure that the Serjeant at Arms' Department carries out its duties—it may even turn to the factory inspectorate for advice—but, for example, the imposition of prohibition and improvement notices by the factory inspectorate could keep people on their toes.
I want to talk about the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety' Executive, which have received fulsome praise. I have always regarded the system as unnecessarily bureaucratic and cumbersome. The commission is equally balanced between employers and employees. No doubt everyone taking a consensus view will say that that is marvellous. In fact, it means that, because both sides have differing interests, many of the proposals being considered are stopped because a meaningful compromise cannot be achieved.
Legislation is urgently' needed in a number of areas. The first should cover the lifting of heavy weights. Existing legislation is absurd. It is ridiculous and untenable that an agricultural worker is allowed to lift up to 170 lbs, while a textile worker can lift up to only 120 lbs. There is nothing in the development of the human species to suggest that agricultural workers have an inbuilt ability to lift heavier weights than workers in other areas.
There has been delay in producing the necessary legislation because of the structure of the Health and Safety Commission. The executive has not pushed it hard enough. I have constantly raised the matter during the past seven years, and introduced two ten-minute Bills. In 1976 the chairman of the commission promised me that rules to guide inspectors would be introduced by December of that year. Consultation followed consultation, and year followed year—and we still do not have legislation more accurately to control the lifting of heavy weights. Existing legislation makes no differentiation between human beings because of age. Yet, by and large, as people become older their ability to lift heavy weights becomes less.
A good consultative document has been issued which points to the need for legislation. The position has been known for many years. The introduction to the document states:
The number of accidents associated with manual lifting and handling has been a matter of concern to responsible bodies for a period of many years. There has been a dramatic increase in the past twenty' years of reported injuries from manual handling in premises subject to the Factories Act 1961 from 40,000 to more than 70,000 per year. Hence the necessity for a new approach to manual handling.
The document also contains draft regulations. Action should have been taken before now.
The Back Pain Association has produced figures to show that several million people suffer from back injury each year. Because they do not take time off work, theirs is not a notifiable injury.
I promoted my two ten-minute Bills four years apart, but nothing was done during that time. I suggested that there should be an overall maximum limit of 112 lbs. It was a simple suggestion in anticipation of a more sophisticated approach, but nothing was done. It is all very well taking the cosy consensus view that everyone is getting on terribly well and that it is a decent area to occupy our time and attention. But people are going home with back injuries and, because of existing legislation, they cannot claim compensation. If they apply to a court, the judge will say that there has been no breach of statutory duty. Opportunities to obtain compensation are limited. Year after year hon. Members have said that something should be done.
In 1976, the Labour Government set up the Simpson committee, which spent three years examining the problems of working with asbestos. The committee's report landed on the desk of the new Conservative Government. They set to work to produce draconian legislation attacking the trade unions. They did not do anything about the 41 recommendations on asbestos. Yet people talk of health and safety at work being a consensus view.
People are suffering from the effects of asbestos. Had the Government been concerned, they would have taken action earlier. The Health and Safety Commission and Executive suddenly became frantic because Yorkshire Television producers showed a documentary called "Alice, Fight for Life". If that television documentary had been put on last week the House and the Press Gallery would have been full because, all of a sudden, health and safety at work became a matter of national importance.
The programme demonstrated the suffering caused to ordinary men and women as a consequence of going to work and doing a job. Alice made the point, "I just 'went to work. I did not expect this." She said that during her last dying days. Did the company which employed her pay her money as a result of her injury from asbestos? Not at all. It forced her to drag her weary and, as it turned out, dying body to court to get decent compensation of about £29,000 after it had offered her £13,000. We do not have the cosy arrangements that people sometimes imagine.
The documentary of course showed the worst aspects of such cases. However, we must always bear in mind the worst aspects. They are the penalties that are inflicted upon people who simply go to work and are injured because existing standards of health and safety are not good enough.
People talk about the cost of improvement. I believe that if health and safety at work standards are improved, the cost advantages are enormous. There are no injuries, so there are no disputes. The firm does not lose any time briefing lawyers or having people going round taking photographs. The standard of industrial relations is improved because workers see that care is being taken. The cost advantages in pure economic terms are enormous. The advantages in human terms are equally enormous because mutual trust is built between employer and employee.
The Government have been singularly lax in not doing anything about the 41 recommendations of the Simpson committee. They have not even put all the information about asbestos in one document, which was one of the recommendations, quite apart from the more sophisticated and complicated recommendations about sampling, one or two of which, it is true, the Government have been considering introducing.
I put down a question in December which asked
the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the monitoring and evaluation carried out by the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances of the Health and Safety Commission on research into establishing and monitoring control on asbestos.
The answer was given on 14 December. It said:
Research into substitutes monitoring methods and exposure to asbestos in the non-occupational environment has been commissioned and will be evaluated as results become available.
The commission has asked Sir Richard Doll, an internationally recognised expert in epidemiology, to undertake a detailed review of all the medical evidence to date on the health effects of asbestos. In addition, it has asked the deputy director general of the Health and Safety Executive, Dr. Duncan, to bring together a group of medical experts to consider whether there have been any substantial changes to medical knowledge since the final report of the Advisory Committee on Asbestos. The results of these reviews will assist the commission in determining whether any new controls are necessary."—[Official Report, 14 December 1982; Vol. 34, c. 89.]
There has been a great deal of reviewing, reexamination and setting up of working parties as a result of the Yorkshire Television documentary. That is good. However, the Government should have taken more rapid action to carry out the 41 recommendations. Those recommendations are not regarded by the General and Municipal Workers Union as radical enough. It is not as if they are enormously sweeping. The recommendations are subject to criticism.
When that question was answered I received a letter pointing out that, in a book by Alan Dalton, Sir Richard Doll has been criticised because he produced some work which suggested that the occupational hazard of bronchial cancer had largely been eliminated from working with asbestos. The work was produced in 1968. The asbestos industry has made a great deal of use of that conclusion, but further evidence was produced that established a much higher incidence of asbestos disease at the factory upon which the evidence was based.
In 1977 The Sunday Times released the results of an updated study by Julian Peto of the 1968 work done in Professor Doll's laboratory. In brief, Peto's studies showed that the safe level, based on information from Turner Brothers' Rochdale factory, which claimed that only one in every 100 workers contracted asbestos-related diseases after a lifetime's exposure to two fibres per cc of air, may permit one in every 14 to get asbestos-related diseases.
Professor Doll replied at once in the Oxford Times of 4 February 1977:
I do not think we have any justification for doubting the safe levels.
Once again, the asbestos industry quoted that comment to its advantage.
I hope that Professor Doll has developed a somewhat more critical faculty towards the effects of asbestos, in view of that history.
I want to deal with standards. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 requires that regulations must be designed to maintain or improve standards. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) and I had some interesting discussions in Committee. He introduced that requirement. I should like to think that it was as a result of my recommendations in Committee. The requirement is now enshrined in the legisaltion, but it is not contained in some of the statutory instruments that the Health and Safety Commission has recommended to the Government and the Government have introduced.
The requirements for the notification of accidents have been watered down. The requirement to notify an accident that has caused a person to lose three days work has been extended to a loss of five days. Now, apparently, a period of seven days loss of work is necessary before notification is required. The result of the new notification requirements will mean that about 300,000 accidents will disappear from the records. Accidents are notified so that remedial action can be taken if there is a particular incidence of some form of accident which could point to defective equipment or process. If the requirement to notify is reduced remedial action is less likely to be taken. The statutory requirement now permits a person to return to work. It no longer requires that a person should be excluded from working. Notification is no longer required if a person returns to work and is put on a lighter job. The incidence of accidents will not longer be noticed and information and action may be reduced.
The Government have increased the fees for medical examinations, not by a modest sum, but by 800 per cent. The regulations introduced by the Government were notified to the House in the 17th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It pointed out that there was an absolute obligation to maintain an employment medical advisory service, but by increasing the fees and allowing appointed doctors, not in the employment medical advisory service, to carry out examinations, there was a danger that the statutory obligation to maintain an employment medical advisory service would be eroded. Plainly, if private doctors could perform an examination at a lower fee than the massively increased fees provided for by the Government, it would swing examination away from the service.
The service has an obligation to advise the Minister of the trends in health and safety at work, but if it does not examine people it is hardly in a good position to do so. Indeed, the Government have currently introduced an instrument to impose fees for the inspection of equipment. Fees can be charged, but have not been charged so far. The Government now intend to impose them, thus placing health and safety at work on an increasingly commercial and self-financing basis, whereas we believe that people should be encouraged to use services such as the employment medical advisory service.
The Health and Safety Executive, the Government and the Health and Safety Commission have produced first aid recommendations but, as the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments pointed out, they were confusing because they blurred the distinction between statutory obligations and codes of practice. The whole purpose of the Robens report was to clarify and simplify the procedures, but the first aid regulations do the opposite and thus undermine the very purpose of the regulations. The Joint Committee took the view that the first aid regulations, like the highway code, should be debated by the House. The Government should have provided time for that. We should not have to depend on a private Member's motion, grateful though we are for the opportunity. The codes of practice and regulations should be debated because they affect so many people.
Finally, there should be a substantial increase in the number of inspectors who actually knock on the factory
doors to check on safety. Those inspections are the basic means of enforcing the legislation and we need the maximum number of inspectors. An article in The Guardian on 14 February 1980 stated:
Under the Health and Safety Executive systematic attempts have been made to transform the specialist inspectorates into a common inspectorate mould. This is regarded as utterly inappropriate by the experienced members of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate who see their effectiveness being destroyed through the enforced introduction of time-consuming non-specialist duties. Such losses now amount to almost 20 per cent.
Those staff losses have never been completely made up.
That is worrying, as I know that the Health and Safety Executive, through reorganisation and the production of general warrants for inspectors, has tried to make the inspectorate a generalised body and to erode the specialist areas. The Government should assure the House that they are not just maintaining but increasing the body of specialist inspectors such as the nuclear installations inspectors as well as the general body of inspectors who visit premises and represent the basic means of maintaining standards of health and safety at work.
Time does not allow me to include all the information I wish, but I have taken a great interest in this and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to debate these matters. I emphasise yet again that the legislative areas that need to be covered in this matter should have greater Government priority than attacks on the trade union movement.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) began by expressing the worthy objective of introducing a non-controversial debate. I am not sure that that hope has been realised, especially in view of the contribution of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. This should be a subject of great interest to Members in all parts of the House and it is important that we should debate it today.
Sometimes we are inclined to view the health and safety scene purely through the eyes of Members of Parliament. We consider the need for a framework, and certainly the 1974 Act was a great advance in improving health and safety in industry generally. I think that everyone welcomed that legislation, and the progress that followed has been very important. Seen from the other side of the fence by certain sectors of industry, however, the matter presents a somewhat different aspect and some of the measures carried out in the name of health and safety may seem oppressive, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I endorse my hon. Friend's view that the work of the Health and Safety Commission, of the Health and Safety Executive and of the inspectors generally has greatly improved health and safety at work, and Parliament as a whole should welcome that.
From the point of view of the small business man, however, things are not quite so simple. The method of operating the Act often causes some confusion, especially for those setting up new businesses. The person wishing to set up a business becomes confused and worried and, all too often, is put off starting a business at all by the sheer variety of inspectors entitled to visit his premises.
The other day I received details of a man in Somerset who started a business in a small rural workshop, repairing the bodies of cars damaged in accidents. The business developed well and after a short time he decided that he could take on his first employee. He therefore made inquiries about the possibility of taking on a young person under the youth employment scheme. After quite a long delay he was eventually visited by an inspector who said that that would be a very good development but that he would have to install another lavatory, another basin and all manner of other things as well as providing supervision for the youth employed. The list of things that the employer would have to do would have cost £600. He did not have £600 to spend in that way, so in the end he did not take on an employee and one more person was left on the unemployment register. We must therefore consider carefully the danger of imposing excessive burdens on those starting up in business.
I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend that there should be more self-regulation. The difference of emphasis between the two sides today was starkly drawn by the hon. Member for Keighley. The Opposition want more compulsory Government regulation while our preference is for more voluntary self-regulation. The hon. Member for Keighley hoped that there would be a more dynamic role for inspectors. He did not explain what he meant by that, but if it means their being more oppressive and more interfering in the businesses that they visit we should view that with alarm. We must guard against overzealousness by inspectors of all kinds—not just factory inspectors, but those dealing with fire regulations, shops and offices regulations and so on—to ensure that they do not restrict employment opportunities.
In contrast with the view of the hon. Member for Keighley, I believe that there is a case for bringing the various inspectors together so that employers do not have visits from one inspector one day and another the next, with the result that a business man who should be running his business and, one hopes, expanding it and providing more jobs spends too much lime dealing with bureaucracy.
There is an argument for sensible European harmonisation so that one country does not have an unfair advantage over another in the operation of a free market within the EC. However, there is a danger that some of the Brussels regulations will lead to a bidding up of standards throughout Europe. No doubt that concept will appeal to some Opposition Members, but if that bidding up takes place there will be fewer job opportunities throughout Western Europe. That would be a tragedy at a time of much unemployment.
A two-tier system of regulation has been quite common in the United States for some time. There is a need for tight inspection and tight regulations for large firms that are enaged in complicated processes of manufacture and employ many people, but that sort of regulation and inspection should not apply to smaller firms. Surely there should be a greater degree of exemption for smaller firms. We made some progress about three years ago when some of the unfair dismissal provisions of the Employment Protection Act 1975 were changed to help smaller firms. We have made a small start and we should further exempt smaller businesses from as many of these regulations as we can.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will say whether he thinks that there is a chance that the idea that I am putting forward will become part of the Government's policy. We have made a start by changing some of the unfair dismissal provisions in the 1975 Act and I believe that this approach should be extended to health and safety provisions.
I know that this approach will lead to emotional cries. There will be those who will say, "Are you really suggesting a less safe atmosphere for smaller firms to operate in when compared with that in which larger firms operate?" That is not my suggestion. I am merely saying that smaller firms should be subjected to rather less bureaucracy and fewer regulations. They will be just as safe as the larger firms if that is done.
Many of the inspectors' visits to smaller firms are not to investigate the real dangers of asbestosis and pneumoconiosis, for example, to which reference has been made. By and large, these dangers do not apply to smaller businesses. The inspections that are carried out of the premises of smaller firms are generally fiddling, bureaucratic and unnecessary. I have received letters from firms throughout the country in which complaints have been made about the petty nature of the inspections. Everyone realises that there is a need to guard machine tools, for example, but so often the owners of smaller businesses find that the petty regulations amount to an onerous burden.
That comment was unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. If he has no better contribution to make than that, I am sorry that I gave way. I am trying genuinely to help smaller firms. The hon. Member for Keighley will know from his ministerial experience in the Department of Industry that it is the smaller firms that will provide the employment that is needed. If we do not act to remove some of the burdens that they face, they will not provide the jobs that we desire.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not saying that smaller firms should have a standard of safety that is inferior to that maintained in larger firms. I hope that he will accept that smaller firms want to have a decent standard of safety comparable with that of any other firm.
I was not arguing that there should be different standards of safety. I am suggesting that exemptions could be made for smaller firms and that bureaucracy could be reduced. Such an approach is accepted in the United States. Similarly, it has been accepted by some of our European neighbours. As I have said, Parliament accepted this approach three years ago in respect of the unfair dismissal provisions in the 1975 Act.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will tell us whether he has any intention of appointing a smaller firm representative to the Health and Safety Commission. Generally, the TUC and CBI representatives come from larger firms. It would be a good step forward to ensure that representatives of smaller firms are involved more closely in the work of the commission and the executive. Those representatives would be familiar with the problems that smaller firms have to face. I suggest that my hon. Friend with ministerial responsibility for small businesses in the Department of Industry should undertake an urgent review of all the health and safety regulations to ascertain which ones could be exempted for smaller businesses. Obviously there are many that must be retained, but exemptions could be made and many of the visits of inspectors could be stopped.
No, I shall not give way. This will be a comparatively short debate and I know that others wish to contribute to it.
We should adopt a different approach to the smaller firms and free them of some of the burdens and obstacles that they now face. If we mean what we say about our desire to solve unemployment and to create new jobs, we must remove some of the obstacles that face smaller firms and allow them to create jobs.
I thank the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) for giving the House the opportunity to debate health and safety at work. I thought that the debate would be largely noncontroversial. Perhaps it was until the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) made his contribution. The hon. Gentleman took the debate into the realms of fantasy.
The idea that a small firm should be freer than a large one to create hazards for its own employees or for anyone else is extraordinary, wrong, and disgraceful. It is an idea that was, I think, never suggested even in the days when the Health and Safety at Work etc. Bill of 1974 was being discussed in the House.
I have never understood why it should be more right for a small firm to create dangers than for a large firm to do so. I cannot understand why the courts should regard it as less heinous to kill at work than to kill on the roads. I do not understand why magistrates and judges see fit to impose comparatively minor penalties for those who kill at work while sending to prison some of those who recklessly or drunkenly kill on the roads.
Someone who kills another human being or who maims him, or who causes disaster to his family through causing a hazard on the roads, is treated by the courts with severity. But when someone does the same on industrial premises the magistrates and the courts, far too frequently, pass the incident off with a lightness of sentencing that is shocking. If that were to change we would do far more to tighten industrial safety rules than by introducing further legislation or regulations.
When Lord Elwyn-Jones was Lord Chancellor he took the opportunity of addressing the Magistrates' Association at its annual dinner and deplored the ridiculously low penalties that were too often imposed on those in breach of industrial safety statute and regulations. I am sorry that the magistrates have apparently been struck by a form of occupational deafness on this issue. The hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) referred to the occupational deafness that strikes some in political life. There seems to be a similar deafness in the courts when they deal with health and safety issues. Occupational malnutrition is not one of the maladies from which we suffer in politics. We are trying constantly to bring attention to the need for effort in large and small firms throughout this tremendously important area of health and safety.
I shall highlight one or two areas of concern which I thought were universally accepted. A number of us have the privilege of being members of the Select Committee on Employment and of the all-party industrial safety group. We are trying all the time to direct attention to the need for greater safety.
Our efforts are not always helped by the Health and Safety Commission or Executive. I pay tribute to the individual officers and members of the commission and the executive for their work, and I should like them to treat any criticisms as constructive. On the Select Committee on Employment we have listened to evidence on what is happening concerning health and safety 10 years after the Robens report. I think that all of us, irrespective of party, were depressed by the apparent lack of flair in the efforts of the commission to draw attention to the need for greater safety in industry. The Select Committee's report during the last Session showed that with supreme clarity.
That campaigning cavalier of the safety world, James Tye, was recently ejected in the most extraordinary way from the Albert hall, from a meeting of the Institute of Directors, as an undesirable person, because he had been drawing attention with his usual great impact and flair to the inherent fire dangers in that building. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) may care to note that, according to a letter to me from the Home Secretary, the Albert hall is exempt from many of the provisions that usually apply to places of public entertainment.
Whether it is a place of public entertainment or of public debate, or a place where we or other people work, safety standards must be applied. They must be applied in times of recession as in times of prosperity, and they must apply to small as well as large firms.
The Select Committee has heard evidence in public in the subject of asbestosis. The attack has been made not only on large companies and local authorities, but especially on the small-time fly-by-night cowboys who carry out at low prices works which are inherently dangerous and who then disappear into the limbo of insolvency or into the darkness which is imposed upon them when the authorities catch up with them.
Too many small firms have lower safety standards than larger ones. Those of us who spend time moving around in industry cannot exempt the small firms in any way from their duties. Safety responsibilties must apply to all.
In the large firms it is the unions which have been pressing for the legislation and for regulations. It was the trade union movement which pressed and almost forced the Conservative Government in 1974, 1975 and 1976 to introduce regulations concerning safety representatives. In many areas those regulations have proved very successful.
The hon. Member for Beeston mentioned the coal mining industry. I was waiting for him to pay tribute to the National Union of Mineworkers, which is frequently attacked on many issues, but has an especially fine record in safety matters. It acts not only in the interests of its members but on behalf of all those who go into the pits. It is to no small extent due to that union's pressure that the record of safety in United Kingdom mines is as good as it is. The safety record in our industry would be very much better if we could get all unions to apply the same safety standards as are applied by the NUM. I deplore the constant attacks upon the mineworkers. Credit is never given to the union where it is due, and it is especially due in the area of safety.
We have to convince people everywhere that safety is in their interests. The hon. Member for Beeston said that when he visits a workplace he is given a safety hat to wear and that it was not like that in the old days. Of course it was. A Minister or a Member of Parliament is always given a safety hat. The firms concerned know when we are coming and most of them dress up accordingly. It is when we are not there that the safety problems usually arise. I was told recently on one building site, "Our boys put on their safety hats only when it starts raining." People have to be convinced that it is in their own interests to wear safety hats.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman really suggesting that there has been no improvement in the wearing of safety hats and that they are worn only when Ministers or Members of Parliament are present? Surely he will recognise that there is a need to acknowledge that major improvements have taken place and that it does not help to make lighthearted attacks of this sort on industry. Those who are concerned with health and safety should be given encouragement for what they have already done, and in this area a great deal has been done.
The Minister, in his usual fashion, has either not listened to my speech or chosen to ignore selected parts of it. If he had listened to my speech, he would have known that I had praised the mineworkers and others in that industry for what has been done. I am not at all lighthearted about safety.
I regard the absence of safety protection as a matter for which the Minister himself bears a very great responsibility, for in this time of recession he has not provided the money that the inspectorate needs. He has not provided the inspectorate with the people it needs Nor has he provided me with some answers for which I have frequently asked. He has said, for instance, that it Is too expensive to tell me how many individuals have been prosecuted under the Act. He has told me that the cost of doing so would be disproportionate. It was this Minister who declined to reply to that question. It is his responsibility and it is not for him to make that kind of criticism. It shows his ignorance as well as his indifference.
Has the Minister ever been on a building site? If he were to go on to a site without informing anyone of his identity he would be unlikely to find anyone other than the safety officers wearing safety hats. I wish that people would wear them, but they do not because on the whole they are not satisfied that it is necessary to do so.
In the United States, steel erectors are required to wear and do wear safety harnesses. I should be extremely surprised if the Minister were to find steel erectors wearing safety harness in Britain, unless the Minister's visit had been announced in advance, in which case the red carpet would be rolled out.
If the Minister were to go into a factory where there was a sign about the wearing of ear muffs, he would be very unlikely to find all the workers wearing them. If no sign was displayed, the firm would then be criticised for not even trying to comply with the regulations.
Safety is a very complicated and complex subject and the Minister's attack on those of us who have heen dealing with the subject for a long time is most unjustified. Safety is one of the most crucial matters at a time of recession. People are now saying within their factories, works and firms, large and small, "These are times of survival. We have to lower our sights from the high levels of safety that we should like to apply, because we have to keep our business going." There is an element of truth in what they say. On the other hand, if a person is killed or maimed, it is no excuse to contend, however honestly, that the business had to be kept going. The inspectors are working very hard to maintain a sensible balance and they need the support of the Government and the courts.
When I asked the Minister for particulars of the number of prosecutions, his reply was:
Prosecutions of companies cannot be distinguished from those of individuals without disproportionate cost."—[Official Report, 7 March 1983; Vol. 38, c. 324.]
In other words, the Government are not prepared to spend the money to break down the figures to find out how many individuals are being prosecuted under the Act.
It is for each manager, each director and each company secretary to bear personal responsibilty for hazards caused with his consent or connivance, or as a result of his neglect. We do not know what is happening in that area, because the Government consider that it is too expensive to try to find out.
Some of us know that there are occasional prosecutions of individuals, but not many. It is easier to go for the company, whereas many prosecutions should be against the individual directors who are or should be responsible for avoiding hazards in their firms, large or small. It is they who are responsible for the expenditure of money and for ensuring that the employees have sufficient safety appliances. When there is a culpable death in industry, the case should be brought against those who are directly responsible, however junior or senior. It is just as serious as a death on the road. It is just as serious in a small firm as in a large one.
The statistics provided by the Department show that there is a massive conviction rate, ranging from 86 to 88 per cent. Quite rightly, the burden of proof is placed on the defendant to show that he took such steps as were reasonably practicable to avoid the accident. Perhaps the Minister does not know that the inspectorate rarely has not the time to prosecute because it is such a long process. In any case, who will take much notice of prosecutions? Fines tend to be petty, and too few magistrates listened to Lord Elwyn-Jones. Safety infringements are treated as of minor importance and it is now even suggested that "petty regulations" should be removed from smaller businesses.
Health and safety prosecutions are crucial. Prohibition and improvement notices, and prosecutions have their part to play. And we should be doing all in our power to stress the need for the House and all those concerned with industry to spotlight the dreadful toll of unnecessary suffering caused by hazards at work.
I thank the hon. Member for St. Albans and I am glad that we are on largely common ground.
We all share the hon. and learned Gentleman's view that workers on building sites should wear safety hats, but does he favour the United States practice, whereby workers in hazardous industries who do not wear safety equipment can be sacked?
That applies here. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not know that a person who is dismissed for refusing to comply with safty standards may, if he never wants another job—because that will be a likely consequence of his taking action—bring a claim for unfair dismissal. There have been many such claims, but I can recall none in which dismissal on genuine safety grounds has been held to be unfair. We have that United States provision, albeit by an indirect route.
Of course, small firms do not have to worry about unfair dismissal claims for the first two years in which someone works for them, because they can unfairly dismiss anyone in that time. That is another example of the selective lunacy introduced into employment legislation by the Government.
Section 7 of the Act places a criminal liability on the individual employee. The individual employee is as liable to prosecution as is the individual director. We have a responsibility for each other.
Health and safety are the only areas of industrial relations where the interests of managers and men, of employers and employees and union members and nonunion workers are the same. I am sorry that notes of dissension have been introduced into what I had hoped would be a united effort by the House to lean on industry to do what is right in hard times.
I shall not take up the more controversial parts of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), because there is much common ground between us.
I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew), to the evident success of the co-operation between management and unions on the HSC and to the skill and authority of the reports of the HSE.
I also pay tribute to the sincerity and devotion of Bill Simpson, the chairman of the commission, who finishes his term of office this year. We ought to pay tribute to the concern and responsibility that he has shown during the years that he has held that office. I shall offer a word of criticism later, but I pay that tribute sincerely.
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West said that we needed vigilance and the straitjacket of severe penalties to get proper performance in health and safety matters. The hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) insisted that more inspectors were necessary.
Without diminishing the importance of the courts or the effectiveness of inspectors, I suggest that there is a third element. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West touched on the importance of public vigilance. If the HSC and the HSE showed more flair in promoting the cause of health and safety, the public would be much more aware of the dangers and, through public opinion, would impose a discipline on employers, which I think would please my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), because the nitpicking of which he complained would not be necessary. The public would do the job.
I agree with the motion, but I regret that it relates only to health and safety at work. I wish that it dealt with health and safety at work, at home and everywhere else. It is part of the tradition of reforms in this country that we do things step by step, rather than making wholesale changes. Perhaps we should start pressing for the legislation that was passed only for those at work to be extended to the home and to leisure activities.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch told us about a constituent who was hit by a piece of falling scaffolding. She was not at work, but she is as entitled to protection as are those who were at work and were creating the danger.
Some speeches have been slightly controversial and I follow that lead by saying that there is an obligation on those who are not at work because they have withdrawn their labour to be concerned about the health and safety of the public. That applies particularly to workers in essential services. I see a need to extend legislation for those who need to be protected at work, but I also see a need to protect those of us who might be put at risk because people are irresponsibly, selfishly or greedily holding the community to ransom. That is the main point of my speech.
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West did not refer to all the recommendations of the Select Committee, which stressed the need for more work to be done on occupational diseases. My hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) and the hon. Member for Keighley took up that call. The Select Committee is still examining the dangers of asbestos, so I shall make no comment on that, but other substances also present dangers.
The Health and Safety Executive told the Select Committee in reply to our recommendations that it was examining the matter. Far more urgency is required than the executive's answer implies.
The Select Committee was also interested in section 6 of the Act which imposes general duties on manufacturers, designers, importers and suppliers of articles and substances for use at work to ensure that such articles or substances are safe and without risk to health. We have recently been examining the position of people who work at home. I believe that the time has come for more urgent steps to be taken to ensure that at least the substances and machinery which are supplied to people who work at home should conform to the strictest standards of safety. Whether this is done through the health and safety at work legislation or whether it is done under the legislation which I hope will be enacted, which will take no account of where people are because they are entitled to the same protection in terms of safety, is immaterial to me. What matters is that action should be taken without delay. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment will also have something to say about that when he comes to reply.
I should like to make one last suggestion for improvement to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. When in due course a successor to Mr. Bill Simpson is sought, I hope that two considerations will be taken into account—first, that he will not simply be chosen on the basis of Buggins' turn and, secondly, as a trade unionist has occupied the chair until now, that he is an industrialist.
I leave aside the flippancy of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) who suggests that a man who is destined for the coal industry should now be redirected. I hope that the qualities rather than the background of the individual will be the decisive factor.
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West and I will be at one when I suggest that Mr. Simpson's successor should have a flair for communicating with ordinary men and women and not just be able to write highly authoritative docu Tie'nts and advice to selected groups, which appears to be the main fault in terms of communication of the present Health and Safety Commission. Whether the man chosen has great experience in communication and information, perhaps from within the Government machine, or whether he comes from industry or from a trade union background does not matter. What matters is that he should have a flair for alerting the public through whatever means are necessary to the importance of health and safety.
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) on allowing us an opportunity to debate this important matter. It is perhaps more important than many issues which cause excitement and interest both inside and outside the House. After all, between today and this day next year, hundreds of thousands of people at work will be injured or in some cases killed.
One of the most interesting aspects of the subject is the different perceptions people have about the risks they run. There seems to be an almost popular selection of the variety of risks which occur in life. If 100 people die in an air crash, it justifies headlines in every newspaper in the country. That number is fewer than the carnage which occurs in any week on our roads. People also appear to make a judgment about the quality of risk. Perhaps the clearest example was Ronan Point, a tower block which was found to be unsafe. Following that disaster, the regulations for building tower blocks were completely changed. It has been roughly calculated that that has cost, in terms of savings in life in future, about £20 million a life. It had to be done but all of us could think of more cost-effective ways to save life.
We should also remember that no activity in industry is free from risk. When 28 people were killed at Flixborough there were startling reports in the press. Vivid reports by the BBC described it as catastrophic—as indeed it was—and went on to say that that was the price of nylon. One has only to think of what the price of cotton or the price of wool has been in the past to realise how exaggerated certain reporting can be.
The importance of the debate has already been highlighted by the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans. About 500 people will die over the next year and 300,000 people or more will in some way be affected or injured at work. It is true that since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 there has been a steady improvement but there is a long way to go. In certain instances we do not compare favourably with the best of practices in America or on the continent. We have a long way to go down a long road. The House recognises that steps must be taken to ensure that we make steady improvements. At the end of the clay this is a matter not only of cost to the Treasury, although that may run into hundreds of millions of pounds, but of the tragic loss and suffering which come into people's lives.
What should we do? There is good news coming from those who take active steps to try to implement the safety regulations. Matthew Hall Engineering, which has had some publicity, has made a special point of ensuring that safety regulations are implemented. It has ensured that in times of financial difficulty there was no squeeze on expenditure in that direction. Although the firm kept up its expenditure and efforts, it found on the whole that this policy proved no drain on resources. Indeed, it led to extra profitability. Because this positive approach is taking place in an area where there is great scope for savings if safety regulations are properly applied, no direct calculation can be made of the cost of industrial injuries. It is undoubtedly true that it is greatly in excess of those caused by industrial disputes.
The best calculation that can be made is that between 0·5; and 0·9 per cent. of gross national product—a substantial sum—is in jeopardy every year. When a positive approach is taken Matthew Hall Engineering and others who follow the same route find immediate and direct savings. There will be savings because of confidence among insurers; there are savings because fire or destruction by accident does not require re-scheduling or working overtime; there are savings on administrative costs; and above all such a firm gets good publicity because it is known to be taking such a course.
I wish to make two positive points, one of which arises directly out of the matter touched upon by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). The good work being done by the executive is known. Nonetheless, there is the whole problem of Crown immunity. The Crown may not sue the Crown. It is not as though this is a negligible matter. Direct prosecutions cannot be taken against employers of up to 1·5 million workers. They are missing the full protection that prosecution acutally gives simply because of the hallowed principle that the Crown cannot sue the Crown. It is really a kind of monarchical anachronism. We should find ways of getting over this legal difficulty.
Although the Health and Safety Executive has strong powers to enforce its will on private companies, on nationalised industries, on local authorities and elsewhere, it cannot do so—this is a matter on which the hon. Member for Keighley touched—in many areas in which the Government are the employer. An example is area health authorities. While the executive can bring a matter to the notice of those authorities, investigate them and make recommendations, it has no powers of compulsion. It cannot enforce. It can only advise.
I have already remarked that the numbers involved are not negligible. There are nearly 1 million people employed in the health services. Another 700,000 are employed as civil servants in Whitehall, in prisons or in Customs and Excise. Porton Down, military workshops and ship repair yards are all examples of places where there can be recommendations and encouragement but where there cannot be enforcement by the executive. Steps should be taken to change that position.
It is difficult to give clear examples, but one which has been reported shows the depth of the problem. I take the example of hospitals and give round figures for 1980. In that year the executive issued about 1,500 notices against private industry, but only 40 against Crown premises. It issued only 40 because it was unable to enforce its will. It could only try to persuade.
I should like to show, on the basis of available figures, how easy it is for the Crown to slip through the net. Of the 1,660 hospitals visited in 1980, 67 per cent. were found to have food handling areas which were below the standard set out in the food and hygiene general regulations. That is bad enough. However, 13 per cent. warranted prosecution but were not prosecuted because of Crown privilege. If that 13 per cent. had been prosecuted, it would have meant the issue of nearly 200 notices against the Crown in that sphere alone, as compared with 40 actually issued over the whole area.
It is time to examine the whole question of Crown privilege. I see no reason why we cannot find some way around this anachronistic difficulty. It may be necessary to allow prosecutions only with certification by certain authorities. One can think of many ways of getting round the problem. If the will exists, there is no difficulty in getting round what is after all a legalistic anachronism. The Government should take positive steps to introduce legislation to allow the nominal Crown to stand in exactly the same position as the private employer.
I should like to raise one point that follows upon some of the matters already mentioned. It does not immediately arise out of the regulations governing health and safety but it does follow their breach. There has been discussion about settling compensation for industrial injuries. It has been argued that there is a variety of ways, through insurance or through the existing methods, which have met some criticism today. I do not wish to enter into that controversy. I shall say no more than that the present system is arguably no worse than any other system. That is a view held right across the political spectrum. Trade union leaders would agree. Some others would not. Whatever system is used, some finality has to be reached in court cases after which a lump sum is paid. That may be all—even though large sums are involved—that can be done. If the recipient is foolish enough to spend all the money immediately, that is his look-out. There is not much that can be done about it.
There is, however, a small group—for instance, the paraplegics—who attract the highest compensation and who will require constant nursing for the rest of their lives. With modern medicine, that life may be prolonged. Looking back over what has happened in those cases over the last 10 or 15 years, one cannot help having a queasy feeling that we have not done very well by those people. It is not that the compansation at the time did not seem adequate. When, 10, 12 or 13 years ago, awards of £40,000 and £50,000 were made, it enabled people to do up their bungalows. Unless, however, they have been lucky—the stock exchange has not been a happy hunting ground for beating inflation over the last 20 years—they will now be extremely lucky if they still have £35,000, with constant nursing care still required.
Of course, the courts now recognise inflation. In the early 1970s what was going to happen was not foreseen. The figures today for that kind of injury would be £250,000 to £300,000. What faith can exist, even with the best advice available to people, who are prepared to take it, that, over coming years, they will be able to use money to provide themselves with the protection that I believe should be theirs? I hope that some consideration can be given, in the limited number of cases where vast damages are given and where there will be a nursing requirement for the rest of the injured person's life, to the incorporation in the lump sum of periodical, perhaps monthly, payments thereafter that reflect the inflation that is likely to obtain for the foreseeable future.
It would require us, as a nation, to make a positive attempt to help people in that position. This could be done in two ways. It could be open to the court to allocate a certain amount—not all, but perhaps a substantial proportion—of the compensation awarded to a fund that might have the tax advantages of the self-employed and pension funds. It could be used for investment in equities. It could be used so that there were no capital gains implications. Insurance companies could be allowed to do something to mitigate the growing danger of inflation. It should not be difficult, in my view, to add a tiny fraction to the insurance stamp to enable the State, on occasion, to top up such a fund, so ensuring that those few who are terribly injured at work receive at least minimum protection, even though inflation may continue.
After all, even inflation in single figures means that only between seven and 10 years pass before the value of the pound halves. I do not think many of us can hope that we can manage to drive inflation so far out of the economy that it takes 10, 12 or 13 years to halve its value. In those circumstances there are two areas that we can look at. One is the severely handicapped people who need constant attention. We must see whether there is anything that the courts can be given to help them to solve the problem that we all have to face and which we find almost insoluble. Secondly, and more important because it affects 1½ million people, the sooner we set about getting rid of Crown privilege and the argument that the Crown cannot sue the Crown the better for the 1½ million people employed by the Crown.
I welcome the oppportunity to support my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) on this important subject of health and safety at work. I like the point that he makes in his motion about the need to maintain the improvements. There is no question but that there has been real improvement in many areas over the past 10 years. However, it is necessary to maintain that improvement. It is no good resting on our achievements. It is easy to be complacent. Much has been done, but I think that much has still to be done.
I also like the point that my hon. Friend made about home safety. Damage to people's capability to work can take place at home as much as in the factory. I understand that there are a considerable number of accidents in homes, in fact, probably more than in most other places. Therefore, that has to be watched by the Health and Safety Commission as well.
My interest is in agriculture and farm safety. There are still great risks in British agriculture. We have the problem of weather. A factory is usually able to cope with weather, but if one is out on a tractor, trying to do one's work on the land and the ground is slippery when there has been heavy rain overnight or frost, there are considerable dangers. Today we have large open fields. A man may be literally miles from anywhere, so that it is difficult for him to alert someone to the fact that he is trapped in the cab or part of the machinery. That means that there is great delay before something can be done to help him.
When I was actively farming some years ago I went through a narrow gateway on a tractor when the path was icy. I was taking out hay on a trailer to the stock that was outwintered. I started to slide. Once one starts to slide sideways on a tractor there is little that one can do about it. However, fortunately, the good Lord looked after me. When I slid I was caught on another gate post. I was overhanging a ditch, with the front wheel and the back wheel on one side. It look me a considerable time delicately to get off the tractor without the whole thing turning over. Had it done so I might not have been here. Just think of that. That shows how quickly in agriculture the scene can change from one of complete safety to real danger. Therefore, there is a big difference between a factory and working indoors and farmworkers and farmers working outside. The risks are great.
Much has been done in the past to improve safety in agriculture and food production. I am always proud that I took part in bringing to the House the subject of tractor safety cabs and roll-over bars. Awful accidents happened with a tractor, particularly before there was a safety cab or roll-over bars.
Many years ago I went back to a little place called Daccombe where I started farming and watched a man coming down a steep hill in an old Fordson tractor that was completely out of control. He had no hope of saving himself. If he had tried to jump off he would have been trapped. He was killed. Ever since that day about 30 years ago I have been determined to ensure that there are rollover bars or a safety cab and, fortunately, they have now been introduced.
Terrible accidents happened through power take-off shafts. I do not know whether the House knows what am talking about. Many modem implements are worked from the tractor with a lethal power take-off shaft which whirls round at tremendous speed. If it is not protected, as it should be, one's jacket and hair are caught up in it and one is wound round and round until one is battered to death. That has happened many times. Fortunately, we have made big advances, in that there must be protection around the shaft, but the problem is that farmers and farm workers can be complacent and do not ensure that the safety equipment is there. That is illegal. If something happens, and it can be proved, they are prosecuted.
Much has been done, but much more needs to be done. We have complicated machinery. It has to be handled with great care. One cannot take a chance if one is driving a powerful combine or tractor. Fortunately, the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and the National Farmers Union co-operate well with each other on those matters, and with the Health and Safety Commission. That is right and proper. However, we must be constantly on our guard to see that there is no complacency. We should ensure that safety measures are brought in with the new machinery that is developing all the time in British agriculture.
I have a long list of the new dangers in food production and agriculture. One of the most harrowing problems at present is to deal with what we call slurry pits. A slurry pit is an essential part of any modern dairy set-up. From a cow one obtains enormous amounts of manure every day. It is called slurry, because when it is mixed with water it becomes slurry. One usually squeezes it with a great big brush into a slurry pit. There it collects until it dries out and one can take it into the fields.
The problem is that while a man is careful and ensures that he does not fall into the slurry pit, a child does not see the danger. We have had the most terrible instances in the south-west of England recently when children have fallen into a slurry pit. It is not like falling into a swimming pool. It is difficult to get out. There must be far better fencing and warnings around slurry pits to ensure that children do not fall in.
I shall tell a farmer's joke about a slurry pit. It is the story of the farmer who was cross with his farm worker because he was wasting time trying to fish his jacket out of the slurry pit. My hon. Friends the Whips might like to listen to this joke, as it might cheer them up. The farmer ticked the farm worker off for wasting time, who said, "Master, I am worried, not about the jacket, but about the pastie for my lunch that is in the pocket." That is enough about slurry pits.
There is also a need for care with regard to the health of farm workers. Many problems still exist. For example, there is dust from hay which leads to a rather unpleasant disease called farmer's lung. I understand that it is similar to the problems that mineworkers suffer when coal dust gets into their lungs. Farmer's lung can do a great deal of damage. It is helpful to wear some form of mask, but it is not easy to get farmworkers to wear them. Nevertheless, it is important to have some form of protection when dealing with dusty and musty hay.
There is also the dreaded brucellosis. Fortunately, its incidence has receded as the number of infected cows is now much lower than it used to be. I am brucellosis positive because, unfortunately, when I was farming we had an outbreak of the disease. People who handle cows can catch that rather unpleasant disease. Although I do not suffer from it now, I know that it is a distressing disease which causes a rapidly rising temperature and a great deal of discomfort. Brucellosis should be watched closely.
There is also a problem with sprays. The farming world uses more and more of them and they are sophisticated and dangerous. One must be careful to ensure that farmers and farm workers protect themselves against such sprays, as they can cause a great deal of damage. Moreover, there is a problem with left-over chemicals and sprays. Whenever one uses sprays or chemicals on a farm, there is always some left over. Some of them are highly toxic and dangerous. One of the most dangerous is paraquat, which looks like lemonade. Unfortunately, the left-over spray is sometimes put into lemonade or ginger beer bottles and put on a shelf so that it can be used later either on the farm or for killing weeds in the garden. The danger is that children think that the contents of the lemonade, ginger beer or coca-cola bottles can be drunk. Paraquat is fatal and there is no cure for it. The victim's lungs seize up solid. That problem must be taken seriously. It is important that left-over sprays should not be kept in small bottles and stocked away. It is right that I should warn the House of that danger. I am sure that the commission is always on the alert for it
Another problem is that of driving tractors on steep and dry ground. One can be in trouble before one knows it. That is why it is important to encourage the use of four-wheel drive tractors with large tyres which grip the ground much better. I am looking for improvements in design in agricultural machinery, especially tractors, to ensure that they can grip the ground even in the adverse conditions that I have mentioned. I hope that the commission will also examine that.
It is important to take care with children. I started to drive tractors when I was about 10. The only way in which to learn on a farm is to do the job when one is quite young, but that creates major problems with the children of farmers and farm workers. They want to drive tractors and help out. On most farms there are spare tractors, and if one is pushed at hay making or harvest time there is a strong tendency to let the lad get in a tractor and do some of the work. We must be careful about that. While it is all right for a fully-trained man to operate some of the complicated tractors and machinery, they can be lethal for a child.
Moving trailers is also a problem. A considerable number of children are killed when a tractor or trailer with a big load is reversed and the driver does not know that the little one is in the yard or road. I hope that the farming world will not be complacent about that.
Dangerous litter must also be watched carefully. I have already mentioned the problem of spraying, but there are such things as old cars with petrol in them, tins and drums. I confess that, as a boy, I found them great fun. One put a little petrol in a 40 gallon drum, put a bung in it and set light to it. After a few minutes the whole thing went up in an enormous explosion. There is always a danger when children play with such litter, so much so that a few years ago I introduced a Bill which became an Act which made it illegal to leave dangerous litter around, especially cars and refrigerators, into which children tend to lock themselves when they are playing.
It may be thought that my long recital of problems is an exaggeration, but time after time and year after year people die from the causes that I have mentioned.
I hope that the commission will emphasise that care must be taken with the modern high loaders. When one is looking at the load that one is trying to lift, it is easy to forget that there are electric cables overhead. In the southwest, people have been electrocuted because a high load has touched overhead cables.
There is also a danger on roads in rural areas and moorland roads. Many people drive along such roads on their way to work. I wonder whether the House is aware of the quantity of stock, especially cattle, that is killed on moorland roads each year. It is not only the animals who are killed. Recently in my constituency a person was killed—strangely, his father died in exactly the same way—because a bullock or cow ran out into the road and hit his car. Roads must be fenced off because of the great danger not only to stock but to drivers.
I am very keen on rough shooting. However, the commission, the NFU and all concerned must turn their attention to the dangers of such shooting. I am a great believer in training young people to respect the sporting gun. They should be taught at an early age to obey the rules, such as breaking the gun while climbing over a fence. Adults as well as children must be careful, because when people become complacent accidents happen.
In agriculture today there are many modern drugs such as growth promoters and inhibitors, and there is a danger of young people getting hold of such drugs. I welcome the Ministry's decision to continue its campaign for farm medicines and drugs to be kept under lock and key. It applies also to the merchants who supply such drugs, and nothing but good can come from it. It may be upsetting for a farmer to lock up his drugs, or it may be difficult for him to visit a merchant who stores the drugs correctly, but in the long run it is essential.
The Forestry Commission and private foresters do a first-class job, but the forest can be a dangerous place. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) agrees with me. He has an interest in forestry, because he often takes children riding in forests. Children must always wear proper riding hats, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will comment on this later as he knows more about it.
Forests are also dangerous for workers. The most lethal weapon in forestry is the chain saw. Anyone who handles a chain saw knows how quickly it can inflict serious damage. Whenever I handle a chain saw, which is fairly frequently, I always say to myself "Only one mistake, Mills, and you have had it." One could lose a finger or even a foot. However, there have been great improvements in safety and we must continue to ensure that chain saws are in first-class order and have all the necessary protective equipment.
There are also dangers in getting timber out of forests, usually in difficult circumstances such as steep, wet slopes. Forestry workers should take no chances and must be on their guard at all times so that accidents do not happen, because a bulk of timber is very heavy and can kill.
I have been round the farming scene to talk about health and safety at work. The House should discuss such important matters, and the commission must always examine new ways of protecting farm workers and farmers. We should never be complacent, because, although the rural scene may appear pleasant, it can be a death trap, especially those modern, huge, smelly slurry pits.
The House has enjoyed, as it always does, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills). He spoke of the hazards faced by farmers and farm workers. I recognise the danger of falling into a slurry pit because I saw it happen to a child. It is not only impossible for the child to get out, but rescue is unbelievably difficult—sometimes almost impossible—especially if the level of slurry is low. The child's hands become greasy and he cannot grasp the poles proffered by rescuers.
My hon. Friend spoke about the dangers of the forest, which have increased greatly in recent years. Forestry Commission workers cut trees in many different areas. Sometimes they must move quickly to another area, perhaps because they have been alerted to deal with a sudden danger there, and they cannot always erect notices at their new location saying that men are at work.
I had a ghastly experience a few months ago when I took some disabled children riding through a forest on Exmoor. We turned a corner and came upon a group of forestry workers felling trees. As we rounded the corner, one worker's saw was almost completely through a large tree and, as we reached the tree, it fell to the ground with a great crashing, crackling and banging—a cacophonic noise that was redoubled in the silence of the wood. The noise had a terrible effect on the ponies, who turned round three times and ran in all directions. I do not know how we avoided a serious accident. The experience was very frightening, and I urge the Forestry Commission to provide better warning notices, although it may not always be easy. On that occasion we were lucky that no one was hurt, but many children were frightened, which is unacceptable. Nor would it be a fair way out to ban riding on Forestry Commission land as a means of avoiding such incidents.
I agree with my hon. Friend about tractors being driven on steep ground. I have spent many years in country areas, although I have lived in London for many years, represent a London constituency, and have an affinity with London, and I know about the hazards of such tractors.
May I return to riders and their headgear. There have been some lethal accidents in recent weeks and months involving riders who have not worn headgear.
A distinguished soldier, Colonel Hartigan of the Life Guards, who was a fine horseman was killed in an accident a few months ago. When he fell from his horse, his hat came away from his head, his head impacted the ground and he died instantly.
Will my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) explain why horsemen continue to wear top hats which are not safety hats? The problem is that they quickly fall off and do not protect the skull. I think that that is what happened in the incident with Colonel Hartigan.
I accept that point. Some horsemen wear top hats because of tradition and style. The House must recognise that we live in an age when people's safety is the most important factor. Style and appearance are important, but safety is more important. If Colonel Hartigan had been wearing the type of hard helmet that I was required to wear by the Army when I recently rode across a cross country course on an Army horse for charity—it was a most challenging course—perhaps his accident would not have been so serious. The Army now requires its troopers to wear hard helmets.
Lord Oaksey has said that in his racing days he saw headgear move from the soft to the helmet. He emerged from his career feeling that it was of great importance to protect the head of the rider because damage in that area is frequently lethal. I see riders wearing cloth caps, top hats and, sometimes, no hats at all. On many occasions, I have seen children and adult riders not wearing headgear and even riding without saddles along arterial roads while also leading skittish ponies or horses in head collars and not bridles. It places riders., motorists, and others at absurd risk.
I hold each member of the horse world in the highest esteem, but a more responsible attitude must be taken. It would be sad if this House made the wearing of hard hats compulsory, but if people do not take a more sensible attitude it could come to that. We are entitled to expect all riders to wear hard hats that properly protect the head. At the same time, riders are entitled to say that the hard hats presently available may not be satisfactory. More work needs to be done. One type of hard hat has been approved by the British Standards Institution that required, as part of its safety inspection, to have a 10 lb weight dropped upon it from a height of 15 or 20 ft. Visualise the effect of a 10 lb weight dropping from 15 or 20 ft on to a hat and compare it to the impact that occurs when a rider wearing such a hat falls on to a hard road, as can happen at full gallop. The two do not run together. Hon. Members must encourage those responsible to make available to riders more sensible recommendations for hats. Riders, especially children, will then be more willing to wear them.
The health and safety at work legislation applies also to schools. I remember the man who said he would never take a chance, stayed in bed and died of starvation. There is no doubt that school safety was often slack before the Act came into force, but it was not designed with schools in mind. Will the Minister ask his colleagues at the Department of Education and Science to look at that area? It is their responsibility.
In every school there are hazards to children, be it apparatus improperly hanging about or strewn about in a gymnasium, or badly hanging curtains in a laboratory, which prevent pupils from noticing vital points when conducting chemical experiments that may lead to explosions or other hazards. Wobbly steps in a playground are another hazard to children in schools about which people might not think. I know of many children who suffered appalling accidents through improperly constructed steps, steps that had not been properly maintained, or were muddy or had pieces of concrete missing in the middle and had become slippery. Those incidents were overlooked before the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 was applied to schools.
Schools are required to be aware of the need to examine every such hazard. Senior staff in schools must spend a lot of time dealing with that responsibility. I left the teaching profession in 1979, but while a member of it I found that health and safety took one day a week of my time. That time should have been spent teaching pupils to university examination standard or remedial standard—whichever I was required to do. I did it effectively. Teachers are losing the time that they need to do their important job. Some of the responsibility for health and safety should be taken away from them and placed elsewhere. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider that suggestion.
Most teachers feel open to all sorts of hazard. I foresaw teachers saying that they could not work in a certain room because of an obnoxious smell. Even had the window been opened, it might not have disappeared completely. Under the Act other accommodation must be found. If that is not possible, the children may be deprived of their lessons. However, the good sense of teachers has prevailed and the Act is operated sensibly. However, it costs a great deal in time.
My time in the debate is limited, as I know that the Front Bench spokesmen wish to speak. My final plea is on behalf of the industrialists in my constituency. There is more industry in the London borough of Ealing than in any other London borough. I constantly see safety measures being contemplated, required or enacted, but industrialists sometimes claim that local authorities are too demanding and too fussy. I tell them that they have to be so because people's lives are at stake. A compromise must be reached. People are not always as reasonable as they should be, and the House should be aware of that.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), but I cannot gallop as ingeniously as he did through the issues.
I praise the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) for initiating this important debate. His speech used felicitous phrasing, was low key and good-humoured. I do not agree with all that he said, but the House is grateful to him.
This is my first opportunity to congratulate the Under-Secretary on his promotion to an important post in the Department of Employment. He has already brought a vigorous and honest advocacy to his work.
The debate has lasted for some hours. The hon. Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) brought a genuine whiff of the farmyard to our proceedings with his remarks about slurry. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) spoke about the furniture and construction industries. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made a trenchant intervention about the Health and Safety Executive. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) spoke from considerable insight as a member of the Select Committee. I was interested in the speech by the hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester). He brought ministerial insight to the debate and spoke with considerable sympathy about the mining industry. The speech by the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) was thoughtful. He referred to Crown immunity, which caused the House to think hard about the issue. He used the interesting phrase "a monarchial anachronism", and any speech using such a phrase is worth consideration.
I wish to begin the main part of my speech with a reference to hazardous substances. Last autumn the Government introduced regulations for operation in the United Kingdom. They were fashioned in the wake of the horrendous explosion at Flixborough, when total demolition and the major loss of 28 lives stemmed from a chemical explosion of great magnitude. The hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North touched on that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), in Committee last year, mentioned the Chemstar factory explosion in Stalybridge in 1981, when one of his constituents was killed.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) described chillingly the terrifying consequences of a series of explosions that took place in September last year in his densely-populated constituency. As I said in Committee, the series of explosions at a haulage contractors' premises wrecked a number of flats in a high-rise block in the heart of Salford. A fine white powder was scattered down wind for five miles and approximately £1·5 million worth of damage was done. It seems that a 2,000-tonne cocktail of nasty chemicals caught fire. Sodium chlorate seems to have been the villain of the piece. Unsuspecting citizens were terrified out of their wits. That is an important example of what the debate is about.
The Health and Safety Commission directed its executive to investigate the fire and the explosions at the Salford haulier's warehouse. Has the investigation been completed? Has the executive reported to the commission? When will the commission publish the report? Are there criminal proceedings ahead? My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East is entitled to know what happened. He is an able advocate for his constituents. The Department owes it to him to reveal the latest position.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has consistently voiced his fears in the House for the safety of constituents on Canvey Island. Some people say that the whole island is a chemical time bomb. Early last year, there was an inquiry into the British Gas methane terminal on the island. The inspector's critical report has been with the Government for some time. Many thousands of Canvey islanders are worried about their safety. Will the Minister tell the House the reasons for the delay in publishing the report?
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch), in the Committee to which I have referred, mentioned the fertiliser fire at Cliff quay. All these incidents took place within a matter of months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) has expressed anxiety about the warehouse chemical fire that led to the contamination of the countryside around his constituency for many miles. The Government have now introduced the regulations on hazardous substances. We debated them in Committee last year. The main thrust of criticism levelled at the regulations is that, following Flixborough, the main anxiety has been directed towards major hazardous plants. The new regulations focus on preventing the large-scale catastrophies that could occur at major installations handling dangerous substances. However, there appear to be greater risks with smaller fires, explosions and other chemical incidents at small and medium-sized establishments, where the expertise to control the risks is often nonexistent. The new regulations may haul a catch of approximately 3,000 notifiable sites. In Committee, hon. Members claimed that the notifiable levels were too high and would not touch small and medium-sized chemical stores which, nevertheless, pose a significant public risk. That is what happened at Salford. The new regulations would not have caught the chemicals stored in the warehouse that created such havoc.
The Opposition's arguments go beyond reasoned criticism of the regulations. We say that public expenditure cuts imposed on the Department of Employment in general, and the Health and Safety Commission in particular, raise doubts about the inspections made to see whether the regulations are complied with. We all know that the factory inspectorate is under severe pressure and it may be unable effectively to police the 3,000 sites of potentially dangerous chemical stores, many of which are adjacent to public housing estates and public highways.
The Government have contrived substantial, injurious, fundamental and unjustifiable cuts in the budget and manpower of the Health and Safety Executive. Safety magazine reported last month:
The chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, faced with acute staff shortages and a savagely cut budget, last month launched what virtually amounts to a rearguard action to preserve the organisation.
In one of the most overtly defiant reports yet produced by the HSC, chairman Bill Simpson warns that a decade of advances in health and safety could be put at risk because of the attitudes of government and industry during the economic recession.
Furthermore, I am informed by the Department of the Environment that in 1982 there were only 886 factory inspectors in post compared with 952 on 1 April 1979. We are entitled to conclude that the Government are complacently taking the view that as there is less industrial activity due to the recession fewer inspections are needed. The Health and Safety Executive employment medical advisory service employed 68 doctors on 1 April 1978, but the figure had slipped to 56 by 1 April last year.
There is new legislation on asbestos, new regulations about hazardous substances and new legislation about the transport of dangerous substances. Yet since 1979 the staff in post in the Health and Safety Commission has been cut by 13 per cent. to just over 3,700. Moreover, it seems that the Secretary of State for Employment has now asked the commission what would be the effect on staffing of cuts of 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. in 1984–85 and 1988–89.
We are entitled to conclude that the commission faces a crisis. We fear that the factory inspectorate will be significantly and severely hampered in its work if the Government insist on further cuts. Inspection visits would have to be curtailed and it is likely that current inspection levels as well as implementation of new legislation would be impossible. The situation would be grave indeed. The major advance of the 1974 Act is being undermined and parts of the system are already creaking and crumbling at the edges.
The 1974 Act is one of the greatest social and economic advances for ordinary working people this century. That legislation was one of the prime achievements of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and especially of my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) who piloted the detail of it through all its legislative stages in this House. The Act enshrined the importance of workers' participation. It instanced the state's intervention to protect workers and it ushered in, in a clear fashion, ministerial accountability in the area of health and safety. These three significant factors appeared in a great legislative measure. I am glad that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster who was able to pilot the Bill through its various stages.
The cuts that the Government are demanding across the board are impossible to accept. If risks are to he kept to acceptable limits, how can we, at the behest of Ministers, make percentage cuts in standards of safety in the nuclear energy industry and in other undertakings that present major hazards?
If the Health and Safety Commission fails adequately to honour its functions as outlined in the 1974 Act, would it not be vulnerable to legal suits from individuals who are injured through the commission's default? In 1974 my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster planned to boost the factory inspectorate to 1,144 members by April 1983. It has come to a pretty pass if the current Secretary of State is asking the commission for further cuts across the board. This is extremely serious.
The less visible aspects of the commission's work will be speedily affected if the cuts take place. The Health and Safety Executive is being forced to eat its seed corn. The new inspectors, who in future years would become chief inspectors, are not being recruited. The training programme is being disbanded and vital expertise is being lost. The frequency and effectiveness of executive visits to work places will be curtailed. New projects, such as those dealing with new regulations and codes of practice, will have to be achieved with much reduced staffing ratios. The 8 million or so new entrants under the Health and Safety at Work etc. 1974 will receive scant attention. Meanwhile, the demands coming from international commitments—for example, the Common Market and the International Labour Organisation—and the problems of new technology such as new toxic substances, nuclear power and genetic engineering have all to be coped with, not to mention the real problems in traditionally hazardous industries such as coal mining, agriculture, shipbuilding and construction.
The Opposition say that by cutting back on health and safety expenditure the Government are obstructing effective prevention. In 1980, 578 people died as a result of accidents at work and tens of thousands suffered ill health as a result of their occupation. It is estimated that industrial injury costs the nation about £2 billion annually. That is an estimate that I trust; its origin is the TUC. Compensation paid to accident victims nearly equals that £2 billion. The cost to the victims of accidents or loss of health can never be measured in currency terms.
The Opposition say that savings of a few million pounds in the staffing and research costs of the Health and Safety Executive would be shortsighted and wasteful in the context of industrial health and safety. This brings me to the issue of asbestos, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and by the hon. Member for Beeston in his informed speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley referred to the contribution of the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union and of the Transport and General Workers Union.
Few would now dispute that asbestos is the silent killer. It is a magic but tragic mineral. It is arguable that health hazards at work claim more deaths, suffering and disability than are claimed by safety hazards.
In October 1981, in a debate on the Floor of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster and I spoke in support of an amendment, on the subject of asbestos, which sought to ban imports of blue asbestos and to seek to move to a position where asbestos could be dispensed with. We were attacked and denounced for tabling such an amendment. Indeed, my speech, which I thought restrained and informed, was described as irresponsible by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith)—
I think that the stance we took on that occasion has been proved correct, for no one now, inside or outside the House, would argue against the awful, awesome and humilating details of "Alice, a Fight for Life", Yorkshire Television's block busting exposé of the terrible story of this magic, tragic mineral. That programme has clearly proved to be a watershed in the attitude throughout the country and, I hope, in the Department to this complex and terrifying substance.
David Gee, the health and safety research officer of the GMBATU, together with his national officer, Frank Earl, has campaigned vigorously for the men and women trapped into working with asbestos. In an article Mr. Gee asks:
What do I say to our insulation workers who have suffered and died at a rate of up to 1 in 2 whilst putting asbestos into our community? That nobody really cares unless they manage to die all at once in a Flixborough-type holocaust?
It seems that the cruel lesson of history is that taming the silent occupational health killers is much more difficult than getting action on safety hazards.
The Minister might like to deal in his reply with a matter raised in the February issue of Safety magazine, which has the large headline
The hatchet job HSE bosses did on asbestos law".
The gist of the story is:
Top government safety officials have deliberately watered down draft regulations aimed at tightening controls over the highly dangerous asbestos removal industry against the advice of their own departmental specialists.
There is the rub. Have top Government safety officials gone against the advice of their own departmental specialists? According to this sober story in Safety magazine of February 1983, the proposals were watered down
in the face of strong opposition from both unions and employers in the asbestos insulation industry who supported the original tougher proposals.
I should like to hear from the Minister a rebuttal or confirmation of that rather worrying report from Safety.
It is sobering for those of us who are worried about the ill effects of asbestos to realise that if the substance were banned tomorrow society would still be left with the task of safely removing millions of tonnes of it from various buildings, including schools and perhaps even hospitals. That work would probably cost more than £1 billion and if it were not done safely more deaths would occur.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about asbestos in schools. Four years ago, at Daneford school, which my children attend, a teacher who lives in my constituency said that she was suffering ill effects from asbestos. It was all denied and the poor girl had to take early retirement. The HSE now confirms that there was a danger, and it has done something about it.
I do not know the details of that case, but clearly the hon. Gentleman has followed it passionately and compassionately. I remember that some years ago the hon. Gentleman mentioned the dangers involved in removing some asbestos panels from the Palace of Westminster. He showed me some of the correspondence involved in that case, and another hon. Member pressed for the relevant legislation to be extended to cover this building.
I call in aid in my assertions about asbestos the CBI, which is not a political ally of the Opposition. The confederation recently issued an EC-wide press release on asbestos. It is urging the Government to press Brussels for early legislation on the use of asbestos. The press release says:
The mood of workers, employers and the public is one of anger and dismay at the continued delay.
The general idea of the press release is to exert pressure on the Council of Ministers, and the CBI has also written to the Secretary of State for Employment. The CBI was dissatisfied with the Council of Ministers' meeting, because Ministers referred the matter back to their officials. The CBI wanted positive action to be taken and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us about new moves by the Government. Urgent action is necessary.
A detailed review of the medical evidence relating to asbestos is to be undertaken by Sir Richard Doll of Green college, Oxford. What news can the Minister give us about the progress of that review? It would be helpful if the House could be told when the review will be completed.
I understand that the HSC is making urgent inquiries into the most recent developments in medical knowledge and the means of controlling exposure to asbestos, and that further action will be taken if the results of the inquiry show that to be necessary. As the commission launched its "urgent" inquiry in the autumn of last year, surely the Minister can give the House a report on it today.
The new employers' statutory sick pay responsibilities are having a serious and detrimental impact on the health and safety scene. After 6 April, industrial injury benefit will be abolished and replaced by an employers' statutory sick pay scheme. One consequence of the change will be that details of the vast majority of notifiable workplace accidents will no longer be able to be passed to the HSE by the DHSS, following a claim for benefit by an injured worker.
As a result, the Health and Safety Executive expects to lose about 95 per cent. of the information on accidents that it currently uses to help it to identify problems, take enforcement action and compile statistics. It will also mean the curtailment of the Health and Safety Executive's new computerised system for the collection and analysis of accident data generated by the Notification of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1980. From April, this issue will assume great proportions. From then, no comprehensive annual accident statistics will be available for the immediate future. After 6 April only a rump of legal obligations under those regulations will remain.
I am glad to say that the TUC is continuing to press for a return to a system of direct reporting of all accidents resulting in more than three days' absence from work. The Opposition support the TUC in that aim. There will be no comprehensive annual accident statistics in the foreseeable future. I emphasise the word "comprehensive". That is a worrying position. For the foreseeable future, the Health and Safety Executive will be flying blind on statistics and limping along because of the insufficient number of factory inspectors.
I wish briefly to touch on the growing concern about young people involved in the youth opportunity programmes, and on the new training scheme which is soon to begin. Young people working in factories are vulnerable to accidents if only because in the initial weeks and months they are unused to the procedures. I wish to instance the tragic case of Derek Cain of Sheffield which my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) raised indirectly through a parliamentary question about statistics.
On 20 December 1982 a Sheffield youth opportunity programme worker, Derek Cain, aged 17, was found dead after being injured on a paper baling machine at the firm of C. P. Plumb Ltd. Derek's father said that Derek was put on the machine after being at the firm for only a few days. The paper baler was complicated and, according to the factory inspector, should have been operated by at least two adults. Derek was left alone and unsupervised.
Between April 1981 and March 1982 3,251 accidents on the youth opportunity programme were notified, of which six were fatal. One person lost a hand and there were 42 accidents involving loss of fingers or toes. The accident rate for the year—admittedly there were tens of thousands of young men and women on the programme—was 5·8 per thousand. That is disturbing information. It is regrettable that the Government have taken such an ideological approach to industrial training boards. By abolishing so many of the boards, some of which are orientated to safety work, they have dispensed with much training expertise.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the extraordinary fact that the employment appeal tribunal has held that trainees under the various training schemes are not employees? They are not protected against unlawful discrimination. If they are not employees, they do not come under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Too many employers, however, forget that they are protected by section 3 and that they owe the same duty to trainees as they do to other employees. Will my hon. Friend invite the Minister to comment on this matter and perhaps to emphasise the point and also to say whether the Government are proposing to give the trainees the same protection as that enjoyed by others in this area—the absence of which is so deplorable? I have been pressing such action on the Government for months, but I have been unable to get a satisfactory reply.
I was saying that many who are familiar with training maintain that, as a result, the Health and Safety Commission's task will be harder in future years. Consequently, it will be even more difficult to assure the safety of youngsters who, in their tens of thousands, will flood into the new youth training scheme from Easter this year.
A Labour Government—there will assuredly in the near future be such a Government—will aim from their first day to promote improved health and safety at work. We are fully committed to the work of the Health and Safety Commission. We intend that its role should be enhanced to deal with current and potential dangers to workers from new production processes. It is our intention to reverse the Conservative Government's cuts in the commission's budget and to expand the Health and Safety Executive so that the 1974 Act can be effectively implemented and the current unwise and foolish inroads into manpower reversed.
It is a great pleasure to begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) for choosing this subject for what I might say, in the style of a particular television programme, is a felicitous farewell for a Friday. During the few minutes that my hon. Friend spoke we heard a clear statement of the importance of this subject. Without delving into matters for which other people might have responsibility, the House should be grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us the opportunity of this debate on a subject that must be near to the hearts of all working people throughout the country. His remarks set the debate off to a good start.
One of the few fortunate things that happened at the change of Government in 1974 is that we can prove that the health and safety legislation is an all-party set of rules. The legislation was introduced by the Conservative party, but it was passed by the Labour party. This means that whenever these debates are held—I agree that these matters should be discussed more often—we start from a basis of clear all-party support. It is true that there have been a number of sharp and, indeed, waspish remarks across the Floor today, but that does not do us any harm. It ensures that we do not become complacent. I may wish to refer to one of those exchanges, but I hope that we can start by accepting that on this issue we are on the same side, although the precise procedures by which we seek to reach our aim may differ.
Our aim is constantly to improve the record in British industry of safety at work. The first place to start must be where one of my hon. Friends started. My hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) was helpful in reminding us of the long story of safety at work and of the scandalous story of lack of safety at work.
One of the curious things about people's attitudes is how easily they forget the cost at which the normal amenities of life are produced. I shall give a personal constituency example. I do not find it difficult to keep my temper, but I lost it recently at a meeting. One of the more vociferous campaigners—in a cause with which I do not agree, but which is reasonable—against nuclear power stated that there was a difference in kind between the danger from nuclear radiation which she thought might occur from a nuclear power station and deaths in the mining industry. It takes a lot to make me angry, but I was angry at the idea that there is some way in which the death of people at work can be excused because it is at work, whereas, if this good lady's presumptions are slightly true—which seems to me to be largely fallacious—she might be at some tiny risk. That underlies in an extreme way what is in the minds of many who talk about safety at work. They seem to think that one opts out of the normal considerations because one goes down a mine or into a factory.
The debate has shown that on both sides of the House there is a determination to see that safety at work has a high priority. That subject causes great difficulty, because there are never enough resources. Both sides of the House will have to admit that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) was fair in the way in which he made his points. He has strong views and has put particularly strongly the case of the furniture workers. When we are dealing with something as obviously important as health and safety, all of us can do nothing but demand more resources, and inspectors, and more of everything, because there never will be enough in terms of the absolute. The problem facing Governments of all parties is to try to make a judgment at any time of what resources can be made available and, just as important, how best to use them.
I shall refer to resources later. We must be careful in what we propose neither to be too complacent nor to be so concerned to highlight what is wrong that we discourage those who are seeking to make improvements. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) will forgive me for my intervention if he felt that it in any way cast doubt on his sincerity. It did not. Since I have been in my job for a short number of months I have taken a particular interest in health and safety. I am deeply aware of the dedication of those who seek to make improvements all over the country and in every industry.
If we talk about the wearing of hard hats in the construction industry, we need to say always, particularly this year with Site Safe 1983, which has been so admirably supported throughout the industry, that a considerable improvement has been made since the old days when one saw hardly a hard hat anywhere. One has only to walk down a high street where construction work is taking place to see that it is different from what it would have been even five years ago. I know that even that is not good enough, and that is why I am campaigning as hard as I can for Site Safe 1983. Nevertheless, we must always be prepared, even when we are making our strongest criticisms, to give as much credit as can be given to those who work, often voluntarily, in great difficulty to ensure that the best standards of safety are found.
I pay tribute to many of the trade unions and employers for what they have done. It is their work to which I wish to draw attention in the context of the Site Safe scheme. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West has kindly told me that he has to leave. That is why I want to explain now why I feel strongly that we should be supportive as well as critical. Whatever we do, and however many inspectors there are, what matters in the end is that people at the place of work care enough to ensure that the regulations are carried out in the spirit as well as the letter.
If one examines the history of the subject, one discovers that the inspectorate was established almost 150 years ago. I should like to take this opportunity to say how much we respect the factory inspectorate's work. When it was established, there were four inspectors for the whole country. No doubt hon. Members at the time suggested that there should be more than four, just as there must have been others who suggested that they could make do with three. Both arguments are always present, and even if the number is only four it is a compromise between those who want widespread and increasing activity and those who believe that they can get by with rather less.
We should consider the inspectorate in the context of the proposals of the Robens committee. I know that the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) will agree that the most important element of that report was its insistence that, whatever legislation was passed, the clear and fundamental responsibility of the employer must not be removed. However detailed the legislation, and however comprehensive the inspectorate, responsibility ultimately lies with the employer. Moreover, responsibility for sensible practices must be shared, but not excused, by the activities of employees. That is vital, otherwise the system can never work.
Nevertheless, we can look back over a period during which standards have improved considerably. That is not to be complacent; it is merely to say that those who have brought about the improvements should be congratulated. Fatal accident rates per 100,000 have fallen between 1970 and 1974 and between 1975 and 1979 by 21 and 24 per cent. respectively. Those figures are important, as they show that a significant number of people who are now alive would have been dead if it had not been for the health and safety legislation and the increased awareness of the need for safe work.
Although it is difficult to make a comparison with other countries, it appears that we are high, if not very high, in the league of industrialised nations. However, we should not sink into our tents and say "All is well." I am anxious to make the self-regulation by industry a more effective means of reducing accidents. Such action is not a substitute, but an important part of the panoply. That is why the commission's decision to place greater emphasis on the development of standards by the industry is an important part of the armoury that we must have.
I believe that the most important problem is industrial noise. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch mentioned it, and the right hon. Member for Doncaster has a motion on the subject, which we may reach later. When I first became Under-Secretary of State I took a special interest in the matter for many reasons with which I shall not bore the House now.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that my remarks were not meant to be divisive. "Industry" means all those concerned, either collectively or individually. I do not detract from the essential responsibility of the employer, but all the elements must work together to ensure that self-regulation operates effectively.
Industrial noise is often not taken seriously. I direct the attention of the House to the danger of what I call legislation-led safety. There is a tendency to suggest that if the Government make a series of regulations they have solved the problem, but that may well be the last stage in solving the problem. First, we must establish that a problem exists and that it is worth taking trouble with. I have begun a personal campaign on noise, because most people do not believe that it matters. I have found throughout my working life that most people find deafness amusing, but anyone who has deaf friends or relations knows the devastating division between the individual and the rest of society.
Personal experience leads me to say that deafness is the major hazard of industry. No one who knows my background would accuse me of not taking pneumoconiosis seriously, but those who are partially disabled from that disease, after the initial great difficulty, which was graphically described by my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston of reaching the miners' club, still have the opportunity to participate by both talking and listening. The man who becomes deaf for industrial reasons may face many years of lonely old age that would be devastating to anyone's mental health, let alone to his physical health. I am glad that my hon. Friend placed such emphasis on industrial deafness.
People now live much longer than they used to, and health has improved to such an extent that most people can look forward to many years of retirement. Our hearing abilities decline with old age and we can do nothing about it. One explanation of why hon. Members lie so negligently upon the Benches in the Chamber is that they are trying to listen to the debate through the rose-shaped microphones behind them. Hon. Members who appear to lie most nonchalantly are usually those at the upper end of the age bracket. By nature they become deafer as they grow older.
The danger is that deafness can be made absolute, or nearly absolute, by damage done to young people's ears without their noticing it. Their hearing is sufficiently acute at that stage for them to suffer significant damage without realising that that will lead to serious deafness in later years. The first duty of the House is to dramatise deafness. The young must learn how damaging prolonged—or sometimes even quite short—exposure to loud noise can be. The popular image of deafness must be broken. I am asking representatives of those who work with the deaf to discuss that image. Hon. Members must try to overcome the way in which people regard deafness as unimportant or as something to be ridiculed.
As a result of the use of headphones—one sees people on television conducting discussions with a little implement in their ears—the concept of wearing an implement over the ears becomes less extraordinary and less connected with old age. I trust that there will be a breakthrough with young people because of the change in habits. Many people walk around, sometimes rather dangerously, listening to transistor radios and cassette recorders while wearing earphones. Many use their hi-fi earphones so as not to disturb their neighbours or the rest of the family. Young people no longer have a horror or fear of wearing a protector over the ears.
Many years ago I went to a drop-forging plant and was amazed to find that people were refusing to wear the protection provided. Among those who were not wearing protection were young people, to whom the most damage would be caused. I appreciate that great improvements have been made in the intervening years but the House cannot readily put aside the problems.
The consciousness of youngsters must be raised to the dangers of deafness. We must break through the wall that stops people understanding how to prevent deafness. The consciousness of industry must be raised.
Last week I visited a power station in my constituency. I discussed some of the problems with the staff in the turbine room. The turbines were of the type that might be found in other nuclear power stations. The CEGB is conducting exciting and important work into deafness and noise prevention throughout the country. The nuclear power station that I visited is one of the triumphs of British engineering and has been operating for 17 or 18 years.
When the turbines were installed, the problem of noise was not considered. It had to build acoustic booths later so that people could work safely. That major public corporation, a leader in dealing with industrial deafness, had to build suitable housing, separate from the existing design, for people to work safely. That is an example of how far we have moved, and how far we must still move, in dealing with industrial noise.
I have written to the chairman of the commission saying that we must take further action well in advance of the European directive. Awareness is the key to the issue. I want the commission to examine ways to raise public consciousness of its seriousness. If we could make people do what they should be doing under the Act, that would make a major difference in the number of people whose lives are less happy—and sometimes thoroughly unhappy—because of that appalling affliction. Deafness is the second most common industrial disease, the first being back pain, the incidence of which is more widely spread.
When a company is tendering for machinery for a power station, if it includes the cost of such special requirements as acoustic booths, the overall cost of the project becomes too great. Tragically, companies are prepared to buy cheaper quality goods. But, because of the dangers, they eventually have to spend that money so that their people can work in safety.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Because people do not treat the matter seriously enough, they make decisions that are later proved wrong. They find not only that their working practices have caused harm but that they must eventually spend money on safety measures.
It is important that we take seriously the European dimension. We must try to reach sensible, not loony, agreements. People must realise the seriousness of the issue when making their decisions. We must consider producing machinery at a cost suitable not only for Britain, but for wider sale. The European dimension is vital.
There is considerable benefit to be gained from working with our partners in Europe to deal not only with deafness, but with other matters such as asbestosis. I think it bad when European workers die of asbestosis or live out their lives suffering from it. I find it difficult to take the narrow view that the issue affects only Britain.
The standards that the Community is seeking for Europe as a whole will mean that competition will be avoided. Many sensible safety changes have not been implemented because people feared that they could not compete if they had to carry the additional costs involved. Therefore, the bringing together of the countries of western Europe is vital. In our generalised arguments about the Community we fail to realise how much we have done, and how much there is still to do. The countries of Europe should come together to protect the safety of the people of Europe. As the largest trading group in the world, if the European Community lays down standards for itself it can force them upon others. They will not be able to sell us machinery unless it meets our standards. We can use the European Community as its founding fathers wanted, for the improvement of all nations, and not just take the narrow view.
Sometimes we cannot do some of the more general things that we should like to do as quickly as we should like. That is true of many things. It is much easier to introduce safety arrangements in Suffolk than if they are spread throughout East Anglia. It is much easier to introduce them in East Anglia than in the whole of England. It is easier to do it in England if one does not have to consider Scottish law. We do not say that, as we cannot introduce arrangements for the United Kingdom quickly enough, we shall introduce them piecemeal throughout the country. We take the matter seriously. We say that it will take longer, but we want something that will cover the United Kingdom. I believe that we must now go further and, wherever we can, see that arrangements cover the European Community. We must accept that occasionally some things we would like to do will take longer because we want to ensure that they apply to all the countries and people of Western Europe.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr Cryer) referred to asbestos as a complex and dangerous substance. Both words are important. I believe that it is right to press for standards of safety relating to asbestos to cover Europe. There is considerable opposition from some countries to the standards that we want to see introduced.
This country started with a great advantage which was given to us by a former Labour Government. I do not want to detract from the advantages gained from the Asbestos Regulations 1969. Sometimes those who talk about asbestos and what must be done about it talk as if we have no regulations. In fact, they are some of the best in the world. I am pleased that we can build on the regulations introduced by Labour Ministers.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Keighley did not say that he would not be here. He put forward some combative and extreme views. However, I shall have to comment in his absence upon what he said. It is not fair to attack people about this subject inaccurately and with a lack of respect for the facts. That is behaviour he would normally attack in others.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the 41 recommendations of the Simpson committee and complained that they had not been implemented. The central and most important recommendations, which dealt with controlling the conditions under which asbestos can be used, were implemented in January this year. The hon. Gentleman's silly attack has missed the target. There are some targets, and I am prepared to admit that there are many things that we should have done but have not. The hon. Gentleman does his case no good by waxing eloquently and angrily about so many things that it is difficult to decide which of them to take seriously.
We have done a great deal. We should like to have done a great deal more and we hope to do a great deal more in Europe. We believe that there should be a reduction of control limits for exposure to asbestos and that the licensing of work for installation and coating is important. We believe that there should be a prohibition on the use of asbestos in installation and spraying and a prohibition on the import, marketing and use of crocidolites and products containing it. These things are vital, but even now we cannot say that we have achieved all that we wished.
The new control limits are central to the ACA recommendations. We now enforce an upper limit—I stress that it is an upper limit, because one seeks always to achieve levels below the maximum—which the inspectorate and the advisers already ensured was observed by almost everyone in the industry by the time the new limit came into operation on 1 January. The regulations thus generally confirmed what was already a fact. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans was right to say that we should be cautious about regarding legislation as the only answer. Often legislation simply confirms that which we have sought to achieve through action within the industry. I hope that we may now bring the actual limits generally below the maximum that we have set.
The Minister spoke with some vigour in support of licensing asbestos contractors. The latest issue of Safety & Fire News—a publication that is read with respect and interest by all who are concerned about these matters—states:
The Chief Inspector of Factories, Jim Hammer, has strongly criticised regulations to clamp down on asbestos removal that his own inspectors will have to enforce when they become law.
It reports that in a letter to the national officer of the GMBATU Mr. Hammer revealed his
grave doubts about a scheme for licensing contractors.
He spells out that such a scheme will have severe limitations, that it could give a seal of approval to incompetent contractors and that he personally favoured an alternative plan involving registration.
He then explained at length why he took that view. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that as the view of the chief inspector of factories is somewhat at variance with that which the Minister expressed on behalf of the Department today.
The right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on something that he has only just read to me, especially as the situation is clear. The commission has produced a consultative document on revised proposals for regulating and licensing the work of asbestos contractors. The document has aroused much interest and is now being discussed. All manner of views will be received—including, no doubt, the reported views, real or otherwise, of the chief inspector of factories. The commission will then make proposals to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the action that should be taken.
Again, we are dealing with highly complex matters. To get these things right means taking time to consult, and it is essential to get them right. I agree that there are problems. The commission places such importance on the question of licensing that it has produced a consultative document and will in due course produce proposals. I am pleased that it has taken the matter so seriously. When we receive the proposals we can argue about whether they are right.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) referred to nasal carcinoma in the woodworking industry. I should like to discuss with him at length some of the results that may come from the monitoring procedures and the comparisons now being undertaken. As always, the hon. Gentleman campaigns well for the matters about which he is concerned. I hope that he agrees that we shall now be able to see what is widely felt to be true—that there have been major advances—and whether further steps can be taken to improve the position. All of us who have suffered from asthma know that the effect of dust on the chest is very serious and needs to be properly controlled. Whatever may be said about the past, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is convinced that we intend to bring about the improvements for which he has fought.
I thought that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch was less than fair—if I may say so, uncharacteristically—about the figures. Almost all the figures in the HSC annual report refer either to the financial year 1981–82 or the calender year 1981. As the report was produced before the end of 1982, it would be difficult for the commission to take in the whole of 1982. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that there are other figures that are relevant, I shall be happy to make inquiries and to talk to the HSC about them.
The problem of sick pay is concerning us considerably. I hope that the opportunity will be taken to consider the use to which the HSE puts the figures that it gets and the sort of figures that it should have. I am sure that it knows about the discussions that are taking place between the various interests. I hope that we shall arrive at an answer that will be satisfactory to all concerned. We must have the right figures and then we must ensure that they are used properly. One of the curses of modern life is that many figures are produced but little use is made of some of them. Sometimes we insist upon collecting information and then fail to use it effectively. It is my duty and intention to ensure that any figures that are collected are used effectively. That will be the judgment on which I shall base the proposals that will be submitted to the House.
Many hon. Members are concerned about fees and the cost of the various health and safety at work provisions. The Government have raised the fees for medical examinations. They had not been increased for eight years. The size of the increase was perhaps more than it would have been if increases had been made year by year. I must say, in the absence of the hon. Member for Keighley, that it is odd to suggest that there is a threat that EMAS will be closed. Less than 5 per cent. of the work load of EMAS doctors comes within this ambit. The idea that 5 per cent. of their work load is hypothetically affected suggests inattention to the facts and over-attention to the spleen that characterises the hon. Gentleman.
I assure the House that I take seriously all that has been said about safety on escalators. I have three small children under the age of five years and so I am especially concerned. It is an issue that comes within the scope of health and safety at work because shop assistants, for example, use escalators as much as shoppers. Some clear advances have been made in recent months and years. New escalators have a number of safety features which old ones lack. There is now knowledge of the dangers posed by escalators, especially to the feet of small children, which get into places that nobody but their parents would ever believe possible.
I do not wish to say very much about the Salford explosion. Criminal proceedings are involved and the report cannot properly be published until those proceedings have been completed. I assure the House that when that stage is reached the report will be made known to all. That is the view that we have always had and it will be maintained.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-. East (Sir B. Braine), whose constituency covers Canvey Island—he has apologised for his absence and explained that he is otherwise engaged—that he will have the report on that. I am sure that it will meet the real fears that he has had about his constituency.
The problems associated with manual handling are difficult because of their universality. I understand the argument of those who say that lifting heavy weights in industry is no different from lifting heavy weights in agriculture and that we should have rules and regulations covering all areas of activity. The Health and Safety Commission has been involved in dealing with the matter and some major changes are now taking place.
It has to be realised that all our legislation is piecemeal. It grew up as people recognised particular problems, which were then answered in a particular way. It is not always easy to bring all the answers together. Sometimes there are anomalies. I hope it will not be thought that we should lessen the protection that we give in agriculture merely because we have not finished the process of dealing with the wider range of protection that there needs to be.
I shall deal quickly with the question of Crown immunity—[Interruption.] I say "quickly" because of the short time remaining. Both Conservative and Labour Governments have faced the difficulties arising from Crown immunity. There is no easy answer to them. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) dealt clearly with the issues and the problems. As so often, although the issues and the problems may be clear, the solutions are not. I shall look most carefully not only at what he has said but at the present position to see whether there is any way in which we can proceed. The issues that he raised are real and the problems are important. Although I can promise him no solution, I shall see whether there is any way in which we can change the position for the better.
As I represent an agricultural constituency, I should not like to miss the opportunity of dealing with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills). Althouh I dislike the word "obscenity" in a campaigning sense, I would use it in regard to the practice of carelessly putting a dangerous chemical such as paraquat into lemonade bottles. It is an example of the sort of damage that can so easily arise not only on farms but in other establishments. I underline the absolute necessity to protect third parties, and especially those who are too young to know about the danger of drinking paraquat. There are also problems arising from dangerous litter, and in relation to forestry and in other areas.
Above all, problems arise through the use of guns. I enjoy shooting. Most of the shooting fraternity treat guns with the healthy respect with which they ought to be treated, but there are still too many accidents. There are still too many people who think that they know better than the rules. There are still too many people whose habits are wrong. If I may inject a piece of Victorian morality into the debate, I suggest that good habits at the work place, out shooting, on the farm, or wherever it may be, do more good than almost anything else. If people are in the habit of acting in a safe way, that is the best protection for the community.
Between 1976 and 1981 there was a significant decrease in the number of fatal accidents in agriculture, from 108 to 71. That is still 71 too many, but it is a significant improvement and one that we should bear in mind when we talk so much about diminishing resources.
With regard to the problems in construction, I know that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch would wish me to emphasise the need to support the Site Safe campaign. Had the campaign been successful, the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred would not have occurred. We are doing as much as we can to ensure that the construction industry becomes much safer. It is a serious campaign and we must not let it slide.
If I were to answer all the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston I should delay the House for too long, but it was valuable for my hon. Friend to put the case of the mining industry. It is significant that not many mining Members felt it necessary to take part in the debate. I do not attack them for that, but it is a comment on the increased safety in the mines. I am determined that the improvement in safety statistics should continue. Nothing should cause us to become complacent.
I shall talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about safety in schools, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the safety of horse riders. Perhaps his speech did not have much to do with safety at work, but it had much to do with general safety issues. He avoided strictures from the Chair, while pointing out that serious and sensible people still managed to kill themselves while doing something that they had no business to be doing and setting an example that they had no business to be setting.
I appeal to those who think that, for fashionable reasons, it is worth cutting a dash rather than concentrating on safety to remember that those who watch them are often much younger, less experienced and less able to realise the seriousness of what they are doing.
Much has been said about the resources devoted to health and safety. The figures show that we are becoming much healthier and much more safety conscious. The resources provided for health and safety have been greater in each year of this Government than in the last year of the previous Government. I am not making a party political point; I am merely stating a fact.
Criticisms are made about the number of factory inspectors and other inspectors, but the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston said, we have gone to so much trouble to get more mining inspectors, even though they are difficult to recruit because of the nature of the people required in that job, and that the Health and Safety Commission has reorganised its programme and priorities to make much better use of available resources should lead us to conclude that it is not right to make the sorts of complaints about resources that have been made by some of the more extreme commentators.
I assure the House that the Government are determined to ensure that we have an effective health and safety system. There is no truth in the scare stories that the Government intend to destroy what has been set up. The existing system has an all-party basis and we intend to keep it that way.
No. I cannot give way, because I wish to leave time for the next debate.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) that it is important that the problems of small firms should be borne in mind and that many problems are connected not with health and safety, but with filling in forms. However, safety is as important in small firms as in large firms. I shall think about whether the voice of small firms is properly heard and do my best to ensure that it is, but I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that it is our duty to ensure that workers in all firms are properly protected.
I hope that those who are worried about the interpretation and enforcement of health and safety legislation will remember that it is not the duty of the HSE alone. Much work is done by local authority representatives. It is important that zeal should always be shown, but it is equally important that that zeal should not become officiousness. Dangers arise if people begin to think that ensuring health and safety is all a nuisance and a bore and cease to give their enthusiastic support to it. In the sense that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West meant that, I agree with him. I hear too many examples of people who, because of an argument with an inspector about somewhere to wash their hands when the tea is made, say that health and safety is nonsense. Such issues can cause a great deal of damage throughout the whole system.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans for moving the motion. He has benefited the House greatly by enabling us to discuss the issue today. If we can make health and safety something worth campaigning about, something that is worth making important in the industrial life of this country and, above all, something that people can see not only as the other man's responsibility, or the Government's responsibility, but as their individual responsibility, the progress that both parties have achieved so far will continue. We will then be able to say that this country leads the world, not only in what it does at home, but in what it seeks to influence others to do within the community of Europe.
With the permission of the House, I shall be brief, because the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) has been patiently waiting to move a motion that is germane to what has been discussed already and is of great importance to all concerned.
It is clear that the message that will go out from the House today is one of satisfaction, not only with the way in which the Health and Safety Commission and Executive work, but with the way in which employers and the trade unions co-operate to see that that work is carried out. That being so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.