Health and Safety

– in the House of Commons at 10:13 pm on 11th February 1985.

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Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Employment 10:13 pm, 11th February 1985

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1984 (S.I., 1984, No. 1902), dated 4th December 1984, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th December, be annulled.

This important regulation deals with major issues in many parts of the country. However, before I comment on it, I wish to say at the outset that we received two statutory instruments from the Vote Office — one printed in December and the other printed in January. Some corrections have been made to the statutory instrument, one of which extends the period during which organisations must co-operate with the regulation. The Department has been especially sloppy in that respect. This should not have been allowed to happen and I want to hear from the Minister why it did. Was there pressure from the industry to extend the period after which the regulations will become applicable? One of our major criticisms of the regulations is that they do not go far enough in meeting our anxieties.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene at such an early stage. The copy of the regulations that was signed and laid before Parliament contained no errors. However, there was a misprint in the explanatory memorandum and the memorandum has been reprinted for the convenience of the House. It contains the same date as the consultative document which, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman will have read. No doubt he will forgive us for any attempt to move the final date of implementation backwards.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Employment

Yes. I notice that an extra six months is allowed before it is necessary to comply with the regulations. The change to which the Minister has referred means that there will be four and a half years before it is necessary to comply with the regulations, instead of four years. That will not go down very well in many areas where there is extreme concern about the concentration of hazardous materials. Many incidents are still fresh in our minds. The terrible Bhopal tragedy is especially clear in our minds. As I come from Humberside, I recall the night of the explosion at Flixborough. Most of those living on the north or the south bank of the Humber heard that terrible and tragic explosion. Much of the plant was blown across the river on to the north bank. The Flixborough disaster led to the establishment of committees to consider the regulations that were required for explosive chemicals.

Since the Flixborough disaster of 1974, there have been fires and explosions at Barking, Stalybridge, Manchester and Sheffield. There is the controversy in Livingston about whether Union Carbide should be allowed to develop a plant in that area. I am sure that every hon. Member will be increasingly concerned, as will their constituents, about the growing problems arising from the concentration of hazardous materials and substances.

The regulations before us stem from the terrible accident and tragedy at Seveso in Italy, which led the Community to develop regulations. The delay in the implementation of the regulations arising from the Seveso incident has caused delay in action being taken in Britain. More than three reports have come from the advisory committee since the Flixborough explosion in 1974.

I am sure that the House will welcome any regulations that seek to improve safety and to reduce the repetition of the tragic incidents to which I have referred. Any extra-statutory controls that are envisaged in the regulations requiring notification, safety plans, on and off-site emergency plans and the provision of information for local authorities, however limited, are to be welcomed. However, these improvements represent a step forward and two steps backwards. The Opposition's criticisms of the regulations are considerable. We are in considerable doubt whether they should be given full support. I am eager to hear what the Minister has to say in their defence.

First, the regulations are limited in application. They do not apply to all the areas of concern where incidents are likely to occur. Secondly, the requirement on manufacturers to provide information does not go far enough. Thirdly, the resources required for the implementation of the regulations will not be met adequately.

After the Flixborough incident, a study was undertaken of the advisory bodies to ascertain how many plants should be covered by the controls as envisaged. The first report, which appeared in the mid-1970s, showed that 5,000 such places should be subject to some form of control. It was an identification of all the areas of concern. In 1982, the regulations which were introduced identified 1,600 plants and areas of concern. The regulations before us identify only 250 such plants, which is only 5 per cent. of the 5,000 which were identified in 1976. That is a tremendous climb-down from the areas which were first identified following the concern about the Flixborough incident which itself would not have been covered by these regulations.

Under the regulations, the Health and Safety Executive has identified large inventory plants and it believes that 250 should be required to co-operate with the regulations by providing safety plans and taking other action. The Health and Safety Executive designates small inventory areas — those plants and areas where the chemical concentrations are less than the minimum criteria laid down in the legislation. There are more than 1,000 of them.

I understand that there is some controversy in one regard. The EEC Commission believes that these regulations should apply to all large and small plants. The Opposition agree, because most of the explosions have occurred in small plant areas. Those areas will not be covered by these regulations if the large inventory areas interpretation is taken into account. Do the Government intend to make it clear to the Health and Safety Executive that these requirements should apply to the 1,250 areas as a whole and not just to the 250 plants of particular concern? We criticise also the measures relating to accountability and information. The regulations require safety plans to be provided by 1989, but that is a long way off. This is not satisfactory. Our criticisms relate also to other aspects of the regulations. First, the requirements to provide information to the different authorities — county and district — differ. I believe that that will lead to confusion. The authorities have complained about that aspect. Secondly, there is no requirement to report to the safety committee at the plant—to the shop stewards and the workers — about dangerous chemicals and areas. Thirdly, the on-site manufacturer can prepare a plan, but, under these regulations, he is required only to consult the person whom he thinks is appropriate. The regulations do not specifically make it clear that, if the manufacturer cannot agree with the local authority about the actions he wishes to take in his plant, he cannot just go to someone whom he thinks is appropriate and fulfil his obligations under the regulations. That is not satisfactory.

Fourthly, the information to be given to the public is not required to be given directly to the public, and that is unsatisfactory. The information may be given to the local authority and will be given to the Health and Safety Executive but the executive is not under an obligation, according to the legislation, to give confidential information to the public. Complaints have been made that these regulations do not enable such essential information to be made available to anyone who inquires.

In the February 1985 edition of Health and Safety at Work Alex Crawford states in the editorial: those liable to be affected by a major accident have no right, under these new regulations, to challenge the manufacturer's description of the nature of the hazard to which he is exposing them, the safety measures he proposes, nor the behaviour he lays down for them to adopt in the event of a major accident. The same editorial contains a complaint by a consultant who said that the secrecy surrounding this information should not be allowed.

Members of Parliament are asking for information on the plants in their areas that will be identified under the regulations as containing hazardous materials. I have acquired a Health and Safety Executive document which makes it clear that, under the old 1982 regulations, 42 plants were designated in my area of Humberside—one of the most dangerous areas for chemical plants in the United Kingdom — as places to be identified to the authorities as possible dangerous locations. Under the new regulations only 12 of those 42 plants have to be identified. That is the scale of the reduction in the requirements. Are Members of Parliament and the public entitled to know whether the areas in which they live are designated as dangerous?

The Health and Safety Executive cannot make that information available, therefore the Government should change the health and safety legislation so that people may obtain it, and allow Members of Parliament to have access to it. In the Humberside region 12 plants can be identified as needing consideration. One of them is the Ciba-Geigy chemical plant in Grimsby, which is the only plant using the same chemicals as those at Bhopal. The House can imagine how worried are the people living in that area, especially as the Health and Safety Executive has removed the only health and safety inspector form that plant.

My final criticism of the regulations relates to the resources available for their implementation. The Health and Safety Executive, which provides the factory inspectors, will have its work load increased fivefold by the requirements of the legislation. In 1979,964 inspectors were employed by the Health and Safety Executive. The Labour Government's plans provided for that number to increase to 1,150. By 1984, the number had fallen to 824 —a 16 per cent. fall. The greatest drop has been in the number of field inspectors. There has been a 19 per cent., fall from 644 inspectors to 537. They are the people who should check what manufacturers are saying and whether there is a threat to surrounding communities. Their number has been reduced because of the Government's cut in resources to the Health and Safety Executive.

When the Government have to decide between tax cuts or factory inspectors, they should opt for the latter so as to assure people living around the plants.

There is considerable criticism of the resources available and the accountability provided under the regulations. We hope that the Minister will say whether he is satisfied with the regulations, whether he intends to introduce further changes under the planning regulations and whether the Government can improve the position and reduce the growing anxiety felt in areas such as Barking, Sheffield and Livingston. The public will begin to demand action. I predict that explosions and other incidents will occur in plants that are not covered by the regulations. For the House to vote on regulations that may improve the position in 250 plants but ignore a further 1,000 plants and warehouses is to ignore the types of places where explosions and fires have taken place.

The measure is perhaps motivated by the best of intentions within the EEC, but its implementation is conditioned by a lack of adequate resources. It omits hazardous areas from the full effects of the controls and leaves the Opposition in serious doubt as to whether to support the regulations. We shall listen carefully to what assurances the Minister can give us.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury 10:27 pm, 11th February 1985

I listened to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) with great interest. He spoke forcefully. He was somewhat critical of the regulations introduced by the Government on this important subject. I sense that he was critical of the fact that we were dealing with the issue late at night. Many hon. Members are worried that we are dealing with the subject of major hazards and possible major disasters late at night. We have recently seen the horrific disaster at Bhopal. It should never have happened. The process was well known. We are considering something which has been delivered to us by the Commission in Brussels.

This country has always been interested in preventing major industrial disasters and hazards, whether in the factory, through explosion, fire, or the dispersal of toxic and dangerous substances from a factory to affect the surrounding community.

I should declare an interest. I have a long-standing interest as a director of a chemical company and I am an adviser to the principal distributor in this country of liquefied petroleum gas, which is a hazardous product. I am also chairman of the all-party group on the chemical industry which has, appropriately, shown an all-party interest in the problems of an industry which deals in danger and hazards.

Our industry has a remarkably fine record. The Flixborough disaster happened at a weekend and the BBC rang me at home before contacting any Government spokesmen. I suppose that I was asked for an immediate comment because of my long interest in the industry.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said that the regulations were not demanding enough. That is a matter for debate, but they set out a great deal with which manufacturers must comply. I am pleased that a comprehensive guide to the regulations has been issued by the Government and the Health and Safety Executive to help manufacturers to comply with the regulations.

The guide takes us through the regulations. That is helpful, because regulations are often written for Parliament and sometimes have to be interpreted subsequently by lawyers. The guide will help employers and employees in the industry to understand the regulations.

Regulation 7 sets out the safety case and requires manufacturers to ensure that the production, handling and storage of hazardous products ore safe. Manufacturers also have to identify any potential danger and confirm that they have provided appropriate safety controls at all stages, not only for those working in a plant, but for those in the immediate vicinity who could be put in danger if anything went wrong.

Regulation 8 is equally important, because it requires the Government and the HSE to ensure that safety measures are kept up to date. They also have to ensure that manufacturers are kept informed of the latest developments and information on products and manufacturing processes.

Regulation 9 gives the HSE the Dickensian opportunity of being able to ask for more if necessary. That is belt and braces, but, heaven knows, we should be asking for belt and braces when considering any major hazards in industry, whether inside or outside the factory. It is right that the regulations should be tough in that regard.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Is the hon. Gentleman confident that the regulations will dispel the real anxieties felt by communities within which such plants are situated? The people of Livingston, despite the high unemployment in the area, have rejected overwhelmingly Union Carbide's plans to set up a plant there. They have made their objections felt by way of the Livingston development corporation, which, in turn, has said that those developments will go no further.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I shall develop a matter that he touched on — whether people outside the professional area of knowledge have a right to say that they are concerned. I believe that they have a right. That is why Parliament has that right this evening. That is why there is a continuing obligation on the Government and the Health and Safety Executive to continue that right of investigation and query. Through local authorities and Members of Parliament in the Chamber itself, the public must constantly inquire as to the wisdom of allowing an operation to continue in any place. We must be sure; we cannot take risks. I should like to refer to how I believe risks have sometimes been created by mistake on the part of not only manufacturers but local authorities.

Therefore, I can say, "So far, so good" about the three regulations that I have described. I accept them. We can be satisfied that we have satisfied Brussels, but that is not enough. Regulations, rules and codes of practice are fine in writing; fine for the lawyers, insurance agents and assessors after the event. They know where they stand. They are fine for the local authorities that will know whether they have made a mistake in controlling something. They are fine even for the manufacturers who will know whether they have abided by the regulations when there is a disaster or an accident. But are they good enough for us in Parliament? Are they good enough for the public outside? Are they good enough for the press as they watch for what might happen after any major accident and consider whether we could have been wiser?

I say to the Minister and the whole House that it is not so much what is written in these detailed regulations that matters, but it is how the regulations are operated and implemented that counts. We know in the chemical industry that all the fine rules about safety are only as good as the way in which they are operated—accurately and absolutely correctly. We know that danger exists in industry sometimes through human error, human laxity or carelessness. We must ensure that we do not allow laxity or carelessness to occur.

There is mention in the regulations of local authorities at both county and district level. They all have a responsibility to ensure that the manufacturing and storage operations that take place within their areas are satisfactory to them. Responsibility is laid on them. One responsibility is to ensure that in their planning they do not allow the wrong type of development to occur around the manufacture of certain products. That has happened in the past. There was housing development close to the border of Flixborough. That was obviously a mistake. We have had such problems. In Bhopal, for example, we saw how a great number of people were allowed to live right up to the factory perimeter, which was a tragic mistake in planning. Therefore, the local authority, as well as the manufacturer, has responsibility for observing the codes and regulations.

In a quite different area of activity, local authorities have allowed housing development up to the perimeter of major airports such as Heathrow. That must not continue. The danger is not so much the real risk of aircraft crashing as the noise and pollution caused by so much aircraft activity. There is also the cost of double glazing to diminish the effect of what is really an industrial activity. The local authority has a responsibility not to permit domestic housing development right up to the perimeter of industrial operations where there is any question of a hazard of the type described in the regulations.

I promised to be brief and this is my last word. I believe that these are good regulations. They satisfy Brussels, but for the House to be satisfied we must be sure that the Department and the Health and Safety Executive will be constantly vigilant to ensure that they are operated at the highest level of efficiency.

Photo of Mr Edward Garrett Mr Edward Garrett , Wallsend 10:41 pm, 11th February 1985

Like the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), I must declare an interest as an official of the all-party group on the chemical industry. I also spent 20 years with ICI at the sharp end of industrial production in the chemical industry, so I know of the risks involved, whether the substance be toxic or non-toxic, inflammable or non-inflammable, explosive or non-explosive.

The regulations go as far as one can expect in the circumstances. The existing regulations have been built up over the years, and I assure the House that they are applied with as strict a discipline as they would be in the Armed Forces. That discipline is instilled into every employee of ICI and other large companies. If a person fails to accept that discipline, he will not last in the chemical industry. He will do no good for himself or for the employer. With the current scale of industrial production in this country and chemical manufacture in Europe, it is essential to keep a sense of balance and to, remember the human factor. We shall never entirely eliminate the risk of explosion or poisoning by chemical waste.

What disturbs me about the present regulations and also the proposed regulations is the somewhat blasé approach to cost. It costs the chemical industry a great deal of money to train people to the present high standards. That training continues relentlessly virtually every day of the year and it applies to all ranks, from the humble process worker to senior management. As I have said, anyone who does not accept that strict principle should not be in the chemical industry. Nevertheless, there is the possibility that the proposed regulations will be implemented without the necessary skills of inspection to ensure that they are effective and are carried out to the required standards. A financial commitment is to be imposed on an industry some sections of which are not making vast profits, on the Health and Safety Executive and on the local authorities.

How can we expect the local authorities to monitor the implementation of the regulations when the number of people employed in local authorities is being cut? I am thinking in particular of the fire services. The fire services are stretched to the limit now, and there are moves to cut them further. Yet it is the fire service in the main that will have to take the first emergency action if there is an incident. I know that the fire service is trained to the limit, in co-operation with the companies, to deal with any emergency at a plant. The House should not underestimate the superb quality of the training process or the skill of the fire officers in knowing how to react in an emergency.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

That point is of real importance and relevant to south Yorkshire, where there was recently a serious fire in consequence of which many firemen are still unwell and large quantities of asbestos were blown over my constituency and that of Rotherham.

If an industrial establishment is inadequately supervised and inspected in the first place, the hazards facing the fire service will be even greater.

Photo of Mr Edward Garrett Mr Edward Garrett , Wallsend

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the south Yorkshire fire services, which in the past have been to the fore in co-operating with chemical plants in the area in joint training exercises.

I hope that the Minister will accept that, before the regulations are implemented, there must be adequate education of all parties involved to ensure that they fully understand them.

The large companies that run chemical plants tend to spend a great deal of money on education, and to get results. The same is true of medium-sized companies. However, I have some reservations about companies lower down the scale, especially where the storage of hazardous substances is concerned. I would not wish to stifle initiative or to frustrate the wish of any entrepreneur to establish a business in chemical manufacture or distribution. I believe, however, that the small operator in this sector of the industry should be given some financial encouragement to train his staff or to enable them to acquire the necessary knowledge of how to act in an emergency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is no longer in his place. [Interruption] I am sorry. I see that my hon. Friend has merely shifted his position, as it were, somewhat to the right. My hon. Friend expressed some concern about the shop stewards. The trade unions in the larger companies of which I have knowledge, through the shop stewards, are fully informed about, and fully participate in, all training matters and in the exercises and emergency drills that take place almost every day.

The regulations are an improvement. When they are implemented, let us make sure that the three main parties concerned are determined that they will work and that the training and education takes place. If we do so, the British people will retain their confidence in the chemical industry.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury 10:49 pm, 11th February 1985

I wish to make five brief points. First, these regulations have been commended to Parliament by the Health and Safety Commission, which includes not only representatives of British industry through the CBI but also the TUC and local authorities.

Secondly, these regulations are not, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) seemed to imply, limited to only 250 sites. They relate to many more sites because they require the manufacturers of certain dangerous, explosive, flammable or toxic substances to provide evidence at any time that they have identified hazards, have taken adequate precautions to minimise their occurrence and have plans to reduce the consequences of any accidents. Therefore, the activating factor is not the site but the manufacture of certain dangerous substances. It is right that under the regulations certain sites with large inventories of dangerous substances have higher duties placed upon them, but to suggest that they relate to only 250 sites is to mislead the House.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury

It is not a hand-out. The hon. Gentleman and I both read the same magazines because we study this subject assiduously. If he turns to page 9 of this month's Health and Safety at Work, magazine, he will see that I am exactly right.

Thirdly, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) that no amount of regulation, however strict, will ever surpass self-regulation. It is clear that at all times those involved in the manufacture of chemicals have the highest possible self-regulation, both at company level and, as the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) said, among individual workers.

Fourthly, one must find a balance. It is inevitable that if further regulations are imposed on industry, a cost will have to be borne. There will be additional paperwork, and extra expenses will have to be met for emergency planning. Resources will consequently be diverted from other more productive activity, and at the end of the day the additional costs will be borne by the consumer. That is perfectly proper, but a balance must be found between that and the danger which one seeks to minimise or control. These regulations balance the sensible needs of good practice in industry in relation to on-site emergency plans, close liaison with the local emergency authority and emergency services, the control of major hazards and regular consultation with the local authority both on planning applications for new products and generally.

Fifthly, it may be suggested that these regulations should be taken in isolation. That is not so. These regulations and the Notification of Installations Handling Hazardous Substances Regulations, together with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act itself, constitute a substantial code of law for the control of major hazard installations. Recent amendments to planning law have also meant that development projects involving a dangerous substance now require planning permission.

Further regulations — the Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Premises) Regulations—are now under consideration. Taken as a whole they will ensure that any factory with more than 25 tonnes of a dangerous substance will have to notify that fact to the Health and Safety Executive. They afford substantial protection, and it is misleading to suggest that the regulations we are now discussing must be taken in isolation.

I notice that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is now back in his place. If he looks at page 9 of this month's edition of Health and Safety at Work, he will see that it confirms my point that these regulations apply to considerably more than 250 sites.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn , Sheffield Central 10:54 pm, 11th February 1985

The regulations have the wrong title. They should be called "The Enormous Hazards Regulations" as there are no regulations for major hazards. The vast majority of hazardous plants in urban areas will not be affected by them.

Considerable disquiet is being expressed by the emergency services at the small amount of legislation to deal with these potentially dangerous hazards. The fire in Sheffield has already been mentioned, and this is an example of what can be considered as a hazard to the community in and around Sheffield. On the 14 December last year, a fire broke out in the National Carriers depot in Brightside lane, where 70 tonnes of chemcials were stored. It took 26 appliances and over 400 firemen to put the fire out. Over £10 million worth of damage was done. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) talked about the cost of these regulations, but the cost of the damage done in that fire, which lasted for six days, must also be taken into consideration.

I received a letter from the chief fire officer, and I shall quote it to show that the professional people are extremely concerned about the problems that they face with the lack of regulations. He says: The main causes for the amount of damage by the fire and the hazards to personnel undertaking necessary fire fighting operations are readily identified as follows.

  1. 1. (a) A delay in detection of the fire and subsequent call to the Fire Service occurred which allowed an uncontrolled fire to develop for at least 30 minutes.
  2. (b) The fire separation between the various units within the building could not be assessed and could be regarded as nothing better than providing physical division between occupancies with the exception only of a single wall beyond which the fire was prevented from spreading.
  3. (c) The undivided area between the roof lining and the structural roof which allowed ready passage of flames throughout the roofed area which caused its early collapse."
His next point is extremely important. He said: The building and the stored contents have not caused any existing legislation to be transgressed which suggests that fires and the problems created by them are considered reasonable. He then set out a number of details that should be legislated on.

Similarly, the Sheffield council department of land and planning said: This building complied with the requirements of the Building Regulations and many of the elements of the structure stood up well to a fire of this severity. However, the rapid spread of flames created a situation which could only be controlled with great difficulty. An additional complicating factor was that chemicals were stored throughout the building in various areas. There were about 70 tonnes of chemicals. These regulations would not have been effective in the case of that fire. It continues: In addition high risk chemicals should be stored in specially protected areas using materials with a fire resistance of at least two hours. External signs should be provided stating the nature of the chemicals stored in each area. These recommendations would allow for easier access to the source of the fire, contain the spread of flame, and provide time for the Fire Service to tackle the outbreak.

The effects of the fire have not yet been fully assessed, and we are still waiting for two further reports. The immediate effect was the closure of 31 schools in the area, because of the spread of asbestos, which was carried five miles downwind of the fire. The flakes of asbestos were in the main hand-sized, but in many cases were three to four times that size.

Great problems were experienced by the firemen because of the difficulty of identifying the stored materials. There was no inventory available to the fire service.

So far 100 firemen have been taken ill, and about 60 are still ill today. They have suffered from sore throats, headaches, chest pains and breathing difficulties. Doctors have already told two of the firemen that the mucus lining of their lungs has been stripped away.

Injuries have also been sustained by the public unit and planning staff. The principal building surveyor suffered from blisters on his arms and face. The senior building supervisor complained of chest pains and is now away from work with bronchial pneumonia. Those were the effects on the people involved in the fire.

With regard to the effects on the community, I quote from an article in the Morning Telegraph of 8 February: The number of patients visiting the doctor's surgery with throat and chest complaints increased by 50 per cent. after the £10 million warehouse fire at the nearby Brightside lane. The doctor who has his surgery in Upwell Street, off Brightside lane, reported up to 30 people at each of his surgeries compared to a normal maximum of 20. He said the visits lasted for a three-week period after the fire and patients said that the complaints were caused by the December fire in which chemicals stored at the warehouse were swept around the area in a massive smoke cloud. The effects of the fire have caused widespread concern, with people reporting cases of sickness, headaches and vomiting".

I do not know what is the definition of a major hazard. But in the light of case involving £10 million worth of damage, with 65 people still ill, and with 50 per cent. more people in the surrounding community reporting sick than would normally be expected in the period, I wonder what a major hazard is supposed to be. It is clear that the regulations now before the House would not have affected that situation.

Often the storage of chemicals in urban areas cannot be avoided, but where they are stored in densely populated areas, as in Sheffield, surely some precautions must be introduced. The regulations before the House would not cover those circumstances. I have spoken to the chief fire officer and the planning department in Sheffield about them. They have scrutinised the regulations and their professional advice is that the regulations would not affect such a warehouse as the one that I have mentioned. I hope that the Minister will clear up the matter, in view of what is being said by the chief fire officer and the planning department. The regulations do not, according to them, cover such a building as the National Carriers' warehouse in Sheffield, where the damage occurred.

Photo of Mr Gareth Wardell Mr Gareth Wardell , Gower

Would my hon. Friend agree that what emerges from the regulations is a glaring anomaly in primary legislation? Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, planning permission is not needed when a warehouse that stores, for example, milk powder, is used for the storage of hazardous chemicals.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn , Sheffield Central

That is absolutely clear. It is confirmed by the land and planning officer in Sheffield and by the chief fire officer and the other services.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, the regulations will cover only about 250 establishments, and many places within areas of high density population where dangerous chemicals are being stored will not be covered. On 6 February I asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he had any information on the number of people downwind whose health was affected by asbestos or chemicals—or in any other way as a result of the fire on 14 December at a warehouse in Sheffield. The Minister replied: This Department does not hold this information." — [Official Report, 6 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 586.] Thus, the Department apparently has no information about the biggest fire to occur in south Yorkshire for many years.

The Government have missed an opportunity to introduce legislation which could have allayed the genuine fears about the storage not only of chemicals but of other dangerous substances. The fire service can have difficulties in dealing with the cocktail of chemicals that are involved in a fire. That problem is not easy to resolve, but it would have been nice, and it would have removed some of the anxiety, if the Government had at least consulted those affected. If they had taken their advice, they might have proposed a much more all-embracing piece of legislation than that before us. I hope that the Opposition Front Bench will seriously consider voting against the regulations, because unless we do so, we shall not do justice to our people.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East 11:05 pm, 11th February 1985

Until 1983 I was a health and safety at work officer and company secretary to BP Minerals, and I had to deal at first hand with the sort of problems that have been outlined in this interesting debate. It is unusual for me to thank the European Assembly for any directive, but these regulations appear to be helpful and accordingly I welcome them.

My own interest is with liquefied petroleum gas. In 1984, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State took part in a debate with me about the installation with regard to the Trocadero Shell service station in my constituency. Since then there have been additional fears, with a calor gas explosion at Desford, where several people lost their lives, and a leakage at Stoney Stanton. Therefore, the problem does not seem to be going away, and that is a matter of great concern to me.

Regulation 5 provides an excellent way of reporting exactly what has happened. Regulation 5(2) provides an ideal way of reporting on a major accident, and no one can be critical of that. Obviously any industrial installation will worry people. Consequently, the regulations, and particularly regulation 4, must be helpful. We know that industrial installations always involve risks. Things can go wrong with them. The wrong people may have been consulted prior to installation. But these regulations will encourage people to consult fully beforehand.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, the regulations will apply to more than 250 sites. For example, it must always be ensured that the site location is safe. Is it ideal, is it warranted, and is there a risk of a serious chemical leakage? Of course the storage of any hazardous substances must be a matter of concern, and the question of whether it is a serious danger to the surrounding community must be answered. Indeed, under these regulations it will be answered. The plans will have to be carefully drawn up. We shall have to ensure that the operation is both viable and safe. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that that is the purpose of the regulations. Regulation 5 itemises what to do after an emergency, and that is very important and useful.

I pay tribute to the role of the Health and Safety Executive, which works hard to protect the community. One hon. Member doubted whether the local authorities would be able to handle conducting the executive if rate capping were introduced in parts of the country. That is an important matter. Allegations that rate capping will affect the Health and Safety Executive and its co-operation with local authorities is nonsense. We are talking about a priority and about hundreds of thousands of people in local communities. Scare tactics are unacceptable.

Photo of Mr Edward Garrett Mr Edward Garrett , Wallsend

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to my speech or that by my hon. Friend on the Front Bench.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

I am referring to the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn).

Photo of Mr Edward Garrett Mr Edward Garrett , Wallsend

In that case, my hon. Friend can answer for himself.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was not doing that. The idea in the local authorities' plan about how such emergencies should be handled is helpful. I am reminded of the way in which the police operate at county level. The emergency rooms are always prepared, with telephone numbers and routing, to deal with an emergency. Close co-operation should be established with the police.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

The people of Livingston have demonstrated definitively that we are dealing with a more critical public following Flixborough and the dreadful events there. The fears expressed in rejecting Union Carbide's plans to set up a plant are genuine. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that such fears will be dispelled by the implementation of the regulations.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

I am grateful for that intervention. If the hon. Gentleman had been here during my Adjournment debate on petroleum gas, he would have heard what I highlighted then. Serious anxiety existed at that time and the public need reassurance. The Flixborough experience was another anxiety and these regulations will quell, to an extent, those natural worries. I should not like to live beside the site decided for my constituency because of the element of risk. That is of great concern to me. The guidelines will cut out that risk—at long last. I hope that Opposition Members will join us in welcoming the regulations.

Local authorities must always be prepared. That is important. They must always consider the possibility of a major accident. I pray that accidents will not continue to happen, but that risk is always on the horizon.

Self-regulation is suggested as an alternative. All local authorities and local industrial concerns must do their utmost to protect the community, not only employees. They must protect people who have no choice but to live near an industrial site.

Canvey island is one of the most risky sites, but people choose to live there. They need protection and I am certain that they will be protected. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act has been honoured under the regulations—and will continue to be honoured. We need an active public education. The police, local authorities and fire services performed well in the Leicestershire incident, as they do throughout the country whenever a major explosion occurs. All the local services must co-operate. That is the best way.

It is up to hon. Members to inform their constituents when they visit local installations that the regulations will help. The guidance notes should be respected. They will make the installations and the local communities safer places in which to live. For that reason I have no hesitation in supporting the regulations.

Photo of Mr David Penhaligon Mr David Penhaligon , Truro 11:15 pm, 11th February 1985

All accidents are frightening, and few more than those involving chemicals. We have only to glance through the regulations to see chemicals listed which most of us cannot even pronounce, let alone understand their uses or what may happen if they were subjected to heat or major pressure changes. I sometimes feel that the House is at its least adequate when discussing such technical matters. It is obvious that few of us know enough about the subject to make valid comments.

We are all floundering to find a solution to the problem, and we sometimes come near to mistaking bureaucracy for safety. If there is an accident, we do not need acres and acres of paper—we require someone with the relevant knowledge to be available within minutes. He will be the most valuable person in a disaster. That is the weakness of the regulations.

On the whole, the regulations apply to the larger installations. We know that if there was an accident on such a site in the United Kingdom the company involved could produce someone with the relevant knowledge. It probably employs a number of suitably qualified people. However, on the smaller sites where the amount stored is much less—perhaps a site in one of our villages or towns—I fear that there is a real hazard. Indeed, that has been shown during the past three or four years. In such a case not only will the paper not be produced, but the person with the knowledge will not be produced either.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

The hon. Gentleman's point about flying by the seat of one's pants is not really an answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) about a real disaster. A detailed professional statement about quantities of chemicals could be kept in certain areas.

Photo of Mr David Penhaligon Mr David Penhaligon , Truro

I accept that, and would welcome any regulations on that line. Whether the figures quoted are correct is beyond my competence to say. I saw the hon. Gentleman nod when I said that what we really need is someone with the relevant knowledge. The greatest service that the Government could offer to encourage confidence in our communities would be to ensure that within the Government there are a considerable number of independent people who have the knowledge, and are seen to have the knowledge. It is true that the Government cannot employ the number of chemists and experts employed by industry. However, anything that reduces the number of inspectors or their qualifications — which must be high to deal with some of the problems—would erode confidence, and confidence is as important as any other factor.

Does the Minister really believe that the regulations cover the small storage sites, and are the Government willing to invest enough in the Health and Safety Executive to produce sufficient people in every area of the country to know what to do when an accident occurs? There is no substitute for that skill when a disaster happens.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment) 11:18 pm, 11th February 1985

I recognise that it was impossible for all those who wished to speak in this debate to do so, and I am sure that the hon. Members for Gower (Mr. Wardell), for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) and for Barking (Ms. Richardson) would have contributed well to the debate.

In the light of today's tragedy in Germany, when 18 members of the band of RAF Germany died in a road accident caused by a spillage of aviation fuel, we must recognise that there are constant dangers around, not only on site but on roads. The House will wish to join me in expressing heartfelt sympathy to the families and colleagues of those who died.

As a matter of public interest, I should say that we take seriously the matter of safety on roads, taking the advice of the Health and Safety Commission. For example, the transport of dangerous substances in bulk by road is controlled by the Dangerous Substances (Conveyance by Road in Road Tankers and Tank Containers) Regulations 1981, which deal with such matters as the design and construction of vehicles, labelling, driver training, information to be carried and parking. Other regulations are in the pipeline, and I hope that the Health and Safety Commission will accept the recommendations of the advisory committee. It has set up a sub-committee on dangerous substances to study and report on such matters.

We are looking at a hierarchy of controls and trying to ensure that hazards and risks are reduced. I greatly welcome the comments of those hon. Members who have direct experience, including the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who spoke with expertise not only of the industry but of the Health and Safety Executive. In considering the positive benefits from present arrangements on health and safety at work, in which the regulations will play a part, I place much emphasis on the close involvement of the Factory Inspectorate and other Health and Safety Executive inspectorates in giving guidance and advice to industry. There is a great fund of expertise in the Factory Inspectorate; and 95 per cent. of inspectors' time when visiting factories is spent giving advice, information and guidance to employers. They should be seen as people whose expertise is of immense advantage to industry in ensuring that processes are safe and without risk to health.

I do not wish to fall out with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because I suspect that I shall be having debates with him for several years, I hope with me remaining on the Government side of the House, and him remaining on the other side. But whatever our position in the House, we share a concern which has been well expressed today. If I cannot answer every point in detail, I shall write to hon. Members and ensure that the information they requested is passed on.

I shall spend no more than a moment on the July versus January point and the December edition. I have written to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East about it, and I draw his attention to the Official Journal of the European Communities of 5 August 1982, which gives the date of 8 July 1989. That date has been around for three years, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that there was no intent—

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

As the Minister responsible, I accept the blame, but it may have been the fault of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

The hon. Gentleman talked about disclosure of information. The Health and Safety Commission is to issue a discussion document in March on the possible changes in the law on disclosure information, in response to a direct request from Ministers to review the law in this area. The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazardouss Regulations overtake and replace the Notification of Installations Handling Hazards Substances Regulations, which were introduced a few years ago, because there was doubt about whether the European Community would introduce its directive in time. They do not replace those regulations; they add to them.

Perhaps this could be a general answer to hon. Members who asked whether the CIMAH regulations cover small plants. The answer is that, in general, they do not. The regulations are designed to cover the most hazardous sites, where the consequences of disaster would be the worst. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) was right to say—he corrected the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East on this—that the CIMAH regulations are not a substitute for the other regulations in place, which may have been the flavour of what the hon. Gentleman said—

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

The hon. Gentleman will realise that these regulations cover only the 250 most dangerous sites, and that the other 1,600 sites will be covered by the NIHHS regulations as a second tier of sites. Other sites are covered by the normal Health and Safety at Work etc. Act provisions.

Photo of Mr Robert Litherland Mr Robert Litherland , Manchester Central

How do the Government define a dangerous site? At the Anchor Chemicals plant in Manchester, only the expertise of the fire brigade averted a disaster. Under the Minister's criteria, that is a small site.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious matter. I shall deal later with how the regulations and their implementation will be reviewed. We must always learn from disasters, accidents and incidents, whether at Manchester or Sheffield. No one is claiming that the regulations are the end of everything. However, it is important to recognise that they have come through from the Health and Safety Commission, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury has reminded the House, is a tripartite body which has the advice—I take up a point made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon)—of advisory groups which bring together expertise. The regulations have, as far as possible, benefited from the advice of those who are the greatest experts. We have tried to put them in a form that will be understood by those who come new to an industry and by those who are confronted by circumstances that endanger those at work and their neighbours. That is the way in which the regulations have come before the House for consideration and, I hope, for approval. The role of safety committees is laid down in health and safety at work legislation and there is no need to add to that in the regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) spoke with direct expertise of matters underlying the regulations. The circular issued by the Department of the Environment gave guidance to local authorities on the need to consult the Health and Safety Executive about developments near hazardous sites.

The hon. Member for Wallsend has direct experience from ICI. He asked for a sense of balance and reinforced the importance of the human factor.

Under the regulations, local authorities will be able to charge for the work that they undertake in developing off-site plans. This will be a major new responsibility for the authorities. The Health and Safety Executive will give high priority to their work in that area. Industry may be under pressure in terms of cost, but it is its responsibility to achieve safety and I am sure that it will discharge it. The role of trade unions is a valuable one, through safety representatives, and it is well known that the Government, like their predecessors, devote considerable resources to this matter.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury for reinforcing the point that the regulations are not to be taken in isolation. He advanced a vivid argument in saying that no amount of imposed regulations will surpass self-regulation. I hope that both forms of regulation will work together.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) spoke about the fire at Sheffield and experience in the area. I hope that he will forgive me if I respond to his comments by writing to him. We are determined to learn lessons from the fire. I am sure that the Home Office and the fire service will pay serious attention to the remarks of the chief fire officer.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

When the inquiry takes place, is there any possibility of testing the long-term hazards of such a fire? It is obvious that some firemen have been exposed to asbestos and it is more than likely that some in the area will die from asbestosis. An inquiry into the long-term hazards needs to be undertaken.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

And to all south Yorkshire Members?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

To all south Yorkshire Members, if I can. Many issues have been raised that are not covered directly by the regulations. In trying to reply to the debate I have had to omit some of the points that I wanted to make overall.

The hon. Member for Truro, with his usual robust good sense, made sure that we would not try to substitute bureaucracy for safety. The guide to the regulations and the consultation paper show that our aim is to create greater safety by getting individuals to anticipate the worst thing that may happen to them, to look for the safety approach and to try to ensure that it does not happen. Nothing is perfect—

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

The hon. Gentleman has intervened twice on Livingston, but I do not think that it is for me to say much about the issue that concerns him, especially given the recent news about Livingston and the proposed plant.

I am pleased that the House has had the opportunity to debate these important regulations, which in my view and that of the Health and Safety Commission, as well as that of the Community, mark a major step forward in the development of a comprehensive system in Britain for the control of hazards at industrial plants. It is an important subject and recent events have concentrated our minds on the terrible hazards that exist.

We have in the regulations and in the wider system of controls of which they are a part of a powerful armoury of weapons to ensure not only that the consequences of an incident are as small as possible but that the chances of an incident occurring are minimised. For many reasons, the world, including the Third world, needs the products of the chemical industry. Without those products our quality of life and expectation of life would be much less. Without such products we would have less clean water and vastly reduced food supplies, and we would be at the mercy of the many illnesses and diseases which can be controlled by the use of pharmaceuticals. It is important to realise that there is a need for the chemical industry and that we cannot just wish away many of that industry's developments, although we can do our best to eliminate avoidable risks and, when there is a disaster, to ensure that the consequences are reduced as much as possible.

This has been a good debate. It has been illuminated by the many shared objectives. I hope that we shall be able to ensure that the chemical sites make good neighbours. The CIMAH regulations help towards meeting that objective.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 4 (Prayers against Statutory Instruments, &c. (negative procedure)).

The House divided: Ayes 40, Noes 140.

Division No. 98][11.30 pm
AYES
Boyes, RolandFlannery, Martin
Caborn, RichardFoulkes, George
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGarrett, W. E.
Cowans, HarryGodman, Dr Norman
Cunliffe, LawrenceHardy, Peter
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Dewar, DonaldHughes, Simon (Southward)
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Kennedy, Charles
Ewing, HarryKirkwood, Archy
Leadbitter, TedPike, Peter
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Prescott, John
Litherland, RobertRichardson, Ms Jo
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
McDonald, Dr OonaghShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Snape, Peter
Maxton, JohnStrang, Gavin
Meadowcroft, MichaelThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Michie, William
Nellist, DavidTellers for the Ayes:
Parry, RobertMr. Don Dixon and
Penhaligon, DavidMr. Gareth Wardell.
NOES
Alexander, RichardLyell, Nicholas
Amess, DavidMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Ancram, MichaelMacfarlane, Neil
Ashby, DavidMaclean, David John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Major, John
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Malins, Humfrey
Baldry, TonyMalone, Gerald
Batiste, SpencerMarland, Paul
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyMates, Michael
Bellingham, HenryMather, Carol
Benyon, WilliamMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Boscawen, Hon RobertMerchant, Piers
Bottomley, PeterMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaMills, Iain (Meriden)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Moynihan, Hon C.
Bright, GrahamMudd, David
Brinton, TimNeale, Gerrard
Brooke, Hon PeterNelson, Anthony
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Neubert, Michael
Bruinvels, PeterNewton, Tony
Burt, AlistairNicholls, Patrick
Butler, Hon AdamNorris, Steven
Butterfill, JohnOnslow, Cranley
Carlisle, John (N Luton)Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Carttiss, MichaelPatten, John (Oxford)
Cash, WilliamPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Chope, ChristopherPollock, Alexander
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Portillo, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Powell, William (Corby)
Clegg, Sir WalterPowley, John
Conway, DerekProctor, K. Harvey
Cope, JohnRaffan, Keith
Couchman, JamesRhodes James, Robert
Crouch, DavidRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Dorrell, StephenRoe, Mrs Marion
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Rowe, Andrew
Dover, DenSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Dunn, RobertSayeed, Jonathan
Durant, TonyShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Eggar, TimSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Evennett, DavidSpence, John
Fallon, MichaelSpencer, Derek
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Stanbrook, Ivor
Galley, RoySteen, Anthony
Garel-Jones, TristanStern, Michael
Gummer, John SelwynStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Harris, DavidStevens, Martin (Fulham)
Hayward, RobertStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Henderson, BarryStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Hickmet, RichardStradling Thomas, J.
Hill, JamesSumberg, David
Hind, KennethTaylor, John (Solihull)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Temple-Morris, Peter
Jackson, RobertThompson, Donald (Calder V)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Lang, IanThurnham, Peter
Lawrence, IvanTracey, Richard
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Twinn, Dr Ian
Lightbown, Davidvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Lilley, PeterWaddington, David
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Waldegrave, Hon William
Lord, MichaelWaller, Gary
Luce, RichardWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Warren, KennethWood, Timothy
Watson, JohnWoodcock, Michael
Watts, JohnYeo, Tim
Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Whitfield, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Wiggin, JerryMr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
Wolfson, MarkMr. Archie Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.