Single European Market

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th July 1988.

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Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe 12:00 am, 5th July 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received concerning the impact of the single European market on health and safety.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

I have not received any direct representations. However, the Health and Safety Commission and Executive consult very widely on matters concerning health and safety at work.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

When the Secretary of State meets his counterparts in the EEC, will he insist that British machinery guard standards must become the norm and will not be reduced to the lower levels found in other European countries? If he fails to do that, are not machinery guarding accidents likely to increase after 1992?

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

The general arrangement is that European Commission directives lay down minimum standards, but national Governments may have higher ones. Generally speaking our health and safety standards are higher than those in many other European countries, and our national regulations set levels that are higher than the minimum laid down. Of course, that can apply to machinery guard standards as well, but it is important that, as far as possible, there are equal standards across the Common Market so as to have proper competition between the countries.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am satisfied to a certain extent with what my hon. Friend has said, but, because we have higher standards, is there not the risk that after 1992 they may be eroded?

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

Our standards cannot be eroded below the level on which the House may decide in legislation. As far as possible, we are anxious that there should be high standards throughout the Community.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Is the Minister aware that there is widespread concern that the Government will use the excuse of the single European market for further health and safety deregulation? Already, the major and fatal accident rate has risen by 12 per cent. during the past six years, not least because the Government have cut the Factory Inspectorate by no less than 20 per cent. during the same period. Will he, for once, use the European legislation to level up standards and give a commitment that he will introduce the mandatory occupational health provision that Britain—alone among its European competitors—still lacks?

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the Control of Substances Harzardous to Health Regulations which are coming forward and go some way to do what he suggests. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about fatalities. The number of fatalities in 1986–87, the latest year for which we have figures, is the lowest on record.