Health and Safety Executive

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 Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley , Manchester, Withington 12:00 am, 5th July 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he has taken to ensure that the research and laboratory services division of the Health and Safety Executive is able to carry out its responsibilities adequately.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I am satisfied that the Health and Safety Executive's research and laboratories division is able to carry out its responsibilities effectively. The management of the division is a matter for the executive.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley , Manchester, Withington

In the light of the Minister's amazingly complacent answer, will he confirm that over the past six years the number of the division's scientific and technical officers has been reduced from 390 to 300, and that none of the £6·7 million announced last December will be used by the Government to rectify that appalling situation?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

As I said, the way in which the Health and Safety Executive uses the moneys allocated to it is a matter for the executive, and it is for the executive to carry out its day-to-day responsibilities. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the provision in its entirety, I am bound to tell him that the provision made by this Government certainly matches in real terms that made by our predecessors.

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

How can the Minister justify a 24 per cent. cut in the Health and Safety Executive's scientific and technical staff over the past six years? How can he justify the fact that, as was said by my hon. Friend, as a result of the cut of 90 members of staff there is almost no research being undertaken into regulating low-output radiation from VDUs, which can cause foetal damage in pregnant women; that almost no research is being undertaken into establishing the known relationship between leukaemia and living near electricity power lines; and that, almost a year after the Zeebrugge disaster, almost no research is being undertaken into preventing the capsizing of cross-Channel ferries, when it is already known that Government tests show that 80 per cent. of those ferries are unsafe and do not meet international safety standards?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with employment questions rather than with transport questions. The mistake that he makes is the same as that which he made on radio this morning. He assumes that he can judge safety simply by looking at the number of people who may be employed. He does not seem to be able to get to grips with the fact that there are other dimensions to the argument, including proper, efficient working practices. There is no doubt in our minds that the research and laboratories division is able to carry out its responsibilities effectively.

I should like to think that the hon. Gentleman approaches the subject of power lines on the basis of research that is a little deeper than simply watching the last "Panorama" programme and then framing his opinions accordingly. If his research had been a little deeper, he would know that the CEGB is already carrying out research into that subject.