Agricultural and Factory Inspectorates

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 Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton 12:00 am, 5th July 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by what date he expects to fulfil his commitment to increase the agricultural and factory inspectors by 40 inspectors additional to those in place on 2 December 1987.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

The Health arid Safety Executive plans to increase the number of factory inspectors in the inspectorate to around 588 by 31 March 1989 and to increase the number of agricultural inspectors in the inspectorate to around 160 by 31 March 1989.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

Since his statement on 2 December last year, is the Minister aware that instead of progress being made, there are already 15·5 per cent. fewer agricultural and factory inspectors in the inspectorate, and that resignations are greater than recruitments? Is the Minister not disappointed with the abysmal policies that he is bringing before the House? Is he not aware that those policies will add to the accidents and injuries if something is not done to speed up the recruitment of inspectors?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I can well understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. Although the figures announced at the end of last year worked on the assumption that there would not be the wastage that has occurred since in terms of inspectors leaving the inspectorate, the figures that I gave show precisely the same net increase, so the position is as it was announced last year.

Photo of Charles Wardle Charles Wardle , Bexhill and Battle

Does not a successful record of health and safety at work depend first and foremost on the determination of operators to abide by safety rules, which exist in the great majority of companies because of Government vigilance? Most accidents occur because safety rules are ignored, not because they do not exist, or because machine guards are not available.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

My hon. Friend is entirely right. When talking about resources and inspector numbers, it is all too easy to forget that the prime responsibility for health and safety must lie with employers and employees. I am sure that my hon. Friend is entirely right to remind us of that.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

When will the Government recognise that there are now many more, smaller, dangerous workplaces to be inspected, there are many more self-employed people, for whom the inspectorate has responsibility, and above all, that under this Government, the inspectorate has been given many more responsibilities, including responsibility for gas appliances, the implementation of the new pesticide regulations and the transportation of hazardous substances? Is not Government behaviour the height of complacency when, against that background, a considerable number of inspectors are continuing to resign? There is some doubt about the Government achieving even the increase of 40 in the factory and agricultural inspectorates. When will the Government give the Health and Safety Executive the money it needs to halt the rate of resignations among inspectors?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I more than appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but it is not complacency to make the point that one cannot say that there is a direct trade-off between the number of inspectors employed and the number of accidents that occur. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) said a moment ago, the problem is wider than that. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to debate on that level, if he considers inspectors as a percentage of the employees they cover he will discover that under this Government the position has remained precisely constant with the position under the Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman knows that those are the facts, but I again tell him that that is not the whole picture.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the accidents that occur in agriculture would not be influenced by additional inspectors, because as often as not they are caused by the miscalculations of operatives, often working in isolation?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the fact that in agriculture the rate of accidents is troubling. Today, figures were announced showing that the deaths in agriculture amounted to one more than last year, but last year was the lowest on record. That is not a reason for complacency but it is a reason for putting the problem into perspective.