New Clause 2 — Requirements to wear safety helmets: exemption for Sikhs: Northern Ireland

Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 14th May 2014.

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‘(1) Article 13 of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 (S.I. 1990/246) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (8).

(2) In paragraph (1), for “on a construction site” substitute “at a workplace”.

(3) In paragraph (2), in sub-paragraph (a), for “on a construction site” substitute “at a workplace”.

(4) In paragraph (5), in the opening words, for “on a construction site” substitute “at a workplace”.

(5) After paragraph (6) insert—

“(6A) This Article does not apply to a Sikh who—

(a) works, or is training to work, in an occupation that involves (to any extent) providing an urgent response to fire, riot or other hazardous situations, and

(b) is at the workplace—

(i) to provide such a response in circumstances where the wearing of a safety helmet is necessary to protect the Sikh from a risk of injury, or

(ii) to receive training in how to provide such a response in circumstances of that kind.

(6B) This Article also does not apply to a Sikh who—

(a) is a member of Her Majesty’s forces or a person providing support to Her Majesty’s forces, and

(b) is at the workplace—

(i) to take part in a military operation in circumstances where the wearing of a safety helmet is necessary to protect the Sikh from a risk of injury, or

(ii) to receive training in how to take part in such an operation in circumstances of that kind.”

(6) In paragraph (7)—

(a) omit the definitions of “building operations”, “works of engineering construction” and “construction site”;

(b) before the definition of “injury”, insert—

““Her Majesty’s forces” has the same meaning as in the Armed Forces Act 2006;”;

(c) at the end insert—

““workplace” means any premises where work is being undertaken, including premises occupied or normally occupied as a private dwelling; and “premises” includes any place and, in particular, includes—

(a) any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft, (b) any installation (including a floating installation

or one resting on the seabed or its subsoil or on other land covered with water or its subsoil), and(c) any tent or moveable structure.”

(7) In paragraph (8), in sub-paragraph (b), for “on a construction site” substitute “at a workplace”.

(8) In the heading, for “on construction sites” substitute “at workplaces”.

(9) Article 13A of that Order (protection of Sikhs from racial discrimination in connection with requirements as to wearing of safety helmets) is amended as follows.

(10) In paragraph (1)—

(a) in sub-paragraph (a), for “on a construction site” substitute “at a workplace”;

(b) in sub-paragraph (b), for “on such a site” substitute “at such a workplace”.

(11) In paragraph (3), for “Paragraphs (7) and (8)” substitute “Paragraphs (6A) to (8)”.’.—(Oliver Heald.)

This new clause extends the scope of the exemption under Article 13 of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990, currently limited to construction sites, so that turban-wearing Sikhs will be exempt from legal requirements to wear a safety helmet in a workplace of any kind (subject to exceptions set out in Article 13(6A) and (6B), as amended).

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

New clause 2 deals with the wearing of safety helmets by the Sikh community in Northern Ireland. Its purpose is to extend the provision in the Bill to Sikhs in Northern Ireland. We discussed the issue in Committee and it was hoped that it would be possible to introduce such a measure. Article 13 of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 exempts turban-wearing Sikhs from legal requirements to wear a safety helmet while on a construction site. It also protects employers from liability should a Sikh suffer injuries as a consequence of choosing not to wear a helmet. The new clause extends the scope of the exemption to all workplaces, subject to certain very narrow exclusions, and extends the limited liability provisions associated with the exemption for other persons, such as employers.

The exemption in the 1990 order was limited to construction sites because, at the time, only workers in the construction industry were mandated to wear safety helmets. Legislative requirements regarding the wearing of safety helmets have since developed and now extend to a number of other industries in which a risk assessment identifies the need for specialist head protection.

There are certain jobs and industries in which the wearing of a turban may come into conflict with legislative requirements regarding the wearing of safety helmets or other coverings. Employers in non-construction sectors must therefore balance their obligation to protect the health and safety of their employees against their duty not to discriminate against a turban-wearing Sikh employee on the grounds of religion or race.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Surely one of the cornerstones of British law is that everybody is equal in the face of it. Either people should have to wear helmets for safety reasons or they should not. If a Sikh can give up their decision to wear a safety helmet on religious grounds, why cannot other workers decide not to wear them on grounds that they choose for themselves? Why should we have different laws for different people in this country? Many people find that troubling and offensive.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

An important history and a religious ethic applicable only to Sikhs are involved in this matter. It is a religious tenet for a Sikh male to wear a turban—that is not true of other religions. It is therefore a special circumstance. While addressing that, I should say what a great contribution the Sikh community makes in our country. Sikhs should be free to practise their religion and that central tenet of it. In certain circumstances, it would be wrong to allow a person not to wear their helmet because of the extreme danger involved—for example, when a fireman goes into a burning building. Really, however, the circumstances where this provision cannot be followed are very narrow.

Members of the Sikh community in Britain have faced disciplinary hearings and dismissal for refusing to wear head protection and others have been unable to follow their chosen profession. An amendment to the equivalent legislation for Great Britain has already been added to the Bill in Committee. The new clause is considered necessary and sensible to provide consistency across the UK and to allow Sikhs in Northern Ireland to be on a fair and equal footing when seeking employment in various industry sectors. I am sure my hon. Friend Philip Davies would accept that it is right to have consistency across the UK on an issue of such religious importance.

It may be convenient if I now turn to the Opposition amendment to clause 1, amendment 72, unless, seeing Mr Speaker in the Chair, this is a moment where there is to be a break in proceedings.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

Knowing that the House wants to know the answer, I give way. [Laughter.]