I echo the good wishes to my hon. Friend Rory Stewart and commiserate with the worthy runners up.
On the Opposition’s amendment 72 to clause 1, the effect of clause 1 is to exempt self-employed persons from health and safety law, except those on a prescribed list of activities, which is to be laid in regulations.
I believe that a draft list was given to Members in Committee. I tried to obtain it in the Library, but was told that it is not available until the consultation starts. Would it be possible to at least have a copy of what was given to the Committee?
Yes, I am sure that that would be possible. I am looking to the Box and to my Parliamentary Private Secretary sitting behind me to see whether that can be achieved. A list was certainly provided. It is not definitive. It was produced on the basis that regulations would be produced and in place by the time of Royal Assent, that there would be proper consultation, and that the Health and Safety Executive would be involved. The idea is that the House has an opportunity to see them and that there is proper consultation on them.
The Government believe that we should reduce the number of administrative hoops that self-employed people have to jump through to free them up to continue to do their jobs unhindered and to continue to contribute to the UK’s economic growth. Currently, section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 imposes a duty on every self-employed person to have regard to, and protect against, the risks that their undertaking creates both to themselves and others, regardless of the type of activity they are undertaking.
Will the Minister expand what the hoops are that self-employed people will no longer have to jump through? In practical terms, for any self-employed person who has the time or inclination to watch the debate, what is it that they will no longer have to do that they would previously have found so burdensome and obstructive to their responsibilities?
I will come on to that in a moment. Let me just say, for the benefit of John McDonnell, that the prescribed list of undertakings has been compiled to include high hazard industries or activities. They will be prescribed if one of four criteria is met: where there are high numbers of self-employed people in a particular industry with high rates of injuries or fatalities, for example agriculture; where there is significant risk to members of the public, for example fairgrounds; where there is potential for mass fatalities from, for example, explosives, fireworks and so on; and where there is a European obligation to retain the general duty on self-employed persons, for example in construction, where there is a Council directive imposing duties on the self-employed. That is the nature of the way the list is being compiled.
In answer to Toby Perkins, at the moment, a self-employed accountant or an author working at home would be under a duty to carry out a risk assessment. He said in Committee that that would be a quick and easy thing to do, but the point is that every self-employed person in the country—we are talking about millions of people—has that duty. The perception that they have an onerous burden on them was identified by Professor Löfstedt at King’s College, the leading expert in risk assessment, who was asked to examine this for the Government. The amendment seeks to limit the number of self-employed persons covered by section 3(2) of the 1974 Act. The change would mean that only self-employed persons who conduct an undertaking of a prescribed description would be covered by the duty. That is what the regulations will prescribe.
The change has been proposed as a result of the recommendations of Professor Ragnar Löfstedt in his report, “Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety legislation”, which was published in 2011. He recommended that self-employed persons be exempt from health and safety law where they pose no potential risk of harm to others through their work activity.
“Prescribed” is defined by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to mean prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State. This clause therefore enables the Secretary of State to make regulations for the purposes of bringing self-employed persons within scope of section 3(2), where their undertaking poses a significant risk of harm. Committee members will have seen a list of prescribed undertakings, which will be subject to public consultation and parliamentary procedure. The list is designed to strike a careful balance between the need to free self-employed people from unnecessary burdens while still providing the important protections to those who need them. The clause was debated in Committee, and the Committee voted for it. I thus urge the hon. Member for Chesterfield and his colleagues not to press the amendment and I urge Members to accept Government new clause 2.
I am pleased to speak to new clause 2 and to support amendment 72, tabled by my hon. Friend Chi Onwurah and me. I start by declaring my interest as a member of Unite the Union, which has made representations on this issue, and by expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to discuss these amendments. We are grateful to the Government and others who supported our demand for proper time to debate the important health and safety aspects of the Bill. We felt that the original programme motion might well have denied Members that opportunity.
Let me respond first to the Minister’s comments about new clause 2. Labour Members warmly welcome the intention to allow Sikhs to wear turbans in place of head protection in all workplaces. Making such a change is important to our Sikh communities and for our country as a whole. I am pleased that the Minister was able to announce the extension of the exemption to Northern Ireland. That will be pleasing to the Sikh community in Northern Ireland and throughout Great Britain. The turban is not only the most visual part of a Sikh’s faith, but a proud part of our island story. We want the contribution of Sikhs to be visibly demonstrated in workplaces across the country. The Minister was absolutely right to speak warmly of the contribution that Sikhs have made to Britain. The success of this approach was seen in 2012 when Guardsman Jatinderpal Bhullar became the first turban wearer on guard duty outside Buckingham palace.
Despite our broad and deep support, we feel that the new clause could be clarified, so let me make a couple of suggestions for the Minister to consider as further improvements. First, on the blanket exclusion for emergency response services and military personnel, we believe that each case should be considered according to its individual merit. What further steps can the Minister take on that? The pace of technological change in the future will never be as slow as it is today—amazing though that may seem to us now—so it would be prudent to keep the mechanisms for making such amendments as flexible and responsive as possible. Why has the Minister not opted to have exclusions set outside the primary legislation as a statutory instrument simply to allow changes to the law to move with the time?
The exclusion does not amount to a blanket exemption. It applies only in hazardous operational situations in which the wearing of a safety helmet is considered necessary. That means that all other means of protecting the Sikh must be considered and rejected before that legal requirement would kick in. It is based on circumstances specific to the particular Sikh, and only a very hazardous situation would require this to happen.
The Minister may not have understood what I was talking about or I may not have understood what he was talking about. I believe that there is a blanket exemption to the exclusion with respect to emergency response services and military personnel.
The exemption applies to the emergency services and the armed forces, but it is not a blanket one. It applies only in hazardous operational situations in which the wearing of the helmet is necessary. The narrow circumstances about a particular Sikh are looked at, and then the decision is made. The aim is that it should apply only in such circumstances as the burning building that I mentioned earlier.
I am grateful for that clarification. Will the Minister clarify the definition of “workplace”, as concerns have been raised that the term could be ambiguous and confusing? Could he offer some clarification and perhaps tighten up the definition and the language more generally? For example, would a Sikh working within a vehicle be considered to be working in a workplace?
I am a little confused. If I read it correctly, new clause 2 relates purely to Northern Ireland and replicates what we have already discussed in Committee in respect of Great Britain. Will the shadow Minister confirm that point, as well as the Minister who seems to want to leap to his feet? I am concerned about whether we are looking at the general principles that apply to Great Britain or whether the Northern Ireland rules are different. If they are, why is that the case?
That is an interesting point. It is important, of course, to get clarity for Sikhs in Northern Ireland but also for Sikhs across Britain. The Minister spoke more broadly, which is important.
It has been brought to our attention that one interpretation of section 12 of the Employment Act 1989 could have the effect of permitting an employer to use the defence of having a legitimate aim when forcing a Sikh employee to wear a safety helmet in the workplace. This could undermine the new clause’s intention in a similar way to the definition of a workplace. I would be grateful if the Minister responded to that point in his summing up. I hope that the Minister will listen to and engage with those concerns. All Members—possibly with one exception—want to see this important change delivered, so I hope we can work together on a cross-party basis to achieve it.
Just as it is important to update and clarify legislation on behalf of Sikh workers, so it is important constantly to review all regulations to ensure that there are no unnecessary burdens that undermine growth. We fear, however, that little of that will be achieved in this wide-ranging—albeit limited in its positive effect—Bill. Fundamental questions need to be answered about the kind of economy and the kind of workplaces that Britain should have now and in the future.
We sometimes hear voices on the right of the political spectrum arguing that health and safety has gone mad and too far in Britain. Labour Members, however are proud that Britain was a safer place in which to work at the end of the last Government than it had ever been before. We were proud, too, that we delivered the first Olympics in history without a single death occurring during its construction. In the last 20 years, there has been a clear downward trend in the number of fatal injuries in the workplace. In 1993-94, 300 people were killed at work; in 2012-13, that number had fallen to 148. It is proof that strong health and safety legislation, advice and guidance make a difference. When almost 150 people a year still set out for work one morning and never return home, there cannot be any cause whatever for complacency on health and safety.
Interestingly, in corresponding on Twitter with my constituents and others about the fact that we would debate health and safety legislation today, I received a response from a constituent in Derbyshire. He said, “I bet you’re not going to mention Europe when you get into that debate, because a lot of our health and safety legislation has come from Europe and we should be out of Europe so that we can get rid of all this health and safety legislation.” When I looked at his profile on Twitter, I found out that he had recently joined UKIP—so he is in the right place, at least. It is interesting that, at a time when 150 people a year are still dying at work, we should hear voices on the right saying that we need to get out of Europe so that we can get rid of all these health and safety rights and, presumably, increase the number of people who die at work. That was quite a revealing contribution.
Now we shall hear from someone who has far more responsible views on health and safety in general, although his views on Europe may be different from mine.
I share my hon. Friend’s tremendous pride in the Act, and he is right to observe that very significant steps were taken in the 1970s. It should also be acknowledged that further steps were taken during the 13 years of Labour government through consultation and work with colleagues in Europe, and that Europe is a much safer workplace for it.
Back in 1993-94, 20 years ago, self-employed workers accounted for a sixth of all workplace deaths. In 2012-13, they accounted for a third of such deaths. In other words, the self-employed are twice as large a proportion of all those who die at work now as they were 20 years ago. If the Government are serious about driving down workplace deaths, reducing health and safety requirements for the self-employed seems a pretty odd way to start.
A few years ago funds for the Health and Safety Executive were cut by 35% in a single year, which has led to fewer inspections and the issue of improvement notices. The present Government slowed the progress that we had been making on health and safety. However, we entirely reject the idea that the fact that Labour made that progress means that we favoured excessive regulation. Indeed, we are glad that the important work of the Better Regulation Commission—which was formed as part of the last Government’s commitment to deregulation, and which has played an important part in removing unnecessary burdens and ensuring that more are not unintentionally created when new regulations are introduced—has continued under the present Government.
The House of Commons Library estimates that businesses benefited to the tune of £3 billion a year as a result of the various deregulatory measures introduced by the last Government. A comparison between that scale of savings and this pygmy of a Bill sends a clear message about who was serious about backing business. However, a sensible approach to regulation is about proportionality, consistency and clarity, and I object in the strongest possible terms to the idea that making workers less safe or less well off is being done in the name of small businesses.
This Tory-led Government clearly have a view of the type of workplace that they want Britain to be. The Tory vision of the working Britain of the future is of a place in which everyone’s position and rights are insecure and enfeebled employees live in constant fear of losing their jobs, with low security, low wages and zero hours:
an easy-in, easy-out workplace. The Tories think that a workplace that is engaged in a race to the bottom makes for a competitive economy.
Is there not also a danger that if legislation removes health and safety cover from self-employed people, employers will have an incentive to give employees a bogus status of self-employment, regardless of whether that is appropriate?
A substantial part of my speech will deal with precisely that point, because I think it represents perhaps the most fundamental flaw in the Bill. When the Minister presented his idea, he was probably told that it was good news that authors would no longer be suing themselves because their chairs were the wrong height. However, the real impact of the Bill is exactly as my hon. Friend has described it.
When people ask the Government what they will do about zero hours and the exploitation of workers, the Government misunderstand the question. The easy sacking of workers and the reduction in their rights is not an accident of Tory policy; it is Tory policy. It is precisely what Tory Governments have always been about. Of course, this is not actually called a Tory Government, but it certainly feels pretty much like one. This is what Tory Governments have always done, and they should be honest about that, rather than claiming that they are acting in support of small businesses or in anyone else’s name.
I was a small business owner myself for five years before I entered Parliament, and I entirely reject the idea that impoverishing workers and stripping them of their rights was done in my name or at my request. That just shows how out of touch the Government are. It is very unfair of them to introduce measures such as this, and then claim that they are doing it in order to support small businesses. In fact, they are doing it because it is what Tory Governments always do.
As the Minister said, this idea originated in Professor Löfstedt’s report on health and safety regulations, which was published in 2011. We supported most of the report’s recommendations, but we think that the professor failed to understand the nature of the British labour market when he said that the rights of the self-employed in Britain were greater than those granted by some of our European competitors, and, in particular, failed to appreciate the huge growth in false self-employment in this country to which my hon. Friend John Cryer referred.
At the end of the last Government, the World Bank said that Britain was the easiest place in Europe in which to set up a new business. That is a key feature of our economy, and in itself it is something to be celebrated. Indeed, the idea that people should pluck up the courage to go it alone and start a new business, should challenge the established order and should find new ways of innovating and different ways of doing things—adopting the values and attributes of entrepreneurs—is very closely aligned with the history of the Labour party. Challenging the established order is precisely what the Labour party has always done. Of course we support people who want to set up their own businesses, but the healthy push towards starting up new firms that was established under Labour—with the spirit of adventure coursing through the veins, and ambition bursting through every pore—is very different from the growing move towards bogus or forced self-employment that we have seen under the present this Government.
Unite has drawn attention to the fact that many workers in the care sector have been pushed into false self-employment, with the result that people on whom much of the fabric of a decent society depends can be sacked without warning, receive no holiday or sick pay, have reduced benefit entitlements, and are denied access to employment tribunals. They do not want to set up their own businesses or become entrepreneurial, but they are being told that the only way in which they can care for the old people for whom they have cared for so many years is to become self-employed. It is important to recognise the difference between those who want to be self-employed and those who are being forced into it.
Does this not demonstrate how out of touch the Conservative party and its Liberal Democrat poodles are with the views of the general public? Last week, the results of a Survation poll clearly showed that the overwhelming majority of the British public do not want public services to be delivered by the private sector; they want public services to be delivered by directly accountable public servants who are democratically available for scrutiny by locally and nationally elected politicians.
That is an important point. The exact nature of the alliance that was formed will have to be left to the history books to judge. Were the Liberal Democrats willing accomplices who wanted to support everything that the Tory Government did, or were they, as my hon. Friend put it, poodles who were simply excited by the idea of ministerial office, and who decided to join in when they did not really support what was being done?
I suspect that, as we head towards the 2015 general election, a whole array of Liberal Democrat Ministers will suddenly emerge and say, “They made me do it. I did not really want to pursue that policy. There were tough decisions to be made.” They will try to claim some little bauble: “We may have tripled tuition fees, VAT may have gone up and workers’ rights may have been taxed, but we got something out of it.” We shall see whether, when they bring their agenda to the 2015 election, they throw off the clothes that they have worn for the last five years and claim to be different. What an exciting time we have to look forward to.
The idea that the Liberal Democrats might be able to save themselves a bit of shame is a novel concept—perhaps my hon. Friend is being a little bit too ambitious—but we shall none the less listen with great interest to what they say.
The hon. Gentleman, in his lurch to the left, seems to have forgotten that when his party was in office, it was in favour of a tenfold increase in contracting out in the NHS, and in favour of flexible working. Those were the things of which his party spoke, as new Labour. Is the hon. Gentleman old Labour?
I am one-nation Labour, and one-nation Labour attempts to bring all these different strands of our movement together. There is a huge amount of value in having a flexible work force, but if that works against the best interests of workers, it is reasonable that workers will question whether that is a price worth paying. Some important points have been made about public opinion and we should listen to them. It is also right to consider how, in a modern economy, we bring the best of the private and public sector together. That is what I am in favour of, and that is what the Labour party is in favour of.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it serves nobody’s interests to indulge in this race to the bottom and force people into this bogus self-employment, when the reality is that it is an excuse for exploitation? If people have got less money in their pocket, they have less money to spend in the wider economy. That has a negative impact, and we end up in a downward spiral and a situation whereby, as the figures I have seen today from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs show, in the last 12 months this so-called economic miracle that we are seeing under this Government has resulted in the top 300,000 seeing an increase in their income after tax, but the rest—29 million taxpayers—have seen a reduction. Bogus self-employment and forcing people into self-employment is contributing to that.
My hon. Friend makes an important contribution and he is right. The issue of bogus self-employment, and the broader issue of the vision this Government have for our economy, is working very badly for people in our constituencies and working quite well for a small number at the top. It was ever thus; this is what the Conservative party was set up to do. It was set up to ensure that the rights of a privileged few were protected and to try and convince enough of the lower orders to buy into it in the meantime. That is why the Conservatives did not want the lower orders to have the vote for 100-odd years. We all know where they are coming from, and no doubt if they could get rid of the lower orders having the vote now, they would do it again.
Surely one of the tests for the way this Government handle the economy will come very shortly when interest rates go up and the small businesses and entrepreneurs that they boast about cannot get loans to facilitate their business transactions?
That is another important dimension. We are in danger of straying slightly from our amendment, but it is important that we see this amendment in the context of the economy.
My hon. Friend Chris Williamson also made an important point about the impact of all of this on our economy. Not only does it undermine employment rights and leave his constituents and mine worse off, but it also hits taxpayers in the pocket, because according to the Treasury’s own estimate, around 300,000 workers in the construction sector alone are effectively in bogus self-employment. That costs the Treasury more than £380 million every year so there is less money going into our public services and into the public coffers because of this issue. This is far from being a construction-site problem, however. That has happened over many years, but in a whole variety of areas—care workers, as spoken about earlier, bookkeepers, sales agents, and from the factory floor to the shop floor—staff who look to all of us to be employers are legally self-employed. While bogus self-employment has previously been predominantly a tax and rights issue, an exemption in respect of health and safety only increases the incentive for employers to pursue this route as a model of recruitment, reducing safety in the workplace, making it an optional extra rather than a hard-won right.
That changing environment places huge responsibilities on us as law-makers, and they must not be overlooked. Labour in government maintained a flexible workplace, not always, I have to say, to the delight of colleagues across the movement who would have liked further protection. We recognised there was a balance to be struck, however, and we still do, but we did that in a way that aimed to ensure that protection against the exploitation of individuals was not sacrificed in exchange. If these Tories really were the workers party, they would understand that a flexible workplace that works against the public interest is bad for Britain and bad for business, too.
Returning to this new clause, no self-employed person has ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution only for risking their own health. Given that the Bill’s intention is that only people who pose no risk to anybody will be exempt, there will be no practical impact on businesses or individuals. The Health and Safety Executive consulted on Ofsted’s proposals in 2012 and the majority of those responding to the consultation opposed the idea. All in all, I and many other small business owners would recognise the picture painted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which has said that many low-risk, self-employed individuals are
“de facto, already exempt…They will never be routinely inspected. And they are not going to sue themselves if they have an accident!”
If there are no known cases of the self-employed suing themselves and no prosecutions that are being prevented, this is a solution in search of a problem to solve.
The problem it in fact attempts to solve is the perception that this Government have over-promised and under-delivered on regulation. Whenever we hear the Minister defend this, he does not have a lot to say about anyone who will positively benefit. What he says is that there will be a perception that there is less people have to do before they become self-employed. Well, he can say that to the carers, who are being told that they are now self-employed when looking after the old lady they have been looking after for the past 20 years. He should ask whether that removes a disincentive to them setting up a business. That is the reality of what is happening under this Government.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech immensely. I had the privilege of serving on the Committee with my hon. Friend, and does he agree that this is a very wide-ranging Bill? A hell of a lot of effort has been put into it by Ministers, yet it has achieved so very little. Has there ever been a Bill where so much effort has gone in with so very little impact and positive outcome for the British people?
That is an interesting point, and it brings to mind a gentleman who was a team mate of mine at Sheffield Tigers rugby club. He had a huge neck and giant shoulders—he was a great big bear of a man—but from the waist down he had tiny, short, very thin legs. He was one of those people who, when he stood up, apparently shrank, so he earned the name “the giant little man”, and this is a giant little Bill. There is huge scope to it and very little that is got out of it at the end—but I am digressing slightly.
That was, in fact, precisely the point I was about to come on to in my speech, so I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Alongside the minuscule benefit and very real consequences for the bogus self-employed, there is also the confusion that is likely to be caused and the messages that sends about health and safety as being an optional extra, rather than something businesses should always attend to.
Entrepreneurs and micro-business owners might wrongly believe they are now exempt from health and safety obligations towards clients and visitors to their premises. We know that that is not the reality of what this Bill does, but it is all about perception. If people are now being told, “If you’re self-employed, you don’t have to worry about health and safety,” it is unsurprising if that is the explanation people hear.
In its evidence to the Joint Committee, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health described the decision to exempt certain self-employed individuals as “unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise”. It foresaw a lowering of standards and a lack of clarity about who was, or was not, covered.
The current system is clear and there is no compelling reason for this change. There is no list of self-employed martyrs brought to the courts because of badly adjusted blinds in their offices, who, having fought the issue to the highest court in the land, have now decided that, because the glare on the screen was a bit bright and it hurt their eyes, they will sue themselves. This group of people does not exist as one for us to stand up for in this place, so there is no compelling reason for this change.
For all the reasons I have outlined, we think this is a much-mistaken clause and our amendment would simply remove it. However, even if the Government do not listen to all the voices arguing against the clause in its entirety, there are serious and important flaws in its drafting that they really should look at. It will be interpreted—the Solicitor-General admitted as much in Committee—such that the exemption from the exemption will be based on whether someone’s work is in a job that is considered to pose a risk to them or to others. However, it pays no attention to whether they are responsible for the safety of their workplace. So a self-employed person working in someone else’s workplace, who to all intents and purposes appears to be employed, is in fact self-employed, has no say in the quality of the health and safety regulations administered there, and would be exempt from protection. The clause makes no reference to whether they are responsible for the safety of their workplace—it assumes they would be, but as we have heard, that is not the case—or to whether the workplace itself is dangerous. So, someone who is in a dangerous workplace, but in a job that is considered not dangerous, will not be covered. For example, because a sales agent selling construction goods on a building site on a self-employed basis is not in dangerous job, they would be exempt from protection on health and safety grounds, despite working in an environment in which an average of almost 60 people have died every year during the past 13 years.
Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on what he has just said and confirm that it is correct? Anybody who goes on to a construction site—be they a customer, a passing individual, a self-employed person or an employed person—is subject to health and safety relating to that geographic zone. Their employment status does not matter. Whether they are a full-time employee, self-employed, a customer or a salesman, they still get that health and safety protection.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is making a disingenuous point. There might be certain legal protections associated with the workplace—or place of being; it would not be a “workplace” in some of the cases he cites—but there would be no protection as an employee whatsoever.
The issue of people in non-dangerous jobs working in dangerous environments must not be ignored. The message that health and safety is now an optional extra if staff can be got on to self-employed contracts is very serious indeed. In Committee, Labour sought to work with the Tory-led Government to find a way around these problems. We sought clarification from them on exactly what jobs will be excluded, asked for reassurance that significant protections will be in place, tabled amendments and made suggestions, but all those were rejected. If the House does not support our amendment today, clause 1 will mean weaker health and safety protection for the growing army of employed self-employed people, and uncertainty in the minds of the self-employed about whether they have obligations in the first place. The Government are sending out the message that health and safety is not something for all workplaces at all times, but something to be negotiated and traded away. This will be a slap in the face for the families of anyone killed in their workplace, including those of the 50 self-employed people who lost their lives at work last year. I call on the House to support our amendment and to say loud and clear, “Britain is safer today. We are not going back.”
It is a privilege to speak in this debate, although I do feel we are going round in circles somewhat. Having sat on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee with eminent Members of the Lords and Commons—plus myself—and having then had the privilege of serving on the Bill Committee and, during that time, chairing the Regulatory Reform Committee, I feel “regulationed out”, just as a number of business people do.
I want to concentrate on amendment 72, but first I want briefly to discuss Government new clause 2. I would appreciate it if the Minister cleared up the confusion over whether Northern Ireland is being treated exactly the same as Great Britain in respect of Sikhs. Toby Perkins used the opportunity, completely reasonably, to look back at some of those arguments, rather than at a differential between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I remember visiting the small Sikh community in Southend as a candidate in 2004, and expecting them to raise lots of technical religious issues and issues relating to the Sikh community. However, they wanted to discuss law and order, good education for their kids and lower taxation, and did not bring up the issue we have been discussing; however, that does not make it unimportant, and it is a good one to raise. The omission of Northern Ireland in our initial considerations was not great, and it is good that the Government are now remedying that.
There was much discussion, both during pre-legislative scrutiny and in Committee, of the issue addressed by amendment 72, and the Opposition clearly disagreed with the general principle being put forward and questioned the need. I am disappointed that they could not propose something more sophisticated than just knocking out the whole of clause 1. At times I felt that there was a degree of consensus on some of these issues, so I am disappointed that a more nuanced alternative has not been found. However, using amendment 72 as a probing amendment is a perfectly reasonable strategy.
There is a lot of talk about perception, but we are going beyond that here; there is a fear involved in setting up one’s own business. I have been involved in setting up two businesses, one of which was very successful and has now floated on the alternative investment market, one of which was less successful and passed into abeyance, winding up without leaving any debts. In both cases things such as health and safety were rightly a concern—
The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head but I am saying that, although health and safety was rightly a concern, it was a barrier to setting up a legal entity early on in both cases. He asks, from a sedentary position, what the reason was for that. When someone is setting up a new business—this is certainly what I found—they ask what things they have to consider and then prioritise them. So there is no point in someone even thinking of setting up a business unless they have customers and a product, and unless they can do it in a profitable way over time and have the financing in place. Those things are in the person’s mind, but then there is another level of issues for them to consider: where do they go? How do they employ people? What are the health and safety considerations?
Early on, when someone is setting up the company, they should be able to set aside the health and safety things and say, “When I am forming that company, as an individual with only myself to be concerned with, health and safety, at that juncture, is not something that I need to concern myself with as a barrier to entry into that workplace.” Having established the business, the person can then go on to look at all those details before they start engaging employees or start risking health and safety in any way. My fear is that, in itself, it is a barrier to starting that business and, thus, to employing people.
The hon. Gentleman would have more credibility on the concerns he is articulating about the barriers facing businesses starting up if he had supported the amendment in Committee, which called for a review of the licensing regime. For example, someone setting up a restaurant needs to comply with seven or eight different licences. Surely that would be a more appropriate approach to take, rather than undermining health and safety.
It would be an additional benefit to look at these things sector by sector, as the Better Regulation Commission is doing—and is reducing regulation. However, I fear I am straying slightly, as we have done today, away from the pure health and safety issues. The hon. Member for Chesterfield kindly took an intervention on the concept of who is protected on a building site and I must admit that I am still confused. There is a case for stopping people being self-employed from an employment rights perspective—we can debate that, although not today. But although these bogus self-employed individuals take themselves out of a certain type of health and safety liability, by being on the site—by being in the care home or on the building site—they are subject to health and safety rules. There may be a case to make that those rules are too weak or that they are not the same as in an employment relationship, but people are still subject to them.
As I said at the start, something more nuanced could have been proposed, because there is a risk that people do not set up businesses because they are concerned about the overall level of bureaucracy. The hon. Gentleman prayed in aid the World Bank, saying that we are already at the cutting edge for being able to set up businesses, but if we do not look to move forward and constantly improve, as our competitors are doing, biting at our heels, we will fall behind in business growth, in growth and in employment. I say that on a day when I learned from the BBC that employment is at its highest level since 1971, when records were first kept. There is no health and safety protection if one does not have a job. Getting people into employment is a step in the right direction, and getting people involved in high-quality jobs with high-quality health and safety is a further improvement, but it is still a stepping stone. For those reasons, while I support Government new clause 1, I would vote against amendment 72 if it were pushed to a vote.
May I first say that I welcome the new clause relating to the Sikh community? I chair the all-party group on the Punjabi community in Britain, and for a number of years there has been an issue, and it is helpful to get it out of the way now, once and for all. Others have also received representations on the matter, so today’s debate has been useful.
I will be straight with the Minister: I am really worried about this part of the Bill. Before I go into that, I will, like others, outline my background. First, let me refer to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Unite has just made a contribution to my constituency party for campaigning. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority tells me that we do not have to declare such payments, but I have anyway. I have not received the Unite briefing, but I understand that it has been lobbying on this matter.
I come to this matter from a trade union background—from the shop floor. When I first left college, I worked for the National Union of Mineworkers. Obviously, health and safety was a critical issue for mineworkers. However, it concerned not just those working in the mines but those involved on the surface, in deliveries and so on. My hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins has described the process of health and safety at work. The trade unions initially tried to tackle health and safety issues on an industry-by-industry basis. The reason why the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 came about was that we wanted comprehensive overall protection, which is why it was a global Bill; we did not want anyone to miss out. Individual pieces of legislation would not have given us that comprehensive cover.
At that point in time, self-employment was not a big issue, but it is now. The expansion of self-employment in this country—my hon. Friend Toby Perkins gave some figures on that—has been massive. That is partly because people who have lost their job or who have had their job privatised in some form have been pushed into self-employment; some choose it willingly, but others choose it because it is the only option. It is a fact that deaths at work and occupational injuries for the self-employed are twice the rate for the directly employed. If we look at recent TUC statistics on deaths, we will see that there have been 16 fatalities in the past four months, the bulk of which were among the self-employed. Clearly, therefore, there is an issue of health and safety among the self-employed.
Up until now, the simplicity of the legislation has meant that everyone knows that they are covered no matter what. No matter where they are working or what aspect of self-employment they are involved in, they know they are covered by the legislation. My worry is that legislating to solve one problem produces much bigger problems. I accept that there may be an element of truth behind some of the myths of the health and safety culture. Some small examples may be run in the Daily Mail, and we will all agree that they are daft, but the bulk of health and safety legislation protects people. There are too many people dying or being seriously injured at work at the moment. When we meet the families of victims, we understand why health and safety is such a cornerstone, and so essential in protecting people at work. As soon as we try to resolve some of the smaller exaggerations of the health and safety at work legislation, we then open up the possibility of absolute confusion about what is going on.
We will spend the next few months on the consultation about the list. Endless hours will be spent trying to identify what activities are included on the list and what activities are not included. We have already heard something like that today with the issue of what happens in the construction industry.
I have been dealing with Crossrail. Some Members may be aware that a few weeks ago, after a fatality at Crossrail, an extremely damning report about health and safety attitudes on the Crossrail project was published in the media. I am meeting Crossrail management and the unions to try to see how we can resolve those matters. It will be argued that Crossrail will be covered by these provisions because it is part of the construction sector, but the question comes up of what will happen with deliveries to Crossrail sites. Will they be covered when they are purely on the construction site or will they be covered on their way to a Crossrail site?
We will have endless debates and arguments about what happens in construction, which is the area where self-employment has grown in recent years. We have heard about false self-employment, and a lot of construction workers today are basically told to be self-employed or they will not get a job. It is as simple as that and if they try to argue against it they do not get work the following week. That is one of the big battles being joined at the moment by Unite and other unions, including the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians.
I used to do an awful lot of work in financial services for people who worked on construction sites. Nearly all of them worked under the old construction industry scheme, or CIS, under which they were classified as self-employed. That was permanent throughout the construction sector throughout the past 20 or 30 years. Surely people being self-employed within the construction industry is nothing new.
No, it is not, but a lot of those workers who were directly employed have in recent years been forced into self-employment against their will. That is the only way that they have been able to get work. If we consider the role of agents in a lot of this, we can see that it is a way of avoiding taxation for some.
I have been involved in some of the direct action campaigns on sites across London over the past two years. Few major firms are left in London that employ people directly; they now employ individuals who are classified as self-employed. They have not gone into self-employment willingly, but have been forced into it simply to get the work.
Let me go back to my major theme. Throughout its history, our health and safety legislation has been based on the precautionary principle of trying to ensure that we prevent as much as we possibly can the risks of individual sectors. I have seen the list that the Minister has kindly supplied us with this afternoon and, to be frank, I think—I am not saying this in any critical way—that if we are going to go down the route of having a list system, it would have been better for us to have had the list well in advance for consultation and discussion. Nevertheless, that is what we will have now.
Let me give some examples from the list. The category for high-risk activities relating to public safety includes the:
“Organisation and operation of exhibitions, fairgrounds, amusement parks, theme parks, zoos, circuses, public fireworks displays and adventure activities,” but not festivals and concerts, which have some of the highest risks of such outside activities. For offshore activities, it includes
“operators, owners, installation managers, well operators and any persons under various Offshore Regulations”,
but some of the highest risk in the offshore industry is land-based, at the port, before the equipment is transferred out.
In years to come, we will define item by item what is on the list and what is not. It is all well and good publishing a list of what is covered, but if people want absolute clarity we should also publish a list of what is not included. Let me give another example, which I think came up in Committee. If a plumber—they are largely self-employed—is working in a person’s home, will they be covered or not? Are electricians working in people’s homes covered or not? I am not sure from this list, and that is the issue. All our health and safety legislation up to now has been based on the precautionary principle of comprehensive coverage so that everyone is protected, including the workers and the general public in whose environment they are working, but we are now in a situation where no one will know or be absolutely clear about their coverage. As a local MP I have used health and safety legislation on a number of occasions to get the local authority to take action against self-employed workers on particular sites that are putting the general public at risk.
I give as an example from the list waste management, which covers waste collection, treatment and disposal, materials recovery and remediation activities. A range of recycling activities are going on in my community. I am not sure now whether those would be described as waste management or recycling, and whether they are covered by the list. In my area we have had cases of fly-tipping and dumping in which we have even used health and safety legislation against individuals who participated in those fringe activities linked to recycling.
In trying to solve a relatively minor problem, we are opening up a can of worms that will engage this Government as long as they exist—the next 12 months—in a long debate with everyone involved, including employers, employees, trade unions and the general public to define what is and is not on the list. The Minister should get used to some overtime in the next few months.
My hon. Friend is making an important contribution. He is right to say that there is a perception that health and safety is sometimes over-zealously pursued, but the real problem that the Government are trying to solve is their polling position. They are trying to show people that they are taking action in this area, they want to be able to tell businesses about all the deregulation they are undertaking, but they are not solving the problems facing small businesses.
If the Government are going to legislate on the basis of hearsay and almost prejudice, they wind up with legislation that renders itself ineffective in the long run. I genuinely cannot see how the list could be implemented effectively.
I am following the logic of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but he should appreciate that the detailed regulations will be consulted on, which will include proper definitions. He has a list of activities, but the consultation will bore down into the detail. If he or his constituents have particular concerns, he will be able to raise those points and the Government will take account of them.
That worries me even more. I make this not as a party political point, but as a practical governmental point: that means that the legislation is a leap in the dark, before we know in any detail the consequences of what we are doing.
The Government have been looking at the matter for three years now. I met Lord—I have forgotten his name. He got the sack after having a few drinks too many at a reception. I met the original Lord who was consulting on this. He turned up with an individual who I thought was his butler. It was an adviser. He eventually got the push because he had a few drinks too many and said some unwise words. He was so impressive that I cannot remember his name. I met him three years ago when the measure was first mooted. We went through examples of what he thought was unnecessary health and safety legislation in certain areas. One of the areas he was looking at was shops, so I introduced him to the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which explained to him that health and safety matters were a worry in shops where its workers were.
From that original prejudicial approach, I thought the Government were going to lay out in detail how the duties would be implemented. To introduce the legislation without such detail in such an important area will render the legislation ineffective and put people at risk.
What my hon. Friend says about risk is right. In Committee, we asked time and again for a definitive list. The Government kept amending the list. I do not know which version we are on now, but we are almost at the end of the parliamentary process on the Bill, and the Government are now saying that they will consult. That should have been done right at the start of the process; if it had, we would now know what we were dealing with.
There are times when one legislates on the principle and then rolls out the practical implications, but I agree with my hon. Friend that in this instance, because of the legislation’s significance and because the detail is so important to whether it is viable, in the three years when the consultation was supposed to be going on we could have drilled down into the detail and then come back with effective legislation, which would have achieved some element of consensus. Instead we have absolute confusion, and in health and safety matters that means risk. I will vote for the amendment, but I deeply regret the way in which the legislation has been brought forward. The risks that will be incurred will affect many of us, throughout all these different industries, but more broadly, as self-employment now grows, not only will self-employed workers be put at risk, but the general public as well. That is why the Minister needs to think again very seriously.
I do not know whether it is because the Solicitor-General is behind the proposal, but to me it represents a lawyer’s charter. My hon. Friend has already made the point that the prescribed list simply adds to the confusion rather than providing clarity. I am a simple chap, an ex-bricklayer who certainly benefited from the health and safety regime, and I would like to know what is wrong with the present legislation. My hon. Friend Toby Perkins referred to the futility of the proposition in terms of those who are self-employed and not at any great risk, but who have never been prosecuted or are likely to take action against themselves in any event, but my real concern is that the Government are creating significant confusion, which will put people at greater risk.
Other hon. Members have made the point that self-employed people are on average twice as likely to die at work as employed workers. At a time when 4.2 million people are self-employed that is a growing concern, and not just for the individuals who are putting themselves at greater risk and who will go to work one day, as my hon. Friend said, and never return. That is devastating for the families of those individuals, and it is a complete waste of human life. In crude monetary terms, it has a negative impact on the economy, because their productive life is lost to the economy.
We have to take account not only of those who are more likely to die, but of those self-employed workers who are more likely to sustain an industrial injury, and this proposal will make matters worse. We have already spoken about people being forced into self-employment and bogus self-employment. People who are in effect employed earners but are forced into a self-employment do not benefit from the protections accorded to employed earners, and that should be a matter of concern for all of us.
I shall take my previous life in the construction sector as an example. Because of the confusion, we do not know from what the Government have said whether self-employed earners working in a domestic setting will be covered, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has pointed out.
We have only one copy of the list—that is how we have been treated today—but we shall share it. I will give one example, and perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to respond to it. According to the list, construction is covered overall, and a number of activities are listed under construction. However, there are sites where there is no construction going on but there is painting and decorating, which is not listed. If no construction was going on and some self-employed painters and decorators—there are a large number of them—turned up to work on the site, they would not be covered because their work would not be construed as construction. However, painting and decorating is actually quite a risky occupation, for the painter and decorator and for the public, because of the use of ladders, scaffolding and so on.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is potentially an incredibly hazardous occupation, for the very reason he outlines: the use of ladders, scaffolding and so on.
That is the point, is it not? The beauty of the existing legislation is that it is very clear. Even a former bricklayer like me can understand it. We know that everybody is covered by it. The Government are saying, “We are the great deregulators and we want to free up the self-employed to become great entrepreneurs”, but the reality is that they are creating a huge amount of confusion and putting people at risk, which will put a greater burden on our national health service. The reality is that more and more people who are forced into bogus self-employment schemes will find themselves at much greater risk.
I mentioned in an earlier intervention the concerns and fears of an individual setting up a business for the first time about the impact of health and safety obligations. The Government had the opportunity in Committee to do something that would have genuinely benefited those considering setting up in self-employment for the first time: reviewing the plethora of licences—150-odd—that local authorities are responsible for. I gave the example of a restaurateur, who must comply with eight or nine licensing regimes. Yet the Government had no sympathy and I believe they even voted against the proposal. I actually tabled another amendment, which regrettably has not been selected, to increase the period in which a review could take place, which we initially called for in Committee.
The Government try to give the impression that they are on the side of entrepreneurs and the self-employed, but the reality is quite the opposite because they are putting people at greater risk. The race to the bottom reduces people’s terms and conditions, and this all has a negative impact on the wider economy. There are 4.2 million self-employed people in the country, but instead of its being a cause for celebration I am concerned that many of them are earning very low incomes. That has a negative impact on the wider economy, because they have less money in their pockets to make a difference. The Prime Minister constantly goes on at PMQs about the number of new jobs being created, but he is silent about the fact that many of them are part time or involve zero-hours contracts, and self-employment comes into that. Many people are forced into self-employment because they have no alternative. They are forced to accept a pittance of a wage.
We also know from recent statistics that there has been a huge increase in the number of people who cannot afford to pay their rent because they are on such low incomes and so are having to claim housing benefit.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield and for Hayes and Harlington have made clear, the amendment is absolutely sensible. The Government have been singularly incapable of providing any legitimate justification for their proposal. They are going to create a lawyers charter. The most significant growth that will come out of this is for lawyers, because it is bound to lead to challenges through the law courts. Is that what we really want? I would suggest not. What is wrong with the existing legislation? It is straightforward and simple. We are not all lawyers like the Solicitor-General; perhaps he can understand it with his great intellect. As I said, I am just a simple bricklayer, and I can understand the current legislation, but I cannot understand what is before us today.
The list is certainly not exhaustive. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, if we are to have a list of what is included, we also need a list of what is not included. I challenge the Minister to give us some indication of what would not be included. He would not be able to tell us, because that will be discovered only through case law. That is a very regrettable state of affairs, and it is not a direction of travel that we should be taking in this country.
Of course we want to liberate people to be able to become self-employed if that is what they want, but we must create the right environment—the right conditions—so that they can make a good, decent living out of it. This most certainly will not achieve that goal. It will confuse matters and make them worse, and it will have a very negative impact on the wider economy and on our already pressured national health service. I therefore hope that the Minister can find it within himself to acknowledge that he has made a mistake and that the Government have got this wrong. They need to listen to the sensible words of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and the wise and sage words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington.
I do not think the Government conceded anything in Committee. For all the sensible amendments that we proposed, I do not think they accepted any of them. They conceded very little, if anything at all, certainly on the days that I was there. I missed a couple of sittings at the end when I was visiting Qatar and looking at the horrendous health and safety in that country, with the 1,200 workers who have already lost their lives building the infrastructure for the World cup. That seems to be the direction of travel in which the Government want to take the United Kingdom.
In a spirit of cross-party consensus, I call on the Minister to reflect on what has been said and to make the right choice in the interests of self-employed people, health and safety, and our wider economy.
My hon. Friends the Members for Derby North (Chris Williamson) and for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and I served on the Committee, where this was one of the most controversial elements of the Bill. As my hon. Friend John McDonnell said, the list has gone through all sorts of vexed changes and debates. In Committee, we were already on the third or fourth version. The sorts of questions he has asked today—“Why is this on the list?”, “Why is that not on the list?”—were being asked then.
I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the lively debate on this subject, but only one list was produced for Members, and it is the list that has been produced today.
If I am mistaken, I apologise. I remember seeing at least two versions, but perhaps I have got that slightly wrong. Nevertheless, there is still controversy over why certain occupations are on the list and others are left off. I am concerned that the Bill is nearing the end of its progress, yet nobody is quite sure what will be on the list and what will not. The Solicitor-General said in Committee that the Government would consult on the issue, but that should have been done some months ago. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has said, the discussions have been going on for about three years and it is only now that we are getting anywhere near some sort of public consultation.
It may well be that there was only one piece of paper, but in Committee it was as if there was an organic process by which the interpretation of the list and the meaning of the Bill changed in front of our very eyes. I am not entirely sure whether that is reflected on a piece of paper, but it was very clear that what it meant either was not entirely understood or that it changed as we sat in Committee.
Perhaps I am a victim of my own fevered imagination when it comes to the list, but I thought I remembered seeing different versions. My hon. Friend is right about the list.
Is the maritime sector on the list? I have been advised that it is not. Was there any discussion in Committee about whether the sector—ferries, ships and so on—should be on the list?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I do not remember any specific discussion about whether maritime occupations should be on the list. Perhaps that was partly because we had a separate, lengthy and passionate discussion about maritime investigations. The RMT represents not all but most seafarers, and that discussion took place, oddly enough, just after it was announced that Bob Crow had passed away, and I think that added to the passion in the debate.
There is a reason for the concern. It has been argued that there is not an awful lot of self-employment in the maritime sector, but there is. My hon. Friend knows as well as I do, because he was involved in this, the issues with the Thames cruises, where there is self-employment: individual families own their own boats and there is a licensing regime. Health and safety still needs to be applied to them, but they do not seem to be anywhere near the list.
I do not have the list in front of me, but I accept what my hon. Friend says. One of the things that has changed in the past few years—this has happened relatively recently—is that an awful lot of industries now have extensive groups of self-employed people. My hon. Friend mentioned that earlier in his career he worked for the National Union of Mineworkers. It is not particularly widely recognised that most miners—there are not many of them around nowadays, because successive Conservative Governments massacred the deep-mining industry—are self-employed or agency workers, and many of them are on virtually zero-hours contracts.
I think there is a view that anyone working at a deep mine in Hatfield or any of the others that still exist does so for an employer on a normal pay-as-you-earn basis. The reality is that most people who work in mines are self-employed in a very dangerous industry, and some of them—probably those who work on the surface, rather than those who work underground—will be removed from health and safety cover as a result of this Bill. At the very least, confusion will reign, because nobody is quite sure whom the Bill covers and whom it does not.
One of the many bases of this Bill is the idea that there is still a hard and fast division between those who are employed and those who are self-employed. That traditional view of the workplace was accurate 30, 40 or 50 years ago, but it does not apply now, because increasing numbers of people are self-employed and increasing numbers of people come under what Labour Members would call bogus self-employment. These are people who have been shifted to a self-employed status, sometimes against their will. There are examples of work forces who wake up one morning to discover that they are suddenly self-employed, having not been consulted. Before the Solicitor-General is moved to intervene, I know that that is illegal, but I think it is indicative of the world of work that we have today.
Disreputable employers already have several incentives for moving people to self-employed status, including the ability to abandon many of their normal responsibilities—the duty to pay national insurance, sick pay, holiday pay and so forth. More and more companies are now offering different routes for shifting work forces to self-employment. In Committee, I gave the example of the role of payroll companies, which go to normal construction companies—this happens a lot in construction—and say, “Give us your payroll responsibilities. We’ll look after paying the work force. We’ll shift them all to self-employed. As a result, you will escape responsibility for paying NI, holiday pay, sick pay and all the rest of it.” Another impetus is the fact that, because of the cuts to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it does far fewer compliance inspections than it did five or six—or even two—years ago. The idea that employers will be caught out shifting people to bogus self-employment by HMRC is less likely; it is more likely that they will get away with it.
The Bill provides another incentive to companies—not just those in construction, but in other industries as well—to move people to self-employment so that they can escape their responsibilities. If someone running a construction company who does not particularly care about his or her employees is told, “Well, if they’re not self-employed, they’re not covered by health and safety”, that is another incentive, encouragement or green light to employers to engage in such processes. Some of the processes are legal or on the fringe of legality, but many employers are still getting away with it. The irony is that many of the most dangerous industries, such as construction and agriculture, already have a very high level of self-employment. In some industries, we are moving to a position in which we are seeing the virtual abolition of regular full-time employment.
The TUC issued a briefing earlier today. Many Government Members think that the TUC is populated by blokes who are blood-soaked lefties and all about 8 ft tall, with biceps the size of Bournemouth.
I cannot imagine two more moderate figures in the House than my two hon. Friends. The reality is that the TUC is a very moderate organisation. When I worked as a political officer at Unite, I dealt extensively with it, particularly with the then general secretary, Brendan Barber. Whatever the views of Conservative Members, a person could not wish to meet a more moderate man—almost outrageously moderate—than Brendan Barber. His successor, Frances O’Grady, is a similarly moderate person.
The TUC briefing points out:
“The Bill states that the proposals are being done ‘for the reduction of burdens resulting from legislation for businesses or other organisations or for individuals’. In fact it does the opposite as it does not actually change the situation for those who genuinely do not pose a risk to others and only creates complete confusion for all the other self-employed.”
That very mildly and moderately expressed point of view raises the genuine concern that the provision will create confusion for an awful lot of the work force, many of whom work in some of the most dangerous sectors of the economy.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I had the pleasure of working at the TUC for five years, during which the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 was brought in. There is no doubt that thousands of lives have been saved and thousands of injuries prevented as a result of that Act.
I remember that, as a student in the 1960s, I worked in the vacations. I think I am probably the oldest person here. [Interruption.] Well, yes, my hon. Friend Mr Winnick is extremely old. In those days, we typically worked in factories during the holidays. I remember the horrendous lack of health and safety—unguarded machines, poisonous chemicals, no hard hats—but that was the life people led. I used to put the guards on the machines that I worked on. They were lying on the ground, but their use was not enforced.
This proposal is undoubtedly a weakening of the 1974 Act and it will inevitably lead to more people dying and being injured. I will look at the statistics in coming years if clause 1 goes through. I hope that my hon. Friend Toby Perkins and my other hon. Friends who have spoken have persuaded the Government to drop the clause and that common sense will return, but there is no sign of that.
I well remember the 1974 Act going through and I was proud to be a member of the TUC staff. Going back even further, in my early days at the TUC, I was responsible for setting up the TUC construction industry committee. When I prepared the papers for that committee, the two big issues were bogus self-employment and health and safety. More than 40 years later, there is even more bogus self-employment. At that time, it was essentially restricted to the construction sector and was called “the lump”. People may remember the lump. There was an impressive TUC drama about it. Before the 1974 Act, people worked in unregulated self-employment and accidents occurred. In the drama, there was an deep trench and a man was buried alive because the shuttering was not there and was not enforced. We hoped that that sort of thing had been stopped.
Some time later, I worked for another trade union, the National and Local Government Officers Association, which is now Unison. I used to attend the TUC construction committee as a trade union representative. I remember supporting Frank Chapple on enforcing the wearing of hard hats on building sites. We had different views on many things, but on that, we were as one. People would not wear hard hats unless they were told, “If you don’t wear a hard hat, you don’t work here.” That has to be enforced.
That brings me to my main point, which is that, rather than being weakened, the 1974 Act should be strengthened. We need proper enforcement. We have been sent briefings by a number of trade unions and the TUC. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union says that in the entertainment and media sector, there is a very high proportion of self-employed people and a very low level of accident reporting. We need more enforcement and more reporting, so the Act needs strengthening, not weakening.
Yes, indeed. One of my former colleagues at the TUC, Sir Bill Callaghan, who used to be the chair of the Health and Safety Commission, was alarmed at the threats to the funding and the future of the Health and Safety Executive. Interestingly, when the HSE did a consultation exercise on this issue, a majority of respondents were against what the Government are proposing. The HSE is obviously under-resourced. I want it to be strengthened and to have more resources so that it can save more lives and prevent more injuries.
I will give another anecdote about a recent experience. There were two men working on the pavement outside my house with a diamond-edged cutting disc—the sort of machine that is used to cut stone, brick or concrete. They had no goggles, no hard hats and no ear defenders. I went up to ask what they were doing. I was not going to comment on health and safety. They were clearly eastern European and did not understand English very well. The TUC has said:
“Migrant workers are also more likely to be self-employed and are more likely to have a poor command of English, which means that they need support and guidance from the HSE. Sex out of ten Rumanian and Bulgarian immigrants living in Britain last year were working as self-employed.”
We are talking about a whole sector. Hundreds of thousands of people will be less likely to be protected by health and safety regulations and laws. I think we ought to strengthen the Health and Safety Executive and the 1974 Act. We ought to provide the resources that are needed to ensure that it is enforced properly. There are a number of points that I was going to make, but they have been made strongly by my hon. Friends.
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has seen the list. In the past, we have raised the risks on the docks, where self-employment is increasingly becoming the norm. My dad used to be a Liverpool docker and he lost a finger as a result of an industrial accident. Although offshore activities are listed, there is nothing about the docks. That whole sector is excluded from the list, yet it is an extremely dangerous area of activity.
I am sure we could find many areas where health and safety risks are not being addressed, even under existing legislation. We want such legislation to be strengthened, not weakened, but because of the logic of the situation the list of exemptions will inevitably mean that more people die or suffer injuries as a result of the clause. I strongly support my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, and other hon. Friends, in calling on the Government to abandon clause 1, accept the amendment, and return to common sense.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which indicates that the trade union Unite recently made a financial donation to the Labour party in part of my constituency. I am not sure whether I am strictly required to make that reference, but Unite is hugely concerned—as are all British trade unions—about the Government’s stance on this matter.
As the Minister said in his opening remarks, the recommendation in the Bill came from the Löfstedt review of health and safety regulation. The Löfstedt committee did not hold a unanimous position, however, and the TUC nominee on the Löfstedt review, as well as the MP representing Labour, were clear that they were opposed to the position taken. Indeed, in autumn 2012 when the Health and Safety Executive consulted on exempting some of the self-employed from health and safety provisions, the majority of those who responded to that consultation—including a majority of the self-employed—were opposed to the proposal. Despite that, it has been included in the Bill.
The proposal was also opposed by professionals involved in health and safety. Indeed, their chartered body, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, stated:
“This is a very short-sighted and misleading move, it won’t actually help anyone; it won’t support business; but it will cause general confusion.”
That confusion has been illustrated clearly by the debate today, particularly on the list of types of employment, self-employment, and the sectors that would be included under the health and safety provisions, and those that might not be.
At the moment, all self-employed people have a legal duty to ensure that they protect others from harm resulting from their work activity. The strength of the health and safety legislation in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is its simplicity, and the fact that the test and legal obligation involved is simple and applies to everybody. One problem with other areas of employment protection is that it is often an employee who may receive some form of right or entitlement, rather than workers in general, which means that many people try to avoid obligations by using devices such as zero-hours contracts. The fact that the Government are proceeding down such a path for health and safety is a negative development that I believe we will all regret in years to come.
As my hon. Friend John McDonnell indicated, fatality rates for those in self-employment are far higher than for those who are employed. The current fatality rate is 1.1 person per 100,000 for the self-employed, compared with 0.4 per 100,000 for employees. In part, that might be because self-employed people are more likely to be found in more dangerous occupations. However, the statistics on people with the same occupation show that self-employed people seem to have higher fatality rates.
Migrant workers are more likely to be self-employed and therefore more likely to be affected. They are obviously more likely to have a poor command of English, which probably means that they are more in need of clear guidance. Six out of 10 Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants living in Britain last year were self-employed. No statistics are currently kept on the number of people who are killed, injured or made ill as a result of the actions of the self-employed, whether relating to self-employed people themselves or the general public.
We know that the problem of deaths and illnesses associated with work is extremely significant. Worldwide, 2.3 million die as a result of incidents at work every year. Hazards, the health and safety magazine, estimates that, in Britain, work kills 1,400 people each year, and that 50,000 die in work-related incidents. Health and safety legislation is far from red tape. It has saved probably hundreds of thousands of lives since it came into effect in 1974. The Government are trying yet again in the Bill to take away that protection for the self-employed. It is a bad day for Britain. I ask the Minister to think again and to look at the legislation. I ask him to protect the simplicity of the 1974 Act and ensure that all workers and all at work are covered by it.
We have had a lively debate, featuring contributions from my hon. Friend James Duddridge, and the hon. Members for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), for Derby North (Chris Williamson), for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark).
I will begin with the two points made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield on Northern Ireland provision—new clause 2. The meaning of “a workplace” does include a vehicle or a motorcycle. I believe I have answered his point on a “blanket provision”. His other point was on article 13A of the 1990 order, which he described as section 12. The point is that the measure relates to the protection of Sikhs from racial discrimination in connection with the requirements to wear safety helmets. Subsections (9) to (11) of new clause 2 amend article 13A so that any person who attempts to impose a requirement on a turban-wearing Sikh to wear a safety helmet at a workplace—rather than just on a construction site—contrary to article 13 of the 1990 order, would be discriminating against the Sikh individual under the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. Avoiding that liability would not be considered a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
On health and safety law, it is worth starting by making the point that the Bill saves £300 million and is designed to lift burdens from business. I thought the Professor Löfstedt process was belittled somewhat by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, but there is no question but that he is highly regarded in the field. The process was done in an academic way, involving industry representatives. At the end of it, he made the point that there is a case for following a similar approach to other countries and exempting from health and safety law those self-employed people—those who are not employees—whose workplace activities pose no potential risk or harm to others. The debate has been conducted by some hon. Members as though the Government want to put people in danger, but all the dangerous activities will be exempt. We are trying to get off the backs of people who want to make jobs; those who want to go out and be self-employed and employ others.
I sometimes wonder about the Labour party. Does the party want there to be work? The Government are creating jobs at a very fast rate indeed: 1.4 million jobs in the private sector since 2010, despite all the prognostications that the opposite would happen. Some 70% of those jobs are full-time and they are transforming the country. That is partly to do with supporting entrepreneurship, lifting burdens from business, reducing taxes and making it easier to get out there and do these things. Surely that is in the interests of our country. The Labour Government’s record is one of rapid decline in world competitiveness from ninth to 22nd. When we think of the mess that the country was in in 2010 after their foolish stewardship of the country’s finances—their long-term Prime Minister, Tony Blair has said that after 2005 they got it wrong—we really have to ask whether we should take lectures from such a party on a deregulation measure.
The Solicitor-General says he wonders about the Labour party, but I wonder about him. Listen, if the Solicitor-General is so concerned and thinks that this is such a wonderful piece of legislation and the prescribed list is so clear, why does he not think that painting and decorating is a hazardous occupation? Does he not think that maritime is a hazardous occupation? If this is the prescribed list will he tell us, as I challenged him to in my contribution, what is not on it? Painting and decorating is not on it and that is clearly a hazardous occupation. What else is not on it? He says that there are no hazardous occupations that are not covered by the list.
Order. This is becoming a speech. It is supposed to be an intervention. We have heard the speech once and we do not need to hear it again.
Hang on. This is a matter of exempting people in safe occupations from the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. We are doing that for self-employed people because we want to encourage business. The process being followed to do this is very carefully thought through. The proposed prescribed list will ensure that self-employed persons conducting undertakings where they are most at risk of serious injury or fatality will not be exempt from the law. There is, therefore, an element of the debate that is just not part of the Government’s policy or the Bill. The hon.
Gentleman mentions painting and decorating. That is covered, because the description of construction, which is on the list, includes painting and decorating. I will come on to some of the other points that have been made in a minute.
The measure has been described as having particular reference to bogus self-employed contracts, but that is not the case. This does not change the law: no employment law will be changed by the Bill. A number of other points were made. It was suggested that we should look only at the evidence of consultants—the institution that was mentioned—who give advice to people on health and safety. It is the job of members of such institutions to go out and give health and safety advice to people who want to set up in business and be self-employed, so it is not a shock to find that they are not keen on having 1 million or 2 million people exempted from the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Equally, we are told that this is a lawyer’s charter, but the lawyers give advice at the moment and they are not saying what one would expect—that this measure will help them in some way.
No, I am going to continue for a moment.
I was asked about support from organisations with a business background. Yes, they support these provisions. [Interruption.] Well, it is true; they do. There are people who benefit from having an extensive health and safety law that enables them to go out and give advice about these issues, and clearly they have a point of view. Those who want to represent small businesses are in favour of this measure because it helps people to set up in business.
I will give way in a few seconds.
Another point was raised about confusion between the workplace—[Interruption.] There was confusion in much of what was said between the place where the work takes place and the activity. It is the activity that is going to be exempted. If something is a dangerous or hazardous activity, it will be exempted from the change, so that people will be safe. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington asked about the docks, but if someone is doing something dangerous or hazardous there, they will be exempt. There is a separate regime for maritime activity, which is organised differently by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—the enforcing authority for that area of endeavour.
The Solicitor-General is making a bizarre contribution, which is adding to the confusion rather than resolving it. He argues that if someone is doing an activity that is prescribed as safe but in a dangerous place, they will not be covered by the legislation. Does he not understand that the people who fund his party are those who will end up saving money, while the people in the trade unions are those who, over the years, have done the dying. That is why they feel so strongly about health and safety, which needs to be protected. The Solicitor-General needs to clear up the confusion, not add to it.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 has existed for a good period of time and done important work, but it is reasonable to exempt from it people who are in safe occupations or are self-employed after an academic study has found no reason for them to be regulated. What is wrong with that? It beggars belief that the party that is supposed to be campaigning for work—the Labour party, is it not?—is opposing the entrepreneurship that would make more work available.
The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the provisions are clear and that there is no confusion, but clearly there is confusion. Why cannot the Solicitor-General see it? I thought he was a solicitor with a legal brain, so surely he must be able to understand it. [Interruption.] He is a barrister, even; my goodness me. Can he not see that this is not an exhaustive list, and that it will therefore create confusion? There is no problem with the legislation as it stands, so why is he trying to change it? He is in search of a problem that does not exist.
There certainly is confusion on the Opposition Benches because Opposition Members simply do not understand deregulation or entrepreneurship. If we say, “Here is a list”, they say, “Well, it is not defined enough.” and when we explain that there will be a full consultation on all the definitions, they say, “But that is even worse”. How can it be worse? It is obviously a process that has been going on in a measured and sensible way. It is designed to deregulate, to enable business to thrive in our country and to enable us to continue the improved growth we are seeing. It is a way of enabling employment to continue to grow in our country.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield talked about looking at the polling, but he should look at the polling, because the people of this country are starting to turn to the Conservative party and to recognise the achievements of the Conservative-led coalition. It is the Labour party that should be worried, because not a single one of its policies would help this country. Labour has a negative approach; in Committee, no solid or positive proposal was made.
A deregulation Bill that saves £300 million, made up of many small measures, is something that Labour Members simply do not understand. They say that this or that measure will not save that much money, but when all the measures are taken together, we see a change—a transformation. This Bill is about reducing burdens on business, and about the future of our country.