Third Reading

Part of Deregulation Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 4th March 2015.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 5:30 pm, 4th March 2015

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 3. I thank the Minister for reverting on this matter at Third Reading, as he promised to do, and for providing some important draft regulations. The issue with which we have grappled throughout this Bill is how Professor Löfstedt’s recommendations might be safely implemented—if indeed they can be—and in particular how it would be possible to deliver the recommendations that those self-employed who pose no potential risk of harm to others should be exempt from the general duties of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 without creating unintended consequences.

As we have asserted before, maintaining the status quo for the self-employed is the preferred approach given the minimal requirements that would fall on them in these circumstances and the risk of confusion that could follow any change. However, we accept that this is not where the Government are—hence another attempt to implement the recommendation is necessary. Certainly, the first two attempts to implement a Löfstedt approach fell short. The most recent did not have the support of the professor himself and received substantial criticism when consulted on, not least from the CBI and the EEF, and it is understood that the HSE advised that the last approach should be abandoned. The latest attempt is reflected in the government amendment and in the draft regulations, which I think were circulated on Monday.

As we have heard, this amendment provides a framework for determining who is conducting and undertaking a very prescribed description and, hence, is subject to the general duty. As we have heard, it can be determined or framed by reference to types and locations of activities or any other feature, and, crucially, by whether persons who may be affected by the conduct of the undertaking may be exposed to risk to their health and safety—a very important change.

Although our preference for any exemption from the general duty is that it should be based on everyone being in, subject to exclusions which take people out, rather than the reverse, we see merit in this government amendment. We are comforted by proposed new subsection (2A)(b), which appears to be a substantial change in the Government’s position, as I think the Minister confirmed. It brings matters back to a Löfstedt formulation and therefore we are grateful to the Minister for his efforts in bringing this about, doubtless with the steadying hand of the HSE. It raises questions of how it is to be put into practice and doubtless takes us back to issues around risk assessments, but I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about specific guidance being developed in this regard, as well as use of the existing guidance.

Although comforted, I am bound to say that we are not comforted enough. Our Amendment 2 would simply ensure that, rather than just setting out some of the potential criteria by which undertakings of a prescribed description may be determined—that is, the circumstances which bring a self-employed person under the duties of the 1974 Act—it is mandatory. So regulations determining the self-employed who retain a general duty must always include those who may pose a risk to the health and safety of another person. Indeed, why on earth should that not be the case?

Certainly that approach is what has been provided for in the draft regulations that we have seen. But they are, frankly, only that—draft—and presumably there is no prospect of them being finalised before the end of this Parliament. The Minister may wish to comment on their intended progress. What assurance do we have that the actual regulations will replicate the circulated draft? I understand exactly what the Minister said—that if he were in a position to determine that, that would be the case; it would be the basis on which the Government took them forward. However, we know where we are in the electoral cycle and, come May, who knows who will be in a position to take this forward and on what basis? Is it not the case that the government of the day could ignore new subsection (2A)(b) in framing any regulations, undoing the good work that the Minister has achieved and reverting to a prescriptive list which bears all the flaws of the earlier version? Changing primary legislation, which could always be done, would be much more difficult.

Incidentally, in determining who is exposed to harm, the Government have discounted the employees of a self-employed person. Accepting that Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act would in any event impose a duty on the self-employed in respect of their employees, can the Minister tell us why that is so?

Our Amendment 3 was drafted before we had sight of the government amendment and it calls for a review of any proposed regulations to see that they are fit for purpose. This still has relevance, although we see that the draft regulations—the Minister referred to this—provide for a review of any regulations within a five-year period. Such a review would clearly be welcome.

On the face of it, the Government’s position represents a significant and welcome change. However, unless we think about locking it down more tightly in primary legislation, it may yet be wasted. I beg to move.