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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:27 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 2:27 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I too welcome the maiden speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. I also look forward to the maiden speech we are due to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.

I was planning to deal with the environment and regulation, but I have junked the environment as there will be a Bill later on and we can deal it then.

For most of my time in government I was involved in regulation, be it food, farming, planning or regeneration. There were always lots of calls for less regulation but every time I asked for ideas on what we did not need, answer came there none. The balance of competency reviews between the UK and the EU in 2010 pushed by William Hague—all 38 of them—did not, as I recall, produce any less regulation. Now, a decade later, we have a Prime Minister determined to get rid of “burdensome regulation”. The fact that he told untruths about some of the regulations he complained about is neither here nor there.

His team is determined to cut “red tape”, as they call it. I will use just one example, from the Prime Minister’s right-hand man, the Leader of the House of Commons. He might present himself as a comedy toff but, in my view, he is in reality a hard-right bully. At the Treasury Select Committee in 2016, the now Leader of the House of Commons opined that standards that were good enough for India would be good enough for the UK after Brexit. I have never been to India but I have enormous respect for the world’s largest democracy. There are thousands of members of my professional institution, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, in India. I have looked at a couple of areas as comparative examples. ILO data tells us that, in India, 403,000 people die each year due to work-related problems; this amounts to 46 deaths per hour. Work-related deaths in GB, including where the public were involved, totalled 239 in 2018-19, which amounts to 0.027 per hour. India’s population is 20 times the size of Great Britain’s. So if Britain was same size, there would be one extra death every two hours. That is from an academic paper by MMK Sardana, whose abstract says that India should copy the UK, not the other way around.

I looked at deaths from fire accidents. According to information from the National Crime Records Bureau in India, in the four years 2010-14, 114,000 people lost their lives in fire accidents—that is 62 deaths per day—and two-thirds of them were female. In Great Britain in the same four years, the loss of life was 1,478, which amounts to one death a day. Scaled to Indian levels, that would be 20 per day. I have used these examples for a reason. In March 1974, in maiden speech in the Commons, I used the subject of industrial accidents as my theme. I had worked in engineering as both a safety officer and a production manager.

A third example is air pollution. Before the clean air Acts, black smoke emissions in the UK were up to 50 times higher than today. Not only did unregulated coal burning darken the skies but there were high death rates from respiratory diseases among the old and the very young. The effect of pollution in India today is comparable with that in Great Britain’s industrial cities in the late 19th century. I picked that up from a paper by Professor Tim Hatton at the University of Essex entitled, India’s Pollution Today is as Deadly as the Black Smog that Covered Britain during the Industrial Revolution.

India has room for improvement. There is massive work going on to legislate and improve the situation, and they use our Health and Safety Executive as an example in their papers of how we transformed our situation from myriad old-fashioned legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. So why should the UK follow India in these circumstances? I take what the people in the Cabinet, the bosses who are in the Government—