Clause 1 - Health and safety at work: general duty of self-employed persons

Deregulation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 27th February 2014.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 4, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

‘(1) After section 52 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (meaning of work and at work) insert—

“52A Self-employed persons: list of low risk activities

The Executive shall, for the purpose of clarifying the duty set out in section 3(2) of this Act—

(a) prepare and maintain a list of undertakings commonly carried out by self-employed persons that, so far as can be reasonably expected, will not expose any persons to risks to their health or safety; and

(b) publicise this list in such ways as the Executive thinks appropriate, including on their website.”.’.—(Chi Onwurah.)

Creates a duty on the Health and Safety Executive to maintain a list of ‘low risk’ activities that are not likely to fall within the duty under section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—

‘(2A) Regulations resulting from the amendments made by subsection (1)(2) of this Act shall be made by statutory instrument.

(2B) A statutory instrument under subsection (2A) shall be made until—

(a) the Secretary of State has—

(i) consulted with relevant parties; and

(ii) conducted and published a full impact assessment; and

(b) the instrument has been laid in draft and approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

(2C) The Secretary of State shall—

(a) review the definitions of prescribed undertakings specified in regulations resulting from this section annually; and

(b) publicise widely the prescribed undertakings and any subsequent changes made to those regulations.

This would amend the procedure for the Secretary of State to make regulations on which undertakings are covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974.

When we adjourned earlier, Mr Chris Williamson was addressing the Committee. Before I call Mr Williamson, I inform the Committee that the Clerk has received  some written evidence relevant to the clause during the lunch break. We have made it available to Members on the table.

Photo of Chris Williamson Chris Williamson Labour, Derby North

I think I was coming to a conclusion in my remarks. [Hon. Members: “Aah!”] I know that Members want me to go on for longer, but there might be other opportunities for them to benefit from my oratory skills.

I want to refer to the point made by colleagues on the tax take. Increasing the number of self-employed workers has an impact on the tax take, and that is important for those concerned about ensuring that we have a decent society. Our public services define a decent society. Public services ensure we are cared for when we are old, looked after when we are sick and keep our streets clean, as well as the rest of the gamut of public service activities. If the tax available to sustain those services is impinged on by increasing the number of self-employed workers, that has an impact.

The original purpose behind the health and safety provisions stands today. Muddying the waters in the way that the Government propose takes us backwards, which would be regrettable. Our job in this place is to ensure that we make progress and do not take our country and citizens back to a time when less protection was available to them. For that reason, I will support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and I urge colleagues on both sides of the Committee to do the same.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

May I start, Mr Hood, by joining the welcome to you as Chairman and saying how delightful it is to be under your tutelage once again? I also welcome the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and her colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench.

Part of the Government’s main policy objective is to reduce the burdens on business to achieve growth. As a number of Members have said, the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 is an important milestone in health and safety. Health and safety is important and I do not think anyone on the Committee would disagree with that. There have been considerable achievements, as has been mentioned, not least last year when we saw the Olympic site developed. It was the best health and safety project in Europe at the time.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

In a moment. I will just get started, if I may.

Recent reviews have highlighted that there is a perhaps unjustified fear of health and safety, a fear of being sued and a perception of heath and safety that is unhelpful. Poor health and safety advice is given by badly qualified consultants. That mix is a restraint and burden on business. The Government have acted to try to make improvements to reduce burdens, but we have not done that on the basis of headlines in newspapers or anything like that; we have done it on the basis of rigorous research.

Professor Löfstedt, who has been mentioned already—we have his letter supporting the Government’s approach—is the king of risk management. He is a professor at  King’s college London and is highly regarded. When the witnesses gave evidence, they all accepted that he was a top academic in the field. The point that he made in his report was that there is a case for following a similar approach to other countries and for

“exempting from health and safety law those self-employed whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others.”

He said that this

“will help reduce the perception that health and safety law is inappropriately applied”.

It is the Government’s case that it is important that this perception should change,

Photo of Chris Williamson Chris Williamson Labour, Derby North

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I will give way first to the hon. Member for Luton North, but will make one more point. The Government put forward their proposal to the Joint Committee, which looked at it and felt that it was necessary to define the group that was to be non-exempt or exempt more accurately than had been done in the first attempt. That is why clause 1 is as it is.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

The point has passed. It was a small point, but the Minister mentioned the Olympics and the construction work in east London. It contrasts in an extreme way with what has been happening in Qatar, where hundreds of Indian and Nepalese workers have died because they do not have the protections that workers do in Britain.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I think we all agree with that.

Photo of Chris Williamson Chris Williamson Labour, Derby North

On the point that the Minister makes about the perception of health and safety being an impediment and a burden, does he not agree that it is unhelpful for Ministers and Members on the Government Benches to be constantly reinforcing the view that health and safety is in some way excessive and a barrier? It would be incumbent on Ministers to stand up for health and safety. If we give the true picture, maybe the perception could be dealt with through that route, rather than taking the legislative measures that the Minister proposes.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

If it is true, as I argue, that there are badly qualified consultants going round giving poor advice in this field and there are a lot of people who are concerned that they might be sued or prosecuted, then surely the hon. Gentleman must accept that if we are to do something about it, taking the advice of a leading figure in the field and exempting people where we can is a sensible thing to do.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is being most generous with his time. Will he clarify a point that we were discussing during our short recess? If a clerical worker who is self-employed works in an office-based job, but the office itself is within, say, the Olympic construction site, a power station or something else, in the Minister’s learned opinion would that self-employed clerical worker be exempt from these regulations or not?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

We are trying to exempt people unless they are on the list of activities. If they are on the list of activities then they are not exempt, otherwise they would be if they are self-employed.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

To clarify what the Minister is saying, if someone performs a task that is not considered dangerous, such as working at a computer on a desk, but they are in an environment that we might consider dangerous, such as a power station or a building site, would they not be covered because the task they are doing is safe?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

Clearly, there will be very good consultation in respect of this. [ Interruption. ] No, the point I am making is that the HSE has said it will consult on this. If the hon. Gentleman or anyone else has a particular concern that there is a dangerous situation that needs to be covered, they will have the opportunity to put that forward. That is clear. The other point to make, which is important, is that the HSE has a role in advising business and will issue guidance so that businesses are aware. We had the example of the hairdresser earlier. If a hairdresser looks after and uses chemicals, then that activity is on this list. Certainly as regards the activities of that person, they would have the general duty on them. That is my point.

Several hon. Members rose—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield

Far from it. I just want to amplify the concerns that the Minister has been addressing. I will never forget the time that I was in Macclesfield, talking to a constituent, who was concerned about excessive regulation giving health and safety a bad name. I asked the person who they worked for and they said, “The Health and Safety Executive.” They were so concerned that excessive regulation was giving their industry a bad name. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we have to deal with that perception, and that the steps he is talking about will help tackle that?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

That is exactly the point I am trying to make. Reports on health and safety concerns have stated that there is that perception, and that poorly qualified consultants are giving poor advice. The Government are dealing with that. It is a barrier to growth and restraining business. We want business to grow, because we as a country need it.

The Government’s efforts are based on research of an academic kind; they are measured and not based on headlines or anything of that sort.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I just want to make one further point.

In so far as a hairdresser is handling chemicals and storing and using them, they would be covered by this duty, so a hairdresser who does not do that would not be. If people were to work on a construction site, as in the example given by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, and not doing construction, and it was no part of their role to do construction in any way—in other words, they are not doing the hazardous activity—they would not be covered, because they are a self-employed person not doing something hazardous.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I worked at a nuclear power station for three years. We had lots of self-employed or agency staff working in important clerical roles, but it is common sense that there is a duty regarding behaviours for people next to a nuclear reactor, particularly as it is a busy industrial site. Does not the Minister understand that he is solving a problem without recognising that the location is as important as someone’s specific activity?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

Just to be clear, people in the hazardous part of the business environment will obviously be covered because they are in a hazardous situation.

Thomas Docherty rose—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to make a point that is really not there.

Thomas Docherty But will the Minister say which bit of a nuclear power station is not hazardous?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I am not suggesting for a minute that there are not parts of a nuclear power station that are. Of course it is a hazardous place. It is on the list. Anyone who works there would be covered, whether they are self-employed or not. My point is that people working on a construction site in an office who are not involved in any hazardous activity and are not in any way involved in it would not be.

Several hon. Members rose—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I shall make a bit of progress. I think that the point is pretty clear.

Clause 1 is currently worded to exempt self-employed people, except those on the prescribed list, and it should exempt approaching 2 million people, but it does not change the law on self-employment in any way. The definitions remain the same. There is no reason to think that it will change employment law at all: it will not.

Of course, the issue raised by the hon. Member for Newham about examples of payroll companies and the like—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I apologise; I have it written down.

The hon. Gentleman’s example sounded bad, but the Bill would not deal with that in any way. He will know that there is long-standing employment law on this  point, and long-standing national insurance law as well, which is dealt with by the Treasury. The leading case in deciding whether somebody is employed or not goes back to 1968. There have been cases that the trade unions and major companies and employees have been involved in for many years.

The current draft prescribed list of undertakings has been compiled to include work activities that have the potential to cause serious harm to others. It includes international health and safety obligations and cases where high numbers of self-employed people are working in areas where there are high injury rates, such as agriculture—that would include a beekeeper, provided he was doing that in the course of a business—and it has all the existing definitions to support it. On this list, where a subject is entitled agriculture, it is defined in accordance with the existing law.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 2:15 pm, 27th February 2014

The Minister is drawing distinctions between activities, some being hazardous and others not. It is not necessarily about the activities; it might be the equipment. Office workers have contracted repetitive strain injuries and damage to eyesight from poor screens. In my office we have an electric guillotine that, without a guard, would be extremely dangerous. There all sorts of potential dangers even in an office. It is not the activity; it is the equipment. Electrical equipment always has the potential to inflict shocks. There is especially a problem if children are around. There all sorts of items that could raise dangers even in a self-employed office environment.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

Of course, all the duties regarding an employer and employee remain. There is no question of changing those. A self-employed person might possibly have an action in tort if they were injured by other people’s equipment. The point about the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 is using the criminal law to enforce a general duty. It has always been seen as a measure to use against serious risk. That approach does not change under the proposals we are making. We are not saying that 2 million people have to look at the risks and consider them in detail when they are in safe occupations.

The Opposition seem basically to agree with that approach, but their amendment suggests that we should prepare and maintain a list of self-employed people undertaking low-risk activities. It would be a time-consuming, enormous task to produce a list of every possible activity that is safe. It would also be pointless, because the evidence base is the other way. The Health and Safety Executive and others have collected information about the hazardous risks we are talking about for years. To compile a list of occupations that have risks is a much more straightforward, simple and sensible thing to do than to try and produce a list of what is safe, which would be massive.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Minister must have a vivid imagination if he believes we share a common approach. We share a common desire to improve regulation and reduce burdens, but our amendment is to clarify and address the issue of perception, rather than to remove legislation for health and safety.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The hon. Lady’s amendment proposes that the Health and Safety Executive should prepare and maintain a list of self-employed people undertaking low-risk activities. That would be an enormous task and create confusion. It would be a less satisfactory way of doing what the Government are trying to do, which is to create a simple, clear way of allowing people to see whether they are covered or not.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the amendment would cause confusion. He is proposing legislation specifically naming what is dangerous. Hairdressers who use dyes are on the list; those who just clip hair are not. Someone who has to walk across a building site every day but is working on a computer is not on the list. The idea that what he is talking about here is simplifying the situation is ludicrous.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

To put it the other way, on the hon. Gentleman’s list would be hairdresser, non-use of chemicals, and clerical worker, not working in construction. There is no difference; it is just that his list—[ Interruption. ] I do not know: 10 times as long. It would be an enormous list trying to include every safe occupation. It would be a genuine lawyers’ feast. The most important point is that we had the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill, and those who scrutinised it said that they wanted it to be easier to understand who was and who was not exempt. They were in favour of exemption but they wanted it to be clearer. It is much simpler to do that by providing a short-ish list of the hazardous occupations than by providing an enormous list of safe occupations. Also, the evidence base is of what the hazards are; it is not of what is safe.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I think I am right in thinking that the Minister said earlier that the list would be subject to a Health and Safety Executive consultation, but we are now at Committee stage and presumably Royal Assent is not that far away. How will that fit in with the consultation, because the Health and Safety Executive—which has been cut, so it has fewer resources—must hold a consultation, wait for the responses, then contribute to the Bill. Will the Bill be issued with the list, or will that come later?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The idea is that the regulations should be in place at the time when this is implemented; otherwise, it could not be implemented. So the idea is to implement the clause when the regulations are in place.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The list would be in regulations.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. I am trying to be helpful. Hon. Members were asking earlier whether we would have a stand part debate. If they will not allow the Minister to get through his response without a huge number of interventions, which will cover part of what would be expected to be in the stand part debate, hon. Members may be talking themselves out of having a stand part debate. So I would hope that interventions are to the point, as has been previously raised, and that they would be short interventions and not contributions to a debate.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

It may help the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead if I finish my remarks anyway, because I deal with a lot of these points.

The current drafting of clause 1 and the existing statutory framework within the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 does achieve a number of aspects that amendment 4 purports to introduce. Clause 1 limits the duty in section 3(2) of the 1974 Act to undertakings “of a prescribed description”. “Prescribed” is already defined in the 1974 Act to mean prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State. It is not necessary, therefore—I do not know whether this will help—to specify in the clause that regulations need to be made by statutory instrument. That is already there in the 1974 Act.

The amendment seeks to impose a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State to consult with relevant parties and to conduct and publish a full impact assessment. The new regulation-making power created in subsection (2) is a relevant statutory provision, and as such it already falls subject to the statutory duty to consult in section 50 of the 1974 Act, so consultation is there already as well. There is no need to repeat that in a separate amendment, and the Government will comply with the requirements to produce and publish an impact assessment alongside any new regulations, which they always do. The existing statutory framework in the 1974 Act does not provide for the new regulation-making power to be subject to affirmative resolution procedure, because the increase of parliamentary time that that would require is not considered appropriate, and normally the affirmative procedure is kept for cases where primary legislation is being changed by secondary legislation. But the option would be available to pray against the regulations if there was concern, and of course the business managers would then wish to ensure that there was a debate.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Just to clarify, is the Minister saying that a full impact assessment regarding that list will be published, which will identify, for example, the impact on hairdressers and nuclear workers of that list?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

It will set out, in the normal way, all the impacts that the Government are required to set out under their policy and guidance on this. Certainly if, in the course of the consultation, the hon. Lady or other people raise concerns, they will be considered, as they should be.

Most of what the hon. Lady is proposing in amendment 4 is already covered by existing law. It is worth noting that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee looked at the clause and did not consider the affirmative resolution procedure to be appropriate, although it would normally say so if it thought that that would be right.

Finally, the need to ensure that new regulations are regularly reviewed is accepted under the Government’s better regulation agenda. Amendment 4 would impose a statutory obligation to review the regulations annually, which is over-burdensome. Our intention, however, is that any new regulations made under the power will contain a duty for the Secretary of State to review them every five years. That complies with the Government’s better regulation guidance. The Health and Safety Executive will produce guidance on its website to ensure that the  legislative change is properly understood by those affected. It will also ensure that clear guidance, with examples, is available to the self-employed engaged in high and low-risk activities.

On that basis, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The debate has realised my expectations with regard to the expertise of Members, as well as their interest in—and at times excitement about—the subjects we are considering.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley made a considered contribution based on his experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North made a number of excellent points about the importance of health and safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead described the clause without our amendment as a lawyers’ charter and emphasised the point about increasing bogus self-employment, which I did not feel able to mention enough in my remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North talked about his own experience of industrial accidents, again emphasising the importance of what we are discussing and in particular why we must retain our strong health and safety requirements while addressing perceptions as necessary.

A number of my hon. Friends wished to vote against the clause in its entirety, although they expressed their support for amendments 3 and 4. I understand their wish and considered long and hard before tabling the amendments. My hon. Friends may say that I am being idealistic or naive, but I wanted to be in Committee with a shared desire to address true underlying concerns about the perception that health and safety represents a burden, while maintaining the strength of our existing health and safety legislation.

I thank the Minister for his response. He gave some clarity about the impact assessment at least, if not the timing, so I still find myself confused.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The Minister’s speech was similar to an organic process: we could see the Bill evolving and changing in intent before our very eyes. The idea that what has been presented will in some way offer certainty to people about whether they are included is so obviously wrong.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend accurately, if perhaps a little harshly, describes my sense of remaining confusion, which many will unfortunately share.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General 2:30 pm, 27th February 2014

The hon. Lady expressed concern about the timing. The impact assessment would be published when the regulations were before the House. The aim is for the whole legislative package, including the regulations, to be in place by the time of Royal Assent.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Although that is a clarification, I truly do not understand how we are expected to give the Bill full scrutiny when we have no assessment of its impact  in so many different areas. I look forward to an explanation that would clarify, for example, what would happen if my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife was working in a clerical role in a nuclear station and was visited by a hairdresser who had chemicals. Would the hairdresser be subject to health and safety legislation while my hon. Friend, who might have access to the nuclear power station’s entire IT system, would not be?

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Were the Opposition not comforted and reassured when they received Professor Löfstedt’s worthy letter, which deals with some of those concerns, at lunchtime today?

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am conscious of your guidance about the stand part debate, Mr Hood, but I will briefly respond to that point. I have read Professor Löfstedt’s letter, but it is an academic clarification in the truest sense of the word. Although Professor Löfstedt says that he asked for action to be taken, he says:

“I believe this position was consistent with the spirit of my recommendation.”

I would not call that a ringing endorsement of the provisions.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

It is better than “I disagree.”

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

It is, but it is still not a ringing endorsement. Amendment 4 is simply a probing amendment. Amendment 3 is designed to address the Minister’s concern about perception, which we share, without undermining the critical health and safety legislation that self-employed people deserve as much as others do. I want to press amendment 3 to a vote, and I hope the Minister and others will join us in voting for it.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 1 Decision Time — Clause 1 - Health and safety at work: general duty of self-employed persons

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out from ‘Executive)’ to end of line 12 and insert ‘after subsection (4A) insert—

‘(4AA) Subsection (4)(b)(i) does not apply in relation to the making of regulations under section 3(2) for the railway safety purposes (and, accordingly, the Executive shall submit under subsection (3) such proposals as the Executive considers appropriate for the making of regulations under section 3(2) for those purposes).”.’

This amendment will enable the Health and Safety Executive to make proposals for the making of regulations under section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 for railway safety purposes. Section 3(2) is amended by clause 1(2) to restrict the general duty imposed by it to self-employed persons who conduct an undertaking prescribed in regulations.

This is a minor and technical amendment to clause 1(3) in consequence of changes in the Energy Act 2013 to section 11(4) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, etc.1974. Its effect is simply to ensure that the Health and Safety Executive can make recommendations for prescribed activities involving railways.

Amendment 4 agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

It is a great shame that the Committee chose to reject our amendment 3. As it stands, the clause is an ideological change to a law that has existed for 40 years and saved many lives. I must confess that I am experiencing déjà vu because, as I have said, the last Bill Committee on which I served considered the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. It, too, was full of attacks and policies based on anecdote, and here we are again. The Government have given up even pretending to tackle issues that matter to small businesses and ordinary people, such as access to finance and energy prices. Instead, they are taking up the case of the oppressed novelist tied up in red tape—the dead hand of the state stopping him finishing that book while he produces an impact assessment of health and safety on his work.

This week, I read a Cabinet Office report of 2013, entitled “When Laws Become Too Complex”. It was mentioned in evidence to the Committee this week and I recommend it. It quotes Edward VI:

“I wish that the superfluous and tedious statutes were brought into one sum together, and made more plain and short.”

The truth is that the Health and Safety at Work Act, etc. 1974 brought together myriad statutes into one simple and easy to understand one. The Cabinet Office has a good law initiative whereby laws should be

“necessary, effective, clear, accessible and coherent”.

The 1974 Act is all of those things, but we have seen in the debate on a small number of activities and occupations that this clause is ineffective and confusing.

I challenge Government Members to produce one piece of evidence or a witness who can demonstrate with proof, rather than anecdote, that the clause will be effective. I also challenge them to convince us that they have thought through all the possible unintended consequences. It is clear from the debate that they have not thought through even a small number of the possible consequences.

I will not again raise the vision of the hairdresser visiting the nuclear power station, but let me present one scenario in a little detail. Let us suppose there is a worker in a call centre in Newcastle—which is an excellent location for call centres and, indeed, all support services. Their employer tells them that, rather than having an employment contract with a salary, they will now be a self-employed service agent. That happens all too often; remaining levels of unemployment in my constituency and elsewhere across the country mean that many workers find themselves persuaded, shall we say, into unwanted self-employment.

The worker is still doing exactly the same job. They turn up at their employer’s premises, but they are no longer covered by health and safety legislation. The employer is no longer officially an employer, because there is merely a service contract. What happens if the worker overbalances on their badly designed chair or knocks a potted plant on their neighbour’s head? As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead said, this clause is a lawyers’ charter. Who is to take responsibility? Is that not simply introducing more and more confusion, and for what? It is 37p per self-employed person; 4p per year is probably close to the mark.

Far from improving perceptions of the law, this clause causes confusion. If Ministers want to improve the perception of health and safety, they should support health and safety and champion how it can improve lives. They should tell stories like the one my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North told about health and safety saving lives in this country over decades, and about disregard for health and safety still causing fatalities in many places around the world.

I challenge Ministers again to show real evidence—not what a friend told them, or what somebody mentioned in a pub—that the law is currently being applied inappropriately or that it is stifling enterprise or holding back our economy in any way. If they cannot produce that evidence—Professor Löfstedt’s most recent evidence is clarificatory, not new—this is bad law. I would argue that, contrary to being bad for business, the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 has made our economy more competitive over the past four decades. Safe, secure employees are more productive employees. Safe and healthy workplaces are more productive workplaces. That is the case regardless of the size of the business. Health and safety is a crucial part of good management and long-term planning.

On long-term planning, there is another area of unforeseen consequences on which the Government have failed to deliver any evidence: occupations that may arise in the future. We live in a rapidly changing environment, in a time when technology is changing our lifestyles, our working environments and our jobs. How will this legislation react to new activities and new jobs in which self-employed persons may pose risks to others?

I want to quote a woman who works for the European Union and health and safety organisations—Conservative Members may not wish to listen. Ms Christa Sedlatschek, director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, said last month that a Europe-wide survey of more than 36,000 businesses found that

“it is not the perceived cost or complexity of health and safety legislation that prevents some workplaces from taking preventive action, but rather a lack of awareness about relevant workplace risks.”

I suggest to the Minister and Government Members that the clause will only reduce awareness of risk among self-employed people and small businesses.

Our work force is ageing, in particular the proportion of those going into self-employment since 2008—I think 60% were over the age of 50. In general, the workplace is ageing, as older people increasingly stay on in work, as well as starting their own businesses, and they will be more susceptible to risks at work—not only falling off a ladder, but a bad back, stress and other conditions that  are becoming more commonplace. In future, we need to be more aware of risk, not less. The argument is economic, as well as about health and safety. Members should also consider the human argument: no cost can be placed on human life, injury or suffering.

If it is not apparent by now, our intention is to vote against the clause standing part of the Bill, in summary for the following reasons. We have seen no rigorous evidence to support any of the benefits that the clause is supposed to bring at any stage. It will have negligible benefit to small business and self-employed people, at the cost of creating confusion for millions of self-employed people in a variety of sectors and dangerous occupations. Furthermore, the clause contributes to a narrative that health and safety is inherently a bad thing, rather than something that can make our economy more competitive and a safer place to work. I sincerely hope that Government Members will look seriously at the clause and not choose ideology and partisanship over something that could cost some people very dear.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 2:45 pm, 27th February 2014

It was remiss of me earlier not to welcome you to the Chair, Mr Hood, and to say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, but I was caught slightly unawares this morning. It is a genuine pleasure. I want to support strongly everything that my hon. Friend has said from the Front Bench and to make one more point, which she hinted at in her speech.

Health and safety legislation is not only about restricting people or making them do things, but about a culture in which we all become conscious of dangers in what we do in our daily lives, at work and outside work. Unfortunately, I was not so sensible myself and slipped on an oil patch—it was nothing to do with work—but I am now much more conscious of the fact that there are dangers. We all become conscious of dangers.

In other areas of life, too, we have become more conscious of dangers, such as wearing seat belts in cars. That was introduced as voluntary, but people did not wear them; once we had to wear seat belts, we became conscious of the dangers in driving and of what can happen with forces of deceleration on the human body when it hits something hard.

Legislation can often change cultures. It can change attitudes, making us more aware. That is what health and safety legislation does, and cutting back on it will have little economic impact. It could be argued that it will have a damaging economic and social impact. Appearing to window-dress for the sake of prejudice outside this place—that health and safety is somehow a bad thing—is a retrograde step and not one that we should welcome. We should be standing up for health and safety and saying that the existing law is the least we should have. The fact that our health and safety law is stronger than that on the continent of Europe is a matter of pride, as well as of common sense. We ought to vote down the clause.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I want to add to my hon. Friend’s point and one made earlier about the comparison of what happens in Britain with what happens in some countries overseas. One point that has not been made is that in Germany it is much more difficult to set up a company than it is in the UK. One strength of the UK economy is that it is easy to set up a company and to become  self-employed. In Germany, it is much more complicated to set up a company and the way that a company is constituted is very different. For that reason, using Germany as an example is different, because companies that employ people in Germany are different.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I thank my hon. Friend for making a strong point. The extent of self-employment in Britain is vast, so restricting the application of health and safety legislation to the self-employed is much more serious here than it might be overseas.

I have made the points I want to make; we should vote the clause down. We ought to persuade the Government that they should be standing up for health and safety. They should be saying that the kind of prejudices that float in some sections of the media are utterly misguided, and that Members from across the whole House should stand up for health and safety and express pride in the impact that it has had on our society over the past 40 years and that it will continue to have in future. I therefore support my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

We have had a short but none the less interesting debate. The Government’s point is not that there is anything wrong with having good quality laws to enforce health and safety and using the criminal law as we do, but that we should not use the law as a restraint on growth when it is not necessary. Professor Löfstedt made that point in his excellent report. It is nonsense to say that there is no evidence, when he had a commission, which included my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire and other experts from across industry. The report makes the point, which I was making earlier, that there is a problem in Britain and concern that health and safety is being applied unnecessarily in some cases, and that there is influence from third parties, who are promoting the generation of unnecessary paperwork, focusing on health and safety activities that go beyond what is required.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I just want to clarify that when Opposition members of the Committee ask for evidence, we are asking not for evidence about an issue with perception—which the Minister is right to say that Löfstedt speaks to—but for evidence and documented examples of issues with health and safety.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The hon. Lady is perhaps missing the point. There are business people throughout the country and those who want to set up in business, and we do not want to restrain their activities unnecessarily. We want them to go out, set up business and grow. We do not want barriers to growth.

Thomas Docherty rose—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

Let me just finish the point. Perception is a barrier to growth. We can exempt 2 million people from legislation because they are in safe occupations. They will all be saved from having to do risk assessments, at 15 minutes a person according to one estimate. However, it is not so much the money, as the barrier that the perception creates that is the problem.

The hon. Lady says there was no support for the measure. When the British Chambers of Commerce gave evidence, it supported it. The business organisations support it, because they understand that we have to see whether we can remove barriers to growth and to enterprise. Yes, we are a safe country, and that is a good thing. No one is trying to change that. The difference between the hon. Lady and me is that she wanted a safe list of occupations, whereas I am arguing that there should be a list of high-risk occupations, because that is a simpler way of effecting what Löfstedt says.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

It is indeed a more focused approach, as my right hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, because it is based on evidence accumulated over the years about what is and is not hazardous.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for giving way and enabling me to correct, again, his assertion that the only difference between us is the nature of the list. I want the legislation to remain and to support more publicity about what occupations are not risky. He wants to take away the legislative protection of many self-employed people and put a list in its place.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The hon. Lady cannot get away with that. Her amendment 3 said there should be a list of safe occupations and that the people on it would no longer be subject to the law. She cannot now be saying, “Oh, we put that down and if it had been passed, we would still have voted against the clause.”

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

That is not what I was saying. I am not sure that the Minister has fully read my amendment, because it would have removed the subsections that remove self-employed people from health and safety legislation. With my amendment 3, the legislation would have remained as it is under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. In addition, there would have been a list that helped those who are self-employed to understand what limited risks they faced.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

Well, either way I am glad we opposed amendment 3. I would just say to the hon. Lady that if that is what she intended, so be it.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I will continue for a moment.

The point is that Professor Löfstedt, who is the leading expert in the field, supported by those in the business world who know about these things, says that people in low-risk activities should not face inspection or have to do risk assessments when they are unnecessary. To have that in the law is bad for the perception, which is a restraint on business and growth. The point Professor Löfstedt makes in his letter, which amplifies what is in his report, is this. Why should somebody in a clerical  job—a software developer or writer; people like that—have to go through this process? Why should they have to worry about this? We are talking about 2 million people being required to waste their time and put in fear. [Interruption.]

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. I said at the beginning of the Committee this morning that I did not want chatter between the Front Benches. A lot of restraint would be helpful at this stage.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

I think we have had a good debate; I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Chesterfield has a further point to make.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The Minister says that this is not so much about that issue, but all about the perception. If he were in charge of the Home Office, rather than in his Department, and a rumour swept the town that a moose with the mouth of a tiger was marching up and down the side of the river, then rather than a make a public information announcement that there was no moose with the mouth of a tiger, he would be bringing in a force to kill the moose with the mouth of a tiger. He is dealing with perception. What he should be doing is telling businesses out there about the sensible policies on health and safety, rather than changing the law in a dangerous way in order to deal with a perception that does not legally exist.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman makes a point that I do not think stands scrutiny. He admits that imposing a burden on 2 million people is unnecessary, because he admits that there is very little that they should have to do to tackle health and safety concerns because they are in low-risk occupations. What is the point of that? It gives an opportunity to the consultants to go in and give them poor quality advice of the sort that Professor Löfstedt talks about. Perhaps it creates a bit of business for them, but it does not do anything for the reputation of health and safety, which is something that needs protecting, as other hon. Members have said. I do not think there is much more that I can add, but I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division number 2 Decision Time — Clause 1 - Health and safety at work: general duty of self-employed persons

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.