§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Despite the "Hear, hears", it is with a certain diffidence that I rise to introduce the Bill, because I know that on both sides of the House—I hope that hon. Members opposite will not take it wrongly when I say especially on this side of the House—there is a great deal of expertise on this subject which comes from long years of practical work in industry.
I will state briefly the reason I have chosen to introduce the Bill and why it is necessary at this time. I have not been directly involved in industry. However, I have been closely involved in the problems that have arisen in industry, both as a constituency Member and also in my Ministerial responsibilities for Scottish home affairs.
I vividly remember one of the most harrowing experiences I ever had when I visited James Watt Street on the evening of the fire in Glasgow, when 22 people were trapped between a window with bars and a safety door that was padlocked—and 22 bodies lay there.
I do not know if that accident could have been avoided if my Bill had then been enacted. However, with the contents of the Bill workers will be made more aware of their own responsibilities for safety and I hope that with this increasing consciousness such accidents may be avoided in future.
The second reason I have sought to introduce the Bill—again, I say this in no spirit of recrimination—is that we are in a very difficult situation in terms of basic relationships in industry. There is anxiety because of recent industrial events and closures. There is bitterness because—rightly or wrongly—there is resentment about proposals which are being made at present. 1061 Therefore, it is valuable at this time and in this situation for both sides of the House to be seen to be concerned about workers' interests. Workers' interests are as much involved in safety and conditions at work as they are in any of the other matters which are more highly dramatised in industrial relations.
The case for greater safety measures is borne out by the figures. We have had a long history of developments, change and progress in effective legislation. What I propose is nothing new. The Mines and Quarries Act goes back more than half a century bringing in the concept which is in my Bill of involving the workers themselves in having responsibilities to care about their conditions within their place of employment. So there is nothing new in that. Nor is there anything new in the concentration which the Bill seeks to place on the problem of safety.
Nor, I regret to say, is there anything new about the situation itself. There has been a terrifying increase in the number of accidents. The Report of the Factory Inspector in 1969 said that there were 323,000 industrial accidents. It may be that the figure is even greater. Vincent Hanna referred to a figure of about 900,000 as being the possible true figure, such is the order of increase in the number of industrial accidents. Not all are known. The fatal accident figures totalled over 600 last year. The curious thing is that while that figure is small compared with road accidents the figure of non-fatal accidents is many times higher. The number of such accidents reflects the continual proximity of workers to danger in their place of work. It is the consciousness of that proximity and of the need to alert people to the danger that I seek to achieve in the Bill.
I have referred to the cost in human lives, and there are other factors. On average every worker in employment today can expect to have two accidents of one kind or another in his working life arising out of his working life. That is what we seek to avoid.
The second cost aspect is the sheer economic cost to the country. This has been calculated in various ways, and we are not altogether sure of the method of costing correctly, or even what the final 1062 figure is. It has been estimated at £220 million or £550 million. I think that most people would accept that the higher figure is nearer. In recent years there has been concentration on the number of working days lost and a great deal of our time in the House over the past few weeks, and political concentration in the country, has concerned the number of working days lost. The major Bill introduced by the Government is precisely to deal with that.
Sometimes I wonder about the kind of priorities we set ourselves, because it is obvious that there are at least two areas in which the number of working days lost was considerably more than the number lost through industrial disputes. One is closures and unemployment. Every time 100,000 workers are unemployed it means 25 million working days lost. Every time the unemployment figure goes up there is another heavy loss of working days. It may be that the industrial events of the past week, which we have discussed throughout the week, will of themselves achieve the kind of figure of working days lost on which we have been spending so much time and care with regard to disputes. We should get our priorities right.
It is with the number of working days lost through industrial accidents that the Bill seeks to deal. The whole run of affairs is showing that the loss of working days through industrial accidents is considerably greater than through industrial disputes. For example, over the past 10 years for every day lost in an industrial dispute at least six were lost through industrial accidents. Even with the very high figure of disputes last year, the loss of working days, which we all agree is an enormous problem, was certainly three times greater through accidents.
Why the Bill? That is an easy question to answer. It is because of the cost in human lives and the economic cost in working days, which is immense. It casts a sad reflection on the priorities we set ourselves that it should have received so little legislative attention.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudley Smith), may indicate some of his own thinking on the matter. We have 1063 great hopes of the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he is not unsympathetic to the kind of points we put forward. I read very carefully his speech when what was virtually this Bill was debated a year ago. I am encouraged to know that the party opposite did not oppose that Bill, which was divided into two sections, one on health and one on safety. They made many criticisms of the second Part, but did not divide the House. The Minister himself said that he had criticisms, and one of his hon. Friends spoke of the need to give fairly sharp surgery to the Bill if it went to Committee. I am prepared to discuss that kind of surgery in Committee. Therefore, I hope that such criticisms as were made, some minor and some no doubt more substantial, will not be a reason for the Government spokesman to advise his hon. Friends not to support the Bill today.
The Minister said last year:Despite some marked objections to Part II of the Bill"—the Part to which we are referring here—I cannot advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against it. This would give the impression that we were against improving industrial safety and health, and we certainly are not that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 76.]Perhaps HANSARD is a little unfair to the hon. Gentleman. He was concerned not so much with giving only an impression of caring, but genuinely meant what he said. Therefore, I have high hopes that that is an indication of support from the Government party.
The Bill sets out the right of trade unionists within a factory to have safety representatives, and in factories over a certain size to have joint safety committees to which the management must send representatives. This does not impose a tough statutory duty upon employers. The responsibility for safety will and must remain with management. But this means that the work people are involved in a more responsible way. That is right.
Not the least merit of the proposal is that it brings in a different kind of expertise to the problem of safety. I have had discussions with representatives of the industrial safety officers, who, as professional people, were slightly concerned 1064 about whether their expertise and professionalism would be slightly overridden with the existence of works committees, among other things. I think that they were fairly happy with my answers. The safety officer cannot always know the men's actual work practices. They can look at the layout of a factory and advise tidiness, the removal of beams, the necessity for guards on machines and so on, but they cannot always say what Johnny Smith does when he is on the night shift. The workers know when a fence beside a machine may be moved during the night shift because workers take a short cut to the canteen that way. That is the kind of simple knowledge that can come from the men and from the expertise that inevitably grows up with men working on their own jobs and own machines for years. They can give very useful advice.
We are sometimes far too lackadaisical in consulting the people of this country in their own involvement and their own field. From this kind of committee the expertise of the professional safety officer can also develop, and a fresher and greater reality can be brought into his work.
Another reason for the Bill is that in its own way it reflects a modest advance in what has come to be called industrial democracy. This is valuable of itself in this respect alone, but it is also valuable in the whole climate of industrial relationships today. There is nothing particularly revolutionary or radical in suggesting that workpeople should be involved in their own safety conditions, but it begins to extend their involvement in helping to advise and, we hope, helping to make decisions, about their own conditions. For that reason alone, because of the background of bitterness to which I have referred, it would be valuable in the prevailing climate for the Government unequivocally to say, "We accept this. We will work with the unions and the T.U.C. to help to bring this new climate into industry."
What will the Bill achieve? Again I do not make any great claim. We know that safety is not something which can be achieved completely overnight. But I think that the Bill will do one thing that the ordinary factory legislation cannot. The Factories Acts can lay down conditions and the responsibilities of 1065 management and have an inspectorate. All that is absolutely necessary as the basis. But the Acts cannot encourage people to behave in the right way. No manager or safety officer can achieve this easily. They can do it by advice but not be example because they are not doing the job themselves. But it can be achieved by a trade union representative on a safety committee because he knows how Johnny Smith behaves—and indeed his fellow workpeople may make Johnny Smith a representative. The workpeople know what attitudes are taken towards safety among them.
It is a curious fact that very often as expertise develops, so does the person's carelessness. I served in tanks during the Second World War. In a firing position, the loader was in a narrow space about three feet in diameter. There was a guard against the recoil of the 75 but some lads would remove the guards. There they were in a 3 ft. space without a guard, with the recoil of the gun coming to within inches of them. But of course they were used to it and thought they could judge exactly where the recoil would end. If some of us did that in the circumstances of a 3 ft. diameter space in a tank, one can easily understand how easily a worker can become careless of his safety. This Bill aims to develop responsibility and consciousness and to create a common drive towards safety.
When the Bill was first introduced in the last Parliament, it was part of the Labour Government's Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill. For technical reasons this Bill refers to safety, but our concept of safety also includes health factors. Just as important as guards and fences around machines are health conditions. I had intended the Bill to include health but there is a technical problem with Private Members' Bills. However, I would accept Amendments in Committee to include the word "health" throughout the body of the Bill.
It is, therefore, with a good deal of confidence that I move the Second Reading. I have tried to be brief because I know that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. Indeed, even more wished to speak but many have told me that because of the Rolls-Royce situation they have to go back to their con- 1066 stituencies today. In effect, therefore, we will be speaking for them and, I am sure, for the trade union movement in general.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Before he concludes will the hon. Gentleman help me with some homework which I should perhaps have done for myself? Is a factory as mentioned in the Bill a factory within the meaning of the Factories Act, 1961? Does it cover docks?
§ Mr. Buchan
Indeed it does. One would really need to consult the Factories Acts, where all this is laid down. It would include docks and ships when tied up for repair and so on at docks. Ships at sea come under separate legislation. The Bill also includes a building site as being deemed a factory. It does not cover certain other things which are the subject of other legislation.
Objection might be made that I have referred to trade union safety committees. I think it is right that these should be trade union committees because I want them to have the support of the trade union movement and to encourage the trade union movement itself to become involved in this matter and thereby gain added strength as a result. Very often, of course, the safety committee would fit in with the normal pattern of union-management relations within the factory.
I hope that the House will approve the purpose of the Bill. There may be questions as to its efficacy. I make no enormous claims but I say that it is a necessary step forward to a new climate. I hope that hon. Members opposite will indicate their support for the Bill, that the Under-Secretary of State will say that the Government warmly endorse what is largely the product of work between his Department and the unions, and that we can then go forward to a slightly happier relationship in industry.
§ 11.27 a.m.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) both on the persuasiveness and on the moderation with which he moved the Second Reading. He said that he expected the House to endorse and approve the purpose behind the Bill. I am sure that we on this side certainly commend the purpose and the objective at which it is aimed, which is 1067 the increase of safety for workers in factories and all those establishments which come within the definition of factories in the Factories Acts. But I regret to say that I find one very important and, indeed, insuperable difficulty in the way of approving the Bill. I shall come to it in detail in a moment.
As the hon. Gentleman indicated, the Bill is really lifted bodily—it is not the subject of criticism on that ground—from the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill whose Second Reading was moved by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on 2nd March last year. On that occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudley Smith), now the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, indicated the general approval of the then Opposition for the first part of the Bill, which would have made various Amendments to the Factories Act, 1961, and was concerned with the setting-up of an occupational health service in industry. He expressed in some detail his reservations about the second part, which is the hon. Gentleman's Bill today.
The Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill went to Standing Committee. I served on the Committee. We never got as far as the discussion of the details of Part II, When Parliament was dissolved we were still discussing the details of Clause 1, and, I hope, improving it. The difficulty to which I referred a moment ago which I saw in Part II of that Bill and which I see in this Bill is that the law at present puts the responsibility for safety in factories squarely on the employer; that is, upon management. The employer it is who must answer in the courts for any failure to see that there are carried out in his factory or establishment, on the shop floor, in docks, on building sites, wherever it may be, the very considerable number of safety regulations made under the Factories Acts.
I recognise the soundness of the purpose behind this Bill. What the Bill seeks to do is to set up in a given number of factories—that is to say, fairly substantial factories employing more than 100 people—committees of members of trade unions to make inspections and to bring pressure on the employers and generally to exercise a 1068 kind of supervisory jurisdiction. But it is totally one-sided. Power is given to these committees and their members without in any way giving them responsibility.
I am the first to recognise the validity of the point, made by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West, that none is better qualified than the man on the shop floor, knowing what he personally does about, for instance, which route he takes to the canteen and his practice and that of his mates, perhaps bad practice in doing away with some safety devices so as to get on with the job more quickly. But that sort of knowledge is often brought to bear not by a one-sided arrangement of this kind but by voluntary co-operation between management and the workers on the shop floor.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Where does the Bill in any way remove the legal responsibility of the employer?
§ Mr. Grieve
The hon. and learned Member has completely missed the point that I was making. Of course it does not remove that responsibility, but it gives power without responsibility, and that is the danger of this kind of legislation. It gives the power of interference to the committees which it seeks to set up but leaves the responsibility with the management, which is left to carry out these responsibilities and which might well be impeded, despite the good intent behind the Bill, in doing so by the work of the members of these committees.
What is needed—the C.B.I. has been pressing for arrangements of this kind for a long time and they prevail in a number of factories—is voluntary co-operation, voluntary safety committees, with co-operation between management and the man on the shop floor and not one-sided arrangements of this kind where there is what has always been condemned in various ways and sometimes in highly picturesque language—power without responsibility.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I am following the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument closely. He says that the Bill would give these committees power without responsibility. The present position is that management has the legal responsibility. In view of 1069 the many and ever-increasing number of accidents and the number of days lost because of them, far in excess of the number lost through strikes, does he not think that managements have patently failed to carry out that responsibility?
§ Mr. Grieve
I do not concede that for a moment. In factories, where there are highly complex processes, and in mines, where people are engaged in highly dangerous work, it is inevitable, human nature being what it is, that there are accidents. I entirely agree that we must do our best to see that they are prevented, minimised and reduced to the smallest possible number. It is to that end that the Factories Act legislation was initiated and continued over the years, and it has fulfilled a useful, a vital, purpose in the life of the country.
But in law responsibility rests upon the employer. It is he who has to answer before the courts in the last resort for failure to implement the provisions of the Factories Act and regulations made under it. What the Bill seeks to do is to bring, as it were, a pressure group into existence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]—to operate in the factory, but a pressure group which itself has no responsibility.
I am all in favour of voluntary arrangements between the employer, the management, and the man on the shop floor, represented, if necessary in this regard, by the union, but the defect of the Bill is its one-sidedness in giving substantial powers of interference without any responsibility. In a sense, that is what the hon. Member for Renfrew, West aims at. He seeks to bring pressure on the management. But I do not believe that the pressure is right in the circumstances. What is needed is voluntary agreement between management and the man on the shop floor.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
As a person who spent some time in the union movement training shop stewards to work on safety committees, may I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are perfectly happy to have voluntary agreements with good managements? But the majority of accidents and bad conditions are to be found in factories which will not have such agreements. My hon. Friend seeks to put this right. We are not attacking the voluntary system, but saying merely that where it does not operate is under the 1070 worst managements with the worst records.
§ Mr. Grieve
I appreciate the force of that. Of course there are bad managements. But the Bill will not improve that situation. Where there are bad managements, there will simply be more interference by these committees which will not have any power to do anything about these matters.
I am going round in circles making the same observation again and again[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I entirely agree. I desire to avoid doing so, but it is in response to hon. Members.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
The hon. and learned Gentleman talks of the power of interference of these committees. Clause 2 says that the functions of the safety representatives shall be(a) to promote co-operation in achieving and maintaining safe working conditions in the factory between the management and the persons employed by the occupier to work in the factory".That refers not to power or to interference but to the promotion of cooperation, which is the very thing the hon. and learned Gentleman said would not happen. He must read the Bill. There is nothing in it about the power and interference.
§ Mr. Grieve
Clause 2(1) is nothing more than a pious hope:The functions of safety representatives at a factory shall be—(a) to promote co-operation in achieving and maintaining safe working conditions in the factory between the management and the persons employed by the occupier to work in the factory".How could that ever be defined? In the end, all legislation must be definite so as to be able to be enforced, if necessary, in the courts.
Clause 2 goes on to say what the committees will have power to do:Safety representatives at a factory shall be given such facilities and assistance as they may reasonably require for the purpose of carrying out an inspection under this section, but shall not be entitled to carry out such an inspection without having notified the management of their intention to do so".There are other provisions throughout the Bill giving them power.
The point is extremely short: committees cannot be set up to interfere in a matter where the legal responsibility 1071 lies squarely on the management without there being a reciprocal arrangement, which the Bill fails to set up, whereby management and the committees cooperate to the end which managements in good factories and, I venture to think, almost all throughout the country have in view. That is the fundamental objection to the Bill, good though the intentions are behind it, and for that reason I am in considerable doubt about whether it ought to have the approval of the House.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I am sure that the House will want to do full justice to the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve). That is why we are anxious to understand it. I understand that his real objection to power without responsibility is that the safety committees may impede employers in the discharge of their responsibilities. If that means anything, it means that in some way the committees will make the premises more dangerous. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman give us an example of how the safety committees will do that?
§ Mr. Grieve
I am not suggesting that the safety committees will make premises more dangerous, but if bodies are set up to bring pressure on managements without themselves having responsibility in the matter, their interference may well have the reverse effect of that which is intended. I am saying no more than that.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
I shall be brief, because there are only one or two points that I wish to bring to the notice of the House. We have been held up for night after night discussing the Industrial Relations Bill, and this it seems to us to be the order of priority of the Government, to engage in union bashing.
Perhaps I might mention briefly some of the work which I did in education in the trade union movement and in the T. & G.W.U., because it seems to me that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are convinced that unions are concerned only with strikes. I assure them that during the week's course run annually by the union for a five-week 1072 period at Cirencester a considerable part of the syllabus is concerned with safety training and the importance of getting shop stewards to encourage good managements to have safety committees. Our discussions at Cirencester showed a remarkable range of interest by managements in matters of safety. It became crystal clear that those managements which were safety-conscious were desperately anxious to have the type of committee suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan).
When one considers the matter carefully, one realises that the places where there ought to be these committees are those with the worst records. Perhaps I may give the House just one statistic. My union is proud of its record in recovering damages for those who are injured in industry. It has this good record, but it deplores the fact that it is necessary to go through the legal processes to get damages. It collects for its members more by way of damages than is paid to the union in subscriptions in a year. The union says that the money it is able to claim for its members is blood money, and it would rather that it was not necessary to make these claims. As long as there is an accident the union will pursue a claim for damages, but its aim and object is to reduce the number of accidents.
Accidents can be reduced by co-operation between unions, management and safety officers. It is no good the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that this proposal represents interference. The best safety records are to be found in those places where there are safety committees. It is true that these are on a voluntary basis, but I do not believe that a well-trained shop steward in a factory which does not have a voluntary committee will not, if brought on to a safety committee as a result of the Bill becoming law, help to improve safety in that factory.
§ Mr. Grieve
I appreciate the force of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does not he think that in those circumstances it would be better to have joint committees, and not committees from one side only, from the shop floor?
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
If the Bill gets a Second Reading and goes to Committee 1073 upstairs, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be prepared to move an Amendment to that effect. He was on the previous Committee dealing with this issue, as I was, and, as he said, we did not get beyond Part I of that Bill.
My hon. Friend said that there were about a quarter of a million accidents per annum. Many of these are avoidable, and to illustrate what I mean perhaps I might refer to one industry. I hope that in doing so I shall not upset my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), because I have in mind the construction industry, and I quote these figures for a good reason. Last year there were 44,000 accidents in this industry, and I give that figure because opposite my house at Wrexham a small block of fiats is being built. Only last week there was an accident there. Luckily, no one was injured, but the accident occurred because the fellow did not know what the loading factor was. He put too many bricks on the scaffolding, and when he walked past with his barrow the whole thing collapsed. If there had present a union member who was trained in these matters, he could have told the man that he had overloaded the scaffolding. That is the kind of thing my hon. Friend has in mind.
It may be that some of the load would be taken off the unions if there could be a suitable combination, but at the end what we need at the shop floor level are shop stewards and unionists skilled in these matters, with the right to tell managements of the evil of their ways.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bray (Rossendale)
I join my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) in welcoming the Bill, but I share his reservations about its application. I wholeheartedly detest the thought of accidents of any kind, from any cause. This country simply cannot afford accidents, any more than it can afford unofficial strikes or, for that matter, any form of strike. We are having a rough passage, and we must all realise that we have to make every possible effort to reduce waste, because accidents are a waste of manpower. They are a waste of productive time, a waste of capital.
§ Mr. Bray
I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
This is an all-embracing Bill. The construction industry has been mentioned, but let me consider another aspect. Let me consider the example of a man operating a tractor shovel and loading peanuts, which are light in weight. The machine is probably fitted with a large bucket. The driver gets a little tired of handling this commodity, and he gets careless. Familiarity breeds contempt. But because he has become careless, his foot slips off the clutch, and the machine is turned over, he is injured. A safety committee would not be able to prevent an accident on the odd occasion when a person makes a mistake, but I accept that such a committee could watch out for the possibility of accidents.
Let me go to the other extreme. Let us suppose that there is a construction company which has 101 employees. The firm could have 15 different sites. According to the terms of the Bill, once in every three months a safety committee must visit these sites. I submit that it will be impossible for any safety committee to visit those sites on a sufficiently regular basis to eliminate accidents, however keen or enthusiastic the members of the committee may be. That is the basic issue. Because of the time taken to visit these sites, accidents could and will happen.
Let us consider a fitter or maintenance man who handles a quarter-inch, or half-inch, electric drill. A drill of this kind is one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment ever invented by man from the point of view of the danger of electrocution of the user. That would come within the scope of the Bill.
I agree entirely that these should be matters for voluntary co-operation, but the Bill merely says that a report "may" be submitted. There is no guarantee that one will be submitted. The Bill is very indeterminate in that respect. It provides that members of safety committees shall make themselves reasonably acquainted with their obligations. Will they be specialists in the maintenance of each piece of equipment in the factory, or will they work by rule of thumb?
§ Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)
Would my hon. Friend agree that a committee 1075 of people who are used to an industry and visiting premises regularly would be more likely to notice the kind of bad practices into which we all slip from time to time?
§ Mr. Bray
I agree. It is true that people get used to machines on which they are working every day, whereas defects in them immediately strike the eye of people who see them only occasionally.
Accidents happen in seconds or fractions of seconds. Let us assume that a committee is functioning 100 per cent. according to the Bill. It may think that a certain piece of machinery is in perfect working condition and it tells the employers so. Shortly afterwards, perhaps seconds afterwards, the operator meets with a serious accident. There is an inquiry and ultimately the employer is prosecuted. The members of the committee may have supported the employers' view that the machine was safe, but only the employer takes the rap in the courts. That is a point for which the Bill does not cater.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the employer is the only person who can take the rap? He is the only one who is insured or has the necessary financial resources to pay the considerable damages which may be involved.
§ Mr. Bray
I do not concur entirely with that reasoning, because it illustraes the fallacy of the Bill. If there is joint responsibility for approval of a machine in operation, there should also be joint responsibility should it fail. Provision for that is omitted from the Bill.
There are many inconsistencies in the Bill. I agree that in well managed firms there will be accident prevention committees. A reputable firm, if it is worth its salt, will employ a safety officer. Indeed, many firms are obliged to do so.
The hon. Gentleman is right, because safety officers are employed in the construction industry. Unfortunately, they have a loyalty towards the employer and at the same time must look after safety matters, Their loyalty often conflicts with their duties as safety officers, particularly in the 1076 building industry. The Bill provides that the point of the trade union representatives will be put to safety officers, which will ensure that the safety regulations are carried out.
§ Mr. Bray
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention concerning the building industry with which I was privileged to be associated for 15 years in the manufacture of plant. I saw many accidents happen. Some of them were very unpleasant, to say the least. But almost without exception the fault lay with the operative taking a chance. He became familiar with the machine and, in the vernacular, "got his chips".
Take crawler tractors as an example. I have seen drivers stand on the running board as they come to a gate, jump off, go ahead and open the gate and climb back on the tractor without the tractor stopping. That is an offence under the Road Traffic Acts.
A man may take a machine too near the edge of a local council tip and go down the tip. He may try to jump off. I have seen a man carried over the edge with the tractor. It was fortunate that someone who was near grabbed him by the hair—he was lucky that he was not bald—and held on to him. That man should have known better. He had been in the industry for many years and was a good driver, but he made a mistake and then panicked. No safety committee, apart from telling him to be careful in future about how he handled the machine, would be able to prevent occurrences like that. The only person who can exercise discipline in such circumstances is the employer or the employer's safety officer who warns the man that if he is caught getting up to such antics again he is likely to be disciplined.
A measure similar to this Bill was passed in Sweden, and the Swedes had cause to regret it because it was too one-sided. People had too many good ideas and ultimately it was realised by everyone including the employees, that it was not the success that everyone had assumed it would be.
There is another aspect of this matter which I mention with some trepidation. Assume that one or two men wish to put pressure on a firm. They can keep on arguing that a certain operation is not safe. They may say that there should be 1077 a guard on a particular machine and ultimately production is severely prejudiced. If the Bill is passed, that door will be left wide open; make no mistake about that.
§ Mr. Prescott
The inference of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that people tend to be more concerned about profits than safety.
§ Mr. Bray
I reject that argument entirely. Let us forget profits. Recently we have heard a lot about losses. The Bill might increase the losses of companies and of shareholders, some of whom may be trade unions. I should not like to see that happen.
To come back to the point, if the employer is to be responsible he must have a degree of discipline in ordering how the machines are operated. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) quoted many examples of how accidents happen—even in going to the canteen. The employer, acting in good faith, has to put a guard across the gangway. There is no guarantee whatsoever under the proposals in this Bill that the lads on night shift will not remove it. In the instance the hon. Member mentioned they were already on that shift. This is the sort of thing that can happen because that gangway is the shortest cut between two points and it will be used for such regardless of safety.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Member is exactly proving the case which we put on this side of the Committee. This is precisely the point we are making, that if there are persons who are worker representatives and trusted by the lads themselves then the safe work practice becomes known to them through the safety committee and their own colleagues encourage adherence to the practice. The hon. Member exactly proves what the Bill is about and I thank him.
§ Mr. Bray
I would say that that is purely hypothetical. If a guard is put up to meet the requirements of legislation there is no guarantee at all that it will be effective, not even under the proposals of the Bill, because there is no power of discipline. This is the issue. The only person who could put on the pressure would be the employer. I am sure that if the guard was removed, as the hon. Member mentioned, the foreman, 1078 the chargehand, the shop manager, or the safety officer on duty that evening or that night, would have noticed it and given instructions for it to be replaced. He has an obligation to do so, to keep the men fit, to keep the men working, to keep production up. This is his job—but it is not his job to keep production up at the cost of injury or fatal accident. I would submit that there is yet another reason why the Bill would not function.
I would also simply mention the fact that there could be a proliferation of members of a committee. There may be only 100 employees, but there is no prescribed yardstick of how many should be appointed to the safety committee. There is no definite requirement about the education or training which the members of the committee should receive. Surely, if there were to be a standard, the hon. Member would have ensured including it in his Bill.
§ Mr. Buchan
I do not like interrupting the hon. Member, but all these points he is raising could be raised in Committee. If he would like to lay down provisions about training which would be valuable, they would receive a sympathetic response from this side. If he would like to prescribe the number of the members of the safety committee, whether six or eight or ten, I will look at that very sympathetically. These points are not objections to the Bill's central core and thesis, which is what we are discussing on Second Reading. I can give the hon. Member the assurance that I will certainly look most sympathetically at all these points he is putting forward.
§ Mr. Bray
I would accept the principle of the Bill, but not the practice. Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is better to air these points so that all interested parties know the thoughts of hon. Members here before the Bill goes to Committee. Otherwise we just rubber-stamp the Bill. There must be opportunity for discussion. I thought that was the purpose of the debate this morning.
I would, therefore, conclude by confirming my humble opinion of the Bill by saying that I have had experience of factories and building sites and docks, and I am sure that the crux of the matter is that there must be complete cooperation between management, safety officers, and the men on the shop floor, 1079 on a voluntary rather than on a legislative basis. It cannot be one-sided. Experience shows that however keen people may be initially about any safety device or practice they tend, as I have mentioned, to get careless. This does happen I have had accidents myself. We all have—driving, or riding a bike; one just forgets for a second and then an accident occurs. We have to make sure that a Bill of this sort is based on full cooperation between employer, safety officers and employees, and it must not be a one-sided, pressurising Bill without general acceptance and without responsibility fairly placed.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Bray) began his speech by drawing attention to the waste, not only social and human waste, but economic waste, which occurs through the toll of industrial accidents. I am glad that this point has been made. I have myself made it on earlier occasions in the House. It is an important point which does not always tend to be taken into consideration.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, having agreed with him on his opening point, as one of the sponsors of the Bill so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), I part company from the hon. Gentleman from that point onwards, because I find it difficult to follow him. Since Parliament is the elected representative body of the nation, and this is the place where law is made, we cannot stand aside and not do anything at all in seeking to come to terms with this problem.
I congratulate my hon. Friend not only upon his luck in the Ballot but upon his having used it to such good purpose in introducing such an important Bill. My view is quite unequivocal, that the Bill deserves a Second Reading now, and deserves a Second Reading because it is an important attempt to tackle a major problem which exists in industry in this country, and to tackle it not through the paternalism of employers of labour who may or may not be kindly disposed to their workpeople who are the victims of accidents but through industrial democracy, involving the worker 1080 in the efforts to deal with industrial accidents, and much more fully than hitherto in many establishments has been the case among the people employed there and who are the victims of these accidents. The working people are, after all, the sufferers from these accidents and they are the people who have the greatest interest in the prevention of these accidents. There is nobody with a greater interest in accident prevention, and nobody with a greater right to be involvcd in efforts, as proposed in the Bill, to cut the toll of industrial accidents.
I think it is worth drawing the attention of the House to the fact that my hon. Friend in embodying this principle in this Bill is following in an honourable, and, I am sorry to say, a regrettably long, parliamentary tradition. It was as long ago as February, 1954, that a Private Member's Bill of this sort was first introduced by William Paling, the then Member for Dewsbury, and it was as long ago as 1964 that the Trades Union Congress supported the principle of this type of legislation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer), whom I see in his place, introduced in 1966 a Bill embodying this principle.
§ Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Heston and Isleworth)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that although the Trades Union Congress supported this principle in 1964 the spokesman for the General Council at that time Mr. O'Hagan, was it not?—said it was better to proceed along voluntary lines than to have imposed legislation?
§ Mr. Watkins
And other trade unionists have expressed the view that has been expressed on all sides of industry, that although they support the principle there would be practical problems. I remind the hon. Member that that was in 1964. The figures indicate that the number of accidents has continued to increase notwithstanding the voluntary principle. Without in any way decrying the voluntary principle, I therefore submit that there are still some people in respect of which a measure of statutory consultation is necessary.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
Perhaps I can refresh my hon. Friend's 1081 memory. Mr. O'Hagan's speech was made as a member of the General Council to the T.U.C. conference, but it was not carried by conference. He was not expressing the view of the T.U.C.; he was putting the view of the Executive.
§ Mr. Watkins
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for refreshing my memory and the collective memory of the House. That is precisely the situation. It in no sense indicates any defaulting from the principle. It is a recognition that fine words butter no parsnips, and that there are practical difficulties. That does not detract from the principle now under discussion.
I was talking about the Parliamentary efforts that have been made, culminating in the last Parliament, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) introduced a Government Bill embodying the principle. That Bill was lost at the Dissolution of Parliament last summer. I emphasise that there is a strong parliamentary case for this Measure. This matter has not suddenly been sprung on the House; the House has been discussing it in one way or another for a long time. It is clear from points that have been put forward on previous occasions that there is a parliamentary case for the Bill.
It is not in Parliament that the accidents that we are talking about occur. Some hon. Members may feel that a few parliamentary accidents might not be a bad thing, but that is a different point——
§ Mr. Watkins
My hon. Friend is seeking to draw my attention from the principle of the Bill. As I was saying, it is not in Parliament that accidents occur, so notwithstanding the existence of a strong parliamentary case, we have to consider the industrial case in favour of attempting legislation of this sort. The industrial case lies in the grim and sickening toll of industrial accidents that take place every working day of every working week of every working year.
In his annual report for 1969—the last year for which figures are available—the Chief Inspector of Factories indicated that there were over 322,000 reported 1082 accidents in that year, 649 of which were fatal. He also indicated that the number of reported accidents was increasing, and that if the figures for the year 1966 were taken as 100, by 1969—only three years later—there had been an 8.7 per cent. increase in reported accidents.
I must qualify that, because I know that figures can be quoted and challenged. In the period between 1965 and 1967 one of the features of the factory inspectorate was the great tightening up in reporting procedures. That may have meant that in that period there was no absolute increase in the number of accidents but a better reporting of those accidents. Notwithstanding that consideration, however, it is clear that the number of accidents has not been reduced; indeed, all the evidence is that this is a growing problem.
If we move into a wider context, we find that the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories covers accidents only in premises defined in the Factories Acts, which represent only a fraction of the total number of working places. It does not include mines or quarries, or offices—places where millions of people work every day. If we consider the problem in terms of claims for accident benefit—which gives a clearer picture of accidents occurring throughout the country—we find that the number of successful claims is running at about one million per year. From those figures we can estimate that there are about one million industrial casualties every year, which is nearly seven times greater than the number of military casualties per year during the whole six years of the Second World War. That is the full measure of the problem with which we are seeking to come to terms.
I recognise that the better employers of labour make it their duty to co-operate with trade unions, and one of the gratifying features of recent years is that the prevention of industrial accident is beginning to be regarded as one of the top priorities of industrial and commercial management. I cite the case of the British Steel Corporation, in which I have a not inconsiderable constituency interest.
§ Mr. Bray
The hon. Member has just said that in spite of the efforts of employers the number of accidents has continued to increase. He cited the case of 1083 the British Steel Corporation. He also pointed out that since 1964 the graph of accidents has turned upwards appreciably. Does not that indicate boredom with life over the last six years?
§ Mr. Watkins
The hon. Member may feel bored with life. The remedy is in his own hands, if he feels that way. I need not spend very much time dealing with that point. The problem is much more serious than facetious references of that sort would indicate.
I return to the subject of the British Steel Corporation. Under the terms of the Iron and Steel Act, 1967, the Corporation is statutorily required to make proper provision for accident prevention, and in 1969, when it published its policy, the inclusion of joint consultations on accident prevention was one of the major pillars upon which its policy was based. That makes my point about more enlightened managements co-operating in these matters.
Yet my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, speaking in the House on 2nd March, 1970, when introducing her own Bill, reported that a survey conducted by her factory inspectorate in 1970 indicated that only 47 per cent. of all factories employing over 50 persons had any form of joint safety committee. Fewer than half had such committees, and even among the larger concerns, employing 500 or more people, one in five had no arrangements for joint consultation. The figures indicated that nearly one-third of our employed people worked in places where there was no form of joint consultation. I submit that that is the complete answer to statements made about the undesirability of introducing statutory provisions.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
The hon. Member is quoting figures given by his right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on 2nd March last year, but unless he intends to elevate the political temperature in the Chamber will he not also refer to the figures given in column 72 of that day by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudley Smith)—now sitting on the Gov- 1084 ernment Front Bench—which put a somewhat different slant on the problem? We can all select figures to make our case, but I should have thought that in such a debate as this it would have been wiser to present the figures less polemically than did the right hon. Member for Blackburn in March last year.
§ Mr. Watkins
I am not anxious to elevate the polictial atmosphere. I suspect that the hon. Member's intervention indicates that one of us may wish to do so, but it is not me. The atmosphere that I wish to elevate is the atmosphere of awareness of the need for accident prevention.
I draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that when his hon. Friend the Minister—to whom he has referred—spoke in that debate, in an able speech, he drew atten to the fact that as long ago as June, 1966, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), then Minister of Labour, had written to the Confederation of British Industries indicating that in his opinion progress with joint consultation was far from satisfactory, and that he could not leave the matter as it was. I quote from my right hon. Friend's letter:I am most reluctant to seek compulsory powers but, unless there is a marked improvement, I can see no alternative.The numbers of industrial casualties show no marked improvement and the indications are that the problem is increasing. Therefore the case is made for the Bill. It is not made in debating points which may be thrown across the House from either side, but by the stark reality of human suffering which arises through industrial accidents.
My hon. Friend's Bill is an important step forward to seek to solve a serious and growing national problem. It is an attempt to solve a problem which is important to the lives of millions of people. Above all, it is important that the people themselves be involved in this matter. That is precisely what my hon. Friend seeks, and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
We should all be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan). The Bill is long overdue. It was a matter of regret for me that the 1085 previous Government did not find time to introduce such a Measure. We could have forgotten some of our other legislation and given preference to this Measure.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend so early in his speech, but I must remind him that a Measure was before the House and had its Second Reading on 2nd March, 1970, and was in Standing Committee when Parliament was dissolved.
§ Mr. Garrett
I was aware of that, but it should have been introduced earlier, and less contentious legislation could possibly have been deferred. This Measure should have been given some preference. However, as a humble Member of this side, I bow to the superior judgment of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker), who was a member of the Government at that time.
The House will agree that the main Clause is the one which matters. It proposes procedures which are standard practice in so many industries today. The House should not take too gloomy a view about industrial safety factors with more than 24½ million people gainfully employed.
In industry I was fortunate because I worked for a large firm which encouraged through its joint consultative system an interest in the many facets of safety. Some hon. Members on this side of the House would probably like to know that it was a large, private chemical firm. The value of safety, not only from the company's but from the worker's point of view, was of tremendous importance. In the 1920s the firm realised the importance of the employee as a factor of production. It recognised that if an employee had an accident it would not merely inconvenience the employee but would mean also the loss of a person whose skills and experience it valued. It is not much good equipping a plant or factory with expensive machinery if its production is lost through an accident to the operator. In addition to genuine regard for the safety of employees, the individuals in the company were recognised as important people. This method operated through the trade union system. The employees were, and are, also encouraged to stand for election to the safety committees, and they co-operate 1086 fully with the management. The management look upon those elected to safety committees in terms of equality. There are no inferior persons in industry when it comes to this problem. In my time I have seen some very inexperienced people start their industrial and political careers by becoming members of safety committees. It gives them an awareness of the wider problems of production, and the wider problems which management may have to face.
To maintain a balance, I must mention my experience on the opposite side of the picture. Like many people, I left school at the age of 14 on a Friday and went into a coal mine on the Monday. I would probably have been there yet had not the colliery closed. I had to take other employment. At 15 I was an engineering apprentice. I was 24 before I saw an industrial safety officer. I had no industrial training on going into the coal mine, and in all the years of my apprenticeship I never saw a safety officer, attended a lecture or had any instruction on any factor of safety. Very often it was left to an overworked, underpaid foreman, who put safety at the bottom of his priorities and production at the top. That was the economic climate of the time. That was the reality when there were two million people unemployed in the late 1930s. One's attitude to life is influenced by such personal factors.
Largely through voluntary efforts, education and the constant work of the trade union movement, the situation has changed rapidly. My hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins) and I are members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster. We are members of probably the only union which employs a full-time safety officer. That is not a great deal when one thinks that we have 1,240,000 members, but at least it is an indication that the union on a voluntary basis is prepared to put money and though into educating its members in the many facets of industrial safety and in trying to reach general understanding with so many employers on the advantages to be gained.
I represent a constituency which has much heavy-scale industry. I should not 1087 bore the House too much with matters affecting so many of the firms, but in the public sector I should like to mention the National Coal Board, a much maligned body but also one with an excellent safety record, bearing in mind the hazardous nature of its operations. They too participate in safety right from the roots to the top. All the participants in the safety operations from the work people's side are selected or elected by the trade unions, and the scheme works very successfully. The Department of Employment would be more than satisfied with the safety operations. In the private sector, the Swan Hunter Group has a heavy, arduous job, but they too work with the full co-operation of the trade unions and cut accidents in their important industry to a minimum.
In this country we have also some medium-sized firms. It has been my experience that there is a wide variation in their activities on industrial safety. Some are very good, some are indifferent, and some are appalling. If a company hits financial difficulties, one of the casualties is the money spent on safety. I am sometimes appalled by it, but I realise that the company and its management have to decide on their priorities and, regrettably, safety is one of the casualties.
I want to draw attention to one part of the Bill which gives some recognition to numbers employed. In this country, people are still working in factories which are literally slums. They are relics of Victoriana at its worst. They are not all large factories. Some are very small and employ fewer than the number proposed in the Bill. Very often, an individual engineer with a small amount of capital sets up in business in an antiquated workshop and employs eight or nine people. Many hon. Members will have seen examples. Although the activities of the people are to be applauded for their enterprise, the fact remains that they employ people in places where machines are antiquated and too close together and where the standards of safety are appalling. If the Bill remains as it is drafted, such people will escape the provisions that we are trying to make. In Committee, I hope that much thought will be given to amending this provision.
1088 Another point to which attention should be directed is the right to carry out inspections. A three-month interval is proposed. I would perfer to see it reduced to one month, and again I base that on personal experience. Once we elected safety committees and they became operational, their work involved them in inspections half a day a month. It was known that the people elected to them were keen and, in that way, their keenness was kept alive during their 12-month period of office. A three-month interval results in too much remoteness from operations. I hope that this point will be considered for discussion and possibly amendment.
My comments really are minor criticisms of what I consider to be a good Bill which will be welcomed by millions of workers. I know that the Minister is a sympathetic man, and I look forward to his reply in which, I hope, he will give us some indication of his thoughts on the matter.
The Bill is a long-overdue Measure, and the House should be grateful to its sponsors. I am sure that it will receive full support, in spite of the slight disention that we have heard from the benches opposite. After all, what we are doing here is to lessen the horror, the tragedy, the pain and the loss of faculties which are the aftermath of so many industrial injuries. Let us be united in our full support for the Bill.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
Accidents are frequently equated in terms of statistics. The brutal truth is that they are not statistics but matters which concern people and their lives. Although 23 million lost hours in the year 1968–69 may be a serious matter for the economy and therefore for us all, they are in no sense so serious as the effect of injuries on the lives of individual men and women in industry.
I have the honour to represent a constituency which has a considerable number of factories, and I have had the pleasure and privilege of being entertained by both sectors of industry in most of the factory premises in Ipswich. The area is concerned mainly in engineering, and the accident rate is high. According to the Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories for 1969 1089 (Cmnd. 4461), the total number of reported accidents in the Ipswich area in 1969 was 2,444. That represents 37 accidents a year per 1,000 employees and is well above the national average.
I make no bones about saying that that is too many accidents, and I say that acknowledging the considerable care taken by both sectors of industry in Ipswich. For that reason, unlike some of my hon. Friends, I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly.
I also welcome it because I feel that any provisions that cut into the formalism of so much of our present legislation on factory accidents must be good if it has the effect of preserving life and limb.
Another reason why I welcome the Bill is that so many specific types of cases can be dealt with by consultation, since that frequently results in recommendations from those who know what is going on on the shop floor. They cannot be dealt with by quotations from Redgrave on the Factories Acts and by visits from Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories.
I want now to deal with one or two aspects about which I am most concerned and which are not covered by the existing factories legislation. The first is connected with training. In my professional experience I often come across accidents to young people which were avoidable in the sense that, if they had received adequate supervision and advice from a safety committee composed of people doing the same kind of job at an early stage, it might have been possible to point out to them that they were slipping into bad practices. This is one state of affairs that the Bill seeks to cure.
Perhaps I might give a small example. Two years ago, I settled the pleadings in a factory accident case where a young man of 17 had suffered a quite serious injury to his eye. He was working in a small factory in London. A coil of neutral-coloured wire had been placed on a bench at a low level. When the young man stepped back to the bench some hours later, he forgot that he had put it there and the end of it went into his eye. Given a little sensible advice from people who knew the shop floor, a bad practice of that sort could have been stopped much earlier. The tragedy of the case was that it did not fall within the Factories Acts, and there was no 1090 evidence of negligence on the part of the employer. The result is that the young man will lose the greater part of the use of one of his eyes. If this Bill only stops a small number of accidents like that, it will serve its purpose.
I turn now to another matter which again is not covered by existing factories legislation but which is one that gives rise to increasing concern in industry. I refer to the problem of noise. Since the Wilson Committee reported in 1963, we are just beginning to discover the full effects of noise in connection with our everyday environment, its effect on deadening peoples' sensitivity and making accidents more likely, and the growing incidence of industrial deafness.
Page 18 of the Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories for 1969, says:There is a growing feeling that unless the side effects of modern industrial development are controlled they may in the long run outweigh many of the advantages which technology can bring. Noise can be regarded as a special form of pollution; the motor car and the aeroplane have inundated the whole of the environment with noise, and rehousing in high blocks of flats has made noise from adjacent factories—hardly audible in the two—storey dwellings of the last century—a serious problem for the occupants, particularly where industry works at night. A very small amount of energy released as sound can create a great deal of noise, and with the steadily increasing levels of energy per head of population, and industry always tending to achieve greater production in the same space and time, it is hardly surprising that industry tends to become noisier as the years go by. A programme of noise control that only prevented further deterioration of conditions might in itself be a notable achievement. The knowledge which is now accumulating both about deafness and its origins and the clear correlation between deafness and certain noisey industrial processes has focused attention on the real damage to health which noise is capable of producing.I believe that that kind of thing can be cured only by a committee of this type on the shop floor advising and making firm recommendations whether the noise level in a particular shop is intolerable or that something is building up which will produce this kind of health hazard.
Another aspect involves the serious problem of trying to forestall accidents. So often we tend to approach accidents in industry as an inevitable natural phenomenon which happens, and we just 1091 sit there, wring our hands, and accept mounting figures without approaching the problem on the basis of what can be done to try to avoid the circumstance which gives rise to injury. I believe that this kind of committee could deal with so many instances of industrial hazard, risk, and possibly the incidence of industrial disease which can be nipped in the bud at shop floor level, but not by outside advice or not necessarily by harassed and hard-pressed industrial safety officers.
Perhaps I may venture for a moment, with some trepidation, on a dangerous sphere. I believe that the Bill will go a long way to allay a suspicion which I have found with regret among both clients and constituents, towards some of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories. I am satisfied from my experience that that suspicion is not at all justified. Nevertheless, one comes across the attitude so often that the Inspector of Factories is a "gaffer's man"; the chap who is given a glass of whisky when he comes to the factory and does not really go in and see what is happening on the shop floor.
I believe that participation of this kind will create greater trust between all sectors of industry, in particular with the Inspectorate of Factories which, I believe, is doing a very important and valuable job.
I further believe that the Bill will cure many of the risks of over-familiarity. In a small way it will set in motion some of the good practices which have been put into operation by good factories but not, as has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides, by bad factories, but which ought to become universal throughout the country.
I felicitate the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan). I apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend that a constituency engagement means that I shall not be able to hear the remainder of the debate.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
I was impressed by the contribution which has has just been made by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money). Like other hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman put humanity first, because he realises that a million industrial accidents a year reflect misery in hundreds of thousands of 1092 homes. It is therefore right that we should put the human angle first.
It is difficult to assess the economic impact of industrial accidents. The only information which I could obtain was based on an article by Vincent Hanna in the Sunday Times two years ago in which he estimated that the economic cost of industrial accidents represents a loss in production of £55 million, coupled with the cost of fatal accidents of £11 million and the cost to the National Health Service of £143 million. Mr. Hanna puts the final estimated cost of industrial accidents at £220 million per year. So when we consider the economic cost, we must consider it in relation to the fact that we spend a good deal of time in this House talking about the Industrial Relations Bill and the number of days lost by strikes and contrast that with the loss of wealth and working time caused by industrial accidents. Four or five times as many days are lost through industrial accidents than through strikes.
I want to make one or two observations which may be elaborated in Committee. I served on the Committee stage of the Bill last year, but unfortunately we did not reach the stage of discussing Part 2.
The Bill proposes the setting up of perhaps hundreds of thousands of safety committees, but it does not provide for the co-ordination of the activities of those safety committees. If we are not careful, those committees will meet in isolation, not knowing what other safety committees in other establishments are doing. I believe that some co-ordinating machinery should be set up so that the various safety committees can be brought together in regional or district groups.
South-West Durham has a district safety group. Unfortunately, I am informed that, although there are 135 companies in the group, only 19 sent representatives to the last annual meeting of the Accident Prevention Group.
There seems to be a lot of apathy amongst employers and, to a certain extent, amongst working people. If we could set up an organisation, perhaps controlled by the Factory Inspectorate, which would be responsible for coordinating the activities of the safety committees, it would be extremely valuable. 1093 I have in mind the organisation of classes, weekend schools, and, particularly important, arrangements for inter-factory visits. A safety group from one factory can probably get a good deal of information by visiting another factory and finding out how the safety group there deals with accidents. I suggest also social occasions, annual dinners, getfogethers, lectures, and so on.
This will need to be co-ordinated by someone. Perhaps it could be done by the Department of Employment or the Factory Inspectorate. I shall be told that the trade unions already complain that there are not enough factory inspectors. Those of us familiar with the work of factory inspectors know that they are overworked and underpaid. Many are being attracted to highly specialised sections of industry because of their particular knowledge. In consequence, because they spend a lot of time in court, too, they have not the necessary time to co-ordinate these activities. However, I see no reason for not setting up a section for specialist factory accident prevention officers attached to the Factory Inspectorate who would co-ordinate these activities.
The Bill proposes that there should be a statutory obligation to open an accident or inspection reference book in which the safety committee representative, after his inspection, should make an entry. But no one will see the book apart from the safety committee representatives and the management. I believe that the information in these logs or record books—it might be very valuable information—should be made available to the Factory Inspectorate. It could be done through safety officers attached to the Factory Inspectorate.
We need someone with authority to take a national look at the safety pattern. In the Report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Factories for 1968 I notice that Birmingham has an accident rate of 27 per 1,000, whereas Darlington and district has an accident rate of 70 per 1,000, topped only by Wakefield, which has an accident rate of 102 per 1,000. We ought to understand why these accidents happen.
A year ago I asked a series of Questions seeking a breakdown of these statistics concerning Darlington I am extremely concerned that Darlington 1094 should have three times the accident rate of Birmingham. Although I was given the statistics, there seems to be no clear pattern why Darlington should have a worse record than Birmingham. If we had people responsible for investigating these statistics in greater depth we might discover why in some parts of the country industrial accidents are more frequent than in others. It may often be due to apathy.
These are committee points which I may develop if I am a member of the Committee and the Bill receives a Second Reading, as I hope it will.
The trade union movement has always taken a great interest in safety. The T.U.C. resolution of 1964 has been mentioned, but the T.U.C. passed similar resolutions on the subject of safety in factories in 1965, and every succeeding year. Some unions have full-time safety officers and many organise weekend schools and seminars on the subject of industrial safety. Men who have taken an interest in the subject through their unions ought to be given responsibility inside their factories and the opportunity to use their information, knowledge and training.
The Bill is an important step forward and it will make a significant and constructive contribution to the reduction of accidents in factories, and I hope that it will receive a unanimous Second Reading.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Heston and Isleworth)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Ted Fletcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) in their tributes to the Factory Inspectorate. It is only because those looking at applications for posts were clearly not too wise one day that I am not a member of the Factory Inspectorate rather than an hon. Member, for about 20 years ago I made my application and, so far as I know, never heard anything further from the people then running the Inspectorate. But their loss is perhaps Parliament's gain, although that is a judgment which I ought not to make.
All concerned with safety will acknowledge without question the importance of the subject and the need to do everything possible to improve safety in industry. I cannot accept the view, however, that the 1095 Bill is the only way in which to achieve our aims. I wholly accept the concept of safety committees and in principle I have no objection to the idea of safety committees imposed by Statute, though I should much refer the statutory back-up to be reserved for those cases in which voluntary arrangements cannot be achieved. My objection to the Bill is that even though Clause 1(5) says that there is no conflict with voluntary arrangements, where they exist it will leave the possibility of the unions insisting on their statutory rights.
I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) on bringing the subject before the House again but I temper those congratulations with the criticism that he seems to have made no effort to learn from the experience of the debates in the House nearly a year ago and the general discussions on these matters which followed the publication in the last Parliament by the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) of the Bill on health and safety.
I agree that the statistics mentioned today are an important reason for action, although I dissent a little from the view of the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins) that the rise in the number of accidents is a serious as he suggests. The number of people employed has been rising taking the period of years over which the trend of accidents has also been rising. I was deeply impressed by the comments of the hon. Member for Darlington in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill last year when he said that the overall figure of 320,000 could be somewhat misleading. He said:It has been said that the figures continue to rise,".When he said that, there was a small rise of 2.8 per cent. compared with the year before and now we have had a rise of 3 or 4 per cent. in 1969 compared with 1968. He went on:but the statistics are rather misleading, although they show a small increase of 2.8 per cent., this results from social insurance provisions being better than they were in previous years.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 87.]He made a strong case for saying that the number of accidents notified could be somewhat misleading.
1096 I draw some encouragement from the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories in which he refers to fatal accidents. We all regret the increase of fatal accidents in 1969 over 1968, but the graph shows that the number has levelled off. Has the Department any view as to why the number of fatal accidents appears to have levelled off in about 1957? The trend seemed to be steadily downwards before then. For the last two years there has been a slight increase. It is worrying if it is beginning to turn up, because that would indicate that something was seriously wrong.
A comparison has been made between the number of days lost because of industrial accidents and those lost through strikes, and similar comparisons can be made with days lost through sickness. These comparisons are somewhat simplistic. The effect of a number of people off work as a result of a 'flu epidemic, or something of that kind, ought not to be compared with the effect of the same number off because of a strike. The comparison is slightly better when made against accidents, because if people are off work as the result of an accident, the job could be stopped and management and others ought to be looking into the reason for the accident. There is a genuine comparison which is important and which we should take into account. If I were trying to balance the relevant importance, I should give more weight to losses by strikes as being more destructive and doing more damage to industry day by day than days lost by accidents, but it is a generality and I appreciate that opinions might differ.
I have some relevant personal experience at two levels. Like the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), from the age of 15 I was in a factory as an engineering apprentice. Like him, I never heard of anyone concerned with safety for the whole time of my apprenticeship. Like him, I found that the pressures often came from one's colleagues, one's mates, not to follow safety precautions. Particularly during wartime when there was pressure for production and when apprentices were being used, no doubt improperly, in productive processes. There were incentive schemes 1097 and, if one left the guards off the milling machine, one could load the work more quickly.
There was pressure from one's mates to do this. As the hon. Member for Wallsend said, overworked foremen were balancing the problem of increasing production, and we all wanted to increase production because it was in the national interest to do so—one was making bits for Spitfires, as so many were in those days—with the need for safety. As a teenager, I found that the pressure was to ignore safety precautions, not to put on the goggles when one was sharpening a tool or a drill. In the main, one got away with it, but occasionally there was a nasty accident, or a moderately nasty accident.
The pressures exercised 25 or more years ago were often inimical to proper safety precautions. I have little personal knowledge, others will have much more, but I hope that, just as social attitudes and pressures have changed in other respects, so they have changed in this. For instance, if one gives up smoking one is not now treated as a rather strange character upon whom people press cigars and cigarettes at every opportunity. People now respect and admire one for it. I have had the halo around my head of having given it up for five weeks. My wife thinks highly of my strong will. One only hopes that my example may lead her along a similar path of virtue. One of the reasons one did it was because of the children, to set them a good example. I hope that in factories the same thing is going on—that older folk are setting the younger folk a good example in safety precautions.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I think that my wife does read HANSARD, at least my speeches, and she is usually, and rightly, very critical of what I have said.
My second level of experience was to be concerned for many years with explosive devices in the Ministries of Supply and Aviation, from the smallest to the biggest—and I do mean the biggest; people can read what they want to in that. As a designer first and then as an inspector, I was concerned with safety. 1098 This was on the managerial side. One was trying to make sure that the design of equipment and the instructions for its use were such that it was impossible for accidents to occur, that one would have a "fail safe" mechanism.
The hon. Member for Renfrew, West recalled that during his service in tanks during the war some gunners removed the guards from the guns. I was early on concerned with the design of fuses. I went to a Royal Artillery regiment and discovered that the fuse setting key for fuse No. 213, which was so designed that one could not set the device to a dangerous limit, was being used as a general purpose hammer. So the inbuilt safety was not used and the gunner was setting the fuse by hand.
In all our talk about safety, we must bear in mind that probably half the accidents which occur are unavoidable, as the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Ted Fletcher) said last year. We must remember that nothing that management or workers can do will prevent them. If human beings are running the process these things will happen.
Before I turn to my main argument on the Bill, I want to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). As far as I understood his argument, he was saying that the Bill was absolutely necessary in order to deal with firms which had bad management and were not concerned with safety. It was necessary to get safety committees in these firms. One can understand the broad point he made, and one realises its importance and significance. But during the Second Reading of the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill on 2nd March last, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) asked the right hon. Member for Blackburn whether there was any evidence in her Department that accidents were more prevalent in firms or places where no safety committees existed than in factories or places where they did exist. Her reply was,No. I do not think that I could give the House any information on that point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 51.]Perhaps she could not give information because it did not exist in the Department or because she did not have it readily available. Therefore, can my 1099 hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State give some indication of whether there is now evidence? From my knowledge of the Civil Service, I have no doubt that someone delved away after that debate in order to get the information, because the odds would be that an hon. Member might put down a Question about it.
§ Mr. Buchan
The Institute of Industrial Safety Officers carried out a survey five years ago of firms which had good performance records in safety. The survey found that where they had good records and moved over to committees there was little difference. But one would expect such results precisely because the factories with good performances already had carried out consultations on safety. That in a sense underlines the point.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I am glad to hear that information, but it would be helpful if the Department could give us some rather firmer and harder views about the matter, particularlys from more recent years. Five years ago was 1965 and it was after then, as a result of pressures from the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), that industry was beginning to jack up pressure to get safety committees appointed. There was a very considerable increase in the number of safety committees between 1966 and 1969. It is important to try to discover whether there is now clear evidence that the absence of a safety committee is corellated with a higher incidence of accidents on the shop floor.
I said at the beginning that I wanted to temper my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman with some criticism. This is because I think that he could have done better with the Bill than merely reintroduce the precise Clauses of last year's Bill. Part I of that Bill was widely accepted on both sides, but Part II was criticised severely by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who was speaking from the Dispatch Box for the first time on that occasion, when he made a jolly good speech which I have read with great care. No attempt has been made to meet the criticisms and comments made by my hon. Friends or indeed by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. 1100 Hugh Jenkins), for example, as ever looking after the profession which he holds dear, made a number of valuable suggestions. Nothing has been done to try to make this Bill responsive to the views of Members of the last Parliament. This is what I find worrying. Why has the Bill not been introduced with some updating, taking into account the views that hon. Members expressed last year and trying to move towards a situation where it would get more widespread support across the Floor of the House? This is not a new Bill. I thought that it would have taken account of the earlier debates. To my astonishment, there have only been the minute changes of wording which were essential to make Part II of the old Bill make sense as a separate Bill.
§ Mr. Buchan
I will be brief, because so many other hon. Members wish to speak. I considered very carefully what was said last year, including the points put by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney. The criticisms by my hon. Friends were designed to strengthen that Bill and make it go further. The difficulty is to get the co-operation of both sides of the House. By and large, I thought that the criticisms then put by hon. Members opposite tended to be points which could be looked at in Committee. In a sense, by keeping this Bill in a neutral form, with a view to Amendment in Committee, I tried to get support from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am sure that he will equally accept my conspicuous disappointment that no attempt has been made to meet criticisms by my hon. Friends of the 1970 Bill. Most important of these is that the Bill, as drafted by the right hon. Lady and now reintroduced in the same form, makes the union the dominant power in regard to the safety committees and safety representatives. I do not object in principle to the idea of statutory imposition of safety committees and representatives if it is a back-up for when the voluntary system fails. But the Bill has the provision whether there is voluntary work or not. This is a point of principle.
The Bill makes the appointment of safety representatives and safety committees a union prerogative. It is not to be done by the people who work there. 1101 It is not to be done by the majority of the workers in some sort of association. It is only to be done by the union. In this way it differs even from legislation concerned with safety in the mines, which all of us agree has been most beneficial and immensely important. It does not follow the experience of Sweden or of other countries. Perhaps there was good reason for this in 1969, when, I believe, the proposal for this legislation was first made by the then Government. The right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) addressed the T.U.C. in September 1969. He then said:We shall bring forward legislation on health and safety within industry, the sort of legislation that the T.U.C. has been asking for since 1964.My intervention earlier was designed to show that the T.U.C. General Council in 1964 supported the voluntary position, but, as quite often happens at conferences, the platform was voted down by the floor, which insisted that it wanted statutory provision.
We should not be unmindful of the events of 1969 and the timing of the speech by the then Prime Minister. He was repairing his fences, perhaps, and trying to give the T.U.C. a peace-offering after the events earlier that year. So we were a little suspicious. There was broad agreement across industry about Part I, between the trade unions, the C.B.I. and other interested parties. But Part II, I understand, was absolutely straight down the line what the T.U.C. wanted, with neither the agreement nor even the neutrality of the C.B.I.
Now Part II of the old Bill has been reintroduced and what I am worried about is that this makes the Bill more of a political gesture than a real attempt to get pressure going for an all-Party Measure. I was not approached on it. There is no particular reason why I should have been, but as far as I know none of my hon. Friends was approached to co-operate on producing a Bill that could receive all-party support.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the criticisms of the Bill in the Second Reading debate last year from both sides of the House were identical to the objections of the C.B.I.?
§ Mr. Hayhoe
Of course, not every criticism was identical, because they came from different points of view. There were arguments that the Bill should be strengthened, that there should be more inspections, with at least one every three months, whereas the Bill makes three months the minimum period. There were objections from my hon. Friends that some of the provisions seemed to give union representatives more power than they should get in the circumstances of the company or factory concerned. For example, it appeared from some of the exchanges that in a non-union shop there would be the possibility of the union in some curious way externally appointing a safety representative, even if it had only one member working in the shop. The Bill had a number of points like that which would have been very acceptable to the T.U.C., but over which others in industry took a different view.
I have already tried to explain the paternity of the Bill and how I saw it fitting into the political situation of 1969. I notice that the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) shakes his head. He probably knows that it was being prepared further back than that, and no doubt he will tell the House. Seeing it as an external observer, I found it strange that after the talk of the comprehensive review of 1967, of bringing together the Acts concerning mines, factories, and other things in a comprehensive Measure, that admittedly an interim Bill was announced in the autumn of 1969 and then brought before the House at the beginning of 1970. Although there may have been reasons for it then, I do not think that they apply today.
Let there be no doubt that I very much support the objectives of the Bill. But whilst I have no objection in principle to statutory safety committees and statutory safety representatives, I do not feel able to support the Bill today.
I should like to move the motion that I first learned about on reading Citrine on Committee procedure, the motion of the "previous question". I should prefer the House not to have to say "Yes" or "No" to this draft of the Bill. If such a motion were moved hon. Members voted on the previous question rather than the one before the House.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but it is well known that 1103 that was a device used to avoid the need to face up to an issue. That is just What the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do. He pays lip-service to the principles of the Bill and then tells us that he cannot support it this afternoon. He is running away from it.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I do not believe that I am. I do not like being put in the position of being told that only if I give a Second Reading to this particular draft, with the paternity that I have described, am I in favour of safety provisions within industry. That is an unsound position to put me in. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will agree, though my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich felt that the Bill would make a valuable contribution. Opinions vary on the issue.
It has not been denied that no attempt was made to get agreement. We have heard enough criticisms from the Opposition Front Bench, on another question, about not making attempts to get agreement. Particularly in view of those criticisms, I should have thought that an attempt would have been made to get agreement on this Bill.
I have mentioned that a review of the whole of the safety provisions was put in hand, as far as I can recall, by a former Minister of Labour. It was referred to by the right hon. Lady for Blackburn when she introduced her admittedly interim Bill at the beginning of last year. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can make it clear today that the review is progressing towards a situation where he can give an indication that legislation will come before the House; legislation much more comprehensive than this Bill. In that way, perhaps the aims of the hon. Member for Renfrew, West will be achieved. It often happens with Private Members' Bills that merely putting them forward puts pressure on the Government to introduce their own legislation. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say today that he intends to introduce the comprehensive legislation that has been spoken about for four or five years.
I also hope that he will take account of the very important speech by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) in last year's debate, when he spoke of accident proneness and psychological factors. There is no doubt in my mind that in modern industry the boredom and frus- 1104 tration with the sheer mechanical processes—the feeling of being a cog in the machine are contributory factors both in industrial unrest and the increased numbers of accidents. Anything that can be done to improve the general psychological factors will be a contribution to safety just as much as legislation will.
I will not support the Bill today. I think that it is the wrong Bill at the wrong time. But I look forward to supporting, in the not too distant future, I hope, a better Bill but with the same aims, which are shared by both sides of the House.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I have no intention of holding up the House for as long as the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe). I hope that my comments will be much more to the point than some of his contribution, which seemed to be much more concerned with the debate in the House on the previous Bill than with the provisions of this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) must be congratulated by the whole House for introducing the Bill at this time. I can tell the Minister that this is a much more important and much better Bill for industrial relations than anything we have discussed day and night for the past few weeks on the Industrial Relations Bill.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a very important Bill. Its philosophy is extremely important. So are the philosophy and the content of the Industrial Relations Bill.
§ Mr. Heffer
I was about to point out that when the previous Labour Government Bill was introduced the Tory Opposition did not oppose it. They did not vote against it on Second Reading, but merely said that there were certain parts that they would like to change in Committee. Yet on this occasion the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth says that he is with the Bill in principle but cannot really support it. I wonder why. It is obviously because of the role of the trade unions. That is what is really behind the hon. Gentleman's thinking. He thinks that when 1105 the trade unions are involved, as they are, in this way, hon. Members opposite cannot support the Bill. I do not intend to raise the political temperature of this debate. Despite the attempt by the hon. Member to do so, I have no intention of following his example, because this is far too important a subject and far too important a question for us to get involved in political argumentation.
The Bill is long overdue, and particularly is this so for the building industry. Before 1948 the building industry had no adequate safety, health and welfare regulations. In 1948 regulations were brought in by a Labour Government, and I remember, as a trade union shop steward, carrying those regulations in my pocket almost as if they were a bible, because we had to use them day in and day out.
Reference has been made to boredom at work. I accept that in industries where people are working on a track, as it were, such as in the motor car industry, one finds men who are bored at work. Most building operatives, however, are not bored at work. Working as they do in the middle of winter, they are too damned cold to get bored. They have to work pretty hard to keep warm, and they do not get bored, but all the time they have to be concerned with safety. I remember the district secretary of my trade union addressing a meeting called to discuss the 1948 regulations which we felt were a great advance and victory for the trade union movement. He said that from then on every member had to be his own safety officer. That was the point which he stressed.
Under those regulations every employer must appoint somebody—he is not called a safety officer as such—who is responsible for carrying out the safety regulations; but what happens in practice is that it is the foreman of trades who is given a dual function. On the one hand he has to get the job done at the earliest possible moment so that the employer can make the maximum amount of profit, and on the other he has the job of carrying out the safety regulations. The result is that the poor man is placed in a position where he is torn between his loyalty to the workers on the job and ensuring their safety and his loyalty to his employer to get the job done at the 1106 earliest possible moment so that the employer can make the maximum profit.
It is for that reason that my hon. Friend is right to bring forward a Bill which will establish the right of workers to appoint representatives of their own to be responsible for safety, either to appoint a representative if there are a few workers on a job, or safety committees if larger numbers of workers are involved. The Bill will enable workers to exercise some form of control over safety measures and not have to leave things in the hands of the employers' representative.
I remember on one occasion looking for a job in Liverpool. I went on to a building site and said to the employers' representative, a foreman, "Do you want joiners?" He said, "Yes, you can start on Monday". I was about to go off the job when I noticed a joiner on the top of a concrete column, with some more shuttering work going up, without adequate scaffolding. I asked the foreman, "Where is your scaffolding?", and he said, "If you are bothered about that, we do not want chaps like you on this job, because you are a nuisance to us."
I went off and straight away 'phoned the Factory Inspectorate. I got the factory inspector down, and I am pleased to say that the firm was fined about £100.
§ Mr. Heffer
Had we at that time had a law of the kind proposed by the Bill, with safety representatives appointed to the job, it would have been the duty of those representatives to point out to the employer the defect which I noticed and to make certain that the regulations were properly observed. Safety regulations in the building industry are not bad, but we need full-time, responsible people from the trade union movement to make certain that they are carried out to the full.
The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories says on page 23:The Inspectorate can enforce the statutory provisions and give much advice about this, but it is hoped that with continuing development and expansion the construction industry itself will give proper weight to safety at all stages of planning and execution.That underlines my point. 1107 The Report goes on to say on page 26:Scaffold collapses are another type of structural collapse. So far as common scaffolds are concerned, the majority of collapses would not have occurred if erection, use, maintenance and dismantling had conformed to the appropriate British Standard Code of Practice, which gives clear guidance not only as to the requirements for bracings and ties but also as to the spacings of uprights and the permissible numbers and loadings of working platforms.The real problem in industry is that all the time there is a conflict between productivity and profit on the one hand and safety on the other, and the hon. Gentleman, who at one time appeared to be speaking for the building employers, seemed much more concerned with the former than with the latter.
It has to be recognised that profits can be held back if all the safety regulations are carried out, but which is more important—profit, or the safety of the workers in the industry? It seems to me that safety is far more important than profit.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
Surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that his hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Tad Fletcher) was right when he spoke of the enormous cost to the country of accidents. It is difficult to pursue this elliptical argument. Safety is not the opposite of making profits. Firms which do best are often those with good safety records, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) would agree with that.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman's interventions are almost as long as his speeches. The point I am making is that, of course, some of the larger firms in the building industry are the best safety-conscious firms, but some of the smaller firms think that the only way to make increased profits is by not observing the safety regulations, by turning a blind eye to all sorts of safety precautions which ought to be observed. That is why it is important to have trade union representatives appointed to ensure that safety regulations are carried out, particularly in the building industry.
A certain amount of hypocrisy is displayed about this issue by hon. Gentlemen opposite. On an earlier Bill dealing with the "lump" in the building industry, they told us how the lump ought to be 1108 eliminated, and how they agreed with my hon. Friends who had brought in a Bill to do just that, but as soon as they get into office they do not want such a Measure. That shows that when it comes down to the realities of the matter hon. Gentlemen opposite do not want to bring in measures to deal with issues such as that.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South) rose——
§ Mr. Heffer
I have given way enough. It seems that we are to have long speeches from hon. Gentlemen opposite to try to prevent this excellent Measure from going into Committee upstairs.
There are one or two points in the Bill which will have to be dealt with in Committee, if it gets there. First, there is the limit of 10 workers for the appointment of a safety officer. Many jobs in the building industry require fewer than 10 workers, and it is at that level, perhaps even more than at the larger sites, that safety representatives are necessary to ensure that the regulations are carried out to the full, and I hope that my hon. Friend is mindful of that.
The other important matter is the question of the time for inspection. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). The period should be much more like a month than the three months which is suggested.
This is a first-class Measure. It is long overdue, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading today so that we can deal with it in Committee and get it on to the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment in the interests of ensuring that in future, particularly in the construction industry, accidents, many of them fatal, do not occur. If we can achieve that, there will be greater happiness than there is at the moment among many families who have suffered because of unnecessary accidents which have occurred in the industry.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
Anyone who has considered this problem must view it with the greatest concern. I congratulate the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) on giving us an opportunity to discuss the Bill.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
I have some doubts about the methods suggested in the Bill, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not prove difficult. I noted his generosity in saying that he would be prepared to allow Amendments. I should not have thought that there would be much difficulty in reconciling our approach. I assure the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that my speech will not take long and that I shall not make any attempt to talk out a Bill of such importance.
§ Mr. Scott
It is worth noting that when my hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) concluded his speech each side of the House had debated the Bill for almost the same length of time. In fact, hon. Members opposite have taken a quarter of an hour longer than hon. Members on this side of the House. There is no question of imbalance.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
I am sure that that is right.
I wish to consider for a moment or two the appalling situation in industry, not only in this country but in all industrial countries. We know of the millions of days lost and the hundreds of millions of pounds lost through industrial inefficiency and breakdowns. We know that there are more than 300,000 accidents and 600 deaths a year.
There is something which should be remembered about accidents in industry. They are not like motor accidents, which are spread over the whole community. They are not even like accidents in the home, which are also spread over the whole community. They are largely confined to people who earn their living by manual skills and whose incomes are such that things are made very difficult for them if the breadwinner sustains an injury. Although the courts may be generous, no amount of compensation in these inflationary days can do much to make up for the tragedies which occur a thousand times each working day.
I wish to put some figures before the House concerning the losses caused by industrial accidents. They must be guesses, but they are higher than some about which we have heard. It looks as if productivity is affected to the extent 1110 of at least £100 million. If we add on the extra payments which employers must make and the replacement of labour costs, accidents are probably costing management the best part of £200 million a year. If we add on the figures for industrial injuries benefit, which are running at £100 million a year, the figure of £300 million would not be far wrong. Tremendous economic advantages would accrue to the country if we managed to reduce our rate of accidents.
For ordinary firms, safety is a positive aid to profits. This can he seen over large sections of industry. Our industry is based not merely on the large firms but on the small firms. By far the largest number of people are employed in the small firms in the engineering industry. It is in the small firms where the accidents are occurring.
I have criticisms to make of both sides of industry, and I am sorry to say that employers in some of the smaller firms just do not seem to care and they leave instruction in safety matters to the older men in the firm. The foreman or the experienced hand is left to help the apprentice and to acquaint him with the safety regulations. Often these men have grown old in their ways and are tired and bored and they may not pass on with the keenness that they should information about the safety regulations which should be observed at all times. They become familiar with the job and have devised an easy way of doing it, and bad habits are passed on to the next generation.
On the employees' side, protective equipment which is supplied is not used. Boots are not worn. Perhaps the wearing of protective equipment should be made compulsory. People are not wearing protective hair-covering. People lose fingers as a result of lifting guards to get machines going. I do not blame people for doing these things because in many cases they are on piece-work. They may genuinely want to help. There are many reasons why people are careless. But both sides of industry are careless, and we must try to change the atmosphere. I wish to say a word or two on this aspect. I am sure that the sponsor would be the first to agree that the Bill is just one small step among a large number of steps which must be taken if we are to get this problem under control. 1111 Most well-run firms have a works safety committee. I should be appalled to be associated with any firm which did not have one. It is beyond my comprehension how any works can be run without one. But, unfortunately, it is not the universal practice in industry. A large number of joint safety committees are run on a voluntary basis. It has always been recognised on both sides of the House that the voluntary committee is the best, for obvious reasons.
How are we to change the atmosphere and make people aware of safety? A number of things must be done in an endeavour to stop the holocaust of accidents in industry. First, there is little doubt that the Factory Inspectorate should be increased. It is difficult to recruit the right calibre of men. In certain northern areas a relatively small number of factory inspectors are dealing with a large number of factories. There are over 200,000 establishments in this country to which the Factories Acts apply. That gives a measure of what we should be doing in relation to the Factory Inspectorate.
Next, we need a new Factories Act. Such a Measure was in the contemplation of the Labour Government, and no doubt of this Government, for some time. Consultations have taken place with industry and the unions over the last two or three years, and preparations for a new Act have been going forward. It will be welcome when it comes, and the sooner it comes the better. Our legislation is among the best in the world. It is well ahead of a great deal of foreign legislation, particularly American legislation. But we do not want to rest on our laurels. Top managers should be encouraged to be safety conscious. That is already the situation in the better firms. It is the smaller firms which must be encouraged to be safety conscious.
We want to move towards positive safety, not just preventive safety. We do not want merely to put guards on machines or take one incident and say, "This is against the law, and for this reason we want to try to protect men." We want to educate workers so that they think of safety all the time. Thinking on these lines in the economic studies which have been done and the papers written on a clear indication is given that 1112 where in a factory the men concentrate on safety—keeping the factory tidy, not leaving a rope across a gangway—there is higher productivity, and, consequently, higher profits.
Lastly, we have got the provisions of this Bill. As I have said, I think voluntary co-operation is important, and I would wish to keep that voluntary cooperation if it is possible, but one has to recognise, and I think it is clear from speeches from both sides of the House, that there are sections of our industry where that voluntary co-operation is not producing the desired results of safety committees. I disagree with those who think we can blithely go on and do nothing at all about it, but I am not certain that I want to go about it in the way proposed by this Bill. I certainly do not think we can content ourselves with some 60 per cent. of factories having safety committees or some 40 per cent. having no safety committees. It is exactly in those factories, very often, that the committees are needed most—in the small ones.
The House must recognise that the very fact that there has been resistance, regrettable as it is, to co-operation in the small, intimate firms so far, may make it difficult to get these factory committees going, considering also the resistance from the trade union side, although it may be regrettable that it should be so. It is because of those two things, resistance in small firms and resistance from the unions.
I would be most suspicious about a firm's man management and industrial relations if it did not have a safety committee. A good firm would have one in any case. Consequently, I would much prefer that we approach the problem by setting out a statutory obligation that there should be a safety committee in a firm over such-and-such a size. I do not suppose that to be a proposition from which the hon. Member for Renfrew, West would dissent, as one way of dealing with this matter. Above all, we want partnership. Above all, we want education. Above all, we want independent safety committees—not just somebody who seems to be a management hack, but an independent safety officer who is respected by both sides, by management and by employees. We want the safety 1113 officers backed by consultative committees which can help.
If these should come, as I believe they will, they should be statutory committees imposed on firms, rather than its being left to one side of industry to demand them, when there may be troubles about co-operation. With that caveat I sincerely commend the spirit of this Bill.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
This is an interesting and genuine debate, and I intervene now only to give the Government's view of this proposed legislation and not in any way to attempt to curb the debate, for I notice several hon. Members opposite who wish to make their contributions. I am afraid my remarks may be a little long, and I hope that I shall not be accused by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer) of being excessively long, but I think it is important that we should get a number of facts before the House from the official point of view. I know that the House is also looking forward with interest to hearing the hon. Gentleman the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) from the Opposition Front Bench.
I should like to start by sincerely congratulating the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) on what I thought was a moderate, helpful and very genuine speech, one which certainly appealed to me in many respects, even though I did not entirely agree with all his hypotheses. I think it helps a great deal, if I may say so, that legislation put forward by a private Member should be in that kind of spirit which can win the co-operation of both sides of the House when there is a genuine interest at stake.
As I have said before in the House, the subject of safety at work is hardly one which captures the headlines, unless there is some unmitigated disaster. I am always grateful—and I know the hon. Member for Doncaster is—to have a chance of informed discussion in Parliament on something which is so vital to the well being of the nation and so entirely concerned with the welfare of individuals who work in industry, as we have heard from a number of hon. Members today.
The hon. Member for Renfrew, West referred to the fact that the Bill repro- 1114 duces Part II of the Employed Persons Health and Safety Bill introduced by the previous Administration. Indeed, he was criticised for not altering it. I may deal with that aspect later on. That Measure was one which reached Standing Committee, and through no fault of the previous Government, because the General Election intervened and there were other matters to be decided, it fell by the wayside on the Dissolution of Parliament. I well remember participating in the Second Reading debate and following the Bill through its consideration in Standing Committee, although for technical reasons I was not a member of the Standing Committee. The Bill of today is a replica of that one in its provisions for statutory arrangements on joint consultations on safety.
The hon. Gentleman reminded me when I was speaking from the Opposition Front Bench during the Second Reading of the former Bill and when I commented on Part II and said we had some objections to Part II, but they were not such as to induce me to vote against the Bill, because that would give the impression that we were against industrial health and safety, and we certainly were not. I reiterate that we are certainly not opposed to improving industrial health and safety.
However, in fairness to the hon. Member and to the House I should make it clear that the Government do have doubts about this Bill, not because of any partisan approach but primarily because we do not feel this is the right time to introduce this Measure, and I shall endeavour to spell these out in due course. The reasons why we do not think this is the right time are twofold, and I should like to endeavour to explain them to the House.
Hon. Members will know that the last Administration set up a Committee on Safety and Health, under the Chairmanship of Lord Robens. This was foreshadowed by the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) in her speech on the Second Reading of the former Bill, and it was subsequently announced that they had set up the Committee to undertake a far-reaching review of safety, health and welfare legislation over the whole field of employment. I 1115 should like to quote the terms of reference of that Committee:To review the provision made for the safety and health of persons in the course of their employment (other than transport workers while directly engaged in transport operations and who are covered by other provisions), and to consider whether any changes are needed in:I am sorry to read all that out, but 1 wanted to make it quite clear what that review was examining, and following from the previous Government it is making a wide and far-reaching review which covers the health, welfare and safety regulations not only for factories and shops but also for mines and quarries and agriculture. The Robens Committee is also considering the need for extending the scope of protective legislation for persons who are not yet covered.
- (1) the scope and nature of major enactments, or
- (2) the nature and extent of voluntary action concerned with these matters and to consider whether any further steps are required to safeguard members of the public from hazards other than general environmental pollution arising in connection with activities of industrial and commercial premises and construction sites; and to make recommendations."
In this country the growth of safety, health and welfare legislation has been very haphazard. Over the years various types of Statute, enacted to deal with various types of employment, have had little cohesion. There has been a good deal of fragmentation, and much of the legislation now needs to be drawn together.
The last Administration felt that a comprehensive review of the whole position was more than overdue, and when we took office we agreed with them about that. We were happy to support the Robens Committee in its inquiries into the situation, and those inquiries are taking place. I am glad to be able to tell the House—and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe)—that the Robens Committee has made considerable progress, bearing in mind the complexity and size of its task. I know that Lord Robens is anxious to complete his assignment as quickly as he can.
Last August a questionnaire, as a basis for written evidence, was circulated to a wide variety of Government Departments 1116 and other establishments and outside organisations, and other parties were invited, through the Press, to contribute evidence.
§ Mr. Weitzman
If one life can be saved, or the injury of one person can be prevented, by expediting this legislation, why should we not expedite it?
§ Mr. Smith
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me, I shall refer to that point—because there is the question of doing the job properly. A serious situation requires an urgent approach, and if we proceed in the correct way we can in due course save more lives and prevent more injuries from taking place. The questionnaire has gone out, and a large amount of evidence has been received in response to it. In addition to considering written evidence the Chairman and members of the Committee, either individually or in groups, have visited a number of industrial, commercial and research establishments to see for themselves what working conditions are like. They are also studying the experiences of other countries, whose approach to health and safety legislation may differ from ours.
The Committee will supplement its written and personal inquiries by taking oral evidence, at an early date.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Shored itch and Finsbury)
For two years many of us have been discussing with industry a document referring to proposals for updating the Factories Acts. The document has been discussed at every level of industry—by management, workers, and in union branch rooms. I have been going round discussing it for two years. It is a confidential document, but it has been given the widest publicity. It forms the basis of any work that needs to be done by a responsible Government which want to introduce this sort of legislation.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not want to raise the political temperature, because this is a serious debate, with an expression of genuine views by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but the hon. Member is implicitly criticising his own Administration, because they were the ones who appeared to drag their feet on this issue. They subsequently set up the Robens Committee. We agreed with them on that, and we want to hurry it along. The 1117 sooner it can present its report the happier we shall be. But all inquiries take time if they are to be carried out successfully.
§ Mr. Buchan
The Minister is now quite unexpectedly raising another aspect of the matter. We had hoped to have Government acceptance of the Bill. In the discussion a year ago the question of time was not raised by hon. Members opposite, but they are apparently now basing their objections to the Bill on the question of time. I would remind the Minister that at a period when we are being told of the importance of saving every working day the country will judge the seriousness of the intentions of the Government by the extent to which they support a Bill designed to deal with the problem.
That is the situation that the Minister must face. He cannot get round it by putting forward the excuse that other inquiries are going on. He must face the problem squarely, because his Government's whole industrial relations policy will be seen as bearing on this issue. He must show that he wants to deal with the major question of the amount of industrial time lost through accidents.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member has made a long intervention, but the totality of our policy will be judged on the final achievements of our Administration. We bow to nobody in our agreement upon the need to improve safety, health and welfare; the question is how it shall be done. The hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer), when speaking on the previous Bill, said that he thought that it was something of a stopgap Measure, and he wondered why the previous Government had not brought forward comprehensive legislation to reform the Factories Acts. Work is now going on in that direction and it has reached a reasonably advanced stage. In those circumstances it is important that any reform of the law should be of a comprehensive nature, and not piecemeal as is proposed by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West.
I appreciate the hon. Member's sincerity in putting forward these proposals, but he cannot hold it against the Government that just because they will not accept it they are not in favour of improving safety, health and welfare conditions. It is important to get our priorities right, and with a very impor- 1118 tant Committee now sitting it would be entirely wrong for the Government suddently to accept the hon. Member's Bill, in advance of proposals to be put forward to the nation and to the Government by the Committee.
§ Mr. Peter Archer
I am sure that the hon. Member wishes to be fair. I did not criticise the previous Bill on the ground that it was a stop-gap Measure; I said that I hoped that it would not he treated as a stop-gap Measure as an excuse for delaying the implementation of the reform of the Factories Acts.
§ Mr. Smith
I agree with the hon. Member—but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had the Labour Government remained in office. When the Conservative Party took over it had to bear in mind that the Robens Committee was in being. We could have said, "We shall abandon this. We do not think that it is right", but we did not do so. We believe that it is of vital importance and we are endeavouring in every way to assist the Committee to get on with its job. We hope that it will eventually produce an interesting and comprehensive set of proposals, which the Government will then have to consider.
Given those circumstances, it was entirely right for the present Administration to accept that the Robens Committee was in being and that that Committee would produce its Report, which would require to be considered with the utmost seriousness. We expect the Committee to look at the ways in which voluntary action in safety matters can be stimulated, its relationship to statutory provisions, and to what extent it should be regarded as a substitute for legislation.
In this context there is no doubt that the question of joint consultative committees on safety matters will be considered. The Committee may produce proposals along the same lines as those of the hon. Member; I do not know. This is an independent inquiry. That is the whole point of having experts and those who are well versed in such procedures to go into these questions. Despite what the hon. Member for Renfrew, West said so eloquently, I submit that it would be premature to legislate now on this subject, because we may require to make some radical 1119 changes in the organisation of our whole safety, health and welfare procedures as a result of the report of the Robens Committee.
§ Mr. Prescott
I cannot help comparing this situation with a similar situation in which the Conservative Party, in considering its policy for industrial relations, did not want to wait for the body that was examining the question of industrial relations—the Donovan Commission—but came out with its "Fair Deal at Work". It said that its arguments were based on "Fair Deal at Work", prior to the report of the official body that was looking into the question.
§ Mr. Smith
I should be out of order if I debated the Donovan proposals on this occasion. But I know that the hon. Gentleman has been an attender at our debates on the Industrial Relations Bill. There are many proposals put forward by Donovan which have been incorporated in our proposed legislation; not all, by any means, but quite large sections of Donovan are incorporated.
To return to the Bill before us, it provides for the appointment of safety representatives and makes provision for joint consultation on safety in premises under the Factories Act. We feel that this might well prejudge the Robens Committee's findings and we should prefer, in all conscience, to await the Committee's report.
§ Mr. Heffer rose——
§ Mr. Smith
If later on there are important points I will give way, but I hope that the hon. Member for Walton will excuse me at present. I can assure the House that as soon as the Report is received from the Robens Committee the Government will give urgent considerations to its recommendations. I cannot say when it is expected, because that would be tying the Committee in its work, but it is making good and speedy progress. It is a question which will be resolved in months, rather than years. There is no question of stringing it along, like some reports, to bury the subject. It is a subject of great importance. The hon. Gentleman probably knows Lord Robens better than I do.
§ Mr. Buchan
How can the hon. Gentleman accuse the Bill of being pre- 1120 mature if he does not know when the Report will come? The two are contradictory.
§ Mr. Smith
Obviously, it will be in the lifetime of this Parliament, and probably much sooner. We shall give urgent consideration to its proposals.
My second reason for having doubts about the Bill is more one of principle. I have never thought that joint consultation on safety, vital though it is, is necessarily a matter which must be dealt with by legislation. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), in an interesting speech, said that there were many people who started out in good careers, sometimes even political careers, from their original work in factory safety groups. That is absolutely true. From the factory aspect of safety groups a great deal of good can flow, even further afield than mere safety itself.
If one remembers a comment made in 1966, the need for the voluntary principle was underlined even by hon. Gentlemen opposite, by one of their colleagues, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Department which I now represent, the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchen (Mrs. Shirley Williams). She said in the House:My right hon. Friend believes that joint consultative machinery on safety which is set up by voluntary means is preferable to machinery established under compulsion. Progress in the past, however, has been extremely disappointing. He has, therefore, decided that, unless there is satisfactory progress over the next few years in the setting up of joint works safety committees on a voluntary basis, he will feel obliged, when the next major revision of the Factories Act takes place, to seek power to require the establishment of machinery for joint consultation in appropriate cases. He very much hopes that progress will be such as to make legislation unnecessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1966; Vol. 731, c. 954–9551.]There are two phrases in that statement to which I would draw hon. Members' attention. The first is thatjoint consultative machinery on safety which is set up by voluntary means is preferable to machinery established under compulsion.That is a sentiment which a large number of my hon. Friends agree with wholeheartedly. The second phrase is the last sentence of the statement:He very much hopes that progress will be such as to make legislation unnecessary.Let us look at what progress has been made since the statement of the hon. 1121 Lady in 1966. At that time there were no up-to-date reliable figures of the number of works safety committees in existence. It therefore became essential, if progress was to be assessed, that the then Minister was put in a position where he could decide on the necessity for legislation, to ensure that such figures became available. Accordingly, Her Majesty's Factory Inspectorate, which comes under the aegis of my Department, carried out a special inquiry in mid—1967 into the existing spread of joint safety committees—that is to say, safety committees on which both management and unions were represented—in factories which had more than 50 employees. A second similar inquiry was carried out early in 1969 to assess what progress had been made over and above the earlier one.
Meanwhile, in 1967, the Minister's newly-created Industrial Safety Advisory Council agreed that a sub-committee should be established with the following terms of reference:To review progress in the establishment of machinery within industry for joint consultation on safety, and in particular to review the objectives and practical possibilities of joint consultation, and to report thereon to the council; to advise from time to time on any further voluntary action which it thinks necessary for the improvement of such machinery; and at an appropriate time to consider whether legislation is required and if so what its form and content should be.In addition to sponsoring the two special inquiries by the Factory Inspectorate to which I have referred, and on the results of which I should like to comment in a moment, the sub-committee considered a number of case studies of joint safety committees collected by the Factory Inspectorate during the course of its first inquiry. It subsequently agreed to the publication in 1968 of a selection of these in a booklet entitled, "Works Safety Committees in Practice—Some Case Studies". It was hoped that the booklet would encourage—I believe that it did—the first development of joint consultation on safety through the publication and dissemination of the case histories it put forward.
In October, 1968, as a result of discussions on the sub-committee, the Chief Inspector of Factories wrote to all firms employing more than 50 people, stressing the importance of joint consultation in accident prevention and enclosing notes giving guidance on the establishment and 1122 operation of safety committees. The House may like to know the results of these attempts to stimulate joint consultation and what improvements there were following the original initiation of the inquiry, and what the 1969 figures show in relation to 1967.
In July, 1966, when the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin made her statement, there were 21,200 factories employing over 50 people, and of these 5,826 had arrangements for joint consultation on safety—which I admit left a great deal to be desired. By 1969 the figures of factories with joint consultation arrangements had risen to 9,487, an increase of 63 per cent. This figure of 9,487 meant that of all factories employing more than 50 people, 47.2 per cent. had some arrangements for joint consultation on safety. Perhaps more important than that, this in effect meant that 3.8 million people, 69.4 per cent. of those in the factories concerned, had these safety arrangements.
§ Mr. Heffer
I accept that this is a very big advance. The House will be pleased. Would the Under-Secretary give an indication of what was meant, in some cases, by "consultation"? One could have a "consultation" meaning that the foreman talks to the chap on the floor, and that is regarded as consultation. What is a "consultation"?
§ Mr. Smith
I am sure that it varied from place to place. The hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber when I said that this was initiated by the Factory Inspectorate, part of my Department. If the hon. Gentleman wants confirmation of its integrity and ability, he should ask his hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster. I am sure that the inspectors did not make a cursory survey and that they had to be convinced that there were proper consultative facilities before they were prepared to accept them. The figures prove beyond doubt that the stimulation of this joint consultation was 1123 effective and that the trend is the right one. I hope that they will reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), who seemed to have some doubts on this.
I remember the previous debate and one of my hon. Friends raising with the right hon. Member for Blackburn a point about the relative safety performances of firms which have consultative committees and those which have not. My hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth asked me for figures on this subject. I regret to say that I have none. It is difficult to obtain statistics, and at present we have not that information available. If figures were available, think that they would turn out to be inconclusive. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Renfrew, West that that is not an argument against having safety committees.
Statistics are often cold and meaningless when one is dealing with human beings, lives and injury. We can all testify from experience in our constituencies what can happen when an individual is maimed or a family is bereaved.
I have a number of examples of the ways in which certain sectors of industry are getting together to get the right forms of safety consultation. They are extremely interesting, but I know that I shall be accused of speaking at too great a length if I give those details, and that it is better that I proceed further with my argument on our reasons for having doubts about this Measure.
I said that we would prefer to wait for the report of the Robens Committee before coming to a firm conclusion on the need for legislation. In support of that, I again refer to the statement by the hon. Member for Hitchin when she said that legislation on joint consultation, if thought necessary, would be associated with… the next major revision of the Factories Act.Shortly after the report of the Robens Committee is published, probably there will be such a revision, and then we can consider in detail the legislation that is needed on the subject and do it in a more comprehensive way than the gallant attempt which has been made by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the last Government set up the Committee to deal with this matter, but they did not postpone their consideration of it until the report of the Committee was published. Why do not his Government do the same?
§ Mr. Smith
Again, I call in aid the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton. He suspected that it might have been a piecemeal effort and might have been a substitute for the revision which should really have taken place. I do not accuse the previous Government of that. I think that they were genuine in setting up their inquiry. Perhaps they intended to go forward, but I think that they were wrong to legislate at that juncture in advance of the results of the inquiry that they were about to set up in order to have a far more comprehensive review.
§ Mr Harold Walker
I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) can speak for himself, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should be fair to him and note that my hon. Friend has already intervened to make his position clear and that he voted for the Bill on that earlier occasion.
§ Mr. Smith
I know the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton very well. He is a man of great principle and sincerity. I know that he backed that Bill. As we have heard today, he has a deep interest in these matters and was himself among those who sponsored a Bill on the subject. His complaint is that no action has been taken for years and years, and there was an implied criticism in his speech that the previous Administration had not got on with it quickly enough.
I have shown that a very important and comprehensive review is being conducted at the moment by an independent body set up by the previous Administration. In that situation, surely it is right to await that body's proposals, which may be very radical and far-reaching, before legislating piecemeal a Private Member's Bill in advance of that body's report.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
It is not the publication of the report which is necessary. What is important is that, following its publication, the Government will have to find time for legislation. It is all very well to say that 1125 Parliament may receive a report and that, in some hypothetical way, legislation may be introduced. But if that happens four years from now, there will have been another four years of appalling accidents and deaths. Surely we should accept my hon. Friend's proposed legislation now and, if necessary, bring forward amending legislation on the basis of the Robens Committee's major review.
§ Mr. Smith
I have already said that the Government will consider the report with the utmost seriousness and urgency. While I cannot commit Lord Robens and his Committee to any date of publication and while I cannot commit the Government to any specific legislative programme, I shall be very surprised if the Committee's proposals take as long as four years to come before us. They will probably come forward far sooner than that.
I anticipate that the proposals will find themselves in legislation in our major review of the Factories Acts. There is a need for a comprehensive review of those Acts. That was admitted in the previous debate on the subject and has been admitted again today by a number of hon. Members. In those circumstances, I think that it is very important to await the Robens Committee's findings.
Meanwhile, I assure hon. Members that the Government have no intention of just sitting back and assuming that the voluntary effort will continue by itself. We hope that it will be possible for the subcommittee of the Industrial Safety Advisory Council to continue with its work, because its achievements have been considerable, and see what else can be done to stimulate and encourage firms to set up arrangements for joint consultation which are satisfactory to employers and workers alike.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
A number of hon. Members on this side have been doing some simple sums. While we have been debating these provisions this morning, 350 people have been injured and 10 may easily have died as a result of industrial accidents. Is not it time that we tackled the problem?
§ Mr. Smith
Yes, and I accept also that a large number of people will have been killed or injured on the roads at 1126 the same time—[Interruption.] It is shocking and terrible. That is all the more reason why, when we legislate, we ensure that our provisions are effective. A number of my hon. Friends have said that they do not think that the Bill is particularly apposite since they feel that it would not be all that effective. That again is a matter for argument. But there are doubts in the minds of a number of hon. Members about whether the hon. Gentleman's Bill will prove to be as efficacious as he seems to think.
I come now to a matter which is germane to the point raised by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). In one of his typically attractive speeches, the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins) rightly referred to the grievous rise in the number of industrial accidents, and the hon. Member for Renfrew, West quoted the figure of 322,390 accidents, of which 649 were fatal, reported to Her Majesty's Factory Inspectorate in 1969. However, I can reveal for the first time that the provisional figures for 1970 show a reduction of 5½ per cent. in all reported accidents, and 80 fewer fatalities. I am sure that that report will be welcomed on both sides of the House.
However, to be fair, too much weight should not be attached to a set of figures like this, any more than in financial matters. The Chief Inspector of Factories has said in his annual report that the figures must be treated with the utmost caution.
An accident becomes legally notifiable under the Factories Act if it causes disablement for more than three days. Many accidents never become legally notifiable, and those which are notifiable include a large proportion of relatively minor injuries such as bruises, surface abrasions, strains and sprains. In this type of case the decision whether to cease work is often a matter of individual choice, and a relatively small change of attitude by the individual in this area of activity can have considerable repercussions on the proportion of the whole sphere of accidents where they are legally notifiable.
Nevertheless, the reduction of fatalities, according to the provisional figure for 1970, is encouraging and shows that 1127 a consciousness about accidents and industrial safety is growing throughout the whole sphere.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
I welcome these figures, I should like to believe that they are true. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that an increase in days lost due to strikes and growing unemployment increases the number of man days lost and that a decrease in persons employed will have the effect of reducing the figures? Therefore there will be 700,000 working days less for the chance of being injured? It follows that this might equal 5½ per cent. If this is a genuine reduction, I welcome it. I merely question whether that is so.
§ Mr. Smith
I assure the hon. Gentleman that these figures were not produced by Tory Central Office. They were produced by my Department. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Civil Service has a great spirit of impartiality in producing figures, whichever party is in power. As far as I know, these figures are fair and accurate; but I stress that they are provisional and there may be further revisions.
The hon. Gentleman has a point about strikes and growing unemployment, which grew throughout last year. This may have some marginal effect on the situation. However, I detect that a possible trend of improvement in safety procedures is gaining ground.
The Factory Inspectorate is acutely conscious of the problem. Since 1969 it has been carrying out detailed inquiries—initiated by the previous Government—into a 5 per cent. sample of reported accidents. I hope that the results of these inquiries will enable us to give a more meaningful survey of the safety performance going on at present.
It is estimated that accidents reported in 1969 represented a loss of approximately 9½ million man days over all occupations. The number of days of certified incapacity due to industrial accidents and prescribed industrial diseases is estimated to be 23 million.
A number of hon. Members today have equated, as they have before, the amount of days lost through injury and industrial health hazards with strikes. They have said that the figure for days lost through strikes really is very small compared with days lost through injury and indus- 1128 trial health hazards. I have never believed that one could equate the number of days lost through accidents with the number of days lost through strikes. Strikes close factories or whole industries. Accidents and illness cause suffering to the individual and inconvenience to the employer—we all know about this—but they seldom close factories, and never industries.
It is not meaningful to put forward the thesis that, because so many more days are lost through industrial injury, one should not make so much fuss about strikes. Both these items in their relative contexts are serious. We are discussing them quite separately in the House at the moment. They should be kept separate and never be used as an argument to suggest that there are not so many strikes or not so many days lost through injury.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Gentleman has raised what he described to me earlier as a chestnut. He is quite wrong. In the first place, accidents can stop factories—fires, for example. Secondly, after a strike overtime is often worked to make up for the working days lost. This does not happen in the case of man who goes off for a long period through sickness or illness. Those two factors more than balance the point about factories being closed through strikes. It is wrong to say that these factors are not comparable. They are pretty well comparable. The hon. Gentleman must recognise this.
§ Mr. Smith
We must agree to differ on that point. Fires destroy and close down factories. But the range of industrial accidents about which we are talking concerns a small number of people. While they may put out an assembly line for a time or stop a particular process, the whole factory does not close, and whole industries are not brought to a halt.
We heard today of the great loss suffered by Vauxhall over the last year, largely through strikes. However, I shall not go into that matter. If I do, I shall no doubt bring the hon. Member for Walton to his feet and this would perhaps prolong the proceedings even more.
I am not seeking to minimise the distressing effect of industrial accidents not only on productivity, but on the unfortunate individuals. As has been said earlier, 1129 this is a human problem which certainly needs to be tackled.
My Department has an important part to play in influencing industry in the action which it should take about industrial health and safety. We must see that legislation in this sphere is comprehensive and soundly based and that the Factory Inspectorate is adequately equipped for its inforcement and advisory duties.
In this connecton, I remind the House, and also reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), who particularly raised this point, that recruitment to the Inspectorate has improved dramatically during the past year, and we now have a total of over 700 Inspectors in service. I am sure—[Interruption.] It is a dramatic improvement. I am sure that with these extra staff the Inspectorate will be able to make an even greater contribution to health and safety than it has to date.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth said that he very nearly became an Inspector. I am sure that it would have been a great gain to the Factory Inspectorate. Its loss is our gain.
Proper enforcement of the law is clearly important if a high standard of safety performance is to be achieved. However, it is not sufficient by itself. A recent study by the Inspectorate has shown that about one accident in six is associated with a breach of some statutory requirement. This includes cases where there was some failure by work people as well as by management.
A great deal needs to be done. It is a question of emphasis how it is and should be done. Hon. Gentlemen opposite genuinely feel that the way to achieve this is via the Bill. I dissent from that view. I think that it is better to await the comprehensive inquiry which has been put forward.
It is interesting to look at the experience of Sweden. I am surprised that nobody has raised this before. Sweden has had legislation over joint consultation on safety and health for over 20 years. This has been studied by the Industrial Safety Advisory Council which sent a delegation to Sweden to see how it worked.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman says "Good Labour Government". It is difficult to reach any conclusions from Sweden's experience whether compulsion counts in this respect.
The accident experience in Swedish industry is also relevant in this context. The figures are not directly comparable with our own, because the basis used for the calculation differs. One has to take into account the severe winters in Sweden, compared with Britain, which must add to the risks on outdoor work for several months. I should not want to press the comparison too far, but we have made an estimate of the Swedish fatality rates, converting them to the same basis as our own Factory Inspectorate calculations.
In 1967—the latest year for which the Swedish figures are available—the fatality rate in manufacturing industry in Sweden was 8.6 per 100,000 compared with 4.4 per 100,000 in this country. In construction, the rate was 22.4 per 100,000 in Sweden compared with 16.5 per 100,000 in Great Britain. These figures must, I stress, be treated with due reserve, but they support my contention that legislation for the establishment of arrangements for joint consultation will not result in a dramatic reduction in accidents, as some hon. Gentlemen opposite, however sincerely, have tried to imply.
§ Mr. Prescott
The Under-Secretary has spoken of the difficulty of making comparisons between the Swedish and British situations because of factors such as weather. The shipping industries of these two countries, however, have a comparable environmental climate. Both have safety committees, the Swedish committee being statutorily imposed. The accident figures in our shipping industry are far higher than in Sweden and far more so than in any other industry in this country.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not have the figures ready to hand but I accept what the hon. Member says. I was dealing with the whole consensus of industry. That is a far fairer comparison than to take merely one sector, such as shipping, in which there may be special reasons. If, however, the hon. Member makes that point, well and good.
I hope I have made it clear that in expressing my reservations about the timing and the need for the Bill, the present Government defer to no one in 1131 their care for the safety and health of workers in industry. We want to get this right and to do it in the correct way. We have always put the welfare of the working population in the forefront of our national priorities, and I assure the House that that will continue.
If hon. Members stop to realise what is going on, with the setting up of the Robens committee of inquiry, I think they will agree, despite their great sympathy for the hon. Member for Renfrew, West, that it would probably be inappropriate at this stage to give the Bill a Second Reading in advance of the comprehensive legislation which will come forward. Progress is being made. A lot more needs to be done, and I would be the first to admit it, but we are achieving success. The figures which I have quoted are heartening. On that basis, I ask the House not to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
The House will understand if I say right away that I have, perhaps, more reason than any other hon. Member in the Chamber for congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) on his choice of Bill to present to the House today. I also congratulate him on the moderate but eloquently persuasive way in which he introduced his Bill. I assure him of the wholehearted support of the Opposition Front Bench.
We have had a splendid debate, and, no doubt, we should continue to have one. It has been enriched by the contributions of hon. Members and particularly—I hope that hon. Members opposite will not take this as a criticism—by hon. Members on this side of the House who have spoken directly from personal experience.
The Under-Secretary said that we were discussing a subject which was hardly likely to catch the headlines. Indeed, I must reflect somewhat ruefully on my own period in the office now occupied by the Under-Secretary that in those days—and no doubt now—this subject was very much the Cinderella subject in the Department. It is regrettable that the Department of Employment, and formerly the Department of Employment and Productivity, should be preoccupied with strikes and industrial disputes. We should turn a little more of the spotlight on to this important aspect of its work.
1132 When the hon. Gentleman referred to the headlines, I could not help thinking of the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller)—again, speaking from experience of the industry which he served so well and so long—to scaffolding. Industrial accidents do sometimes hit the headlines but not when ordinary Joe Citizen is involved.
I had in mind particularly an accident which occurred during my period in the Department, when I had some responsibility for these matters. Great publicity was rightly given to a dramatic accident involving a collapse of scaffolding on the car of a distinguished diplomat, resulting in his regrettable death. We all rightly expressed our sympathy on that occasion. It is just as much a hardship and a matter for heartache when it is the ordinary laddie in overalls who is killed in that kind of accident, but it never hits the headlines.
I also recall the very proper publicity which was attendant upon the bomb attack on the home of the Under-Secretary's right hon. Friend, an attack which we all rightly condemn. That outrageous affair was properly and understandably given widespread publicity, as were the outright condemnations against those who were responsible for perpetrating the outrage.
I learned, however, that on the same day as that incident occurred a shipyard worker in Glasgow was killed in a shipyard explosion. But that did not rate a line in The Times, the Evening Standard or any other newspaper. We have double standards. This is wrong. It is just as bad when ordinary Joe Citizen gets killed as when an outstanding personality of State is involved.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
The Under-Secretary argued that we should wait until we have had a thorough examination. In the case of the bomb outrage to which my hon. Friend has referred, we did not wait to have a further examination of security. Immediate action was taken to ensure that it did not happen again.
§ Mr. Walker
That is precisely my case, the double standards that we have in society.
It was said today by an hon. Member opposite that industrial accidents are an 1133 inevitable part of industrial life. That is a proposition which we must seriously challenge. I have looked at the Report of the Chief Inspector. I pause here to share the Under-Secretary's praise for the Factory Inspectorate and to pay my own tribute to the devoted service and outstanding contribution of John Plumbe, the Chief Inspector, who retired this year—I wish him well in his retirement—and to express my best wishes to his successor, Mr. Harvey, who, I am sure, will continue the very good work of John Plumbe.
In a way, however, the former Chief Inspector let the cat out of the bag in his personal report this year to the Secretary of State in which he said—I am paraphrasing—that in considering how far to go in preventing accidents, industry must have regard to cost effectiveness within industry. In other words, the question of how much it costs to make a job safe enters into it.
The Under-Secretary said that it was wrong to equate, as had been done during the debate, production losses which arise from strikes and loss of production arising from sickness and injury. This, however, is not an original idea. When the late lamented lain Macleod was Minister of Labour, in what was a particularly bad year for strike losses—1957—when 8 million days' production was lost due to strikes, he was under pressure at the Conservative Party conference to introduce legislation. I recall his words from memory and I am sure that I repeat them almost verbatim. He told the Conference that it was important to keep the question of strike losses in perspective.
He said something like this, and I update his figures to give them validity in our contemporary situation. He said that if today were a typical average day in British industry, we would lose 29,000 days' production due to strikes, but on that same average day, as a consequence of industrial injuries and accidents, we would lose, not 29,000 but 66,000 days' production. On that same average day, the production losses due to sickness would be, not 29,000 days, not 66,000, but about 800,000 days' production. That was the right hon. Iain Macleod addressing the Conservative Party conference in 1957. I have updated his figures. 1134 My hon. Friends therefore have an illustrious precedent when they rightly link the figures as they have done.
In view of what the Under-Secretary has said, it is important to say a little about the origins of the Bill. First, not only is it a Measure which is eagerly sought by the T.U.C., but it would, in part at least, implement the policy laid down by its annual conference. More important, because it is not the T.U.C. which determines our policies, this was, together with the original health provisions, the Measure which was agreed by the Department's Industrial Advisory Committee. The T.U.C. had reservations, but the Advisory Committee is a body which extends well beyond the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. and includes representatives from within industry.
As long ago as 1927 the then Home Secretary, who was at that time responsible for the Factory Inspectorate, had an Order drafted to be used as a sword of Damocles to compel employers to introduce joint safety committees, with the threat of bringing in an order to make those committees statutory.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
Surely this is precisely the point. The former Minister also produced a sword of Damocles, and, as a result, there has been a very definite improvement.
§ Mr. Walker
As to what is meant by satisfactory arrangements for joint consultation, when I was in the Department we used the phrase to cover bodies and consultative arrangements which are not necessarily, as we would like them to be, devoted wholly to the discussion of health and safety matters in industry but are bodies which often cover the whole range of negotiations about terms and conditions of employment and such matters where safety may not be accorded the priority which we think it should be accorded.
The Under-Secretary advanced two principal reasons for the Government's volte face—I can think of no other suitable phrase—from the position they adopted on 2nd March last when they were in opposition. The hon. Gentleman said, first, that Lord Robens' Committee is sitting and that we should wait to hear what recommendations it will doubtless make in due course. I could not help 1135 reflecting what sins of procrastination are committed in the name of "committee". The circumlocution office of Dickens has been used over the years by successive Governments as a device to avoid facing their responsibilities, taking decisions and taking action.
The Under-Secretary referred, second, to a principled Opposition. We have heard much about the principle. This is yet another ready bolt-hole down which hon. Members opposite can run. The principle which was mentioned was the adherence to the principle of voluntaryism. It is extraordinary that on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and on some days during last week and the week before eloquent pleas have been made from this side that the Government should adhere to that principle, but in reply the Government have said that they had had to resort to compulsion. However, on a Friday all that is forgotten and the Government stand on their heads and become the champions of voluntaryism and we are pilloried as the adherents of compulsion.
The Bill explicity states the principle of voluntaryism. Clause 1(5) says:Nothing in this Act shall be taken to preclude the making of agreements between employers and trade unions for joint consultation and co-operation as to matters affecting the safety of employed persons".My hon. Friend the promoter believes sincerely that the voluntary principle will work better than compulsion, if the voluntary principle is readily adopted and sincerely applied. My hon. Friend hopes that employers and trade unions will apply the voluntary principle before having to submit to whatever compulsions are available under the Bill.
The Labour Government made their intentions clear when they presented the Bill on 2nd March, 1970.
Both reasons which the Under-Secretary advanced for opposing the Bill are to some extent invalidated, not only by virtue of what I have said to the House but also because both reasons, if they are reasons, existed when the Tories did not vote against the Bill on 2nd March last. Nothing has changed. If these are reasons today, they were reasons then for voting against the Bill; but the Tories did not vote against the Bill then.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) 1136 was right to draw attention to the Government's inconsistency in arguing that in this matter we should not pre-judge the work of a Committee. This did not prevent the Tories from drawing up their industrial relations legislation. The Tory Front Bench openly boasted that, in advance of the Royal Commission's diagnosis of the faults of our industrial relations system, they were going ahead and preparing the legislation which they now consider to be so important.
I have said that the Tory Opposition did not vote against the Bill we presented on 2nd March, and nothing has changed.
The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) made some minor criticisms which echoed the remarks which have been made by other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the promoter has made it clear that he does not adopt a dogmatic attitude to these proposals; nor does he think that he is an oracle with divine access to wisdom. He is prepared to consider sympathetically in Committee proposals which are put forward in the form of Amendments.
The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth criticised the concept of unions being responsible for the appointment of safety representatives. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Bray) seemed to imply that we were proposing to give scope for potential troublemakers in industry. The Labour Government proposed that the appointments should be made by trade unions because we wanted the trade unions to be involved more directly with industrial safety, as the unions themselves did. We have a precedent in the Mines and Quarries Acts, under which the trade unions appoint similar workers' safety representatives in those industries. The very fine record of the National Coal Board and the coal mining industry in reducing accidents in that very hazardous industry has been mentioned. I have not the slightest doubt that it is due, in part at least, and probably substantially, to the work of the workers' safety representatives. That is the kind of contribution to industrial safety that we want to see extended to bring the benefits of the workers' experience into other areas of industry.
The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) said that there was 1137 an insuperable difficulty in that the Bill gives powers to safety committees without attaching responsibility to them. But the Bill does not give them any powers other than consultative and advisory functions. The hon. and learned Gentleman was confusing the different roles of the safety committee and the safety representatives. Clause 2 deals with the safety representatives' job. The direct parallel is with the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954. The hon. and learned Gentleman, like at least one other hon. Member opposite, seemed to be under some misapprehension about the composition of safety committees. There seemed to be an assumption that they would be entirely composed of work-people's representatives. That could have arisen only from a superficial reading of the Bill, because Clause 1 makes a specific reference to the need for managements to have their own representatives on the committee. If I understand the Bill correctly, the phrase in parenthesis at line 20 of page 1,(including themselves)",refers to the need for managements to appoint their own representatives.
In what has otherwise been a stimulating debate, we had a very depressing speech from the hon. Member for Rossendale. It invoked in me visions of what the House might have been like 140 or so years ago when Lord Shaftesbury's first Factory Act was presented to Parliament, and hon. Members representing all kinds of vested interests prophesied that it was the precursor of doom, that all kinds of economic ills would stem from it.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not mean to do this, and he is the last hon. Member who would, but in a sense he is making an attack on the opponents of the Bill, as he might see them. He might be misunderstood as somehow identifying the opponents of Lord Shaftesbury's measures with hon. Members on this side. I know that he would in honesty and historical truth wish to acknowledge that Lord Shaftesbury was the prototype of the Tory reformer.
§ Mr. Walker
I will criticise the hon. Gentleman's speech when he has made it, if I think that it deserves criticism. I was referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale. I do not think 1138 that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) was here when he made it. His hon. Friend made a very depressing speech suggesting that safety representatives appointed under the Bill would have scope for making all kinds of trouble and fomenting disruption in industry.
§ Mr. Walker
I have no intention of identifying with that suggestion the hon. Gentleman or anybody other than those who made those remarks or remarks along those lines.
If the House approves the Bill this afternoon, as I hope that it will, much more attention and money will require to be devoted to safety training than have been given so far. That will be an incidental beneficial by-product of the Bill. This matter was one of the criticisms of the original Bill by some of my hon. Friends, and I then asked my officials in the Department to pursue a policy that would involve the industrial training boards and the Central Training Council in providing a degree of industrial safety training for all the people covered by the curricula of the various industrial training boards. I am sure that it is fundamentally the right approach to make sure that everyone has a minimum at least of training for safety within industry.
I do not want to do anything other than pay tribute to the valuable work done by the voluntary bodies in safety training. But it seems to me that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in particular, which has its valuable work diffused over so many fields, perhaps ought to be approached to see whether it cannot establish some separate function which will concentrate entirely on industrial safety training, or that the Department itself should seek directly to involve itself, in a way in which it is not now, in order to promulgate industrial safety training, particularly the training of the safety officers, who would be required by the Bill, and of the safety representatives.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view. but the Department is already directly involved through the Factory Inspectorate.
§ Mr. Walker
I appreciate that the Factory Inspectorate at present gives a lot of advice and makes a direct contribution to training courses for industrial safety officers. I was thinking, however, of the extra expansion that would be required by the Bill. We must face the fact that not only would the Bill require that expansion but that the sombre statistics we have heard today require it.
I appreciate that the penalties proposed in the Bill are those which we had in the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill. But I thought then and think now that they are inadequate. I understand all the arguments of the Factory Inspectorate about the penalty approach and its weaknesses. Despite that, I think that the maximum fine of £300 is, in the light of current money values and of the consequences of industrial accidents, a far too meagre penalty. The penalty should bear far closer relationship to the disabling nature of accidents, to the hardship they can cause and to the need to provide a more adequate deterrent.
1 am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West would be the last to deny that the Bill will raise problems for industry. It is equally true that all legislation creates problems for someone. I have referred to Lord Shaftesbury's Act. If the House had listened to the prophecies of doom and the voices of the vested interests on that occasion, we might well have had the abysmal conditions of the 19th century lingering on into the 20th. Where human life and limb are at stake, these things should be seen not as a deterrent to action but as a means of overcoming the tragedies and losses which can occur.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
How far does my hon. Friend believe the investigation of the document he sent out has taken place with the T.U.C. and the employers? The Minister did not evaluate its status.
§ Mr. Walker
I think my hon. Friend is referring to what we described as the first consultative document, which was fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn in the Second Reading debate on the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill. She said:This is an immense and highly technical field"—she was referring to the scope of the document— 1140and the consultations have necessarily taken a great deal of time. They have been invaluable in highlighting the problems …" "and some excellent suggestions for improvements in our legislation have come out of them.It would be possible to go ahead with legislation of the kind envisaged in the first consultative document. A massive amount of detailed work would still be required, however … and the result would be one more traditional piece of legislation of the Factories Act type. This legislation, as I shall be the first to recognise, has many solid merits, but we have to admit that it has not succeeded in bringing down the number of industrial accidents to a level any of us would find acceptable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1970; Vol. 797. c. 60–61.]My right hon. Friend went on to announce the setting-up of the committee under Lord Robens. But it is important to stress again that the House was aware of the establishment of the Robens Committee when, without a Division, it then accepted the principles now embodied in the Bill. It is important to bear that in mind.
Although I, too, welcome the encouraging trend, I am sure that the Under-Secretary would be the first to recognise that over the years the statistics have been depressing. In the light of this, none of us can afford to be complacent. The fact that the undertaker is called twice a day by British industry and the fact that the ambulance has to call on British industry about 1,000 times every working day is a challenge to action. The Bill is a clear, positive and direct response to that challenge, and that is why I hope that we will have an opportunity to support it in the Lobby this afternoon.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
I came to the debate today with high hopes that at long last we should see some progressive legislation on this subject, especially as I raised the matter of industrial accidents and diseases in an Adjournment debate last December when the Under-Secretary answered. However, it is clear from his speech that those high hopes are in vain and that the Government are not even pretending to be able to support the Bill.
Although we have tried to avoid party politics in the debate, the division between the two sides of the House is only too clear, the emphatic support for the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) and the 1141 clear opposition to it by the Under-Secretary. I hope that people outside the House will recognise this clear difference.
The Under-Secretary's reply smacked of complacency. Not even a sense of urgency about the problem was to be detected. The words "not the right time" and "premature" are the death knell for any Private Member's Bill. Lord Robens's Committee is considering something, but we do not know when it will report, and yet in the last few weeks we have been under a guillotine to bring in industrial legislation which the Opposition have opposed strenuously while a Measure on which one could expect general House of Commons support is opposed by the Government. The Goverment regard the issue of strikes and relations between unions and employers as an urgent matter requiring instant legislation, whereas, although there are two deaths a day from accidents and 1,100 accidents a day requiring attention, these matters can wait and any legislation is "premature" and this is "not the right time".
The Government have given not one but four reasons for opposing the Bill. If there is more than one, I always suspect what the real reason is. The Robens Committee was one reason, but then the hon. Gentleman went on to say that on reflection he did not consider that legislation was necessarily the right way of tackling this problem at all. Having said that we must wait for the Robens Committee he then proceeded to give either his personal view, or the Government's view, that perhaps legislation was not required at all. What are they doing? Are they waiting for the Robens Committee to report, or have they decided that no legislation is necessary?
They say that perhaps we should stick to the voluntary aspect, which is quite opposite to their view in other industrial relations matters where the voluntary aspect is the last thing they seem to want to encourage. Another thing which apparently is not ideal is piecemeal legislation. Even though this is an urgent matter, piecemeal legislation is something rather abhorrent.
The third reason is whether this particular Bill, with these particular recommendations, will be effective. Regard- 1142 less of whether any Bill will be effective, the Minister questioned whether this Bill would provide a solution. He instanced Sweden and the legislation there for joint consultations, which he said had not dramatically reduced accidents.
The fourth reason for doing nothing, and not only for doing nothing but for opposing the Bill, is that according to the Minister joint consultations take place in 47.2 per cent of factories. That is nothing to be self-satisfied about. That is less than half, and we are faced in the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories with some frightening and tragic statistics.
We are given four separate arguments by the Minister. One wonders whether they all apply, or whether the real reason is simply one of them. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to this issue, and one wonders whether these are his views, or the Government's views, or perhaps in this instance both.
The Bill is urgently necessary in view of the slow treatment of this subject by successive Governments, perhaps because it is not a newsworthy subject. It it not one which inspires great emotion. But accidents are man made, and not acts of God, and unless man does something about them individually, in co-operation with others, or in Government, these accidents will continue. Safety at work is an investment, and the most efficient factories are those which are healthy and danger free.
We have learned that in advanced industrial countries generally, accidents and ill health at work are on the increase. This is obviously due, in many ways, to automation, to boredom, to frustration, to repetition of the job, the conditions under which the jobs are carried out, excessive noise, and so on. This is a matter which I believe cannot await a committee's report. Here we have a Bill which is not going to be a perfect solution—and one may call it piecemeal in a critical way—but it is a step forward. It will, if it goes onto the Statute Book create a climate of opinion and a climate of practice in factories.
Even the developing countries are accident and health educated. I went to Uganda, where I visited small, rather primitive textile mills which are being set up there. They hold classes and have classrooms for instructing people in 1143 safety and health at work. This is the modern thing to do if one wants an efficient, productive factory.
I believe that the Bill will go some way—but some way is better than no way—towards improving the whole position. It is said that a private Member has been forced to introduce a Bill on a subject which I think is a matter for Government legislation.
The responsibility for the safety and health of workers is primarily the Government's, but obviously the co-operation of management and employee is required. The older employee should set an example to the apprentice to show him that he should wear protective clothing and conform with the rules. But management varies from the efficient and the concerned to the negligent, from those who provide first aid rooms and propaganda and incentive schemes to others who just do not care and do not appreciate that it is an investment to do such things.
It is not the purpose of the Bill to compel anybody to do anything. It is clear throughout that it is possible for trade unions to set up committees and representatives, but they are not compelled to do so. They are simply given the right to appoint safety representatives. No compulsion is involved.
§ Mr. Buchan
In view of the criticisms which I have received for not listening to earlier discussions and changing the Bill, and having heard the statements of hon. Members opposite, I wonder whether our next Bill should have many more compulsory provisions in it.
§ Dr. Summerskill
If anything, the Bill verges on the voluntary rather than the compulsive. For instance, the purpose of a safety committee is stated to be to keepunder review circumstances in the factory which affect or may affect the safety of the persons employedin it. Every Member of Parliament knows what "to keep under review" means. We hear it every day at Question Time. It is perhaps unfortunate that that phrase should appear in the Bill.
I should like to take up a point which has not often been raised in the debate, and it concerns health as well as safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, 1144 West pointed out that the health aspect could perhaps be dealt with my Amendments in Committee. Safety in a factory very much depends on the general conditions in which people work—not so much on machines being guarded and protected, but on the humidity of the factory, the light, fresh air and space in which people work, and so on. The general health conditions are important.
There is no specific mention in the Bill of the Factory Inspectorate, but 1 am sure it is realised that if committees are set up with representatives they will have to work in liaison with factory inspectors; they must not work separately. There must be a good working co-operation between the trade unions and the factory inspectors. who are doing a good job with too few people and too little pay. They are doing their best in difficult circumstances.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West on introducing it. I deplore the fact that the Government are not able to support it on Second Reading.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) on securing a high place in the Ballot and introducing the Bill. I hope that he will accept my apology for not being able to he present when he moved the Second Reading. I had a constituency engagement to talk to a conference of sixth formers and returned to the House as soon as I was able to do so.
I agree with the remarks made by the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) and Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscamphell) about the social impact and social damage caused by the continuing high rate of accidents at work. But we are not discussing a Private Member's Motion on industrial accidents and the need to reduce the rate of them. Our purpose is not to parade a general concern about the rate of industrial accidents but to decide whether to give a Second Reading to a specific Bill. It seems to me that there is no inconsistency at all in expressing concern about the rate of accidents and in questioning at the same time whether this 1145 Measure is the appropriate way of dealing with it. The hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) herself said this was not an appropriate piece of legislation for a private Member to seek to get through the House and that the Government ought to legislate on this matter. I agree very much, and I hope that the Government will not delay too long before they come forward with positive proposals of this kind. Certainly I think that it is a matter for Government and not for private Member's legislation.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that the Bill was too important to become involved in political argumentation. If his speech was not an example of political argumentation I should hate to think what his speech would be like if it was meant to be political argumentation.
I was trying to keep the temperature down, but if before I made my speech I had heard the hon. Member's speech the temperature would have risen to a higher level.
§ Mr. Scott
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) and the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) raised the question of the timing of this Bill and contrasted the attitude of the Government and of the Opposition at the time of the Second Reading of the former Bill. There are a couple of points worth making about that. In the first place, the Robens Committee was not set up and appointed until 29th May, 1970. The other point is, and it is clear from the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on that occasion, that then we were discussing a different Bill: it was a Bill about health and safety, and my hon. Friend gave a general welcome to Part I of that Bill dealing with the health aspects.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I am quite sure I shall have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) when I say that if the Government want to bring in the health provisions and tack them on to this Bill—a procedure not unknown to this House—we on this side will welcome such a step.
§ Mr. Iremonger
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, that might be a very good idea, but it would not be within the Long Title of the Bill.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
Let me with the greatest respect tell the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) that the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, is precisely such an amalgam of a Private Member's Bill and a Government Bill.
§ Mr. Scott
After the interventions of the two hon. Members perhaps I can get on with my speech. The hon. Gentleman and I shared in the Committee work on that earlier Bill until the little local difficulty of the General Election intervened. We had a lot of discussion on the first part and I think the hon. Gentleman recognises that there was general agreement on that, and that where we took a different view was on Part II, and if we were to seek to tack on to this the health provisions of that Bill they would not come within the Long Title, and they could not be brought in at this stage.
Another point which has been made by more than one hon. Member—and I think the hon. Lady made it—has been to contrast the attitude of the Conservative Party in publishing "Fair Deal at Work" while the Donovan Commission was going on and this party's attitude now in postponing legislation while the Robens Committee is at work. There is a very real difference, surely the whole House would accept, between an Opposition party publishing a political pamphlet —by the Conservative Political Centre—at a time of great political discussion about the possibility of legislation for industrial relations and the Government being prepared to give their support to private Member's legislation at a time when a Government-appointed Committee—albeit, a Committee appointed by the Government's predecessors—is considering a major change and approach in industrial accidents legislation.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
That is not unusual. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) 1147 introduced a Private Member's Bill dealing with chronically sick and disabled people. It had the support of both sides of the House, and it went through while a Government inquiry into the situation was going on. That inquiry is still not completed. At least good work is being done under my hon. Friend's Measure. If the hon. Member wants perfection, that is all right, but we can have legislation now and perfection later. It saves lives and accidents.
§ Mr. Scott
It makes a real difference if both sides of the House are agreed on the approach made by a Bill. When this Bill, in its previous form, was discussed in the last Parliament the Conservative Party said that it did not agree with Part II. No attempt has been made by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) to obtain all-party support for the Bill. He has made no attempt to discover which parts of the Bill were objectionable to hon. Members on this side of the House. He has deliberately left the Bill in precisely the form in which it was introduced by the Labour Government. He obviously did not attempt to read the report of the Second Reading debate; he has blatantly introduced the Bill in the same form. In those circumstances, he has not made out his case.
I want to say why I do not think that it would be appropriate to give the Bill a Second Reading today. First, there is a disparity in the obligations laid upon the two sides of industry. I do not like situations in which responsibility and power are divorced. The trade unions seem to have the power to appoint representatives; the employers carry the can. Employers have penalties placed upon them, whereas there are no penalties for safety representatives. There are no suggestions of penalties.
§ Mr. Scott
The hon. Gentleman asks why there should be. The safety representatives are given specific responsibilities. What happens if an accident occurs and a person is badly injured, and the cause of the accident is traced back to a failure on the part of the safety representative to carry out the tasks laid upon him by this Measure? Is he liable 1148 to be sued? That question must be cleared up.
What about those large areas of industry which are not unionised. The majority of workpeople are not members of trade unions. Why should the provisions of the Bill be restricted solely to places where trade unions operate? In the Second Reading debate on the previous Bill, on 2nd March, 1970, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) made it clear why she thought that that should be the case. She said:As I said earlier, there will be no safety committees unless trade unions ask for them. Therefore, by definition there will have to be union organisation in a factory before the provisions of the Bill can apply. I hope that this will be another factor in encouraging union organisation among work-people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 53.]I, too, want to encourage trade union organisation, but I do not agree with an approach that uses vital safety legislation, which is important for all work-people, as a weapon to increase trade union membership. If we are to have safety legislation, one of the first principles is that it should be comprehensive and not restricted in this way.
Some hon. Members have referred to this Bill as a step forward in industrial democracy. If that is the case, I would rather have a comprehensive approach, so that safety representatives are elected by the workpeople concerned rather than appointed by the trade union, however representative it may be.
Large sections of British industry already operate good factory systems. I am not sure of the extent to which the imposition of this compulsory approach is likely to damage the safety standards in those firms.
§ Mr. Scott
I am trying to explain why I cannot agree that the Bill should be given a Second Reading. I am talking about what is in the Bill, and endeavouring to explain why I cannot support it as it stands, anxious as I am that the Government should bring in comprehensive legislation as soon as possible. I believe that with such a restricted approach we should be in grave danger of damaging the great increase in the voluntary approach to the control of accidents.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman is a decent chap and I rather like him, but he is ignoring some of the points made on precisely this question. For example, in the building industry one has safety regulations which ought to be observed but are not observed. The Bill will help to ensure that they are observed, and they can be best observed with good trade union organisation and with safety representatives coming from the unions.
§ Mr. Buchan
We on this side of the House are enormously disappointed to see the hon. Gentleman involving himself in what is happening here. Perhaps if he had been here earlier he might have been equally shocked. It was demonstrated earlier that comprehensive legislation, with no stated date, is years away. He has already admitted that this would be quite useful. For goodness sake, let him encourage his hon. Friends to approve the Measure. He should not let himself join with this gang of thieves.
§ Mr. Scott
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, if he will listen to the speech I am making—I hope that the Whip is not listening too closely to all the flattery from the other side—I hope that I can convince the hon. Gentleman that there is a case against the Bill. When I was on the Committee on the previous Bill I was under no illusion about the defects——
§ Mr. Speaker
I have no power to ask the hon. Gentleman to curtail his remarks, but we operate by certain convention. I was hoping to call the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) to wind up the case for the Bill between 3.40 and 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Scott
I will do my best, Mr. Speaker. May I outline one or two other defects of the Bill? If my case is not as comprehensive as it otherwise would have been, I hope that the House will understand. It is remarkable that in the Bill we have provisions for the 1150 appointment of safety representatives who will bear grave responsibilities which could, in some circumstances, be concerned with life and death and yet the only qualification which they have to have is that they shall not be under 18 years of age. If we are to have safety representatives, they ought to be properly qualified. They have to take reasonable steps to inform themselves of the requirements of the law. But beyond that, there ought to be provision for some training of these representatives and this ought to be built into the legislation. It is a grave defect that such a provision is not included.
Had the hon. Gentleman taken the trouble to read the proceedings of the Second Reading of the previous Government's Bill, he would have seen just how badly drafted this Bill is. I know that these are points which can be cleared up in Committee, but the Bill sets a new low in the standard of Parliamentary draftsmanship. Let me refer hon. Members to Clause 1(4), which reads:In this Act 'factory' has the same meaning as in the Factories Act 1961; and any provision of sections 123(1) and 125 to 127 of that Act which has effect to give to provisions of that Act an application extending beyond factories shall have the like effect in relation to this Act, but so that this subsection in so far as it relates to the application of this Act by virtue of sections 125 to 127 shall have effect subject to the provision made by Schedule 1 to this Act.That is one of the worst examples of cross-referencing and gobbledygook that I have ever seen in legislation. It was produced by the previous Government, and it may be that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West will be able to tell me afterwards what it means.
This sort of cross-referencing has been criticised by no less a person than the Master of the Rolls, and it is another argument in favour of having comprehensive legislation, so as to get away from the difficulty and complication which one encounters all too often today. This Bill is one of the worst examples of it.
If time permitted, I could go on picking out examples of complicated and difficult cross-referencing. Hon. Members must remember that, if this Measure ever found its way on to the Statute Book, it would be used by the safety representatives themselves, who would have to be 1151 aware of all its implications. In its present state, they would have to carry round with them other Acts of Parliament, and I think that that in itself is another argument in favour of the introduction of a comprehensive new set of provisions.
§ Mr. Scott
To my mind, this collection of defects adds up to a strong reason for not giving the Bill a Second Reading.
My final point is one that has been drawn attention to already, but I think that it bears repetition. It is the appropriateness of the timing. After all, the Robens Committee is looking at the whole problem, especially at the nature and extent of the voluntary action concerned with these matters and whether it is possible to identify the underlying causes of industrial accidents. The very questions that the Committee is asking are relevant to our discussion today. Its first question reads:Are any major changes needed in the nature of the existing legislation dealing with safety and health at work? Do existing statutory provisions deal with the right things? Arc they too general, too detailed, or too complex?Until we have that pattern from both sides of industry, I am surprised that anyone can argue that we should proceed with this Bill.
The Committee's second question reads:What is the present pattern of responsibilities for administering and enforcing legislation dealing with safety and health at work? Is it the right pattern?We should await the collection of the evidence.
I hope that it will be possible to have the report of the Committee early next year and that the Government will then be in a position to prepare legislation on the basis of it.
I am sorry to have been unhelpful, because I believe that there is general agreement about our concern for accidents. I can only ask the House to accept that I have genuine doubts about the 1152 approach adopted in the Bill. I have been doubtful about it from the time that I saw the previous legislation, and nothing that I have heard today convinces me of the need to change my mind.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to address the House, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) for permitting me to be associated with his Bill.
I will not take up the time of the House attempting to embellish the frightening statistics which have been quoted by my hon. Friends the Members for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and Consett (Mr. David Watkins). If there is any dispute about the Bill, it does not lie on the tragic proportions of the problem, any more than it lies on the fear that the problem is getting more frightening as the years go by.
When I was privileged to present my Bill in 1966, I was able to quote that in the previous year the number of reportable accidents in factories had risen from 268,000 to 293,000. I thought that that rather concluded the argument that the time for action really would not admit of delay. Since then the number has risen to 322,000. This is appalling. I do not believe that anyone will want to question that proposition.
If, as the Minister said, the figures for 1970 show any different trend, he certainly will not hear any cries of sour grapes from this side. I should imagine that this is a matter for national day of prayers. We shall reserve comment until we see the figures, but we shall be delighted if they indicate what the Minister suggested.
No one disputes the many reasons for these accidents. They are part of the price which we pay for living in a technological age. Industrial processes are becoming faster, industrial machinery is becoming heavier and more complicated, and the jobs are becoming more repetitive and hypnotic. No one suggests that these explanations mitigate the seriousness of the problem. They simply emphasise the need for doing something about it.
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), in an enlightened and compassionate speech, emphasised the sheer 1153 human suffering which shows through these figures. It is not easy for any of us imaginatively to enter into the experiences of the victims of accidents. At 4 o'clock we shall go away and turn our attention to other matters. Quite rightly, because there are other important matters to discuss. But to the victims of these accidents this is not one day's discussion; it is not even one unpleasant experience. They will live with the consequences, in many cases, day in, day out, week in, week out, for the remainder of their lives.
I should like to seize this opportunity to express agreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly the hon. Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) and for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), who said that the best employers fully appreciate that it is in their interests, too, to reduce these figures.
We have seen, from the work of Mr. Frank Bird and his associates in their recent approach to damage control, that it is becoming more obvious that increasing regard for costs and for safety in industry are not two different approaches, but one and the same approach. It is true that the companies with the best records in industrial safety are also the most successful. The unhappy aspect is that too many other companies are not characterised by enlightened self-interest if they can save a penny in the short run. They do not appreciate that they might even benefit economically in the long run.
There is no dispute in the House that, whatever the statistics may show and whatever our interpretation of them, one accident is too many. One method by which we can attempt to deal with this problem is that which is at present incorporated in the Factories Acts—namely, the provision of a code of conduct. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has already said, this is not the whole problem, because when we have the provision we have to enforce it. This may be one matter to which attention will be given when we come to the revision of the Factories Acts.
At the moment enforcement really rests on two factors. The first is the professional full time safety inspectors. I certainly join with hon. Members who paid tribute to them. Most of them are 1154 dedicated, highly qualified, very enthusiastic members of their profession. I am delighted to hear that their numbers are to be augmented. But no one pretends that they are able to do more than touch the fringe of the problem. Their resources simply are not adequate to the magnitude. There are so many factories and workplaces and so many calls on their time that even the majority of factories probably do not receive a visit from the Factory Inspectorate once in four years. Clearly, therefore, something has to be done at the workplace.
There has been discussion of the work of safety officers. In some industries, their presence is a statutory requirement. In many others, they are voluntarily introduced by management. Some of them are very good. Some are highly qualified, enthusiastic people intent upon doing a good job. The Institute of Industrial Safety Officers has given great thought and made a great contribution to the solution of the problem.
The difficulty is that the effectiveness of a safety officer or the ability of the officers selected may be dependent very much upon the management. Management might have selected a safety officer because he is eminently qualified for the job or because it has transpired that he was not successful as a night watchman. Once appointed, he may well find himself dismissed because he does not do his job well enough or becaue he does it too well. He is under the control of management. It is asking too much of human nature to say that the whole weight of dealing with the problem must rest on safety officers. We therefore turn to the solution incorporated in my hon. Friend's Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Consett has pointed out that it is not here in the House of Commons that accidents occur. The people best able to prevent accidents are those who are implicated in the processes at the workplace. If they can be persuaded to give just a little more attention to safety, this may provide a much greater solution to the problem than almost any other statutory provision that we could introduce.
This is education. That is what it is all about. We all know why accidents occur. For employees, it is always a 1155 little easier and a little less tiring to do something dangerously than to do it safely. It is easier to load the gun in the tank if one takes the guard away. I have been guilty of this, too. There was a time when I worked in the pits. I recollect taking the guard off a dangerous piece of machinery because I knew that I could do the job more easily with the guard off. There is the same kind of temptation for employers. It is always a little cheaper and faster not to provide carefully-designed, expensive, safe machinery or a safe system of working.
To give an example of the way in which accidents arise, I was told of a press, which pressed out the entire body of a car, which was operated by five men. There was a safety device to ensure that the press would not descend until a certain button had been pressed which placed a guard around the table. It was discovered by the team that they could increase their rate of production—and. therefore, increase their earnings—if they disconnected the guard. One of them, being an amateur electrician, did precisely that. They then discovered that four of them could lift the car on to the table. That left the fifth man free to press the button which brought the press down.
They were obviously incredibly stupid, but we know the sort of situation which arises in the works and of the need to increase one's earnings. One might have thought that it was somebody's job to look at what they were doing, but since they had increased production, management was satisfied with the situation and did not make inquiries.
The inevitable therefore happened. One day the fifth member of the team missed the signal that it was safe to press the button. He pressed it while his four colleagues were manoeuvring the car into position. When the press rose again, it left on the table the pressed out body of a car and four pairs of arms shorn off at the elbows.
That is what the Bill is intended to deal with. If there were more time, one could elaborate at much greater length. The intention is that there shall be people at the workplace whose job it is to have responsibility, accepted voluntarily, to direct their minds to these matters, not only discussing them in the safety com- 1156 mittee or making suggestions to management, but going round talking to their colleagues and saying, "Look, Charlie, what you are doing is precisely what we talked about in the safety committee last Friday". A colleague who would perhaps resent this comment if it came from the foreman would accept it from one of his own colleagues. I have seen an example of a good safety committee in operation, and I am certain that it made that kind of contribution.
Therefore, what are the objections to incorporating these provisions. As I understand them, they are two-fold. First, there was the objection of the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) and the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) that in some way the unions acquire power without responsibility. That is a good political tag; it looks well in the text books. But what precisely is the danger that the hon. Gentlemen foresee in this situation?
The hon. and learned Member for Solihull said that in some ways the unions might impede management in carrying out its responsibilities. Can the hon. Gentleman give an example? In what way would the safety committee make the workplace more dangerous? At the end of the hon. Gentleman's speech I was still waiting for such an example.
If someone accepts responsibility for assisting and advising the management in the carrying out of its responsibilities, the management will have no reason to complain. There are not two sides to industry in this matter. There are not two parties to an argument. Everyone has a single interest in reducing accidents.
The other argument against the Bill is simply that we are waiting for Robens. We have been waiting for the right moment since 1927. In 1927 factory accidents had reached the intolerable level of 156,000, a little over half what they are now. The then Government felt that something had to be done; so they produced a draft safety Order insisting on workplace safety organisation in certain factories. That Order was held up to give the voluntary system one more chance.
The voluntary system had one more chance again in 1966. Since then there have been. as the Minister quite properly 1157 said, very many workplaces where there have been more safety committees. We are legislating for just those workplaces which do not care sufficiently about safety to appoint a committee. These are the very ones which are in need of precisely that kind of advice and responsibility.
So today we have to decide what can be done about them. Hon. Members opposite have made certain proper criticisms. My hon. Friend the promoter has
§ Whereupon Mr. Speaker declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.