Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this amendment we shall take Opposition Amendments No. 37, in page 7, line 35, leave out 'three' and insert 'two', and No. 38, in page 7, line 37, leave out 'three' and insert 'two'.
Amendment No. 135, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), in line 38, leave out ' and ' and insert:'(c) as to two others, consult the Council of Engineering Institutions; and '.and further Opposition Amendments No. 39, in line 39, leave out ' any ' and insert the ', and 40, in line 39, leave out 'he may appoint'.
§ Mr. Madel
In Committee, although we talked a lot about what the commission can do, we said little about its composition. Far be it from me to anticipate the Under-Secretary of State's reply to Amendment No. 135, but I 373 suspect that it will be that consultations as to who shall be on the commission are open-ended and wide. In Committee we wanted to stipulate that the medical profession would be consulted, but we were told that anyone could be consulted and the medical profession would not be ruled out.
But since then we have had second thoughts. First, we are not proposing any change in the number of commissioners; we are not trying to increase or reduce the number. But we want to avoid any danger—or at least minimise the risk—of the traditional CBI-TUC tug of war. By having a three-a-side commission, we should be merely transferring the argument from one room to another.
We also want to re-emphasise the desperate need for expertise to be wedged between the two sides of the commission. The commission may be receiving a mass of medical and scientific advice. Although anyone can find answers to any questions the commission may ask, what matters is that the commission can provide the answers to questions. Pushing up the number of independent people who could be appointed would further strengthen the commission.
We suggest that two members of the commission should be appointed after consultation with the CBI and two after consultation with the TUC, and up to five members appointed with regard to other bodies. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give a pledge that the full membership of nine will be appointed to the commission, because we think it essential that the full number should be appointed. This is such a new and important step, with considerable scientific and medical implications, that we feel it necessary to have the full nine members, five of them being from groups other than those associated with the CBI and the TUC.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
I am aware of the lateness of the hour and propose to be very brief in speaking to Amendment No. 135. It springs primarily from the concern expressed by people in the mining industry at the absorption of the Mines Inspectorate within the general framework of the Bill.
This matter has been discussed previously by representatives of the industry 374 with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I have read the Committee proceedings and I am aware that the Government have resisted all attempts to have any separate arrangements for the mining industry, despite the widely expressed concern. I understand the Government's reasons. Indeed, my right hon. Friend said that the Bill would fall apart if the Mines Inspectorate was to be dissociated. Therefore, Amendment No. 135 is the least that can be done to try to meet the anxieties expressed in the mining industry in this respect.
I am aware that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have given assurances about their intentions, and I am not questioning their good faith. But assurances are one thing and legislative provision is another. People move on to other jobs; empires can be built and one part of a concern might become less important than it was.
I shall give an example of the sort of thing which I fear might happen if there is not some engineering representation on the commission. A substantial grant is now made towards safety research in the mining industry, within the Department of Energy. We have, for instance, the research establishment for safety in mines at Buxton, which has done a lot of good work over 50 years, but I am sure that the people employed at the establishment would be the first to agree that a great deal of work in safety research in the mining industry is still needed. After the Bill goes through the grant will not go directly to the Department but to the commission, which will determine the priorities as to where the sum will be spent.
If the commission is composed as at present proposed the mining industry will suffer. There will be pressures even from the research establishment itself, which will see opportunities to widen its empire and a widening of the scope to other industries will mean an inevitable weakening of effort directed specifically to mining and there will proportionately be less emphasis towards research in the mining industry.
It is because of the peculiar situation of the mining industry that I have put down the amendments in my name.
375 I remind the House that there is no mining industry in the world, or if I am not correct in that, at least there is no mining industry in Europe not directly responsible through a mines inspectorate for the safety of its operations to a Minister in Parliament. The Bill will alter that situation completely. The mines inspectorate will be responsible to the commission on which there might not be even a single professional engineer.
It may have escaped the notice of the House, and of Ministers, that an expert knowledge of safety matters in his industry is the unique professional requirement of the mining engineer. Before he is allowed to practice his calling he is obliged to pass a stiff examination in practical and theoretical requirements for safe working of mines. There are detailed and voluminous regulations and intimate acquaintance with them is required. These regulations have not been conjured up out of the air—they are, in effect, the codifying of what is at any time the best current engineers' safety practice, and they are constantly being revised by engineers in the mining industry.
There was a great deal of discussion earlier when my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) attempted to have his new Clause 2 passed about the tragic accident in Scunthorpe and about whether through a certain type of planning procedure it might have been avoided. While the example given by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) might have been avoided by having a planning arrangement which went before a safety commission, the Flixborough accident would have happened irrespective of whether such an arrangement had existed, precisely for the reason that the changes which must have taken place in the industry in Flixborough were natural evolutionary changes which are taking place all the time in all industries.
What is needed is something to keep abreast of the changes which are taking place daily. A good example is to be found in the coal mining industry. It might surprise hon. Members to know that in 1967, or possibly a little earlier, around 1963 or 1964, as much as four-fifths of the output of coal in this country was mined outside the roof support regulations. The regulations were not 376 sufficiently modern and adapted to cater for the new technical type of mining. But the mining industry got round this great difficulty by having a system in which the mines inspectorate was able at local level to grant exemptions from the regulations.
It is one thing for an inspector to grant an exemption from regulations when the inspector is responsible directly to a Minister. It might be a different thing if the inspector is responsible to a commission which may not have one engineer represented upon it. That, briefly, is the case. There may be an argument put forward by the Minister to the effect that it is all very well to ask for some particular class of people to be on the Commission but that this could lead to similar requests from lots of organisations, from the medical profession and from bodies such as RoSPA.
My case is that the engineers on the Council of Engineering Institutions are a generalised body of people, in the same way that employers and work people are generalised bodies. They do not represent a narrow front. The least that might be done to reconcile the anxiety of the mining industry and the wishes of the Government would be for them to accept the proposals contained in my amendment.
§ Mr. Michael Latham
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) will, I hope, forgive me if I address my remarks to Amendment No. 36 rather than to his amendment, about which he has spoken so eloquently.
I was heartened by the remarks of the Under-Secretary in Committee. Dealing with a similar amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) he said:The Government are reluctant to commit themselves to additional membership from those who have particular interests to represent. The Government feel that the commission should contain an independent element which would not represent any organisation and, therefore, would not be obliged to consult it or speak on its behalf or take into account its policy. Such an element could bring an independent judgment into the work of the Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th May, 1974; c. 118.]That seemed to be an important statement and I was therefore glad to see my hon. Friend's amendment. When the Government come to set up the corn-mission it is important that the people on 377 it should be independent people, of independent judgment. If too high a proportion of the six out of nine, as the Bill says, are nominated by the TUC and CBI they will inevitably tend to be the sort of people who are always nominated by such organisations. They will be the "safe" people, people with a great deal of experience but not necessarily people with new ideas.
From my previous experience in trade associations I know that there is difficulty in finding people to serve on such bodies. When the Minister comes to appoint independent members I hope there will not be the usual Whitehall trawl and we will not be looking again at the "safe" men, distinguished as they are. I hope that we will look for new people with new and dynamic ideas to handle these new problems. We do not want "safe" men or even responsible men. We want the best men and the more independent they are the better.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). At first sight what is proposed in the Bill appears unexceptionable, particularly as the subsection requires the Secretary of State only to consult organisations representing employees and employers, rather than to take their recommendations. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) has said, there has been a tendency to read "nominate" for "consult" and this would mean that we would tend to get the pure nominees, the "safe" men, from these organisations.
It is important that we should ask at least for an assurance from the Minister that the consultation should take place and that he should put foremost the question of qualifications and expertise in health and safety matters, and not rely solely on the advice of these two bodies.
If the Minister is not prepared to accept all our amendments he might accept Amendment No. 36, which increases the minimum number of members to seven. The first six men would be appointed after consultation with the employers' and employees' organisations. When those posts were filled the final three, for which the Bill allows at present, would not be filled. This is largely hypothetical, but that could be the situation.
378 My hon. Friend has pressed for the maximum number on the commission. I support that. If we increase the minimum number to seven it removes the hypothetical situation I have suggested. It is an amendment the Minister could accept completely fairly without going against anything which has been said on this matter by either side. We prefer that he should accept all the amendments standing in our names.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The hon. Gentleman is seeking by these amendments to restrict the rôle of industrial organisations, unions and employer associations by putting them in a minority even if they act in concert on the commission. The Opposition say that my right hon. Friend should have to appoint at least three other members, rather than one, to join the industrial members. That seems somewhat surprising. Assuming the identification of some hon. Gentleman opposite with the CBI, it is surprising that they should put forward this proposal. The CBI had the opportunity on several occasions to express its views about this and other parts of the Bill. It thinks we have the balance about right.
I appreciate the concern of the hon. Gentleman who moved these amendments. There should be plenty of room on the commission for representatives of specialist, such as medical or educational, interests.
We are retracing the ground we covered in the Standing Committee. I do not think I ought to vary the view I expressed on that occasion.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) quoted the OFFICIAL REPORT, c. 118. If he will look at my other remarks he will see the reservations I expressed and the difficulties I saw about writing in any commitment to take on other groups and interests.
The provisions of the clause as at present drafted have been carefully drawn up to strike a proper balance of interests. It is right that industry should have the major voice in formulating the policies because industry is more directly concerned. These policies will affect them more directly than anyone else. Industry should have a voice that will be adequate in ensuring that the policies affecting them are effectively administered on a day-to-day basis.
379 Other interests should be directly represented on the commission. We have been vigorously lobbied by all kinds of interests. Even recognising what my hon. Friend says about the general nature of the Council of Engineering Institutions I am not sure that it is as general as he suggests or that it would welcome being described in such a way. There are other professional groupings. The chemical engineers might feel entitled to representation.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis
The council represents all kinds of engineers—including chemical, marine, mechanical and civil engineers.
§ Mr. Walker
There are other groupings of professional engineers outside the council.
I will not go over the reservations of coal mining interests. Some feel that the presence of a qualified mining engineer on the commission would ensure that the miners' interests and concerns were adequately looked after. But it is an odd assumption that the amendment would guarantee that the council's representative on the commission would be a mining engineer.
The Bill allows for interests other than the TUC and CBI to be represented, but the expert interests would probably play a more valuable part on the specialist committees. The amendments are counter to the spirit of the Bill and the Robens Report, which emphasised direct industrial participation in the new arrangements. I think we have the balance right. I will certainly take into account what the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) said about the consultative process, but I should not commit myself as I have been asked to do.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
Is it intended to fill the commission with its maximum of nine members? Second, why is not a minimum of seven as reasonable as six? It would not upset the balance of the Bill.
§ Mr. Walker
I think that we have got the proportion right. I am prepared to consider increasing the minimum from six to seven, but it would be wrong to give a commitment. There would, of course, be no point in providing for nine places unless one intended to fill them, but we 380 should be able to be flexible in our timing.
§ Amendment negatived>