§ Mr. Harold Walker
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 9, leave out:'and agricultural health and safety regulations.I understand that with this we are to take a fairly long list of interrelated amendments, and I apologise in advance both for the length of the list and for the fairly lengthy speech that I propose to make in asking the House to agree to these amendments.
During the Second Reading debate there was considerable criticism from both sides of the House of the special provisions made for agriculture. These have the effect of excluding the Health and Safety Commission from anything to do with health and safety matters relating exclusively to agriculture. Under the Bill as at present drafted, the agriculture 276 Ministers would be solely responsible for making regulations concerned exclusively with agriculture, and they would be solely responsible for the enforcement of statutory provisions so far as they concern agricultural matters.
The criticisms of these special arrangements were repeated in Standing Committee, and the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) put down amendments to delete all the provisions which created or contributed to these special arrangements. They wanted agriculture to be treated under the legislation and under the new health and safety organisation on basically the same footing as all other industries.
The proposed amendments resulted in a very good and constructive discussion in Committee. I think that all members of the Committee recognised the administrative problems which arise because of the way in which the agriculture industry is organised—with many small units scattered over wide and often remote areas, frequently without employees, and involving special factors such as hazards to children. They recognised that these problems might call for exceptional solutions in terms of the organisation of enforcement, even if they did not agree with the provisions put forward in the Bill. As the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said in Committee, the arguments for and against those special provisions are finely balanced. Members of the Committee were anxious that I and my colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture should consult further with the industry, and that we should look again at the whole matter. On the basis that I would do that, and that the matter would be discussed again on Report, the hon. Members kindly agreed to withdraw their amendments.
As a result of our careful reconsideration, their amendments now appear again on the Order Paper, but this time in my name—and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Consett has added his to it—with one important consequential which I shall mention later. I hope that the House will bear with me if I give a fairly full explanation of the thinking behind the changes that we are now proposing and of how we see future arrangements operating in respect of agriculture
277 Since we discussed the Bill's provisions in Committee, I have seen both the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and the National Farmers' Union. Needless to say, the Secretary of State and I have also had extensive discussions with the Minister of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretary, who have also had talks with those interested organisations.
As a result of these talks, we have come to the conclusion that, while some special arrangements are indeed needed because of the scattered structure of the industry—and, in particular, arrangements which utilise the considerable expertise of the agriculture departments—these special arrangements need not, and should not, entail the exclusion of the commission from health and safety matters which are peculiar to agriculture.
As several members of the Committee argued most forcefully, we are setting up a new organisation specifically and solely concerned with health and safety as affected by the activities of all industry. Many agricultural activities, and the hazards they cause, are becoming more and more akin to those in industry generally. It therefore seems right in principle that this new health and safety organisation should be responsible for health and safety in agriculture in the same way as for other industries.
This view was put to us particularly strongly by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, with the full support of the TUC. The National Farmers' Union would, I know, prefer the separate arrangements at present provided for in the Bill; but it made clear to me that its main concern is with the practical everyday situation; namely that health and safety matters should be dealt with by people with knowledge of, and the confidence of the industry. So long as our arrangements do not prejudice that, I believe that the National Farmers' Union will be content, and I hope that what I am proposing today will meet its main concerns, as well as those of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and the TUC.
The Government recognise, as the Robens Committee itself recognised, that special machinery will be needed to operate an effective safety régime in agriculture, but on reflection we have concluded 278 that this operational problem need not—indeed, should not—condition where the ultimate responsibility should lie, and that where safety is concerned the balance of argument and advantage rests with arrangements which do not leave this most important industry to be treated as an "industry apart". The general effect of the amendments which we have tabled is, therefore, to bring safety in agriculture fully within the scope of the commission's responsibilities and those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. These proposals will, I am sure, be welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett and the hon. Member for Carlton, who, with others, so convincingly argued the case for this structural change in the Bill.
As I mentioned earlier, in putting down these amendments we have proposed one additional change not proposed by the hon. Members in Committee. We have included amendments which will enable the agriculture Ministers, where appropriate, to exercise the powers to make regulations. In practice, the system will work as follows: the commission will be responsible for shaping the policy for safety and health in agriculture. It will be assisted in this by an advisory committee which shall have members drawn from both sides of the fanning industry. After consultation with the agriculture departments and other farming interests—and the commission is, of course, statutorily required to consult all appropriate bodies—the commission will formulate proposals for regulations. In many instances this will be a matter of dovetailing the arrangements for agriculture with those for other industries, so as to arrive at "across the board" regulations which will be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. But where there are regulations applying exclusively to agriculture—for example, on matters such as children on farms, or the safe custody of bulls—these can be made jointly by the employment and agriculture Ministers within the new provisions that we are proposing in Clause 15(1) and elsewhere, which enable the agriculture Ministers to exercise these powers.
As regards enforcement, the commission will have the responsibility, under the Employment Secretary, for the adequate enforcement of all the statutory 279 provisions. Here I must remind the House that the Bill is designed to cater not only for the 65,000-or-so farms where hired workers are employed but—for the first time—for the nearly 180,000 family farms and the like where there are no employees. We have concluded that effective coverage of this substantial territory could best be achieved if staffs of the agriculture departments, who have been trained in safety and are regularly visiting farms for this and other purposes, undertake enforcement duties in the normal course. We are therefore proposing that for this purpose the commission, using the powers in Clause 13(1) would enter into an agency agreement with the agriculture departments concerning enforcement arrangements which would enable the latter's inspectorial resources to be deployed on the commission's behalf and to its specifications. I very much hope that these arrangements will meet both the wishes of the National Farmers Union, which is anxious that farmers should continue to deal with people whom they know and trust, and the concern of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers which wants to see the commission made responsible for ensuring the adequacy of enforcement in agriculture as in other industries.
But inspections and other forms of surveillance, however important, are not an end in themselves. They must be complemented by advisory work and by other measures to create an awareness of the need for safety precautions and to prevent accidents at source. Here, too, the agency agreement will enable the unique resources and machinery already available in the agriculture departments, reaching out, as they do, to be accessible to every farm in the land. The Agricultural Pesticides Scheme, based largely upon the Department's laboratories, is a case in point. This non-statutory scheme, which is concerned with food standards, user safeguards, wildlife protection and soil residues, is substantially outside the scope of the health and safety arrangements for which the commission will be responsible. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friends have already agreed that the commission, in any arrangements which it may make for the control of toxic substances used in industry, will be able to draw fully and freely upon the scien 280 tific experience available in the existing Pesticides Scheme Committee.
Thus, the sum effect of the Government's proposals is to ensure that the future strategy for health and safety in agriculture develops as an integral part of the national provision for industry generally, and to do this by placing the whole under the aegis of the commission. In the exercise of its overall responsibility the commission will have the benefit of advice from a specialist agricultural committee and the agency agreement which I have described will enable it to utilise inspectorial and other resources of the agriculture departments to best effect. On behalf of my right hon. Friends, I commend these arrangements to the House as desirable, sensible and workmanlike.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I feel almost like one of those people who in dreams are transposed from their present lives back into years past. It is a little over four years since I last made a speech in this House on agriculture, and slightly longer since I last spoke from the Opposition Dispatch Box.
At the outset I must declare my interest, because many hon. Members will have forgotten it. I farm, and I am a member of the National Farmers' Union.
As I find myself dealing with the interests of agriculture from the point of view of the Opposition, I have in the past 48 hours read with great interest the debates in Committee and on Second Reading and, much as I hate to begin on a contentious note, I must begin by criticising the fact that there is no representative of the Ministry of Agriculture sitting on the Treasury Bench. During the past three years, when I spent many hours sitting where the Government Whip is at present, this was not allowed to happen, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will express, through the Chief Whip, the Opposition's great displeasure that no Minister is present.
We all welcome any measure designed to improve health and safety on farms. I agree very much with the Under-Secretary of State for Employment that farming methods are becoming much more complicated as time goes by, and hence that the danger to health and safety is becoming greater.
281 A few weeks ago, at the beginning of May, I was much impressed to receive a letter from RoSPA concerning National Farm Safety Year and the society's plans for it. I was so impressed by it that at the time, little knowing that I should find myself with the responsibilities that I have today, I wrote to all the local newspapers in my constituency hoping that they would draw attention to the alarming figures of farm deaths and injuries. In this island, in the four years 1969–73, no fewer than 637 people were killed on farms, of whom 127 were children under 15, and no fewer than 36,453 were injured in that time.
We all welcome steps to improve safety, but the question which I ask myself—[Interruption.] I am very pleased to see that we now have an agriculture Minister with us. We welcome him to the debate.
I am not so far convinced by the Under-Secretary's argument that these amendments will improve safety. We look upon them solely from that point of view. To begin with, it is essential to refute any suggestion that in questioning these amendments we resist the putting back of agriculture into the Bill. Agriculture has always been in the Bill. This was fully explained and understood in Committee. No one should try to pretend that in questioning the amendments we are opposed to that. Our only reason for questioning them is to make sure that safety on farms is looked after in the best possible way.
There are a number of questions which emerge from what the Under-Secretary has told us. First, with regard to regulations and Amendment No. 57, we understand that the Minister of Agriculture has powers to make regulations both singly and jointly with the Secretary of State for Employment. But we understand from what the hon. Gentleman told us that that Minister will not really be allowed to make them alone. The hon. Gentleman said that the Secretary of State will take the initiative, that he will consult various bodies and that, after consulting the Minister of Agriculture, he will produce them jointly with that Minister. In other words, the initiative will be almost entirely with the Secretary of State for Employment, and I feel that there is no good reason for that.
In my view it would be best if the Minister of Agriculture were to produce these regulations alone. After all, his 282 Department is the most expert in these matters, as the hon. Gentleman implied when he talked about the expertise of the Department a few moments ago. I do not see why the Minister of Agriculture should not consult the Safety Commission and the Department of Employment, and why the whole process should not be done the other way round.
The Under-Secretary almost agreed with that in Committee. He said thatagriculture Ministers should also be responsible for making the regulations affecting farms since they are to be responsible for their enforcement. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th May 1974, c. 143.]He said that then, but he has changed his mind drastically since.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Ministers should go into Committee with closed minds and not be responsive to the arguments from both sides of the Committee?
§ Mr. Jopling
All I said was that the Minister had changed his mind and, with respect to him, he has not given very many good reasons for doing so. But I shall have more to say about that in a moment.
I find it disappointing to hear that the commission will be putting forward proposals for the regulations and that the Secretary of State will he the vehicle for bringing them forward.
Moving on to other matters, I must ask about inspection, which is dealt with in Clauses 19 and 20. It is essential that the people who go on to farms to deal with safety should be helpful and should understand farming. There could be no worse arrangement than for people to go on to farms to deal with safety who had no feel for or understanding of farming and no experience of dealing with farmers.
I welcome the news that in future the situation will continue where the Minister of Agriculture's field officers are the inspectors with regard to farm safety. They call on farms already with a variety of tasks and topics. I understand that safety takes about 30 per cent. of their time but that in general they have an understanding of and sympathy for what is happening on farms.
The question I must ask is: to whom are these field officers to be responsible? This is a crucial question, to which the 283 Under-Secretary did not apply himself in what he had to say to the House.
It is essential that we keep the hierarchical structure in the Ministry of Agriculture. There are 31 divisional safety officers, eight regional safety officers, and a certain headquarters staff in London. The Under-Secretary spoke of the agency arrangements which will be entered into, but where will the line be drawn between the field officers on the ground and the people to whom they are responsible? It would be nonsense to have the field officers responsible to two Departments—to the Ministry of Agriculture for 70 per cent. of their work and to the Department of Employment for 30 per cent. of it. I cannot believe that that would be an efficient arrangement. There must be a chain of supervision and communication, and in one Department alone.
I think that the Minister agreed with that point of view in Committee, because he said:I think that the hon. Gentleman would be sensitive, with his own expert knowledge of industrial management, to the kind of problem that would arise when the field officers would then be working for two masters. They might be called upon to give priority to the work of both masters, with no one to say to which of their duties they should give most of their time, perhaps in an emergency, and so on."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th May 1974; c. 143.]We must have a straight answer to the question: to whom will these field officers be responsible? We must know what the commission's specification will be for inspection.
I turn now to the enforcement aspect. It is not clear from what the Minister said who will be responsible for enforcing these regulations. It would be much the best thing if the Ministry of Agriculture brought any prosecutions that might be necessary. I do not believe that it will be necessary to drag in local authorities. If a prosecution has to be brought, it is better that the employer of the inspector should bring it. It would be more straightforward and satisfactory.
It is essential to maintain good relations between farmers and field officers. Relations are good at the moment. It would be unfortunate if at a prosecution, the field officer appeared as the agent of a body which did not employ him.
284 Clause 18(7)(a), as I read it, provides for arrangements to be made for the Ministry of Agriculture to be the enforcement body. Does the Under-Secretary agree that there is nothing in the Bill to debar the Ministry of Agriculture from being the enforcing authority? Will he, in reply, indicate clearly the rôle of the Ministry of Agriculture in the enforcement of these regulations?
I turn now to the general principles. Why has the Under-Secretary changed his mind so drastically since the Committee stage? In Committee, he said:That is why I think that we have rightly provided in the Bill instead for the Minister of Agriculture to take responsibility for health and safety on farms, so that he can be responsible for the enforcement of health and safety requirements by his field officers and co-ordinate that aspect of their work with their other duties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th May 1974, c. 143.]That was a very firm statement. The Under-Secretary has not told us why he has changed his mind in the intervening few weeks. In what way will safety be better looked after as a result of these amendments?
The hon. Gentleman said that the Minister of Agriculture was about to tighen up on farm safety. We understood that the Minister was to negotiate with the National Union of Farmworkers and the National Farmers' Union, to strengthen the inspectorate, to reorganise methods and to set up central and regional farm safety councils. Why could the Minister not wait until these new arrangements had time to work and to see how they worked? The fact is that he has done a monumental U-turn on this matter.
The hon. Gentleman has also weakened the standing of the Ministry of Agriculture. Undoubtedly, this is a slap in the face for the Ministry. By lowering the prestige of the Ministry of Agriculture, in turn we lower the morale of farmers. It may be difficult for some hon. Members to understand, but the weakening of the Ministry of Agriculture implies to farmers that the Government of the day have a decreasing interest in agriculture. This is no time to show that the Government are taking a decreasing interest in agriculture. Currently, we have the most serious situation in the industry that I can recall. My farming constituents today are more despondent than I have ever 285 known. Indeed, the statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Luxembourg today has done nothing to help relieve the situation.
Why has the Under-Secretary changed his mind? Could it be—I do not put this in any belligerent way—that he has been leant on by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers? Could it be that this decision is more about politics than farm safety?
The Under-Secretary said that he hoped the NFU would agree to what was proposed. If not, will he undertake to change his mind yet again? The hon. Gentleman talked about flexibility of mind and hoped that the NFU would agree with this proposal. If not, will he consider making more arrangements to suit the NFU?
How will safety be improved by this clouding and confusing of the administrative system that is proposed? We require an answer. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider and answer the questions that I have put to him.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Watkins
I support the amendments, many of which are word for word identical with those tabled in Committee by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) and me and debated on my motion. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I feel suitably flattered.
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) made great play of an alleged sudden change of attitude by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. In Committee my hon. Friend indicated that he had already started to examine the whole subject and how our points might be met. He said that the tabling of the amendments had had a salutary effect upon him. I am glad that that has had the effect of speeding up his tabling of these amendments.
The points made by those of us who supported the amendments in Committee have been met as to about 80 per cent. by these amendments. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I have shown my gratitude in a practical form by adding my name to those amendments which are identical to those that I proposed in Committee and which I feel have gone 286 so far towards meeting the points that we then sought to make.
The appreciation on my part is little compared with that of people working in agriculture for the fact that there is to be this new and determined approach to the problem in the industry.
First and foremost, agriculture is a highly dangerous industry with an extremely high accident rate. With construction and mining, it is in the top league of dangerous industries regarding the number of fatal and other accidents. It is a highly mechanised industry involving the use of a great deal of dangerous machinery. It uses more and more chemicals, with all the attendant dangers to those who have to handle them. It has no effective safety committees, no safety officers, and an abysmal record and level of enforcement.
This is the crux of what we are seeking to do. We are trying to rectify the situation. The nature of the industry indicates that something must be done. It is no use arguing in favour of the status quo, which has manifestly failed to come to terms with the high level of accidents in the industry. I do not think that there is any argument against giving the commission ultimate control over health and safety with the consultative arrangements embodied in the clauses to which my hon. Friend referred. I welcome the amendments.
§ Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)
I feel sure that in the course of our many debates on industrial safety the Under-Secretary of State will have reached the conclusion that I am no particular respecter of Governments of any colour on this subject. Therefore, he will not have expected me to express my approval of the amendments by adding my name to them. Indeed, I have never in the whole of my political life demeaned myself by adding my name to amendments tabled by any Government, and I do not intend to start now.
I am sorry that I am at odds with my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). However, I assure the Under-Secretary that I am delighted that he has had the good sense to listen to the arguments advanced by his hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) and, to a less extent, by myself in Committee and on Second Reading, 287 when a number of other hon. Members pursued the same lines. I do not cavil at his change of heart. I welcome it. I fully support what he is trying to do in these amendments, recognising, as the hon. Member for Consett recognised, that they are in some cases word for word the amendments that we in our modest way proposed in Committee. I welcome the amendments. Should there be any dissension at the end of the debate, the Under-Secretary will find that I stand by my support for them and for him.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
First, I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) back to the Front Bench as a Conservative spokesman on agriculture along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). My hon. Friend put the case against the amendment very lucidly. That shows how fortunate we are in having on the Opposition side of the House Members such as my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart).
I start on a contentious note by saying how extremely disappointing it is to a Scotsman to find no representative of the Scottish Office on the Government Front Bench this afternoon. That is really intolerable. Not only do we begin the debate without a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture—although that representative is now present—but we are still without any Minister from the Scottish Office. The debate affects the Scottish Office, as I shall explain. I shall expect answers from the Scottish Office before the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Michael Latham
Does not my hon. Friend consider it even more extraordinary that there is no representative from the Scottish Office when there are amendments which are to be moved by "Mr. Secretary Ross" later this evening?
§ Mr. Monro
Perhaps the mysterious gentleman will arrive later to deal with his amendments, or perhaps someone else will move them on behalf of the Government. This is a serious point. We are used to having debates which affect Scotland at the Report stage of a United Kingdom Bill. Certainly when the Conservative Party was in Government it was 288 always the custom that a Minister from the Scottish Office was in attendance to answer points raised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland spoke of the importance of the Bill and said that we welcomed it. However, I want to talk about the very narrow issue of the amendment about agriculture. As we know, the Bill started out with agriculture in a special position, with safety to be the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland and of the Minister of Agriculture in England. The Under-Secretary has made great play, in the debates on Second Reading and in Committee, about discussion. On Second Reading there was a fairly minimal discussion—it was hardly mentioned—and certainly not of sufficient importance to account for the somersault that he has now turned. I agree that in Committee the Minister seemed far from happy about it. He preferred the original draft to the Bill and was kicked into touch by saying that he would bring up this matter on Report—to give him time so that he was not defeated in Committee.
The weight of evidence that the Under-Secretary has put forward is minimal. Therefore, it must be what has transpired between the Committee stage and Report stage that has changed his view. The hon. Gentleman says that he has seen the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and the National Farmers' Union in England. But has he met and had discussions with the Scottish National Farmers' Union? Has he had discussions with the Scottish Landowners Federation, which has been very interested in the Bill from the start? I should like answers to those questions before the end of the debate.
Farmers and those who employ agricultural workers are exceptionally keen on farm safety. This keenness is frequently prompted by farm safety committees, their organisers and practical demonstrations. They have a serious interest in the wellbeing and safety of farm workers. That is extremely important but it is not the vital issue of this debate. The vital issue is who is to be responsible for farm safety. Is it to be the commission, or the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Agriculture, with their specialist inspectorates?
289 I realise that the Secretaries of State of various Departments, and those concerned with agriculture in England and Scotland, will make regulations to be carried out by the commission and will have obtained advice from the commission. But the important point for me is the loss of direct responsibility by the Secretary of State for Scotland, including his invaluable advisory service. It is the changes which the Under-Secretary has made by the amendment which have surprised us and which lie behind our requests for more information. The Under-Secretary may be right to change his mind or to approach the Committee with an open mind. But we should like to know what lies behind his change of mind between the Committee stage and the Report stage.
Up to now in Scotland we have had an established structure which has served us extremely well, whereas in England and Wales there have been separate inspectorates for wages and safety. We in Scotland have had a single inspectorate carrying out both jobs—administering the wages side and looking after the safety regulations. This has been most important in Scotland, where there may be very large distances between farms in the North-West and in the Highlands. One inspector, qualified in both wages and safety matters, could spend a period in one area and deal with both subjects with a minimal waste of manpower and time. This system may well have to be changed.
These men are experienced in both sides of the work and have a feel for and a knowledge of agriculture. That is most important. Agriculture is a little different from many of the other industries to which the Bill relates. These able inspectors should remain under the auspices of the Secretary of State and not be moved to a third party, however well meaning that party may be. Agriculture is a rapidly evolving industry. It needs specialist advisers and inspectors who really know their subjects. It is that sort of feel and understanding for an industry that makes it so incomprehensible when Ministers from other Departments of Government start talking about the abolition of tied houses. Anyone involved in dairying, stock-rearing or shepherding knows how vital it is to have tied houses attached to farms. That 290 is an indication of how remote are the present Government from agriculture today.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Agriculture Act 1970 included provisions to make it difficult for farmers to evict tenants of tied houses and that this provision was defeated not by the House of Commons but only by the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Monro
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will talk about his tied houses tomorrow on the introduction of a Ten-Minutes Rule Bill. But I doubt very much whether the Bill will have any success in this House or in another place. This lack of touch with agriculture on the part of the present Government is highlighted by the sort of Bill that the hon. Gentleman wishes to introduce tomorrow.
It is essential that before we conclude the debate on the amendment the Minister should be far more convincing in his explanation of his dramatic change of view between Second Reading and Committee stage and now. In the light of that we shall have to consider whether his arguments are sufficiently convincing for us to allow the amendment to be made.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I join my hon. Friends in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) on his appearance on the Front Bench. He demonstrated this evening what we have been missing in the course of the last four years by going absolutely to the root of the matter being discussed. Like him, I begin by declaring my interest in farming. I wish to speak only because of my concern for the way that we are to administer the health and safety provisions.
The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) argued that it was impossible to support the status quo in agriculture because of the high accident rate in the industry. I agree that there is immense scope for improvement, but the accident rate is not a reflection on the Ministry of Agriculture, a fact which seems to be accepted by the Under-Secretary because he plans to use the same people to administer the scheme at grass roots level. So there does not seem to be any criticism 291 of the individuals who will operate the new provisions.
I cannot help feeling that the fears which were originally expressed, and which have been echoed today, about the Bill as drafted stemmed from a superficial judgment of its contents and, more precisely, from a superficial belief that agriculture was not going to be subjected to the same strict regulations applying to other industries. The Under Secretary emphasised that agriculture is fully within the scope of the Bill, and we are therefore concerned only with how the provisions are to be administered in the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) referred to the slight difference between agriculture and any other industry. It seems to me that such is the structure of agriculture and agricultural employment, such is the nature and variety of the work, that the Ministry field officers, who are very experienced, are best suited to oversee the provisions and their superiors are best suited to supervise their work. I feel very strongly, therefore, that the Bill should be left unchanged.
It seems that in order to try to meet some of the objections to the Bill's provisions from outside bodies the Government are doing not much more than erecting a facade and are trying to produce a compromise which will amount to no more than a muddle when it is applied. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland referred to Clause 15 and to Amendment No. 57, which would give the Minister power to make regulations. Enforcement of those regulations will be in the hands of the executive. Is it sensible for the Ministry to make the regulations, for its officers to administer them and for them to be enforced by the executive? That is a recipe for muddle, and there is less likelihood of us achieving our objectives because of that.
Like my hon. Friend, I hope that the Under-Secretary, having had second thoughts, will now be prepared to have third thoughts and will leave the Bill as it it. As drawn, it is adequate to cope with the situation and will provide a basis for much more sensible application of the new law than would the proposals in the amendment.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) spoke of a U-turn by Labour Members. It is clear, however that there has been a U-turn on his side of the House too. In the debate on Second Reading six hon. Members, three from his side and three from ours, condemned the separation and exclusion of agriculture. There is now apparently criticism of the amendment.
§ Mr. Jopling
Does the hon. and learned Member not recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) supported the Government on behalf of the Opposition in their original proposals, which is the form the Bill now takes?
§ Mr. Weitzman
Maybe. There was one speech in Committee from the Conservative side which opposed the amendment then under discussion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister in having listened carefully to the support given to the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) and in having accepted them. I listened carefully to the criticism by the hon. Member for Westmorland, and his speech seemed completely illogical. If he thinks for one moment he will realise that the Bill is designed to provide for health and safety in industry as a whole. I see no reason for excluding any particular industry. If he maintains that an industry has special problems, the Commission can get into touch with the Ministry concerned, learn what those considerations are and deal with them. But the Bill unifies and deals with safety regulations throughout industry. Since agriculture is an important industry with particular problems of danger from machinery it is important that a commission established to deal with safety matters should be responsible for that industry. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on seeing the wisdom of what is put forward, and I commend the amendment.
§ Mr. Michael Latham
The House will not be surprised that the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) supported the amendment, as he supported most effectively the identical amendments moved in Committee by the 293 hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland). Similarly, the hon. and learned Gentleman will not be surprised that I oppose the amendment for exactly the same reason as I opposed those amendments in Committee. My speech there is on record, and I have no intention of repeating it.
It may be helpful to quote the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler), who said in Committee:As I understand it, the intention of the Bill is to reduce the number of accidents. … Neither side of the Committee has succeeded in convincing me that by removing the agricultural industry from some provisions of the Bill the safety regulations will be improved and the accident rate reduced, nor vice versa, and that is what has worried me.The hon. Gentleman was saying what several of us considered in Committee—that we should regard the matter entirely from the point of view of practicalities, of what happens in rural life, how to avoid accidents on farms, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), in his effective and welcome speech from the Front Bench tonight, made that point excellently.
Now, there can be no doubt that the most effective and most carefully worked out speech against the amendments in Committee was made by the Minister. That makes it all the more surprising that he should make a speech in exactly the opposite sense tonight. I make no complaint about that. Ministers can and do change their minds. But some of the points the Minister made in Committee should be repeated so that when he replies to this debate he will be able to deal with the practical points which have been raised. The first question is that of staff. I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said in his important statement in moving the amendments. He talked about redeploying resources, and no doubt there will be some strengthening of the inspectorate. He said in Committee:If we were to establish a health and safety inspectorate that was concerned solely with inspecting all farms, and with no other duties, we should certainly need considerably more inspectors than the 40, 45 or 50 full-time agricultural safety inspectors who are now in the Ministry of Agriculture. Furthermore, the field officers would have to continue visit 294 ing farms for the other purposes, and this would clearly be a waste of manpower and expertise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th May 1974; c. 136–43.]I did not understand the hon. Gentleman to say that a new professional class of safety officers would be created for farms. Therefore, we would continue with the present system of field officers in the Ministry of Agriculture, except that the commission would have overall responsibility along the lines proposed in the amendments. Therefore, we return to the staffing question which the hon. Gentleman himself put so well in his speech. Does he intend to increase the resources available? If so, by how much will he increase them? If he does not, although the amendments are not necessarily objectionable in principle, the method of implementing them will not be possible for exactly the reasons the Minister outlined in Committee. If he intends to introduce more staff, where are they to be recruited from?
One thing is essential. Whoever are these people who are to increase the staff, they must be knowledgeable about agriculture. We do not want people with no practical expertise in agriculture coming on to farms. If they are available now and have not been recruited by the Ministry, I do not know where they are. Doubtless the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us.
§ Mr. Holland
Does my hon. Friend not agree that we do not want people going on to construction sites knowing nothing about the construction industry, and that we do not want people going into mines knowing nothing about mining? Farming is not the only industry with these problems.
§ Mr. Latham
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend's intervention helps my argument rather than his. I know that my hon. Friend supports the amendment; he has made his position clear to the House and the Committee.
We must have practical people, and they are not readily available. Staffing the existing arrangements was difficult enough. If there are to be new arrangements, the Minister must tell us where the people will come from.
I want to make it clear yet again that agriculture is not excluded from the Bill 295 as it stands. The Minister made that clear in Committee when he said:The general duties under the Bill—those provided in Clauses 2 to 8, for example—apply to persons involved in agriculture just as much as anywhere else. The commission may put forward proposals for regulations to be made by the Secretary of State which will apply to agriculture just as much as to other industries where the matter to be regulated is common to all the several industries.While these across-the-board regulations will normally be enforced in agriculture by the Ministry's field officers, they can none the less be enforced by the executive where special expertise is required. Thus, we are only providing in the Bill that where matters are specifically and solely confined to agriculture these will be the responsibility of agriculture Ministers under the special arrangements.As the hon. Gentleman now proposes to change those administrative arrangements, with or without any increase in staff, he will have to explain how the transferring of those responsibilities to the commission will make any difference to safety in farms and overcome the administrative objections which he himself raised in Committee.
What has happened to the important statement the hon. Gentleman made in Committee when resisting the amendments? I make no complaint that he has changed his mind. Those of us who were in the Committee could see that he was under pressure from his own side. That happens from time to time. The hon. Gentleman clearly felt that he must make a concession, so he made the following important statement:my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has been in touch with me and has now written of his intention to establish more effective arrangements for safety inspection and enforcement in agriculture. He is, I understand, within the next week or so, to meet representatives of the agricultural workers' union, who have been expressing their concern both privately to him and publicly about the provisions in the Bill which are the subject of these amendments. I know that he will discuss with them next week his proposals, which would include a strengthening of the inspectorate and the reorganisation of the way in which it carries out its safety duties. This would mean that more attention would be paid to farms where people are employed.My right hon. Friend proposes also that he should establish central and regional farm safety councils, with representatives from the industry, from both the agricultural workers and the National Farmers' Union, with, if deemed appropriate, some representation from the Health and Safety Commission.I am sure that the Government would like the opportunity to examine these proposals in 296 more detail, in the context of the debate we have had this morning, to see whether the new proposals to which I have briefly referred present a more effective way of securing health and safety on farms."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 7th May 1974; c. 143–145.]As the Minister has tonight presented proposals diametrically opposite to those which he defended in Committee, I can only assume that, on reconsideration, he did not think that the new proposals put forward by the Minister of Agriculture presenteda more effective way of securing health and safety on farms",in which case either he will tell us that he has abandoned those proposals or that the proposals in some way did not measure up to the assumptions which his right hon. Friend had made for them.
In this excellent debate we have over and over again drawn attention not to the impropriety of the Minister's changing his mind—on the contrary, it is desirable that Ministers should change their minds—but to the absence of satisfactory reasons why the changes have been made. I hope that the Minister will give some answers.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I come from a part of the country in which there are, I think, the strongest branches of the NUAW. I know how strongly the branches feel about farm safety. I do not blame them, because the accident rate is very high. Instead of having many manual workers on farms we now have enormous machines. I am not sure that the average townsman realises the immense cost of the machines which are now used. Neither do people realise the amount of dangerous pesticides and herbicides which we use and the danger that they can represent to the health and safety of those working on farms.
We have established in Norfolk a very good farm machinery club which not only teaches people how to handle agricultural machines but teaches many aspects of safety and does a great deal towards saving accidents. I fully understand the interest and concern of the NUAW about safety. It believes that the Bill would be strengthened by adopting certain amendments. If the alternatives will help cut the accident rate, I will support them. However, two masters for one man and two masters for the service that we have 297 in mind is not a good thing. I do not believe that the amendments would lead to duplication, to a worse service and to less people being taught about safety on farms.
I hope that whatever happens the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will take a firm approach and will not let responsibility for safety on farms be taken away from those who know a great deal about the problems involved and who have worked up a satisfactory relationship between those in the inspectorate and those on the farms.
§ Mr. Tyler
I am in some difficulty and I suspect that other hon. Members are also in difficulty. I found the Minister's speech extremely persuasive, but I refer to the speech that he made in Committee. Some of us approached the Committee with a comparatively open frame of mind. That may be unusual. Generally I had misgivings about both the proposal in the Bill as it stands and the amendments. It was with interest that I followed the Minister's reply in Committee. He put forward a persuasive argument. As my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) has already said, it was one of the shining examples of wit and erudition that he gave us in Committee. Sadly, he is a little rusty, the Committee stage having been completed some weeks ago. I did not find his argument on the Floor of the House as persuasive as I had hoped.
On seeing the amendments I expected the same degree of attention to detail as we enjoyed in Committee. The important point that is easily lost sight of—this is a point that I made in Comittee—is that we should be concerned not only with the administrative mechanics but with results. I do not detect in the Minister's speech the degree of attachment to achieving a better result for which I hoped.
It is extraordinary that we have had no reference to the views of the Agricultural Inspectorate. Now that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is present, perhaps we can be enlightened as to whether the inspectors have been consulted about the implications of the change that is now to befall the inspectorate.
298 One of the matters with which we were concerned in Committee was whether the Agricultural Inspectorate would find it easier to recruit more to its ranks if its responsibilities were wider under the agricultural hat or if it found itself more concerned with the rather negative side of its work concerned with safety and health, with a relationship back to the Safety and Health Commission.
I find myself bewildered. I was convinced by the Minister's eloquence in Committee, but I find that he is lacking in eloquence today. I prefer the Bill as it stands to that which the amendments would offer. Perhaps with a little encouragement from me to sparkle again in the fashion of his sparkle in Committee, the Minister may well come to the Dispatch Box and give us a more adequate case for the changes that he is now proposing. I think that he will agree that our discussions in Committee indicated that we felt that he had taken the right view. Therefore, it is difficult for those of us who are persuaded by logic and argument rather than by the efforts of our respective Whips to find a way out of the current conundrum. I hope that the Minister will be able to go into more detail and will be able to give us an assurance that the morale of the Agricultural Inspectorate will be improved rather than reduced by the proposals that he has now brought forward.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The charming speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) contained one contradiction. He said that we should be concerned not so much with administrative details but with the general effects on safety of any changes that we make, but he finished by asking me for more detail.
I now turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). The hon. Gentleman is a newcomer to our little club on health and safety. I tell him right away that his speech was very much out of tune with the tenor of our debates, both in the House and in Committee, over a long time. He admitted straight away that he speaks with a vested interest. He was frank about that, but the House should not overlook it. A number of his hon. Friends were equally candid. The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) shakes his head. I 299 do not include him, but the hon. Members for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) have readily acknowledged that they speak not objectively but, presumably, with prejudice as a result of the nature of their interests.
I found the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland rancorous, negative and unconstructive. He has every right to criticise, but I would have thought that he would have been prepared to put forward new ideas rather than say that we should have stuck to things as they were. I refer to matters, which have been severely criticised by hon. Members from both sides of the House.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) reminded me that on Second Reading the majority of hon. Members expressed concern about the special arrangements for agriculture. From the Conservative benches the hon. Members for Bridgewater (Mr. King), Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) and Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel), who is now speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, made some challenging remarks about the exclusion of agriculture.
I can understand the feelings of a Minister who, having listened to criticism on Second Reading and in Committee, seeks to respond positively and who is attacked when he tells the House that he has changed his mind. Is it suggested that Ministers should go into Committee with closed minds, with rigid and inflexible attitudes? Is it suggested that they should not be prepared to respond to any arguments which are put forward? I believe that I have an obligation to listen to arguments and to respond to them if at all possible.
I shall now try to respond to one or two of the points that have been raised. I shall repeat what I said in my lengthy, comprehensive and detailed speech in Committee which set out the position fully. In doing so I shall reply to a number of questions at the same time. First, the commission will have enforcement responsibility. I hope that by repeating that statement I shall put the matter beyond doubt. Of course, the field officers will continue to work for the Ministry, but the Ministry will be 300 the agents of the commission in respect of safety and health and will carry out an agency function for the commission.
The same position will apply to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland will carry out exactly the same procedure in respect of Scottish agriculture as the Minister of Agriculture does for England and Wales. One reason why we have had to make specific reference to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the regulation-making powers is that he is not a Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Dumfries will be familiar with the constitutional notion that a Secretary of State is any Secretary of State, and, therefore, references to "Secretary of State" include and cover the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The hon. Member for Dumfries, echoing the hon. Member for Westmorland, criticised the absence of a Minister of the Scottish Office. But the same criticism could be applied to almost every other Ministry. The Bill impinges on the interests of almost every other Government Department. If their criticism is valid, therefore, it calls for the presence of every Minister in change of a Department. I hope that the hon. Members would be fair and admit that such an obligation would rest on the Ministers' "shadows" as well.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and the hon. Member for Bodmin made a crucial point. Will the proposals we are making add to or diminish the provisions for health and safety at work in the agriculture industry? I do not claim to have any great familiarity with the industry, but the House would expect me to listen to those directly involved. Before embarking on these changes, we had discussions with the National Farmers' Union, the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and the TUC. If I am urged—but perhaps that is too modest a word—or pressurised by those who are at risk, or by their representatives, to take a certain course, perhaps I am listening to the right voices, and it was the NUAAW and the TUC who stressed to us that proceeding as we are proposing to do would be beneficial rather than otherwise. I think also that we are proceeding broadly along the lines recommended by the Robens Committee.
301 The workers and their representatives said that the onus rested upon me to say why we thought that agriculture should be treated differently from any other industry. It is here that the main difficulty arises—trying to defend, when dealing with many industries, discrimination against one certain industry, or in favour of it, depending on one's point of view.
I have been enduring demands from my hon. Friends from the coalmining industry which have centred round the claim that the agricultural industry should receive exclusive treatment. They have been saying "If you can exclude the agriculture industry, why cannot you exclude coalmining?" I have not the slightest doubt that before today is over I shall have to argue yet again to my hon. Friends from coalmining areas in favour of coalmining being brought within the scope of the Bill. It is difficult to convince them and agricultural workers that coalmining and agriculture should not be treated differently from other industries.
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. Gentleman has only half answered two questions I put to him. I should like to put them again in view of the particular interest shown outside the House. The first relates to enforcement. The hon. Gentleman said that the commission would have the responsibility for enforcement, but I think that he is partly wrong there, because Clause 18 states that it is to be the duty of the executive to make adequate arrangements for enforcement. I understand that under that clause it would be possible to make the Minister of Agriculture responsible for enforcement. Will that be done?
Secondly, what is to happen to the grades of safety officer above the field level—divisional safety officer and regional safety officer? Is that hierarchical structure to be continued? Are they to continue to be employed on an agency basis?
§ Mr. Walker
I will reply to the second question first. The difficulty here is that we are on the eve of the creation of the commission. I think that the detailed arrangements will have to be worked out in consultation with the commission. It is too early for me to give a positive and 302 clear-cut answer to the hon. Gentleman. As soon as the matter is clarified—and I understand the anxieties among those concerned to have a decision quickly—I will write to the hon. Gentleman. It is difficult to give an answer now, because we are in the process of creating the commission and we do not want to tie its hands too much.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of enforcement. The "executive" is the executive of the commission. Hence, when I talk of the commission, I tend to talk in terms of its superior rôle to the executive and the acceptance of the subordination of the executive to the commission in working on the commission's behalf. I am sure that it is the intention that the reference to the other authorities entering into arrangements with the executive should be precisely as the hon. Gentleman has stated, but obviously on paper it would provide for the Minister of Agriculture to act on behalf of the executive and, hence, the commission. But here again perhaps I can write to the hon. Gentleman with a clarification of the position. I hope that proceeding in that way will prove satisfactory to him.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
Using the hon. Gentleman's own criteria, one would say that there is obviously no need even for a Minister of Agriculture in this country. Why does the hon. Gentleman seek to destroy the relationship with existing safety officers? After all, agriculture is different from all other industries. It works by different criteria, and we require someone who knows something about it. The safety officers know about safety in agriculture but may know nothing about safety in mines and quarries, and so on. The hon. Gentleman is obviously seeking to take a backward step.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) was not here and did not hear my speech, apparently. We are saying that, notwithstanding the transfer of the executive and regulation-making responsibility, the actual inspection of agricultural health and safety will in the future, as in the past, continue to be 303 done by field officers of the Ministry of Agriculture.
I hope that I have cleared up the point raised by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) about the size of the inspectorate. Pending possible new arrangements under the establishment of the commission, if that be the case, the inspectorate will be based on the Ministry of Agriculture's field officers. It would continue to be at its present size, presumably, and it would be for the Ministry to determine the size of its own force in the field. Presumably, if the number of officers is adequate at present to inspect the premises in the industry it will continue to be sufficient in the future.
§ Mr. Michael Latham
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Minister of Agriculture can continue, under agency powers from the commission, with the same staff to do the same job, although we have had passionate appeals from the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) and others to the effect that the same job is not being adequately done? If we are to continue on the same basis and the staff is not to be increased, what is the point of these amendments?
§ Mr. Walker
I think the hon. Gentleman missed my qualification about "pending the creation of the commission." Clearly, it would be for the commission, when established, to review the adequacy of the arrangements. I am not saying that the commission should have powers to change the arrangements, but what we envisage, and what I am sure the House would hope to see, is that if the commission felt that the arrangements were inadequate in any area, and not within its power to alter, it would make recommendations to the appropriate Minister or Secretary of State.
§ Mr. David Watkins
In view of the intervention by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) may I make clear that neither I nor any hon. Member on the Government side of the House has cast any aspersions whatever against the ability, integrity and keenness on the work of the staff. Their problem is one of inadequate enforcement power and we are seeking to give them adequate power.
§ Mr. Walker
I am pleased that my hon. Friend said that, as it saves me the trouble of doing so.
I hope I have replied as adequately as I am able to a number of points which have been raised. I return to points which should be stressed above all. A question which I believe foreshadows all else is the question whether the arrangements we are making and the changes we are proposing are in the best interests of the health and safety of the workers in the industry. I repeat that the best authority for making judgment on that is to be found in the elected representatives of the workers in the individual industries.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it would be inappropriate for me to consult my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and thereafter to seek to consult his servants who act on his behalf, as I am sure, knowing my right hon. Friend, that he is aware of and understands the views of his inspectors and officials, as I understand the views of those who serve me in my Department. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we have had the fullest consultations with those who have the responsibility.
Finally, I am entitled to repeat what I said in the course of my reply—that it is for those—this was how it was put to me—who would have agriculture treated separately, distinctly and differently to justify that position, instead of for us to justify what we are saying, namely, that agriculture should be treated as no more than and no less than any other industry.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 16, at end insert'and designed to maintain or improve the standards of health, safety and welfare established by or under those enactments'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
With this amendment I think it would be convenient for the House to 305 take Amendments Nos. 4–10, 12–16, 21–24, 26, 27, 29–34, 88 and 89.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker
It will be preferable if I speak about the amendment which I have moved and then listen to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friends in support of the amendments in their names. Perhaps, with permission, I could then reply to those arguments.
This amendment fulfils an undertaking that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and to other Members during discussion of the Bill in Committee. It picks up a point of fundamental importance that gave rise to a great deal of discussion in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley had proposed the addition of a new clause to the Bill which would have provided that where provisions of existing health and safety legislation imposed absolute duties, the Secretary of State would not be able to replace them by new regulations unless the new regulations were in the same terms as the previous provisions.
I resisted that new clause on the grounds that a provision in that form would create great practical difficulties. In particular it would provide endless scope for argument about the vires of new regulations, both on the part of opponents of progress seeking to delay the introduction of new regulations and on the part of lawyers defending their clients in court, who might be given opportunities for legalistic quibbling about the validity of a new regulation merely because it was cast in a different mould from an earlier regulation. I also said that it would cut right across one of the main purposes of this legislation—namely, the gradual and progressive replacement of the existing statutory health and safety requirements by revised, improved and updated regulations, with the aim of developing a more up to date and more effective body of law in this field.
My hon. Friend was concerned, quite rightly, that this process of revision and replacement should not result in any weakening of existing standards of statutory protection. I am quite sure that no one in the House would dissent from that proposition. I have assured the Committee, and I now assure the House, that the whole purpose of this new legislation is to 306 improve health and safety standards. On that aim all parties are united.
That is why we are setting up a new and powerful organisation, responsible solely for health and safety matters—an organisation which gives the trade unions an effective say in these matters. It is why we are giving it the duty of bringing forward proposals for new regulations, and giving its executive new powers to enforce them. The way in which this enabling Bill is framed is intended to facilitate and give impetus to the whole process of examining, updating and improving upon previous health and safety law; and to enable us to respond quickly and with more effective measures to the hazards posed by constant changes in industry and technology.
We have considered carefully what further safeguards we can introduce without impeding this essential process. In the light of the representations pressed strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson) and others, we have come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to state this fundamental aim of the new legislation clearly in the first clause of the Bill, which deals with the Bill's general purposes. This amendment therefore imports into Clause 1 a statement of fundamental objective, that is, the new system of regulations and approved codes to be developed under the Bill's powers is to be designed to maintain or improve upon the standards of health, safety and welfare established under existing legislation.
This is not just a presentational embellishment. The amendment serves a real and important purpose, by establishing guidelines and placing constraints upon those who will be responsible for preparing and approving new provisions under the Bill. This is, I think, what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley wanted. The amendment will give anyone who thinks that a proposed new regulation is less good than an existing one a clear ground for raising objections during the consultations that must precede the making of any new regulation. But it will avoid putting the whole process in a straitjacket, and attention will be focused not on technical questions of vires and suchlike but upon the real issue which concerns us all—the maintenance and 307 improvement of effective standards of protection.
I hope that the House will agree with me that this is a highly desirable amendment. I am grateful to those inside and outside this House who have pressed me into looking for a concrete way of stating in the Bill the objective we seek.
§ Mr. Cryer
Amendment No. 2 relates to regulations and codes of practice. Because the amendment includes the word "designed", which is an ambiguous word, it will be possible, with the best of intentions, for people so to construe it as to substitute a code of practice for some existing statute. Such a code might be designed to maintain the established standard of health and safety but to me that would be less than satisfactory.
The Under-Secretary said that the fact of the amendment would be the basis of an objection to any proposed regulations. As I said in Committee, there are many new regulations in draft and which have been in such a form for years because no agreement has been reached. To provide yet further points of objection to new regulations seems a fruitless task.
I was much obliged to my hon. Friend for giving me information about regulations concerning protection of the eye which have been in the process of production since 1969. They are still in that state almost five years later. In every year that has passed there has been an enormous amount of eye damage suffered. Yet, because the objections have not been resolved, the regulations have not been produced. Here is another clause which the Minister says will provide a further basis for objections. I would have thought that my hon. Friend could have accepted Amendment No. 4, which would have the effect of ensuring that existing statutory regulations were retained.
There is the position of this legislature to be taken into account. The Bill gives sweeping powers to the Secretary of State. Under Clause 15 the Secretary of State may repeal or modify any of the relevant statutory provisions. Those provisions are given in Schedule 1. They comprise 14 complete Acts and substantial sections of 13 other Acts. Many of those Acts are not trivial. They are major Acts and 308 include the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, the Factories Act 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. Power to modify or repeal these Acts should not be handed over to the Secretary of State by this legislature without ensuring that such powers as are given to the Secretary of State are tightly con trolled.
Amendment No. 4 is designed to make sure that the absolute sections of these Acts are retained. I remind the House that the scrutiny by us of delegated legislation, although in many respects successful, does not extend to questioning the powers of the Minister. Our scrutiny asks only whether a Minister has abused the powers or whether he is making unusual use of powers which Parliament has handed to him.
If a Minister chooses to repeal the whole of an Act the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments is not able to quibble with that decision. If we hand over to the Secretary of State the powers set out here without modification or qualification, the question arises whether all the specific absolute provisions of existing legislation would be ultra vires by virtue of the existing general clauses contained at the beginning of the measures.
Consequently the word "designed" is certainly open to degrees of ambiguity which is most unsatisfactory. Amendment No. 4 is a written safeguard of legislation which has been built up, with a struggle over many years. I make it clear that there is no imputation, from me at any rate, that any Conservative successor would deliberately and by design seek to erode or completely remove these absolute powers. My case is that the erosion of these absolute powers can take place in a subtle way, gradually, over a period of time, so that, with the best of intentions and the best will in the world, people are lulled into accepting that for instance, a code of practice is preferable to absolute law. The whole of the Robens Committee took this point of view, one which by and large is not shared by the working people. They are the people who actually get their hands dirty, who produce the wealth of this country, often in cramped and unsavoury conditions, and they prefer absolute standards.
309 The Robens Committee, a body of well-intentioned people, decided that some sort of persuasion would be better. It is possible that with the best of intentions this attitude could overtake a future Secretary of State. Although we have absolute standards, it is worth reminding the House of the toll of death and distress which takes place annually in industry. In 1971 a total of 19.1 million days were lost through industrial injury. In 1972, a reasonably good year, the figure was 17½ million days. In 1971 a total of 920 people were killed. In 1972 the figure was 862. In 1973 the provisional roll call of deaths arising from industrial injury is 895.
These figures do not include deaths in agricultural work, which we are told by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) numbered 670 between 1969 and 1973. Injuries in agriculture in that period totalled 36,000. Every year there is something approaching 10 times the death roll of Aberfan and 30 times the death roll of Flixborough.
Why is it that it takes a Flixborough or an Aberfan for this sort of concern to be expressed? Why is it that we never see in the popular daily Press expressions of concern about the huge toll of death and injury which goes on day after day in our factories?
Amendments Nos. 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 15, 21, 23 and 27 have been tabled because I and other of my hon. Friends feel it is important to have absolute standards of safety in factories. We have some absolute standards but not everywhere. So far the legislation has been a comparative failure, as the figures I have given show. Why should we not establish a new approach towards industry? Amendments Nos. 5 and 27 would impose absolute standards. The other amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), Amendment No. 8, is certainly worthy of consideration by the Minister with a view to its acceptance.
Clause 2(1) would place a duty on every employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees. It will be pointed out that this imposes a criminal liability on employers. That argument was used by the then Attorney-General and by a 310 Minister in 1954 when the Mines and Quarries Bill was considered by the Standing Committee. The record is there. The arguments adduced there were that if the absolute standards which the Labour Members of Parliament were insisting on in that Committee were accepted, the National Coal Board would have to supervise personally every safety installation in every coal mine throughout the country; or, more frightening still, members of the National Coal Board would go to prison for every breach. That was the frightening prospect which was put before the members of the Standing Committee in 1954 in order that the words "so far as reasonably practicable" could be retained in the Bill. They said it was impossible not to include "so far as reasonably practicable". It was absolutely necessary for the conduct of the National Coal Board that those words should be included. After determined opposition, the words were excluded.
The National Coal Board members have not gone to prison—at least not for that sort of matter—and they do not supervise every safety installation in every mine. By and large the National Coal Board has been conducted with probity and with due regard for safety standards. Those words have been excluded.
I expect we shall hear lengthy arguments about the onerous liability which will be placed on employers if the words "so far as reasonably practicable" are excluded. We shall no doubt hear that the cost of ensuring these duties will be prohibitively high. There will be a cost involved. One does not deny that. But to set against the cost of ensuring high safety standards, surely there is the cost of the loss of production, on an average 17 to 20 million days a year, the payment of industrial injury benefits for every one of those days lost, the loss of almost 1,000 lives per year, the cost of hospital services, the cost of retraining after injury to put an injured person into a new job, and the grief, the pain, the misery of work people affected, and that of wives and children.
The removal of the term "so far as reasonably practicable" under the various amendments would incur a cost but not so great a cost as that which death incurs at the moment.
311 It is interesting that under Clause 7 of the Bill higher standards are imposed on employees than on employers. Clause 7 reads:It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—The standard of an employee is higher because it does not say "so far as reasonably practicable"; it says "so far as is necessary", which is an entirely different attitude. I wonder why the standard as between the employer and the employee is differentiated. By using the phrase "reasonably practicable" this House will be saying that we are making a calculation of the cost of human lives.
- (a) to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and
- (b) as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with".
In Edwards v. the National Coal Board 1949, when considering a case under the Coal Mines Act 1911 Lord Asquith said:'Reasonably practicable' is a narrower term than `physically impossible' and seems to me to imply that a computation must be made by the owner in which the quantum of risk is placed on one scale and the sacrifice involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk (whether in money, time, or trouble) is placed on the other, and that, if it be shown that there is a gross disproportion between them—the risk being insignificant in relation to the sacrifice—the defendants discharged the onus on them.The article on the case goes on:In other words, the employers, when considering what is 'reasonably practicable' weigh up the price in cash and production terms of the precaution and balances it against the risk to life and limb of not taking that precaution.The cost in human misery of not having absolute standards is extraordinarily high.
In Northern Ireland since 1968 more than 1,000 lives have been lost. Between 1968 and 1974, in six years, we have lost over 1,000 lives, the sort of number we lose every year in industry. There has been a call for the troops to be withdrawn. But we have said, generally speaking, in this House that we are not prepared to withdraw the troops, nor to cease to 312 spend money in Northern Ireland, because we think that human life is enormously precious; and if, by keeping the troops there, we can save lives we intend to continue spending that money. Nobody would quarrel with that attitude.
My argument, therefore, is: why should we not take this attitude towards work-people who are not killed in glamorous circumstances? There are no newspaper reporters or television cameras around the corner when a man is carried out after an industrial injury. It rates about two lines in the bottom left-hand corner of the local papar when a labourer is killed because scaffolding falls down. In Northern Ireland there is clamour. We lose as many lives per year as we have lost during the whole time of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Let us set our standards higher than in the past.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)
I accept my hon. Friend's argument about a price being placed on human life in the terms of his argument. Would he assist the House further? It is the case with the bad employer that he is likely to weigh the cost of making adequate provision against the cost of the penalty he would incur. The difficulty about the inclusion of the words "reasonably practicable" which my hon. Friend is contesting is that that makes possible a calculation in another place, the courts. One of the worrying points is whether the courts would be fixing a price on human life and whether they would calculate the balance between the cost of taking precautions against the loss that would be incurred on a less satisfactory scale if the employer had to make a straight calculation between the penalty he would incur and the cost of avoiding incurring that penalty.
§ Mr. Cryer
That is a good point. My hon. Friend says that if a fine is gauged at such a level an employer will say "That is my licence to incur a particular sort of risk." That is one of the unsatisfactory aspects of the Bill in that, on summary jurisdiction, the maximum fine imposed is only £400. What, hopefully, will happen is that when we come to a later amendment of mine the Factory Inspectorate and other local authorities which have the task of enforcing the legislation will have the right to employ solicitors, barristers and counsel to undertake 313 prosecutions which might pass the level of summary jurisdiction and go on indictment to the Crown court.
The present policy of persuasion by the Factory Inspectorate has resulted during 1971 in a maximum fine of £300 and in 1972 in a maximum fine of £341. My hon. Friend's point is very real. In 1971 920 people were killed, and 17,500,000 days lost. The maximum fine for that was a mere £300. The policy of persuasion and soft fines constitutes a very cheap licence to employers to carry on with their careless conditions. However, I hope that more prosecutions will go to indictment.
According to figures given to me by my hon. Friend, in 1971 10,000 eye injuries resulted in disablement for more than three days. In 1972 the figure was 9,100, and in 1973 9,900. Between 1st January 1968 and 6th June 1974 only 15 prosecutions were undertaken, when there must have been roughly 70,000 such injuries.
There are some good private firms, and generally excellent standards are maintained by the nationalised industries, but for many workers industry is a jungle. Employees who raise safety questions are regarded as Left-Wing agitators, Bolshies and troublemakers and are got rid of. This is true of thousands of firms, so there are great difficulties for employees. After an accident, protective equipment mysteriously appears, as though it had been there all the time and it was the employee's fault for not using it.
A solicitor has written to me expressing great concern about the Bill. He says:I act for trade union members who have accidents at work. May I ask you to consider a point on the Health and Safety at Work Bill? Could the Government make it clear that absolute duties in forthcoming safety regulations will not be ultra vires in the light of the `reasonably practicable' provisions in Clause 2?If my Amendment No. 4 is accepted, that problem will not arise.Absolute duties do more for safety than qualified duties. They also make it easier to get compensation for the injured in civil cases. I fear that future regulations will be like the recent Abrasive Wheels Regulations"—which were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley on Second Reading.The regulations substitute for the Factories Act 1971. They replace the absolute 314 duty to replace grindstones (Section 14) by a qualified duty. It is harder now to get compensation for men injured on such wheels. I suspect it is more difficult for factory inspectors to prosecute. If future regulations require occupiers to do no more than what is reasonably practicable there will be a step backwards for workers in industry. I have had some experience of conditions endured by constituents of yours in Keighley who work in the foundries there. In my view, they and the Factory Inspectorate need all the help they can get. Their employers should be kept in line by absolute duties, not qualified ones.If a man with that experience feels that the phrase "so far as reasonably practicable" should be excluded, we should heed his advice.
The dreadful tragedy of Aberfan, which I am sure was talked about at great length in the House, was followed by the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969, which began simply with the words:Every tip to which this Part of this Act applies shall be made and kept secure.Why was it decided not to include the phrase "so far as reasonably practicable"? Was it because it would have looked harsh if a tip to which everything practicable had been done was allowed to slide across a school? Or was it because the House decided that any provision which prevented the loss of children's lives should not be tampered with, that the obligation should be absolute?
I am puzzled why the standard in that Act cannot apply in the workplace or where there are no specific regulations and duties, as in the case of new processes—the amendment applies only to new planning applications and not to existing factories—and I am puzzled why the House appears to have two standards—one when a tragedy occurs and the other in the normal course of industry and the day-to-day life of the ordinary worker, who seems to count for very little. I ask the Under-Secretary to accept the amendment and establish a higher standard of industrial safety, so that employers will be under the threat of prosecution, which the statistics show is necessary.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
We are all of one mind about the necessity to reduce the terrible toll of injury recorded year by year in our factories. There is nothing between me and 315 the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) save a difference of opinion as to the best practical means of achieving that reduction. Whenever there is a disaster like Aberfan or Flixborough there is a sudden concentration of the corporate mind of this House upon the problems that are highlighted. It is not surprising that legislation follows to deal with whatever seems to have been responsible for the disaster.
However, it is a mistake to assume that because it has seemed right in a particularly dangerous industry or situation to impose an absolute liability upon an employer, it is right to impose the same absolute duty across the whole spectrum of industry and employment. The reason I believe that to be a mistaken view is a complex one, but perhaps I may set out some of the factors that are applicable. First, we must pass a law that will produce the result we want. It is right in certain cases of obvious manifest danger to impose an absolute duty, because everybody, including the work-people who are affected by it and those who have to apply it, sees that there must be an absolute duty.
Where there is a less obvious danger, however—where the risk of injury is less in severity and less in probability—the ordinary working man does not see why there should be an absolute duty to guard against injury, however it may occur. If he does not see why the rules which he is required by his employers to apply should be enforced, he will not enforce them. That engenders a neglect for safety rules which spreads beyond the instant rules with which we are concerned and is liable to spread across the whole field of safety enforcement in that factory or shop. That is the danger of legislating for an absolute duty right across the board.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has stood the argument on its head. No one on the Government benches is asking for an absolute duty in all cases. What we are arguing is that in existing cases of absolute power, and in cases in which that might be prescribed in future, it will be possible to enforce that under the legislation and the regulations, and that the right to lay down absolute 316 duties in specific circumstances should not be taken away.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman is not wholly right. He says that nobody on the Government side of the House is asking for an absolute duty in all cases, but that is the effect of Amendment No. 5.
§ Mr. Mayhew
It is. That amendment seeks to remove from subsection (1) the words "so far as is reasonably practicable". Without those words the subsection would read:It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.The hon. Member for Keighley is seeking, in all his "so far as is reasonably practicable" amendments, to remove those words wherever they appear in the clause.
§ Mr. Mayhew
That amendment proposes to leave out "practicable" and to insert "foreseeable", in line 28. I should like to deal with that amendment, but it is not in the name of the hon. Member for Keighley and I shall leave the matter there for the time being.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) has put his finger on the weakness of the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Keighley. The hon. Gentleman says that he is not asking for an absolute duty right across the board and, by implication, he says that such a request would be absurd. With that I wholly agree, and I shall return to that after dealing chronologically with the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Keighley.
Amendment No. 4 proposes to ensure that the Minister shall not be entitled to reduce any of the absolute duties which now apply under any of the relevant statutory provisions. I appreciate the anxiety that there may be about any relaxation—as it were, by a side wind—of the strict liabilities imposed by any of the statutes or regulations to be repealed by the Bill. I do not seek a relaxation of any of those duties. The Minister said that that is not the intention, and Opposition spokesmen made the point in Committee.
317 The wording of the amendment is not technically practicable, because it would impede the replacement of the enactments referred to in Schedule 1. The whole point and scheme of the Bill is set out in Clause I. which says that it is the intention bit by bit to replace the statutory provisions in Schedule 1 by new health and safety regulations made in a manner provided for by the Bill.
I accept what was said in the letter received by the hon. Member for Keighley from a trade union solicitor, that there may be uncertainty about the application of the ultra vires rule and that there may be an argument—I think that it would be wrong—for saying that by reason of the use of the words "so far as is reasonably practicable" in the clause any subsequent health and safety regulations which sought to impose an absolute liability would be ultra vires by reason of the rule that subordinate legislation cannot go further than the enabling Act permits it to do.
That could readily be overcome, it seems to me, by adding to Clause 15 words such as, "and such regulations may impose an absolute duty on employer or employee". Clause 15, it will be remembered, is the one which permits the making of regulations to ensure the general purposes of the Bill, but they are included in this clause. I mention that in the hope that the Minister will consider it in due course.
I am very anxious not to take too much time, but I want to deal with the case of these amendments taken together and it may be helpful to demonstrate by ordinary, practical situations the way in which the amendments which would remove the wordsso far as is reasonably practicablewould produce nonsense in the law. Here I am renewing a contest which I had with the hon. Member for Keighley in Standing Committee when, it seems, I failed to make clear that we are all concerned to reduce the number of Acts but we seek to achieve the object by means of making new law. It is not enough for the law simply to declare the end which Parliament wills; it must also itself represent a means that is just and productive, otherwise we make unproductive law and, what is worse, unjust law.
The answer to the hon. Member for Keighley is that there is power under Clause 15 to make regulations for any 318 of the general purposes of the Bill. Those regulations may in a proper case impose an absolute liability. I have made the point, and I do not wish to repeat it—it will not become better by repetition—that there are cases where absolute duties are proper—for example, a provision of the Factories Act that there should be fences kept around dangerous parts of machinery so long as it is in use. We can all see that that is a necessary provision. Again, everybody can see that there are in mines and quarries dangerous situations which require the imposition of a statutory liability, as does the Mines and Quarries Act. It is highly unlikely that the Government will want to diminish any of those duties, but, much more important, I believe, is that a breach of any of the general duties which are included in Clause 2 are proposed to be breaches on the part of the employer, and this provision would itself set up a criminal offence.
It is not enough to say that we heard all about this from the Attorney-General of the time when the Bill of 1954 was discussed. The creation of a criminal offence is not a matter which can be taken lightly by this House, or increasing the penalties for a breach.
In Clause 40 we go clean against the spirit of our criminal law by placing the burden upon the accused person of proving himself innocent once the factual foundation for a breach has been established by the prosecution. I do not complain of that, but the courts of law have interpreted the provisions of the Factories Act—for example, they impose an obligation to show that something was reasonably practicable, not placing the burden of proof on the defendant to prove himself innocent.
An hon. Member said just now that it was not sought to set up a general duty right across the board, but Amendment No. 5, which affects Clause 2(1), has exactly the effect of making it a duty on every employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all his employees. Let us consider some practical examples. What about an employee with an unsuspected allergy to the process which he is called upon to operate, or to the material which he is required to handle?
The employer would have no means of knowing that he had the allergy. Indeed, 319 the workman himself would not know. But, after three months in contact with the substance, he may come up with an injurious allergy. His safety will not have been endangered. Under the terms of the clause, if amended, there will have been a criminal breach on the part of the employer. No one can believe that that is just, and no one can believe that it will benefit the workman by one iota.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that in civil law there is a requirement under the implied terms of contract of any employment that an employer should use his best endeavours to ensure that materials are free from risk? Does he accept that in Pellicci v. Jeyes the claim was successful against Jeyes? In that case, an employee contracted dermatitis because his employers failed to understand the dangers of their materials.
§ Mr. Mayhew
That was imposing the ordinary standard of care and is the root of the doctrine of negligence in common law. It is not included in this measure. This measure, as sought to be amended by the hon. Member for Keighley, imposes an absolute liability. I should be happy if the hon. Gentleman said… so far as is reasonably practicable",but he objects to those words.
§ Mr. Rose
The hon. Gentleman appears to be suffering from a degree of myopia. He refers again and again to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) without referring to the other amendments which go with them. If he cares to look at those amendments he will see that the word "foreseeable" is inserted, instead of the word "practicable", and that the word "necessary" is substituted for "reasonably practicable". We are laying down a standard of care which is different from and above the very low standard of care which "reasonably practicable" imposes.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I look at Amendment No. 8, which is what I am invited to do. It proposes the deletion of "practicable" and the insertion of "foreseeable". By itself, that amendment merely substitutes "so far as reasonably foreseeable" for "so far as reasonably practicable". That is tautologous. It is tautologous to say 320 that it is an employer's duty to ensure that something is, so far as reasonably foreseeable, safe. The word "safe" has been interpreted in the courts as meaning that something is safe if it is not a reasonably foreseeable cause of injury when used by a person who may reasonably be expected to use it in circumstances which may reasonably be expected to occur. To say, in the light of that definition, that an employer's duty is to ensure that something is, so far as reasonably foreseeable, safe adds nothing to the word "safe" Therefore, one is left with the same result as that which would exist if the House accepted the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Keighley which provide for the deletion of the words "so far as reasonably practicable ".
I have another example of what would occur if Amendment No. 5 were accepted. What about the tree which has given no grounds for suspecting its soundness but which crashes through the roof of a workshop? That is criminal guilt. There will not have been an insurance of the safety of the workman. Injury follows, and there is criminal guilt.
It is no answer to say that these examples may be far-fetched. I do not know that they are far-fetched. But even if they are, it is our duty, in revising and reforming industrial safety legislation, to make good law and not sloppy law, and to give clear guidance to enforcement officers, to litigants and to courts as to the intentions of Parliament. We must not leave it to factory inspectors or to judges to say, "They could not have meant that. We think they must have meant this." We have a great opportunity to make accurate, clear and unambiguous law. We must not waste it by pursuing very good intentions without clearly thinking out their consequences in law.
My next example is taken from the subsection dealing with the duty to provide plant which shall be safe "so far as is reasonably practicable". If we take out those words we are left with a duty to provide plant which is safe. A circular saw cannot be safe, according to the definition applied by the courts which I mentioned earlier. It is impossible to devise a circular saw which, without qualification, is safe but is still capable of being used. Sooner or later someone will get cut. Yet circular saws are necessary. 321 Many workmen would lose their jobs if the use of circular saws were forbidden. It is absurd to make their use a criminal offence. The sensible way is to say that a circular saw shall be provided which is safe "so far as is reasonably practicable". All we need to do is to adopt the rules in the woodworking regulations regarding the setting of the knife and so forth. By removing the words "so far as is reasonably practicable", and applying the subsection to the use of a circular saw, a criminal breach is created. That is nonsense.
Another example is of a pipeline which fractures and sprays oil under pressure over a metal catwalk at a height above the ground alongside a vast paper-making machine. If one of the crew on the paper-making machine walks along that catwalk, slips on the oil, and is injured, safety at work has not been ensured because the plant provided for him at that moment became unsafe.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to Section 28, where the wordsso far as is reasonably practicableappear, and rightly. Those words would be taken out of the clause if the amendment were accepted. It is ridiculous to suppose that it advances the safety of the workman in the practical example that I have given. To impose a duty to provide plant that is at all times safe is to make an employer criminally liable whenever the plant, for whatever reason, becomes unsafe. If an accident occurs, against which it is not reasonably practicable to guard, this can only be unrealistic and unjust. If the amendment is accepted we shall be imposing criminal liability against which it is not reasonably practicable to guard. It would be just as fair to make it a criminal offence to sneeze. There is nothing in such a provision to the workman's advantage, because such a provision is either ignored or, if it is applied, he loses his job. Compensation for injury has no effect, because the Bill provides that the present law on compensation for injury at work shall be wholly unaffected.
322 I turn now to Amendment No. 9, which relates to Clause 2(2)(b),arrangements for ensuring … safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances".By taking out the words "so far as is reasonably practicable", we make nonsense of the clause. I take, for example, the handling of heavy articles. Some still have to be handled personally, not by fork-lift trucks. For a fit man there is no problem. If he is properly instructed he does not get injured, provided the weights are not excessive. But what about someone who does not know that he has a weakness and whose employer cannot know of his weakness? He may have a latent rupture or defect in his back. He may be called upon to handle a heavy weight, which would be no problem to a fit man, but which injures him. Arrangements would not have been made for ensuring the safety and absence of risks to his health in handling that article. That would be the practical consequence of accepting the amendment. Suppose the man knows that he has a weakness and conceals it, as people often do when trying to get work. One sympathises with them wholeheartedly in such circumstances. It would not be right to impose a criminal liability upon the employer in those circumstances and it could not advantage the workman one iota if we did.
I turn now to Amendment No. 12 relating to Clause 2(2)(c) concerning the provision of such supervision as is necessary to ensure safety at work of employees. Again, the words "so far as is reasonably practicable" are sought to be taken out.
Let us take the example of a crane operator. An experienced and reliable overhead crane operator can, for all practical purposes, be trusted not to hoist away until the slinger has completely released his hold upon the chains. But he may do it. In a moment of aberration, he may hoist away while the slinger's hands are in the way. The result: injury to the fingers, if not worse. An employer can guard against that by having someone supervising every move of the crane operator, but that would be wholly impracticable. The crane operator would not stand for it, for one 323 reason, if for no other. That is the only way in which—to quote the words of the clausethe provision of such … supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees "—an employer can guard against those circumstances, So again, it is not only non-productive but also unjust and unrealistic to make failure to provide supervision in those circumstances a criminal offence.
Clause 2(2)(d)—the last of the practical examples—concerns the maintenance of a place of work under an employer's control in a conditionthat is safe and without risks to health.The Bill provides that that should be subject to the qualification "so far as is reasonably practicable."
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I have been listening intently to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He has given the impression to the House that he is a cold, calculating human being, who is not interested in the causes of injuries to workmen. There are many instances in which a workman who is doing a job on behalf of his employer, and doing it religiously and well, probably takes a little risk in doing the job, and sustains an injury. For the hon. and learned Gentleman, if it can be proved that the workman was negligent, apparently the workman can be cast to one side without any common law claim for damages. Is that the hon. Gentleman's attitude to employees? If it is, this debate will have to continue for longer than we would have wished.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Of course that is not my attitude. I do not believe that anyone who heard what I said at the beginning of my speech would say that it was.
§ Mr. Mayhew
In that case, let me make it clear that what I am concerned about is that we take this opportunity of revising the law relating to industrial safety and do not waste this opportunity. The point that I have been making is that one does not advance the safety or interests of the workman by imposing a duty which is wholly unrealistic. One retards those interests by imposing such 324 a duty, because every employer relies upon his own workmen, in most cases, to ensure the application of safety regulations. If an employer's workmen say, "This is an absurd duty and we shall not apply it", one gets a neglect of safety regulations, which acts against rather than furthers the interests of the workman.
I am certainly not concerned to throw on one side the injured workman; I am concerned about reducing the number of cases of injured workmen. But I have been pointing out that justice applies to employers just as much as it applies to workmen. It is ridiculous and wrong to apply an absolute liability, to make the employer an insurer in all circumstances for the safety of his workmen, when an injury may arise without any culpability on the part of the employer. I hope that that point will be borne in mind.
I was about to give another practical example of the effect of Amendment No. 14, which seeks to amend Clause 2(2)(d), concerning the maintenance of a place of work under the employer's controlin a condition that is safe and without risks to health.If one takes out the words "so far as is reasonably practicable" one is imposing an obligation to ensure safety in all circumstances—to insure against accidents however they may possibly arise. That, again, is something which is wrong. If one has the word "so far as is reasonably practicable" one imposes the necessary duty upon the employer to weigh up the risks of injury against the cost, in terms of time, money and trouble, of guarding against it. If the risk is insignificant in regard to the work that has to be done, there is no liability if an action occurs.
Take the case of an employer who has in his office, above his secretary's head, a picture. Through the mischievous act of a cleaner the picture hooks have been loosened and the picture suddenly falls on his secretary's head. He could not reasonably have been expected to know that the hooks had been loosened. Is he to be immediately liable for having failed to maintain his secretary's place of work in a safe condition? Hon. Members may laugh, but that is the ridiculous consequence of their own wording, and this is an important matter for industry.
325 By all means let us consider carefully how, by legislation, we may best ensure the safety of those who work in our factories, but do not let us seek to impose absolute duties when injustice would result. If we make an employer guilty of a criminal offence whenever plant provided by him becomes, for whatever reason, unsafe, we do him an injustice, we make the law ridiculous and we do no service to the worker. If the law rejects the criterion of practicability people in industry on both sides will reckon that it has also rejected realism, and that will be very bad for industrial safety.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Rose
The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) has just taken us on a tour of the industrial fairground and at every stall he has put up an Aunt Sally and then proceeded to knock it down. It has not been an enlightening experience listening to him. He knows that the object of the amendments standing in the names of my hon. Friends and myself is not to impose an absolute duty in every case as he suggests but to preserve the absolute duty where it exists, to make it possible to have an absolute duty, or an absolute liability in certain specific cases, and to provide against dangers which are reasonably foreseeable. It was nonsense to suggest that any intelligent person would expect an employer to guard against those things which were not in any event foreseeable.
My hon. Friends are concerned about the words "reasonably practicable" because they allow for a defence which would permit a reduction on the part of employers' liability. Simply by taking the amendments out of context and by ignoring the linked amendments, the hon. Member has perverted the whole meaning of the group of amendments. If he seeks to take us through that sort of catalogue, putting up Aunt Sallies and knocking them down, we are forced to suspect his motive and to wonder what it is he fears employers might be required to do.
I say to the Government that the House and the trade union and Labour movements owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) because he has articulated with the utmost clarity, with a cogency which was quite remarkable and with 326 admirable thoroughness, the case against the insertion of the words "reasonably practicable", which provide a new defence in law which threatens existing safeguards. In spite of the protestations of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. who asked us to accept that this was not "presentational embellishment", I can find no more than what would appear to be camouflage for a situation which puts at risk the degree of protection now afforded to employees in factories, mines, quarries and elsewhere.
My hon. Friend used such words as "revision", "replacement", "up-to-date', "assured", "purpose is to improve". Those are nebulous expressions that do not deal with the real concern expressed not only in the 18 amendments I have tabled but in the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and others of my lion, Friends. Our concern is this and this alone: that there shall be no less duty of care on employers as a result of the Bill than exists now. It would be ironic if the passage of the Bill by a Labour Government were to reduce the protection afforded to employees under existing legislation and under the existing common law duty. It is our fear, so well expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, that that is precisely what will happen, without that intention, as a result of the wording of the Bill.
I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has every good intention in the matter, but he knows that what he says on the Floor of the House is not what matters when the Bill has to be interpreted in a court of law. It is the wording of the measure that matters. As I read the Bill, the words "reasonably practicable" give no more protection, and in some cases possibly less, than the existing common law safeguards—the duty to take all reasonable steps to avoid risk to employees. An employer has to provide reasonably safe tools, plant and machinery, a reasonably safe place of work and a reasonably safe system of work. Therefore, one adds very little and perhaps subtracts a little from the existing common law duty, but, in general, an employer is not liable unless he knew or some person for whom he is responsible knew or should have known of the danger.
327 All of us on this side of the House are aware of the concept of foreseeability that the hon. Gentleman sought to ignore. Under common law—this is one of the things we would seek to remedy—there is no obligation to provide the latest improvements in machinery, with the result that an employer can use the defence that it was not reasonably practicable to use the latest machinery. It would seem that this reinforces the let-out that already exists to some extent under the common law. As far as I can see, the words "reasonably practicable" do not increase the standard of care.
There was a great breakthrough in the law of this country in so far as it protected employees in the Mines and Quarries Acts, the Factories Acts and such things as the building regulations. Those who have had practical experience in the courts of dealing with the abrasive wheels regulations will know all too well how judges can drive a coach and horses through the wording of those regulations so as to take away protection which employees had thought they always had in relation to guards on abrasive wheels.
I am alarmed and shocked that the concept of absolute liability which is set out in various Acts and regulations may well be diluted, if not taken away, as a result of the way in which the Bill is now worded. The standard of absolute duty is apparently now reduced to a general duty similar to the existing common law duty, although perhaps a little different in specific cases. What is the difference? What does "reasonably practicable" mean? Does it mean that expense, time and trouble may weigh far more heavily than the life, limbs or health of employees? That seems to me to be the effect of using a defence of what is "reasonably practicable". My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, if he did not mention it specifically, nevertheless referred to a cogent argument by O. H. Parsons in "Labour Research", who said:The risk is that in trying to be all-embracing, standards of those industries already covered can get lowered. In spreading the jam more widely it is liable to get spread more thinly.My hon. Friend was expressing a fair point and expressing a fear that the hon. and learned Member for Royal 328 Tunbridge Wells sought to ignore either deliberately or by dint of the fact that he failed to follow the argument.
The amendments that have been tabled by my hon. Friends and myself try to meet a point that is not met by Amendment No. 2. It seems that the Government have succumbed to the tepid philosophy of Robens and a long-standing attempt by the Department of Employment to lower the standard of care in certain places and to reduce it by spreading the jam more widely and more thinly. More alarming is the view that I know is expressed by leading practitioners. I reiterate what was said by the solicitor quoted by my hon. Friend, which is the view that has been expressed to me by many of my learned colleagues inside and outside the House and by solicitors most experienced in litigation of this sort. There is the fear that absolute liability, far from being enshrined and hallowed within our law, will become ultra vires, and that it will be possible as a result of the wording of this measure to advance the defence that all that was reasonably practicable was done. It will become ultra vires to lay down standards of absolute liability in individual cases. It is that fear which the amendments that have been tabled by my hon. Friends and myself represent and to which I seek to give expression.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 6, which give expression to the fear that I have described, were ignored to all intents and purposes by the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells. The purpose of Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 is that the standard of duty shall be laid down by Acts of Parliament and regulations thereunder. That provides no absolute liability across the board, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, but liability as laid down by Acts or regulations, for example, within the Factories Acts, the building regulations and the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. My hon. Friends and I seek to establish that nothing in this measure shall in any way reduce, alter or modify such statutory regulations as exist at the time of this measure coming into force or as shall from time to time be enacted. We seek to spell out specifically in the amendments the assurance that I understand the Minister sought to give—namely, that the absolute liability already laid down in various statutes will not be interfered with or diluted in any way.
329 We want to ensure that in future it will be equally possible to lay down standards of duty above "reasonably practicable". At the very least my amendment seeks to do that. It seeks to provide that action must be taken against a reasonably foreseeable danger. That was the point that the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells sought to ignore when dealing with my hon. Friends' amendments.
I return to the concept of what is reasonably practicable. That takes us back to the pre-1954 position. Already Lord Asquith in Edwards v. NCB 1949 has been quoted. It has been quoted because, as he said, it was a narrow term and implied a computation being made by the employer in which, on one side, was the quantum of risk and, on the other side, were the sacrifices involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk in money, time or trouble.
We on this side of the House are not prepared to accept the concept that one can place value on a man's eye, or arm, or lungs in that way. We believe that where it is foreseeable that that kind of accident can occur there must be a duty higher than merely doing that which is "reasonably practicable" which really lets the employer entirely off the hook.
The employer may say "It would have cost too much to put up scaffolding when we were building this 20-storey building and, therefore, it was not reasonably practicable to do so." He might say "It might have slowed down the work too much in dealing with these castings if we had fenced the abrasive wheel." One can put up the same Aunt Sallies and knock them down.
This is the kind of defence which could be raised by an employer if we allowed these words to remain in the Bill. Again, an employer might say that something was not practicable because the equipment was not immediately available for safety precautions—that it would have involved perhaps bringing it from another part of the factory or another part of the country. We say that an employer ought to take such measures as are necessary to avoid foreseeable risk.
§ Mr. Peter Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman evidently speaks from some professional knowledge of these matters. 330 Does he not agree that in setting up such a defence—that it might have been necessary to bring equipment from another part of the factory—under the guise that it was not reasonably practicable, an employer would be blown out of court by any judge? Is not the hon. Gentleman misleading the House by suggesting that that would be regarded as a proper defence?
§ Mr. Rose
No. It is a defence which might well be raised and is often raised by lawyers. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me whether it would not be blown out of court. Judging by his intervention, he would be blown out of court on more than one occasion because he should know that this type of defence is frequently raised by employers in dealing with particulars of claim at common law as opposed to absolute duty. I speak not just from professional knowledge but from 10 years' experience in this House, something which the hon. Gentleman may well find out in time.
If the concept of "reasonably practicable" is adopted as the standard defence, in my view it will result in a reduction not only of criminal liability but of civil liability as well. In other words, one will be depriving the employees of the damages they would otherwise be entitled to were it not for the introduction of this new defence.
I myself have sought—and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman might have given some thought to this—the introduction at various stages of the words "reasonably foreseeable", because in this sense the hon. Gentleman is right in that if we take out the words "reasonable practicable" without a substitution, we arrive inevitably at the unrealistic situation of absolute liability across the board. That is not the intention.
What is asked for is a standard of care, where one takes action against all those dangers which are reasonably foreseeable. Foreseeability is one of the aspects of negligence at common law at the moment. It is a duty in respect of foreseeable dangers, but it is perhaps not as high as some of us would like.
It is a higher standard of duty than that which is provided by the words "reasonably practicable". In two cases the wording is somewhat different. I refer to Amendments Nos. 31 and 34, 331 where the words "reasonably practicable" are to be left out and the word "necessary" is to be inserted. I understand that there may be a more favourable response to them from the Minister. I hope that will commend itself even to Conservative Members who have put forward the case against absolute duty.
With the best of intentions, the Government seem destined to sweep away standards for which the trade union and Labour movements and progressive lawyers have fought for over a period of years. Over this time they have gradually increased the burden of responsibility on employers. I want to see a watertight guarantee given by the Minister to the effect that there is no attempt or intention in the Bill to undermine existing statutory protection afforded by the Factories Acts and the other Acts and regulations in the schedule. I want a guarantee that it will be possible to lay down an absolute standard of liability.
If that guarantee can be given why not accept Amendments No. 4 and 6? That will not add anything to the guarantee. Why not spell it out? I can see no reason why the Government should seek to avoid accepting these amendments if the guarantee is given. If it is not, my hon. Friends and I would feel it necessary to divide the House. Apart from that, my hon. Friend has one other course of action. He can give an undertaking that he will look again at the wording and in another place insert suitable wording to provide for the protection of employees at a level no lower than that provided under existing legislation. This is perhaps as important as any matter facing the trade union and Labour movements. Perhaps it does not evoke the same emotions as the Industrial Relations Act but it ought to do so.
§ Mr. Weitzman
In Committee I resisted the deletion of the words "reasonably practicable." I pointed out the three obligations under the Factories Act in varying circumstances. I argued that—except in specific cases, as under the Mines and Quarries Act—where we dealt with a specific case and the obligation was specific, to make the imposition of an absolute obligation on all employers would be unwarranted and 332 would put an impossible burden on employers in certain cases.
Amendment No. 8 seeks to leave out the word "practicable" and insert the word "foreseeable". The subsection would then read:the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably foreseeable, safe and without risks to health;".Let me take an example. I install machinery. I reasonably foresee that it may be unsafe. It may be reasonably impracticable to take certain steps. Despite this, if this word is inserted I am under an absolute obligation in all such cases. This runs counter to the distinction made in the three obligations under the Factories Act and may often make work impossible.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) has read the report of what happened in Committee. I hope that he read the argument carefully. The Solicitor-General quoted the headnote in the case of Marshall v. Gotham and Co., in which it was heldthat the company was not guilty of a breach of statutory duty because the death of the deceased was not caused by any failure by them to take reasonably practicable' steps to secure the roof. The test of what is 'reasonably practicable' is not simply what is practicable as a matter of engineering, but depends on a consideration, in the light of the whole circumstances at the time of the accident, whether the time, trouble and expense of the precautions suggested are or are not disproportionate to the risks involved.Does the House wish to see an absolute obligation imposed in every case where the danger to safety is reasonably foreseeable—except in specific cases, as under the Mines and Quarries Act, where it is clear because of other factors that the obligation ought to be absolute—and to put aside such considerations as engineering, the circumstances at the time, and whether the time, trouble and expense of the precautions are disproportionate to the risks involved?
I hope that my hon. Friend will consider this matter realistically. If we insist on absolute obligation in all cases in which danger is reasonably foreseeable we shall impose an impossible criminal burden on the employer and in many cases make the operation of industry impossible.
333 The safety of the employee must be of paramount importance, but we must be practical. The phrase "reasonably practicable" includes the phrase "reasonably foreseeable". It is a factor which has to be considered. I should have liked to continue the argument propounded by the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew). I agreed with his argument. He put forward a number of specific examples showing the absurdity which the amendment would cause.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The House should agree that in the circumstances set out the amendments should be resisted, and the words "reasonably practicable" should remain.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
I support the amendments which seek to delete the phrase "so far as reasonably practicable". I want to mention relevant circumstances in my constituency. Thirty of my constituents have died from asbestosis and at the moment over 100 others are known to be suffering from the disease. All are former employees of a firm called Cape Insulation Ltd., which closed its works in Hebden Bridge in 1970. The circumstances of this death and suffering are disturbing and alarming and are cloaked in some secrecy and mystery. It may be of interest that the firm has paid out more than £500,000 in compensation to people suffering from this disease.
Against that background the House may find it equally disturbing to note that no cases of breaches of the 1931 asbestos regulations were ever brought against this concern by the Factory Inspectorate, yet there are a number of affidavits by former employees of this firm describing the most deplorable conditions existing at this plant over a number of years. Equally interesting is the fact that files of the Factory Inspectorate for relevant periods during the history of this firm have also become lost. The only evidence of concern about the conditions expressed by the inspectorate seemed to be one letter which expressed some concern about the situation at this firm.
A handful of cases of breaches under the 1931 regulations are brought to attention nationally. There have been only 334 33 cases brought under the 1969 Asbestos Regulations.
One of my constituents has been paid more than £10,000 by Cape Insulation. He is suffering from asbestosis. He has been before the pneumoconiosis panel on five occasions. Each time his case has been rejected. The panel has refused his claim for industrial disease benefit despite the fact that leading chest consultants have confirmed that he is suffering from this disease. Others of my constituents find themselves in similar circumstances.
I have written to the Under-Secretary asking for certain reforms of the pneumoconiosis panel. I urge that there should be an appeal as of right against the decisions of these panels. They should justify the decisions when they reject cases of this sort.
The tragic circumstances surrounding this situation in my constituency is mirrored in circumstances elsewhere which demonstrate either the inadequacy of existing regulations affecting the asbestos industry or the inability or unwillingness of the Factory Inspectorate, often at senior level, to enforce these regulations vigorously. I have demanded an official inquiry to investigate these circumstances. This would not only be in the public interest but would also highlight weaknesses in existing procedures.
It is no good arguing that the dangers of asbestos dust have become known only recently. That is an argument put forward not only by the firm in question and the industry but also by this Government and by the last Government when refusing an official inquiry into this set of circumstances. The dangers of asbestos dust have been known for a considerable period. They were first mentioned in 1906 by Dr. Montague Murray of the Charing Cross Hospital, who told a Home Office committee of deaths of people caused by working with asbestos dust. In 1910 the Chief Inspector of Factories mentioned the dangers of asbestos dust in his annual report. It was not until 1925 that this disease was separately distinguished from other pneumoconiosis diseases.
In 1928 Dr. Merryweather found signs of lung fibrosis in 95 out of 363 asbestos workers he examined. The first regulations were introduced in 1931. In 1965, 335 Surgeon Commander Harris decided, even though the 1931 regulations were being followed in the shipyard for which he was responsible, that the protection these gave workers working with asbestos on ships at that time was inadequate.
The dangers of asbestos dust have been known for a very long time. The regulations put forward in 1931 and 1969 have been found inadequate to deal with the dangers that exist.
In April 1972 the Sunday Times ran a very long feature article headlined "Dangerous Dust". This concerned a firm in London—Centrol Asbestos. There were deplorable conditions which have been of concern to London Members of Parliament and which have been known to the Factory Inspectorate. This was revealed in reports that were produced in the High Court action concerning one of the workers at this plant. That information was found despite attempts by the inspectorate to ensure that its report highlighting the conditions in that firm was treated with Crown privilege.
It is also revealing and relevant to the debate to look at one of the quotes given in the article from an inspector who is now retired, who told the Sunday Times:How can you negotiate over absolute standards of health? Your job was to enforce the law, but it was hopeless. I got absolutely fed up just sending letters which got nowhere. It drove me demented—it was a filthy job at that factory and there were men in there with families who stuck at it in the face of everything, they weren't protected.I believe that many workers in the asbestos industry are left totally unaware of the dangers involved, and it has been a scandal that the Factory Inspectorate has had no legal obligation to tell workers of matters of concern which it found on inspection.
I should like an assurance from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the legislation which we are now considering will reverse that situation. I remind the House of qualifications written into the 1969 Asbestos Regulations which are relevant to our discussion. The regulations insist on equipment beingprovided, maintained and used which produces an exhaust draughtbut again there was a written-in proviso saying 336If it is impracticable to comply with these regulationsthen workmen must wear an approved respirator and protective clothing, thereby overlooking the fact that men doing heavy manual work find it extremely uncomfortable to wear a respirator, and this was the case all too often.
The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) has sought to persuade us that if the amendments were accepted every employer would find himself willy-nilly legally responsible for every mishap that occurs in his industry. I am not a lawyer, but I have always believed that the law is a matter of interpretation and that all the circumstances of any case are carefully weighed.
There should be a minimum qualification in health and safety matters. We need to concentrate the minds of employers on these important issues, which are matters of life and death. All too often these issues are put aside and ignored until some well-publicised tragedy persuades many people to clear their often dirty backyards.
I urge the House to support the amendments, which I believe will do much to reassure workers who for many years have been labouring in situations of extreme danger and hazard.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
It may be as well if I first say something about Amendments No. 4 and 6. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) asked me at least one specific question, and he is aware that I have written to him and to other hon. Members about the tragic situation in his constituency, where workers have died as a consequence of the appalling disease which arises from the manufacture and use of asbestos. The specific question he asked was whether the Bill either obliged or enabled the Factory Inspectorate to give more information in hazardous situations in future than it does at present. Yes, it certainly does. The Bill relieves the inspector of some of the legal obligations which at present restrict the amount of information he can give, and imposes a more positive obligation on him to provide information.
In addition, there are amendments which oblige not only the Factory Inspector but also the employer to provide much more information to work people about hazards in the factory which are a 337 threat to health and safety, and they also provide for the employer to give information to the public outside the factory who may be at risk.
Amendment No. 4 is similar to the provision which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) tried to introduce as a new clause in Committee. I explained at that time why I could not and would not accept an amendment in this form, and I promised instead to introduce an amendment of my own to Clause 1 of the Bill which I thought would meet the spirit of what my hon. Friend had in mind—that is, to make quite clear that there will be no regression from existing standards for health and safety as a result of the Bill—and that I have done. I noted the scepticism, perhaps even cynicism, with which my amendment was greeted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), but I am convinced that it will achieve that result.
In withdrawing his new clause in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley threatened to return to the fray if he was not satisfied with what we came up with on Report. That is what he has done, and it must now be for the House to judge between the two versions that have been presented.
The whole question of the preservation of standards was thoroughly discussed in Committee, and I shall try as briefly as I can to summarise the arguments. My hon. Friend is not prepared to accept verbal assurances, from Members of all persuasions, that regulations made under the Bill will in no way weaken the standards of protection of work people. My hon. Friend wants to enshrine his intention—and ours, too—in the Bill by curtailing the Secretary of State's regulation-making powers. I, too, want to enshrine in statute the intentions of the House by writing in a purpose for the new system of law that will be created under the Bill; namely, the purpose of maintaining or improving standards of health, safety and welfare.
I cannot accept the amendment, because it would not only enshrine the intention that is agreed upon by us but at the same time nullify and rigidify the whole legislative process. In seeking to preserve the standards of existing requirements, my hon. Friend's amendment would have the effect of making it an 338 extremely difficult and legally risky business to change the provisions containing them in any way. That is contrary to the spirit and purpose of the Bill, which aims to rationalise, up-date and improve upon existing legislation on health and safety.
I think that recent experience demonstrates the urgent need for a more flexible approach to statutory provision in this field. Existing legislation and legislating methods tend to be unresponsive to the speed of technological change. One thing that is highlighted by Flixborough is that the use of dangerous materials is increasing. The use of vinyl chloride monomers and such substances illustrates the need for a more rapidly-moving statutory process which is responsive to the changes taking place in industry.
I feel that I have done my utmost to meet the fears expressed by my hon. Friends, both by my amendment and by the assurances and explanations that I have repeatedly given. I do not think that I can prejudice the whole future of this enabling measure by accepting the amendment.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham
I acknowledge that I have not been in the Chamber all the time, but I listened carefully to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and I made a point of being here to hear what my hon. Friend would say about the difficulty of accepting the amendment.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend can assist us a little further. According to my reading of the amendment, it relates to the need not to limit or remove provisions which impose an absolute liability. It does not, as I understand it, have any effect other than to require that where there is at present an absolute liability that liability shall not be undermined.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker
I am following the point my hon. Friend is making. I am not carping at him in any way, but had he been here a little earlier he would have heard me on an earlier amendment point out that to go along this path would mean rigidifying the whole business by making it possible for anyone to challenge any change of any kind whatsoever in existing regulations or any of the existing relevant statutory provisions. That would 339 slow up the whole business of any possible change and would make it more difficult not only for lawyers but others to challenge a liability. It would nullify the whole trend of flexibility and speedy response that we need.
I turn to Amendment No. 5, with which we are taking all the amendments dealing with "reasonably practicable" and "reasonably foreseeable". I was rather tempted to talk of the inconsistencies between the amendments my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley proposed in Committee and those he has proposed today and the differences between those and those proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley. I do not say that in a carping spirit but because I think that those differences illustrate the difficulty of this question of duties and how they should be qualified and show that it is not an easy, cut and dried matter. Does the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
It is helpful if hon. Members can be heard in reasonable silence.
§ Mr. Walker
It would be helpful to those of us who have been giving very careful attention to what are very grave matters if we were allowed to attempt to continue to grapple with these serious problems without being interrupted by people who have been absent throughout the whole of the debate so far.
I was saying that the amendments proposed by my hon. Friends reflect and illustrate the difficulties we have in approaching the question whether these duties should be qualified, and how qualified. I was making it clear that it is not an easy and cut and dried matter but demands an enormous amount of thought. We have given a lot of thought to it during the progress of the Bill; the whole subject has been exhaustively discussed during this time. As my hon. Friends know, we had a very good debate in Standing Committee, when we were very much assisted by the Solicitor-General in interpreting the effect of amendments of this kind about the duties, and about how they might be enforced. I had hoped that what was said then might have convinced my hon. Friend, but clearly it did not.
340 First, I deal with the question of using the phrase "reasonable foreseeability", as advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, as a criterion for determining whether or not the duties should apply. I put it like that deliberately. Foreseeability, unlike practiability, does not depend on what has to be done to comply with a duty; it determines the circumstances in which the duty will apply. Thus, a person will have no duty to do anything to avert a risk that was not reasonably foreseeable. I think that that is fair enough. A duty should not apply in spite of unforeseeable circumstances. That hardly needs stating in legislation. Thus, there is no need to add a reference to foreseeability, but I am convinced that the deletion of "practicability" is undesirable and it is, I believe, unworkable. We have already tried to explain the reasons several times, but let me try to summarise them.
These general duties in the Bill are criminally enforceable obligations. They are also entirely comprehensive. They cover just about every aspect of the working environment and the carrying on of an undertaking.
If we delete the words "so far as reasonably practicable" in effect we are saying in our criminal law that in many cases work simply cannot be carried on. I need not expound upon the economic and employment consequences. But let us consider, for example, the Flixborough situation. On the basis of that illustration, there are intrinsic potential dangers in every major chemical manufacturing institution in the country. Do we stop the production of all these potentially explosive, flammable or toxic chemical plants, or do we do our best so far as is reasonable and practicable in all the circumstances to keep production going but to minimise the risks?
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) said that I had visited that tragic scene in his constituency immediately after the accident occurred. Later I met the work people and villagers, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe. The fact was that the work-people of Nypro where the disaster occurred are desperately anxious that the plant should be rebuilt so that they can get back to work, in the full knowledge 341 of all the dangers which may still be there.
In much the same way, anyone in this House will be prepared to drive his car, despite the risks that he runs and knowing about those risks, although it is perfectly practicable for the use of cars to be banned if we believe that only that which is absolutely safe should be permitted.
It is not an acceptable legislative practice to impose absolute obligations of this very broad and wide-ranging nature which will cover everything from the Flixborough situation to the cleanliness of washbasins in cloakrooms. Law which is unrealistic law is bad because it is unacceptable. There is no point in imposing legal duties which are not accepted, not complied with and not enforced, because everyone, including enforcing agencies and the courts, know that they are unreasonable duties.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham
Is it not a fact that there is some existing legislation with regard to safety requirements which does not include the provision about reasonable practicability and that what has happened, therefore, is that in the course of time the courts have had to determine whether in their view in a specific case an employer complied with the statute as far as he was able? As a result, there has been built up a fair amount of case law dealing with this If that is the case, does it not mean that the inclusion of the phrase "reasonably practicable" in legislation encourages the employer right at the beginning to make his own judgment of the balance between cost of life and risk of consequence? Does not that, therefore, weaken the position of the safety of the employee? Does not the requirement, which would otherwise be, that the employer would have to justify this in a court represent a greater sanction and offer a better chance that the provisions will be applied to the maximum possible extent?
§ Mr. Walker
I am not sure that I have followed that. If, for example, Amendment No. 5 were adopted, it would cut out of the terms of the general duties provided in Clause 2 the words "so far as reasonably practicable". That would leave a provision that it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure the health, 342 safety and welfare at work of all his employees. Then, if the hypothetical problem to which I have referred emerged of, let us say, recognising that a coal mine can never be absolutely safe, that there may be chemical plants which can never be absolutely safe, or that there are steel works which can never be absolutely safe, it would be a matter for judges in our courts to determine, using their discretion and having listened to the arguments of lawyers, what was reasonable and practicable in those circumstances.
It seems to me that my hon. Friend is only confirming my point. He is advocating putting on the shoulders of judges and lawyers responsibilities which properly belong to us. Once we do that in respect of one absolute obligation, it is inescapable that we allow the same discretion to the courts in respect of every absolute obligation.
If my hon. Friend is suggesting that a situation may arise in which it should be open to the court to use its discretion and judgment regarding the general duties, I suggest that we might as well forget about any absolute obligations. When the House has insisted that it is right that there should be general duties, how can we suggest that they are right for one part of our legislation and wrong for another? For example, Section 14 of the Factories Act lays down absolute obligations regarding the fencing of machinery. That is an absolute obligation that we intend should continue. It is right that, where appropriate, the statute should have varying qualifications such as those referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman). I recognise the fear expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. I do not wish to deceive him or the House. I am sure that I shall not deceive him. I do not want to "con" anybody.
My hon. Friend said that the situation that I described is the one about which in principle we are agreed and want to retain, except that the absolute duties contained in, for example, the Mines and Quarries Act and Section 14 of the Factories Act have been laid down in the principal statute in consequence of deliberations in this House. In future the commission will make recommendations 343 to the Secretary of State regarding regulations. The Secretary of State will then take over what has hitherto been the function of this House, and it will then be left to the House to adopt the negative resolution procedure.
My hon. Friend said that that procedure, even though it may not lead to any regression from the standards laid down, none the less is a regression from the safeguards that we have built into the parliamentary machine. I recognise that that is so. But we must choose between a repetition of our inability to legislate adequately to safeguard against certain situations, because we in this place represent a slow-moving, deliberative and deliberating assembly, and recognising the pace of modern technology, the new dangers which are emerging almost overnight in some cases, and the need to deal with them by some form of statutory machine which can respond quickly with the expertise which we often do not possess.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does my hon. Friend accept that the whole principle of subordinate legislation is to give the speed about which he is concerned? Does he accept that the existing relevant enactments—for example, the Factories Act 1961—provide the ability to make regulations? Does he accept that my fear is not about the speed of regulationmaking—the protection of eyes regulations have been five years in the making without any results so far—but about existing standards being eroded away? I am not concerned about the speed with which regulations are made.
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. Friend knows that Section 14 of the Factories Act, apart from what may be in regulations arising from the enabling powers and other parts of the Act, lays down absolute standards. Part of his anxiety is that the commission may in due course decide to introduce regulations which will replace Section 14 and that those regulations may contain a lower standard which may be qualified. In case any hon. Members misunderstand me—I am sure that my hon. Friend does not—I should point out that qualification in the general duties does not automatically qualify any existing absolute duties and does not impose any obligation regarding new regulations. It is difficult to envisage the 344 likelihood of existing absolute standards in the Factories Act, the Mines and Quarries Act, or any other legislation being qualified in future even if they are taken out to be modified in the form of regulations.
I beg my hon. Friends to understand that the commission which we are creating, which will be empowered to formulate the regulations which will subsequently be exposed to the negative procedure of the House, will be very heavily made up of people who reflect the same kind of anxieties that have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and the concern of all of us about health and safety for people at work.
We have ensured that the regulations made under Clause 15 may impose absolute standards, and that may well mean that matters which are qualified by the words "reasonably practicable" now could well be made absolute in the future. The Bill makes absolutely plain that all the Acts listed in Schedule 1 will continue in force until replaced by such regulations. Therefore, there is nothing to be gained by the deletion of the qualifications in the general duties in the Bill. I have made it clear, I think, to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and to the House that I cannot accept his amendments.
I now turn—[Interruption] My hon. Friends will feel that Conservative hon. Members, in circumstances such as these, do not help me by seeking to act on my behalf. I turn to two other amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley—Amendments Nos. 31 and 34. I ought to tell the House how I see the amendments affecting the passage of the Bill. These words will bring a duty on those who design, manufacture, supply or import any article or substance for use at work to make available adequate information about their properties and safe use. That is much in line, for instance, with the duty placed upon employers to provide necessary information to their employees, which I propose to insert in Clause 2, and with the duty on inspectors to provide information to work people, which I have proposed that we should insert in Clause 28 by amendment later. Again, this is a necessary duty.
345 In this particular case, where the duty refers to a specific matter which is, however, not a matter of safeguarding health or safety where practical physical difficulties may be involved, it seems quite proper to impose a duty that is qualified by reference to what is necessary rather than by reference to what is reasonably practicable. I am, therefore, grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing this matter to my attention. I am pleased to find these two amendments wholly acceptable and I commend them to the House.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 16, at end insert:'(3) For the purposes of this Part risks arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work shall be treated as including risks attributable to the manner of conducting an undertaking, the plant or substances used for the purposes of an undertaking and the condition of premises so used or any part of them'.This amendment is intended purely for clarification of the rather important expressionrisks arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work",as used in subsection 1(b). We feel that it might not be immediately obvious that the general purposes as defined in this subsection extend to the protection of persons from risks attributable to the
§ plant, substances, premises and so on used in connection with the carrying on of an undertaking, as well as from those attributable to the actual carrying on of the work activity.
§ By spelling out in this new subsection (3) some less apparent aspects of what is meant by risks associated with work activities, we are ensuring that there can be no doubt that we can, for example, deal with risks arising when children are allowed to ride on farm tractors; or with the continuing dangers that may persist after the cessation of a work operation, for example in the case of a nuclear site that has been closed down, and so on. These are all hazards that arise from the operations of industry, and clearly they should be covered. This amendment is designed to ensure that there is no doubt that they are covered.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Amendment proposed: No. 4, in page 2, line 16 at end insert—
'(3) Nothing in this Act shall permit the Secretary of State to remove, or limit the application of any of the provisions imposing absolute liability contained in any of the relevant statutory provisions or any regulations, orders or other instruments made thereunder'.—[Mr. Cryer.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 37, Noes 222.347
|Division No. 43]||AYES||[9.54 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank||Kelley, Richard||Sedgemore, Bryan|
|Ashton, Joe||Kerr, Russell||Sillars, James|
|Atkinson, Norman||Lambie, David||Skinner, Dennis|
|Bennett, Andrew F. (Stockport, N.)||Latham, Arthur (CityofW'minsterP'ton)||Swain, Thomas|
|Bidwell, Sydney||McNamara, Kevin||Tomlinson, John|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Marks, Kenneth||Torney, Tom|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Mikardo, Ian||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Cook, R. F. (Edinburgh, C.)||Newens, Stanley (Harlow)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.)||Price, Christopher (Lewisham, W.)||Wise, Mrs. Audrey|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Edge, Geoff||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.||Roderick, Caerwyn E.||Mr. Bob Cryer and|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Mr. Max Madden.|
|Huckfield, Leslie||Rose, Paul B.|
|Abse, Leo||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Butler, Mrs.Joyce (H'gey, WoodGreen)|
|Archer, Peter (Warley, West)||Booth, Albert||Callaghan, Jim (M'dd'ton & Pr'wich)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Campbell, Ian|
|Ashley, Jack||Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Cant, R. B.|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Carter, Ray|
|Bagier, Gordon, A. T.||Bradley, Tom||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Broughton, Sir Alfred||Clark, A. K. M. (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood & Royton)||Brown, Bob (Newcastleupon Tyne, W.)||Cocks, Michael|
|Bates, Alf||Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Coleman, Donald|
|Baxter, William||Buchan, Norman||Concannon, J. D.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Springbrn)||Costain, A. P.|
|Craigen. J. M. (G'gow, Maryhill)||Hunter, Adam||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (L'p'I, EdgeHill)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Irving, Rt. Hn. Sydney (Dartford)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg|
|Cunningham, G.(Isl'ngt'n, S&F'sb'ry)||Jackson, Colin||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cunningham, Dr. JohnA.(Whiteh'v'n)||Janner, Greville||Radice, Giles|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Reid, George|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jenkins, Hugh (W'worth, Putney)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (B'ham, St'fd)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||John, Brynmor||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Johnson, James (K'ston upon Hull, W)||Rodgers, William (Teesside, St'ckton)|
|Deakins, Eric||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.)||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Rowlands, Edward|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sandelson, Neville|
|D[...]gy, Hugh||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Selby, Harry|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Shaw, Arnold (Redbridge, Ilford, S.)|
|Dempsey, James||Kaufman, Gerald||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Doig, Peter||Kilfedder, James A.||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (S'pney&P'plar)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hamp'n, N.E.)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Kinnock, Neil||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (L'sham, D'ford)|
|Dunn, Jamas A.||Lamborn, Harry||Silkin, Rt.Hn.S.C.(S'hwark, Dulwich)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lamond, James||Silverman, Julius|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth||Lawson, George (Motherwell & Wishaw)||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Edelman, Maurico||Leadbitter, Ted||Stallard, A. W.|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scunthorpe)||Lee, John||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth, Fulh'm)|
|English, Michael||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Ennals, David||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Stott, Roger|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Lipton, Marcus||Strang, Gavin|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Loughlin, Charles||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Ewing, Harry (St'ling,F'kirk&G'm'th)||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Ewing, Mrs. Winifred (Moray&Nairn)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, W.)||Taverne, Dick|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McCartney, Hugh||Thomas, D. E. (Merioneth)|
|Flannery, Martin||MacCormack, Iain||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Foot, Rt. Hn. Michael||Macfarlane, Neil||Tierney, Sydney|
|Ford, Ben||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Tinn, James|
|Forrester, John||McGuire, Michael||Tuck, Raphael|
|Fowler, Gerry (The Wrekin)||Maclennan, Robert||Varley, Rt. Hn. Eric G.|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, Ladywood)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Magee, Bryan||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mahon, Simon||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich, S.)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Watkins, David|
|George, Bruce||Marquand, David||Watt, Hamish|
|Gilbert, Dr. John||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Weitzman, David|
|Ginsburg, David||Mayhew, Christopher (G'wh,W'wch, E)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Mayhew, Patrick (RoyalT' bridgeWells)||West, Rt. Hn. Harry|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. Joseph||Meacher, Michael||White, James|
|Gourlay, Harry||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Graham, Ted||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Whitlock, William|
|Grant, John (Islington, C.)||Millan, Bruce||Wigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Sheffield, Brightside)||Miller, Dr. M. S. (E. Kilbride)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Molloy, William||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, C.)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hvrng, Hchurch)|
|Hamling, William||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Hardy, Peter||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee, E.)|
|Harper, Joseph||Moyle, Roland||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.E.)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Murray, Ronald King||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hatton, Frank||Oakes, Gordon||Woodall, Alec|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Ogden, Eric||Woof, Robert|
|Heffer, Eric S.||O'Halloran, Michael||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Henderson, Douglas (Ab'rd'nsh're.E)||O'Malley, Brian||Young, David (Bolton, E.)|
|Hooley, Frank||Ovenden, John|
|Horam, John||Padley, Walter||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Palmer, Arthur||Mr. Thomas Cox and|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North)||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Mr. John Golding.|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Parry, Robert|
|Question accordingly negatived.|
|It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.|