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22 Oct 2008 : Column 318

Point of Order

1.17 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise a matter of the greatest importance affecting your role as the defender of the interests of Members of Parliament? A decision has been taken and, sadly, Members have been denied an opportunity to comment on it. It was a decision to give an indemnity to an American company against future accidents that could cost the taxpayers multi-billion pound amounts. Information was given only to the Chairs of two Select Committees, while the minute informing Members arrived at the House only last week, 75 days after the date that was laid down for us to comment on it. That means there is no opportunity for us to comment on what appears to be a reversal of Government policy in subsidising the nuclear industry. It is a matter of great importance, which could lead in future to a very big bill for taxpayers.

Mr. Speaker: What the hon. Gentleman raises is not a matter for me, but I understand his concern. It sounds to me like a good subject for an Adjournment debate, and I am quite sure he would be more than capable of informing the House of his concerns if such a debate were granted by Mr. Speaker.

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Health and Safety (Education and Training)

1.18 pm

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I beg to move,

Accidents at work destroy lives and cost money. Many, although not all, can be prevented. No amount of regulation or training can wholly eliminate human risk or error, but it is right that dangerous practices should be regulated. The principal focus of this Bill is to change mindsets, so that by the time young people reach employment they already have an understanding of the principles and practice of good health and safety. Correspondingly, the purpose of the Bill is to reduce the human, economic and social toll that results from poor management of health and safety risks, through effective education and training. It would achieve that by embedding health and safety into national vocational and professional curricula and helping to provide the skills needed to keep people well and to create and sustain a modern and competitive work force.

Before I talk about the measures in the Bill, it is important to put it in context. Some 247 people were killed at work last year and 274,000 seriously injured. Some 2.2 million suffered an illness that they attributed to work. In addition, it is estimated that up to 1,000 people a year are killed in work-related road accidents and that thousands more die from occupational cancers. That is a particular concern in Knowsley, which is represented by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), who is in his place.

In the past decade in Britain, 64 under-19s were killed at work, nearly 15,000 suffered major injuries and more than 50,000 other teenagers were hurt by their work. It has been estimated that the cost to society of workplace accidents and work-related ill health is up to £31.8 billion a year.

Reducing the number of needlessly lost and devastated lives must be a priority. We are fortunate that there is also a strong economic rationale for doing that. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that the cost to society of workplace accidents and work-related ill health ranges between £20 billion and £31.8 billion per annum. The total cost to individuals is estimated at between £10.1 billion and £14.7 billion a year, and the cost to employers at between £3.9 billion and £7.8 billion a year. A reduction in accidents will lead to reduced costs to employers, through less staff absence, and fewer disruptions in work flow.

The Bill provides the scope to build on the foundations already laid in schools, so that workplaces provide adequate training for all levels of the work force. Those in crucial vocational and professional roles such as architects, planners, designers, engineers, managers, doctors and teachers need to understand the essentials of health and safety so that core principles can be designed into buildings and new ventures rather than imposed after the fact.

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There is a straightforward way to ensure that standards are raised consistently across the board. We need to embed relevant health and safety understanding as an integral element of all curricula. Clearly, that needs to be tailored to different ages and levels of expertise, but it makes sense to begin at an early age by tackling health and safety in schools before students start their work experience.

The Department of Health’s national director for health and work, Dame Carol Black, has rightly pointed out that future generations will have higher expectations, stating:

The good news is that much work has already been done. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, which I should thank for providing a good deal of briefing material for the Bill, has worked with the HSE, teachers and young people themselves to produce the workplace hazard awareness course, or WHAC. It is a free resource for teachers that emphasises the need to take a balanced approach. Additionally, it is important that managers understand their responsibilities, including how to supervise young people properly, and that people vetting work placements are suitably trained in health and safety.

A number of things could be done to ensure a safe start in work. First, teacher training should equip new teachers to deliver a short course on health and safety so that students are properly prepared for their first work experience. There is also a need for professional development to help existing teachers achieve similar objectives. Secondly, we need to teach health and safety in the classroom before young people start work experience. WHAC, produced by the IOSH and the HSE, should be delivered as part of work experience preparation and could lead to a level 3 entry qualification.

Thirdly, work placements should be organised in suitable environments. That means that people with the right health and safety knowledge must check that employers and workplaces are suitable. Training that meets national standards would help to achieve consistency and should be applied by schools, colleges and local authorities. That could be achieved more easily if bodies that award Government funding to work placement organisers required suitably trained placement officers.

Fourthly, employer vetting and workplace supervision need to improve. The HSE and the Learning and Skills Council have improved the guidance to those involved in educating, training and employing young people.

Fifthly, accidents need to be properly reported so that lessons are learned. There is a general problem of accidents being under-reported both at work and in education. Schools and colleges running vocational training on their premises are currently required only to report incidents in which students are killed or taken to hospital, as they are classed as members of the public. I ask the Government to consider tightening up the reporting requirements for students in colleges and schools.

Sixthly, health and safety needs to be a priority. The Government should signal the importance of health and safety when setting their strategic priorities for education, training and skills. There is an opportunity for the Government to show leadership on the matter.
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For example, in England the health and safety of young people on Government-funded programmes could be noted as a key priority in the next LSC grant letter, which is due in November.

I welcome the Government’s new Education and Skills Bill. Its drive to improve the skills of the UK’s work force is a welcome opportunity to integrate core health and safety principles into the training and education system. Health and safety should be seen as a key component of modern apprenticeships and new diplomas. It should also routinely be part of the disciplines of business and management qualifications, just as they currently cover marketing, finance and human resources. Such work is already being carried out by the inter-institutional group on health, safety and risk, to ensure that adequate health and safety knowledge is provided to engineering undergraduates. One such programme is being trialled at the university of Liverpool. All of that amounts to a welcome step forward, but more needs to be done so that business schools and universities systematically include health and safety in vocational disciplines, especially MBA programmes. Health and safety at work should also be fully incorporated into the new qualifications and credit framework.

Finally, it is worth remembering that evidence shows that people new to workplaces are at a greater relative risk of work-related injury. Rhys Davies and Paul Jones of the Warwick Institute for Employment Research estimate:

Their research showed clearly that the risks are greatest in the first four months of a new job, which also has implications for those working on short-term or agency contracts.

The Bill would create an opportunity to prepare young people so that when they begin their working lives, they are better able to handle the risks that face them. In time, that change in mindset will reduce unnecessary risk.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. George Howarth, Mr. Tim Boswell, Mr. Terry Rooney, Mr. Edward O’Hara, Mr. Michael Clapham, Paul Rowen, Harry Cohen, Bob Russell, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and Joan Ryan.

Health and Safety (Education and Training)

Mr. George Howarth accordingly presented a Bill to make requirements about the integration of health and safety issues in education and vocational training; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 31 October, and to be printed [Bill 155].

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you will tell me if this is not an appropriate time to raise this point of order, but in view of the fact that the Minister is about to move a programme motion relating to the order in which amendments are taken, it seems the
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appropriate time to put it to you. As you know, Sir, I wrote to you last week regarding the selection of amendments. I accept totally that it is absolutely within your discretion to decide which amendments you select for debate, and that you are not required by precedent or procedure to state the reasons why you have selected them. Nevertheless, I am asking, and I will accept it entirely if you say that my point of order is invalid or that I am not raising it at the right time, whether it is open to you to explain to the House—if it is not, I accept that—how it comes about that you have selected a large succession of new clauses on abortion when there is no reference in the Bill to abortion.

Mr. Speaker: First, the right hon. Gentleman did write to me, but I did not reply to him or to any other letters because I did not want to be drawn into this argument. It was only this morning that I was drawn into the argument, but I think that I can put on the record that I did not reply to the right hon. Gentleman for the reason that I have given. The amendments were selected because they were within the scope of the Bill; it is as simple as that. All the amendments on the Order Paper are there because they are within the scope of the Bill, and that is the explanation.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful for your advice and I am sorry that I have not had a chance to give you advance notice of this point of order. During business questions, we were told by the Leader of the House in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) that in today’s debate

That was in response to a question asking whether new clause 1 would be dealt with first. In response to a question from me, we were told:

My understanding was that the normal way, in the absence of anything abnormal, would be that new clauses were debated before amendments in the order of selection, according to your selection. I should be grateful if you gave us guidance as to whether it is normal for there to be a programme motion that reverses the order of the normal way of doing these things.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the House mentioned the normal way—I was in the Chair when that was said. I am not responsible for the way in which the Leader of the House or any other Minister of the Crown replies. On the normal way as the hon. Gentleman expresses it, he is right: it is laid out in a certain manner, except that the rules of the House allow a Minister to come forward and put down a programme motion. That is what is happening now, and we have before us a programme motion that changes the order of business in terms of what clauses will be called. Again, that is not a matter for me. A Minister is allowed to do that in the normal way, and it is up to the House to say yea or nay to what the Minister has to say.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a new clause in the first sequence of amendments.

22 Oct 2008 : Column 323

Mr. Speaker: The new clause is grouped.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise that, on the subject of the programme motion, it is within the powers of the House to alter the order of debate, but you have certain powers, which are governed by convention, protecting the practice of the House and the way in which it normally expects to debate the matters regarded as most significant to large numbers of Members. Do I take it that you accept that the Speaker has no discretion whatever if the Government of the day choose to order for debate amendments, as well as new clauses, in whichever order they deem fit? Obviously, the consequence is that they are able to choose that the House debate only those matters that are not, for some reason, inconvenient for them to have debated, and everything else falls to a guillotine under our new timetabled arrangements.

Mr. Speaker: This is up to the House. A programme motion is in order, and it is up to a Minister, if they so wish, to come forward with a programme motion. The motion has been tabled and it is for debate, and the House, if it so wishes, can vote it down. I am not suggesting that it should do that, but the House can vote the programme motion down, and if it does, we revert to the situation where the clauses are in the order of consideration. I hope that I am explaining myself properly. So, it is not a question of my discretion; at this stage it is before the House, and it is up to the House to say yea or nay to what the Minister is proposing.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I note that the order in which the amendments are printed in the Order Paper is also not in accordance with the usual convention. Normally, the new clauses are printed first, followed by the amendments in the order in which they relate to the Bill. In today’s Order Paper, that convention has not been followed. On whose authority has this unconventional means of dealing with the amendments taken place?

Mr. Speaker: It is a regular practice of the House to re-marshal when a programme motion has been tabled. We have the programme motion, and I shall call Dawn Primarolo to move it.

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [ Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

1.37 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo): I beg to move,

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill contains important provisions that are of great interest to the public and to patients, to the scientific community, to researchers and to Members in all parts of this House. They have a potentially profound impact. One in seven couples needs help with fertility treatment; 350,000 people in this country live with Alzheimer’s; every week, five children are born with, and three young people die from, cystic fibrosis. All those issues, and the potential for treatments, this Bill addresses.

Today is the last opportunity for the House to debate the Bill before it returns to the other place for consideration of the amendments that we have made. We have amendments for debate today that cover embryo research, the definition of embryos, the parenthood of people who receive assisted reproduction treatment, and saviour siblings. These matters go to the very heart of the Bill and they need consideration before it finally leaves this Chamber. The programme motion provides for that.

1.39 pm

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I shall confine my remarks at this stage specifically to the programme motion. As the Minister correctly said, this is the last chance for the House to discuss many detailed and complex issues before the Bill moves to the other place. We Conservatives have a completely free vote on the Bill—from the programme motion to all amendments, and through to Third Reading—and in my view the Government should have had far more free votes on it, as was the case with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The Government had free votes on only the three key areas, in addition to abortion: admixed embryos, saviour siblings and the need for a father.

The Conservatives have a totally free vote, so my remarks from this Dispatch Box will be personal ones. Clearly, having one day to debate the volume of amendments that have been tabled, both about the main part of the Bill and about abortion, demonstrates what a insignificant amount of time the Government have allocated. It is possible that significant aspects of the Bill will not have been debated on the Floor of the House and will not be reached. Such issues might include key amendments to the saviour sibling proposals, key changes to the surrogacy arrangements and the disclosure of donor information.

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