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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the Government have been reviewing the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive. The results will be announced shortly, but I can tell the House that responses indicated that there was broad and substantial support for the current system. However, neither we, nor
Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Can she confirm that for 1996-97, 95 per cent. of all serious accidents at the workplace, including a number of fatalities, were not--I repeat "not"--investigated by the executive? Will she acknowledge that that quite scandalous state of affairs has been created by the savage reduction in resources to the executive over the past 18 years, including a substantial drop in the number of inspectors? Will she give the House an undertaking that in the lifetime of this Parliament health and safety at the workplace will enjoy the same standard of excellence that it had under the last Labour Government?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I can certainly assure my noble friend that we are firmly committed to high standards of health and safety for workers and those affected by work activity. We want to raise the profile of health and safety so that everyone--employers, workers and the public--know their rights and their duties in this area.
In response to my noble friend's particular question, the HSE aims to investigate all fatal accidents and a broad spectrum of other accidents and incidents. But my noble friend is right to point out the pressure there has been on inspectors and on the executive, and the reduction in funding that we have seen over past years. The scale of it is such that there has been a reduction of £45 billion in funding for the Health and Safety Commission and Executive since 1991-92. Obviously, it will take time to enhance the profile and the climate in which the HSE works. Decisions about funding for 1998-99 will be announced in early December. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the discussions that are currently taking place, but I can say that the Health and Safety Commission and Executive has many champions within the Government.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend consider the point that the Health and Safety Executive needs to recover the esteem that it lost at the time it approved the deregulation of safety in the mines and the fact that one report has claimed that accidents do not go unreported when the evidence is to the contrary?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I know that my noble friend has a long-standing anxiety about safety underground and that safety is of paramount concern to this Government. We support the Health and Safety Commission's programme for reviewing a raft of what is outmoded legislation on safety within the mines. Ministers are happy to listen to views on how arrangements introduced under the recent programme are working. The commission has just published
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what the position is as regards agriculture? Due to the lonely nature of farming work with machinery, the situation is very bad. Can the Minister say whether it is improving and what steps the Government are taking?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, obviously the area of agriculture is of concern. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, has drawn attention in this House and elsewhere to the issues raised as regards organophosphates. In a range of areas in agriculture there are concerns in the Health and Safety Executive. I know that inspectors are working hard on the matter. Perhaps I may write on the detail to the noble Lord.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, bearing in mind the decision of the Government not to increase public spending and therefore the difficulty of restoring to the HSE the level of the resources which it had at its disposal in previous years, what steps are the Government taking to persuade employers to play a greater part in ensuring the safety and health of their own workers?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is a very important role of the HSE not simply to prosecute employers after there has been an accident but to promote good practice before that. A great deal of the work of the inspectors is concerned with routine inspection and making sure that employers are aware of areas where they need to take action. That is one of the reasons that we are trying to improve the amount of contact time between inspectors and employers and to maintain the proportion of inspectors who do the job as against administrative staff. As I say, we are looking at the overall issue of funding resources and at ways in which we can raise the profile of health and safety and to begin to change the climate in which that work is undertaken. That will entail working together with employers and trade unions in the field.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the pressure which the Health and Safety Executive is under and of circumstances which make it difficult for the executive to take on extra work? Is it wise for the executive to be given responsibility for the investigation of railway accidents? Have the Government considered the possibility of making the responsibility for investigating railway accidents the same as that for investigating accidents in the civil aviation industry? Can the Minister enlighten us about that particular decision? The Health and Safety Executive has no historical expertise in that sphere and therefore might it be better for railway accident investigations to be linked with investigations into air accidents?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Railway Inspectorate was handed over to the Health and Safety Executive in its entirety only recently, and that therefore it has all the expertise that it needs from exactly the same people who studied railway accidents under the Railway Inspectorate?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, for that comment. The expertise is there. It is important that we look at where the best and most productive investigation can be placed. There is a debate about transport and whether a universal umbrella organisation would be more effective. But the important thing is to make sure that when investigations take place they are thorough and effective and that the recommendations are acted on.
Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that probably the best way to raise the profile of safety at the work place would be for every major accident, especially every fatality, to be investigated by a qualified safety inspector? That would ensure that the small number of rogue employers who put the lives and the health of their employees too often at risk are made to raise their standards to the level of the best employers who take the matter very seriously indeed?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we need to raise standards to those of the best employers. I repeat that the Health and Safety Executive aims to investigate all fatal accidents. It is important that it also considers a broad spectrum of other accidents. The policy of which accident to investigate and how much time to devote to preventive inspections rather than investigations afterwards is essentially a matter for the HSE. But its inspectors vet all accident reports and have the discretion to mount an investigation when it is deemed necessary.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I beg to present a Petition from Mrs. Doris Jones, which prays that this House will take note of the Petition organised by Fighting for Truth which calls for the rejection and withdrawal of the Royal Colleges' report on chronic fatigue syndrome (CR54) and further prays that this House will call upon Her Majesty's Government to review the scientific evidence upon which diagnosis and treatment of ME are based.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at the request of the Official Opposition, it has been agreed through the usual channels that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, will speak second in today's debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNally.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the establishment of general teaching councils for England and Wales and with respect to the registration, qualifications and training of teachers and the inspection of such training; to make new provision with respect to grants and loans to students in higher or further education and fees payable by them, and provision with respect to the funding of higher education institutions in respect of expenditure of connected institutions; to enable young persons to have time off work for study or training; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.