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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their interest, useful comments and apparent support for the order. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that my noble friend Lord Dubs was unable to be present and to give him perhaps a little more information, if he feels that there was insufficient.
Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. Not only will the responsibility transfer to the Assembly, but Assembly Members have already received a copy of the consultation document, and their views will be extremely important.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, drew attention to the importance of recognising the difficulties regarding definition. I understand that only too well having served on a committee of the Council of Europe which considered the issue across the whole Community. Definitions are difficult. The specific needs within the Community of those described as travellers can vary enormously. That is why the report has been issued, and consultation on those needs is an important element. We can meet the needs only when we are fully aware of what they are. The period of consultation has expired. We shall look in great detail and with care at the information. It is not proposed at present to issue new guidelines. At this stage we feel it important to await the outcome of the report.
Several noble Lords referred to the way in which sites are treated at present. The department's toleration policy will continue. It allows travellers to remain on Department of the Environment lands subject to certain conditions, such as health and the future use of that land. That toleration policy will remain for the foreseeable future while we await the outcome of the consultation.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to finance. Finance has been available up to the current year. Until we know the outcome of the accommodation review, no commitments can be made on the amount of money to be made available. At present the vote is nil for the next financial year and succeeding years.
It is extremely important that the consultation work identifies in detail the accommodation to be provided. We shall look again at the question of illegal encampments as we consider the new accommodation policy. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, indicated, at present there is no issue regarding New Age travellers in Northern Ireland.
I hope that I have answered the questions that have been raised today. Should I not have replied in sufficient detail I shall write to noble Lords. I commend the order on behalf of my noble friend Lord Dubs.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Dubs, I beg to move that the draft Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 which was laid before your Lordships' House on 23rd July 1998 be approved.
The primary purpose of the order is to provide for the establishment and functions of a new executive non-departmental public body, operating along Next Steps lines, to be called the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland.
The essential thrust of the draft order is to streamline the administrative structure for health and safety at work in Northern Ireland. As health and safety at work will be a transferred matter under the new political arrangements in Northern Ireland, it is important that that structure should be as efficient and effective as possible.
I believe that it will be helpful to the House if I say a few words about the role of the proposed executive. The executive will assume the functions of the Department of Economic Development (apart from its legislative making function), the Health and Safety Agency for Northern Ireland, an advisory non-departmental public body, and the Employment Medical Advisory Service under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. The draft order will also align the functions of the executive more closely with those of the Great Britain Health and Safety Commission/Executive.
The draft order provides that the executive, as is the case with the Health and Safety Commission/Executive in Great Britain established under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, will enjoy Crown status. This means that the executive's staff will be civil servants and thus the terms and conditions of employment of existing staff will be protected. No other non-departmental public body in Northern Ireland enjoys Crown status and I believe that conferring this status on the executive indicates the importance Government attach to its role.
The executive will have very wide ranging policy functions in relation to health and safety in the workplace, including powers to make proposals to Government for new legislation dealing with health and safety at work. The executive will also have extensive enforcement powers in its own right and its inspectors will have very wide powers under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 to tell people what to do, to carry out investigations and to take legal proceedings where necessary.
There was a general welcome for the proposals following the publication of the proposal for the draft order. However, Government have agreed to make two changes to the draft order in response to the consultation exercise. The power of the head of the Department of Economic Development to appoint a deputy chairman of the executive will be exercised only after consultation with the executive. Also, in relation to the employment of staff by the executive, the draft order now provides that the executive "shall", rather than "may" employ staff.
Noble Lords will, I am sure, welcome the Government's proposals, as outlined by me today, to streamline the administrative structure of health and safety at work legislation in Northern Ireland and at the same time bring that legislation more closely into line with that applying in Great Britain. I beg to move.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as the Minister said, the responsibility for health and safety at work is about to be transferred to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and executive. However, at present it is undertaken on the old direct rule basis. In some respects, the whole framework of the order proceeds on that basis. When responsibility is transferred, will it be necessary to have an agreement--sometimes known as a concordat--between the new executive which is part of the Assembly and the Health and Safety Executive?
There was a choice of two names, following the Great Britain example where we have both a Health and Safety Commission and a Health and Safety Executive, the executive answering to the commission. In the Northern Ireland case, under this order, there will be a single body carrying out the functions of the commission and the executive in Great Britain. However we should not--and I do not--complain too much about its name.
There is another small point which I noticed. I was not quite sure how it arose. The chairman of the new health and safety executive is to be disqualified from being a Member of the Westminster Parliament. However, all the members of the new body are to be disqualified from being a member of the Assembly. It seemed to me rather odd that only the chairman should be disqualified from the Commons whereas all the members, including the chairman, should be disqualified from the Assembly itself. It seems to me that some of the Assembly members may be very suitable for appointment to that body in due course. If they are
The most important single phrase within the order occurs on page 6 where, in Article 20 on enforcement authorities, after "concerned" the words "and the Executive" are inserted. That gives power to the health and safety executive to enforce the various regulations for which it is to be responsible. I notice that the word "and" is used there. That means that the enforcement is, under this order, to be the responsibility of the department and the health and safety executive and not the sole responsibility of the health and safety executive. That was not what I was expecting in that part. I am not sure what will be the remaining duties of the department, as opposed to the executive or, for that matter, what will be the responsibility of any other department in respect of it. Therefore, I am not sure whether the executive is really being given the full powers.
Finally, is there likely to be a consolidation of this order? It seems to me that where we have, as we have here, a very large number of amendments made throughout the whole of the 1978 order--for example, almost every paragraph refers to "the agency" and that is collectively changed to "the executive" throughout but there are also smaller changes set out in the schedule--it all becomes extremely complicated. Therefore, I hope that we shall have a consolidating order before too long so that there is a single document which people can consult to know all the arrangements made for the important work of enforcing health and safety legislation throughout Northern Ireland.
In general, this order is desirable. In some respects, it is surprising that it has been so long coming. That does not reflect any particular Northern Ireland consideration. Northern Ireland legislation has tended to follow, at a rather long distance sometimes, Great Britain legislation. But here in Great Britain, the Health and Safety Commission and Executive have long established themselves as important and excellent bodies carrying out their functions; enjoying a great deal of confidence from all sides of industry and from the public at large; and I believe and hope that this executive in Northern Ireland will quickly be able to establish a similar degree of confidence from all concerned throughout the Province.
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