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European Community (Worker Protection)

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 26 March 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

[ Relevant document: Department of Employment's supplementary explanatory memorandum of 24 March 1980.]

10.13 pm

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Community document 5394/79 for a Council Directive on the protection of workers from harmful exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work.
This document is a letter dated 9 March 1979 from the Commission to the President of the Council of Ministers, enclosing a proposal for a Council directive, itself bearing Commission reference "COM(79) 83 final" and dated 2 March.

This was the subject of the Department of Employment explanatory memorandum to Parliament, dated 26 June 1979. Since that date the proposal has been examined by the Select Comittee on European legislation, which reported on 24 October, and it has been extensively discussed at Brussels in the Council working group with a view to agreement on a text for approval by the Council of Ministers.

It is to explain the progress of those discussions that the supplementary explanatory memorandum dated 24 March 1980 has been submitted to Parliament, to which is attached, for convenience, an informal text to illustrate the current content of the draft proposal.

I shall explain how the draft directive originated. In June 1978 the Council of Ministers of the European Community resolved on an action programe of health and safety at work. One of its general objectives is that exposure to occupational risks of all workers within the European Community be kept to permissible levels based upon common concepts and references.

It also proposes that there should be harmonisation of measures for the protection of workers with respect to chemical, physical and biological agents—that is to say, harmful substances or conditions. In effect, that means anything that could be harmful to health.

Accordingly, in March 1979 the Commission proposed a Council directive and prepared the Commission's proposal circulated under cover of Council document 5394/79. It is known in the trade as a "draft framework directive"—that is to say, it provides the framework within which further specific Community legislation may be made and under which member countries may make regulations of their own.

I shall next describe how the directive will take effect. It requires member States to take appropriate measures to ensure that exposure of workers to harmful agents is kept as low as can reasonably be achieved.

In respect of 14 specific agents listed in annex 1, article 5 calls for special measures. These are concerned with medical supervision of workers, access to the results of measurements and the provision of information and documentation available at national and community levels.

Article 6 provides for consultation with workers in regard to the proposed safety measures for suitable economic safeguards for workers removed from exposure to any harmful agent and for ensuring that the measures taken will not produce any unduly adverse effects elsewhere.

It is proposed that a series of draft special directives on further specific requirements for those agents listed in annex 1 will follow. The draft directive further provides, by article 9, for the establishment of an
"'Industrial Medicine and Hygiene Committee' of the member States' representatives, which will have power to elaborate and adapt to progress technical aspects of the provisions of Article 4 and the equivalent provisions of Article 5."
The House will therefore see that the broad purpose of the draft directive is to achieve for the Community as a whole—in respect of harmful substances and conditions—the essence of what Parliament achieved for the United Kingdom when it passed the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman make clear in what way this directive improves on the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974? What benefit do we get from this directive that we do not already get from the Act?

There is virtually no change. The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 achieved for this country the essence of what is sought to be achieved by the draft directive that we are discussing. Accordingly—I shall come to this in more detail later—the desirability or otherwise of this directive from the point of view of the interests of the United Kingdom is to be seen in terms of harmonisation.

Industries in this country that already have to comply with the obligations imposed upon them by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act have an obvious economic interest in seeing that competitor industries in the Community do not have to meet less stringent obligations.

I understand from a brief examination of the document that other member countries of the Community will, if they wish, be able to introduce even stronger measures of their own. If that happens, will those member countries be able to say that if we do not adopt their measures, they will not accept our exports because our specifications are not up to their standards?

That is not entirely accurate. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) says that other countries will be able to introduce more stringent measures. That is correct. They can do that under domestic legislation. However, other member countries will be able to propose to the Commission more stringent measures under the directive. They will not be able to secure more stringent measures unless the Council of Ministers approves them. Any member of the Council of Ministers has a de facto right to veto a Commission proposal.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is intended to protect people at work and others affected by work activities. It lays down general duties for employers, the self-employed and workers. It gives powers to make subordinate legislation. From the outset there appeared to the Government to be much to be said for the principle of a framework directive, the general thrust of which was to apply to all our European partners the prin- ciples that we had already applied to ourselves.

I am puzzled about what the Minister said about the impact on United Kingdom law. The early memorandum says that it could be necessary to introduce regulations under section 15 of the Health and Safety Work etc. Act or approved codes of practice under section 16. The memorandum refers to policy implications and states that our legislation

"does not however specifically require in the case of the listed agents, all of the additional protection such as formal medical supervision set out in Article 5."
That seems to conflict with what the Minister said, although it tallies with my understanding of the directive.

The hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) accurately quotes from the June memorandum. I shall explain the course that discussions have taken in the Council of Ministers working group. I said that the impact would be slight. That is because the standard that the Act imposes upon British employers is reasonably practical for safety. That does not mean that there may not be ancillary changes in the law imposed here. However, the main thrust of the directive is to impose a more stringent standard of care in respect of exposure to harmful agents than is imposed by the Act.

The directive is being put to the House so that members of the working group in Europe know hon. Members' views on how best to achieve proper standards.

Is there not a difference between the existing United Kingdom practice and the directive? The directive lists a number of harmful substances, whereas the Health and Safety Executive has refused to list grade 1 and 2 carcinogens, even to inspectors. Surely, listing harmful substances is a significant step forward.

I shall come to that. The directive in its original text in article 3 states:

"Member States shall take appropriate measures to ensure that exposure of workers to agents shall be kept as low as can be reasonably achieved."
"Agents" means harmful agents. It is true that in annex 1 there is set out a list of 14 specific agents in respect of which article 5 states that
"in addition to those measures laid down in Articles 3 and 4",
in respect of those agents set out in article 5 the measures which the member States shall take shall
"ensure that medical supervision of workers is provided prior to exposure"
and so forth. It goes on to say:
"To assist them with the interpretation of the results and to further inform them of the potential hazards of the agents specifically prepared information and documentation at national and/or Community levels shall be made available."
It therefore spells out in black and white what the measures that may be taken by member States shall include What I am saying is that none of those, as I am advised, goes outside what would already be required, under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, of any employer in this country. In other words, it is specific in the sense that it identifies certain agents, but in this country it is a matter of fact in each case whether or not an employer has taken the act that is required of him in fulfilment of his general duty in respect of any particular harmful agent with which his operations are concerned.

I was saying that from the outset there appeared to the Government to be a good deal to be said for the principle of the framework directive whose general thrust was to apply to all our European partners principles that we had already in this country applied to ourselves.

The Scrutiny Committee of Parliament duly considered the draft proposal and reported on 24 October last year. It reported some doubt about the need for legislation on the lines proposed. It reported criticism of the way in which the proposed industrial medicine and hygiene committee was to operate. It reported criticism of the detailed drafting of the document, and it questioned the vires of the directive in relation to article 100 of the Treaty of Rome.

The Government, in order to establish views within the United Kingdom, consulted the CBI, the TUC, trade associations, the Health and Safety Commission, and Government Departments. This consultation will continue as the draft directive progresses through the Council machinery.

As a member of the Scrutiny Committee, I suppose that I led the questioning of the medicine committee, and it was partly because the late Professor Robson, the former vice-chancellor of Edinburgh university, who was a member of some of the medicines committees in Brussels, expressed considerable criticism about their effectiveness. Against that background, I should like to ask whether these committees, for all their meetings—bringing distinguished men from all corners of Europe to Brussels—achieve very much. Certainly Professor Robson, before he suddenly died, was very doubtful about the usefulness of the committees on which he served.

The answer to that will depend upon the final form of the draft proposal. Under the original text of the draft proposal the function of this technical committee—the industrial medicine and hygiene committee—was proposed to be very wide, or much wider, at any rate. It was proposed that it should have the function of advising the Commission on technical matters and of advising the Commission on any changes or adaptations to regulations or to directives that it might think necessary in the light of technical changes and advances.

As I shall explain to the House, in the course of discussions in the working group it now appears that the final recommendation will be that the jurisdiction of the committee will be much narrower and will be related only to those harmful agents in respect of which special directives will have been made by the Commission.

I do not know whether this committee is likely to be of value, but there is value in special technical committees to advise the Commission on narrowly technical matters. It is important that they should not, as it were, have jurisdiction to change the substance of directives or of legislation, but that is not proposed in this draft directive.

According to what my hon. and learned Friend said, it seems that the Scrutiny Committee has criticised almost every aspect of this directive and has damned it with faint praise at best, including criticising its legality. Therefore, will my hon. and learned Friend tell me why we are discussing it tonight?

I shall do so, but if I keep giving way I shall have some difficulty. My hon. Friend should have listened a little more carefully. I said that the Scrutiny Committee reported some doubt about the need for the legislation, criticism of the way in which the committee was to operate, and criticism of the detailed drafting of the document, and it questioned whether it was intra vires article 100 of the Treaty of Rome.

I acknowledge the Scrutiny Committee's work in eliciting the views of a wide range of United Kingdom interests. In our inquiries the general reaction has been one of welcome for the objectives of the directive, and no adverse comment has been made on its main principles. Naturally there has been some criticism, but that has mainly been on points of detail, such as the precise meaning of the terminology used in articles 3 and 4.

Discussions in the working group in Brussels have resulted in the Commission's intentions becoming clearer, and this is reflected in the latest text, which is annexed to the explanatory memorandum, dated 24 March. Accordingly, consultation appeared to the Government to confirm the need for a directive on these principles—the first of the questions raised by the Scrutiny Committee. In the Council of Ministers' working group the Government have supported the general principle of a framework directive subject to two provisos: first, that no article of the directive shall impose requirements more stringent than those in force in the United Kingdom at present and, secondly, that no action will be necessary in respect of the agents listed in annex 1 of the directive as a consequence of article 5 until special directives have been adopted.

Does not that reservation mean that article 5 is rendered obsolete? The article states that member States shall do something. That is an absolute duty. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 lays down a qualifying duty: that an employer shall carry out duties so far as is reasonably practicable. That is a very marked difference. If the position in the negotiations is that duties shall be carried out only so far as reasonably practicable, that will erode the principle of article 5.

Article 5, which I have already quoted from the original text, states that, in respect of annex 1 substances, in addition to article 4 measures the following measures—which are set out, and I can begin with the medical supervision of workers—shall be included and shall ensure that medical supervision is provided.

As I indicated, the line taken by the Government in the Council of Ministers' working group has been to support the principle, subject to the two qualifications to which I referred. The Government now wish to hear what the House has to say about that matter.

I turn now to the second of the matters raised by the Scrutiny Committee, namely, the technical committee that article 9 of the draft directive proposes shall be set up, to be called, under the original draft proposal, the industrial medicine and hygiene committee. It will consist of representatives of the member States with a representative of the Commission as chairman.

Obviously, much of the work concerned with elimination or reduction of exposures will be of a highly technical nature. It is for that reason that the draft directive provides, by article 9, for the setting up of a technical progress committee such as this, which will advise the Commission and the Council of Ministers on technical aspects and, where necessary, propose adaptations regarding the matters set out in annex 2 in the light of technical change. If the measures accord with the majority opinion of the committee, the Commision shall proceed to impose these measures. If there is, on the other hand, a difference of opinion, the matters shall be decided by the Council of Ministers.

Concern was expressed to the Select Committee at the powers to be given to this committee. Hon. Members will know that such committees have been established by many directives.

The Scrutiny Committee.

The important issue in my opinion is whether the committee is restricted to purely technical matters or is given a remit that allows it to enter into substantive issues properly for decision by the Council of Ministers.

The latest indications in the Council of Ministers' working group are that the jurisdiction of the technical committee will be restricted to special directives only, as distinct from the framework directive, and in those directives there may be further limitation of its powers. The Government will value the views of this House on that aspect of the draft directive.

I now turn to a number of detailed issues, including criticisms made in the course of scrutiny. The first concerns loss of jobs and compensation of workers. The question of guarantees, under article 6, for workers who may be temporarily removed from their jobs to prevent further exposure to harmful agents is one area in which United Kingdom law might need reinforcement. The European Commission has used the term "undue prejudice" in this document, which is its attempt to write into the directive provisions that equate with ILO convention No. 148, which deals with air pollution, noise and vibration. Article 11(3) of that convention makes provision for a worker to be found alternative employment or to have his income maintained through social security measures or otherwise in cases where continued exposure at work is considered to be medically inadvisable. The United Kingdom ratified the convention with respect to air pollution in March 1979.

I would not dissent from the intention of such a provision, because it is in accord with the spirit of the ILO convention. No one wishes to see any worker or his family suffer in those circumstances. Nevertheless, it is uncertain whether what is essentially a wide employment and social security issue should be included in a directive, the purpose of which is to safeguard the health of people at work.

On matters of environment and public health dealt with by article 6, measures taken to protect the health of people at work should not result in the public being put at risk or the environment being polluted, for example, by harmful materials removed from the work place being deposited elsewhere or workers taking home contaminated clothing. The provisions of article 6 seek to ensure that by ensuring that the requirements of the directive are consistent with those in other directives dealing with the pro- tection of the environment and public health.

The use of medical resources is dealt with in articles 4 and 5. Articles 4 and 5 of the original draft refer to medical supervision of workers likely to be exposed at work to risks from harmful agents. The latest text requires the consideration of the need for "surveillance of workers' health" in all cases, taking account of the nature of the agent, extent of exposure, gravity of risks and the degree of urgency that a member State attaches to such surveillance in relation to the agent under consideration. Medical surveillance need not necessarily be undertaken by a doctor in every case, but it must be by a doctor in the case of those specific agents to which article 5 applies.

I turn finally to the question of vires and article 100. The issue raised by the Select Committee is whether this directive represents proper use of article 100 of the Treaty of Rome, on which it is based and which requires that the directives shall be issued for the approximation of such provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in the member States as directly affecting the establishment or functioning of the Common Market.

First, I believe that it is clear that the proposed directive would remove differences in standards of worker protection among member States, which undoubtedly are of economic importance as they affect the competitive position of manufacturers. It is for that reason that United Kingdom employers are ready to support the proposal, since in the United Kingdom they are already required to provide protection broadly as the directive would require. The council of the European Communities legal services is also of the opinion that the directive aims to avoid disparities and also to pave the way for furture harmonisation, that the provisions have a direct impact on the operation of the Common Market and that the area under consideration is one of those governed by the Treaty for which the Community is competent.

The then Lord Chancellor, Lord Elwyn Jones, in a debate on the EEC 22nd and 35th reports on the approximation of laws, said:
"Where it is a question of ensuring appropriate standards of safety, health and hygiene, few I think would question that these must directly affect the operation of the Common Market."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 July 1978; Vol. 394, c. 904.]
I add that there are precedents for the use of article 100 for the protection of workers.

Basing the directive on article 100 creates a danger that harmonisation will take place on the lowest common denominator. We must therefore retain the right to set higher standards if we consider it necessary and the new article 7 in the informal working text is intended to achieve that objective.

To sum up, we have in the United Kingdom a comprehensive range of statutes already providing protection for people at work, and they are often the admiration of other countries. The latest draft of the directive is an improvement on the earlier text and now incorporates the main principles of protection of workers' health already applied in this country. Nevertheless, we cannot be entirely sure that our own legislation will prove to be adequate to meet the directive, though I have already indicated the Government's view on the proposed draft. Much will depend on the final text.

When special directives are promulgated by the Commission we shall be able to influence what each directive requires, and it may be necessary to introduce regulations under section 15 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act in some cases. Again, it will depend on the precise wording of the directives.

The main thrust of the draft directive is to harmonise on a Community basis the control of harmful agents at work. The Government desire to have the views of the House at this stage of its development so that our negotiating team may best assist the directive to attain that desirable objective.

The Minister has been landed with a lousy brief. Does he think that evidence was presented to the Scrutiny Committee to enable a group of his parliamentary colleagues to evaluate these matters? That is not the nature of the Scrutiny Committee. It can judge only whether a matter should come to the Floor of the House. The impression must not be given to our colleagues that the Scrutiny Committee has deliberated in any depth on the merits of the issues.

I got the impression from the brief, as did some of my hon. Friends, that the Minister thought that the Scrutiny Committee had passed a qualitative judgment on the issues that we are discussing. That is not so.

I am sorry if I gave that impression. I think that I am clear about the basis on which the Scrutiny Committee does its job. The hon. Gentleman will recall that in the report of the Committee on 24th October last year an annex set out a resumé of evidence given to the Committee by four or five bodies. I therefore said that the Committee had reported criticism of certain matters. The Committee itself said that Parliament might wish to consider whether this matter was a proper use of article 100.

10.43 pm

On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the framework directive. It is the most important and wide-ranging measure so far proposed by the EEC on occupational health and safety. I know that that is also the view of the TUC and, I believe, employers.

I gather that the list of harmful agents that the directive contains will be expanded in line with the EEC action programme that was previously agreed by the Council of Ministers. I was keen to see that programme promoted during the three years when I attended the labour and social affairs council on behalf of the British Government and when I had ministerial responsibility for health and safety.

In welcoming this draft directive tonight, the Government have expressed the opinion that they will not have to do anything about it. I want to suggest—indeed, I already have—that some of the proposals in the directive would mean changes in practice and improvements. Indeed, in his closing remarks I think the Minister conceded that the main thrust—as he puts it—of our health and safety law will remain unchanged. That may be so. Nevertheless, there will be some important changes. I do not think that the Minister has done justice to that in his remarks.

The directive has a wide scope. It deals with improvements of standards at planned as well as existing workplaces, greater consultation on safety at the industrial design stage, improved training and information, more monitoring of conditions at the workplace, more statistics, and so on. I can see why the Commission wants enabling-type legislation, supplemented by individual directives.

I want to pose a series of questions to the Minister. This is not a complaint in any sense, but I wonder whether he can tell us how the House will be consulted on the individual directives that will come forward within the framework directive. As he himself said, the framework directive has a fairly simple objective, which is to prevent risks to workers from chemical and other agents. It is a comprehensive directive.

The Minister's acceptance of the advances that I believe will be contained in the directive has been extremely reluctant. I shall later suggest why that is, but first I want to press the Minister on some specific points that will help to illustrate my remark that changes will be necessary.

I take it that the requirement in article 6 that workers or their representatives should be involved in discussions on the results of monitoring and safety systems at work will fit into the pattern of safety committees that the previous Government established as a statutory right. But there is one potentially important difference in relation to current practice. Article 6 indirectly mentions the environment and says that measures taken under the directive should not lead to undue effects outside the workplace. It would be helpful if the Minister could say something in amplification of that, because we have doubts about what is contained in the explanatory memorandum and about the possible role of the Secretary of State for the Environment in this context.

Could the directive be developed to deal with the handling and disposal of toxic waste, or the provision of information by those public bodies concerned with the environment about the risks involved and the precautions taken by the employer? We need some clarification. It may be that the article needs to be much more specific, but there are clearly implications here for the United Kingdom.

There is also the question of the list of agents mentioned in annex 1, which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has already mentioned. The inspection of records also poses a major question. I shall take a couple of examples that are not in the list but that I presume could be added by a special directive. There has been a good deal of concern about access to records concerning the effects of radiation. It would seem that if a special directive were implemented, more access to such information would be possible.

Another topical example is the weed-killer 2,4,5-T and dioxin and the poison that it contains. There has been increasing anxiety about this in many quarters, including the continuing concern about the health of workers at Bolsover, where it is made. As I understand it, the Health and Safety Executive has experienced difficulty in the past in obtaining details from the firm concerned—Coalite and Chemical Products Ltd—about the medical records of the men concerned.

Presumably, if there were a directive that covered this sort of chemical, that would take care of that situation. The explanatory memorandum refers to possible implications for the Secretary of State for Social Services in relation to medical supervision and surveillance, as the Minister mentioned. In pressing the Minister on this matter I may be a little unfair. It may be too early, but I wonder whether the Government have any intention, on the basis of advice from the Health and Safety Executive at this stage, to consider pressing for an early addition to the list in respect of dioxin, or, for that matter, radiation. We have a shopping list within the directive. Do the Government, at this stage, have their own reserve shopping list of other dangerous chemicals, and so on, that they would wish to see added to that list?

What is the position with regard to seafarers? Does the framework directive extend to them? If it does not, why not? This question has worried the unions. It has been of concern to the TUC. It would be helpful to have an answer.

Articles 9 and 10 contain the technical committee proposals to which the Minister referred. He talked about narrower guidelines for the technical committee. It is right that they have been changed. As I understand it, again it would consist of Government experts, and it would exclude worker representatives and any opportunity for them to influence the structure or shape or the standards of future EEC proposals, if the directive had gone through in its earlier form, at any rate. That would have seemed to cut across the tripartite nature of decision-making in the Community. That is always claimed to be an integral feature of the Community approach.

It would seem best if the technical committee could stick to technical matters and leave policy decisions to the advisory committee on safety, hygiene and health at work, and, indeed, to the Council. The latest explanatory memorandum seems to suggest that that will now be the case, and I think that the Minister was saying that in fact that is so and that that point had been taken care of.

On the question of timing, the presidency was hoping that the framework directive would be adopted in June. Is that the Government's expectation?

My final and major point is a very different one. It takes us back to the question why the Government have welcomed the directive on the basis that they will not have to do anything about it. We must face the fact that public expenditure once again rears its ugly head. What are the public expenditure implications, in particular for the Health and Safety Executive?

I do not accept the view that changes will not be needed. If the Government accept this directive, we want at least an assurance tonight that the money will be available to enable the Health and Safety Executive to do the job, or at least, where the HSE is not directly involved, to ensure that the job is done. One is talking, of course, about enforceability. I have no confidence in the Government making that kind of provision. The Health and Safety Executive has had a 6 per cent. cut in its budget. It is now less than £2¼ million for 1982–83. That is referred to in the public expenditure White Paper published today. I am told that that means a cut in staff of about 260. The Health and Safety Commission has told the Secretary of State that this must affect its work programme. We know, too, that the frequency of inspections will be hit and that the inspectorate's scarce resources, which the previous Government were building up, will be more thinly stretched than ever.

Another point about the 6 per cent. cut is that I believe that in effect it is really worse than 6 per cent., because it does not include any recompense to the Health and Safety Executive for the special increases in pay that some grades of staff have now received—although I gather that, perhaps in recognition of this, the HSE is being spared the 2½ per cent. cuts that most of Whitehall has now to bear as part of the Civil Service pay settlement.

If more inspections mean better industrial health and safety and an ability to fulfil existing and potential EEC commitments, that cannot be reconciled with cuts. The Government have had much to say about law and order. They are ready to spend on that. We are entitled to ask whether they are prepared to spend rather more on industrial safety law, and whether they will measure cost-effectiveness with their cost-effective exercises on spending on the police and on defence.

The Government have had much to say on strikes. I understand that we are now losing about 15 million working days a year through incapacity, industrial accidents and industrial disease. That is a far greater loss than the strike toll has produced over the years, even under Conservative Governments, although I should not like to hazard a guess for the future.

The framework directive will give the Executive extra responsibility. There may be argument about the extent of the extra responsibilities, but under pressure the Minister agreed that it will be given some. It cannot hope to play an influential role, especially within the Community, if it is starved of adequate resources. It should be ahead of others within the EEC, as we have been on many health and safety issues over a period. The Minister has indicated that he agrees with that point of view. We do not want to lag behind. We should be pointing the way ahead.

On policy implications, the original explanatory memorandum states:
"Legislation does not however"
—that is, United Kingdom legislation—
"specifically require in the case of the listed agents, all of the additional protection such as formal medical supervision set out in Article 5."
That part of the memorandum has vanished in the supplementary memorandum. We are entitled to ask whether the Government are wholeheartedly supporting the additional protection that is mentioned in the earlier memorandum, which is not cancelled by the later document.

The proposals in the framework directive are well worth supporting and developing so that there is a European-wide basis for notification, monitoring and setting up legally enforceable safety norms for the use of harmful agents in the workplace. I hope that the Government are serious in their determination to give the Executive the tools for the job. After the Minister's speech my doubts are nothing but intensified. If the Government do not give it the tools to do the job, they will be condemned, and stand condemned, of rank hypocrisy not only at home but in the eyes of our EEC partners.

10.58 pm

I welcome the draft directive. I thank the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) for asking such detailed questions. I am sure that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) will ask detailed questions on the annexes. Therefore, at this late hour I shall not take time to echo the questions that have been asked and will be asked.

My hon. and learned Friend says that the directive fits in closely with present practice in the United Kingdom. I agree with him. However, it is difficult for us in this place to remember the relentlessness of work—for example, how a man starts work at 15 years of age and works for the next 50 years. He goes to work every day and works in an atmosphere which he does not think is noxious or dangerous. It is only recently that long weekends and longish holidays have gone some way to alleviate the effect of that sort of work.

I contracted farmer's lung after only 10 years in farming. I did not know of the dangers and I did not know that the disease would fall upon me. My mother started work when she was 12 years of age. She worked all her life—she thought nothing of it—and died when she was 62 or 63. That is not right and reasonable in these days. We now know more about the cumulative effects of various sub- stances, and we should not allow people to expose themselves to such substances.

We are only beginning to learn of the extent of the damage caused by all types of dust, as well as by the agents listed. As the Minister pointed out, we must consider the effect of that dust on families. The wife may contract cancer or the children may become subject to lung disease. Previously such diseases were attributed to another cause. We now know differently.

It is wrong to say with hindsight that factory inspectors, employers and employees were wrong. They had no idea. They thought that it was the normal pattern and that all men finished up ill at 60 or 65. Employers and employees used to be their own worst enemies. The employee has always sought a decent wage and 3p or 6p more an hour. An extreme example is that of pin grinders in Sheffield. There are other more moderate examples, such as quarry workers and brick workers. A bricklayer's working life is probably only seven years. He is outdoors all day. Employers have sought to make a decent—not excessive—profit. Both employer and employee have cut corners.

It is a pity that the recent health and safety at work legislation has been enforced in such a pettifogging way. Fussy little details have led to employees and employers holding that legislation in greater contempt than it deserves. Very few, if any, children have been burnt in schools, yet many have been damaged by the use of unnecessary fire doors and so on. It is a pity that that legislation has been spoilt. I welcome this directive. It is necessary. I shall leave the details in the capable hands of the Minister.

11.2 pm

This is an important subject. Among other things, the directive says:

"Workers shall be provided with results of exposure measurements and group biological tests; individual workers shall have access to the results of their own biological tests. To assist them with the interpretation of the results and to further inform them of the potential hazards of the agents specifically prepared information and documentation at national and/or Community levels shall be made available."
The Minister gave the impression that the health and safety legislation is satisfactory. He implied that it gives all the protection that one could reasonably ask for.

A chemical agent called 2,4,5-Trichloro phenoxy acetic acid, more generally known as 2,4,5-T, is widely used as a herbicide in forests. It is also used by British Rail for spraying embankments and to kill weeds. There is some doubt about whether the substance is damaging in its absolutely pure form. Unfortunately, it contains a dioxin impurity which is extremely dangerous. I understand that dioxin is one of the most poisonous substances on earth. It not only attacks the liver and causes heart disease, but also causes foetal abnormalities. Dioxin is so dangerous that the World Health Organisation required that its level should be restricted to 0·1 parts per million in any substance. A recent article in the New Scientist states:
"in a single day's spraying a worker can be exposed to sufficient dioxin to kill several million guinea-pigs."
The 2,4,5-T became notorious in Vietnam. I do not wish to pursue that aspect. It was in a form that is not used in this country.

Trouble has been caused over many years. There were cases at the Monsanto firm in Illinois in 1949. German workers were reported to have suffered contamination in 1957. There was a case in the Dow chemical plant in the United States in 1964 in which 60 workers suffered contamination. Nearer home, in 1968, there was the explosion at the Coalite plant in Bolsover, resulting in damage to certain workers which has never been properly investigated or examined. Proper access to medical records seems to have been denied to the Health and Safety Executive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) was not right, I believe, in saying that this substance is still produced in the United Kingdom. I understand that production stopped in 1976 at Bolsover and that the substance is now imported from Germany. That still means the same problems of control regarding the safety of people who have to use it.

The most notorious example of dioxin contamination occurred in the Seveso explosion in northern Italy which contaminated a vast area and caused severe difficulties for the whole population in that part of the world. I understand that some investigations took place in the United States, in the state of Oregon, about 12 months ago, towards the beginning of 1979, when it was suspected that many miscarriages were occurring as a result of 2,4,5-T spraying. Following the investigation, the United States Environmental Protection Agency took action to suspend the use of this herbicide in the United States.

The substance has been banned in Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. I am glad to say that some county authorities in this country, South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Somerset, and Avon, have stopped using it.

The Minister gave the impression that current legislation on health and safety was adequate to deal, presumably, with this sort of problem. I was astonished to receive an answer to a parliamentary question on 24 March, which had been postponed from 20 March, which said:
"There are no regulations dealing specifically with the use of 2,4,5-T".—[Official Report, 24 March 1980; Vol. 981, c. 383].
I find this surprising. I have quoted a history of damage occurring from the use of this substance or from the dioxin impurity that occurs in it over a period of about 20 years in several different countries that has led to the United States Environmental Protection Agency suspending its use. It has been banned in two or three European countries, some of them fellow members of the EEC. Yet there is this categoric statement from the Minister that there are no regulations dealing specifically with the use of this substance in the United Kingdom.

I shall not say that the Minister is complacent. But a gap is revealed in his thinking if he suggests that legislation on health and safety is as comprehensive as it can possibly be made.

There have been eight references of this substance to the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. But the committee has apparently not advised that it should be banned. The trade unions have expressed considerable concern. The National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has produced a substantial dossier on the subject. The TUC has formally asked for a ban. It is therefore time that some statement was made by the Government about what should be done.

I should like to raise one final point relating to the constitution of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. Two important bodies—the dangerous pathogens advisory group and the genetic manipulation advisory group—have been constructed on a new principle, which is that there should be serving on those groups not only expert scientists but trade union and employers' representatives as well as people appointed "in the public interest".

Possibly as a result of this directive, or possibly out of sheer good will on the part of the Government, there should be some restructuring of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. While I am in no way calling into question the scientific expertise or the integrity of those who sit on that committee—I do not suggest that at all—I believe that if the pressure of opinion of trade union representatives and those serving in the public interest were added to their professional expertise, we might in these instances obtain more rapid and effective action.

11.11 pm

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also welcome this framework directive. I do so wholeheartedly, and I hope that the Minister agrees. Among the various matters which he outlined, there was a provision to protect our workers who work abroad. There are such workers, and they should be protected in the way in which they would be protected here. That point has perhaps not been raised. Indeed, British industries should not be at a disadvantage compared with industries operating in other EEC countries.

It is a good idea to have the agents named, as the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) pointed out. Personally, I know more about the farm side of pesticides and herbicides than I do about the problems which arise in factories.

Hundreds of new pesticides, herbicides, and so on, have been produced in agriculture since the war. Many of them have had side effects, and worrying effects, when much of what is put on the land gradually works its way into our rivers and water supply.

Coming from an arable countryside where pesticides are used more than any- where else, I feel that this is a matter about which the NUAAW is rightly concerned. I believe that our workers need protecting, not only against the herbicide to which reference has been made, but against many others.

We need to look very carefully at this whole area. We should look not merely at each herbicide or pesticide which is used, but at the gradual build-up of those substances in the land—the basic material which produces food—and in the water which runs through that land. I believe that over the next few years we shall have to consider that matter very carefully.

The Health and Safety Executive does a first-class job but it spreads its tentacles so wide that it is in danger of making a fool of itself. For example, if all the fire protection regulations were carried out in the Norfolk schools—99 per cent. of which to my knowledge are all one-storey buildings—the cost would be £1,000 million. We could spend that money far better on building new schools, improving existing schools and employing more teachers than in the rigorous way it is insisted that we bring our schools up to date.

One of the few tourist attractions in my constituency is Grimes Graves. They are not graves but old flint workings. There was a wonderful and interesting exhibition about them in the British Museum two or three years ago. Suddenly in the middle of last summer some gentleman from the Health and Safety Executive descended on us and closed down the whole of that area. He said that an attraction which had been open to the public for 24 years was unsafe. He said that there must be different ladders and that the people who went down the workings must wear steel helmets. The workings were not reopened until the middle of the winter and nobody wants to visit them. I believe that the Health and Safety Executive—though it does a good job—spreads its activities far too widely. I believe that it could exercise more effective control without further expense if it withdrew from some of its less valuable activities.

I welcome this directive and I hope that it will improve the health and safety particularly of the farm workers from the arable region of the Eastern counties.

11.18 pm

I wish to concentrate upon one point in the draft directive. That is the change which has appeared in the up-to-date version.

Article 5 as redrafted says that there shall be
"access by workers and/or their representatives at the work-place to the results of exposure measurements and, in the case of harmful agents for which such tests are laid down, to the anonymous collective results of the biological tests indicating exposure."
That is an important advance on previous legislation and practice particularly in relation to other agents such as radiation hazards. I understood that this draft directive was part of a package of such directives emanating from the Community. Can the Minister say anything of the progress of the draft directive which came before the Scrutiny Committee on 7 November 1979 on radiation safety standards? That directive—R/4555/79—has been making progress through the Community and is at present in the hands of the Council.

There is no obligation under that directive for workers' representatives to be given access. That is important and I make no apology for making a particular constituency point about Rosyth dockyard. Some of the workers there experience difficulty in securing access for their representatives to health and safety records.

I have indicated to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy that I would raise this matter. I know of his difficulties and the fact that he is not here is excusable. I had a letter from the dockyard administration on 24 January which said:
"Legislation provides that: the radiation dose record as respects any person shall be open to the inspection of that person at all reasonable times—otherwise provision is made only for the records to be inspected by the District Inspector of Factories (generally in conjunction with the Nuclear Installations Inspector), or by the appointed doctor. Insofar as the workers' dose data are part of his medical records, they are treated as 'Medical in Confidence'."
That is understandable.

The letter continues:
"The rights of other bodies, e.g. Trade Unions and their officials, to have access to dose information is not defined in the regula- tions, so it has been necessary to refer your request"—
the writer's request—
"to CED for guidance. In consequence the Ministry of Defence is currently investigating the general issue through the Radiological Protection Technical Advisory Committee (RAPTAC) and other 'nuclear' organisations, UKAEA, BNFL, CEGB, etc. are being consulted with a view to adopting a common approach."
I welcome the apparent upgrading of information to the workers and their representatives. What steps will be taken on the hazard which affects my constituents in the dockyard? Smiley's law is applied—who watches the watchers? However, people are entitled to know. It is not sufficient to say that the worker has access to the records. The worker does not have the background of experience. That is why he joins a trade union. A union is a protection agency for health and safety at work. We welcome the regulations and the Health and Safety at Work etc, Act, but it is vital that the Minister states that, with the Defence Minister, he will ensure that the proposal—which is an advance—will be put into other regulations as soon as possible.

11.23 pm

I shall be brief because I know that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) wishes to speak and there is not much time.

I do not doubt the importance of the subject or the depth of feeling among hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I am amazed that we should be discussing the subject this evening. This afternoon we discussed the Budget. It was a good Budget, but I shall not go into that in detail. One of the most important aspects of the Budget is the public sector borrowing requirement. For this year that requirement is within plus or minus £100 million, depending on the negotiations with our Community partners.

I believe that if we do not achieve a satisfactory solution to the European budget it is possible that Britain might be forced, or might desire, to leave the EEC. That is not beyond the bounds of possibility. To discuss the directive on such a day proves that Nero, by contrast, had a great sense of priorities.

We are discussing one of the meddlesome little issues which come from Brussels too frequently. To do so casts the Community down in the eyes of the country and of many hon. Members. It is a manifestation of the fiction that our economy and trading relationships are exactly the same as in Europe and that we shall join them in a unified and equivalent market and industrial situation. That will not happen. Our industry and trading situation is different.

The directive implies that our Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is inadequate or that we should introduce unnecessary measures. The Minister says that our measures are adequate and that the European measures are not and that if the Europeans introduce adequate measures in line with the directive, their cost factors will be the same as ours and that that will help us to compete.

As I pointed out in an intervention to my hon. and learned Friend, article 7 says:
"This Directive and the special Directives referred to in Article 8 shall lay down minimum standards for the protection of workers and shall not affect the right of Member States to apply or introduce laws, regulations or administrative provisions ensuring greater protection for workers."
The day after French agricultural workers burnt the Union Jack, and with all the knowledge that we have of the past, I am quite sure that, whatever Brussels says and whatever this directive says, the French, God bless them, will find a way of introducing stricter and stronger laws than this, which will ban us in certain circumstances from exporting our goods to France, where they will compete with French goods made within that country. Whatever the Minister has said, the proof of the pudding does rather lie in the eating, and the pudding that we have eaten so far has been most distasteful on this subject.

I notice that article 9 says that there is to be a committee, with people from each country and a member of the Commission on it. No doubt these will be famous, important, illustrious, intelligent, hard-working and diligent people. Having assembled in a committee, they will no doubt bring forward new laws, new ideas, new rules, new directives, more officials, more cost, and more burdens for our industry to take on.

I also notice that it says that each country shall have an industrial medicine and hygiene committee, or quango. We already have a Health and Safety Commission.

Whether this means that we shall have to extend the activity of our existing commission or set up another committee, I am not sure, but it means more work, more officials, and more burdens on industry. I hardly think that it is appropriate that the Government whom I support, on the very day on which in the Budget Statement they have announced the exciting idea of setting up enterprise zones to take the shackles off our small businesses, should also introduce this measure before the House. I am sorry to see it.

The Opposition spokesman says that he is in favour of the measure. He is quite entitled to be in favour of it. We are all in favour of health and safety at work. But he said that there was no point in introducing the measure unless we were to bring forward the money for it. Here we are, doing all we can to balance the Budget and to cut back public expenditure. I ask the Minister: have we got the money?

It was only about six weks ago that we were here late at night discussing the tachometer. If Ministers had asked anyone in the House whether at this stage we wanted to introduce the tachometer, the answer would have been "No". To introduce it will cost £300 million. So here we are, at a time when we are cutting public expenditure because of the severe economic crisis in which we find ourselves, introducing another measure which will do us no good but will considerably increase the costs of this country. It is intolerable.

I believe that we should co-operate in Europe. [Interruption.] Hon Members may laugh. I could go on at great length, but I believe—if I may crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that the great tragedy is that we have combined with Europe on the wrong issues. We have combined on agriculture and trade, but the nature of our agriculture and trade is quite different from that of Europe. We should unite on other issues. Certainly at the national level we must have laws and make prudent, sensitive and sensible decisions. But at the European level—especially with the crisis that we have over the United Kingdom budget contribution at the moment and the crisis that we have over the common agricultural policy—to be discussing, disseminating and distributing throughout Europe these pettifogging measures is quite absurd. I am afraid, therefore, that I find it difficult to support the measure.

11.30 pm

I shall be brief—no more than about six minutes. I am as strong an anti-Marketeer as anyone and have maintained that position consistently. However, that does not mean that I believe we should ignore everything that comes from the Market just because it comes from the Market. There are many good ideas that come from it and we must examine them to see whether they can be used to improve matters in our own country. It makes sense to do so.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Mallow) spoke about costs. He ought to have a look at the figures. It actually saves money if people are not injured at work. It produces better industrial relations and improves the whole work climate. Since the hon. Member's Government are introducing legislation to control the trade unions, because they are concerned about the loss of days caused through strike action, let the hon. Member remember that in 1976 there were 3·5 million days lost through strike action and 15 million days lost through industrial injury. In 1977, 10 million days were lost through strike action and 15·7 million days were lost through industrial injury. Surely it is reasonable that we should do something about the greatest source of days lost without making churlish comments about such action being a waste of money. It is saving money.

I come now to the directive. The Government have said that they accept it and want to see it implemented. At the same time, the Minister used words that suggested that the Government will do absolutely nothing about it. The Government have introduced an important qualification. There are some good ideas in the directive about standards of health and safety at work. I have here the ASTMS policy document on the prevention of occupational cancer. It is a very good document. I recommend it to the Minister. It points out that the initiative for introducing better standards of care to reduce the number of days lost through industrial injury has now left the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission. They seem to be doing very little about things, leaving matters instead to the EEC. That is exactly the case with this document. That is a matter for deep regret, especially when the Minister is underlining this policy of controlled inertia by saying that the document is all right but it cannot improve on the standards of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

As I pointed out in an intervention the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act abounds with the qualifying words
"so far as is reasonably practicable".
As the Minister knows, those are not casual words. Those are words that represent a legal standard. They represent a judgment of cost. This EEC document is different. It does not say
"so far as is reasonably practicable".
That is what the Minister says, and that is how he is qualifying the document. By so doing he erodes the important points in the document, which says that things shall be done. That is an absolute position. Article 4, for example, says:
"Member States shall ensure that the measures they establish to protect workers likely to be exposed … shall include".
Then there is a list. Things have to be done. It is not qualified. Article 5, which is important, says:
"Member States shall …ensure that:
medical supervision of workers is provided prior to exposure".
That is a requirement. There is a further point about information. The article adds:
"To assist them with the interpretation of results, and to further inform them about the potential hazards of the agents, specifically prepared information and documentation at national and/or Community levels shall be made available."
That is not the position with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Inspectors have discretion whether to make, for example, written information available to trade union safety representatives. It is not an absolute requirement of the Act.

My fourth point is that the directive lists a number of substances which it is thought are dangerous. This is in annex 1. There is a list of agents. I point out that the ASTMS document specifically says, in relation to cancer-causing substances—and we are talking about hazards confronting workers:
"The delay in producing carcinogen regulations is a scandal, and the greatest possible pressure needs to be brought to bear on the Health and Safety Commission to introduce regulations along the US lines as soon as possible. Despite repeated requests the HSC has so far refused even to publish and make available the OSHA lists of Category I and II carcinogens—they are not even available to inspectors in the field."
Inspectors in the field do a good job. They are the people who carry out the work of improving health and safety at work, so reducing time lost. The pity of it is that they do not get sufficient backing from the Health and Safety Executive and Commission.

Finally, I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who said that the sort of action outlined in the directive was excellent. I only wish that it would apply to the herbicide 2,4,5-T, about which there is a great deal of concern, not least from the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, but also from other trade unions.

I was pleased to note that a Conservative Member said categorically "Let us have protection for farmers". That means action and I am sorry that the directive indicates that the initiative has shifted from the Health and Safety Executive to the EEC Commission. I regret that, because I want to see us maintain and improve our position and not reflect the complacent attitude the Minister indicated regarding our own legislation. I greatly hope that the Government will shift their position and accept the sort of standards the directive indicates.

11.35 pm

We have had a valuable debate on the provisions of this draft directive. The Government's purpose has indeed been served in being able to take some pretty varied opinions from different quarters of the House. The consequence of that has been that very little time remains for me to answer the questions. However, I hope that the House will take the view that that has been the right way to deal with matters. If I may be allowed to write to hon. Gentlemen who have spoken and whose points I am not able to answer in the few minutes remaining, that perhaps will be the right way to go about it.

The proposal is undergoing development, as I said, in the working group of the Council of Ministers and we do not know how it will emerge. What has been said will be of value to those who represent this country in the concluding stages of its formulation.

I am grateful for the kind words which have been said about the Health and Safety Executive by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) and by other hon. Gentlemen. I am glad that the initial reaction of the Government to the draft proposals—that is, one of approval and of welcome—has been widely shared in this House and expressed tonight.

The hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) asked a number of questions and I shall do my best to answer them quickly. He asked how the House would be consulted about special directions that may be given subsequently by the Commission. The answer is—in the normal manner. Each special directive will pass through the normal scrutiny processes of the House.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether participation by workers, which is dealt with by article 6, would tie up with the pattern of workers' representatives established under this country's legislation. I should have thought that that would be an appropriate way in which at local level it could be achieved. Article 6 also relates to consultation at national level. The hon. Gentleman asked, under article 6, about the environment outside the work place and said that doubts had been expressed at this in the explanatory memorandum. He asked whether the directive would be extended to cover environmental matters. The answer to that is "No", but the protection of the environment is, as I understand it, being dealt with separately by the European Commission and this provision of article 6 is intended to ensure only that the directive shall be compatible with the directive that will be put forward in due course concerning environmental matters.

As to annex 1 and the list of agents, the hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. Annex 1 represents the European Commission's estimate of the special directives that it would be able to bring forward in the next few years. The list does not preclude alternatives or additions being made to it. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the herbicide 2,4,5-T, the weed killer in which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) has a particular interest, and spoke of its dangers. The list does not preclude alternatives or additions. At present, the United Kingdom has no proposals to add to it. But all toxic substances are kept under review by the Health and Safety Executive with advice from the advisory committee. I do not think that I can be expected to deal with its composition tonight. However, what has been said will be considered.

The hon. Gentleman asked about radiation. Radiation is being dealt with under the Euratom treaty, and I understand that a separate directive on radiological protection is currently being negotiated in Brussels. That is the answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas), but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the matters that he raised with particular relevance to Rosyth, which is in his constituency.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) said about Rosyth goes for all Members of Parliament in the area.

I understand what has been said. That falls to be dealt with under the Euratom treaty. I shall deal in correspondence with the matters which have been raised if I do not deal with them all now.

I was asked whether the draft proposals related to seafarers. It would not, in the Government's view, be appropriate for this directive to deal with questions of health and safety at sea. Those matters are better dealt with by other international organisations with great experience and expertise in these subjects.

I was asked about timing. The Commission's intention is that the matter should go for adoption by the Council of Ministers in June this year.

As regards public expenditure, the directive is not expected to lead to additional industrial costs. We already have comprehensive safety and health legisla- tion in this country. Where we recognise the need for further improvements our statutes make provision for regulations. The legal framework in other member States is not in all cases as comprehensive as ours. If the directive results in those States introducing similar provisions, it could result in workers in those countries benefiting and our industries competing on a more equitable basis.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) took a sharply contrasting view of this directive and asked why we were discussing it, with particular relevance to cost and the earlier business today. What I have just said about cost is the answer to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Thompson) made the important point that in many instances workers with repetitive jobs became their own worst enemies, and he welcomed—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Community document 5394/79 for a Council Directive on the protection of workers from harmful exposures to chemical, physical and biological agents at work.