To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current number of factory inspectors; and what was the number in 1979.
On 1 November 1987 a total of 610 factory inspectors were employed in the Health and Safety Executive. On 1 April 1979 the total was 742.
Is it not true that since 1979 there has been a massive cut in the number of factory inspectors, due to the meanness of the Government, and is that not lamentable, in view of the many lives and the millions of days lost each year through industrial accidents and injuries? Is it not worse still that the Health and Safety Executive has tried to gag people who work for it from pointing out the savage cutbacks by the Government of their services, on the pain of sacking if anybody speaks out? Is it not an attempt by the Government to apply the Peter Wright standard to health and safety at work?
No, that is not the position. The number of inspectors per 1,000 employees has remained roughly constant since 1979. Having said that, an increase in inspectors is appropriate and next year there will be an increase of some 60 on the combined number of specialist and non-specialist inspectors. Resources have been allocated for that.On the other situation to which the hon. Gentleman referred, obviously guidance is given on the circumstances in which civil servants have an independent approach to their Members of Parliament. We are aware of the situation that occurred, and the director on that occasion gave general guidance.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that provision will be made for the Health and Safety Commission for an increase in the number of inspectors in 1988–89?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The extra £6·7 million allocated next year will make it possible to fund the extra 60 inspectors to whom I have referred. The chairman of the Health and Safety Commission has made it clear that those extra resources will allow those additional inspectors to be appointed.
Why did the Government permit cuts in the inspectorate during the 1980s when there were growing worries and fears about asbestos? Why did the cuts take place when there were growing worries about accidents to youngsters on the YTS scheme? Surely the Government in the 1980s have been very complacent.
No. The hon. Gentleman assumes that one can simply look at the number of inspectors and say that the more inspectors there are, the fewer accidents there will be. That is not true. The number of inspectors per 1,000 employees has remained roughly constant and where there is a necessity for more inspectors, we have made the funding available. As to fatalities, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that in recent years the number of fatalities has declined, and in 1986–87 they were at an all-time record low.
Is it not disturbing that the Health and Safety Executive in its annual report published this month, admitted that 10,000 work places, which, according to its criteria, are a priority for preventive inspections, were not inspected because of a lack of resources?
The hon. Gentleman grossly oversimplifies what was of necessity a very detailed report. Essentially, the report was historical. It was looking to the past. As to the future, extra inspectors are being allocated —some 60 in total. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.