Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Steve McCabe.)
This Adjournment debate is about maximum workplace temperatures. I shall explain my interest in the subject.
Over the past three decades, there have been a number of bakeries and confectionery manufacturers in my constituency, some of which have unfortunately gone into decline as a result of past recessions. Nevertheless, there remains an element of that sector of industry in my constituency. I have taken an interest in health and safety matters for the work force in that sector in my constituency for a number of years. I am also chair of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union parliamentary group, a cross-party group of about 30 MPs formed a number of years ago that considers problems in the industry in which the bakers union has members.
Health and safety is a key factor for the union, as it is to a number of the MPs in the parliamentary group. In recent years, we have been working on the matter of maximum working temperatures. That is a critical factor for those working in the bakery sector, but we have made links with other trade unions through the TUC; for them, too, it is a key issue. That is the genesis for today’s debate.
I shall explain our concerns about the effects of heat in the working environment. After a long period of campaigning, we have at last seen an increased awakening in the House, within Government and in society to the dangers of working in high temperatures. There is now an acceptance that we may have underestimated the short and long-term psychological and physical effects of what used to be described as non-major health risks in the working environment. We now understand a lot more about the effects of high temperatures on people at work.
Some attempts have been made at giving guidance to employers more generally on the range of temperatures in which it is comfortable to work. The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers recommends a range of temperatures; for example, it suggests 13° C for heavy work in factories and 16° C for light work, about 18° C for hospital wards and shops and 20° C for offices and dining rooms.
Those are temperatures in which people will feel comfortable when working, but research has shown that when the recommended temperature range of between 16° C and 24° C is exceeded it has a range of implications for those working in such environments. If people get hot, they may suffer dizziness, fainting or even heat cramps. In very hot conditions, the blood temperature may rise; if it rises above a certain level, there is a risk of heatstroke or collapse. In some instances it can prove fatal. Even if there is recovery, evidence shows that irreparable organ damage can result.
In France, it is the norm for employers to provide fresh drinking water. Even that would be an advance here. Even when suffering from heat and perspiration, people are not always aware that they are dehydrated, or of the damage they may be doing to themselves.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. The reason for this debate is to secure clarity in our regulations. There is greater clarity in other parts of Europe, with maximum ranges of temperatures being set for particular industries, but we do not have that here.
I shall explain the current regime and its weaknesses. We should be clear about what we seek. It is not about setting a maximum temperature above which an industrial or commercial process should end. It is about setting a temperature above which the employer should take action to overcome the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) gave a good example, which was the supply of water. Ventilation is another.
I have raised the matter before, but a cretin—I can only describe him thus—attacked me in the media, saying that we were trying to prevent people from working in the sun or in hot conditions. Far from it: we were trying to keep people at work, but to ensure that sufficient compensatory action was taken to prevent them becoming too hot and suffering health problems as a result.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this important debate. I declare an interest in the agri-food sector.
I turn to the other extreme—the contrast of cold conditions. Because of European legislation, employers could face litigation when it comes to cold temperatures as employees could have difficulty with their joints as the years roll on. That, too, is a problem, and employers may need protection on that side of things.
It is interesting to note that a minimum temperature is set. When I first left school, I worked for Birds Eye on the hamburger line—I have not eaten one since. In those cold conditions, action was taken if the temperature fell, cladding was given and people were taken out of those conditions to enable them to warm themselves. It is about ensuring an appropriate trigger mechanism that protects workers and employers and makes clear what action should be taken and at what level. We do not have that for maximum temperatures.
I have touched on the wider health impacts, but it is worth trying to get something more on the record. The effects of heat were not sufficiently acknowledged in previous debates on the matter, nor by the Health and Safety Executive. The effects include fatigue, extra strain on the heart and lungs, and the dizziness, fainting and heat cramps due to loss of water and salt that I mentioned earlier. Hot, dry air also increases the risk of eye and throat infections and breathing problems such as asthma and rhinitis.
Even what we would call medium temperatures can lead, as we know in this place, to loss of concentration and increased tiredness, which means that workers may be at greater risk. Those indirect effects can lead to an increased likelihood of accidents, as can slippery, sweaty palms; and they also lead to an increase in discomfort. Those are the effects that have been recorded. We have an increased understanding of those effects in the short term, but insufficient research has been undertaken into the long-term effects of working in a hot environment and the daily exposure to high temperatures. One plea that I make is for the Government to give the HSE some direction in order to ensure a much greater element of research into the long-term effects of working in hot conditions.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the situation could be clarified somewhat if the Government gave the HSE precise directions? At the moment, there seems to be a lack of direction. If that materialised, we could move forward.
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that what results from today’s debate is an acknowledgement by the Government that that is the route that needs to be taken. We have been down all the advisory routes, but none of them seems to have worked.
The extent of the problem is massive and in the past, it was not treated sufficiently seriously. The various trade union groups, particularly the bakers union, have surveyed workers to discover how they feel about the problem. Let me give some examples of the surveys we have undertaken. In 2008, high temperatures were cited as a major hazard by one in five safety representatives in an extensive TUC survey. Interestingly, the survey cut across sectors—central and local government, education and manufacturing. One of the big issues was post-war buildings with a high glass content. The president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, Ronnie Draper, who has joined us in the gallery today, said:
“The lack of a solid legal framework makes it difficult for us, as a trade union, to protect our members and leads to vast inconsistencies across the country.”
He told us about two BFAWU members who were working for the same large retailer in different locations. Both complained about the workplace heat, but the management’s control measures were totally different in each case; one was acceptable and one was not. Therefore, even within the same company there are different practices on control measures. As the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) said, that is down to a lack of clarity.
A whole range of responses came out of the HSE’s 2010 survey. Let me quote from one bakers union member, who said that
“staff have no control because we can’t open windows. Also if we try to get fans or heaters more often than not we are told no because of wires being across the floor”.
Another member pointed out:
“We have juice in the summer, but it has to be a ‘very’ high temperature before we get it.”
One of the consistent themes that came out of the survey was the inadequacy of the fan units even when they were delivered by the employers themselves.
There was just one survey in Northern Ireland, which revealed that workers at a large food manufacturer were regularly working in temperatures ranging from 28° C to 35.9° C, and that is an intolerable heat environment in which to work. I pay tribute to other unions with which we have worked. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers undertook a similar survey in 2009 and had more than 1,100 responses. Some 61 per cent. of the staff working in the various workplaces, shops, offices and warehouses said that high temperatures are a continual problem, and 87 per cent. said they had been complaining about high temperatures for over a year but with little or no response from management. Only 10 per cent. reported that management had taken appropriate steps to alleviate the problems, such as providing fans and cool drinks.
In that survey, 72 per cent. reported that thermometers were not available in the workplace even to monitor the temperature, which is a clear breach of health and safety regulations.
As always in such situations, it indicates that there are good and bad employers, and what we have to do is legislate for the bad employers. We have examples of employers taking the appropriate action, and others of employers refusing to undertake their responsibilities even under the existing regulations.
In the survey, we asked union members to describe the problems they were experiencing. They cited fatigue, feeling sweaty and irritable, headaches, dizziness and nausea, which is not acceptable in a modern working environment. We linked up with other unions in other sectors. A trade union survey among teachers found similar problems. Again, members talked about headaches, particularly when they were based in modern buildings with a high glass content and when summer temperatures rose to 32° C.
We have also had responses from telephone exchanges and call centres. Again, recorded temperatures ranged between 31° C to 36° C. In some places, the average temperature was 28.64° C, which is well beyond what would be considered a normal, comfortable working environment. In cases where the relevant unions sought to gain improvements, there was a failure in back-up, which was partly to do with the HSE or the local authority. Those improvements that had been introduced had taken years to achieve.
The problems in this area relate to the current regulations. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 laid down particular requirements for most aspects of the work environment, but on temperatures they are confused and feeble. Regulation 7 specifically deals with the temperature in indoor places and states:
“During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.”
Then a code of practice sets out what is deemed reasonable:
“The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. Where such a temperature is impractical because of hot or cold processes, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable.”
“The temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius”—
so we have a minimum temperature of sorts—
“unless much of the work involves severe physical effort in which case the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius”.
It does not specify a maximum temperature. Instead, what we have is a series of thresholds, which is extraordinary. It says that the thresholds are set on the basis of reasonableness, so in air-conditioned offices, it is not reasonable if more than 10 per cent. of employees are complaining of being too hot or cold.
Exactly, and that is why we need greater clarity about what action needs to be taken in such a case. This vagueness of relying upon the subjective judgment of percentages of workers is extraordinary and something that we do not find in other fields. In air-conditioned offices, 10 per cent. of employees have to complain before action is taken. In naturally ventilated offices, more than 50 per cent. of employees need to complain. In retail businesses, warehouses, factories and other indoor environments that may not have air conditioning, some 20 per cent. of employees have to complain of being too hot or too cold. Only then are the workers entitled to request that their employer take action, and only then does the employer have a duty to respond.
The burden of the hon. Gentleman’s presentation is a call for clarity. Does he not acknowledge, however, that we must strike a balance between protecting the workers, which is of vital importance, and protecting their employment? Quite often when it comes to legislation, the pendulum can swing too far, and we must be very careful in the preparation of that legislation.
I fully agree that it is about a reasonable approach. We need to have a reasonable interpretation but with long-stops. At the moment, we have a long-stop at the minimum but not at the maximum. That is as much to protect the employer as the employee. What we find is that good employers will do their best, and unscrupulous employers will undermine the whole sector.
Elsewhere in Europe, maximum temperatures are set. In Germany, a maximum of 26° C is the norm, but the guidelines state that if the outside temperature is higher, there is an element of flexibility. At least a norm is set which can be referred to. Similarly, in France there is greater clarity. In Spain, specified temperatures range between 17° C and 27° C. Again, at least there is a benchmarking exercise that can be done within a particular sector. Let me repeat: this is not about our wanting to say, “We have reached a certain temperature—we have to shut down the shop or the process.” It is about saying, “We have reached a certain temperature, and now it is reasonable behaviour to introduce measures which will enable some form of discomfort to be eradicated.” That is usually by ventilation and increased water.
Is that not the most important point? Legislation should solve the problem rather than create trouble. The unions are leading the call for a change in legislation, but it is those people who are not organised or protected by the trade unions who are most at risk. Unions in organised places can create an atmosphere of complaint, but in places in which the union is not strong, workers have to suffer what is directed at them.
Clear evidence is emerging about the disparities between a unionised shop and a non-unionised one. In most employment situations—we have all been there—it is also better to have a clarity of relationship. Then the union can relate to management and say, “We’ve got a problem here and we will jointly resolve that problem.” However, there is a real difficulty if there is no union organisation to do that. In that situation, therefore, the only fall-back is clear regulation and law. If the legislation is not clear, the individual is vulnerable to exploitation and they are unable to exercise their particular protections.
There are real problems because we do not have clarity on a maximum temperature and those problems have emerged in this debate. There are problems about just regulating the overall workplace itself. What is happening at the moment is that, on an ad hoc basis, there are interventions by both unions and management to resolve matters, but in other areas there are no interventions and as a result employees are having to endure working in what I believe are unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.
I tried to gain information about how the existing regulations are working, so I put down questions about enforcement and monitoring. I asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
“how many instances of stress due to exposure to high temperatures in the workplace were reported to the Health and Safety Executive”.
I chose the years from 2005 to 2008 to ask about, to gain information on up-to-date records from the last four or five years. The response that I received from my hon. Friend the Minister who is here today was:
“Instances of heat stress, as a medical condition, may be included in injuries reported under the Reporting of Injuries Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 but it is not possible to identify them separately.”
At the moment, therefore, the HSE is not even monitoring the separate issue of instances of heat stress.
I then thought that I would at least see whether there are any examples of prosecutions, because we know from the surveys that have been carried out that high workplace temperatures are a serious issue for many workers. We have also seen from the surveys that, in some instances, workers have failed to induce action from their employers to resolve these problems. Therefore, what is the fall-back? Well, the fall-back is the HSE prosecuting employers who fail to meet the standards set out in the regulations.
So I asked how many prosecutions there had been by the HSE in cases of failure to manage high temperatures in the workplace and again I asked about the years from 2005 to 2008. My hon. Friend the Minister reported:
“From 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2008, the Health and Safety Executive took no prosecutions as a result of employers’ failure to manage high temperatures in the workplace.
Although outside the period specified in the question”—
that is more recently—
“legal proceedings have recently been initiated by HSE in relation to a workplace fatality in 2006-07 in which heat stress was implicated.”—[Official Report, 23 February 2009; Vol. 488, c. 73-74W.]
Let me just remind Members that, from the surveys that were undertaken by the bakers union, the TUC and other unions, we have report after report of heat stress and its serious effects on workers’ health. Yet we now discover that the HSE is not monitoring heat stress and there has not been a single prosecution during the period that I asked about, from 2005 to 2008, and only now has one prosecution been commenced.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the HSE entirely. Without a legal maximum temperature, however, the HSE is working on the basis of what is reasonable, and is it not more difficult to prosecute against something that is unreasonable than it is to prosecute against an absolute, such as a legal maximum temperature?
That is exactly what has resulted in this debate. We know from our surveys that there is a problem out there. At the same time, however, we now know that the HSE is not monitoring it in any detail and we also know that it is not being addressed by legal action. Either our surveys are all wrong and people are working in ideal conditions across every sector of industry, or the regulations are wrong because they are not being implemented or cannot be implemented because of their vagueness and at times—I must say—their vacuousness.
So what has come as a result of all the work that we—the bakers union and other unions, and the trade union group in Parliament—have put in, and as a result of the responses that we have had to our parliamentary questions? Well, what has happened is a major campaign in the last few years, which has taken up the pace during the last year in particular. I pay tribute to the work that has been undertaken by the bakers union itself.
In the last year, the trade union group in Parliament wrote to my hon. Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, who I must say has been nothing but helpful on this issue; he has made himself available for meeting after meeting to try to help to resolve this problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North placed an early-day motion before Parliament on a couple of occasions, which received 42 signatures initially and that number is building. We then wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I see that he is now retiring from Parliament, which I regret because he was very helpful on this issue. He wrote to the HSE and asked it to review the current legislation and guidance.
That review was undertaken and co-ordinated by a Mr. Ray Kemp; indeed he is Professor Ray Kemp. May I say that some concerns have been raised about the nature of that review? I would welcome some response from the HSE about how it appointed the individual who undertook that review. I just mention this point; I do not want to undermine people’s reputations in any way, or anything like that. However, I am anxious. I saw on Mr. Kemp’s website that he advertises himself as someone who
“has also directed large scale EIAs”—
environmental impact assessments—
“and public consultations in support of planning applications”.
Those planning applications have included
“oil and gas processing plant, waste disposal facilities, incinerators, airport expansion”.
I have a slight anxiety about someone who advertises themselves as being “in support of” planning applications rather than as someone who just independently assesses those applications. However, I will leave that point for other Members to consider and I would welcome a response from the HSE about its appointment procedures.
Anyway, what came out of that review was basically a number of stakeholder meetings. What was interesting about those stakeholder meetings, involving both sides of industry, was that although no consensus was reached, a majority of those stakeholders—60 per cent. of them—concurred with the view that the current regulations were confused and not satisfactory, and that there was a need for change. All of us have been in those situations and it is difficult, particularly when there are both sides of industry there, to get absolute consensus. However, to have a majority of 60 per cent. saying that something needs to be done and that there needs to be clarity about the new processes and the new regulations is quite significant, I think.
Unfortunately, the review came out with—well, I give Mr. Kemp’s conclusions:
“On balance, it is suggested that the workplace temperatures issue is not one that justifies active regulatory intervention but rather improved joint working between all parties to the issue—government, Trades Unions and Employers. This best reflects the new HSE Strategy for the Health & Safety of Great Britain”.
As a minimum, he recommends that amendments to the guidance
“should be pursued through joint working and tripartite discussions”.
Unfortunately, that is where we have been for a number of years and it is a system that has not worked. I find that the arguments that Mr. Kemp seems to have put about are not just unconvincing but almost specious in part.
I am afraid to say that that is so typical of successive British Governments. Time and again, they seek some kind of reasonable, voluntary conclusion, which, in the end, does not work and they have to legislate. There is a range of matters, including drink-driving and seat belts in cars, on which Governments have first sought a voluntary arrangement, and when that did not work, they have put forward a statutory proposal.
I fully agree and I will come on to that point. I think that that approach reflects a climate of opinion that has developed in Government and across parties too at the moment.
Let me just briefly go through the arguments that Mr. Kemp has put forward. He argues that thermal comfort depends on a number of factors and that setting an upper limit would be counter-productive from a health and safety perspective. I fail to understand that argument. This is not an issue where we are saying that there must be only a maximum temperature and nothing else. What we are saying is that there must be a maximum temperature that exists alongside a series of other measures that recognise the differentiations that exist in different sectors and also different individuals’ perception of thermal comfort.
Mr. Kemp also said that scientific evidence does not point to a value for a maximum recommended temperature. Well, it is true that people feel heat differently, but they also feel pain and cold differently, and yet in those cases we have been able to put into practice maximum ranges that no employer should allow their work force to be vulnerable to. Again, I find it extremely difficult to accept that argument. It gives the employer maximum discretion but leaves the employee largely unprotected.
Another argument is that
“there is no evidence that thermal discomfort is a significant workplace hazard.”
Our surveys demonstrate that it is. The fact that the HSE is not recording incidents properly and not prosecuting reflects weaknesses within the HSE system. Every other survey undertaken has indicated that thermal discomfort is a significant workplace hazard that needs to be addressed.
Another argument, which has been mentioned in this debate, is that the introduction of a maximum temperature would be costly to employers. The HSE and the Department are engaging in an impact assessment to consider the costs of introducing a maximum temperature associated with measures necessary to produce thermal comfort in the workplace. That argument has been used for decades to prevent developments in health and safety.
I want to speak on behalf of the good employers. At the moment, bad employers are making good employers vulnerable. Bad employers can inflict thermal discomfort and risk on their work force by cutting costs, which also allows them to undercut good employers in the pricing of their products. That has always been the case with issues of health and safety. Regulation tries to create a level playing field for everybody.
However, there are costs involved at the moment for all of us as we pay into the national health service for the treatment of people enduring and suffering from the lack of a maximum temperature. They are vulnerable to working in unsafe environments, and it has an impact on their health.
The report failed to come to grips with the reality of the working environment endured by members of the bakers union and other workers across a range of sectors. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North hit on one reason for the resistance to a maximum temperature. We must understand it in the context of what has happened in health and safety over the past 20 years or so. There has been a stepping back from establishing clarity in the regulatory regime for the workplace. We have moved towards risk assessments, which is setting us back decades.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently stated that
“the UK has one of the best health and safety records in the world”.
That is not the case any more. I do not like to say it, but it is true. In the global health and safety risk index 2009, the UK came 30th out of the 176 countries listed. Among OECD nations, we are ranked 20th. The true picture is that in many instances we are falling back rather than going forward.
Professor Steve Tombs and Dr. David Whyte have identified a lack of reporting. In some instances, as many as 80 per cent. of accidents and even fatalities at work related to the working environment are not reported. Andrew Watterson from the university of Stirling has argued that due to a lack of publication even of fatalities and their links to ill health, the number of people who die from occupational diseases is dramatically underestimated, as is the impact—particularly the long-term impact—of the working environment on health.
The issue also relates to what has happened to the HSE itself. Cuts have been made to the HSE’s overall expenditure, resulting in a fall in prosecutions. The overall picture since 1997-98 is that HSE prosecutions have declined by 32 per cent. and local authority prosecutions on health and safety grounds have declined by 34 per cent.
Inspections by the field operations directorate, the HSE’s largest inspecting section, have decreased by 26 per cent. and regulatory contacts fell by 19 per cent. between 2003 and 2004-05, the latest date for which I have figures. HSE investigations of major injuries fell by 43 per cent. between 2001-02 and 2006-07. In 2006-07, the HSE investigated only one third as many three-day injuries as in 2001-02. Not only are the regulations not clear, inspections, prosecutions and regulatory visits have declined dramatically.
Certainly not. I hope to sum up fairly quickly, Mr. Brady. At the beginning of the debate, we were on our own, but we have now been joined by a number of interested Members. I am pleased. I could make all sorts of puns about turning up the heat on me, but I will move on.
The lack of inspections, prosecutions and visits reflects a cut in HSE resources, which the Government must address. As my hon. Friend said, it also reflects the changing climate of opinion in Government and across all political parties. I fear some of the statements made in recent years. I warn the Opposition as well, having heard some of their statements on what they would do to deregulate if they came to power, that it would undermine the health and safety regime even further, in terms of ensuring successful investigation and prosecution in the work environment, to undermine the HSE’s resources and the direction that it is given.
I urge the Government to reconsider the issue, find a new way forward and give new impetus to the protection of workers from exposure to thermal discomfort. First, it would be useful for the Government to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem that we face and the need for action. In the past years, the Government have come some way on the issue. Ministerial meetings, the commissioning of a review by the HSE and the impact assessment have gone some way towards improvement, but further statements must be made to reassure people in such working environments that the Government take the issue seriously.
Secondly, we must recognise that consensus will not be achieved. It is not achievable across the stakeholder groups. However, a 60 per cent. majority agree that action must be taken and change is needed, and the Government must move forward on that basis.
Thirdly, the Government need to make a statement that the HSE needs to be more proactive in its approach. I will explain briefly what I think the HSE could do. It could investigate the number of times that it has been approached with complaints about workplace heat and the number of other reported incidents in which heat could be a factor. It could also perform on-site investigations of a selection of workplaces across all sectors immediately to give us fresh evidence of the scale of the problem that we face. Finally, it could investigate the wider social implications and long-term impact of daily exposure to heat.
After doing those things within a limited time scale—for example, six months—the Government could then introduce proposals for new regulations setting a maximum temperature and demonstrating clarity for employers and employees about the temperatures in which work should be done. Measures should then be introduced to ensure that health and safety is not put at risk.
We can turn the issue around with good will in the Government’s response today. Many people are looking to the Government to take measures to protect them in their work environment. They have waited too long for clarity and decisiveness of Government action on the issue.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr. Brady. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on his superb speech, in which he said just about everything that there is to say. It was a veritable tour de force. In my few words, I will add my support for what he said.
With my hon. Friend, I attended the meeting with Lord McKenzie of Luton, who is not just a noble Friend but a long-term one, as we both live in Luton and have known each other for 35 years. The meeting was enjoyable. As my hon. Friend said, I tabled the first early-day motion on this subject, which received 42 signatures, showing the support for this matter among hon. Members.
In the 1970s, I worked in the TUC’s economic department during the period of the social contract, part of the purpose of which was to introduce the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. We saw that as a beginning from which we would move forward— not a point that would be chipped away over subsequent decades. Perhaps we should revisit the principle of using the 1974 Act as a base for making conditions better for working people over the decades.
My hon. Friend talked about temperatures. I asked colleagues from the bakers union about typical temperatures in bakery workplaces. Sometimes there are temperatures of 38.6° C, or 102° F, and they can even be in excess of 40° C, which in Fahrenheit—I will not say in English money, because Fahrenheit is not English—is 104°. At least if one is working outside in such temperatures, one has the breeze and shade, but in the enclosed space of a bakery, they are simply not tolerable.
My hon. Friend made the point that people feel heat differently. Sometimes when I have an overcoat on, other people are walking around in T-shirts and clearly do not feel the cold in the way that I do. I can tolerate a little heat, but I cannot tolerate cold. Other people are the other way round. In a group of half a dozen bakery workers, it is possible that one would not be able to tolerate heat. The others might say, “What’s the problem, Jim? We’re coping but you’re not.” We have to accommodate everyone and should have a temperature that is reasonable and acceptable for those who find heat more difficult to contend with, not just the average person or the tough guy who can get by in hot circumstances. We must consider human variation.
I have a particular interest in this debate, because my grandfather was a bakery worker and my great-grandfather was the village baker in Blaby in the 1880s. It is a Hopkins family tradition, although I have long since lost any connection to baking. I do enjoy bread, of course, and I want to know that the bread I eat has been produced by workers who are properly accommodated in terms of pay and working conditions. I do not want to feel that the bread I am eating has been produced in situations of extreme discomfort. At times such as this when unemployment is relatively high, people hang on to jobs and might be tempted to accept conditions that would not be acceptable if they were not desperate for work. In such circumstances, we want trade unionism, but we also need statutory protection for workers in the workplace. That is what this debate is about.
My hon. Friend talked about other European countries. Sadly, time and again, the regulations protecting workers are considerably better in many continental countries than they are in the UK. We have to regulate working conditions, particularly the temperatures that bakery workers have to tolerate, and perhaps in other spheres, too. I do not want to make a long speech because my hon. Friend made a wonderful speech of almost 40 minutes in which he said just about everything there is to say. I congratulate him and give him my total support. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will take note and that legislation will be promised and implemented before long.
I apologise for missing the start of the debate. It was due not to high temperatures, but merely a broken-down bus. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Brady.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on initiating this debate. This is an important issue in which, as he is aware, I have taken some interest. In response to a parliamentary question I asked the Minister last year, he said that over the previous four years there had been 53 incidents in which high temperatures were a major problem, including one in which there was a fatality. In the context of the number of industrial injuries that occur every year, that is a relatively low figure, but it is nevertheless significant.
Like the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), I find it difficult to understand and accept the arguments made by the Department and the Health and Safety Executive as to why we do not have a maximum operating temperature. In certain jobs, such as work in bakeries and foundries, high temperatures are a problem that affects the workers. For many office workers, it is important that there is a maximum temperature.
When my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) asked a parliamentary question last year about what the House authorities recommended as the maximum operating temperature, I was surprised that the reply from my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) was that they work on the basis that it should be 21° C. If that is an acceptable temperature for Members of Parliament and their staff, we ought to set maximum temperatures for everybody else.
I understand the approach the HSE has taken in dealing with the range of factors that affect people’s ability to work, but the same argument ought to apply to the minimum temperature. We have statutory minimum temperatures of 16° C for people working in a sedentary position and 13° C for those doing physical work. There is a range of conditions at the colder end of the scale that affect a person’s comfort. The same argument should apply to the maximum temperature.
In a parliamentary answer that I received last year, the Minister said that the Department had asked the HSE to undertake a review and consult stakeholders. I was therefore looking forward to seeing the same sorts of controls. Whether for a minimum or a maximum temperature, there will always be discussion about what constitutes discomfort. The importance of the minimum or maximum temperature is that it sets the bare limit to which everyone is entitled at work. During a review, the HSE sent out a questionnaire with a closing date of 11 February. I do not know if that is the issue to which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred.
For the sake of clarity, the HSE commissioned an investigation and report from Professor Ray Kemp. The survey subsequently sent out by the HSE related specifically to the impact assessment, including the impact of introducing regulations. The danger is that the HSE seems to think that it can deal with just one sector, rather than with industry as a whole. Such a sectoral approach would cause even more confusion.
I am grateful for that clarification. I agree that although the review is part of a process, there must be a wider discussion of the value of a maximum temperature.
I agree with the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Luton, North that it is a worrying trend that the HSE’s resources have been cut and that there has been a fall in the number of inspections and, consequently, the number of prosecutions. A few weeks ago, I addressed the HSE staff conference, which is seriously concerned about how it can deliver the workload expected of it. The net result of further changes can only be a diminution in the ability of the HSE to deal with its statutory responsibilities.
There is great merit in establishing a maximum workplace temperature. As has been done in Germany, it is possible to set an upper limit for people doing physical work and a slightly lower limit for those doing sedentary work, but that will not help with all the other issues that must be dealt with as a result of temperature discomfort. Those issues can still be dealt with, but there should be a statutory maximum and, as I said, I cannot understand the argument for having a lower limit, but not an upper one. We either accept that there must be limits and ranges within which people can work or we do not.
The current position of having a statutory lower limit and an advisory upper limit is clearly unsatisfactory. There have been no prosecutions, and there are no proper records of the number of people affected by higher temperatures, because the existing regulations have no teeth. They need teeth, so that they can protect workers who have to work in higher temperatures.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr. Brady. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing the debate and on his extremely well-informed and considered opening speech. As hon. Members will have gathered, he has long campaigned on the subject and has raised it many times in questions and debates. As he made clear, he has also been the author of early-day motions that have attracted the signatures of a considerable number of hon. Members. Most recently, on 15 December 2009, early-day motion 491 attracted the signatures of 48 hon. Members. If a large number of hon. Members pen their name to an early-day motion, the matter should be taken seriously.
The hon. Gentleman set out in a proper way some of the problems that can arise from exposure to high temperatures and made the case for a maximum temperature. Certainly those are all issues that must be addressed and I will turn to that matter in a moment. We are also indebted to the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) who made some important points, including a crucial remark about individual sensitivity to heat. He spoke with the authority of someone who, as we learned today, comes from a long line of bakers.
Both hon. Gentlemen have made it clear that, as with many other factors in the workplace, there can be no doubt that high temperatures can pose health and safety issues in the workplace in certain circumstances. As was also made clear, the Health and Safety Executive receives complaints about high temperatures in the workplace and, sadly, a small number of accidents at work in recent years have occurred because of the exposure of individuals to high temperatures at work. Very sadly—this was adverted to—there was one fatality as a result of exposure to high temperatures in 2006-07.
On going through the figures, I note that, compared with the numbers for other years, a cluster of injuries and one fatality occurred during 2006-07. Twelve major injuries resulted from exposure to heat in that year, as well as the fatality. I am not drawing things together, but I notice that the Health and Safety Executive has instituted legal proceedings over that fatality.
We agree that we certainly need an appropriate framework so that we can deal with the matter in an appropriate way. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that where serious accidents or fatalities have occurred, there is the question of whether the legal framework has been broken. I do not want to say any more than that because I know that proceedings have been initiated in the case we have mentioned. It certainly catches the attention that there was a cluster of serious cases in 2006-07. I do not know whether they occurred because of a single incident or what the background is, but it certainly underlines the fact that serious health and safety issues can arise from high maximum temperatures.
The question is, how should we deal with those issues? As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has made clear, no legal maximums for temperatures at work are laid down as a binding rule. However, the Health and Safety Executive deals with the issue of workplace temperature within the frameworks of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the more recent regulations to which the hon. Gentleman referred, particularly regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Those regulations deal with the temperature in indoor workplaces and state:
“During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.”
There is an associated code of practice that deals with temperatures in workplaces and sets out the matters that must be taken into account in taking reasonable steps in certain circumstances. The hon. Gentleman made some points about that framework and what he considers to be the disadvantage of it, and those matters will have to be taken into account.
Previous Health and Safety Executive guidance has stated that a defined and acceptable zone of thermal comfort lies roughly between 13° C and 30° C depending on the nature of the activity being undertaken. Again, the hon. Gentleman set out his case relating to that. He and other hon. Members have been campaigning on the issue for some time, and we note that in February last year, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), wrote to the chairman of the Health and Safety Executive to ask her to revisit the reasons for and against a maximum workplace temperature. That came after a process of reviews and debate on the subject.
The hon. Gentleman is setting out the circumstances and the regulations, but I think hon. Members would be interested to hear his opinion—I hope he gets to that. When he does get around to giving his opinion, will he inform us and wider society how his opinion squares with the Green Paper published by the Conservatives during their 2008 conference, when the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said:
“The powers of Government inspectors”
in health and safety “will be drastically curbed”? Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition said also last year that they
“will reduce the burden and impact of health and safety”.
What powers will be drastically curbed?
I will not be tempted by the Minister, who is going much wider than the subject of the debate. I have to say that his contribution is not in keeping with the rest of the debate, as he has referred to something much more general. If he wants to put his argument in such a way, I should say that he has heard the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington go through in some detail what he considers to be the shortcomings of the present Government’s efforts in this regard. They have at their disposal the whole apparatus of the civil service and its controls, and its relationship with the Health and Safety Executive. I was not going to go down such a route, but the Minister chooses to go down it, so I have to say that what the hon. Gentleman said should not make particularly comfortable listening for him.
I have tried to approach the debate by attempting to secure a consensus largely because, if there is a hung Parliament, I am working on the basis that the Socialist Campaign Group will hold the balance of power between the parties. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I, too, am concerned about some of the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition and the specific quote from the Green Paper. However, I do not want that to be a matter of controversy today. I am trying to arrive at a position whereby we can move forward on the issue of maximum temperatures that has been signed up to today. Anything he can say that is of comfort about support for maximum temperatures would be extremely helpful in securing that consensus.
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s approach in so far as it is factual and evidence-based, as I am sure he would want it to be. We certainly feel that the issue should be addressed, alongside other issues that pose a threat to health and safety. As with every other potential health and safety issue, we would expect it to be tackled in an effective but proportionate, sensible and appropriate manner. We are waiting to hear the Health and Safety Executive’s views in the inquiry commissioned by the previous Secretary of State, so it would be sensible to wait and see what it has to say.
I can assure the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington that we want the issue to be dealt with in an effective, proper and sensible manner, proportionate to the scale of the problem he has identified. That is our general approach. He cannot expect the Opposition to go much further than that on such a detailed matter, when there is a Health and Safety Executive at play, or to go so far as to set down a detailed maximum temperature today. We would want to approach that in an appropriate, sensible and practicable way, taking into account the seriousness of the matter. If the hon. Gentleman wants to get further than that, he is welcome to try.
Just as a matter of warning, statements such as
“The powers of Government inspectors will be drastically curbed”
send out the wrong message in the health and safety area, so I would like the hon. Gentleman to take that back if possible. Secondly, I suggest to him, as I suggested earlier, that we try to establish a time scale for a set of actions to be taken, so that the Government can make a decision. I would like that to happen before dissolution, but if that cannot be done then at least within six months, because we have been at this for so long. The latest process started last January, so it is over a year later. The hon. Gentleman could indicate that he, too, sees it as a matter of some urgency now, and that a time scale of six months for resolving it would be reasonable.
I might be wrong, but I think we are still waiting for a response to the initiative the then Secretary of State took last February. Perhaps the Minister will have something to tell us about that in a few minutes. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is a doughty campaigner, so what I will say to him is that, were we in a position to form a Government, we would always want to hear Members’ opinions on health and safety matters and take them into account, especially when they are made in the detailed and well-informed way they have been made today. Ministers should always be prepared to listen to the views of the House, and I hope that that was implicit in my opening remarks.
I hope that I have set out our general approach on the matter and look forward to hearing from the Minister—quite apart from his earlier unfortunate remarks—a detailed response to the hon. Gentleman’s speech.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing the debate. He referred to the industries based in his constituency and to the work of the bakers union, Usdaw and other unions that are concerned with the matter. I congratulate other hon. Members on their contributions and will come to their points when I conclude. The debate is a good opportunity for the House to consider the report the Health and Safety Executive commissioned on the current approach to workplace temperatures. The HSE is actively carrying out further work in that area to identify those sectors where thermal environment is an issue, and to scope the full extent of the problems presented and identify an appropriate and proportionate solution. I am aware that there has been considerable debate on maximum temperatures.
Before we lose the point, I asked a question about the appointment of the person leading the HSE review. Will the Minister, perhaps by writing to me, clarify the process for the appointment of that individual and the process for appointments generally by the HSE for such key reviews?
It is important that people affected by organisations or individuals undertaking important reviews are confident that there is a proper process in place that identifies their expertise. Of course, it is not a pure equation, and people might not see the information they had hoped for at the end of a report, but they should have confidence in the process, so my hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. I will ensure that he gets those details, and I will publish the letter and put it in the Library so that all hon. Members can see it.
The issue of maximum temperatures in the workplace has been discussed for several years, as my hon. Friend indicated. The TUC has been calling for a change in legislation with the introduction of an absolute maximum temperature, as has been mentioned, of 30° C, or 27 ° C for those doing strenuous work, at which point workers should not have to work unless effective measures are put in place to manage heat, with failure to do so making an employer liable for prosecution.
I certainly support my hon. Friend’s call for clear and coherent requirements for employers on how they combat heat in the workplace, and that has been reflected in comments from other hon. Members. That is what the HSE review has focused on achieving. In considering the best way to achieve that, it is important to understand the existing regulatory approach. Despite the concerns raised today, understanding the scientific evidence must play a key part in informing that. The HSE advises that temperature is only one indicator of potential thermal discomfort in the upper range. The influence of temperature on health and safety in the workplace is dependent on the interaction of several factors: air temperature, clothing, relative humidity, radiant temperature, air movement and metabolic work rate.
I noted the hon. Gentleman’s earlier remarks and I will come to them later in my speech. Although those factors exist in cold environments, air temperature is actually a much better predictor of how a person will feel when cold, meaning that we can predict with much more confidence that controlling the temperature to a regulatory minimum should ensure that a workplace can achieve a safe thermal environment.
The same cannot be said of a hot environment, where factors such as humidity have a much greater effect on how a person will feel. Radiant heat is also an important consideration in that context. As a result it will always prove difficult to identify a suitable maximum workplace temperature for all workplaces. For example, how would that work for a foundry? For those reasons, the HSE currently advocates a risk-assessment approach to working in heat that takes into account the interaction of all factors that will influence how an individual feels in a given thermal environment. Detailed guidance on how to complete thermal risk assessments is provided through the HSE website. Recognising the complexities involved in that issue and the concerns raised about the clarity and application of the current regulations in the workplace, HSE has, as we have heard, undertaken a review of the workplace temperatures policy and guidance.
On the difference between the minimum and maximum, I put it on the record that 99.9 per cent. of the population know when they are too hot or too cold. The complexities that have been brought forward regarding the maximum temperature could have been used for the minimum temperature, because we now use arguments about the wind chill factor and other considerations that affect how people feel the cold. I want to put it on the record that the vast majority of us feel that the process for finding the maximum temperature and the use of scientific evidence is a process of obfuscation and avoidance of responsibility.
I assure my hon. Friend that that is not an attempt to avoid the issue, which is why the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), undertook to ensure that that work was completed. We take the matter seriously.
The HSE has received more than 445 responses to its initial scoping questionnaire last year from a wide range of sectors. The questionnaire was supplemented by a well-attended stakeholder event in July 2009.
Are a high proportion of the representations from employers? Clearly, there will be costs involved in dealing with new legislation or stricter regulation. There would need to be some investment in workplaces to ensure that temperatures could be controlled. How much pressure has been put on both the HSE and the Government by employers?
When I refer to stakeholders, I include employers’ representatives and employees’ representatives such as trade unions, which have been referred to in the debate.
Along with extensive engagement with stakeholders as part of the further work requested by the HSE board, which I shall touch on later, the work done by the HSE to consult all interested parties is the right approach. It is not fair to say that an attempt to build consensus is the wrong approach. There needs to be discussion. If there were not, there would be a great deal of criticism.
Further analysis was also undertaken as part of the review, including interrogation of the HSE statistics collected under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 and information on complaints and queries submitted to the HSE information line. The analysis revealed that there was little evidence of health effects caused by high temperatures. Infoline information demonstrated that the number of complaints and queries increased in direct relation to hot and cold spells of weather.
In addition, information was considered from key European Union member states—this has been referred to by hon. Members—on how workplace temperatures are managed in their countries, along with research gathered on the experience of managing workplace temperatures in Australia. It is clear from the report that there is no consistent approach to the matter across Europe. Some member states recommend a maximum temperature but others do not.
I would not say that ours is the most liberal regime.
The HSE board received the report, which concluded that, on balance, workplace temperatures do not justify active regulatory intervention but rather, improved joint working between all parties to the issue: the Government, trade unions and employer representatives. The report included a number of options for consideration, from retaining the current approach to amending the approved code of practice to include a maximum upper temperature limit, in addition to the current lower limit.
The report provided some valuable information and showed that there is a wide range of views on the issue, but the HSE board felt that it was inconclusive. It has asked for further evidence to be gathered to scope the full extent of the problems presented. As part of that further work, the HSE is keen to focus attention on those sectors that are most affected, and to identify practical and effective steps that can be taken to tackle the problem in those workplaces. That will not preclude a review of the regulatory provisions, but will help to address the issue more speedily and effectively where needed, while also helping to inform further consideration of whether a maximum temperature or a legal trigger for action, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to, would be proportionate and effective. So that matter is under active consideration.
My hon. Friend stated that there is a lack of traditional forms of evidence of incidents or illness caused by high temperatures other than anecdotal reports. In attempting to gather as much evidence as possible to allow a full consideration of the problem and any possible regulatory solution, the HSE has developed a survey to cover employers and employees. It was developed with assistance from the HSE’s occupational hygienists to ensure that the questions were designed to capture the right information. It was developed with the aim not of achieving a consensus of views on the issue, but of establishing whether there is evidence of health effects caused by working in high temperatures.
The survey was sent to several organisations including employers, employee representatives, trade unions and so on. The HSE was particularly proactive in publicising the survey and encouraging people to respond to it, and we have received many responses in different formats. Responses were requested by 11 February, as the House has heard. There was a huge number of responses—more than 3,000—from health and safety representatives, trade unions, employers and so on. The HSE is in the process of analysing the responses and will work with its economists to calculate the costs and benefits of the options proposed. It will use the information gathered from the survey, along with data relating to the age of the building premises and environmental considerations.
The Minister mentioned costs. I would like to place on record—perhaps he could pass this message on to the HSE—the fact that the analysis of costs should not just involve the costs to employers of introducing protective or compensatory measures. There should be an understanding, too, of the costs to wider society of the effects of heat on health. The cost burden falls on the individual and their family, then on the NHS and the general taxpayer.
My hon. Friend makes his point well. Of course we need to consider the wider effects on individuals and society.
We will look at the information on costs that would be incurred through the introduction of measures to manage the issue, and on potential cost savings that would be generated by increasing productivity and reducing the days lost due to illness. That is another part of the equation that we need to factor in. A facility that is operating with good health and safety measures is an efficient facility—the two do not contradict each other. I have seen that through my own experience of working closely with the paper industry in my constituency, in years gone by.
All of that detailed information will be used to complete a regulatory impact assessment, which will inform the future direction of travel. Due to the complexity of the issue and the sheer volume of data and evidence to be analysed, it is not possible to say at this stage what the outcome will be. The HSE board will consider the further evidence gathered at its meeting in April 2010, and a report to Ministers will follow in May 2010.
The HSE is establishing a working group with key stakeholders in the baking industry to discuss the problems caused in that sector by workplace temperatures and to discuss any examples of good practice. The group’s first meeting will take place on 3 March 2010, and the HSE will subsequently engage in discussions with key stakeholders from other sectors affected by thermal environments. I would encourage the bakers union, the TUC and industry representatives to embrace the sector-specific discussions as an opportunity to help address the concerns of their members while helping to further everyone’s understanding of how high workplace temperatures can best be managed and controlled.
We have had discussions through the trade union group with the bakers union, which is keenly engaged in the sector discussions, but let me make the point that has been made to us by the union itself. It does not want to be seen as part of some form of divide-and-rule measures whereby we pass off individual sectors and do not establish across all of industry and commerce a maximum temperature regime. We need to address the fear that participation in one-sector reviews will mean that other sectors will not be involved, or that there will be delays in involving them. By all means, the union should participate in sector discussions, but not at the expense of wider progress on maximum temperature across industry.
I am not expecting the unions to change their position, but equally I am pleased that they are willing to engage. I will ensure that my noble Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton is aware of that.
On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and other hon. Members, it is not the case that we wanted to avoid this important issue. We want to see a conclusion for the benefit of workers and employers. The current HSE strategy encourages strong leadership and worker involvement. A number of people commented throughout the review that workers need to feel empowered to manage their working environment. However, I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins): a worker’s ability to be empowered can vary greatly in terms of the relationship with their employer. I accept that.
My hon. Friend the Minister has set out—let me be clear about this for the record—the fact that the regulatory report and the impact assessment will go to the HSE board in April and there will be a report to Ministers in May. May I ask my hon. Friend to be clearer about what the process might be after that if the Government determine that they will go along the line of a maximum temperature? What processes are envisaged in that regard? Will there be delegated legislation? What time scale would be envisaged? This campaign has been going on for a long time. Hopes were raised 12 months ago that this issue would be wrapped up by last December and there is disappointment that the matter has dragged out even further.
I will ensure that my noble Friend Lord McKenzie is aware of the desire for a road map and timetable to be set out to provide some confidence. [Interruption.] I have been handed some inspiration. It would be appropriate to carry out a full 12-week consultation on any proposed amendments. My hon. Friend will be aware that that is in line with Cabinet Office guidelines on good practice. The timetable would be one part of the equation. I will see if my noble Friend is able to set that out in the way described by my hon. Friend.
Just to see if we can inspire some more inspiration from other sources, I should say that that would help. If my hon. Friend cannot provide it today, perhaps he will write to us.
I understand that there will be a ministerial report by May, a decision by Ministers, then the normal 12 to 13 weeks’ statutory consultation on whatever is proposed. It would be useful to know whether delegated legislation would be introduced if a change of regulations is required, whether affirmative or negative resolution in the House would be required, or whether there would be a ministerial signing-off process that might prevent the measure being impeded in any way by attempts to seek parliamentary time.
I will ensure that my hon. Friend receives those details.
In summary, there are a significant number of factors to consider. It is a highly complex issue and further work needs to be undertaken. However, it is important that people work in comfortable conditions and that they feel empowered to be able to report concerns. We monitor heat stress, but it is not possible to isolate cases through the RIDDOR structure, as a result of the related matter of people working in confined spaces.
We have recently surveyed HSE field inspectors to gain a better understanding of the work that they do on heat-related incidents. Inspectors consider what action employers have taken, if a complaint is received in respect of an investigation that they are carrying out, and whether they have followed guidance in relation to temperatures, including provision of water, temporary cooling, additional breaks, worker rotation, and so on. It would be feasible to undertake more in-depth, lengthy studies in this area and we will consider doing so.
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council has reported that to date no research or evidence on the effect of heat at work on certain occupations has been brought to its attention. I think that hon. Members would agree that the evidence base must be established to inform site inspectors’ decisions. This informed, measured debate is welcome, and it is in such an atmosphere that we improve the lot of workers in their workplaces. I hope that there can be more debates with the tone of this one, because too often, health and safety is characterised by the “gone mad” argument, which is nothing to do with the HSE. Every year, the HSE publishes its calendar trying to bust the myths, but it does not have the budget to compete with some newspapers that want screaming headlines. I raised the point about Conservative party policy with the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), because it is important that we have such debates in this type of atmosphere. We cannot have a parallel universe operating in which that party’s key spokespersons talk about dramatically removing powers. That is what they said. If what the hon. Member for Hertsmere said this morning is a rowing back from that position, and shows the Conservatives taking a more measured approach, that is entirely welcome. The hon. Gentleman chastised me for making a party political point. I will happily withdraw that remark if he is saying that he will take a more measured, sensible approach to this important issue.