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Ms. Richardson : I merely wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) on

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instigating what has been such an excellent debate among Opposition Members. I assure her, as I am sure she knows, that her new clause has much official backing because it is very much a part of our policy to help home workers.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that the speech of the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) was one of the most patronising that I have heard. Perhaps the hon. Member for Elmet should go to the Department of Employment to see if there is any more up-to-date evidence than that which he produced tonight. I am a member of the Department of Employment's advisory committee on women's employment--I think that that is its full and splendid title. It meets about twice a year and I recall that, certainly more than 12 months, possibly two years ago, we had a meeting at which the Department of Employment produced a splendid piece of research on home working which it had commissioned. Each committee member was given the solid document which had been commissioned by the Department and we had an interesting discussion on it. Everyone was astonished and disturbed by its contents. I see the Minister looking at the Dispatch Box. I do not expect him to reply. All I am saying is that I am sure that the Department of Employment could tell the hon. Member for Elmet that the sort of case which he is advancing will not help anybody. It certainly will not help those people, mainly women, as my hon. Friends have already pointed out, who work in disastrous conditions and for abysmal money which would not keep anybody. They work in conditions where their health and safety are severely at risk. I hope that the House will solidly support the new clause.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Lee) : The Government are opposed to new clause 9 for two main reasons.

First, it is for the Health and Safety Executive to decide how to allocate its resources and determine the number of inspectors. The system has always worked well, and we see no reason to undermine it now. For 1988-89, the Government gave the Health and Safety Commission an additional £6.7 million over the previously planned provision. That increase takes account of in-year adjustments, and allows for gross expenditure of £118.3 million. For 1989-90, provision will be enhanced by a further £8.8 million gross. There is no question of the Government having tried to cut back on the amount made available for health and safety, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) suggested earlier. The extra provision has allowed the Health and Safety Executive to increase the number of factory inspectors to 604, with a target of 638 by the end of the year. That is the maximum number that the inspectorate can train and assimilate at one time.

At present, inspectors have powers under section 20 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to enter any premises, including the houses of home workers, to enforce relevant statutory provisions under the Act.

Secondly, we have no reason to believe that home workers' health and safety is a cause for concern. My Department put in hand an extensive programme of research into the number and circumstances of home workers in 1981. A lengthy and detailed report by Dr. Catherine Hakim, which formed the basis of the balanced contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) and the centrepiece of the research

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programme, was published in 1987 as Department of Employment research paper No. 60 and entitled "Home-based work in Britain". The search suggested that manufacturing home work, which is generally the aspect that causes concern, was much less extensive than had been thought. About 60,000 workers are thought to be employed in such work out of an estimated 250,000 home workers--that is, people who work at home, as distinct from those who use home as a base or "live on the job".

The research shed light on many key aspects of home working, but did not show any pressing need for action by the Government or any desire for such action on the part of home workers. In regard to health and safety, it found that

"If anything, the health of home-based workers is somewhat better than the health of the working population as a whole"

and that

"in fact, the occurrence of accidents and of health problems resulting from work being done at home is very low indeed apart from being extremely rare, accidents are typically of a trivial nature."

In both this debate and the debate in Committee on clause 4 of the Bill, the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) referred to a female home worker who had contracted leukaemia from using an adhesive containing benzine. Employers' general duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act cover risks relating to carcinogenic substances such as benzine as well as other risks. In addition, from 1 October 1989, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 will impose more detailed controls on the use of toxic substances, and there will be an approved code of practice under the regulations specifically relating to the control of carcinogenic substances. It will specify that

"carcinogenic substances or processes should not be used or carried on where there is an equivalent but less hazardous substitute." The regulations and the approved code of practice will apply to home workers as well as other employees, in the same way as other health and safety legislation applies to home workers at present.

Mr. Cryer : Can the Minister give us some idea how the Government could bring that information to the attention of home workers? One of the problems is that they tend to live in isolation and not to talk to other people. The materials are delivered to their homes. Will the Minister, for example, request the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that simple explanatory leaflets are required to be delivered by every employer to home workers so that at least they have some contact with the information?

Mr. Lee : The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point, which I will consider. I know that a good many home workers, such as the substantial number in my constituency who are from ethnic minorities, will not be aware of such provision.

Mrs. Wise : I have a further query on that point. Will the new regulations apply to people who are perhaps working without a regular contract of employment or who are on some sort of commission basis, which is often the case with home workers so that the employer can avoid responsibility? Will the toxic substance regulations apply even in those circumstances?

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9.45 pm

Mr. Lee : I think that they will apply to everyone, but I shall have to check that.

As hon. Members will know, representations to Ministers have been made, particularly by the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers, disputing the findings of the research that I mentioned earlier. Especially disputed are the findings about the number of home workers employed in the traditional home working trades, such as clothing manufacture. These have been questioned. We have therefore agreed that officials should look again at the methodology behind the figures. The researcher, who has now left the Department to take up a professorship, has just reported and her comments are being considered and analysed.

At present, home workers who are employees have the protection of section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. Under section 3 of the Act, employers also have to ensure that persons not in their employ are not exposed to risks from their activities. This includes the work put out to self-employed home workers. Furthermore, section 6 of the Act requires manufacturers and suppliers of articles and substances for use at work to ensure that they are safe so far as is reasonably practicable. In view of the findings of the research about the health and safety of home workers, we think that this protection is sufficient.

Mrs. Mahon : I cannot say that I am surprised that the Minister has seen fit to turn down what would have been a great help to people who are seriously exploited.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) for his contribution. I know that he came straight from the Select Committee after listening to the evidence of the home workers. He made some excellent points, especially about the European workers who are far better thought of by their Governments than our workers are by this Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) was right when he said that there is no great freedom in somebody spending hours at a sewing machine. Such people have no choice. They know that they are being exploited and we are trying to get that across to the Government. Obviously our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. My hon. Friend's other relevant point was that Britain's child care arrangements are abysmal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) certainly knows a lot more about the work force and about working than any clever Tory Government lawyer and I thank him for his contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) made a useful point when he said that if the Minister was in any difficulty he could check on the definition of a home worker. The Bill could be delayed and the new clause could go to the House of Lords. However, we were not even given any hope of that. I was pleased to see my hon. Friend take the chance to expose the Dickensian employer in Bradford who is not only exploiting Asian women but who makes sure that a good dollop of child labour is thrown in.

Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be interesting to see which way the hon. Member for Keighley

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(Mr. Waller) votes, because he is on record in the same paper from which I drew the example as saying that he would take action on this exploitation?

Mrs. Mahon : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. As we know, many Conservative Members run to their local newspapers and wring their hands hypocritically, saying that they will take up a case, but we never see them in the Division Lobbies. It will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) is in the Lobby tonight.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for her support, which I knew we would get.

The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) showed his staggering ignorance and arrogance in refusing to consider the facts that were put to him. No hon. Member on the Opposition side was deceived by the false analogies and the ridiculous comments that he made when talking about accountants and the growing number of consultants and brokers who are trying to make a fast buck on the Stock Exchange and who have had big computers installed at home. We were talking about the real people who do home work, as he knew well.

I am disappointed that the Minister refused to take the clause seriously. In his opening remarks he said that the Health and Safety Executive had always done things in a certain way. That is not set in tablets of stone. The House is the place where we make and change laws. That was a weak argument.

The Minister said that the number involved was small, at 60,000. I question that. The Minister knows well that many of the people on low rates of pay for home work also receive benefit. I found sadly that many of them, particularly women who are single parents struggling to bring up children alone, do not realise that they could earn more. They are hiding the small pittance that they earn, thinking that they are in breach of social security regulations when their earnings are so low that they are not.

I take the Minister to task about the increase in the budget for the Health and Safety Executive. The Government have it on the cheap. They cut expenditure on the inspectorate by 20 per cent. I understand that they may have started to increase it again. I am open to correction, but I think that the inspectorate can visit each factory only once every 12 years. Yet the Government have increased the number of DSS fraud inspectors by 160 per cent.

The Minister has the opportunity to tackle a growing problem, but I do not think that he will. I am bitterly disappointed at the Government's response, so my hon. Friends and I will vote for the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 173, Noes 246.

Division No. 206] [9.52 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Allen, Graham

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashley, Rt Hon Jack

Ashton, Joe

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)

Barron, Kevin

Beckett, Margaret

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bermingham, Gerald

Bidwell, Sydney

Blair, Tony

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)

Buckley, George J.

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Column 407

Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)

Cartwright, John

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clay, Bob

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Cohen, Harry

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Cousins, Jim

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Dixon, Don

Douglas, Dick

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth

Eadie, Alexander

Eastham, Ken

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)

Fatchett, Derek

Fearn, Ronald

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)

Fisher, Mark

Flannery, Martin

Flynn, Paul

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Foster, Derek

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Garrett, John (Norwich South)

Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)

George, Bruce

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Gould, Bryan

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Hardy, Peter

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Henderson, Doug

Hinchliffe, David

Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)

Howells, Geraint

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Ingram, Adam

Janner, Greville

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)

Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil

Kirkwood, Archy

Lamond, James

Leadbitter, Ted

Lestor, Joan (Eccles)

Litherland, Robert

Livsey, Richard

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Lofthouse, Geoffrey

Loyden, Eddie

McAvoy, Thomas

McCartney, Ian

McFall, John

McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

McLeish, Henry

McNamara, Kevin

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Marek, Dr John

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)

Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)

Maxton, John

Meacher, Michael

Meale, Alan

Michael, Alun

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morgan, Rhodri

Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)

Mullin, Chris

Murphy, Paul

Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon

O'Brien, William

Orme, Rt Hon Stanley

Parry, Robert

Pendry, Tom

Pike, Peter L.

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Quin, Ms Joyce

Redmond, Martin

Reid, Dr John

Richardson, Jo

Roberts, Allan (Bootle)

Robinson, Geoffrey

Rogers, Allan

Rooker, Jeff

Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Rowlands, Ted

Sedgemore, Brian

Sheerman, Barry

Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert

Short, Clare

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)

Snape, Peter

Soley, Clive

Spearing, Nigel

Steinberg, Gerry

Strang, Gavin

Straw, Jack

Vaz, Keith

Wallace, James

Walley, Joan

Wardell, Gareth (Gower)

Wareing, Robert N.

Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)

Williams, Rt Hon Alan

Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)

Wilson, Brian

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Worthington, Tony

Wray, Jimmy

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. Frank Haynes and

Mr. Allen Adams.


Aitken, Jonathan

Alison, Rt Hon Michael

Allason, Rupert

Amess, David

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