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Mr. Cryer : Will the right hon. Gentleman re-examine the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill, which is a private Member's Bill that has the declared aim of removing British Rail staff from railway platforms? With people being encouraged to work at night, the removal of public service staff such as those of British Rail--whose trains will carry many millions of people to and from work at night and early in the morning--and employers exploiting the Bill's provisions, is there not a danger that the risk of attack and molestation will be even greater?
Amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42 draw attention to the fact that article 7(8) of the European social charter presents a problem, and therefore we intend notifying the Council of Europe of our intention to denounce article 7(8) at the next opportunity, which will be on 26 February 1990. Until we have denounced article 7(8) the ban on young people working at night and contained in section 1(3) of the Employment of Women, Young
Column 365Persons, and Children Act 1920 will be retained. That is why that legislation is dealt with separately, in schedule 7 to the Bill, rather than in clause 2 with the rest of the provisions concerning young people. Our intention is to repeal that provision when once we have denounced article 7(8). We take our obligations under the Council of Europe's social charter very seriously and in that way we shall not breach it.
Mr. Batiste : In the European Community's document No. 15, "Developments in the European Community, July-December 1988", that the House will debate tomorrow, it is stated in paragraph 8.4 : "The Council reached a common position on the proposed framework directive on measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at the workplace. This is not the keystone for setting minimum standards for health and safety at work and is broadly consistent with the existing United Kingdom legislation in this area."
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that our legislation meets the standards set in the general framework of European legislation?
Mr. Cope : Yes, we believe that it does. The House will have an opportunity to debate the framework directive in due course. Taking the Bill into account, our legislation fulfills and will fulfil the requirements of the framework directive--but that is another story, for another debate, for another occasion.
Overall, we yield to no one in our desire to see preserved the health and safety of young people at work and elsewhere. The Bill preserves all the health and safety provisions said to be necessary by the Health and Safety Commission, but, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, we have done away with some of the older parts of the legislation that are inappropriate to modern conditions. Neither the proposed new clauses nor the amendments are necessary to ensure the safety of young people.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : I know how desperate young people can be to get a job. Young people in my constituency and in those of other right hon. and hon. Members will, because of the economic problems that they face, accept night shift. When I was a young apprentice, I was not allowed by law to work overtime until I was aged 18. Nevertheless, I worked overtime from the age of 15 because I knew that my mother needed the extra money that it produced. The same was true of many other young workers in that same factory. I did not start working shifts until I was aged 22 or 23. The medical profession has not done enough in studying the effects of night shift working. Anyone who has worked night shift knows that it has an effect similar to that of jet lag on those who travel on transatlantic flights. People working night shifts suffer from high blood pressure. They are compelled to eat meals in the middle of the night, but their digestive system has a time clock that switches off so that the food in their stomach is undigested until the following morning, when they are asleep. As a result, they do not enjoy proper sleep. When young people in particular work night shifts, their concentration often suffers.
Young people aged 16 or 17 are supposed to give their young bodies every opportunity to develop, because at
Column 366that age they are still growing. The Bill will deprive young people of sunlight hours. They will go to bed when the sun is shining and go to work at night.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) spoke about the dangers of travelling on public transport at night. The situation is not too bad when someone sets out to start their night shift at 9 o'clock in the evening, leaving to return home at 8 o'clock in the morning. However, a young person might be taken ill in the middle of the night. How will that boy or girl get home? Has the Minister given any thought to the fact that industry currently works 10-hour shifts, so that workers can have their Fridays off? That is a good arrangement, but it means that young persons, even if they live in the same locality as their workplace, will have to allow themselves one hour to get to work and another hour to return home. They will be away from home for more than 12 hours, which is ridiculous in this day and age. It is tantamount to slavery.
Night shifts are also unpopular among adults, with foremen and general supervisors unwilling to work them. That will mean that, if a dose of the flu goes round a small factory, the usual supervisors will be absent and the young person may not be properly supervised. Two or three young people could be working dangerous machinery with no responsible person in the factory aged more than 21 or 22 to supervise them. The employer for the day shift may have made adequate arrangements, but then, because of absenteeism, a whole new set of circumstances might apply. The Minister should give this issue further thought.
I left school at 15. At school, just round the corner from where I lived, I had school dinners. When I began work I had to travel for an hour to get to my factory, and instead of school dinners I had to get used to cold sandwiches. I realise now that when I worked at night, my concentration at the end of the shift, at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning, had become impaired. It must have been more dangerous for me to be using machinery in that tired state.
At my present age, I can recognise fatigue. As a youngster, I did not have that recognition. I fear that, by these provisions, the Government are putting youngsters at risk. I beg them to think again.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : The Minister said that the Government would yield to nobody in their concern for young people and their health and safety. Frankly, not only do I not believe that, but many hon. Members in all parts of the House, certainly on the Opposition Benches, do not believe it and working people in general do not believe it. The least he should do is accept new clauses 3 and 5.
I thought it ironic when the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) spoke of the need for Britain to honour the social charter which the Government, by the inclusion of clause 8, will have to abrogate. I describe it as ironic because clauses 1 to 7 are concerned with protective legislation for women, and in that respect the Government are implementing a Council of Europe directive. The Minister seems to be suffering from a severe case of split personality.
It would be invidious to describe clause 8 as the main clause in the Bill. I feel equally fired up about the reduction in employee rights, the introduction of the £150 industrial tribunal deposit, the reduction in the degree of protective legislation for women and the reduction in the amount of
Column 367time off to enable trade union officials to perform their duties. Nevertheless, clause 8 is a key provision in the Bill, especially the effect it will have on young people.
Clause 8 seeks to abolish the present restrictions on the employment of young people. About 600,000 youngsters, or two thirds of school leavers, are at present covered by the Factories Act 1961 and the Shops Act 1950. The legislative cover, the umbrella provided by those measures will disappear if that clause remains unamended. Young people will be eligible-- I am not saying that they will queue up to take the opportunity--to work shifts, including nights, of 11 hours a day and over 54 hours a week, which they are prevented at present from doing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) said, the only promise we got from the Tories when we debated this issue in Committee was that no young person would have to work more than 24 hours in any one day. The Bill represents an open-ended opportunity to exploit youngsters in their hours of work.
I asked in Committee for any Tory Member to raise a hand if he or she would allow a daughter aged 15 years and eight months to work under the conditions that would be permitted once the Bill became law. Not one of them took the opportunity to answer me. Of course not, because Conservative Members can buy their way out of this problem. Their bairns do not work at filling the shelves in Sainsbury's or the Co-op. They do not work in the bakeries or other similar industries. They can buy their children out of working long hours, whereas our children have no choice, apart from cheap labour YTS schemes and the inadequate levels of income support, if they get support at all. The alternative is to accept low-paid jobs, often in a part -time environment. Working-class youth will be especially hit unless we amend the Bill.
Clause 8 does not propose an adult wage for an adult job, even though we are talking about youngsters working the same hours as their adult counterparts. One can die for one's country at 16, pay the poll tax at 18 and be exploited as a school leaver--or even when at school--by rogue employers ; but one cannot get a decent rate of pay until one is 21. That is when, according to the Government, one becomes an adult.
I predict that, unless the Opposition new clauses are accepted, the trade most likely to take immediate advantage of this deregulation will be the bakery industry. It is already common in that industry to find night shift staff doing an average of 53 hours a week. I again extend my offer to Tory Members : which of them would allow their sons or daughters aged 15 years and eight months to work more than 53 hours on nights in a bakery? I pause, but not one of them on the Government Benches is prepared to take me up on that. Why should our youth, working-class youngsters, have to endure that?
In Committee--I have no doubt that the same will apply tonight--the Government's justification for the Bill was that such restrictions on young people's hours were a burden on business, unnecessary and out-dated and hard to justify on health and safety grounds ; that there was no evidence that long hours, shift or night work had a different effect on young people than they had on adults ; and that we should leave such matters to market forces. All those arguments were demolished by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin).
Column 368If the Minister is confident about the need for these provisions, why will he not accept, say, new clause 5? That would enable us to conduct an examination with proper statistics because the Secretary of State would have a statutory responsibility to collect such figures and publish them. If the Government refuse to take that step, people will draw the conclusion that the Minister has something to hide and that he does not believe in the arguments that he is using in favour of the Bill.
The Bill promotes the increasing exploitation of young workers. It sweeps aside the consequences of accidents, stress and strain, deteriorating health, safety conditions and declining wages. Unless we amend clause 8, it will repeal section 61 of the Factories Act and section 50 of the Shops Act. I feel it important--if only for the benefit of hon. Members who did not take part in our Committee deliberations--to point out just what will be repealed.
At present, youngsters aged 15 years and eight months, girls or boys, are prevented from working more than nine hours a day, or 48 hours a week, or more than 11 hours in any one day ; are prevented from starting earlier than 7 o'clock in the morning and finishing later than 8 o'clock at night ; and are prevented from finishing after 1 o'clock on Saturdays. Youngsters must have a 30-minute break after working four and a half hours and they must not work overtime above the maximum employment time of 12 hours, including breaks. That is all spelled out in the Factories Act 1961.
The Shops Act 1950 covers warehouses as well as shops. If any area of the service economy is growing, it is the warehouse sector. I have often made the point that the lack of investment in manufacturing industry means that, whereas we used to be known as the workshop of the world, we are rapidly becoming known, in view of the level of imports, as the warehouse of the world.
Under the Shops Act, a girl or boy aged 15 years and eight months must have a 20-minute break after three hours of work ; may work a maximum of 48 hours in any one week ; must have 11 consecutive rest hours in 24 ; and is not allowed to work between 10 o'clock at night and 6 o'clock the following morning. Every one those conditions will pass into the legislative dustbin of history if the Bill goes through unamended.
Tory Members are telling the working-class youth of Britain that all that protection is no longer needed. My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn made the central point, which I reiterate, that it is an inevitable conclusion that longer hours, particularly outside the normal cycle of the body clock--working nights and shifts--weaken the constitution, so that accidents towards the closing hours of shifts become more prevalent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) spoke about transport. Since deregulation of the buses in October 1986, in many urban areas fewer buses run in the evening, which makes things even more difficult for young people. What will happen if there is an incident such as that which happend in Central park in New York a few weeks ago, when a woman was raped by 40 animals? Say that happens to a young person here : what excuses will be given--lack of policing, she invited it? Will we turn the pages back and ask why a 16-year-old was working at 11 o'clock at night? Why was she walking down that street late at night? Will we put the blame where it lies--on legislation such as this?
We cannot deal with this legislation in isolation from the other things that the Government have done, such as
Column 369the abolition of the wages councils for the under-21s and the loss of income support for 16 to 18-year-olds not on YTS. I served on the Committees considering the Bills that brought about such changes. If clause 8 is not amended by our two new clauses 3 and 5, it will reinforce the trend that the Government have promoted of reducing the wages of young workers in comparison with adult workers. In the six years that I have been here I have often quoted--perhaps too often for Tory MPs--the words of Sir John Hoskyns, who invented the YTS. He wanted a scheme to increase the differential between youth and adult workers. There was nothing about a bridge from school to work or about high quality training. In April last year, average earnings for those under 18 were £88.40 a week, for the 18 to 20-year-olds £120.90, and for those over 21 £224.30. The gap is widening. In 1979, 18 to 20-year-olds earned 60 per cent. of the wages of those over 21. By last year, the rate was down to 54 per cent. Similarly, 16 to 17-year-olds in 1979 earned 42 per cent. of the adult wage ; last year, it was 39 per cent.
Tories may argue that youngsters should not be paid too much because they are receiving training and they do not have experience. Sometimes, that is true, but the figures that I have quoted are of those in work, not of those in training. Since the Government introduced the two-year YTS scheme, most employers have used YTS as the basis for their retraining. A 16-year-old on the scheme gets an allowance of £29.50. If that allowance had kept pace with the rise in earnings since April 1978, when the youth opportunities scheme was introduced by the then Labour Government, those youngsters should be on £60.65. They are losing £35 a week because of the repetitive freezing of the YTS allowance. Those youngsters are not included in the figures that I quoted. The fall in pay is that for youngsters who are in work, not for those receiving training. Most get repetitive jobs for which they do not need much training.
As I have said before, one does not need much training to fill the shelves in Sainsbury's or the Co-op and increasingly, those youngsters are being used as substitutes for adult workers, often adult women workers. Sometimes the Government say, as they may do later, that their measures on the wages councils and the deregulation of hours and pay have had results, that the proof of the pudding is in the eating and one has only to look at the reduction in the number of unemployed youngsters. However, they do not examine how unemployment has shifted over the age spectrum and how older workers are put out of work because of substitutions.
The effects of clause 8 if it is unamended cannot be set apart from the effects of earlier legislation. Our new clause is an attempt to get some evidence about the effect of clause 8 if it is passed unamended. I have tried to get evidence on other changes, but the Government have been less than forthcoming. On 10 January, I asked about the supposed increase in job opportunities for 16 to 18-year-olds, including the abolition of the wages councils, but was told that there was no evidence. All that we had in Committee and on Second Reading was anecdotal evidence. Tory Members repeated stories that they had heard over dinner with somebody at the CBI or the Institute of Directors. Specific evidence is not available. That is the central reason why new clause 5 should be
Column 370passed. There must be a statutory responsibility on the Secretary of State to provide the evidence so that we can test what happens with this legislation.
I asked whether there had been an increase in jobs for youngsters following the abolition in 1985-86 of the wages councils for under-21s. We were told that this would result in 50,000 new jobs, just as we have been told that if, through this clause, we get rid of the inflexible restrictions on hours worked by young people, employers will queue up to employ them. I asked the Minister whether the Government would monitor the effects of the Bill, but he refused, and that is why we need new clause 5.
There has been a fall in the number of unemployed school leavers, but when we examine the figures--we have to do it because the Government will not-- and put that fall alongside the rise in the number of places on the YTS schemes, we can see the direct correlation. In Coventry, the September-to- September figure for the 16 to 18-year-olds without permanent work was 5,540 in 1980, and 5, 694 in 1988. The number of those wholly unemployed was 3,826, which went down to 2,604. For those on schemes, the number was 1,714, which went up to 3,090. In other words, if one counts YTS as being without permanent work, which is what it is, there has been no rise in the employment of young people because of the Government's deregulation measures. Clause 8 will also make no difference.
I could take the debate into many other sectors, having spent so much time on it in Committee and in other places. However, I shall concentrate now on health and safety. The background notes from the Department said about clause 8 :
"Ministers decided as a result of the review that there was a strong case for lifting the stringent restrictions on young people's hours and that other restrictions on their employment should also be examined to assess their continued relevance."
They also said that there were no safety objections to lifting the restrictions. Part of clause 8 gets rid of the need for employers to tell local careers officers when they take on school leavers straight from work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) mentioned the case which, on behalf of his father Richard, we have raised a number of times--that of Derek Cain, who was killed at the paper shredding plant of Plumb and Son, Sheffield in December 1982, when he was on a YOP scheme. That was a horrific murder. The Minister has had before him the transcript of the judge's decision of December last year, when he raised the original £52 of statutory compensation to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
We feel--this is why we have tabled these new clauses--that Derek Cain and the other 52 youngsters who have died on the YTS in the intervening period should have a memorial to them. Those deaths should jog the consciences of Tory Members of Parliament--if they have them--so that they make sure that these things never happen again. Unless this clause is amended, Derek and the other lads and lasses who have died on the scheme will be just another statistic in a long line of such accidents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn was absolutely right. If youngsters are not supervised, if they are tired after working long hours-- there was no supervision of Derek Cain--and if careers officers are not told where these youngsters are working--the factories inspectorate did not know that Derek Cain was working at
Column 371Plumb and Son--there will be accidents. We have the evidence of what happens when there is no supervision and careers officers and other agencies are not involved, and when youngsters are working long hours. That is why we are pushing so hard to stop the Government passing legislation that could lead to further tragedies. New clause 3 is the minimum provision that the House should accept. A while back, I introduced a private Member's Bill. Under its provisions, no youngster would be allowed into any workplace unless they were members of a trade union. The trade union, as well as the Health and Safety Inspectorate, had the right to check safety and it would monitor such schemes. The Government have now removed all trade union involvement by abolishing the Training Commission, at the end of the Bill, and by removing the local veto that the trade unions had. They have taken us back to the days of the 19th century, when the Acts that we are amending with this Bill were first thought of--for example, that concerning the employment rights of children--and later became the Shops and Factories Acts.
The argument about what percentage of employers are good employers provoked debate in Committee. I was baited by Tory Members to give a percentage and said that it did not matter whether it is 50, 60, 70 or 80 per cent. They said, "Ah, Nellist is admitting that 80 per cent. of employers are good." We are not discussing how many employers are good employers but legislating to deal with the percentage of bad employers. My hon. Friends the Members for Springburn, for Bradford, South and for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) gave examples of youngsters being put at risk. However, if there is only one example of a rogue employer taking advantage of a youngster, new clause 3 and new clause 5 should be passed.
We had a lengthy debate in Committee, and tonight's debate may have been too long for some hon. Members, but anyone who, like me, has met families who have lost youngsters on YTS, anyone who has worked on a shop floor or factory and has had the protection of the Factories Act 1961, which provides what youngsters can or cannot do, or anyone who has seen the eyes and shaking hands of workers who have done a shift and a half or two shifts in an engineering factory or power station, both of which I have done, will not willingly allow this legislation to pass on to the statute book unamended. The House should pass new clause 3 and new clause 5 and, on Third Reading, chuck out the Bill entirely.
It is clear that the Minister has no co-ordinated approach to the legislation. Earlier, I raised the British Rail (Penalty Fares) Bill, of which the Minister should have been aware, because clause 8 will remove restrictions on night work, which will be exploited by employers. If young people refuse work they will lose their unemployment benefit, which is another penalty that will lead to them taking night work. The Government have stitched up a deal with British Rail's management, who go home in chauffeur-driven limousines, to pass that Bill, which is inevitable because of the Tories' majority. Young men and women use trains to travel to work. If, on their journeys to stations, there are shadowy figures lurking in the road they may wish to seek help from a British Rail employee.
Column 372However, such help will not be available because British Rail will have substituted ticket barriers, whereby magnetised ticket strips are used to open gates. The sponsor of the Bill explained that that is what will happen. As my hon. Friends have made clear, because of Government legislation and the deregulation of transport, unprofitable in-fill bus services have disappeared. Night workers are being forced to do tasks by Government legislation, but the services necessary to make their jobs easier will not be available. New clause 3 provides the requirement of supervision. It is unqualified because it says that there "shall be supervision", not "so far as reasonably practicable." The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 was consensus legislation passed by the minority Labour Government between February and October 1974. The qualification of "so far as reasonably practicable" was severely criticised by a number of hon. Members at that time. The Minister did not seem aware that when people are injured at work they seek compensation for the loss of a limb, loss of sight, loss of hearing or because an injury has caused them to lose their working capacity. The breach of an absolute provison makes it easier for them to obtain compensation in a civil court, which is where significant sums of compensation are obtained.
Why should not ordinary workers obtain adequate compensation in a civil court if pop stars can roll along to a civil court and obtain vast sums in a libel action against a newspaper? Today, the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) mentioned the unfair way in which the libel laws act. However, there is a greater discrepancy between the way in which huge sums are handed out to the rich and famous, yet relatively small sums are paid to workers who lose their livelihoods or part of their body as a result of an industrial injury. In judicial terms the words "so far as reasonably practicable", if it was not possible because of cost to have done something that would have prevented injury, can be invoked as a defence by an employer. Therefore, new clause 3, which provides for unqualified supervision, is an advance on relying on the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Section 1(1) of the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 states : "Every tip to which this Part of this Act applies shall be made and kept secure."
Why is that unqualified? Why do not the hallowed words used by employers and lawyers "so far as reasonably practicable" not appear? First, it was passed by a Labour Government that had a healthy majority, but there was a further factor. That Act followed the terrible tragedy in Aberfan, when a tip slid on to a school and overwhelmed and killed dozens of young children. Hon. Members said, "We will provide legislation that makes an absolute provision to ensure that tips are safe." I have always used that as a good guide. The tragedy received much news coverage and the nation rightly talked in hushed tones about it. The nation does not talk in hushed tones about the tragedies that occur day in and day out at workplaces because they are isolated examples. If those isolated examples are added together, they exceed the number of people killed at Aberfan. Why cannot we say that there should be unqualified supervision? New clause 3 places an obligation on adults, which is important, because they will have a responsibility.
Column 373I should like to mention briefly an incident which occurred not in my constituency but at Hantgantic quarry. Two young men who were just outside the age range that we are discussing were in a bucket on a quarry face. The bucket was suspended from a Scotch derrick crane. Over the years, adults had fallen into pretty easy ways. An adult had inspected the bearing caps holding the drum in place. An adult was authorised to inspect the crane, but did not know the difference between steel and cast iron. The Health and Safety Executive had sent around a note saying that bearing caps of cast iron should be replaced by steel bearing caps, but no one took any notice. On that fatal morning when the two people were lowered to the base of the quarry to drill for the placing of explosives, the bearing caps broke and the receptacle holding them fell 200 ft to the quarry floor. Both were killed. When their fellow workers reached them, they were still moving and just able to speak--they were simply asking, "Why?" This is all in the record of the coroner's inquiry. It is a past accident, forgotten by the general population but remembered deeply by those whom it touched because of their close relationships with the workers.
It is not a bad thing to say to adults, "You have an additional responsibility. Young people are working here, so you must check. Notes sent by the Health and Safety Executive must be read and understood and the instructions carried out." Let no one think that Hantgantic quarry was run by a poverty-stricken family. It was run by a large multinational company which could more than have afforded to carry out the necessary work. New clause 3 is not, therefore, a bad idea.
New clause 5 places an obligation on the Secretary of State for Employment to provide statistics. He has passed legislation to remove the obligation to report accidents at work that cause three or more days loss of working time because of industrial injury. That reporting provided a handy source of information. I have asked for information and found that the statistics stopped in 1984. The Department does not have any more comparative statistics to publish. What does this lack of information mean? The Department of Employment is no longer in possession of statistics which are automatically returned, so it cannot focus as a matter of routine and automatic estimation on employment areas with the most injuries and loss of hours. This is a serious matter. The automatic production of information meant that there was an important source of information and that remedial action was taken by the Department of Employment. The Department could say, "This substance is causing a loss of working hours."
The Government have poured out legislation to attack trade unions because, so they say, working hours are lost through strike action. The Minister knows, or should know, that in an average year more days are lost through industrial injury than through strike action. The Government should introduce legislation to reduce the loss of hours and days and of life and limb through industrial injury. They should not be exercising their venomous obsession with attacks on the trade union movement.
The trade union movement takes a great interest in health and safety at work. The Transport and General
Column 374Workers Union and the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union have taken an interest in the use of asbestos and the development of mesothelioma and other dangerous lung diseases. That work has been done, but not at the Government's behest. Those organisations are under vicious Government attack.
New clause 5 is very useful. It just asks for information. The House of Commons and the public at large have the right to have that information so that they can judge whether the Health and Safety Commission and Executive are recommending to the Minister regulations to reduce the number of injuries. That is a sensible proposition. The Government know full well that we no longer have the statistical information that was available a few years ago. The new clause is a step towards remedying that position.
I am sure that all but the most venomous and biased Governments would accept these modest proposals. I am sure that my hon. Friends will press for a vote. I have no doubt that we shall lose again because all the Tories who are not here, who do not give a fig about health and safety at work and use excuses about deterring employment to put off improved health and safety standards, will troop through the Division Lobby. The time is not far off when the next Labour Government will ensure that all these ills are properly remedied. 7.15 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The Minister expressed concern for the safety and wellbeing of young people, but it will take more than a pained expression to provide some defence for them. He is responsible for shepherding the Bill through the House. He shares ministerial responsibility for the Bill and has individual responsibility for what has happened.
Many disgraceful features in Standing Committee have been extended to the House. One of the worst of them has been reflected in the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) about Tory Members trooping in and voting Labour down when they have not considered the arguments or been connected with the debate. At one stage in Committee, we observed that only three junior Ministers were left on the Government side, so a sufficient number of Opposition Members walked out to destroy the quorum. The fact that the quorum could be destroyed on that measure out of all those in the Bill tells us something about Conservative Members generally and certainly about Conservative Members of the Committee.
We attempted first in Committee to remove the major elements from the clause--the restraints that were to be placed on working hours and the provisions to eliminate protection for workers. We were roundly defeated. On no occasion did Conservative Members vote with us in Committee. On one occasion, one Conservative Member abstained in the vote on a motion that he had tabled because Labour Members supported it. On no occasion was there a response to our arguments and appeals.
We were pushed back. We attempted to prevent the Government from having the power through the Secretary of State to repeal certain regulations, but we were solidly defeated. We tried to get consultation with the TUC on the operation of the measures, and our amendments were defeated. We then introduced a measure, which has been discussed today, which dealt with whether young people would be deemed to be unavailable for work if they refused
Column 375to take a job with excessive hours, bad shifts and other limitations. That measure was solidly defeated. As a final stopgap, we tried to hold up the operation of the Bill for 12 months, but we were soundly defeated.
Perhaps the Government know not what they do. They often represent forces that are not associated with the working lives and conditions of people on the shop floor, so they act out of ignorance. In the London docks strike of 1888, when there were marches through the west end, attitudes about the strike changed because people suddenly saw the poor conditions and standards under which people lived in the east end. This caused a culture shock which had an impact on the political system.
It may be that, as with much of the legislation that the Government put before us, this measure is a result of ignorance. The Government need to associate themselves with the condition of ordinary people. We might expect them not to understand issues such as women in the pits, time off for trade union education or redundancy provisions, but I find it hard to appreciate that the Government cannot put themselves in the position of young people. Even Conservative Members--hard though it may be to believe--have once been young people themselves. Some have children who are young adults and who go through the various problems of life. Were all Conservative Members whizz- kids who never had difficulties in making their way in the world, who never found problems of exploitation and who never had fears in the period in which they needed to adjust to some of the disciplines of life in industry and commerce?
The removal of restraints, which will allow extra overtime working and night working, remove meal breaks and introduce the possibility of Sunday working without time off in lieu, will produce tremendous burdens for young people. Decent parents tend to want to encourage their children to study and to acquire skills, but they also want to encourage them to enjoy life and to adapt themselves to adulthood. Many parents, especially those from working-class backgrounds, look on the years from 16 to 18 as the halcyon days of their own life, when the pressures were not so great and there were things to do apart from working all the time. There is an interest in members of the opposite sex and in entertainment. Should not young people have the opportunity to enjoy that, or are we trying to place them in circumstances where we allow the removal of prohibitions because of the strange notion that, as a result of a decline in the birth rate, young people will be in a fantastic negotiating position in the future in which they can negotiate individually for decent wages and conditions? Those negotiations might have some impact if young people were allowed to be properly organised and mobilised, but there would still be other pressures, which my hon. Friends have mentioned. The Opposition are trying to put back into the Bill some protections, especially in relation to supervision by adults. Why is such a provision supposed to be hideous? I cannot imagine. Supervision is a benefit to the adults themselves as well and to work generally, so one would have thought that it would appeal to Conservative Members. But they have an ideological commitment to there being no restraints at all on industry and they believe that market forces should determine wellbeing, however harsh those market forces may be.
New clause 5 relates mainly to statistics. That is an area which contains an element of change for the future because the statistics that we seek will often be the statistics of
Column 376doom. The statistics that we seek will reflect the conditions and average hours of young people, their wages and, if the market forces theory is to be believed, the decent standards that young people will enjoy. The statistics will also show the number of industrial accidents suffered by young people under the age of 18, as well as the number of people in full-time employment. That basic information would seem to be required if there is to be change in the future and if people's perceptions are to altered.
If there is even a little truth in what we have said in Committee and in this debate, should not the Government at least respond to new clause 5? They could at least say that, although they were right, they would give us a chance to find out the relevant information. But this Government are not interested in providing information. They manipulate information, as they have done with the unemployment statistics. They spend millions of pounds on misinformation, on artwork and other productions to push their ideas down people's throats. But they will not give us the basic material to help us work out ideas for ourselves and perhaps to change matters in the future. I ask the Government to think again and to give us one provision in the Bill that would mean that we could build a decent world for tomorrow-- if not immediately--out of this legislation.
Mr. Foot : To give the Minister some credit, he showed a certain diffidence in putting his arguments to the House. Perhaps I am being too generous, but he seemed to have some doubts about his proposition, especially in his reply on new clause 5. I would have thought that the Government should be only to eager to accept new clause 5. I am sure that they must understand that health and safety is a developing area, which changes constantly. Health and safety is being affected by new and different industries, which is why we introduced the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which was a general measure that also improved specific areas. Everyone interested in health and safety foresaw that there were huge new developments in different industries, such as the chemical industry, which would require a far more comprehensive means of dealing with health and safety than anything achieved under the old Factories Acts. That was the basis on which we established the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive, with their associated legislation.
The Minister claimed earlier that all the recommendations and advice on this subject he had received from the Health and Safety Commission had been incorporated in Government action. I am not sure that that is so, but if it is, it is only a sign that we must carry the work much further still. If that is the Government's claim, they must also acknowledge that the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive say to the Government every month of every year--whenever they have the opportunity-- that to do their job properly in a changing world, where many people will be threatened with new kinds of illness in new kinds of industry, they need many more inspectors, more provision, far more analysis and far more detailed evidence.
I am sure that the Health and Safety Commission would be only too eager for new clause 5 to be accepted because it deals with information. The Government should also provide more funds to ensure that the Health and Safety Commission has an expanding role in our society.
Column 377My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said that the 1974 Act was a consensus measure which did not achieve everything that we wanted, and that is true, although it was a good measure none the less. We would, of course, have liked to carry it much further. However, under the Act, the 5 million people, including many young people, in various industries who had never been covered by health and safety provisions were covered for the first time. That process had to be supported over a long period by a Government who understood that they faced a new problem. That is why we introduced a series of measures so that trade unions could have improved health and safety provision. There also had to be provision for trade union representation in health and safety matters. Instead of a Bill such as this, which undermines some of the measures that existed in the past and detracts from previous factory provisions, we should have an up-to-date measure to take greater account of health and safety provisions.
I give one striking example of what happened when we introduced the measure, just to prove how different the attitude was in those days. We tried to introduce health and safety provision to cover not only young people but agriculture. We did not have a majority in the House at the time. Lo and behold, the House of Lords threw out the part that stated that health and safety provisions should apply to agriculture. Almost as many peers rallied to that great cause as defeated the poll tax. They were present in great numbers to defeat the simple proposition that health and safety provisions should apply to agriculture. The facts prove that the provisions in respect of agriculture should have been greatly enlarged, because dangers in that industry were constantly increasing. Fortunately, when we got a majority, we were able to put that right. Nobody since--not even anybody in the House of Lords--has been foolish enough to say that such a provision should be knocked out. I hope that the Government will not re-examine the measure to see whether they should curtail it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) deserves great credit for the way in which he put his case in the House and throughout the country. Anybody who has heard him speak knows that the Government have not answered his case. Opposition Members must answer it when we have the power to do the job properly.
The Secretary of State has got himself into a hopeless tangle about the Council of Europe's provision. The Government have already decided that they will abrogate it. The right hon. Gentleman said, "We will not be guilty of disobeying the law, but, as soon as we can, we will do away with the provision that makes us responsible under the Council of Europe operation." Has it occurred to the Government that, just when they abolish that provision by the legal methods that they use, they may face a new clause dealing with similar matters from Europe dealing with social matters?
It is much better for the dignity of the country that hon. Members adopt safety measures for protecting common human decency. Why do we not do that? Instead, the Government will be dragged screaming into the 1990s on a range of social issues, including the simple issue of how
Column 378we are to protect young people at work from risking their lives and safety. It is shocking that, instead of proceeding fast to a new health and safety provision, the Government are retreating. They will not even accept the new clause. There have been five or six wretched employment Bills over as many years. I renew the appeal that I have made to the Government many times. They have had 10 years or more since the introduction of the health and safety legislation and the establishment of the Health and Safety Commission. There has been huge development. The Government should go to the commission and say, "How can we make your work much more effective over the coming 10 years?" They will discover that it costs money. They can consult the people who really know.
Many of the commission's inspectors are dedicated men and women who worked in the old factory inspectorate which was incorporated into the Health and Safety Commission. It is one of the jobs in which people apply their dedication to a great cause. Many splendid people work in the commission. They could give plenty of advice to the Government, if only the Government would use one tenth of the eagerness and hard work that they put into squalid measures for undermining trade union rights and do something about health and safety. I ask the Government to introduce a major health and safety measure in the next Session. If they do not, a new Labour Government will do so as soon as they possibly can.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), I do not hold out any hope that the Minister will change his mind and accept the worthwhile new clauses. Clause 8 and the removal of protective legislation for young people go right to the heart of the Government's obsession with flexible work. They are seeking to create a reserve army of young malleable workers who will ask no questions and be prepared to put their lives at risk. Sadly, if our proposals are not accepted, we will run behind the more advanced economies in western Europe. We are to have a new charter. As my right hon. Friend said, the Government may be dragged screaming and kicking and forced to behave like a modern, civilised western democracy.
New clause 3 is eminently sensible. I examined some of last year's statistics on the construction industry. The number of reported major accidents is rising faster than ever. Last year, 157 building workers--36 of them in London alone--were killed on site. The number of fatal and major accidents is up by two thirds on the 1981 figures. It is vital for the Minister to reconsider his attitude to new clause 3 and at least to accept this small measure of protection so that young people will be supervised by a competent adult.
It is no secret that young people are adventurous, have energy and want to explore workplaces. Some of them are mischievous--that is part of being young--and therefore it is even more important to protect them. The citizens advice bureau in Chesterfield conducted a survey on what is happening to young people in the workplace. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is right. Young people are already exposed to dangers, in spite of the protective legislation that the Government are seeking to remove. Young people often lack confidence and often give in to authority when they are told to do something. Adults often think, "That is not right," and challenge authority.
Column 379The citizens advice bureau survey in Chesterfield showed that young people are often selected to do the most dangerous jobs or work the most dangerous machinery, and that enforcing health and safety rights can be problematical. Employees querying health and safety at their work place are often victimised and dismissed in this free enterprise economy where two or three workers chase every job. The survey gave examples of incidents involving young people. A building worker, aged 17, was working in extremely dangerous conditions, often at great heights, without adequate supervision, and on very low pay, too. The survey states that the eyes of a young man of 17 were damaged by a welding flash. That young man was sacked when he questioned safety at work with his employers. In another case, a water pipe burst near a machine operator, aged 20. The water mixed with the glue and oil from the machine, but nothing was done despite protests to the management to clean up what was obviously an unsafe situation. The machine operator slipped and damaged her back. The survey gave example after example of incidents involving young people. All those events occurred despite the fact that every employer has a duty reasonably to care for the safety of staff. At present, young people have certain protections. The Minister should ensure--if not on the ground of conscience, out of a sense of honour to our country--that we do not get dragged screaming and kicking by EEC directives into doing something civilised to protect young people. We should not remove that small measure of protection. New clause 5 is a reasonable request to keep information. The Government have masses of resources to hand. In any modern civilised state such information would be automatically kept. Why will the Government not keep statistics of the number of young people under 18 years of age who are in paid employment, the average number of hours worked by persons under 18 in such employment, and their average wages? We could all hazard a guess as to why they will not tell us about the average wages. I shall be talking about low pay in a later clause. It is vital that we know the number of industrial accidents involving young people under 18.
I urge the Minister to reconsider and to accept the two new clauses. If he feels that he cannot do that, at least, when we come to Third Reading, he could kick out clause 8.
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : I apologise to the House for not having been present at the beginning of the debate. I was in the Select Committee on Social Services, which was considering the health White Paper, cross- examining people who were anxious to give evidence to show the damage that will be done by the Government. I am pleased to have arrived in the Chamber in good time to hear a substantial amount of the debate and to participate in it.
I want to refer to a simple matter that affects young people. There has been a change in definition of the term "young person" for the purposes of employment law. No great play has been made of it, but a change of definition has just been tucked into the Bill. The change is that, whereas at present a young person is someone aged 16 but under 18, when the Bill becomes an Act the young person will be of school leaving age and under 18. To the casual eye, that may appear to be the same thing. We are accustomed to talking about the school leaving age being
Column 38016 years. However, that is a gross simplification. A school leaver can be 15 years eight months through to 16 years seven months, according entirely to his or her birthday. That change in definition will bring into the net youngsters from the age of 15 years eight months, and will remove a considerable amount of employment protection.
In Committee, I asked Ministers the simple question how many of the young people concerned would be under 16, and they could not produce an answer. For three separate Committee days the Ministers could not produce an answer. In the Bill there was a change of definition bringing in a large number of extra very young people, but the Ministers did not even know how many would be involved. I should have thought that it would be simple for a Minister to discuss the matter with his opposite number at the Department of Education and Science. That should have been done before any idea of a change in definition was considered.
Anyway, three Committee days came and passed, and during that time I obtained, by the normal procedure of a parliamentary question, an answer from the Department of Education and Science. So I, from the Opposition Benches, told the Ministers how many 15-year-olds they were bringing into the legislation and stripping of even more employment protection. I told them that every year more than 100,000 young people under the age of 16 leave school. I am not sure whether the Minister wants to intervene. No, he has changed his mind. Perhaps he still does not realise the number involved and it will take time for that to be absorbed. That change of definition is a mere casual afterthought, just tucked away in the Bill, but 100,000 under 16-year-olds will be brought into its ambit and will have even more employment protection taken away.
Of course, at present those young people are protected as children. Therefore, we were taunted about the fact that we wanted to keep those youngsters as children, whereas the Government wanted to give them the extra status of treating them more as adults. That would be a point of view that they could argue were it not for the fact that for the purpose of social security legislation a young person under 16 does not even exist in his or her own right. Therefore, we have the astonishing fact that, if a girl is 15 years eight months and is unfortunate or misguided enough to be having a baby, she does not exist in her own right and cannot claim social security for herself or her baby. She is regarded as a child, completely dependent on her parents. However, under this Employment Bill, the Government will have a girl of 15 years eight months working down a pit. When I was 15 and working, I was anxious that people should regard me as an adult, but I know that I would have deeply resented being regarded as a child when it came to Government pay-outs and as an adult when it came to exploitation, which is exactly what will happen to young people under the proposed legislation.
I ask the House to bear in mind that, under the clauses which talk about young people under 18, we are perforce considering some young people who are even under 16. The fact that we are asking for accident statistics makes the clauses even more relevant. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) stressed that young people cannot be regarded as having old heads on their young shoulders, when it comes to
Column 381taking care in dealing with machinery and hazardous work or in dealing with employers who may be pushing them to do things that they should not do. Young people may feel in great need of protection, but the Government will remove it.
Ministers are a bit careless about figures. This morning in Committee I was told that only a small number of women would be affected by a particular matter that we were discussing. I asked how many, but, once again, Ministers did not know. I think it is absolutely scandalous that Ministers do not know how many people are affected by their legislation.
In Standing Committee we were told that not all young people are eligible for employment protection in the first place. We were told that only those working in mines, quarries, shops and factories were protected. I accept that, but I would have thought that a responsible Government would have then decided to protect those not currently protected. The Government, however, prefer to give the impression, once again, that, what has been done is of no great consequence. However, they are stripping protection from 73 per cent. of young people, quite apart from changing the definition of young people to include some 15-year-olds.
If I were to complain to the House, I would complain that the new clauses are too modest. I assume that it was thought that it was worthwhile to be modest in the hope that, some day, we shall get some response from the Government, but I believe that we have erred in our modesty.
In new clause 5 we ask for the
"average number of hours worked by persons under eighteen" in paid full- time employment. I believe that we should go further. Once the Bill becomes an Act I would like to know the range of hours worked. After all, the Bill will remove from young people the protection of not being allowed to work more than 48 hours--sometimes 54--in a week.
Will the Bill affect the number of hours worked? The Government have been engaged in a peculiar process. In Committee they told us repeatedly that the Bill would provide more employment opportunities for young people. Since the only mechanism to achieve that result would be to let young people work longer and in worse conditions, we naturally asked what sort of employer would offer extra jobs to youngsters for more than 48 hours a week. However, Ministers said that employers would not offer such jobs. We were even told that young people would be like gold dust and that it would not be possible to push them around. If that is so, why do the Government need clause 8? If young people will be able to offer their labour in a seller's market, why strip away their protection? Why take away that protection if its removal will not create any extra jobs as employers will be too good-hearted to say to a young person, "You can have a job, but only if you are willing to work 50 or 60 hours a week"?
The Government cannot have it both ways, but they try. The burden of their argument appears to be that more jobs will be created because conditions will be worsened and that therefore there will be more chances for exploitation, but when challenged on that the Government say that employers will not exploit young people. Such a response treats this House with contempt. But that is a small matter compared with the effects of the Bill on young