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House of Commons

Tuesday 16 January 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


United Medical and Dental Schools Bill

[Lords] Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Bromley London Borough Council (Crystal Palace) Bill

Motion made,

That the proceedings of 7th December 1989 on consideration of the Bromley London Borough Council (Crystal Palace) Bill be null and void.-- [The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

To be considered tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Amos : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received about the development of tourism in the north of England ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls) : Ministers from my Department have, on a number ooccasions, met representatives from the tourism industry in the north of England, and have received correspondence on a wide range of issues affecting tourism in the area.

Mr. Amos : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, but may I ask him two questions? First, will he use his best endeavours to bring about greater co-ordination and a clearer sense of direction for the many agencies in Northumberland that promote tourism? Secondly, will he urgently hold discussions with colleagues in the Department of Transport to bring about a more sensible and flexible policy on signposting? People cannot visit places of interest or use accommodation if they do not know that they exist. In a county as dispersed as Northumberland, it is important that people have that information.

Mr. Nicholls : I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of my noble Friend the Minister with responsibility for tourism, who will share my hon. Friend's concern. I am aware of my hon. Friend's long- standing

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interest in the issue. I come from an area that relies heavily on tourism, so I have considerable personal sympathy with him. I take his point on board.

Mr. Beith : Why have Ministers denied section 4 grants for tourism in Northumberland? Does the Under-Secretary of State realise how difficult it is to promote tourism in such an attractive area in competition with much better funded promotion on the Scottish side of the border?

Mr. Nicholls : I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman asked that question ; I should have thought that he would already be aware of the answer. If he looks at the figures, he will find that the contribution that section 4 grants made to the tourist industry in Northumbria was minuscule. Other forms of grant and assistance are available to tourism in the area. The industry is so successful that it does not need to be maintained on the back of public subsidy.

Mr. Gregory : Does my hon. Friend agree that the growth in tourism would be faster in the north of England, particularly in York, if there were more flights from overseas direct to the north? If overseas flights went direct to Manchester and other northern airports, tourists could be channelled directly to York and other tourist areas in the north.

Mr. Nicholls : I am sure that my hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Transport links are of much importance. The Government's attitude is that local authority airports have a real role to play by taking their share of traffic. I accept what was implicit in my hon. Friend's question--that road transport also has a significant part to play. In that context, my hon. Friend will have been heartened by the proposals in the transport White Paper. I accept his point.

Mr. Radice : Does not the success of tourism in the northern region owe much to the efforts of the Northumbria tourist board and local councils? Would it not be far fairer if we received some of the support that other areas, such as Scotland and Wales, receive? We should then be on a level playing field. Should not the Government take action on that?

Mr. Nicholls : No, or the Government would have done so. I accept that the hon. Gentleman and others hold that view. The position in Wales and Scotland is different--the hon. Gentleman will find a fair amount of support for this among Labour Members--and cannot always be equated to that in England. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales believed that section 4 should be retained in accordance with how they saw tourism developing. The evidence is that section 4 made a small contribution to tourism in England. The prosperity of the tourist industry in the hon. Gentleman's area owes more to factors other than merely section 4.

Job clubs

2. Mr. Bowis : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the pilot project in job clubs designed for people with severe literacy and language problems.

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The Minster of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar) : My right hon. Friend announced on 22 November last year a pilot programme of 15 job clubs that give extra help to people with severe literacy difficulties or with very limited command of English. All 15 pilots are now in operation. There will be a review of results achieved in late spring this year.

Mr. Bowis : I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that a significant number of people with language and literacy difficulties cannot benefit from the job markets without this form of assistance. I welcome the work of the job clubs and of the series of pilot schemes. However, will my hon. Friend assure me that once the review has been carried out, the good practice in those schemes will be spread to other parts of the country, including south London?

Mr. Eggar : My hon. Friend is right to praise the contribution that has been made by the job clubs. More than 200,000 people have found jobs as a result of taking part in the job club scheme. I assure my hon. Friend that if the pilot projects go well, we shall consider extending them to other parts of the country.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Will the Minister assure the House that his Department will work closely with the Department of Education and Science in this matter? He will have seen in today's papers the reports of the campaign, which is headed by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, for improving literacy throughout the country. Millions of people are unable to play a full part in society because they cannot read or write adequately. We need a co-ordinated campaign across the Departments. Will the Minister ensure that it is a departmental priority this year?

Mr. Eggar : I assure the hon. Gentleman that my Department is well aware of the problems of literacy. For that reason, we teamed up with the Department of Education and Science and with the BBC to launch a major new remote learning literacy scheme, and there are several other initiatives on that front. I shall be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about what we are doing in that area.

Mrs. Currie : Does my hon. Friend agree that the adult illiteracy to which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred is a result of trendy and silly education policies, which have now been discredited? Does my hon. Friend recognise that in a constituency such as mine, which is approaching full employment, the small number of adult illiterates and young people leaving school whose literacy is not adequate have become unemployable, which is a tragedy for them and for the country? Does he agree that we should do everything that we can to reduce that problem?

Mr. Eggar : Certainly, I agree with my hon. Friend on that point and that is why we have the job clubs' pilot project on literacy. If my hon. Friend has specific suggestions for her area, I hope that she will tell me about them.

Mr. McLeish : No one would dispute the need for a modern employment service to be sensitive to issues such as literacy, numeracy and language. Is the Minister aware that that idea emerged from an internal strategy document from the Department of Employment, which also

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suggested that benefit sanctions would be applied to job clubs, to employment training and to restart? Will the Minister reassure the House that there will be no attempt to use the measures contained in the Employment Act 1988 to designate those schemes as training, or to use the actively seeking work regulations of the Social Security Act 1989 to bring more pressure on people to adopt such programmes? Does he accept that in this day and age, when there are still almost 400, 000 people who have been unemployed for more than two years, there is a need for positive consideration, rather than punishment and coercion?

Mr. Eggar : The Government's schemes are designed to assist people to get back to work. That is why we have an extensive employment training provision, why we continue to seek to make it as flexible as possible and why we are giving increasing priority to literacy and numeracy skills. Together with the training and enterprise councils, we shall continue to seek ways to enhance people's capability to find jobs.

Mr. Rathbone : Will the pilot project embrace those who are suffering from dyslexia? If the pilot project turns out correctly, will my hon. Friend ensure that it embraces such people?

Mr. Eggar : I am sure that the pilot project will cover people who suffer from dyslexia and I am delighted that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the problem. I had an Adjournment debate on the subject myself, back in 1981.

Disabled People

4. Ms. Ruddock : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how he intends to improve the working of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944.

9. Mr. Corbett : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what additional measures he will introduce to enable disabled persons to participate fully in the work force.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard) : My Department already maintains a comprehensive network of services to help people with disabilities find and retain jobs. Measures to encourage the employment of more people with disabilities and the operation of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 are among the matters being considered in our current review of services for people with disabilities.

Ms. Ruddock : Given the low level of enforcement of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act and the low morale in the disability advisory service, is it not time that the Secretary of State learnt from other countries such as West Germany, where the 6 per cent. quota is vigorously enforced, unlike the quota in this country?

Mr. Howard : I do not accept the hon. Lady's allegations of low morale. She asked about West Germany. There are many differences between the approach taken there and the approach that we take in this country, and the basis on which comparisons are made is frequently misleading. All those matters will be taken into account in our review and I hope to publish a consultative document shortly.

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Mr. Corbett : In the review, will the Secretary of State consider extending the number of sheltered industrial units to enable the severely disabled, with reduced work output, to work alongside their able-bodied colleagues, but to get a subsidy via his Department from a sponsor organisation? Does he accept that that could improve the job prospects for about 370,000 registered disabled?

Mr. Howard : The part played by sheltered industrial units is certainly among the matters being considered in the review, and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is taken into account.

Mr. Rowe : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it is a pleasure to see him at the Dispatch Box in his new role? Will he ensure that employers throughout the United Kingdom, particularly in areas such as mine, which now has virtually full employment, are made aware of the very good record of job loyalty that the disabled bring to their employment? That is an asset to employers when the labour situation is tight.

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words of welcome. I entirely agree with his observation. People with disabilities have a great deal to offer employers and it is important that employers should have full regard to their potential.

Mr. Thurnham : May I give a warm welcome to my right hon. and learned Old Petrian Friend in his new responsibilities? Will he confirm that he will continue to increase the number of disabled persons being helped into jobs, and assist in the rapid introduction of the proposed new disability employment credit?

Mr Howard : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. The Government's record of encouraging and helping disabled people into jobs is excellent and we want to ensure that it continues and improves further.

Mr Ashley : Is the Secretary of State aware that the good intentions expressed in his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) run counter to the statements in his Department's internal review, which said that work for disabled people had little status and less priority in the employment service? Is he aware that his own Department does not know how many employers have completed their employment policy questionnaire and that two thirds of Britain's disabled persons have no job? May we have a changed attitude from the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his new job, to which I also welcome him?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I shall look into the matter of the questionnaire, but the general matters that lie behind his question are at the heart of the review that is currently under way.


5. Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the code of practice for trade union ballots for industrial action.

Mr. Nicholls : Following representations on the draft published at the end of 1988, a modified draft of the code of practice has now been laid before Parliament. The draft

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code deals with a matter of great importance --the conduct of union ballots on industrial action. The next step is to move approval resolutions in each House.

Mr. Brown : Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an encouraging reply? Does he accept that it is absolutely essential that any union that does not accept the need for a proper ballot, under the terms of the code of practice, should risk legal action being taken against it?

Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Many of the contributions that were made to the code of practice were drawn from the best practice of certain trade unions. Any union that is prepared to conduct its ballots fairly and democratically will find the code of great assistance.

Mr. John Evans : Will the Minister confirm that more than 90 per cent. of the ballots that have been held since the passage of the Trade Union Act 1984 have confirmed the unions' positions? Will he guarantee that the so-called code of practice is not just a back-door attempt to make ballots and official industrial disputes more difficult?

Mr. Nicholls : No, as I said, many of the ideas contained in the balloting code have been drawn from the best practice of better unions. Nothing in the code should cause any concern to any union if it wants to conduct itself fairly and democratically.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange that the provision on workplace ballots that were passed by the House were attacked at every stage by Opposition Members and by trade unions but that, today, they appear to be in favour of what has worked well to bring industrial peace to this country?

Mr. Nicholls : That is certainly what we are asked to believe. When the Labour party poses as the champion of individual liberties, I find it about as convincing as the idea of a piranha turning vegetarian.

Training and Enterprise Councils

6. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress being made to establish training and enterprise councils.

14. Mr. Paice : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many proposals have been made to the national task force for the establishment of training and enterprise councils ; and how many have been accepted for development funding.

Mr. Howard : I am able to announce today that a further seven training and enterprise councils have been awarded development funding. That brings the total number of TECs to 51, just 10 months after the initiative was first launched.

Mr. Jones : I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Secretary of State to his new position. Does he agree that a major concern about setting up councils in rural areas is that their members may lack the necessary breadth of expertise to make them a success? Few industrialists have direct experience of in-house training in rural areas. Does the Secretary of State agree that, in rural areas, it is necessary to fund bodies that bring together not only industrialists but careers teachers, technical colleges,

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universities and training agencies to identify potential skill shortages in rural areas and to begin to tackle the job at that end?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I agree that all the organisations to which he referred have a part to play in the TEC initiative. One of the great advantages of that initiative is that it is able to draw on local circumstances and adjust programmes to take full account of local needs.

Mr. Paice : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the results that he has described demonstrate that we are way ahead of target and that we shall achieve TEC coverage of most of the United Kingdom much earlier than was originally anticipated? Does he agree also that the results clearly demonstrate the truth that has been known by business for a long time is being learnt by our schools and is about to be learnt in the National Health Service--that if one delegates responsibility to the people who can use it properly, one will get not only better interest and commitment but far better results?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We expect the whole network to be in place by the end of this year, about two years ahead of schedule. The establishment of TECs is the most exciting training initiative that we have ever seen. I hope that the TECs will receive a warm welcome on both sides of the House.

Mr. Cousins : Will the Minister advance the commencement of the Tyneside TEC by six weeks, to allow a Confederation of British Industry initiative in Cruddas park in Newcastle to continue? That initiative was run into the ground because not one local employer agreed to employ people on Government programmes in Cruddas park. Will the Secretary of State go to Newcastle, start the TEC six weeks early, and make sure that we can find one local employer who will participate in that initiative?

Mr. Howard : I hope to visit Newcastle as soon as is convenient and I shall look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is concerned about the quality of the membership of the TECs, but does he agree that we might be being a little too restrictive, because a senior director of a major national company, who may not be the chief executive of that company, can have more to offer a TEC than, say, the managing director of a much smaller commercial enterprise. Should we not be a little more flexible than we are at present?

Mr. Howard : I understand the concern that lies behind my hon. Friend's question, but the success of the TECs owes a great deal to the fact that it is the chief executives, or their equivalents, of the companies concerned who are members of the TEC boards. That lends the TECs an extra impetus that they would not otherwise have and that is why we attach so much importance to the participation of chief executive officers of companies.

Mr. Blair : I welcome the new Secretary of State, but does he agree that his first priority must be to deal with Britain's lamentable record on training and skills? In that connection, when his own Department's survey shows that one in five employers do not themselves train but poach trained staff from others and when half Britain's work

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force in any one year will not receive any training at all, what powers will the new training and enterprise councils have to prevent the bad employers from exploiting the good?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, but I am sorry that he should have prefaced his question with routine party political criticism of the type in which he engaged. I hope that he will work with the Government to ensure that the TEC initiative succeeds, as it shows every sign of succeeding, and that it achieves great progress in dealing, among other things, with the problem that he identified.


7. Mr. Bright : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the percentage increase in the number of visitors to the United Kingdom in 1989 ; and what was the figure for 1988.

Mr. Nicholls : The latest estimate for 1989 is that, during the first 10 months of the year, there were 14.9 million visitors to the United Kingdom, 9 per cent. more than in the same period of 1988. In 1988 as a whole there were 15.8 million visitors to the United Kingdom, 1 per cent. more than in 1987.

Mr. Bright : Obviously, the trend is encouraging, but apart from ensuring that people use airports such as Luton and Manchester and avoid the sometimes cattle-like conditions that they have to experience at Gatwick and Heathrow, will my hon. Friend encourage the industry and, indeed, the planning authorities to provide value-for-money accommodation around the countryside, such as we often see in America, which is one of the things that tourists are looking for, instead of the high-priced hotels that they are sometimes pushed into at the moment?

Mr. Nicholls : I am sure that my hon. Friend is entirely right to draw our attention to the importance of an initially favourable impression when one lands at an airport. I know that my noble Friend the Minister responsible for tourism shares that view. My hon. Friend is aware of the attitude that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport takes in pursuing the liberalisation of air routes, to try to bring more people into the country. I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. Without being complacent, there are good grounds for saying that the industry is taking those points on board, especially in relation to accommodation.

Mr. Pike : Would not we get better tourism in the regions and thereby increase tourism to this country if we not only developed more direct access to our regional airports, but ensured that the regions can benefit fully from the Channel tunnel project? Does the Minister agree that we must not get second best for the regions, but first best, with public investment in the railway network to meet that need?

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman touches quite properly on the role that transport plays in this matter. He also referred to the Channel tunnel. It is expected that about 15 million people will use the Channel tunnel in the first year. I fully accept that that has consequences for the

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regions and the road network. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the recent White Paper on road transport, he will find a great deal there to encourage him.

Sir John Stokes : Does not my hon. Friend agree that while, clearly, we should welcome tourists to this country, tourism is ruining large areas of the world? Must we not take care to preserve our English countryside and heritage as much as possible as well as welcoming newcomers?

Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that inevitably there is a conflict between the proper exploitation of tourist areas and making sure that our heritage is not destroyed in the process. I should not go so far as to take my hon. Friend's apocalyptic view of the matter but he is right that the danger must be borne in mind.

Mr. Skinner : Does the Minister agree that tourism can provide a valuable source of income for the balance of payments? Is he aware that during the past five or six years, the amount under "invisible" items in the balance of payments has fallen from £700 million a month to £100 million a month and that tourism has a part to play in that? Is it not a scandal that the Government have reached the point where they make the invisibles invisible?

Mr. Nicholls : The only thing that is invisible is the hon. Gentleman's ability to understand the facts. It is an entirely false formula to subtract domestic tourism from outgoing tourism. The fact that tourism overseas is increasing at such a rate and that people can afford to go abroad for their holidays shows the economic prosperity of the country. I say that in the certain knowledge that were the hon. Gentleman's party to attain office, that prosperity would disappear completely.

Youth Access

8. Mr. Hayes : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of the youth access initiative.

Mr. Eggar : I am pleased with the progress of this initiative, which is at the pilot stage. It seeks to develop partnerships between business and education specifically to take young people who would normally not continue their education after the age of 16, through further education and into higher education.

Mr. Hayes : Does my hon. Friend agree that with the demographic time bomb ticking away, it is vital that young people have early access to industry? Will he confirm that the Training Agency will provide an additional £200,000 to the initiative, which should be welcomed?

Mr. Eggar : I readily confirm that to my hon. Friend. The pilot schemes are important. They will follow the line that we established with the technical and vocational education initiative, training and enterprise councils and higher education. All those schemes designed to bring together education, training and work experience.

Ms. Armstrong : Does the Minister recognise that in the past 10 years the level of skills that our young people attained has been much lower than before? Does he recognise that we must pay attention to the quality of training opportunities for our young people and that we

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have a long way to go before we come anywhere near meeting the potential of young people and the country's need for trained personnel for the future?

Mr. Eggar : It is common ground that we need to improve the quality of our training and skills. It is important that employers and employees combine with the Government and the voluntary agencies to raise the level of skills throughout the country during the next decade. That is a major challenge to us all.

Mr. Fatchett : How far does the Minister feel responsible for the fact that during the past 10 years the level of skills among young people here has deteriorated in comparison with the skills of West German and French youngsters? He does not need to take my word for that because that is the conclusion of the Confederation of British Industry report on education and training.

Mr. Eggar : I readily take responsibility for the Government's excellent youth training scheme which later developed into youth training and for the formation of the training and enterprise councils. All those schemes will have a tremendous beneficial impact on our levels of skills and training in the 1990s.

Construction Inspectors

10. Ms. Mowlam : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has for increasing the number of Health and Safety Executive construction inspectors.

Mr. Howard : The Health and Safety Executive has exceeded its objective of having 100 inspectors regularly engaged on the inspection of construction activities nationally by 1990. That number will be maintained. The House has no plans to increase the number in 1990, but the position will be kept under review.

Ms. Mowlam : As we have had a 22 per cent. increase in the number of fatal and major accidents in the past eight years, does the Secretary of State consider that the target of 100 inspectors is adequate?

Mr. Howard : One must look at the figures in perspective. There has been a substantial decrease in the number of fatal accidents in the construction industry. In the 10 years ending March 1988 there were 1,195 fatalities compared with 1,968 during the previous 10 years. The objective was set by the HSE and I have no reason to gainsay it.

Mr. Ward : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the key to safety on construction sites is good training in site safety practices and good supervision by enlightened and progressive firms?

Mr. Howard : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and he will know that we are awaiting the results of the consultation document that was issued by the Health and Safety Commission proposing new regulations on the management of health and safety on sites.

Mr. Leighton : I, too, add my welcome to the Secretary of State. I am sure that he will not want to underestimate the seriousness of the situation in the construction industry where about 150 people are killed and tens of thousands injured every year. That is on a rising trend, perhaps because of the number of sub-contractors, many of whom ignore safety regulations, and because there are only a

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little more than 100 inspectors for nearly 700,000 employees. There are very few prosecutions because there are not enough inspectors to bring them and, when they are brought, the penalties are derisory. What is the right hon. and learned Gentleman doing to increase the number of inspectors and to see that the penalties are an effective deterrent?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to the Chairman of the Employment Select Committee for his kind words of welcome. There has been an increasing number of prosecutions and the hon. Gentleman will know that the HSE is increasingly seeking to persuade the courts that such matters should be dealt with in the Crown courts where the court's ability to make decisions and to levy punishments that are more in keeping with the offences is much more widely available.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there has been an increase of about 10 per cent. in the number of health and safety inspectors working on construction sites in the past two years? Do vacancies still exist in different parts of the country and, if so, what does that tell us about the level of pay that those inspectors enjoy?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend's figure for the increase is correct and the number of inspectors on inspection of construction activities is now more than the complement that the HSE has set.

Mr. Heffer : As there have been six deaths on this side of the Channel tunnel and only one death on the French side during its construction, will the Secretary of State pay special attention to the health and safety of those who are working on the tunnel? Will there be an increase in the number of health and safety inspectors on this side of the Channel?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point which requires attention. He will be aware that the latest unfortunate incident is being investigated by the HSE and we should wait and see what emerges from that investigation.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Is the Secretary of State aware that when the Under -Secretary of State was challenged about the Government's scandalous record in terms of death and injuries on construction sites, he said that people on building sites had the right to walk out if a site was unsafe, in effect asking them to take unofficial action? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House clearly whether the Employment Bill's provision on unofficial action will make it easier or more difficult for union officials to take such unofficial action on unsafe construction sites?

Mr. Howard : As I recall my hon. Friend's words, his point was that employees have an important role in drawing breaches of the safety regulations to the attention of the HSE. That is an important contribution which employees can make, and I hope that they play their full part in drawing such breaches to the attention of the executive.

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