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31 Jan 2003 : Column 1150continued
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): The hon. Gentleman seems to imply that one of the problems is the low rate of conviction, which is a different matter from the penalties that can be imposed on conviction. Will his Bill do anything to raise the number of convictions, or is his interest solely focused on penalties? If the conviction rate is a problem, can something be done about it?
Lawrie Quinn: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. My purpose is simple: to tell the whole country that Parliament takes these matters seriously. The measure is about prevention and ensuring a correct workplace culture for everyonefrom the operative on the shop floor or the site to the top person in the company. I want to demonstrate that Parliament is conscious of all the problems and wants a safety culture that is upheld with due consideration across the board. The current legislation has been in force for 30 years and, as I continue with my speech, I shall explain some of the reasons that it is time to revitalise it.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): I note the hon. Gentleman's point about updating the law, which is in some cases more than 100 years old. Why, however, does he want to amend section 40(9)(d) of the Explosives Act 1875? Is that really necessary?
I commend the excellent work done day in, day out by health and safety inspectors not only in my region but throughout the country. My previous professional experience showed me that in the vast majority of workplaces there is a real sense of partnership between the inspectorate, employers, employees and trade unions and that they continue the fight against complacency, bad practice and neglect. As I know only too well, if all those dominoes of ignorance fall over at once, it can lead to serious accidents and, tragically, the fatalities that I have frequently encountered.
I have reached the point in my speech that covers the question of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who, unfortunately, is no longer in his place. As part of my preparation for the Bill, I conducted many face-to-face interviews with key stakeholders in industry, including discussions at Congress house with Mr. Owen Tudor, who is recognised nationally as a champion of health and safety policy. I am also especially grateful to one of the unions for my own industrythe railway industrythe Transport Salaried Staffs Association and its general secretary, Richard Rosser, for his personal support in encouraging me to pursue my Bill.
The House may be pleased to know that my concerns were spurred on by direct contact with my constituents. People came to my surgeries and wrote to me to explain their deep anxiety about the matters that I want to address in the Bill.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. He talks about consulting various organisations. Has he consulted employers' organisations, such as the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses? There is a risk the Bill would have a regulatory impact on businesses and that they might go out of business.
I have had contact not only with people from my own industry and construction, but with the CIAnot the organisation that those initials suggest, but the Chemical Industries Association. I am pleased to be serving on a fellowship with the Industry Parliament Trust and Degussaa well-known, internationally respected chemicals company. I am particularly grateful to Dr. David Campbell of Degussa for his good common sense and advice about issues that affect the chemical industry across Europe. Along with others in construction, insurance and other major employers, he has urged Parliament to take action.
Lawrie Quinn: Will the hon. Gentleman please allow me to continue? I have often seen those on the Front Bench take lots of interventions, and I think that I have taken 80 per cent. If he will bear with me, what I am about to say may answer his question.
Again, on 3 January, I met Mr. Tony Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses, and I was able to raise the wide range of concerns of small businesses not only in my constituency, but across the region. The House will know that the Federation of Small Businesses deserves respect and needs to be commended on the very important work that is does in helping its members. I am a big fan of what it does locally in my constituency. Many small businesses in the Yorkshire and the Humber region benefit from its work.
However, the House needs to understand what the federation in my region tells me. Admittedly, I have not spoken to it at national level, but it should be borne in mind that I am private Member and that I have access on that level. The federation has told me that the vast majority of small businesses attend to their business in a very safe manner, but, like me, it is concerned about those businesses that do not meet the current legal provisions.
The House will be horrified to hear that there are many instances where people are not adhering to the current law on employers' liability insurance, simply because the premiums that insurance companies require have grossly increased compared with the value of the fines and penalties under the existing 1974 legislation. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) will know about that, as he has asked a question on that very subject.
Anyone with any common sense will realise that a provision that is 30 years old needs to be revitalised. That is why I have introduced the Bill. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Tatton, I certainly believe that small businesses in my part of the world agree with what I am trying to do.
Let me take this opportunity briefly to commend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), who is responsible for small businessand whom Mr. Cherry also commended stronglyon the pilot grant scheme for small firms to cover the costs of health and safety training. Along with many other colleagues, I am pleased to endorse the Federation of Small Businesses' campaign for the provision of 100 per cent. tax relief for capital purchases intended to increase protection and reduce risks at source within the workplace. The time has come for Parliament to respond to that agenda. Two years ago, the Deputy Prime Minister, after consultation across industry,
Let me say a brief word on the concerns about human rights, on which the hon. Member for Buckingham touched. I have every confidencethose to whom I have talked in industry have given me that confidencethat the Bill would not affect the compatibility of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 with the European convention on human rights. A reverse burden of proof provision such as section 40, to which I think the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk referred, may offend against the presumption of innocence in article 6.2 of the convention.
Recently, however, the Court of Appeal examined section 40 and concluded, on the basis of a number of compelling factors, that it represents a fair balance between the rights of the individual to a fair trial and the protection of life and limb from dangerous work practices.
In conclusion, I hope that the House will respond to the national disgrace of 28,000 serious accidents each year and, tragically, 300 fatalities each year as a result of health and safety breaches at work. That means that one worker dies on our sites every working day. That is a national disgrace, and it is about time that Parliament tended to it. I hope that the House will give my Bill a Second Reading.