If the clause passes into law, no legislative burden will be removed from any employer. With no saving to the public purse, the Government will remain liable for civil claims deriving from European directives in respect of injuries to their own workers and will also still have to pay benefits to injured workers which they may no longer recover from employers’ insurance.

A number of detailed and valuable points have been made by my noble friends Lady Donaghy, Lord Browne, Lady Turner and Lord McKenzie. A number of questions were posed to the Minister which I look forward to him answering: for example, what is the evidence base for the measure? How many claims will be affected? What is the cost of shifting the burden on to the NHS and government? Will it reduce the cost burden on employers? That is unlikely in our view. As I say, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

7 pm

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the debate this afternoon. I understand the concerns of noble Lords about the importance of protecting people at work from risks to their safety and long-term health so eloquently put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and, indeed, by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, in an impassioned and extensive speech. If noble Lords will bear with me, there is much to say in response to the many views and concerns expressed.

First, I reassure noble Lords that the purpose of this clause is not to weaken or reduce the existing protections for employees. It is about helping to increase the confidence of responsible employers to continue to do the right things to protect their employees. I stress emphatically that the law, which sets out the standards that employers must meet and the duties which employers must perform, including in relation to self-employed contractors on construction sites, is not affected by this proposal and is not changing. The Health and Safety Executive will continue to investigate serious incidents and complaints about poor practice and will take enforcement action, including, where appropriate, prosecutions, against those employers who fail to meet their responsibilities in line with the executive’s established policies and procedures, so let me explain why it is appropriate to take action.

We all recognise that the world has changed since 1974, when the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act was introduced to replace large numbers of detailed regulations with a proportionate risk-based approach

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to health and safety. Indeed, the late Lord Robens, on whose recommendations the 1974 Act was based, noted,

“that the sheer mass of this law, far from advancing the cause of health and safety, may well have reached a point where it becomes counterproductive”.

Clearly, every death and serious injury is a tragedy that should not happen. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, referred to this earlier in Committee and has spoken about it again today. However, considerable progress has been made in reducing the incidence of injury and ill health. I listened carefully to the heartbreaking stories of those who have been killed or injured, as outlined in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy. Each one represents a tragic human story for individuals and for their relations.

Progress has been illustrated by the successful delivery of the Olympic Games, where there were no work-related fatalities on the whole of the London 2012 construction programme. This is the first time that any host nation has achieved that. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, specifically raised the issue of construction sites. The substantive law that sets out the duties and responsibilities on employers, and to whom these are owed, including to self-employed subcontractors on construction sites, will not change. Therefore, the ability for such workers to bring a claim for negligence will also remain the same as now. Anyone who directly employs or engages construction workers or controls or manages construction work is a contractor for the purposes of the construction regulations. The duties on contractors apply whether the workers are employees or self-employed or agency workers. There is no distinction.

We are committed to the continued improvement of health and safety standards at work and to building on the progress made to date. The effectiveness of the health and safety regulatory framework has more recently been thoroughly examined by my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham in his report Common Sense, Common Safety.

Baroness Whitaker: Will the noble Lord confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Young, did not touch on the matter of Clause 61 in his report?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I would need to refer back to the report to give the noble Baroness a full answer. Indeed I shall do so.

The effectiveness of the health and safety regulatory framework has also been highlighted by Professor Löfstedt, as has been mentioned today by several noble Lords, in his independent review, Reclaiming Health and Safety for All. Both my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham, whose report received much support across the House when it was debated, and Professor Löfstedt found that there is no case for fundamental change of the health and safety framework itself and that the existing regulatory requirements are broadly right. In fact, the biggest problem today is the way in which the regulatory requirements are interpreted and applied.

No one can be complacent. If we are to build on the steady progress made, we need to take action to tackle the current myths about health and safety, myths which the Health and Safety Executive see as such a

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problem that it has set up the Myth Busters Challenge Panel to provide a mechanism so that anyone who receives advice in the name of health and safety which they believe is disproportionate or inaccurate can challenge that advice.

Businesses consistently report that these myths lead to confusion about what the law actually requires and a fear of being sued, which, in turn, drives employers to overimplement the law in an effort to protect themselves and indeed discourages them from expanding their business. This in turn reinforces the perception that the application of health and safety law is unduly burdensome. I shall have more to add to that later.

This situation results in responsible employers taking an overly cautious approach, which has a detrimental effect on their approach to controlling risks properly in the workplace. For example, spending considerable resources on disproportionate paperwork and record-keeping, far in excess of what is necessary to comply with the law, diverts employers from taking a sensible approach to identifying the risks that actually affect their business and their employees, and taking sensible day-to-day precautions to protect their employees from those risks.

In the interests of both employers and employees, the aim is to improve understanding of what the law actually requires and to allay fears about possible litigation to help build employers’ confidence to take on new activities and further develop their businesses and to include recruiting new employees, which is so vital today.

To address these issues, the Government are implementing a package of measures, based on the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham and Professor Löfstedt, to reform both the civil litigation system and to restore a common sense approach to health and safety. This measure forms part of this package and I would reassure noble Lords that its introduction into the Bill at a later stage is purely due to the timing of the publication of Professor Löfstedt’s report and the Government’s desire to address the concerns he raised at the earliest opportunity.

We have already put in place a programme of work to improve understanding by simplifying the supporting guidance that explains what the law requires and to consolidate and clarify the body of health and safety regulation in a number of key industrial sectors. This programme builds on the work carried out as part of the better regulation initiative led by the previous Administration.

The clause does not change the duties placed on employers, but amends Section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act so that in future, unless the legislation provides for an exception, it will be possible to bring a claim for compensation in respect of a breach of health and safety legislation only where it can be proved that the employer has been negligent.

Claims for breaches of the general duties of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act can already be brought only for negligence. The change in this Bill simply extends this position to regulations made under the Act to create a consistent approach to civil litigation for all health and safety legislation. This means that if an employer fails in their duty of care towards their

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employee they can of course be successfully sued. However, where an accident has taken place and the employer could not have reasonably done anything about it, they should not be liable.

In the knowledge that they will not be liable if an accident happens which is totally outside their control, this change will support responsible employers, who take care to protect their employees, by encouraging them to take sensible steps to manage workplace risks. I am grateful for the speech made by my noble friend Lady Brinton and the example that she gave to support the helplessness that some businesses can experience where there is no defence for them. This will not assist irresponsible employers who fail to comply with the law as they will have no defence to an accusation that they did not take all reasonable steps to protect their employees.

This amendment to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act has been adopted in preference to amending each strict liability duty, as Professor Löfstedt suggested, because an approach targeting each strict duty would be much more complex, and therefore complicated for businesses and their employees to understand.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, brought up the concern that the law would go backwards, which I think was her expression, and the employer would hold all the cards. I would like to assure her and all noble Lords that the provision will affect only a small number of duties that are unqualified. In any claim for negligence, the existing regulatory requirements on employers will remain relevant, as the courts will look to the statutory duties, approved codes of practice and established guidance to inform them about what risks a reasonable employer should be aware of and the steps they would be expected to take to manage those risks. I stress again that this change will only assist responsible employers who have done what is required of them and can demonstrate this.

This amendment reflects an adjustment to help rebalance the civil litigation system and, as part of the wider reforms of the system, is a proportionate response to the impact that strict duties currently have in the civil litigation system identified by Professor Löfstedt. It also has the benefit of creating a consistent approach to civil litigation for all health and safety legislation.

Currently, most claims are brought for both breach of statutory duty and negligence and, in practice, it is anticipated that the vast majority of claims will still be capable of being brought for negligence. For the small number of cases where this is not possible, as now, individuals will be able to claim for financial and other support through the state benefit system.

This measure is not about reducing the number of claims. It is about establishing the principle that an employer who has done nothing wrong should have the opportunity to defend themselves on the basis of having taken all reasonable precautions. Providing employers with this important reassurance will help them to manage health and safety risks in a sensible and proportionate way.

Lord Browne of Ladyton: At the heart of the noble Viscount’s argument there are general arguments about numbers. The Health and Safety Executive’s impact

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assessment says that this change will affect 200 sets of health and safety regulations. When it seeks to answer its own question about the number of cases that this will effect, it says that it has not a clue. In the light of that information, which I have here in this assessment before me, could the Minister please tell the Committee on what basis he estimates that this will impact on a small number of regulations and cases? If that is wrong, we are legislating here on a false basis. The HSE has no idea what the statistical base of this is.

7.15 pm

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for that intervention. I shall answer his questions in a moment.

It now falls on me to answer a number of questions, which I will do in a particular order, if I may. The first substantive question came from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and concerns the basic concept of why there was no review or consultation, as he put it. I assure him that the noble Lord, Lord Young, and Professor Löfstedt consulted widely and found that there was significant and consistent evidence from businesses that the perception of a compensation culture and the fear of being sued have a significant effect in driving overimplementation of the law, and going beyond what the law requires creates unnecessary costs for employers, diverting them from focusing on taking the practical day-to-day steps to protect their employees. Professor Löfstedt, in addition, had concerns that the wider reforms to the civil litigation system and changes to simplify the health and safety system would be less effective if business continued to overimplement the law due to a fear of being sued.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: If the Government’s case is that there was consultation and that Professor Löfstedt undertook that consultation, why did the Government not follow his recommendations?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: As has been mentioned earlier, we are following the vast bulk of his recommendations.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I shall try not to prolong this, because I know that the Minister has a lot to get through and the clock is ticking. Clearly, the Government did not follow the recommendation related to strict liability. Or is the Government’s case that it did?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: In answer to the noble Lord, I would say that it is not black and white that we followed all the recommendations from Professor Löfstedt, but I shall certainly write to him to explain which recommendations we did follow and which, perhaps, we did not.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, also raised the issue of whether the issue is wider in scope than the Löfstedt recommendation. Amending each strict liability duty individually, as Professor Löfstedt suggested, would be complex, as I mentioned earlier, requiring a large number of changes to many sets of regulations, and confusing for employers. A single amendment to

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the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act addresses the same policy objective, is simple to understand and provides a consistent approach to civil litigation for all areas of activity covered by health and safety at work legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, also raised the question of whether the change would mean that cases were more difficult and costly to prove, and that employers would hold all the information. Employees will still have the right to bring claims when fault on the part of their employer can be proved. Currently, most claims are brought for breach of statutory duty and negligence, and in future it is expected that most claims will still be able to be brought for negligence.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am sorry, but we are dealing with some very important points here. On this mantra that most claims are brought under negligence and breach of statutory duty—even if it is right, and I am prepared to accept the Minister’s word on that—is it not right that they do not necessarily all proceed to the end of all those processes? The breach of statutory duty process leads to negotiations of settlement way beyond what you get for some of the burdens claimed for negligence.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: It is clear that the vast majority of cases will be covered by negligence and that a small number of cases will fall outside. We should be clear about that.

Many health and safety duties are qualified by “so far as is reasonably practicable”, as was mentioned earlier. In practice, the tests applied for negligence and breach of statutory duty, qualified by “so far as is reasonably practicable”, are likely to be very similar. The record-keeping requirements of health and safety legislation will continue to ensure that information is available to employees where an accident has taken place.

I turn to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, concerning the European position. Under European Union law, member states can generally decide what sanctions and remedies to put in place to enforce EU obligations, subject to certain rules. In Great Britain, health and safety obligations are backed by various enforcement powers and criminal sanctions as well as the opportunity to claim for compensation in the civil courts, which will remain through the right to sue for negligence. Taken as a whole, the sanctions available for the enforcement of EU directives are, and will continue to be, effective.

I turn to the various points made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. One of the questions that he raised concerned how much money is currently returned to the state by the Compensation Recovery Unit, and how much will be lost by this amendment. That is a very straight question. It is not possible to disaggregate the amount because the benefits available are dependent on individual circumstances. He also raised a point about the reform in terms of shifting the burden of supporting employees who are unable to make a claim to the state. Again, that was a very straight point. As I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, it is recognised that a very small number of employees may

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not be able to claim in future under the new arrangements. None the less, this change is important as part of the wider package of government reforms in signalling an end to the perception of the compensation culture. Provision for non-contributory no-fault compensation payments—I emphasise that—for disablement caused by an accident at work is already available to individuals through the Industrial Injuries Scheme. All serious incidents will continue to be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, also brought up the perception of the compensation culture. Businesses have expressed concerns about this fear. It is true and it has long been a driver of overcompliance. That was very clear to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, and, indeed, to Professor Löfstedt.

One of the crucial questions that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised, which was also raised rather more obliquely by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, was that of evidence. I should emphasise that, in conducting his review, Professor Löfstedt consulted most widely, including 30 meetings with individual stakeholders and several business forums. He also received 250 written submissions. The findings of his review build on the work completed by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, in his report, Common Sense, Common Safety. In preparing his report, the noble Lord consulted 132 wide-ranging organisations representing relevant professionals, including personal injury lawyers, businesses and associated organisations. He also spoke to more than 100 individuals, including health and safety professionals, Members of Parliament, councillors and leading academics in the field of law. I hope that goes a little way to answering the noble Lord’s question.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, also asked what the Government’s assessment was of the number of claims that this change will affect. It is anticipated that there will be only a small reduction in the number of claims made as most will still be able to be brought for negligence, as mentioned earlier. The only claims that are significantly affected will be those which rely on a breach of the law where there is no, or insufficient, evidence to prove the employer was negligent.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, raised the issue of negligence and the fact that the breaches of statutory duties were not equivalent and that the tests for negligence were nebulous. I think that was the term he used. Negligence and breach of statutory duty are different tests but most statutory duties require an employer to take such steps “as are reasonably practicable”. The common law requires an employer to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees. In practice, in the vast majority of cases the issues in dispute will be the same and the standard expected of the employer is likely to be very similar as now. As I mentioned earlier, the statutory framework will continue to inform the courts about the standards expected of the reasonable employer.

For the reasons that I have outlined, I commend the clause to the Committee.

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Lord McKenzie of Luton: The noble Viscount referred to my use of “nebulous”. If I remember correctly, that is the Government’s word, and was in the impact assessment. Coming back to the timing of this clause being introduced into the Bill, he referred to the fact that it could not go in earlier because of the Löfstedt report. Professor Löfstedt reported in November 2011, and indeed the Government responded in November 2011. That was time enough to get it in earlier.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I have certainly noted the point that the noble Lord has made. I was clearly of the understanding that that was the reason but I will certainly revert and check, given the dates that I have just received from him.

Baroness Turner of Camden: In responding to the Minister, I begin by thanking everybody who has participated. We had an excellent debate, drawn from a lot of experience and expertise. It really has been very good indeed, and I am very grateful to everybody who has contributed. However, I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised to learn that I do not accept very much of what he has got to say. I still think that Clause 61 should not become law. I cannot understand why he says that it will help good employers. A good employer is helped by the existing legislation, and if the Government are concerned to improve health and safety at work arrangements, then they should be supporting the Health and Safety Executive instead of diminishing its resources. If they think they need to do more on health and safety, the HSE is highly respected and ought to have more resources, rather than fewer—which is what the Government’s present policy seems to be.

I really do not accept a great deal of what the Minister has said today. I cannot understand why he is going on about compensation culture. I have made some contributions about my experience in that situation when I worked for an insurance company. We have been talking about claims by employees which often take years to settle, particularly if it is a death; frankly, what sort of compensation culture is that? There is a case for looking at aspects of our legislation, but certainly not via this clause, which takes away some of the support that people currently have in the area of health and safety at work.

I am not at all in favour of what the Minister has said. Of course, in Committee we do not have votes. However, I can assure the Minister that this will be back again at Report, because a number of us feel very strongly about it. I certainly do and I am sure that my noble friends do as well. He has not heard the last of this. In the mean time, I do not press this question.

Clause 61, as amended, agreed.

Clause 62 agreed.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, this may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until Wednesday at 3.45 pm.

Committee adjourned at 7.29 pm.