PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

DRAFT HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK (AMENDMENT) (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1998

Thursday 5 November 1998

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Joe Benton

Barron, Mr. Kevin (Rother Valley)

Beggs, Mr. Roy (East Antrim)

Cohen, Mr. Harry (Leyton and Wanstead)

Colman, Mr. Tony (Putney)

Cran, Mr. James (Beverley and Holderness)

Cryer, Mr. John (Hornchurch)

Dobbin, Mr. Jim (Heywood and Middleton)

Dowd, Mr. Jim (Lewisham, West)

Fitzsimons, Lorna (Rochdale)

Fraser, Mr. Christopher (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

Hunter, Mr. Andrew (Basingstoke)

Iddon, Dr. Brian (Bolton, South-East)

Ingram, Mr. Adam (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)

Moss, Mr. Malcolm (North-East Cambridgeshire)

Sedgemore, Mr. Brian (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast, South)

Mr. S. J. Priestley, Miss E. S. Payne, Committee Clerks

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3 Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Thursday 5 November 1998

[MR. JOE BENTON in the Chair]

Draft Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998

10.30 am

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. I am pleased to introduce the order, which was laid before the House on 23 July 1998. Its primary purpose is to establish a new executive non-departmental public body that will operate along next steps lines and be called the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland. The executive will assume the functions of the Department of Economic Development, apart from its legislation-making function; of the Health and Safety Agency for Northern Ireland—an advisory non-departmental public body—and of the Employment Medical Advisory Service under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. The essential thrust of the order is that it will streamline the administrative structure for health and safety at work in Northern Ireland. As health and safety at work will be a transferred matter under the new political arrangements in Northern Ireland, it is important that the structure be as efficient and effective as possible. The order will also align more closely the functions of the executive and of the Health and Safety Commission and executive in Great Britain. The order provides that the executive—as happens with the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive in Great Britain, which were established under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, will enjoy Crown status. The executive's staff will be civil servants; thus the terms and conditions of employment of existing staff will be protected. No other non-departmental public body in Northern Ireland enjoys Crown status. The conferring of such status on the executive not only indicates the importance that the Government attach to its role but will assist it to develop into the vigorous, dynamic body that it needs to be. The executive will have wide-ranging policy functions relating to health and safety in the work place, including powers to make proposals to the Government for new legislaton covering health and safety at work. It will also have extensive enforcement powers in its own right and its inspectors will have wide powers under the 1978 health and safety order to tell people what to do, to carry out investigations and to take legal proceedings where necessary. 4 The proposal for the order was issued to a wide range of bodies for comment. Thirty responses were received from employers' and employees' organisations, district councils and other interested parties. They expressed a general welcome for it. However, on the basis of those consultations, I agreed to make two changes to the order. First, in response to comment from the Health and Safety Agency for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union and the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, the power of the head of the Department of Economic Development to appoint a deputy chairman of the executive will be exercised only after consultation with the executive. Secondly, in relation to the executive's employment of staff, the order provides that the executive shall, rather than may, employ staff. Again, this change takes account of comments from the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I am sure that the Committee will welcome the proposals, which are designed to streamline the administrative structure of health and safety at work legislation in Northern Ireland and to align it more closely with legislation in Great Britain.

10.34 am

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Essentially, we welcome the aims of the order. However, I have a couple of questions. First, the Minister said that the power to appoint the chief executive was vested in the Department. Does that mean that the permanent secretary would have what amounts to a veto over the appointment, or would the Minister be consulted on an appointment of such importance? Secondly, given that the Assembly will, we hope, take over the reins next February, will the new Minister of the Assembly have the powers to which I have alluded?

10.34 am

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I apologise, Mr. Benton, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs). He is indisposed this morning. I welcome the order. Following the request made by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), will the Minister tell us whether the definition of the head of the Department of Economic Development is in keeping with current legislation in Northern Ireland? In other words, will it be the permanent secretary or will there be a change? I understand that there is some ambiguity about whether the Minister will become the head of the Department; some clarification is therefore needed. As the executive will be involved in consultation, I trust that it will not be a self-perpetuating quango, dictating who might be its members or deputy chairman. I also draw the Minister's attention to yesterday's helpful Adjournment debate on the Floor of the House on health and safety. At times it seems that the executive responsible for health and safety has not 5 been doing its work fully. The Minister is aware of a grey area in planning: legislation affecting health and safety in the workplace does not seem to deal much with construction sites, as long as the plan is approved. I have drawn to the Department's attention the impact of workplace development; I trust that it will be considered further, to ensure that those who do not work on the site are also safeguarded when work is being carried out.

10.36 am

Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Members for North-East Cambrideshire and for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) for welcoming the order. It is generally recognised that this is important pegging-up legislation. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire asked about the new structures. Although they will depend on what is finally agreed in the proposed legislation, the current understanding is that the departmental head will be the Minister in charge. However, we do not yet know what the new Departments will be—whether there will be a Department of Economic Development or whether that Department will have a different nomenclature. Subsequent legislation will have to take account of any such changes. However, once the new Assembly is established, the head of the Department will be political. 6 The hon. Member for Belfast, South asked how the legislation would impact on different sectors of the economy. A disproportionate number of fatal accidents occur in Northern Ireland in comparison with Great Britain. The make-up of the various working environments in Northern Ireland—there are many small farms and small workplaces—leads to a greater incidence of accidents and fatalities. There are 1.5 fatalities per 100,000 for Northern Ireland, and 1 per 100,000 in Great Britain. Obviously, therefore, the new body has work to do. It has new powers and will be able to make recommendations; if it is necessary to change its focus or its approach to particular sectors, it could make such recommendations to the Members of the new Assembly. The new executive has the capacity to undertake analysis; indeed, consultants have been appointed to analyse and evaluate what needs to be done on a range of issues for which the new body will be responsible. The new body will report to the new Executive. It will be for the new Assembly to consider that report once it is established.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o 'clock.

7

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)

Barron, Mr.

Cran, Mr.

Cryer, Mr. John

Dobbin, Mr.

Dowd, Mr.

Fitzsimons, Lorna

Fraser, Mr.

Iddon, Dr.

Ingram, Mr.

Moss, Mr.

Sedgemore, Mr.

Smyth, Rev. Martin

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