Self employed workers’ safety – Government pushes ahead and damn the consequences
If you want a true display of how the government’s ideological obsession with deregulation trumps any type of common sense and seems to ignore the democratic process then you just have to read the debates on the Deregulation Bill currently being pushed through the House of Lords.
Clause 1 of the Bill removes the protection of the Health and Safety at Work Act from self-employed people. When the Bill was first introduced this proposed only exempting those who were on a specific list. This was implementing a proposal which had been proposed in the 2011 Lofstedt Report and had been consulted on by the HSE. Then suddenly, halfway through the House of Commons Committee stage, a revised proposal appeared. There was no announcement, no consultation, just a new wording that reversed what Professor Lofstedt proposed and instead meant that all of the 4.2 million self-employed would be exempt unless they were on a prescribed list. Yet the Government continued to insist that they were simply doing what Lofstedt had recommended, even though clearly this was not the case. In the Commons the Solicitor-General brushed aside any criticism, continuing to claim they were simply implementing the proposals by Lofstedt.
At the request of the Government the HSE then drew up a consultation on what occupations should not be exempt. The consultation was not on the principle of whether the proposal made any sense or not, but simply on the practicalities of the list. This consultation ran until 31st August last year. However the response was not made public at the time.
Meanwhile, the Bill made its way through Parliament and the Government continued to claim that it was doing what the Lofstedt report recommended and there was full support for it. In October the Bill reached the House of Lords and the Government Minister, Lord Curry claimed “I was in contact with Professor Löfstedt in the past week. He has seen the wording of the Bill and appears to be very content with it.” This seemed to have helped convinced his fellow peers because the Lords defeated an opposition amendment against the Clause. Yet his claim was completely untrue. Immediately after, Professor Lofstedt wrote to Lord Curry to say that he had not even seen the new wording, despite having asked for it and certainly was not content with it.
This week the Bill went back to the Lords and it was revealed that the Professor had even stronger views. He had written to a number of Lords to say:
“The proposed Government list of dangerous jobs that would not be exempt from health and safety law is the opposite to what I proposed and it is something that I do not support. The danger with the proposed list is that self-employed individuals who are not on it will be exempt even if the jobs that these individuals do are in actual fact rather dangerous and unsafe. In other words the proposed Government list may increase injury and death in the workplace something that I never intended with my original recommendation”.
Following repeated requests from the opposition, this week also finally saw the publication of the responses to the HSE consultation on the list of activities where self-employed people would not be exempt, and, despite attempts to restrict people to commenting only on the list, a large number of respondents had attacked the whole Government approach, and not just the TUC and unions. IOSH who represent safety professionals condemned the proposals outright while even the EEF and CBI both said that the proposals were “not fit for purpose”. In fact it was clear that there was no real support for what the Government was doing from anyone, and downright hostility from most.
So did the Government withdraw their proposal? No. On Tuesday of this week, the Government minister said that he had only just seen the consultation response on Friday. Now this was five months after the consultation had closed. He claimed:
“My Lords, of course I am very happy to discuss this between now and Third Reading. I am not in a position to say what the Government will conclude from their consideration of the current consultation document because we are at a very early stage, but I am very happy to promise to consult further.”
This is nonsense. They have had several months to consider. The proposal has gone through almost the entire parliamentary process and what they are proposing is possibly coming up with changes on the final day of the discussion on the Bill in the Lords. This makes a farce of the democratic process and in particular the concept of parliamentary scrutiny.
If they do not come up with an amendment to their own proposals then we will be left with a proposal which this one of the most dangerous health and safety deregulatory measures we have seen and which has been condemned by the person whose proposal they claim to be implementing.
If they do propose an amendment there will have been no discussion, no consultation and no consideration of the actual consequences.
Is this really the way to develop legislation? The Health and Safety at Work Act, which specifically included the self-employed, was introduced after a two year enquiry and lengthy debate over two different parliaments. It is now being ripped up in the last throes of Parliament by a Government who are hell-bent in pushing through this move to be able to show that it is being “tough” on regulation and damn the consequences.