Patrick Mayhew – 1974 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Patrick Mayhew, the then Conservative MP for Royal Tunbridge Wells, in the House of Commons on 3 April 1974.

No maiden speaker can rise in the House of Commons without a considerable feeling of alarm. To borrow a phrase from Clause 2 of this Bill, I feel that my “instruction, training and supervision” have been woefully inadequate for the task.

My constituency has been carved out of the old constituency of Tonbridge and the old constituency of Ashford. I am the successor of two distinguished and long-serving Members. The portion that I have gained from the old Tonbridge constituency was for 17 years represented by Mr. Dick Hornby. Many hon. Members have told me since my arrival in what high regard he was held here—a regard which is matched by that of his constituents. The same is true, of course, of my predecessor for the Ashford portion of the constituency, still happily in this House as the right hon. Member for the new constituency of Ashford (Mr. Deedes) who has for many years served with the greatest distinction and industry the interests of what are now my constituents. If I can approach the standard of service that they have given I shall be doing a very good job. I hope in time that I may aspire to that height.

My constituency extends over a far wider area than its name might suggest. Although it takes its name from the gracious town of Tunbridge Wells it extends from country villages in the west, like Speldhurst, right over to other villages like Benenden, Sandhurst and Hawkhurst in the east. It contains little industry but much agriculture.

Agriculture is not to be brought within the ambit of the Bill but I am sure that all hon. Members with a knowledge of agriculture will agree that the problems of the safety, health and welfare of its employees need no less careful scrutiny and care than the problems of the factory worker. I hope that in due course they will receive it.

I welcome the Bill because it provides an opportunity for Parliament to bring within the ambit of a single piece of legislation all the safety, health and welfare problems of those working in the factories. Those who have had to deal in their private or professional lives with the problems of this nature in industry recognise the jungle into which the law has strayed. An hon. Member opposite has already referred to the standard textbook of Redgrave on the Factory Acts and to Mr. Munkman’s work on employer’s liability. The editors of those works do their best to lead the way through this jungle, but all who have to deal professionally with these problems will welcome the Bill as a fresh start on integrating all the legislation which will eventually apply, whether immediately under the provisions of the Bill or under regulations made under it.

I hope that safety committees can become universal. In training lies one of the most fruitful possibilities for reducing the terrible toll of accident and injury which so many hon. Members have mentioned. Statistics are bad enough, but when one has to see the physical injuries that are inflicted in a moment of carelessness and whose consequences can remain with the victim for the rest of his life and perhaps with his family, with terrible financial consequences, one has brought home to one the urgency of the problem.

It is true that many accidents are caused by negligence or breach of their statutory duty by employers, but one should not suppose that nearly all of them are. Many are caused by a moment’s carelessness, or perhaps the taking of a short cut towards the end of a day by a workman who is doing a boring job and who, as the hours have gone by, has become a victim of apathy, has, perhaps, become sleepy and bored.

I believe that it is in the sector of training that there is the best chance of making workpeople more safety conscious than they are in many cases. Of course it is true that some employers connive at machines being operated with the safety guards not in position, for example. The majority do not, but there are many who do. If greater attention is paid to training in safety matters there will be far fewer workpeople who will want to operate machines in that dangerous condition, notwithstanding that it may be easier to operate them without the safety guards in position.

I hope, therefore, that great attention will be paid to the provision of safety committees, and to the operating of those committees, so that everyone undergoes training, and that the provision for proper instruction and training which is referred to in Clause 2(2) of the Bill will be part of the responsibility of the safety committee. I mean by that that I hope that it will have a part in devising and providing the training. If these committees can be brought into programmes of training and instruction, that would be a very good thing.

The second point is that a great deal of attention must be paid to the problem of enforcing the obligations which the Bill lays down, primarily upon the employer but also upon the workman. My experience has been that, while making every allowance for the fact that the Factory Inspectorate is understaffed, the manner in which decisions are taken whether to prosecute in the case of a breach of obligation is in some cases almost capricious. In many cases it appears to have been taken where there has been a lot of publicity, or a very tragic accident and, perhaps, a death, but where the case against the employer on breach of duty has been very thin; whereas in many other cases of flagrant breach, where there can scarcely have been any defence against prosecution, no prosecution has taken place. That is so in many cases that one has come across where warnings have been given and matters have been brought to the attention of employers which fully merited a prosecution. We must have a much tougher standard on the part of an increased and expanded Factory Inspectorate than has been the case for many years past.

Mention has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) of a possible change in the law following the report of Lord Pearson’s Royal Commission. We may have—I express no view on it at this stage—a system of non-fault liability replacing our present system, in which one has to prove in common law negligence on the part of the employer or breach of statutory duty in order to found a claim for civil liability. If we have a non-fault system of liability as a result of recommendations of Lord Pearson’s Commission then all the more will it be necessary for the Factory Inspectorate to take a far tougher line and for there to be more prosecutions in the case of breach; because the discipline and sanction that the employers’ liability insurance companies to some extent provide at present will have gone. I hope, therefore, that great attention will be paid to the question of enforcement.

I should like to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), who drew attention to the words so far as is reasonably practicable where they apply in the clauses at the beginning of the Bill and which lay down the obligations and duties of employers. Taking Clause 2, the hon. Gentleman thought that it would be proper to delete those words so as to make an absolute liability rest upon employers. As I understood it, he applied that to all the early clauses of the Bill where those duties are set out. I can only say that one has to remember that this portion of the Bill is imposing a criminal liability upon employers and not a civil liability. I should be very sorry indeed to see legislation which made the employer strictly liable for any circumstance where it could be shown that the workman was not at the given moment safe or that he did not have risks to his health at any given moment. To impose strict liability would be to make him an insurer, and that seems to be wholly foreign to our concept of criminal law.

Lastly, I should like to emphasise and support the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North when he drew attention to Clauses 39 and 41, where the burden of proof whether something is reasonably practicable is laid upon the employer, and then, in Clause 41, a defence is provided for him whereby if he shows that he has exercised “all due diligence” he can avoid conviction. The words “all due diligence” do seem to have the makings of a lawyer’s picnic. We are all used to the concept of reasonable care. It is well understood in the courts. It has been developed in a way which takes account of changing standards and problems. The words “all due diligence” pose the question of how much diligence is due. I hope that consideration will be given to amending that phraseology.

I am sure that much can be done in Committee to improve the Bill. Nevertheless I warmly welcome it. Our industry is the mainstay of our economy and the livelihood of our nation depends upon it. The Bill provides a means of safeguarding more effectively the lives of those who serve industry.