Offshore Oil Industry: Safety Committees (Hansard, 3 December 1990)
HL Deb 03 December 1990 vol 524 cc1-3

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What will be the composition of safety committees appointed in the offshore oil industry, following publication of the Cullen Report.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no proposals to change the current arrangements for the election of safety representatives by the workforce as a whole, which arrangements are established by the Offshore Installations (Safety Representatives and Safety Committees) Regulations 1989. The Government's approach to the making and the review of those regulations was endorsed by my noble friend Lord Cullen in his report.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, it is at odds with the information that I have received and the fact that the then Secretary of State for Energy, Mr. Wakeham, said in another place that the Cullen recommendations would be accepted in full. Are the Government prepared to accept that one-third of safety committees' members will be trade union representatives? Will the men working on the rigs be able to elect those representatives? If trade unionists are elected, will they have equal status on the safety committees with the representatives of the Health and Safely Executive and the employers' representatives, and will they have the same rights of participation and full voting rights as all other members of the committee?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is mistaken in saying that my noble friend Lord Cullen recommended that trade union membership should be one-third. I readily acknowledge that he said that the appointment of offshore safety representatives by trade unions could be of some benefit, mainly through resistance to pressures which trade union backing could provide. However, he went on to recognise a number of factors which make it undesirable to replace the 1989 regulations with the approach embodied in the 1977 regulations, most notably the limited extent of trade union recognition in the offshore industry. He therefore endorses the Government's approach in making the regulations and also the intention to review them within two years of their coming into force.

Lord Peston

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the essence of safety, particularly in areas such as this where the probability of disaster is low but a disaster itself can be terrible, depends on creating what is called a culture of safety—in other words, because there was not a disaster today one must not infer that it cannot happen? Is it not then the case that if one wishes to create such a culture of safety it is of overwhelming importance to involve the workforce before anyone else, and in this case the workforce includes their representatives?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the Cullen Report has rightly been heralded as a most impressive document both in its analysis of what happened and its careful delineation of the conditions necessary for successful management of safety, including representation at work. The Government are entirely willing that the trade unions should contribute as fully as possible to the improvement of safety; they are placing no obstacle in their way.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, does the Minister not understand that his Answer is at odds with the statement that was made in another place? Is he aware that the trade unions have been complaining bitterly for some time that their voice is not being heard, despite the arrangements being in place, as the Minister has just explained? Over 150 people lie dead—30 of them still at the bottom of the sea—because nobody listened to the trade unions. Will the Minister accept that unless the trade unions represented on the rigs are allowed to participate fully the arrangements will not work and there may be a repetition of the terrible accident which occurred?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, of course I recognise that it was the most terrible disaster and that we must prevent another disaster at all costs. The recommendations of the Cullen Report on representation are being considered further. If the noble Lord was referring to the Burgoyne Committee, in which trade union involvement in safety was more fully recognised, it is possible to venture the view that it would have had a greater impact if the unions had been more regular attenders at that committee.

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