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Speech

Lord Young: Ending Labour's Health and Safety culture

The Rt Hon The Lord Young of Graffham DL, Sunday, October 3 2010

A man struggling to pay his bills

It is great to be back.  When the Prime Minister first asked me to review the operations of Heath and Safety laws and this compensation culture that so bedevils us, I first thought - it must be made in Europe.  No, it is largely home grown.

First, the good news.  We have one of the best records in Europe for accidents and deaths in the workplace and nothing in my report will change that.

So all the rules and regulations relating to construction, manufacturing, chemicals and nuclear industries, even farming are untouched.

But when these quite sensible rules were applied everywhere, particularly where they make no sense, they quickly became a joke and "'elf and safety" was born.

My Review deals with non-hazardous activities where the risks are very low but the bureaucracy unbelievably high. 

My review deals with offices, shops and classrooms where I have searched high and low for any trace of common sense.  As a onetime lawyer I am today ashamed of the depths some in the law have stooped to, with their aggressive "no-win, no-fee" advertising.  We have all seen adverts in the newspapers, on the radio and television, saying if you think you have a claim, come to us and if our solicitor agrees you will walk away with a cheque of £500, just for putting in your claim. And that won't affect any amount you might be awarded.  This is more than a free lottery ticket, this is a lottery where you win as you enter.  What a temptation this provides to someone watching afternoon television.  This is not Access to Justice - this is incitement to litigate.  And it must stop.

That is why we have a Compensation Culture.  If anything happens to you - it can't possibly be your fault - sue someone - it won't cost you a penny.  That is why Health and Safety now looms so large in business, in education, in the Health Service.  Not to stop accidents happening.  But to stop being sued.

Those running small businesses live today in fear that being sued will bankrupt them.  What do they do - they hire a Health and Safety Consultant to advise them.  This consultant doesn't even have to be qualified.  But they believe that if they follow their consultants report to the letter they will be covered by their accident insurance policy.  Even if the advice it is patent nonsense.  Hence the restaurant that won't give their customers a toothpick on "Health and Safety" grounds  And all the other stories we read daily in the papers.

We cannot allow untrained, unqualified and inexperienced consultants loose on the business world.  And we won't.  And it is not as if all this form filling, this bureaucracy, does not have a cost - for firms employing under ten it takes one person a full day a month just to comply.

When my report comes out this burden will be substantially lifted, and people can get back to business.  It is not just small business - it affects large firms as well.  Many people who work in large firms have complained to me about their Health and Safety officers insisting on all forms of nonsense.  How did we manage before we had all these Risk Assessment forms?  It is almost as if filling in a form will prevent an accident - it won't.  Taking care and using common sense will.  So the new system will help firms both large and small.  But not just business.

Take our teachers.  An important part of every child's education is school outings.  It is how they broaden their horizon, learn about the outside world.  Every time a teacher wants to take their class out they have to fill in a twelve page form to cover every eventually - even the weather eight weeks in advance! This does nothing to make the day safer - that is up to the common sense of teacher on the day.  But adding this unnecessary burden onto a teacher's already heavy workload just makes it less likely that they will go.  In the future they can just plan the outing.

But it is not just business or education that is affected by Health and Safety.  Every Shrove Tuesday is a Pancake Race in St Albans.  This year, just before the start, along appears a jobsworth from the local authority. He said that as it had been raining they must walk, not run, and always keep one foot on the ground.  Why?  He had no authority to do that.  What has it got to do with him?  Remember when they stopped the traditional cheese rolling downhill race in Wiltshire.  If I want to take a risk it is up to me.  It is nothing to do with the local authority.  Nor is telling people to remove hanging baskets in the street.  Just on an officials say-so. 

All too often Health and Safety is used as an excuse to say no.  In future it won't be.  My review runs no risk of being pigeonholed.  It will be government policy, approved by the Cabinet and the Prime Minister has asked me to stay on to see the changes through.  

All this is about more than just Health and Safety, important as that is.  This is really about getting the economy going.  This is about getting rid of unnecessary restrictions, the red tape that harms enterprise and protects no-one.  It is about restoring an enterprise economy so we can pay our way in the world again.  It is about creating the conditions to encourage self-employment, small firms, new startups, the enterprise that is the very bedrock of any successful economy.  And where I hope to play a part in the years to come.

When I last spoke at our Conference, unemployment was on its way down, strikes were at their lowest for fifty years and we were paying off the national debt.  Yet ten years before we were a country dominated by the Unions and racked by strikes, the sick man of Europe with record unemployment and, guess what, we had run out of money.   A typical Labour legacy.

I hope that when the time comes for me to retire once more, unemployment will be way down, strikes but a memory and we will have stopped mortgaging our children's future.  Only, this time let us do it a little quicker."

The Rt Hon The Lord Young of Graffham DL

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