HC Deb 28 June 1937 vol 325 cc1744-7

Order for Second Reading read.

8.59 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a small Bill but it should be a useful one, and I believe that it will be entirely non-contentious. Hydrogen cyanide is a powerful fumigant, which is used principally for killing bugs and other vermin. It is very deadly. It will kill almost anything with which it comes into contact. I am informed that for the cost of 6d. enough hydrogen cyanide could be manufactured to kill all the Members of this House almost simultaneously. Although it is a very efficient fumigant there ought to be powers for controlling the way it is used. At the present time we have not those powers, and the Bill is intended to give the Secretary of State power to make regulations laying down safety precautions for using hydrogen cyanide in the process of fumigation. There are only two points to which the House would desire me to call attention. The first is that in Clause 1 (2) an exception is made in regard to the fumigation of rabbit warrens and other fumigations carried out in the open air. Hydrogen cyanide is not dangerous as a fumigant in the open air, because it diffuses very quickly in the open. Again, in Clause 4 there will be power by Order in Council to apply these powers to any other dangerous fumigants. That will be a power that will be useful to have. The Bill has been to another place, where it met with a favourable reception. As far as I know, at the Home Office there has been no objection to the Bill from any quarter. I, therefore, commend the Measure to the House for Second Reading.

Mr. Morgan Jones

I understand that the Bill has been examined by my hon. Friends on this side of the House and so far they find no objection to the Second Reading. If there is any regret, it is that it deprives us for ever of being able to say that the Government have done nothing at all.

9.2 p.m.

Sir John Haslam

I have not seen the Bill before and did not know that it was coming forward for Second Reading tonight, but I should like to know whether it has any connection with the sad tragedy that happened at Preston a short time ago. One of my constituents was closely related to the old people who met with a sad death on that occasion, and I should rejoice if this Bill would obviate anything of the sort happening again. We did not want to raise trouble about it, because we realised that it was one of those events that cannot perhaps be foreseen, but the result was that two innocent old people, very admirable people, lost their lives. If the Bill is going to prevent anything of the sort happening in the future I shall receive it with the greatest possible enthusiasm.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Markham

There are two points in connection with the Bill on which I should like to have a little enlightenment. It may be common knowledge that this particular fumigant is extensively used in museums for eliminating beetles and other pests from articles, particularly of wood. I should like to know whether the museum authorities of the country have been consulted, not only the national museum authorities but the provincial museum authorities, seeing that this fumigant is extensively used by museum curators. As I see the Bill at present it gives authority to the Government to make regulations limiting the use of this and other fumigants to specially certificated men. That means that the moment this Bill is passed, no museum curator, unless secially certificated, can make use of this or any other fumigant. Therefore, he may be in this position that having some article of great value which has just come into his hands, he cannot give it proper treatment, because he is not certificated, and, secondly, because expense may be incurred in getting a certificated man to apply the fumigant. I should like some assurance that as far as museums and art galleries are concerned there will be no check on the use of this and other fumigants for purely museum purposes.

Mr. R. Gibson

Can the Under-Secretary explain the difference between hydrogen cyanide and prussic acid?

9.4 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

I think I cannot do better than adopt the words suggested to me by my right hon. Friend, and that is to say that hydrogen cyanide is the same thing as prussic acid in a gaseous form. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Markham), I may say that I am informed that curators in museums normally get in firms to do fumigation, so that the point he mentioned will not arise in the way that he put it. Perhaps he will be content with my assurance that we will look into the point between now and the Report stage, with a view to seeing whether there will be any hardship or unnecessary inconvenience to curators of museums. I do not think there would be in practice, but we will certainly look into it.

I am not sure of the details of the accident at Preston to which my hon. Friend referred, but if it was a case in which some people died as the result of using this chemical it would be covered by the Bill. It is for the purpose of preventing such fatalities that the Bill has been introduced. Considering the highly poisonous nature of this chemical it is remarkable that there have been so few cases. There was a case at Aldershot of two children going into a house after it had been fumigated and being found dead. If, however, there are only a few cases, I think hon. Members will agree that it is proper these powers should be taken to prevent such cases arising.