HC Deb 15 July 1949 vol 467 cc891-4
Mr. Turton

I beg to move, in page 11, line 4, to leave out "rats, mice."

We have got now to Part III of the Bill. The House will recollect that Part I deals with rats and mice, and that Part II deals with weevil and other pests. Now we have the Supplemental Part. It is, in our view, unnecessary here to give the Minister power to make regulations controlling the methods used for rats and mice because he has already that power under Clause 12. If he has the power under Clause 12 it would appear that to put additional power in here is entirely unnecessary. The House may fairly ask us, "Why has this matter suddenly come up now?". The answer is that the Government have been getting rid of their rather awkward use of the word "infestation," a process which originated in another place and was proceeded with in Standing Committee. In Committee the Government brought provisions respecting rats and mice into Part III of the Bill.

It does seem to us important that those who operate the Measure, the local authorities, the individual occupiers or the pest destruction contractors, should have clearly set out, where they can easily find them, these different powers of the Minister. By their muddling up Part I with Part III, and by their bringing matters relating to rats and mice into Clause 19, we think the Government are doing a disservice. We raised this matter on the Committee stage. The Government promised they would look into it again and move the necessary Amendments on Report stage. In this and in many other cases the Government, although, no doubt, they did look at it, have shown no outward and visible sign of their inward research, and I hope, therefore, that the Minister will tell us what has been the result of his researches.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I beg to second the Amendment.

It does seem to me that the Minister is doing the very thing he was trying to avoid when he resisted us upstairs in dealing with Clause 12, which really is the governing Clause as regards the powers of local authorities over those who live within their respective areas. If now the Minister is going, so to speak, to whittle down the authority of local authorities by giving direct instructions under this Clause, as regards rats and mice, to people carrying on trade and business within the areas of the local authorities, then, I think, confusion will be quite inordinately confounded. It is rather as though we had somebody coming from the Service authority and inspecting an Army unit and saying he did not care at all about what the general officer commanding had to say about it. I use that illustration because we have been assured many times that this Bill is the beginning of a battle and a campaign against rats and mice.

If we were to cut out rats and mice from the Supplemental Part of the Bill and from this Clause, surely it would be perfectly simple to add something, if need be—I do not think it would be necessary myself—to Clause 12 which would say that directions and regulations, and so on, could be made governing the individuals concerned with certain areas, as well as governing and encouraging the activities of local authorities. That is the intention of the Government. They want to govern the two, the individual and the local authority. If that is the intention it would have been more honest to face up to that on Clause 12. As they have not done that, they have not a leg to stand on in trying to keep the words in Clause 19.

I am sure the Minister is, inadvertently, doing something very dangerous to his own authority and to the authority of local authorities. As long as these words remain, what is the position of the local authority if it is brought up on to the mat and told, "So and so is not dealing properly with rats and mice"? The local authority would reply, "He is one of the chaps you deal with directly from the Ministry." That seems to offer a complete defence to the local authority for not having done anything at all. In that sense to retain these words is very dangerous. I wish we could have had an opportunity of debating these words on an Amendment affecting subsection (1) of Clause 12, which is very relevant to this Amendment. I hope the Minister will give some sympathetic consideration to this Amendment and will fully consider the implications.

Mr. G. Brown

Obviously, there is still a considerable misunderstanding which I hope we can now remove. Incidentally, every reference the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) made to Clause 12, should be read as Clause 13, as this matter arises on Clause 13, not on Clause 12.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I beg pardon.

Mr. Brown

It is not true that Part I applies to rats and mice and that nothing else in the Bill does. Part I authorises directions to local authorities. Part II has particular reference to loss of food from food stores, the manufacture, transport and so on of food and, in that connection, the Minister takes the place taken by the local authority under Clause 1. Infestation of food stores, warehouses, vehicles and so on, obviously includes infestation by rats and mice as well as by weevils and insects. It would be absurd if it did not. Obviously, if one is dealing with one matter, one must be in a position to deal with the other. The difference is not one of insect or pest, but one of mechanics in dealing with the matter.

Part III gives the Minister power in certain circumstances to control the operations of the commercial servicing contractors and to see that they are using up-to-date and approved methods. It would be nonsense to have power to control people who are operating against weevils and insects and not to have power in similar circumstances, if justified, to control those operating against rats and mice. The reason why the words "rats, mice" are here, is to keep that power for the servicing contractors. By leaving these words in, we keep the definition straight all through the Bill and at no stage are we out of line, or importing into one part of the Bill something which is dealt with in another.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Is it not possible, under the Clause as it stands, for the Minister to make an order covering the activities of a commercial undertaking, and, at the same time, to make an order covering the activities of a local authority within whose area the undertaking stands?

Mr. Brown

Not at this point. We had a discussion about that on an earlier stage upstairs. If the Minister gives a direction to a local authority, it will be about the carrying out of its functions, but that is quite a separate point. All we are doing here is to make sure that we have the power to see that approved, up-to-date and safe methods are used.

Mr. C. Williams

I have listened to the arguments with very great care and I appreciate all that my hon. Friend has said in favour of leaving out the words "rats, mice." I think the case is very strong from some points of view, but, having listened to the Parliamentary Secretary with equal care, as I always do, I have been rather weighted against my hon. Friend's view. On this occasion I think the Parliamentary Secretary made a reasonable case, although he might have explained it a little better, as to why rats, mice, insects and mites should all go together. In a building where there are rats and mice there may be infestation by some sort of mite as well. Also, if there are a lot of insects in a building they are likely to encourage rats and mice. I feel I must add my voice to that of the Parliamentary Secretary in asking my hon. Friends not to press this Amendment to a Division. I am sure much could be said for it, but if we once cut out "rats, mice" we might have divided, or dual authority, and from that point of view it would be far better if the Amendment were not accepted.

Mr. Turton

I am quite convinced by what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. If the words "rats, mice" are allowed here, he might issue directions dealing with non-virus poisons, about which I spoke earlier and for that reason alone, I now feel the words should remain. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.